Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Best Ham and Potato Soup Ever!

I don’t know what got me thinking about potato soup.  It’s not something I make all the time, and not usually something I make especially well.  In fact, Mr17’s Dad is the potato soup master.  He doesn’t measure or anything, just throws things in and it turns into the perfect cold-weather comfort meal.  Well! (Stands proudly, hands on hips, much like Yul Brynner in the King and I.)  I think I have him beat.   (Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.)

Oooohhhh yeaaaahhh.  I have a new favorite ingredient and a combination of stove-top and crock pot that brings it over the top!

  • 1 package smoked ham shanks
  • 6-7 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 5 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
  • 1 celery heart, chopped, leaves too
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • pepper to taste
  • 5 TBSP butter
  • 5 TBSP flour
  • 2 cups milk

Ham shanks are my new favorite ingredient for soups that usually have ham in them.  Cook them in with the soup, bones and fat and all.  You will be rewarded with bigger pieces of super-tender ham along with a richer broth.

Place the ham shanks and chicken broth in a 6 quart pot over medium heat. 

Meanwhile, mince the garlic, chop the celery, onion and carrots and add them to the pot.

Then chop the potatoes and add them to the pot.

Season with black pepper to taste and add water to cover the ingredients if needed. 

Cover and cook for half an hour, then transfer everything to a crock pot.  Cook on high for an additional four hours, while you go see a movie.  I recommend The Decendants.  With George Clooney.  In Hawai’i.  (Really, really good movie, plus it takes place in places I’ve been so it seemed like a vacation!)

Come out of the theater into the greyness of a typical January afternoon, drive home, open the door and rejoice in the amazing aroma of the best ham and potato soup that is almost ready!

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.

Stir in the flour to create a roux.  Cook until it bubbles.

Then add the milk, 1 cup at a time.  Use a whisk if lumps start to happen.  Remove from heat when thick and smooth.

Remove the ham shanks from the crock pot and separate the meat from the fat and bones.  Shred the meat with a fork.

Add the milk mixture to the crock pot, and then the ham meat.  Stir to combine.

Ladle up a nice big bowl-full and garnish with a bit of shredded cheese and fresh chopped chives.  Maybe toast and butter a couple pieces of a nice crusty bread.  Now there ya go.

Maybe if you get close enough to your monitor you can smell the wonderful creamy, smoky, comfort-food yumminess of this soup. 

Maybe you’ll just have to take my word for it, until you make some for yourself.  And then—shhhhh don’t let your family hear—hide any leftovers in the fridge for YOUR lunch.  Mmmmmm, yummy!

This soup got an “Oh. My. Gosh!” from Mr17 on his way to get his second bowl.  I couldn’t get him to commit on whether my soup is better than his Dad’s.  Well played on his part, even though mine IS yummier!

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Celine’s Swedish-Style Meatballs

My mom made the best meatballs, and always served them with red sauce and pasta. However, these meatballs have a unique flavor–very un-Italian–and are cooked in an unusual way.  This got me to thinking they just might have Scandinavian roots.  Sure enough, the Swedish meatball recipes I found are made in a similar fashion and also include spices not normally associated with Italian meatballs.   I wonder if she knew, or if this is a recipe from the Scandinavian side of the family and she never even thought about it.  No matter, they are super tender and yummy!

Here’s what you’ll need to make meatballs just like Mom made ’em:

  • 1 pound burger  (Always hamburger while I was growing up.)
  • 2 slices of bread, soaked in water, wrung out and shredded
  • 1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • flour  to coat meatballs
  • 2 bay leaves

Start by soaking the bread in water. 

When the bread has soaked up all the water it can, wring it out, shred it and add it to a bowl with the burger, onion, mace, salt pepper and egg.

Using your hands, gently mix everything together just until combined.  Over-working raw meat will make it tight and tough.

I use a cookie scoop to make uniform-sized balls, forming them a bit in my hands.  Roll each one in flour.

Place meatballs in a large skillet with 1 TBSP butter and 1 TBSP oil.

Brown on all sides.  This will cause a loss of roundness, exactly how they always look.

When meatballs are browned all over, cover them with water, add bay leaves, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.  The flour coating the meatballs will become a gravy coating!

Meanwhile, cook the pasta of your choice according to package directions.  Gently mix pasta, sauce and meatballs.

Serve some up on a plate,

add some finely grated parmesan cheese,

and have a bite of that tender, yummy meatball.

After reading other Swedish meatball recipes, I want to experiment a bit with Mom’s original recipe and serve them more Swedish-style.  The gravy of this recipe sounds the most enticing to me–it uses a bit of ligonberry preserves!  I also liked the idea of cardamom in the meatballs.  I don’t think Mom would mind a bit of tinkering for the sake of Scandinavian yumminess.

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Filed under comfort food, dinner, Food memories, Norwegian Foods, Potluck, recipe

Sweet-Tooth Saturday: Chocolate-Covered Salted Caramels

While in Hawai’i on vacation, I bought my mom Red ‘Alaea and Black Lava sea salts as a Christmas gift; she loved cooking with gourmet salts. She never even got to see them.  My dad is a self-described “survival cook,” so we agreed I’d use them more than he would, and I brought them home with me.  They’ve been up in my cupboard for almost a month now, calling to me every time I open the door.  What does fancy sea salt say, you might be wondering?  (Imagine this in a soft whispery voice, almost like a breeze) “Saaalted Caaaramellls.  Saaaaalted Caaaaaramelllsss….”  What could I do?  Here are some caramels for you, Mom.

I found a caramel recipe on line.  Candy-making is not my forte, but after over-cooking the first batch I learned a lot.  Tips I’ll be passing on to you!

For the caramels:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar  (I only had 2 cups, so filled in the last 1/4 cup with granulated organic sugar.)
  • 1 cup corn syrup  (Please don’t hate me.  I usually avoid corn syrups, but for a yummy caramel with the proper texture, well, I had to.)
  • 1-14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the chocolate and salt parts:

  • 2-10-oz bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp espresso powder
  • sea salt  (I have 3 sea salts and a pink Himalyan salt.)

Butter an 8×8 pan, line it with parchment paper and butter it again.  The parchment will act as handles to help get the caramel block out of the pan.

Melt butter in a 4-6-quart pan over medium heat.

Add milk, sugar and corn syrup.

Stir until combined.  Place a candy thermometer on the pan so the tip is under the surface of the caramel-to-be, but not touching the bottom of the pan.

Stir constantly until the mixture reaches 242F.  Scrape the sides of the pan as you stir to prevent sugar crystals from forming. 

We pause here for the “Here’s what I learned making these caramels” part.  The original recipe says to heat to 242-248F.  The first time I let it go to 250F.  Very bad–they turned into something I could not cut, I tried remelting and burned it.  There’s just no fixing it if it goes past the target temp.  This time, I cooked until 245F; thinking I’d split the difference of the recommended temperatures.  These caramels were cut-able and super yummy, if a bit on the chewy side.  Next time I make them I’m heading for the low end of recommended temperatures, to see if they will stay a bit less threatening to my fillings.  😉

OK, on with the caramels.  When the mixture reaches 242F, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, bounce it on the counter for a minute to help bubbles rise to the surface, and refrigerate until cooled.

Here’s more of what I learned:  The original recipe said to wait until cool, but not completely set, cut into 1″ pieces and return to the fridge until firm.  I tried this and they were so gooey, they stuck to my knife and then were kinda stretched out of shape and didn’t want to go back into their pan.  I gave up after cutting just 3 rows, and found out letting them set until firm was easier to cut anyway.  The bottom of the pan still felt a tiny bit warm to the touch.

So, lift caramels from the pan with the parchment handles to a cutting board.  Cut into 1/2-1-inch pieces using a very sharp, buttered knife–I used a long chef’s knife.  The long cuts here are 1-inch apart.  I cut the first row into 8-1-inch pieces, but that seemed a bit too big to me, so from there on, I cut each row into 12 pieces.

Eat them just like this if you want.  You’ll want to wrap them individually or they will stick together.  Mr17 and I tried them at this stage–yummy–just like a “real” caramel!  Or, gather up your caramels and a few more things and head toward caramel nirvana!

Working with one bag of chips at a time, melt chocolate chips in the microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth.

Stir in 1 tsp espresso powder per bag of chips.  You won’t taste the espresso much, it just makes the chocolate even more rich and chocolatey.

Dip caramels and place on wax paper.  I tried being neat about this process, using a toothpick stuck in the caramel to dip it into the chocolate.  The chocolate kept sucking the caramel off the toothpick, and I’d have to use my fingers to rescue it.  So I just ended up using my fingers.

While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle a few salt crystals on top of each caramel. After washing and thoroughly drying your fingers, of course.  🙂   

Pretty soon, you’ll have enough for everybody in the neighborhood!  I really like how the different colors look–very gourmet, don’t you think?!  The flavor of each is ever-so-slightly different, with the least salty being the black lava salt and the most salty being the regular sea salt.

Himalyan Pink is pretty,

but the Red ‘Alaea is my favorite.

Your friends will LOVE it if you share.  I save baby brie boxes; they’re perfect little candy boxes.

Heart-shaped boxes filled with these yummy salted caramels will make you the Valentine’s Day rock star!  Everyone I know loves dark-chocolatey, rich-caramely flavors, intensified by sea salt.  Yum-yum-yummy! 

Last thing I learned:  The original recipe mixed in 1 TBSP of butter with the chocolate, but reviews of the recipe indicated that the butter was problematic, so I left it out.  Everything worked fine, and the caramels taste uh-maze-ing, but they did dry kind of dull.  I’d like the chocolates to be a bit more glossy.  More experimenting?  Yummy!

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Filed under dessert, food gifts, Holiday foods, recipe

Leftovers (Fajita, Potato, Mushroom) Quiche

Earlier this week I made fajitas and mushroom burgers and steak fries.  I ended up with enough fajita filling for a couple fajitas–one serving, a serving of steak fries, and 7 mushrooms.  I needed to make dinner for three, hmmmmm, what to do?  Lucky for me, I had a box of two premade pie crusts, half and half, and eggs.  Pie crust+half and half+eggs+leftovers=quiche!  Woo-hoo!  Dinner for 3 plus breakfast the next day!

Have a look at what you have for leftovers.  If it sounds like a yummy combo to you, you’ve got quiche!  Here’s the basic quiche recipe.  I made two quiches, so doubled the recipe.

I used about 1 cup fajita filling, chopped a bit, 7 or 8 steak fries and 7 mushrooms, sliced.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Start by sauteing the mushrooms in 2 TBSP butter.  As a rule, I only use pre-cooked add-ins in a quiche.

Cut up the fajita stuff and the potatoes and added to the mushrooms to heat through.

Line two pie pans with the premade crusts and sprinkled a half cup of cheese in the bottom of each and divided the fajita-mushroom mixture between the two pans, topping with another half cup of cheese each.

Mix the custard according to the quiche recipe, divide between the two pans.

Bake 45 minutes or until golden and a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.  Wait 5-10 minutes, cut into wedges and serve!  Since my leftover quiche was sort of Mexican-flavored, I topped it with a small dollop of sour cream and an avocado slice.

Everyone loved this quiche, and it didn’t seem like leftovers! 

As pretty as it is yummy, and a great way to stretch a food dollar. 

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Parmesan and Thyme Shortbread Crackers

Baking is a cure for a blah day!  Just when my headache from the approaching low pressure system and the general greyness outside nearly had me whupped, I decided to bake something to warm up the house.  Look at these cute little crackers–it just got sunnier in my kitchen!

The original recipe calls them crackers, but they’re more like little, delicate, savory shorbreads.  Mmmmm.  Melt-in-your-mouth, cheesy-herby yumminess.  Super easy to make, and makes 3-4 dozen when you slice ’em thin!

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 oz grated parmesan
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

Get everything ready first–grate the cheese and pull the thyme leaves off the stems.  Just hold the top and pull down the stem.  See how the little leaves stay in your fingers?  Chop finely.

Beat the butter until creamy.

Add flour, parmesan, salt, pepper and thyme. 

Mix until the dough comes together.  If your dough is crumbly like mine was, add cold water 1 TBSP at a time until the dough looks like dough rather than a bowlful of crumbs.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a log 13-14 inches long.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Unwrap the log and slice into 1/4-inch pieces.

Place on prepared baking sheet. 

Bake 22 minutes or until firm and golden.  Your kitchen will be smellin’ yummy!

Aren’t they pretty?

And so yummy with a bit of goat cheese on top…

or some onion salsa…

or pomegranate-pepper jelly. 


I personally liked the sweeter toppings–onion salsa and pom-pepper jelly.  The sweet combined with the salty-savory was just perfect.  Now that I’ve seen how easy these are, I want to experiment with other savory shortbread flavors.  Rosemary-almond?  Garlic-white cheddar?  What choices would you try? 

I’m thinking these little crackers, the toppings and a glass of wine sounds like dinner…..yummy!

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Mushroom Swiss Burgers and Steak Fries

Football.  Playoffs.  Michael in the mood for burgers.  Get in the car and head out on a 30-minute one-way drive to Red Robin for take-out?  I think not!  I’m sure I can make a gourmet-esque-ish sort of burger, can’t I?  Sure I can!

What I can’t do is show you all the pictures I took.  My cell phone ate them.  Sounds like a homework excuse, huh?  Moving on anyway–I’m confident I can talk you through this easy-peasy gourmet burger and fries without as many pics as usual.

For the steak fries:

  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 2 TBSP olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.  Slice potatoes in half long ways, and then into wedges–5 or 6 wedges per half.

Mix paprika, salt, garlic powder and pepper together.  Place potatoes in a roasting pan lined with parchment paper, drizzle with olive oil and season with spice mix.  Toss to evenly coat with your hands. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes, until fork tender and starting to crisp.

While your fries are baking, make your burger flavor-y and moist by adding a few things.  For every pound and a half of burger, gently mix in:

  • 1 tsp grill seasoning (or salt/pepper combo)
  • 1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped and sauted onion

Finely chop and saute the onion until translucent. 

Gently work grill seasoning, worcestershire sauce and onions into the burger, just until combined.  Over-working the raw meat will make your burgers tough.  Use your hands, making sure to wash before and after handling raw meat.  Form 4 burgers, gently shaping them with the centers thinner than the edges–this will make the burgers stay flat instead of puffing up in the middle.  Pan fry or grill to desired done-ness.  4-5 minutes per side for medium.

Clean and slice 6-8 mushrooms.

Melt 3 TBSP butter over medium heat and saute 3 cloves minced garlic until just  starting to turn golden.

Add mushrooms and saute until tender.  Deglaze with a splash of dry white wine.  Cook for an additional 2 minutes.

In the last 3 minutes of cooking the burgers, top with mushrooms.

And then top with a slice of swiss cheese.

Place a foil tent over the burgers to help the cheese get melty.

Starting to melt!

Spread buns with dijon mustard, place burger between, serve with steak fries!

Yum!  Remember that splash of wine needed to deglaze the mushrooms?  The big bonus of not running for take-out, aside from not going out in the cold? Being able to sip on that wine while cooking.  Nice.

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Filed under dinner, lunch, recipe, side dish

Quick and Easy Fajitas

My husband Michael is a huge fan of Mexican food; he would eat it every day, every meal.  Yup.  I like to experiment with new things that don’t always end up hot and spicy.  So after a few days of not-Mexican food, it was time.  Leftover steak from Western Colorado Cheese Steak paninis was perfect for a big ol’ batch of fajitas.

Fajitas are super easy to make and come together quickly, especially if the meat you use is already cooked.

  • 2 bell peppers, thinly sliced, colors of your choice
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced, rings separated
  • 1 hot pepper of your choice, minced (This is a jalepeno and ended up WAY more spicy than usual!  Does it look threatening?  Not unusually so…)  
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • a shake or two of red pepper flakes (I opted out of these, as it became apparent that the jalapeno would be plenty, plenty hot enough!)
  • 1/2 pound meat of your choice, pre-cooked, thinly sliced.  Or tofu or mushrooms if you want to keep your fajitas vegetarian.
  • tortillas
  • toppings of your choice–the usual suspects–avocado, sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, green onions, black olives,….

Clean and slice bell peppers into thin strips.

Peel and slice onions thinly, separating rings, mince the jalepeno.  (Look at those teeny, tiny pieces of jalapeno.  Look at the pile of them compared to the pile of everything else.  Really seemed reasonable at the time.)


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add veggies and saute until they start to caramelize.  This was when I discovered the jalapeno was uber-spicy-hot.  The evil vapor steam rising off the tiny, tiny jalapeno bits rose up and jumped down my throat.  By then it was too late to reduce the amount of jalapeno, but I did opt out of red pepper flakes.  Good decision.

Add meat, cumin (and red pepper flakes if using), and heat through. 

Warm tortillas.  Pile a healthy bunch of yummy, fragrant fajitas into tortillas and top as you wish.

I’m here to tell ya that these fajitas were yummy, but hot-hot-hot because of that jalapeno!  I had to get more sour cream.  And water.  And a tissue.  Michael was happy-happy-happy with the heat.  Happy hubby=a very good thing.

If you have leftover meat from something, fajitas are one of the quickest ways to get a yummy dinner on the table.  Perfect for anyone with a super busy schedule or anyone (like me) who forgets to plan something for dinner, then happily remembers, “Oh!  I can make fajitas!  Yummy!”  Feel free to leave out the jalapeno altogether.  🙂

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