Low Carb Pumpkin Sausage Soup

It’s fall, so it’s time for pumpkins!

Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall
Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall

However, those of us who are doing low carb must forswear pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies.  So sad for us!
Luckily, pumpkin lends itself well to savory dishes as well.  The following recipe, which I picked up at my last visit to the wellness nurse, is adapted from this one.

Low Carb Pumpkin Soup

12 oz. sausage
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/8 t. garlic
fresh basil, oregano, and rosemary, to taste
1 can pumpkin
4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. water
salt and pepper to taste
Brown sausage, crumbling as you cook.  Drain (not in the sink, remember!) and return to the pan.  Add spices and saute until done.  Add pumpkin and mix well.  Stir in broth.  Simmer 20-30 minutes.  Stir in remaining liquids and simmer on low 10-15 minutes.   Salt and pepper to taste.
Servings: 6
Net carbs: 8 g
pumpkin soup
 

Scorched Stew Saga

I have been thinking about beef stew for weeks, ever since it first began to get chilly.  There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to cook.  I’ve been thinking a lot about chili and roasted root vegetables and pots of pinto beans too!
But some of those things are time consuming, so I picked up stew beef when I saw it on sale, got all the vegetables I wanted late last week, and planned to tackle the stew this weekend.
It was a busy weekend as always, so I made my preparations in stages:  On Friday night I floured and browned the beef, and sauteed the onions, peppers, celery, and herbs from my garden, then put all that in the stockpot and refrigerated it.  Saturday evening I added the liquid and started simmering.
Finally, this afternoon was the time for chopping vegetables (lots and LOTS of vegetables) and letting it all cook together so we could have it for supper.
Well, I put the pot on the stove and turned it up high to get it boiling.  I didn’t realize that all the beef had settled to the bottom of the pot.  I didn’t think and I didn’t pay attention until I smelled the scorching.  By the time I moved the pot off the stove the damage was done–only a few pieces of beef were burned, but the broth had that terrible scorched taste.
I’ll end your suspense right now and tell you that with a lot of work I was able to pretty much fix the stew.  And I’m going to tell you the steps I took–thanks to all those genius internet cooks out there–in case something like this ever happens to you.
First, a no-brainer:  I transferred it all to another pot, with NO SCRAPING involved.
Second, I peeled and halved two potatoes and cooked them in the broth for about thirty minutes to absorb some of the flavor.  Then I repeated it with another pair of potatoes. (The potatoes got added to the dogs’ dinner, so we are all winners!)
Third, I threw in a couple of pieces of bacon and some all-purpose “BBQ” seasoning, meant to fool the tastebuds into interpreting that burned taste as though it were meant to be there!
Fourth, I added more liquid to the stew (which I would have been doing in any case), beer, as it happens–and threw in a few more beef bouillon cubes.
Fifth, I put in some apple cider vinegar and a couple of spoons of sugar.
I tasted after each step, and yes, it was getting better, but the taste was still lurking.  It was at this point that all the vegetables were finally chopped and ready to be added and I may as well tell you what they were:  rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots, and three kinds of potatoes.
Finally, when the vegetables had softened I added the final ingredient, which completely got rid of the lingering source.  What I want to know is why this works and who thought of it.  I imagine some frantic crazy woman so exasperated with the bad taste of her stew that she just yelled, “The hell with it!” before dumping in a spoonful of . . .
PEANUT BUTTER.
Yes, that’s right.  And it was like a miracle.  It melted right in and took away the bad smell like creamy peanutty magic.
beef stew

Strawberry Birthday Cake, and not from a box

Another reason I miss my recipe notebook acutely at this time of year is BIRTHDAYS.  Lots and lots of birthdays.  Jake’s is January 27, John AND Emily’s is February 4, Teddy’s is February 15, and William’s is March 5.  That’s a lot of cake.
We’ve been through one whole set of birthdays since the fire, so I’ve rounded up all the tried and true cake recipes.  Jake had Milky Way Cake this year, and John had Strawberry Cake.
Ah, Strawberry Cake.  Twenty-five years ago was John’s first birthday with us as a couple.  It was a fantastic birthday–my gift to him was his college ring, and my roommate and her boyfriend and I “kidnapped” him and took him to the Kennedy Center to see HMS Pinafore.  And I baked him the first of many birthday cakes.
“What kind of cake do you want?” I asked him.  And he, no doubt envisioning a box of pink nastiness from the grocery store shelf, asked for a strawberry cake.
My mother did not have a recipe for strawberry cake.  The Georgetown University Library is not exactly overflowing with cookbooks.  And there was no Internet to consult.  And I haven’t used a box cake mix since I was maybe 12.  So I set out to invent my own recipe.
I don’t remember what I did, but although I am sure John appreciated my efforts, he probably would have preferred the box.
John bday 22
 
But I got better, and I’ve had years to work on my recipe.  The one I made this year was the best one ever, and I am pleased to share it with you. 🙂
It starts with a recipe called “Old-Fashioned White Birthday Cake.”  That came out of one of my mother’s cookbooks years ago.  Then I added some things (strawberries!).
Ingredients:
One container of strawberries, washed and drained
sugar to taste
1 c. butter, softened (REAL butter, mind you.  Don’t you dare use that nasty margarine.)
2 c. sugar
3.5 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
3.5 t. baking powder
milk
1 t. vanilla
8 egg whites
1/8 t. salt
It helps if you are an experienced baker when you make this cake, because I cannot give you exact measurements for the strawberry part of this.  Slice up the strawberries and puree them in your blender with enough sugar so that they are not tart.  If you need to add milk to get them pureed, you can.  Sometimes I’ve needed to; this time I did not.  You want to end up with about 1.5 cups of liquefied strawberry.
Halve the remaining strawberries and reserve.
Cream butter and sugar.  Add salt and baking powder and beat well.  Add vanilla and beat.  Add flour, alternating with liquid strawberries, beginning and ending with flour.  The recipe calls for 1 cup liquid.  If it doesn’t look like cake batter should, you can add more.  This is where experience comes in handy!
Now wash your beaters and beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  (I gave all the yolks to the dog, but you can use the for scrambled eggs or french toast!) Add 1/8 t. salt to the beaten whites.  Fold lightly into cake batter.
Grease two round cake pans and dust with powdered sugar, and pour in your batter.  Bake at 350 until done.  I know that is not very exact, but the recipe really calls for 1 hour in a tube pan.  I started checking at 30 minutes.
When your cake is cool, spread the bottom layer with strawberry preserves.  Actually, I use one of the “all-fruit” strawberry spreads.  Make a basic buttercream frosting, and thin as needed with the rest of your strawberry juice for color and flavor.  Frost cake, and garnish with sliced strawberries.  Everyone will tell you it is the best cake they ever ate.
strawberry cake

Vegetable Chili That Even Meat Lovers Love

I was 19 when I moved into my first apartment–on-campus housing at Georgetown University with three friends.  Excited about having a kitchen, I ambitiously dumped the meal plan and looked forward to home-cooked meals.  To prepare, I bought a green notebook and wrote by hand many family recipes that I considered essential.  I seem to recall that Buttermilk Pound Cake was the first entry!
I held onto the notebook as the years went by.  Whenever I had to consult my mother on how to make sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, or Hot Cross Buns for Easter, I would jot down the recipe so I wouldn’t have to call her again.  During the first couple of years of marriage, when I actually tried out new recipes almost every single night, I copied down the ones that made the grade.
Many of the recipes were never made a second time.  But over the years the cover fell off of the notebook from so much use.  Recipes like Apple Cinnamon Bread became dotted with grease and cinnamon stains.
Then the house burned down.  The recipe book was not the first thing I thought of missing, but it’s one of the things I still consistently wish for, over and over.  I’m calling my mother for recipes again, and I’m hunting for other ones on (thank God for) the Internet.
This Vegetable Chili recipe originally appeared in Sheila Lukins’s column in Parade Magazine around 1991.  You’d think that would be an easy thing to find online, but I have not found the exact recipe and I have searched every way I know how.
I remember well the first time I made it.  John looked at it doubtfully and wanted to know how you could have chili without meat.  A few minutes later he was eating his words along with the chili.  It’s been a favorite ever since.  Additionally, it’s a meal I like to make when I am feeding another family (if I know they like vegetables), whether they have a new baby or sickness or a death in the house.  I double a cornmeal muffin recipe and divide a buttermilk pound cake into two loaf pans, and I have dinner for us and enough to share with another family.
I was doing exactly that for a family that happens to be vegetarian last week.  I found a close approximation to the recipe I wanted and I remembered the rest.  Jake did most of the chili under my direction while I did the baking.
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Vegetable Chili
Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced; or 3/8 t. garlic, powdered
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 3 assorted bell peppers, chopped (I like to use red, orange, and yellow)
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely minced (decide how much to use depending on the hotness of the peppers and your taste)
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, cut in half, with liquid
  • 5 fresh Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 T. cumin, ground
  • 2-3 T. chili powder (to taste)
  • 2 t. oregano, dried
  • 1 t. fennel seeds
  • 1 c. cooked white beans (rinse first if using canned)
  • 1 c. cooked kidney beans (rinse first if using canned)
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. red wine
  • 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • plain yogurt, shredded cheese, and chopped green onions for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.  Chop eggplant and stir with 2 T. oil.  Place in 8×8 baking dish, cover with foil, and bake 30 minutes, stirring at the 15 minute mark.  Set aside when done.
In a stockpot, heat 3 T. oil on medium.  Add onions and cook for five minutes.  When I made this last week I had Jake chop everything in advance so he wouldn’t be stressed. but normally I chop as I go.  So I add the garlic. and then the rest of the vegetables one at a time, as I finish chopping.  So each one cooks a couple of minutes as you chop the next, and then cook about five minutes more after the jalapenos have been added.
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Add the canned tomatoes and liquid, then chop the fresh tomatoes and add.  Add the cumin, chili powder, oregano, and fennel.  Stir in the reserved eggplant and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.
Add the beans, lemon juice, and cilantro.  (Oh, the difficulty I had finding cilantro in 1991!  I’d never heard of it–had to consult the Joy of Cooking–and no one else had either!  I had to drive to the “rich” Kroger in West Knoxville to find it.) Add salt and pepper to taste (you may need to adjust this later) and simmer for five minutes.
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Garnish with plain yogurt, shredded cheese, and green onions, and serve with corn muffins.
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Serendipity in the Kitchen

I rarely use recipes, certainly not for everyday foods.  I like to think of my own mind as a sort of cookbook, capable of synthesizing ingredients into masterpieces.  I’m not sure if that’s a special talent or something that can be learned from years of cooking, maybe it’s a little of both–my 18-year-old son can do it.
Anyway, sometimes I’ll look in the refrigerator and my mind will start going and before I know it there’s an idea I have to try.
Our refrigerator is pretty close to empty at the moment, and that sort of challenge always seems to kick my creativity into high gear, as I try to come up with a use for seemingly unrelated ingredients that will harmonize into something more than only edible.
Tonight’s experiment was a success!
At this time of year we always have a log of Brie in the refrigerator (at least until we eat it all!).  It goes on sale at Kroger for half-price just before Thanksgiving and stays that way until the New Year (which is when we stop buying it!).  At the moment we also have quite a bit of bacon on hand–I bought a little more than I needed for the turkey.   Then there was half a can of cranberry sauce (the jelled kind) that my son had been eating all by itself.  So here’s what I did:
I fried up some bacon (three slices is all I ended up needing).
I placed 8 saltines (that’s all I had–something fancier might have been better, but those were fine) on a cookie sheet.
I sliced half a Brie log into 8 rounds (about 1/4 inch thick) and placed those on the crackers.
I broke the bacon into portions (about two inches each) and placed those on the Brie.
I put a spoonful of cranberry sauce on top.
I popped the cookie sheet under the broiler for about two minutes–just long enough for the Brie to get warm but not long enough to melt.
Et Voilà!
bacon and brie
They were delicious!

The Best Turkey I Ever Made

I don’t know about you, but I always get nervous about roasting the Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s such a big responsibility.  If your casserole doesn’t turn out exactly right, so what?  There are about 100 more casseroles on the table.  But if the turkey is bad?  That’s a Big Deal.
So every year I get out the cookbooks again because I can never remember exactly what I did before.  I’ve achieved fairly good results over the years by submerging the turkey completely in liquid (whatever I have on hand–tons of cans of chicken broth, orange juice, beer, and whatever else it takes to get the thing covered) in the roasting pan.  But it’s so heavy it takes two of us to lift it and it makes the refrigerator shelf sag!   This method helps to keep the turkey moist, and then I solve the dry breast meat problem by soaking cheesecloth in butter and covering the breast with that, and then basting right over it.  This is a combination of a recipe from Gourmet Magazine and the old Joy of Cooking (mine burned in the fire and I have the new one now, which I DESPISE.).
I don’t get excited about cooking turkey not only because it’s stressful but also because it’s kind of boring!  The only adventure is whether it’s going to be done on time and how moist it will be.  There’s not a lot of scope for the imagination–at least not until this year!  Because a couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend posted a picture of a turkey WRAPPED IN BACON.  Yes, you read that right.  I knew immediately that I wanted to try this.  Her picture did not link up to a recipe but when I said I wanted to try it she Googled one for me. (Thanks, Michelle!)  Of course I had to add my own twists to it.  Here’s my recipe.
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Ingredients:
1 turkey, 20 lbs. (I used the cheapest frozen one I could find, and you would never have been able to tell!)
3 12-oz. boxes of bacon (also the cheapest kind I could find)
1 stick butter, softened by leaving it at room temperature
1 onion
5 stalks of celery
1 can of chicken broth
other liquid for soaking (whatever you want.  I used chicken broth, salted water, and beer.)
sage
garlic
salt
pepper
 
If you are using a frozen turkey, you are supposed to thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing one day per five pounds.  But guess what:  that’s an inexact science at best.  You might want to check sooner than I did–which was the night before I was supposed to cook the thing, and it was frozen as hard as a brick.  Should that happen to you, soak it in cool water in the sink, changing the water frequently.
The night before you are going to cook the turkey, wash it and pat it dry, inside and out.  Put it upright in a stockpot and put in as much liquid as you can.  Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare it.
Put your celery sticks in the bottom of your roasting pan (You won’t need these if you have a really good roasting pan with a rack; I needed them because I was using the cheapie foil kind from the supermarket and I wanted to sit my turkey up a bit.) Pour in your can of broth.  Drain your turkey, dry it off, and put it in the pan.  Loosen its skin as much as you can and rub it with softened butter inside the cavities and over and under the skin.  Season with sage, garlic, salt , and pepper (or whatever else you like!) under and over the skin and in the cavities.  Put the onion inside the turkey and tie up the legs (I cross the “ankles” and tie them together with string wound around like a figure eight.).
Now take your bacon and drape it all over your turkey, making sure it is completely covered.  The bacon will stick because of the butter.

 

 
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh near the body, but don’t let it hit bone.  Tent foil over the turkey.  Put it in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 325.  The purpose of the initial high heat is to seal in the juices.
A 20-lb. turkey is supposed to take 4 hours to cook.  For the purposes of this recipe we will pretend that real life and real turkeys always follow the rules, but you need to be prepared to adjust.  I put my turkey in the oven at 9 and took it out after 2.
You can ignore the turkey for the first 3 hours.  After that take off the foil and let it cook for 30 minutes with its bacon wrap still in place.  Then you are going to have to take it out of the oven to do the next part.  Be very very careful because there will probably be a lot of drippings in your pan.  If you are going to make gravy this will be a good time to get out some drippings so you can have a head start.

 
(Please just ignore how dirty my stovetop is, okay?)
Take off the bacon.  Use a fork–it’s hot!  You can chop it up for use in another recipe, or put it away for later, or feed it to your dog. Baste the turkey and put it back in the oven.  At this point you will want to baste it every 30 minutes or so until it is done.  When is it done?  When the thermometer reads 170.  I actually took it out when it wasn’t quite there because it will continue to cook for a bit after you remove it from the oven.
Let the turkey “rest” for 15 minutes or so before carving.  Here’s where I got a bit of a scare–the outer layer of flesh is going to be pink.  Your turkey IS NOT RAW.  It is slightly smoked from the bacon.
Everyone RAVED over this turkey.  One and all said it was the best one I ever cooked.  The breast meat wasn’t just “not dry”–it was downright juicy and flavorful.  This is how I will be cooking my turkey every year from now on.

I'm Cooking Again

Actually, I am always cooking, or at least I am always feeding people.  With six people in the house, all on different schedules, someone is always hungry, and sometimes I feel like a short order cook.
And we run out of groceries around here so quick that you probably wouldn’t believe it.  I used to have a great routine for couponing and shopping and had lots of food on hand for at least a week before the cupboards were empty again, but I just haven’t found my groove since our last move.  I always seem to be too busy, and find myself running to the store for short trips and ordering pizza way too often.
Every week I get an online coupon for Earthfare, and every week I ignore it, because I don’t really shop there.  As much as I would like to feed my family healthy organic food, it’s expensive, and quantity trumps quality with all these hungry kids to feed.  But twice now Earthfare’s coupon has been enticing enough to draw me to their store–both times with a “five foods for five dollars” deal, which really does net around $15 worth of food for $5!  The idea, of course, is that I’ll go there and spend way more than the $5 but I am fully capable of waling in and getting just the coupon items and walking right back out!
Last week’s offering was for an Italian meal.  I ended up with a pound of Italian sausage, a pound of organic pasta, a bottle of organic salad dressing, a container of organic grape tomatoes, and a box of organic spring mix.  Yes, for FIVE DOLLARS.  Pretty sweet, huh?
How to use this bounty?  I remember a blog post I had recently read on Jen Gronick’s Experience the Wonderful.  Jen frequently does cooking posts.  I love her style which is conversational and fun, and I have pinned lots of her recipes.  The one I was thinking of was for pasta bake.
Click over to Jen’s site for the original recipe; I’ll share my variation here.
For the hamburger, I substituted my Italian sausage and I used three 15-oz. cans of diced tomatoes in place of the crushed and whole tomatoes her recipe calls for–I was more or less guessing because I don’t get those Canadian measurements! 😉  I didn’t have any veggies other than my onion so I skipped that part (she does say that’s optional).  I used oregano and basil in lieu of Italian spice.  I normally use pre-shredded cheese but since Jen was so adamantly opposed to that I grated some of the Colby-Jack block I keep in the fridge to go on crackers.  And then I followed her recipe for how to prepare it all.
Here’s what we ended up with:

 
Cheap, easy, delicious, and they were nibbling on it for days!