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Treat Your Valentine

Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the pictures or the links to see the recipes!

You can also check out the Recipes section at the top of the page for more ideas to delight your sweetie.

Breakfast

Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast

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A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict

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Lunch

Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

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A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

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Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine

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Dinner

Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka

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A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala

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Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes

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Dessert

Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis

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A Bit More Complex: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

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Manageably Elaborate: Fresh Berry Mousse with Vanilla Panna Cotta

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New Year Bean and Bacon Soup

The afternoon following my last post, I picked the boys up from school, acutely grateful for their safety while we were apart. On the way home, we stopped by the craft store to pick up two spools of a delicate, iridescent ribbon. After completing homework, snack, and our other normal after-school routines, we moved into the living room, where we used the ribbon to tie small bows to the boughs of our Christmas tree; one for each of the victims at Sandy Hook.

I spoke the name of each child and teacher aloud as we wrapped and tied each delicate bow, allowing a moment for their lives to be remembered. As I worked, the boys mostly bounced around the living room in their typical manner, half attending to the names I spoke and half lost in their own important business of being kids. They’d alternate between chat about their Christmas wish lists and comments about how about how they know Dylans and Chases and Jacks and Noahs; friends in their pre-k and kindergarten classes, children not much younger than the Dylan and Chase and Jack and Noah lost at Sandy Hook.

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It was a small thing to tie those little bows, but it felt cathartic to be doing something, anything, to honor those tragically lost lives. The bows remained on our tree as we hosted all varieties of holiday celebrations; a quiet way to keep the suffering Newtown families in our prayers, even as we went about joyously celebrating the holidays.

I retied those bows a hundred times during the few weeks that the tree sat in our living room, each time trying not to become frustrated by the boys’ constant undoing of my work. Instead, I consciously replaced my frustration with appreciation of the fact that I had all my little boys with me to make their special brand of mischief in our home. Those little ribbons shimmered on the lit tree all throughout the holidays. My Liam commented that they reminded him of angels.

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Our holidays were beautiful. We had a revolving houseful of family and friends straight up until New Year’s Day. We enjoyed Dinosaur BBQ takeout on Christmas Eve, our now-traditional beef bourguignon for Christmas dinner, and a plentiful selection of finger foods on New Year’s Eve. I’m talking about mini crab cakes with chipotle remoulade, tiny quiche lorraines in puff pastry, stuffed mushrooms, cheese, and chicken wing dip. For three weeks, our recycling bins overflowed with gift packaging and emptied bottles of wine and champagne; evidence of our prosperity in family, love, and life.

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I was inspired by a friend’s recent comments about bean soup and its symbolism for prosperity in the new year. I must admit that the connection between beans and prosperity was not something I’d been aware of, but the description of her soup had me sold. This incredibly simple soup utilizes canned beans, which makes it super easy to throw together. It’s a hearty, comforting, and delicious way to celebrate the new year. Serve it with a nice, crusty chunk of French bread.

Wishing you all a prosperous 2013!

Focus on Technique – Canned Beans vs. Dried Beans

Both canned and dried beans offer the same high-protein, high-fiber, antioxidant-rich nutrition, which makes them a great addition to any diet. Dried beans offer the advantages of being lower in sodium, free of preservatives, and requiring less space for storage. Additionally, dried beans can be cooked to your personal preference, whereas pre-cooked canned beans come as they are, at the risk of being mushy. The downside of using dried beans is the length of time required for soaking and cooking, which requires advance planning and preparation. If ease and convenience is the name of your game, canned beans are the way to go. (Admittedly, I almost always use canned beans.)

Bean and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chicken broth
  • 1 bag (approximately 4 cups) baby spinach
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large saucepan, over medium/medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, until tender and golden. Carefully drain any leftover bacon grease. Add the beans and chicken broth to the pan, then add the spinach. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture begins to simmer and the spinach has wilted. Return the bacon to the soup. Taste, then season with salt* and pepper, as desired.

*The bacon and beans will both contribute a good amount of salty flavor to the soup. Depending on how salted or unsalted your chicken broth is, you may not need any additional salt. Give the soup a taste before seasoning. I added a little pinch of salt and a good dose of pepper.

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Thanksgiving Takes Two, Three, and Four

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

I’ve got a bird to throw in the oven and a parade to watch. Just wanted to pop in to share these previously posted ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’ll be starting my holiday cookie baking soon with a few new recipes to share (including a chewy chocolate orange cookie, laced with grand marnier and bits of candied orange peel), but I’ll also be posting a few of my old favorite cookie recipes over on The Gourmand Mom facebook page during the next few weeks. If you don’t already follow The Gourmand Mom on facebook, click on over using the link on the right side of the page. See you there!

Bursting with thankfulness,

~Amy

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #1 – Turkey Soup

Don’t let that turkey carcass go to waste! There’s so much flavor waiting to be extracted from those bones. Get the broth started right after dinner. Simply throw the whole turkey carcass into a large pot, cover with water, and simmer (partly covered) for 3-4 hours. Don’t worry if there’s still some meat or turkey skin hanging on the turkey! Just throw the whole thing in the pot and let it start working while you sit down to enjoy some pumpkin pie. Once it’s simmered, strain the broth and refrigerate overnight. The next day, you can finish making the soup. Click here for my step-by-step guide to making a basic chicken soup. You can follow the same process for turkey soup.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #2 – Open-faced Thanksgiving Sandwich

In my opinion, this is the best way to use leftovers on the day after Thanksgiving, when you’ve still got a bit of everything in the fridge. Simply reheat some leftover turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Spread some cranberry sauce on a lightly toasted slice of thick, doughy bread. Then, top the cranberry sauce with the hot turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Drizzle hot gravy over the entire thing and enjoy. This is a knife and fork kind of sandwich; simple, hearty, and satisfying.

Click here for more details on making an open-faced turkey sandwich any time of year.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #3 – Roast Turkey, Brie, and Homemade Apple Butter Melts

This is my new personal favorite. Such a perfect combination of flavors. I happen to love apple butter; always have and probably always will. You can find it in most grocery stores, usually near the  jams and jellies. Look for one which doesn’t contain a lot of unnecessary added sugar or corn syrup. Apple butter really doesn’t need anything other than apples and a bit of apple cider or apple juice. Apple butter is a cinch to make at home. So, if you can’t find any at your store, follow my simple recipe to make your own. And, if apple butter just isn’t your thing, substitute some leftover cranberry sauce on these sandwiches. It will pair beautifully with the brie.

For the sandwiches, thinly slice brie and spread it onto a sturdy piece of bread. I prefer to use ciabatta or pain de campagne, but any doughy, crusty bread should work. Spread apple butter (or cranberry sauce) onto another piece of bread. Place a few slices of roasted turkey breast between the bread slices. Loosely wrap the sandwich in foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes in a 350 degrees oven, until the cheese has melted, the bread feels slightly toasted, and the turkey is warm.

Homemade Apple Butter

Ingredients

  • 5-6 apples, peeled, cores removed, and coarse chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider
  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Simmer the apple pieces in the apple cider for about 20 minutes. If desired, add a cinnamon stick to simmer with the mixture. Then, puree the apples until smooth. Pour the puree into an oven-safe covered pan and place in the oven for about 5 hours. The apple butter will darken to a rich brown as it cooks.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #4 – Turkey Salad Sandwiches

Turkey salad is a simple and delicious way to breathe new life into the remainder of your turkey leftovers. I love it on a lightly toasted bagel with a slice of swiss cheese. To make a basic turkey salad, simply chop or tear your leftover turkey into small pieces. Add some finely diced onion and celery. Combine with just enough mayonnaise and mustard to bind the salad. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in some dried cranberries for an extra tasty touch!

October Pumpkin Round-Up

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It’s a chilly October morning here in Syracuse. And I’ve got pumpkin on my mind.

Our first pumpkin has been sitting on our front steps since our little ninja party last weekend. It has the face of a ninja painted on it. Ninja pumpkin will be joined by other pumpkins in the next few weeks and our kitchen will take on the sweet and fragrant aroma of some of our favorite pumpkin recipes…of that I am certain.

Focus on Technique –  Pumpkin Puree

Preparing fresh pumpkin is a manageable process, which can be done in a number of ways. Small ‘pie’ pumpkins tend to produce the sweetest pumpkin flavor. Many people prefer to remove the skin, chop the pumpkin into chunks, boil the pieces until tender, then puree. My preferred strategy is to simply cut the pumpkin open, remove the seeds, roast the pumpkins until tender, then scoop out the smooth pumpkin and puree. It involves less tedious chopping than with the boiling method and produces a better end result, in my opinion. You can see my complete step-by-step photo guide HERE .

If you’re not up for preparing your own puree, canned pumpkin provides a convenient alternative. Most canned pumpkin puree is prepared without additional salt, sweeteners, or preservatives, but check the cans just in case.

Check out this round-up of previously posted pumpkin recipes and keep an eye out for a few new pumpkin recipes, coming up soon!

Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Autumn Harvest Buns

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Fried Pumpkin Wontons

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

Fettucine with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce  

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

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We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my tv. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well…I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately…the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this…but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degree oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.

Grounds of The Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, NY

This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.

The ‘Maria’s Curtains’ room in The Roxbury Motel

My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from The Sound of Music and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing My Favorite Things in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.

We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. We drank champagne. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.

Exterior of the Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, NY

My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.

Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.

Somebody couldn’t stay away from the mangos…

Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.

Apparently, I was taking too long to cut the mangos.

This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
  • 1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3″ segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)

For the garnish

  • 6″ segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Basil oil, optional

*Click HERE for a photo guide on how to cut a mango.

Directions

Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.

For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.

Ham and Corn Chowder

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Life is made up of a series of memories; some big, some small, some clearly life-changing, and some seemingly inconsequential. My wedding day, the births of my children, the loss of loved ones…all clearly consequential. But the little memories…like singing the soundtrack to Grease with my sisters while we played on our childhood swingset or selling candy bars outside the grocery store or riding our bikes in the park…turns out that those are just as consequential. We just don’t always realize it in the moment.

So, I’m lying on the couch last night, glass of wine in hand, playing around on my computer and distractedly watching American Idol, when two of the contestants come on stage and begin singing Islands in the Stream, a duet originally performed by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. In an instant I was transported back to my childhood, in my parents’ room, where my sisters and I used to stand at the foot of their bed, with our toes jammed between the mattress and boxspring, so that when we’d lean forward, the edge of the mattress would catch our calves and we’d suspend there, bobbing forward with our arms outstretched. We’d sway back and forth, mock-gliding over the mattress singing Islands in the Stream at the top of our lungs…with all the wrong lyrics, I am sure.

Such a simple little memory and yet it’s etched in my mind. Because it’s more than the ordinary event of singing a song with my sisters. It was a matter of being together, of laughing, of loving, and of feeling at home. Those are consequential, life-altering sorts of things wrapped in a silly little memory and tied together with a country song.

Every morning, our boys come bursting into our bedroom. The baby is usually already there by that point, drowsily enjoying a morning feeding. But the older boys don’t wake drowsily. They wake with a lightening bolt and go 0 to 60 in the moment they open their eyes. They fly into our room in a flurry. They do not stick their toes between our mattress and sing a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet. They mostly just make animal noises and shout things like underpants. They climb into my armoire. They climb under the bed. They jump on top of the bed. (Just imagine if you released a couple of monkeys into an enclosed space…it’s exactly like that.) Every so often we can convince them to climb under the covers for a snuggle. And sometimes we’re inclined to just send them back to their room because the activity level far exceeds what we’re prepared to handle that early in the morning. But those morning memories, of waking to a family that loves them…those memories matter.

This weekend we’ll be making more memories, the kind that add a bit of mystery and magic to childhood. Though I’ve expressed my half-hearted support for the Easter bunny, he will be visiting our home, hiding eggs, and leaving a basket filled with soft, stuffed-bunny toys, bubble wands, chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, and animal crackers hidden under the cellophane grass. We’ll color eggs and make a coconut-covered bunny cake with shoe-string licorice whiskers and a jelly bean nose. It’s tradition. And tradition matters too.

For dinner, we will most likely enjoy slow-roasted lamb with a fresh mint sauce, along with roasted red potatoes, roasted asparagus, and slices of warm French baguette. Our family prefers lamb over ham, but for many families, ham is the star of their traditional Easter feast. With that in mind, I came up with this ham and corn chowder, which would make perfect use of leftover Easter ham. This satisfying soup is worth making, even if you don’t have leftover ham on hand! It’s hard to go wrong with sweet kernels of corn in a warm, creamy broth. Use fresh corn, cut from the cob, if corn is in season or use frozen when it is not. I used frozen corn kernels and it was perfect.

P.S. I just purchased Islands in the Stream from iTunes and have been listening to it on repeat as I write this post. I’m considering teaching it to the boys and showing them how to stick their toes under the edge of my mattress.

Ham and Corn Chowder

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 15-ounce cans vegetable broth (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups ham, diced (approximately)
  • 2 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 6-8 green onions, sliced
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Additional sliced green onions, for garnish

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, until lightly golden and tender. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and garlic. Stir to coat and cook for another minute or so. Whisk in the vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes. (The broth should begin to thicken slightly.) Add the ham, corn, green onions, potato, and half and half to the pan. Bring the soup to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Ideally they should just be beginning to break down (to add extra thickness to the soup) but not so mushy that they’re falling apart. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm, garnished with additional sliced green onions.

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