Weeknight Wondermeal: Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

DSCN5172This summer has been all cockamamie.  We had a sweltering June, but August was remarkably temperate, and now – less than a week into September – it’s already pretty cool out.  I usually don’t find myself making anything soupy or stewey until November, but after a chilly walk home yesterday, I was compelled to break out the wok and the stock and craft some comfort yumminess.  This is a riff on my “Warm Chicken Lovejoy” – the only thing it’s missing is the chicken.  As a weeknight wondermeal, it’s cheap (less than $15), quick (less than an hour), uncomplicated, fairly light, and super soul-satisfying and delicious.  Some smoked pork chops simmered in turkey stock with soup beans, potatoes, fresh veggies, and lovely wilted kale is everything the body needs to bravely face the change of seasons.

Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3-4 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 qt turkey stock
1 can mixed soup beans and barley
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 smoked pork chops (preferably bone-in)
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN5159I forgot to take a set up shot, so let’s just jump right into it.  I start by adding a roughly diced mirepoix (that’s onions, carrots, and celery for the uninitiated) to a glug of EVOO in my hot wok, which I sautee until fragrant and slightly translucent.

DSCN5160Then I layer my potates on top.

DSCN5161Then I dump my can o’ beans on top of that.

DSCN5162Then I place my pork chops on top of THAT.

DSCN5163And finally, I pour my quart of stock over the whole mess, then add some salt, a whole mess of black pepper, and a dash or two of garlic powder.

DSCN5165I let the pot simmer on medium low for about 30 minutes, stirring occaisonally, and allowing the liquids to reduce.  Once they’re soft enough, I squoosh a few pieces of potato with a fork against the side of the pan, which thickens the sauce.

DSCN5166I’ve washed and de-stemmed my kale, which I add to the pot, pressing down on the leaves with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the simmering liquid.

DSCN5167After 10 or 15 minutes, they’ve nicely wilted, and enough of the liquid has boiled off to yeild a nice rich gravy. This can now hold for a while if necessary (Clayton took *forever* getting home from work, so I kept this simmering on low for another 20 minutes or so) — all it does is make the flavors that much richer.

DSCN5169Along with some toasted garlic bread for sopping, this deep bowlful of beany meaty greens-studded stew fills the belly with wholesome heartiness and homestyle goodness.  This is one of my go-to dishes: any combination of pork (sausage, chops, boneless ribs), stock, beans, and greens always hits the spot when simmered slow and low.  Clayton and I dug into this meal like badgers, and weren’t done until we’d sucked every morsel of sweet smoky pork meat from the bones and sopped up every molecule of fragrant, savory gravy.  The fact that it’s so easy makes it all that much better.

Brandied Cream of Mushroom Soup with Butter Poached Monkfish

Tonight’s dinner was mildly inspired by something Whole Foods did NOT have when I went for an early lunch the other day. It was barely 11:15am, and they were transitioning from breakfast to lunch on their hot bar; most of the soups were set up, but one tureen — the one labeled Cream of Mushroom Soup, which I really wanted — was empty.  Well, I wanted lunch RIGHT THEN, and darned if I was going to wait the 2 or 3 minutes it probably would have taken for the dude to bring out that soup, so I cobbled together some salad and whatnot to eat then, promising myself I’d make my own Cream of Mushroom soup for dinner.  Thinking, however, that I might need a bit more substance to my meal than just pureed fungus, I picked up a nice loin of monkfish with the vague idea that I could incorporate it somehow.  The result?  A perfect marriage of richly scented, umame laden mushroom cream and gently butter-poached and pan-seared monkfish, all topped off with cooling creme fraiche and bright cilantro oil.  The ideal dinner for an Indian summer’s evening after enjoying a riverside view of the regatta we Cambridge locals know as the Head of the Charles.

Brandied Cream of Mushroom Soup with Butter Poached Monkfish

2 lbs mixed mushrooms (these are white button, crimini, and portobello)
2 shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth (I used bullion cubes reconstituted with water)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 sticks butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 tb water
3/4 lb monkfish loin

I start by washing my mushrooms thoroughly (there’s nothing worse than eating dirt grit), then chopping them roughly.

I sliced my shallots and chop my garlic.

In my big stockpot, I saute my aromatics with sea salt and cracked black pepper until just translucent.

In go my mushrooms, which I toss well to heat through.  They’ll begin to soften and melt, releasing their brown liquids into the pot.

I add my vegetable stock, lower the heat to medium, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the volume of my mushrooms had reduced enough for them to start drowning in the liquid in the pot.

Like so.

Using my hand blender, I whirr my soup until it is almost completely smooth, leaving some of it still chunky for texture.  If you have a blender, you can work in batches to do the same thing.

At this point I drop the temperature to low, and add my heavy cream.  I whisk this in well, then keep the soup warm until service, when I’ll add the brandy for a final 15 minute simmer.

Time for monkfish – a.k.a. the “poor man’s lobster”.  It’s an ugly fish, but if prepared correctly it truly does have a very lobster appeal.

As the sun outside sets, and I lose my light (this beam is actually reflecting off of a mirrored surface in the living room, shooting a narrow shaft of light on my kitchen counter), I cut the fish into 4 roughly equal cubes, using a couple toothpicks to pin the thinnest end piece into shape.  (I do this for both presentation purposes, and to make sure each piece of fish poaches at the same speed.)

I’ve butter poached a few times before on this blog (here and here), and the technique has been popping up on hoity-toity menus all over the place.  As fancy sounding as it is, it’s totally easy.  It starts with a little water and a lot of butter.

To make the beurre monté, which is what the poaching liquid is called by the hoi-polloi, start by bringing your little bit of water and a few cold cubes of butter to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly to emulsify the fat with the liquid.

Like so.  Keep adding a couple cubes at a time, whisking until the last batch is completely incorporated before adding more butter.

The trick to keeping this from breaking (read: clotting, or turning back into separated solids and liquids) is to maintain very low heat – no higher than 180 degrees.  Since I’m using too little liquid here to read on a thermometer, I just have to wing it – but basically my electric range’s lowest setting is about as high as I went.

When all my butter has been added to the pot, I gently place my salted and peppered pieces of fish into the liquid.  I let them cook for about 5 minutes on this side…

… before carefully turning them over so they can just cook through.  If you look at the picture above, you’ll see how there is still a wee bit of rareness in the very center of the piece of fish — I want this translucence to fade to opacity, which requires about 5 more minutes.

I almost forgot about my croutons.  Using a fresh baguette, I make some wee rounds of bread, which I brush with a bit of the poaching liquid (it is, after all, pretty much just butter) on each side before dusting with garlic powder and baking on 350 for about 4 minutes on each side, until just toasted.

I’ve also whipped up a quick cilantro oil.  It’s about 1/2 cup EVOO, 2 tbs lemon juice, some salt, pepper, the leaves from one bunch of cilantro and 1/2 bunch of parsley (about 1 cup packed to 1/2 cup packed, respectively). I whirr all this together with my blender and set it aside.  All this for just a drizzle?  Yes, please!

Finally, the last garnish is a wee bit of creme fraiche.  Sour cream might have worked, but I felt splurgy.

Right before plating, I pan sear my monkfish to caramelize it ever so slightly on top.  I’ve removed them from the poaching liquid, and then pressed them into a sizzling hot pan.  The butter absorbed and stuck to the flesh will sear each protein in about 2 minutes.

Finally, I add my brandy to my soup, raise the heat to medium so that it can boil off a bit, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Hearty, warm, and satisfying, this thick and rich soup gladdens my soul.  The tender, juicy, buttery monkfish fall apart when touches by my spoon, and I try to enjoy a bit of fish, creme, and cilantro oil with every mouthful of mushroom puree I can.  The croutons are the perfect sopping vehicle, and a little of the foamy butter from the fish-searing pan adds a nice nutty element to all the deliciousness already in my bowl.  Although I stretched the cooking of this meal out over an afternoon, in reality it took only about an hour of active prep time, so I’m going to have to remember this for an average weeknight meal.  Because that, people, is how I roll.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…

Fish and Corn Chowder, Semi-Deconstructed

I have the Claytonhusband to thank for this meal; it was his idea, more or less.  Y’see, out on the farm, he digs up all sorts of lovely veggies, and sometimes they trigger his gastronomic imagination.  Potatoes are the newest crop he’s pulling from the earth, and their heirloom selves have been appropriately misshapen and deliciously ugly.  He fished out two particularly bulbous spuds and proclaimed them dinner, suggesting that something could be served in them were they to be rendered ‘bowl-like’, and wouldn’t something chowdery and fish-like be nice.  Along with two huge cobs of the season’s last sweet corn, that was all Lolita needed.  Witness my semi-deconstructed corn and fish chowder: a rich, sweet corn milk, crispy cubes of pancetta, and pan-roasted haddock piled atop a massive baked potato skin, and topped with snips of chives.  Warm, rich, and delicious – perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

Fish and Corn Chowder

2 large ears fresh corn
1/2 gallon milk
cracked black pepper
2 medium or 1 very large russet potato
1/2 lb pancetta, diced
3 small shallots
1 yellow carrot
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch chives
1 lb fresh haddock (or cod, or pollack, or schrod – any flaky white fish will do)

This picture is very suggestive.  Of deliciousness, that is!  Each of these spuds is about the size of a newborn baby’s head, and the corn the size of my forearm.  The Clayton grows some good veggies.

I start by shucking and de-silkifying my corn cobs, then using my potato peeler to scrape the kernels out.  Next time I’ll do this inside a large pastic bag instead of over a bowl; I got corn bits and juice EVERYWHERE.   The kernels I reserve for later, but the cobs get put into play right away.

I totally have to shout out to Rooftop Gourmet, who largely guided this recipe with their very similar “Pan Roasted Cod in Fresh Corn Chowder” post back in April.  In particular, the above technique of boiling corn cobs in milk really lit my fire — I’d never considered that before, although it seems so basic and natural I rather feel like a heel for not knowing about it prior to this posting.  It yielded what can only be called “corn milk” – a richly, thickly, butter n’ sugar sweet corn flavored lactic dream. I set my 1/2 gallon of milk and my two denuded cobs into a large soup-pot and simmered them together with a healthy sprinkling of black pepper for about an hour – skimming the skin off the top periodically.  Meanwhile, I rinsed, dried, wrapped in foil, and set my two potatoes in my preheated to 400° oven to bake for the same hour.

Pancetta is a wonderful thing.  It’s a smoked, spiced, and rolled pork belly – an Italian bacon.  Harvard Square’s legendary gourmet shop  Cardullo’s purveyed this healthy chunk to me, at a surprisingly (for them) reasonable price.  I dice it into chunks…

… then chuck them chunks into a pan to sear until crispy.

Once I’ve got a nice crispy sear on my pancetta, I remove the bits from the pan – keeping 2 or so tablespoons of the rendered fat in the pan and holding the rest to the side for later – and add in my diced aromatics: my shallots, garlic, and one large yellow carrot from the farm.  I had several orange carrots, too – but I thought that the yellow would work better with the color scheme of this meal.

I sauté this mix of earth-grown goodness until all the bits have started to sweat and soften.

Then I add the reserved corn kernels, stir well, and let saute for a few moments.  This is the flavorful base of the corn chowder.

Now comes the corn-milk, which has been simmering for an hour now, and which tastes just like farm-fresh corn.  I pour about 4 cups into the pan, and bring everything back to a simmer.

 My potatoes are ready, too.  I cut them in half, then scoop out the majority of their inner flesh, leaving two large bowls which I oil up with some of the pancetta drippings before throwing them back in the oven to crisp up a bit.

 The pulled-out potato gets added to the chowder.  It’s now a full-fledged soup, but I let it continue to simmer and thicken a bit, since I don’t want it too watery on my plate.  I taste it often, though – ‘cuz I can’t help myself – and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper until it tastes perfect.

 I didn’t really mean to, but I sort of reassembled my two haddock filets into the whole boneless fish.  This lovely lovely came from the Harvard Farmer’s Market fishmonger, Fresh Lobsters and Fish, owned and operated by Carolyn and Chris Manning.  I’ve enjoyed their excellent products before (see here and here), but this is the first time I’ve tried their haddock.

 Since these two filets are odd sizes, I trimmed them down into two roughly same-sized planks each, and chucked the scraps into the chowder to gently poach and flavor the soup.  The planks I salt, pepper, and dust with flour.

A pat of butter and the rest of my pancetta juice gets added to my small non-stick fry-pan, and heated over high-heat until the butter is completely melted and beginning to froth.

 Into the hot fat my fish planks go.  I sear them skin-side down for about 5 minutes…

 … before carefully flipping them to brown their top sides.  Oh my, but this looks delicious.

My potato skin cups are perfectly roasted and ready to go.  I salt and pepper them up thoroughly, then place them in the middle of my plates before spooning chowder all up in there.

Delicately pan-seared and balanced haddock filets top a rich, creamy, corn chowder served up in a potato bowl with crunchy, salty chunks of pancetta studded throughout.  Each bite is both familiar – as chowder is to all we New Englanders – and surprising, since the flavors don’t blend until they come together on the tongue.  The buttery crisp edges of the flaky white fish compliment the tough-tender spud skin and its pillowy soft interior, while the milky soup stays warm and hearty as it waits to be gobbled up with both fork and spoon.  Clayton’s initial idea, a fellow-blogger’s inspiration, and Lolita’s interpretation: a meeting of minds, a medley of flavors, and one absolutely marvelous meal.

Lolita’s Joint Journal: The New Little Q, Chinatown, Boston

One of my students told me that the best place for hot pots in Boston is a place called Little Q in Arlington — a suburb to which I never get.  We’ve been devotees of Shabu Zen since they opened several years ago, and on our way there this morning for an early warm winter lunch, we were suddenly confronted with a Little Q newly opened on the corner of Washington and Beech Streets.  Sorry Shabu Zen, but I think we’ve found a new you!


This is my first restaurant review — the first of what I hope will be regular entries in my “joint journal” — so bear with me while I work out my MO.  I should have shot a picture of the outside of the restaurant, but it was admittedly only 20 degrees outside and my fingers were COLD.  But once we decided to take a table, I broke out my sexy HTC EVO (shameless technology plug, I know) and snapped a few images of the place from our table.  Here’s the light and airy entrance, looking out towards Washington Street.


To my right is the sushi counter, from which I watch, throughout my meal, delicate pillows of rice topped with florid sparkling slices of fresh fish emerge to satisfy the eager eaters around me.


To my left, looking out the window onto Beech Street, are some of those eager eaters, very enthusiastically indulging in their steaming bowls of broth.  It’s only 11:30-ish, and the place is almost full already – and will be on a wait by the time we leave.  This is a good sign.


Sorry I missed the cocktail and wine menu pages — we both just ordered draft Sapporos for $4/22oz and went straight to the food.  The variety is pretty good, and the prices are comparable to Shabu Zen (read: pretty reasonable).  We decide on the pan-fried Japanese pot stickers.


Both the hostess (who was incredibly endearing, and really convinced us to eat there instead of heading on to Shabu Zen as we’d planned) and our waiter (who was very green and therefore a little inept, but sweet and trying so…) explained that Little Q was known for their Mongolian hot pots, Chinese cuisine, and Japanese sushi.  Their Chinese stuff looked good…


… as did their rolls…


… and their sushi.  Notice the nice cheap “Everyday Specials” at the top of each page: $4 spicy rolls or sushi.


But here’s what we came for: hot pot!  You choose your broth, your protein, and your carb…


… and any ala carte items you wish to add.  We wanted fish paste, which – according to the lovely hostess – they haven’t yet perfected, and so they haven’t yet put it on the menu.  A good reason to come back — fresh fish paste!


I believe in trying the house offerings for my first time at a joint like this, so I ordered the basic broth (on the right – the ying) while Clayton ordered the mushroom broth (on the left — the yang).  The pot is placed on a flat burner in the center of the table, and turned up to high until the broths begin to boil.


The fixin’s (from bottom to top): Korean BBQ sauce (my favorite) – a mixture of ground sesame seeds, soy sauce, brown sugar, and spices; hot chili oil (like sriracha); chopped cilantro; chopped green onions; and minced garlic.  I had them bring out pretty much a double serving of everything; we like our broths heavily spiced.


Here’s the whole set up: our broths in the center, our flavorings lined along the right, a small deep square of soy sauce, a bowl of each of our starches (white rice for me, udon noodles for Clayton), and an empty bowl and plate to aid us in shoveling the yumminess from all these different sources into our waiting gullets.  Oh, and our baskets of veggies: these contain baby bok choy, white mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, taro root, spinach leaves, fried tofu wedges, and tomatoes.  I start dumping pinches to spoonfuls of flavorings into my broth, and submerge my Chinese cabbage, bok choy, and other longer-cooking veggies in first, giving them more time to cook.  As my meal moves forward, I add the rest of my ingredients as I hunger for them.  Into my soy sauce dish, I mix a mud of gastronomic delight, too — adding the Korean BBQ sauce generously, plus garlic and cilantro and green onion… oh, heck, EVERYTHING.


Our potstickers come out while our broth starts to simmer, and they look perfect: gently steamed thin-skinned purses of flavorful pork filling, with a lacy crispity crunchy flat bottom layer, perfectly caramelized in the pan with garlic and ginger scented dark soy sauce.  Clayton admitted to never really liking potstickers – er, BEFORE he ate these.  They were absolutely lovely; the perfect starter to get our appetites going before settling into our soups.


MEAT.  Meaty meat.  Here are my paper-thin rolls of slightly frozen lamb in front…


… and Clayton’s order of equally thinly sliced boneless short-rib of beef.  The prices here are the same as at Shabu Zen, as far as we can remember, but the portions of meat served per hot pot is significantly larger.  We start dropping our raw slices of meat into our boiling broths; they only take a moment or two to cook through thoroughly, imparting their delightful meaty flavors to the soup.  I’m sorry – here’s another failure of mine: I dug so deeply into this supper that I absolutely forgot to take pictures of each bite, step by step.  My lamb was sweet and savory, each slice shrinking up as it cooked into perfect mouthfuls of marvelous deliciousness in my full-flavored soup.  Clayton’s beef was marbled and tender, and his mushroom broth was rich and earthy.


After we ate every vegetable, every mushroom, every bite of tofu, and every slice of meat, we each poured ourselves bowls of our leftover broth and slurped them until we thought we were going to burst.

The damage: 4 beers, two full meals, one appetizer: $64.81.  I consider this to be brunch well spent.

After a delicious meal, Clayton and I walk back through the Common, up Charles Street to Savenor’s, so I could buy ingredients for dinner tonight and tomorrow, and then to the Red Line to ride our way to Central Square.  And here comes the train, streaming around the bend from Park Street, our scarlet bullet home.  Bellies full, gourmet groceries in hand, and a sense of complete satisfaction: now THAT’S what I call Saturday.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Saturday Night Soup

It’s COLD outside, and there’s another snowstorm looming.  I don’t freak out every time it snows like so many of my neighbors do; I mean, really, there are 5 grocery stores within walking distance of my pad.  And this is BOSTON – it snows here *every* winter.  People panic – I just do my thang.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like me some heartwarming soup on a day like today, and a jar of my husband’s mother’s black-eyed peas called out my name from the depths of my pantry.  I’d picked up some collard greens at the local Johnny’s Foodmaster, and a pack of sweet Italian sausage.  A box of chicken stock, and some other basics, and I had me some super-easy, super-satisfying, super-yummy-in-the-tummy soup for dinner.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Weeknight Soup

1 lb sweet Italian sausage (links cut from their casings, or bulk)
1 lb collard greens
1 qt black eyed peas
1 qt chicken stock
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup EVOO
sea salt, black pepper

… and that’s it.  Really. I said it was super-easy…

Here are my basics: the collards, the peas, and the stock.  But first…

… I split these 6 sausages out of their casings…

… and I crush them up in my hot wok, browning all the delicious bits through, so they’ll release all their inner oily goodness into the pan.  Sizzle and simmer on medium low for 5-8 minutes, until most of the pink is all gone…

…and all the meat has been kissed with crusty brown caramelization.

The collard greens were sinewy and leafy – just like they should be.  I washed ’em…

… removed their stems (to the worm bin), rolled ’em into cigars, and cut them into 1″ thick ribbons.  A few cross-cuts later, and I had nice wide chopped leafage.


I dump my greens into my wok over my pork, and I give everything a good toss or two.


Then I douse the whole pot with my chicken stock, stirring well to mix and cover.

I lower the heat to medium, cover my pan, and let everything simmer for about 10 minutes.

See how my greens have melted and my broth has broken up my sausage?  Already the soup smells and tastes delicious, but I’m not done yet.

My mother-in-law’s black eyed peas are some of my favorite legumes; they taste like green peanuts, and their texture is firm and smooth, like starched butter.  I add all the contents of one large jar to my pan and mix well with my greens, sausage, and broth.  I cover, and walk away for another 10 minutes at least, set to simmer on medium low.

Meanwhile, I whip together a quick cilantro oil as garnish by first washing then blanching a bunch of cilantro leaves.  I should have removed more of the stem than you see here — there was a wee bit of stemmy string to my finished product I could have avoided.  Anyway, a few moments dunked into salted boiling water, then drained, then whirred in a blender and whisked with EVOO and sea salt — this greener than collard green snappy peppery herb turns into a fragrant flavor to squirt across my soup.

In the last few moments, I squeeze the juice and scrape the zest from half a lemon into my soup, then – using the flat of my wooden spoon – I systematically crush and blend at least half my peas into a thick sauce.  I add a dash of sea salt and a dash of cracked black pepper, just ’til a smuggled spoonful tastes right.  Another 5 minutes of simmering, and I remove from the heat and let sit for a moment before spooning up.

Served with slightly garlicky pumpernickel toast, my mound of greens and beans and spiced sausage sits in the middle of a moat of savory smooth broth.  A squirt of warm cilantro oil adds brightness and zest, picking up the complimentary citrus in the broth, but the flavor is warm and filling and savory homestyle.  Clayton and I dig in to fortify ourselves for the weather to come.  Dinners like this — they make winter something sweet to be enjoyed from indoors by keeping the cold away, and warming one to their very Bones.


Black-Eyed Peas

Sick Day Shrimp and Clam Chowder

Happy New Year!  Or, I should say, happy flu year to me… since I’ve been struck down by the vengeful finger of Jack Frost, and am all a-sniffles and body aches and dry, heaving coughs today.  But no matter!  I’m trying out a new camera this week, as well as some new lights in my kitchen, and so here I post in the hopes that I’ll see some improvement in my images.  I’ve been on strike for the last few weeks; my cooking has been awesome, but my pictures have been terrible.  Methinks my thousands of pictures taken over boiling pots of stock or through hot clouds of steam or in the maw of my open roasting oven have finally worn down the finer functions of my little Canon Eos, and I’m trying out a Nikon Coolpix S8100.  I’m not sold.  But let’s see how this little recipe goes…


1 lb shell-on raw shrimp (these are Gulf 22/30’s)
4 slices bacon
3/4 lb small white potatoes (these are mini yukon golds)
2 medium white onions, diced
1 can clams
1 can beer
1 bay leaf
3 tbs butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
sea salt and cracked black pepper

First things first: peel your shrimp, and set the naked babies aside.  Take the shells, drop them into about 10 cups of cold water in a saucepan over medium-high heat on your stovetop, add one bay leaf and a few teaspoons of salt.  Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that forms, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Strain the contents of the pan through a fine mesh into a bowl, and you’ve just made a nice shrimp broth for your soup base…

Cut your slices of bacon into small pieces and try it out to a nice crispy brown, sprinkling it with cracked black pepper while searing (to capture more of the sweet peppery pepper oils), then set aside to drain on some paper plates, reserving the grease for the next step.

Wash and dice your potatoes, then add them with your diced onions to about 2 tbs of your bacon grease in a large wok over medium heat.  Sauté until your onions are just softened, then add 8 cups of your strained shrimp broth and the brine from your can of clams.  Bring to a low boil, cover, and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.

Like so.  The house is beginning to smell really nice right about now.

Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet…

… then add your shrimp, your clams, and your heavy cream to the pan, bringing everything to a bubbling boil, cooking the shrimp just through (about 5 minutes).

Add your creamy buttery shrimp and clams to your simmering potato and onion broth, add about 1/2 of your rendered bacon crisps, and mix together well.  Simmer for about 15 minutes together, adding salt and pepper to taste, until ready to serve.

My warm, bacony, shrimpy, clam-filled, onion scented and potato rich soup is just what I needed today.  My sniffly nose already feels better, and my body aches and pains are less achey and painy.  I’m not sure about this camera yet, but I am sure that I haven’t lost my touch in the kitchen.  I heat through a nice crusty loaf of French bread to serve up with my soup, and I dig into the New Year with relish.