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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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Chickpea Fries with Green Athena Sauce

Many years ago, I made a friend for life during my college orientation weekend. I don’t recall how we first met. We may have been seated next to each other during some presentation to incoming freshmen. However it happened, it was kismet, as they say. We became instant friends that weekend, as we explored our new school and the town which would be our home for the next four years.

We spent the rest of the summer sending handwritten letters to each other. Yes, this was before the time of facebook, widespread email, and texting. Freshman year we grew closer. And as roommates during our sophomore year, we were practically inseparable. In fact, the vast majority of my college memories in some way involve this particular friend; memories involving mermaids (and mermen), dance routines with a big finish, a glowing Red Dog clock, flooded suites, and self-directed midnight evacuation drills from our second floor dorm building. Note to self: Scaling the side of a brick building with your sheets tied together will result in holey sheets. And laughter. Lots of laughter.

College Memories

In the years after college, we moved in different directions, geographically. Separated by distance, our opportunities to share drinks, laughter, and miscellaneous mischief have become fewer and farther between. But we will always share a part in each other’s celebrations, successes, and challenges. She stood as my bridesmaid during my wedding and wore a pin I gave her in her hair as she celebrated her own. Though we now live, quite literally, on opposite sides of the globe, my dear friend will always remain close in my heart. I feel fortunate that our lives crossed paths.

Recently, my globe-trotting pal sent me a link to a Mark Bittman article, which describes a process for making a sort of chickpea fries; crisp on the outside with a smooth, custardy center. Yum! Only, the article is a bit vague on the exact procedure. My friend’s first attempt never made it to the taste-testing phase. Dying to love these little goodies, she sent a plea for help. I told you we’d always be there for each other’s challenges!

Vegetarians and gluten-free eaters rejoice! This recipe is right up your alley. In fact, this protein-rich alternative to French fries should make just about everyone happy! I based my recipe on Bittman’s description and a bit of trial and error. Your biggest challenge may be getting your hands on the chickpea flour necessary for this recipe. But if you’ve got a well-stocked grocery store nearby, you may be in luck. I was able to find the flour in the organic and natural foods section of my Wegmans. If you don’t see it in your grocery store, try asking at the customer service desk.

The sauce is a cross between a cucumber-yogurt tzatziki and a green goddess dressing, so I’m calling it my Green Athena Sauce. It’s works perfectly with these tasty chickpea fries and will probably leave you looking for other things to dip in it. Try pita, fresh vegetables, chips, bread, skewered lamb…

Chickpea Fries

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/8 cups chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (plus more, if desired)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (plus more, if desired)
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

Line a 13×9 inch baking dish or baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. Lightly rub the paper with vegetable oil to help prevent sticking. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and gradually whisk in the chickpea flour. The mixture will thicken quickly. Add the other ingredients. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.¬†Add additional water if the mixtures seems too dry or additional flour if the mixture seems too runny. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish or baking sheet. Use a piece of wax paper to help press the mixture into an even layer. Cover with the wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Once cool, cut the mixture into the shape of fries or any other shape you desire.Heat a shallow (less than 1/4″) layer of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-medium high heat. Place the fries into the hot oil. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Green Athena Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and grated
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Bg handful of fresh parsley
  • Pepper, to taste
Directions
Squeeze the grated cucumber in your hands or in a piece of cheesecloth to remove as much liquid as you can. (Skipping this step will result in an overly runny sauce.) Combine the cucumber with all other ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until well combined. Add as much parsley as you desire, until the sauce has a nice green color. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

Cheesy Stuffed Meatloaf

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Let me preface this by saying that my father is an excellent cook. I have just as many fond memories from my childhood of my father’s cooking as of my mother’s. Even now, it is my father who is eager to fill the house with our favorite meals when we take a trip home. He’s got an instinct for delicious comfort food which can satisfy both the belly and the soul.

That being said, there was once a meatloaf that he will never live down; the meatloaf that even the raccoons wouldn’t eat. I can’t even remember what was wrong with it. I remember tomatoes and bacon. My father insisted it was delicious, but the decision was otherwise unanimous. The meatloaf was awful. So awful that even my frugal family decided to put the leftovers on the porch for whatever fuzzy woodland creature was looking for a meal. Sure enough, the meatloaf was still sitting on the porch in the morning; undeniable proof that the meatloaf was truly inedible.

The memory of that particular meatloaf made a strong case against meatloaf in my mind. For that reason, it’s a dish I rarely make. But, having found myself with a freezer full of ground beef (part of my attempt at trimming our grocery bill), I decided a meatloaf was in order. In my rendition, I added a bit of sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and melty provolone. Drizzle with fresh basil pesto and serve aside smashed potatoes and roasted asparagus for a delicious, satisfying meal.

Sorry raccoons…there aren’t going to be any leftovers for you this time!!

Cheesy Stuffed Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4-5 slices provolone cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, onion, and salt until well blended. (Get your hands in there to really blend it!) Then, form the mixture into a thick rectangle (about 8×10 inches). Place the slices of provolone cheese in a thin layer on the rectangle, leaving about a 1″ edge around the cheese on all sides. Roll the meat into a log, around the cheese. Then, thoroughly seal all of the edges and form the meat into a rectangular loaf. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, until the center has reached 165 degrees, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Serve with fresh basil pesto (click here for the recipe) and roasted asparagus (click here for the recipe).

**Top Secret Family Recipe**

There’s something special about secret family recipes. I’d be willing to bet that every family has got at least one. They are the recipes which are passed on from one generation to the next, the recipes which are prepared on special occasions, the recipes which make you think of home. Perhaps it’s a certain cookie recipe which is baked every Christmas; the one all of your friends and neighbors look forward to. Maybe it’s a special blend of spices which makes your chili stand out. Or it might be a Strawberry-Rhubard Pie which won your Great Aunt Ethel the grand prize at a state fair back in 1920. Whatever it is, these family recipes hold a special worth. They evoke memories and a family pride, which contribute an immeasurable level of value to an otherwise ordinary recipe.

Some families guard their secret recipes with their lives, much like Colonel Sanders guards his secret blend of herbs and spices or Spongebob protects the secret crabby-patty ingredient. Try asking for the recipe and they evade your request, changing topics or vaguely agreeing to send it to you at some unspecified future time. Or perhaps they agree to share the recipe, but it’s done in a whisper, as if Great-Great-Grandma Jones is going to rise from her grave at any moment. Secret family recipes are a special sort of recipe.

As you may expect, my family has its own share of secret recipes. The one which I most strongly associate with home is my dad’s recipe for Connecticut Supper. It’s been my dad’s signature recipe for as long as I can remember. Even now, when we go home for a visit, my dad eagerly prepares Connecticut Supper or he retrieves a tin from the freezer, saved for that very occasion. Either way, it’s almost always waiting for us. It feels like home.

My dad can’t recall the exact origin of the recipe, though he’s pretty sure it was originally found in an old Betty Crocker cookbook circa 1970’s, or something of the like. As far as the name, there is no explanation for that either. It is what it is; Connecticut Supper. And Connecticut Supper is a beefy, cheesy, potato-laden casserole which is pure cold-weather comfort food. This is a Sunday dinner type of meal; a one-dish meal, bubbly hot out of the oven and perfect for a crowd.

Now, we’re all friends here, so I’m going to trust you with my family secret. This is just between us. Shhhh…

**CONFIDENTIAL**

Connecticut Supper

Ingredients

  • 2 large Onions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 pounds Stew Beef, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 cups Mushrooms, sliced*
  • 2-3 Potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup Sour Cream
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 10 ounce bar of Sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cup Wheaties, crushed

*My dad recommends finding your mushrooms at the grocery store, not from your lawn.

Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5-7 minutes until the onions are tender and lightly browned. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the onions. Cook for a few minutes, until the beef is lightly browned. Pour the water over the mixture. Cover and gently simmer for about 50 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the beef, onions, and cooking liquid into a large (13×9) baking dish. Arrange the mushroom slices in an even layer over the beef. Arrange the potatoes in an even layer over the mushrooms. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, and milk. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread the mixture over the potatoes. Top with cheddar cheese, then crushed Wheaties. Bake for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

**CONFIDENTIAL**

This blog post will self-destruct upon reading.


What’s your family’s secret recipe? Will you share it with me?

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