Irish Lamb Stew – a taste of home, no matter where you’re from

Saint Patricks Day - Irish Stew
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  I confess I don’t know a lot about the real dishes of Ireland; the dishes people grew up eating around their family tables.  I only know that around here, people eat corned beef and cabbage and drink copious amounts of Guiness Stout.  In order to do something a little more authentic than four leaf clover shaped cookies, I consulted my fabulous and too-far-away friend, Elisha Clarke on some of her favorite Irish dishes.  Elisha was born and raised in Ireland and TODAY is her birthday!  I very much feel the luck of the Irish because I know her!  She is an amazing photographer and I hope one day I can go hang out with her in Ireland and see first hand the beauty she gets to photograph every day.
Irish Stew with Country Bread
When I asked her about dishes she grew up loving, she listed five or so and Irish stew actually wasn’t one of her favorites, haha.  But then she sent me a link to a cute, Irish celebrity chef doing this stew on Jaime Oliver’s show and he made it look so simple and delicious, I had to try it!  It came together easily and as it cooked for over an hour, I had time to relax with my family!  As I took the first bite, I was immediately transported to my own dining table as a child.  My mom made beef stew quite often and would let it simmer on the stove while we were at church.  I always loved it and she served it with saltine crackers that we’d crush up into our stew.  Tasting this very similar Irish lamb version made me smile – thousands of miles separate the humble meals of working class Americans and working class Irish, yet we are instantly connected by a warm meal.  Elisha mentioned that her country has very poor origins and so therefore, the traditional dishes are very humble in nature.  I think all the best dishes in any culture originate from people making the best of what they have been given.  My family did it, Elisha’s family did it, and if I were to guess, I’d say that probably most of you could relate to that story, as well.  A simple bowl of warm stew on a cold evening can comfort and connect family and friends, no matter how far apart.
Irish Stew
Irish Lamb Stew*
serves 6

2 TBS vegetable oil
2lb 3oz lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks (could also use beef chuck roast)
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
1 bay leaf
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 1/2 cups beef stock
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 TBS butter cut into small cubes
salt and ground black pepper to taste
slices of country bread, to serve

Place a large, flameproof casserole pot over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and brown the lamb pieces in two batches. Remove and set aside on a plate. Reduce the heat to medium–high, add another tablespoon of oil and fry the onion, celery and carrot for 4–6 minutes or until the onions have softened.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Return the meat to the pot, along with the bay leaf and stock, season with kosher salt and ground black pepper and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and push the slices of potato down into and across the top of the stew, dot with the butter and give a final seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Cover and place in the oven to cook for about 1½ hours or until the meat is tender, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes have browned.

Serve the stew in deep bowls with crusty, buttered bread to mop up all the juices!  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

*minimally adapted from Donal Skehan’s beautiful recipe

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup and trying something new

Butternut Squash Soup
This is one of the best soups I’ve made all winter.  Previously, butternut squash soups were borderline too sweet for me – I could never finish an entire batch and would guiltily throw the leftovers down the sink.  I’ve made this version three times, now, and each time, we eat it all!  It doesn’t get boring – the flavors are so complex and balanced, thanks to that crazy looking celery root.  It’s perfect!  It’s also incredibly filling and very low fat, so I think it’s quite possibly the most wonderful food to have when you’re watching what you eat, but don’t want to feel deprived.  It’s also perfect as a baby food!  With just two simple vegetables, it’s a great way to introduce flavors to a little one just starting out on solids, or a toddler who might eat soup better than they would eat a new vegetable.  For toddlers, I think the best way to serve soup is in a small, handled cup.  Fill it half way and let them sip at their own pace.  They love feeling in control and YOU will feel better with limited soup-spills as would occur most certainly if you handed them a spoon 🙂  This soup is also a great way to introduce YOU to a new vegetable!  Who here has bought and prepared celery root?  (also called celeriac)  If you haven’t, you don’t have to be afraid – it tastes like celery with the consistency of a sweet potato!

I’m happy to announce a little cooking segment I’ll be doing this year on my friend, Paul’s PBS show, 24 Frames!  (this soup makes an appearance!)  It’s very exciting to be a part of something creative and I’m deeply flattered that he included me in his show. I love talking about food more than anything, so once I get over the mortal fear of seeing myself talk on camera, I’ll finally start to enjoy watching my own segment.  Please tune in to 24 Frames every Saturday night at 9 p.m. Central on PBS!  The show should be available online very soon for those who don’t live in this area, and when it is, I’ll post a link!

Thank you all for watching and for reading my blog.  It’s very humbling and I hope you can feel a little more confident in the kitchen with every new recipe you try!

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup

Butternut Squash and Celery Root Soup
serves 6-8

 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 celery root, peeled, rinsed and diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock, hot
black pepper and cream for garnish
1. Peel and chop the onion, celery root and butternut squash.
2. Heat the oil in a large stock pot.
3. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir the squash, celery root and salt into the pot and cook for about 10 minutes until the squash begins to soften.
5. Add the rosemary and chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
6. Using a blender in batches, or an immersion blender, puree the soup until completely smooth.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and thin out with cream or extra stock as desired.  Ladle into bowls and add a swirl of cream and a few dashes of fresh cracked pepper and serve!

Happy New Year’s Resolutions and a Bowl of Hoppin’ John

Good Luck Peas
New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being too lofty and often unmet.  I’ve resolved to make my resolutions more about matters of the heart this year, rather than focusing on one particular flaw that needs improving.  Because as I’ve learned the hard way over the past few months, external flaws or bad habits are results of a ruined heart.  They are results of being far away from the Creator and instead, closer to the creation.  So instead of losing weight or being more organized or improving my correspondence with friends, or whatever needs improvement, I will instead put these resolutions on my list for 2014, and like the scriptures promise, “all these things will be added to you.”

1. Work for Christ instead of approval of men
2. Speak less frequently and listen more
3. Seek the Kingdom first thing in the morning through prayer, quiet time or reading
4. Look to the needs of others first
5. Treat Matt, Olive and everyone I come in contact with, like Christ would if He were me.

That should keep me quite busy this year.  I know for certain that  a year lived in this way will yield joy, whether good or bad things happen to me externally.  I think I’ll type these out and review them daily.  So many good things fall under these simple rules.  Preparing and serving good food could technically fall under resolutions 1, 4 and 5.  Today, I had the joy of keeping a tradition running in my family and preparing a huge pot of black eyed peas for us to have for lunch, lest we miss out on a year of good luck. Of course I don’t believe in superstition or luck, but I do believe in traditions and I look forward to them and I especially look forward to them if they are served with ham hocks and buttered corn bread.

Growing up, my Mammaw would bring us fresh frozen black eyed peas from her garden and we’d have them buttered with chopped, sweet onions.  Nothing fancy, just your obligatory New Years peas!  A few years ago I made a pot of dried beans with lots of bacon and chicken stock and it was pretty life-changing and so I have stuck to the same recipe, more or less, every year since.

Today, I give you my recipe for New Years black eyed peas, or Hoppin’ John, or whatever else you want to call it.  In true Family Meal style, Matt and I both contributed to this recipe.  I got the beans going, Matt made the cornbread, and Olive kept us entertained with things she found out in the yard as we took down Christmas decor.  I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day – it’s the only January 1, 2014 you’ll ever get,  so by all means, live it well!

Hoppin' John

New Years Day – Hoppin’ John

16oz bag of dried beans (if you use fresh, you’ll get to skip the first step)
1 sweet, medium white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups hot stock – I used beef stock, but chicken or vegetable would work fine, too.
1 large ham hock, or about 8 ounces chopped bacon or ham

1 recipe of really great skillet cornbread

In a large bowl, submerge the peas in water by at least 2 inches and let sit over night or at least 6 hours.

Drain the beans and set aside, picking through to remove any bad ones.  In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil and let it start to bubble.  Add in the chopped vegetables and stir for about 10 minutes until they all begin to soften. Add in the black eyed peas and ham hock and stock and bring to a full boil.

Reduce heat and bring it down to an active simmer and let it cook on the stove, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the beans are tender.  If you’re using fresh, you’ll probably only need to let it cook for 2, but just check occasionally for doneness.

Serve over cornbread with plenty of dashes of hot sauce and ring in the new year right!

Creamy White Bean Soup

White Bean and Celery Cream Soup

 

So these days, I’m either making soups, roasting something, caramelizing something, or melting chocolate.  Tis’ the season, right?  I found another gem in Homemade Winter of an incredibly filling, rich soup loaded with protein, fiber and veggies.  As a pureed soup, Olive had no problem drinking it from her little soup cup, and as I’ve said before, I think soups are THE easiest and most efficient way for toddlers to try a myriad of vegetables, flavors and colors.  And how easy they are to convert to “baby food”!  Back when I was making baby food, I would make a batch of vegetable soup, and after pureeing it, I could fill nearly a dozen jars.  Try buying a dozen jars of baby food in the store vs. a butternut squash and some chicken stock.  The price difference says it all!

Olive has been very into “sauce!” lately, no matter what it is.  She covets it, even though she doesn’t like any of it except “tomato sauce” (ketchup).  Any time we have Srirracha or Tapatio or mustard – whatever – she wants it.  So we give her tastes of anything she requests.  She usually raises her eyebrows and fusses a bit, especially if it’s spicy, but hey, that’s how she learns!  This soup has a smoky chili oil drizzled on top, and I thought it was a genius addition.   I didn’t have any celeriac, and it was one of those super cold days where I didn’t want to run out to the store for one ingredient, so I used the celery I had in my fridge, and I thought it worked great.

More, yes, MORE post from Homemade Winter to come.  It’s so perfect for this season, it’s unbelievable.  Enjoy this soup!

Creamy White Bean Soup* – START THIS SOUP A DAY AHEAD
makes a lot

1 1/2 cups dried white beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts, washed well and finely chopped
4 stalks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
2 tsp  minced fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
salt and ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
drizzle of chili oil – I bought mine at an Asian Mart, but I think you could find it in the Asian section of any grocery store

Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them by 2 inches.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stock pot and add the leeks and celery.  Saute, stirring constantly, until the leeks are soft.  Add the garlic, stir for a bit, and then add the broth.

Drain the beans and add them to the saucepan.  Add the rosemary and season with salt and pepper.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let the soup simmer over low heat with the lid partway on for 2 hours.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in several batches in a regular blender (why on earth haven’t you bought an immersion, yet?!)  Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve hot with a drizzle of chili oil or Srirracha would be great, too!

*Homemade Winter adaptation

 

Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup

tomato soup for a cold dayTomato Soup buried

It’s a beautiful, cold fall day!  Yesterday it was dark and very cold and it called for a cup of soup in hand and little else.  When Matt makes us his pizza on the weekends, I am always left with about 9/10ths of a can of tomatoes and inevitably during the week, that gets turned into tomato soup.  I keep adding a spice here or there, fresh basil if I happen to have it, and no matter how I tweak it, it always turns out great.  For this version, I had some stale bread from Matt’s weekly baking that I turned into croutons. I hate wasting his bread, even the stale stuff, so it gets turned into croutons, breadcrumbs or savory stuffings every time.  The good thing about breads that are as plain and rustic as his, is that they don’t mold very quickly – they just dry out.  Perfect!  The croutons were tooth-shatteringly hard, but after a few minutes in the soup, they were extremely flavorful little sponges.

Happy Fall – it’s in the air!  It’s marvelous!  There’s a faint scent of wood burning in our neighborhood and it’s a treat to get to walk outside.  It’s a treat to be alive, today, really.  Tomorrow doesn’t exist, don’t spin all day for it.  Yesterday can’t be changed, don’t regret it.  Live today and today only!  Yesterday I recalled one of my favorite quotes,“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.”
― Jean de La BruyèreLes caractères.  This quote challenges me to not waste my day thinking about what all I have to do, or what all I didn’t get done yesterday.  It helps me to not sit around wasting time on my phone and it helps me to realize that time with 1 and a half year old Olive is extremely rare and won’t be here for long.  So we make a mess drinking our soup and we laugh and I try to take her up on her offers while I’m working to, “mama pay? mama do somting?” a little more frequently.

Homemade Tomato Soup

Creamy Tomato Soup from Scratch
serves 3-4

1-28oz can whole tomatoes (I love Cento brand!)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbs olive oil
Whatever herbs you like – dried thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano – they’re all good and they all work.  Stick to about a teaspoon.
A splash of cream – eh, if I had to measure, I’d say 1/8th of a cup
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Put the olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the garlic clove.  Saute over medium heat until starting to brown.  Add in the entire can of tomatoes, red wine vinegar, herbs and stir to combine.  With an immersion blender, pulse until completely blended and smooth.  Add in the cream, stir to incorporate and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Let it simmer on the stove for about 10 minutes and serve hot with crackers, croutons, or the classic grilled cheese.  Enjoy!

tomato soup face tomato soup tomato baby

Summer Corn Chowder – perfect for a rainy day

Corn Chowder and Cornbread

I hope you’re getting rain.  We got a little bit last night and it’s threatening to rain, today.  The clouds are hanging low and the wind is a cool 65 and I feel for a minute that it could be late September instead of the middle of July.  I live for cold weather and I’m still a little perplexed by why I live here, in the desert.  I grew up around here – maybe that’s it.  We long for things unfamiliar or for the relief we feel on the rare occasions we get a break from our usual reality.  I hear people in Seattle long for the beach.  I bet they don’t long for the desert, though!

Another comforting thing about food is the ability to transport myself into a feeling or a mood simply by the dish I prepare.  Caprese salad makes me long for summer nights, spice cakes make me wish for Christmas, chocolate chip cookies make me think of home.  A warm bowl of chowder with a thick slice of cornbread and a cold slab of butter puts me in the mood for a cloudy day and cooler temps.  So, in the middle of the heat of the summer, on this cooler week with cloudy days and threatening rain, let’s make a memory with a warm bowl of corn chowder and pray the rain stays a while.

Summer Corn Chowder and the Perfect Cornbread*
serves 6

4 teaspoons bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 ribs celery,cut into 1/2-inch dice (3/4 cup)
8 sprigs thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
3 ears yellow corn, kernels removed (about 2 1/2 cups)
5 ounces small fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 poblano chile, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Place bacon in small stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is deep golden brown and all the fat has been rendered, about 4 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel, and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat.

Add onions, celery, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste to stockpot; cook over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 15 minutes.

Add corn, potatoes, and chile; cook until potatoes are tender, 10-20 minutes. Remove and discard thyme. Add half-and-half, and simmer until soup is hot. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and garnish with the reserved crisp bacon pieces.

*recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Cornbread

 

We only make one cornbread recipe, anymore.  The New Best Recipe is a wonderful encyclopedia of how to make every recipe basically, perfect.  We love this book and it never steers us wrong.  It’s quite bulky, but all the recipes are tested extensively and done in a myriad of ways, and they give a background as to why the recipes work.  It’s very trust-worthy and a definite go-to in times of need of a solid recipe!  Their Golden Northern Cornbread is our go-to cornbread recipe.  It’s light, fluffy, moist and slightly sweet.  Holds together beautifully to be a base for your bowl of soup, or just on the side with some cold butter.

The Best Golden Cornbread
makes 9 servings

2 tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup (5 ounces) yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1 cup (5 ounces) AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup milk

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch square baking pan with butter.

Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in a large bowl.  Push the dry ingredients up the sides of the bowl to make a well.

Crack the eggs into the well and stir lightly with a wooden spoon, then add the buttermilk and milk.  Stir the wet and dry ingredients quickly until almost combined.  Add the melted butter and stir until the ingredients are just combined.

Pour the batter into the greased pan (we actually love to use our cast-iron skillet for this recipe). Bake until the top of the cornbread is golden brown and lightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool slightly, 10 minutes.  Cut and serve warm!

 

Food Memories: Chicken n’ Noodles

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Many of us have memories of being little and watching our moms or dads or grandmas cook or bake for the family.  The first memory that comes to mind for me is watching my mom cut out biscuits with an old green chili can she had cut the top and bottom off of (it’s the perfect biscuit size!) and then slap each side of the biscuit in vegetable oil, then slide the disc in line with the others to fill up an entire pizza pan.  There is something methodically calming about watching someone cook.  I always felt like I was helping, even if I never touched anything.  I felt involved, because mom let me stand there or sit on the counter across from her and talk to her while she worked.  I will always be thankful that she let me hang around the kitchen.  She was always so busy doing a thousand things for our family that it was the one moment when things were somewhat calm and we could just be together and I could count on it every night because I (thankfully) had a mom that cooked dinner 6 out of the 7 days of the week.  You really can’t replace that kind of experience with anything else.  Those memories stick.

My dear friend, Louise Shoemaker, shared a memory and a meal with me last week that seemed so fitting for my blog and for what I love about cooking for my family and eating together.  She is one of the best writers I know, (she was my 10th grade English teacher – how lucky I am to still be friends with her!) so I asked her to write a little blurb about the recipe and the memory that went along with it.  My favorite part about this recipe was consulting her every 5 minutes to make sure I was doing things right.  She had driven up to Lubbock for the day and ate this meal with us!  I’d never made noodles from scratch, and technically, neither had she, but she’d watched her mother so much that she knew.  Here is what she had to say about the chicken noodle soup that made a permanent home in her memory:

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L
ouise and her Mother

It’s funny that a food memory starts with a sharp, clear visual. The bright yellow Pyrex bowl and the red-handled Daisy egg beater swirling the rich gold of fresh yolks. I’ll never forget the 50’s color scheme of the kitchen: pink walls, turquoise cabinet doors, chocolate brown trim. I can still see the white enamel-on-steel kitchen table and my mom in her long, slim dress with the apron tied smartly and the scarf pulled back over her careful bobby-pin curls. It’s as clear in my eye today as it was in those days 50-some years ago.

It must have been a Wednesday. Two days until payday and five mouths to feed on a budget stretched to the last nickel. So, a plump (cheap!) boiling hen, a dozen eggs, a pile of flour, a splash of water, and we knew we’d make it till Friday.

Chicken’n Noodles: made-from-scratch pasta boiled in rich, fresh stock, with chunks of chicken so tender it fell off the bone. A silky thickened sauce, glistening with a bit of butter, and thick, rustic slabs of slightly chewy noodles curling on a plate. YUMM!

The aroma of that meal is the smell of childhood, and it takes me right back there to that kitchen watching my mom pour the beaten eggs into the crater of the flour volcano and mix and knead and roll the dough out to a four-foot circle. I can see her boning a mountain of chicken, dropping heaping handfuls of raw noodles into bubbling broth. Cooking this meal was a production, an infrequent event. I’ve savored the memory of Chicken and Noodles for decades. It was amazing to re-create it with Alisa. And Olive.

I like to think of them cooking together for years to come, Olive sharing with her mother an experience so rich and elemental and, in today’s environment, rare. You’re a lucky (impossibly adorable) munchkin, Ollie! And your mama is pretty awesome, too!

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I am giving you the recipe I did – I only added a few things to the stock, the rest, I followed Louise’s mom’s story-like recipe as best I could.  With pointers from Louise along the way…

Chicken’n Noodles

For the stock:
1 chicken, cut into pieces (8 pieces, bone still in: wings, breasts, legs, thighs)
Water
Salt
1 onion, chopped into quarters
3 carrots, chopped into thirds
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme

Put the chicken pieces into a large stock pot and cover with water until covered by about 2 inches.  Add a couple tablespoons of salt along with the onion, carrot, bay leaves and thyme.  Bring to a boil, skimming any foam off the top as it comes.  Reduce to a simmer and maintain a simmer (I left my burner on about a 3-4) for 1 and a half to 2 hours.
Remove the chicken from the pan and let it cool.  Then, remove skin, bones and any fat that remains.  Chop or hand-shred the chicken and set aside in a bowl in the fridge while you make the noodles.  Skim the stock of as much fat as you can, but don’t fuss too much.  Remove the carrots, onion and herbs and discard so you’re left with a (mostly) clear broth.  Keep the broth at a simmer with the lid on while you make the noodles.

For the noodles:

3 eggs
a big ol’ mound of flour (maybe 4-6  cups)
salt
elbow grease

Pour a mound of flour on a clean work space and create a hole in the center, volcano-style.  Make it deep enough so that when added, the eggs don’t spill over the side. Leave flour on the floor of the volcano so you can’t see your counter.  Crack the eggs into the hole and with your hand or a fork, whip up the eggs, incorporating flour as you go from the sides.  You won’t use all the flour, of course.  Keep incorporating flour to the eggs, stirring all the while, until you are left with a ball of dough that isn’t very sticky anymore.  Knead the ball for a good 10 minutes until you’re left with a very smooth ball of dough.  Trade off with a friend if you get tired:

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Clean your hands and insert your finger into the center of the dough.  If it comes back super sticky, add more flour and knead some more.  Cover your dough with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

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Clean off your work space and if you’ve worked clean, you can save most of the flour you didn’t use.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface till it’s an 1/8th of an inch thin.  Or thinner.  You may need to let the dough rest a few times throughout this process because it will start to shrink back up.  Once you get it thin enough, cut it into whatever shapes you like.  I chose squares because I have a kiddo that needs everything cut up, anyway.  Louise remembers her mom cutting looooooooong, thick strips, which would be wonderful, too.  You could even get cute and cut out little shapes from tiny cookie cutters.  Once you get all the dough cut, make sure each piece is coated in flour and bring at least a cup more flour with you to the stove to boil and put this dish together.

Making it Into Soup:

Get your stock to a rolling boil.  Dump your noodles in a handful at a time until they’re all in the pot, stirring as you go so they don’t stick.  This is the vague portion of our program.  Once the noodles are al dente, add the chicken back in and bring it back up to a simmer over medium-low heat.  While stirring, add a sprinkling of flour – maybe 1/4 cup – and stir until fully incorporated.  Keep adding flour till a good consistency is reached.  You’re wanting an opaque sauce that’s neither soupy nor gravy – somewhere in the middle.  If it coats the back of a spoon, it’s probably ready.  Adjust the seasoning with salt until it sings of chicken goodness.  Ladle up, top with a good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and enjoy.  We had ours with a wonderful Chardonnay and some crusty challah bread with butter.  Really – it does NOT get better than that.  The baby went crazy for this soup, too, and ate her entire bowl, plus some of ours.

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Chicken Pot Pies – for you and baby

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Making baby food purees is a really fun phase of having a new baby.  Whether you start them at 4 months or 6 months, you have about 3-6 months of making purees out of just about everything.  Over the past few months, I’ve pureed coconut curry soup, chicken fricassee, beef ragu – you name it.  I’d tote along little containers of food when we’d go out to restaurants and even had a waitress warm one up in the microwave, once.  (It was on the road, the restaurant was dead, we were her only table.) As much of an adventure as this was, I will admit that I’m excited that Olive can now pretty much eat what we eat, only chopped up a little smaller.  So, when we go out to a restaurant, we can order her a couple of side dishes and she’s happy!

However, I don’t want to start her out on the ugly road of “kid food” and “kids’ menus.”  Sure, they might be nice, smaller portions, but I bet none of us would have to try very hard to name at least five items on any kid’s menu at any restaurant in America.  1. Grilled Cheese 2. Hot Dogs 3. Pizza (cheese or pepperoni only) 4. Chicken nuggets with fries 5. Macaroni and Cheese.
Do you see a horrible trend?  Where on earth are the vegetables and why on earth do we pick the worst foods with the poorest nutritional value and label them as “kid friendly” choices and then give them to little, growing bodies?  This trend isn’t likely to improve any time soon, so in the meantime, I want to suggest a different kind of “kid friendly” choice.

Soups!

We were at Jason’s Deli a couple weeks ago and noticed that their kids’ menu is exactly the same, only with “organic” thrown into the mix and “whole wheat” to disguise the literally 100% meat, cheese and bread menu.  So we ordered her a chicken pot pie soup and she absolutely loved it.  I also noticed that she didn’t have any problem at all eating the whole peas, where as at home, she began refusing pea puree.  I had a side of tomato basil soup and she loved that, too.  I will state right now before everyone chimes in, that I realize these soups are probably high in sodium.  Most soups are.  But let’s look back at the alternative kids’ choices for a minute…

I came home from Jason’s that night with a new thought for what to cook for Olive.  Grown up soups that I don’t have to puree!  I naturally looked through the cookbook I’ve been addicted to lately, the Bonne Femme Cookbook, and found a wonderful sounding Poulet Pot Pie.  The lovely author herself, Wini Moranville, commented on my post last week that I should try it (leaving out the cognac, of course, although I will be trying the grown-up version very soon.)  I absolutely loved the flavors in this recipe – the fresh tarragon and leeks were my favorite part, and Olive happily eats it without slowing down!   This is much less “soupy” than what you might be used to, but I think for a baby in the “I have a few teeth, now” phase, I think it’s perfect.  You could also improvise with adding in other, small-dice sized vegetables of your choice.

Poulet Pot Pie – for the whole family

4-6 servings

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 2 cups cubed rotisserie chicken
  • 4 medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 medium-size leeks, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only) about 2 cups
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 1/3 cup. Everything is bigger in Texas, I found. Our “small” onions are probably France’s “ginormous” onions, so just measure out 1/3 of a cup and put the other 2/3 cup in a plastic bag. I did exactly that, with exactly those measurements.  And it was the smallest onion I could find)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (if you don’t own a Microplane, you really should get one for anything minced.  I use mine constantly for cheese, ginger, garlic, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed and 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • Fresh ground black pepper and kosher salt, to taste

Thaw puff pastry according to package directions, set aside.
Place cubed up chicken in a large mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400F
Bring a 2 quart saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the carrots, bring back to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.  Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again.  Add to the chicken in the bowl.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, but not brown, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.  Stir in the flour, making sure all of the flour is moistened by the butter in the pan.  Cook and stir for 1 minutes.  Do not allow the flour mixture to brown.  Whisk in the chicken broth and milk.  Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir 1 minute more.  Stir in the cream.  Stir in the chicken and carrots, the tarragon, and salt and pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.
You would then transfer the entire thing to a 2-quart casserole at this point, but I used little 4 oz ramekins and had enough leftover after filling up 6 ramekins to fill a large souffle dish for Matt and I to split.

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Look at all the pretty colors!

I used a large cookie cutter and cut out the puff pastry and placed it over the ramekins and sprayed the tops with olive oil cooking spray.  I put plastic wrap and then tin foil over the tops and froze 4 and then put two in the fridge.  To cook, I simply let the dish come to room temp from the fridge and baked at 400 until the puff pastry was nicely browned and the insides were bubbling, about 20 minutes.
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Enjoy exploring new soups for the family and for your new, little eaters!  If you want to check out my Pinterest Baby Food board for more ideas, you’ll find it’s just mostly good-looking soups 🙂 Remember: there’s no such thing as kid food!  It’s all food and it’s all good for everyone!