Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Navy Bean Soup

I've made a couple of runs at this soup, as it's one of David's favorites, but hadn't found a recipe we really loved until this one. And hey, it was the simplest one I tried! It's also very adaptable, fitting well with our goal of cooking for the next week with only what we already have in the house. It'd be a good Crockpot recipe, but was too much to fit in mine, so it simmered on the stove all through this cold afternoon. We had a few hours of October sunshine today, but the afternoon ended dark and drizzling, so soup and corn bead and applesauce were perfect. Mary wasn't here for dinner, but Else, now a year and a half, devoured it.

Notes: I had no celery or carrot, but added a little celery seed. I like the addition of the chopped spinach quite a bit, but you could omit. We used 3 smoked bratwurst and the flavor was fabulous. If doing in a Crockpot, I'd soak the beans on the stove, then add with tomatoes to the Crockpot and put on high while sauteing the vegetables, then add everything to the Crockpot. I'd suggest cooking for a few hours on high then turning down to low, but you might want to cook part of the time with the lid off so it cooks down a bit. You probably wouldn't add the entire 3 cups of water, either, if going this route. Like most bean soups, this should freeze very well. It makes a really large amount, easily enough for a meal for six.

Navy Bean Soup
*1 lb. of dried Navy beans, rinsed
*6 cups of water
*1 TBS Better than Bouillon, Chicken, OR a couple bouillon cubes
(OR sub 3 cups of chicken broth for 3 cups of the water)
*1 TBS olive oil
*1 onion, chopped
*2 stalks celery, chopped
*2 carrots, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1/2 lb ham, chopped OR 3 smoked bratwurst, sliced into thin rounds OR 6 slices bacon, chopped
*1 14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes, with juice
*2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
*1 bay leaf
*3 more cups of water
*Chopped fresh parsley, 2 TBS or so
*Chopped baby spinach, a cup or two, or one small container frozen chopped spinach
*lots of black pepper, salt to taste

-Cover beans with a generous amount of water; bring to a boil then let them sit and soak for an hour. Drain.
-Towards the end of that hour, heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Add chopped onions, celery, carrot and your choice of meat. Saute until the onions are golden. Add garlic and saute a few minutes more, watching closely to make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
-Add beans to pot, along with tomatoes, Worcestershire, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
-Remove lid from pot and add 3 more cups water. Bring back to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, for another two hours.
-During the last few minutes, add chopped parsley and spinach. Add pepper to taste. Don't salt it until you've tasted it, as this will be pretty salty already with the Worcestershire and ham.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Blueberry Vanilla Syrup

Just a brief post today-I had to write this recipe out anyway to post on discussion of canning and putting food by on, so thought I'd cut and paste it here.

We love blueberries. We are blessed to live in Oregon, with an abundance of local, amazingly good, inexpensive produce available to us six months out of the year. It's actually a fairly painful blessing sometimes, as the produce pours in and it's very challenging to keep up with it all. I have wanted to cry, some days, coming home from work, standing in the kitchen with a toddler hanging from my leg, looking at ten pounds of cucumbers that must be made into pickles tonight or they'll go bad. I love the results of canning: the jars lined up on the counter, the feeling of concrete satisfaction, the smugness of being prepared when the next Depression hits (something everyone in my family seems to worry about subconsciously: will there be enough food? We might all die!). I just sometimes don't like the actual work of canning: the endless wait for the water to boil, then come back to a boil; the sticky disaster the kitchen becomes; the jars that slip back into the boiling water and splash.

This recipe is a welcome break from all that. You get the satisfaction of canning with much less work. First, you start with blueberries. Blueberries are the best U-Pik fruit, because you can throw them into the freezer without doing anything else. When you're ready to use them, rinse the frost, pick out a few stems and you're good to go. We have a great organic farm a few minutes from our house, so the whole family can eat as many as we want while picking (though have to make a side note here and say the blueberry farm was being run by the Blueberry Nazi this year, which put a bit of a damper on our experience: You don't park there! No kids in the trees! No kids in the bathrooms! Don't pick there! No soup for you! You come back one year!). Back to the recipe. The other great thing about it is you don't have to process it once the jars are filled, thus eliminating the whole boiling water heating time sink. The downside of that is that you must keep the finished product refrigerated, but that's not a big deal as you'll probably only keep one or two jars for yourself and give the rest away. As good as it is, there's only so much syrup you can go through on your own.

Find your vanilla beans in bulk if you can. The ones sold in a jar at the supermarket are insanely expensive.

This recipe is a modification of a Sheila Lukins recipe from the fabulous U.S.A. Cookbook.

1 1/2 lbs blueberries
3 c sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 c. water
2 TBS fresh lemon juice

Combine blueberries (rinsed) and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Toss gently with a rubber spatula. Stick vanilla bean in center. Let stand for an hour (you can start w/frozen berries-just prolong this step).

Add water and lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming foam, until it starts to thicken. It will take 15 minutes or so. It will continue to thicken as it cools so don't cook too long.

Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve. Cool (taste when cool-if too sweet, add a little more lemon juice) and funnel into sterilized bottles. Although she says it will keep up to two months, I've found that it keeps indefinitely, refrigerated.

Unlike most canning recipes, you can double this one. Everything will take longer, but it works fine.

It's a gorgeous deep blue color-very pretty to give in nice stoppered bottles (the kind with a wire cage and rubber gasket-this is insanely messy stuff, so don't give it in a bottle with a cork). As mentioned previously, it's beautiful on ice cream, delicious on waffles, and my brother-in-law has had great success basting salmon with it when grilling.