Well, here we are approaching the end of our first month of 2016, and as far as I’m concerned this “new” year hasn’t shown me much to feel optimistic about the rest of the year. Perhaps that will change as the weeks go on.
Why the gloomy attitude? Well, for one thing, we still have nine months to go before we can finally vote and find out who our next president will be, and I’ve already had it up to here with the debates, excesses of the press, haggling and haranguing, constant speculation about who’s ahead and who’s falling behind. And I think it will only get worse in the weeks and months to come.
The weather hasn’t helped; it’s been gloomy, grey and wet for most of the month, but at least with the weather, we have reason to believe it will improve. It’s just a matter of when.
The stock market is tanking and the price of oil is in the basement, but I don’t see it reflected that much in what we’re paying at our local pumps.
Then there’s football. Talk about endless hyperbole!
Before I go any further on that topic, I should inform you that I am not a football fan; I very seldom watch football on TV and I certainly never talk about it on my Facebook page, unlike most of my family members and a lot of my friends. I am one of only three members of my extended family that is not a rabid fan of either the Huskies or the Seahawks, or both, as is the case with most of “them.”
As of now, however, I’ve been invited to four Super Bowl parties being hosted by family members, all of whom will be angry and/or irritated if I don’t show up and root, root, root for whoever they’ve decided should win (I haven’t a clue), as we all crowd around the TV and eat, drink and holler appropriate insults at the “other” guys. “And bring a dish of your choosing for the buffet table, please.”
Yes, I know I should be pleased and flattered that they all want me there, and on almost all other family occasions, I love the opportunity to see and catch up with family. It’s just that watching the Super Bowl is so far down on my list of things I want to do and/or enjoy that it’s hard to say “yes” to any of them. But, I think you all know what I will be doing on Super Bowl day, like it or not.
On a more cheerful note, we’ll soon be able to start this year all over again, should we choose to. Chinese New Year is not far off, and if you happen to be a monkey, you’re in luck because this is going to be your year. Even if you’re not a monkey, it’s still as good a reason, if not better, to have a celebration and begin the year all over again. I think I’ll invite all of those family members I just mentioned, some of whom are monkeys. We’ll talk more about Chinese New Year in next month’s column.
As for what I’ll take to the Super Bowl buffet; what else but a “Souper Bowl” of soup? Nothing is quite as cheerful on a gloomy winter’s day than a hearty bowl of warm soup, right?
Soup is one of my favorite four-letter words and soup recipes make up the contents of a few of my fattest cooking files. Here are two classics that I hope will help chase away your winter blues, should you have them. We may as well begin with a politically named soup familiar to past and present senate figures.
SENATE BEAN SOUP
No one knows for sure how this soup got its name, but a version of Senate Bean Soup has been on the menu of the Senate’s restaurant since the early 20th century. There are slight variations in recipes for this soup, but basically they are all very similar.
1 lb. dry navy beans, sorted and rinsed
12 cups water, divided (see instructions)
½ t. baking soda
2 T. unsalted butter
2 cups diced onion
½ cup each diced carrot and celery
1 T. minced garlic
1 ½ lb. (approx.) smoked ham hock
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup instant mashed potatoes flakes (this is one of the variations I mentioned; don’t use it if you prefer)
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Soak the beans in 6 cups of the water in a large pot, covered, refrigerated, overnight or at least 8 hrs.
Add baking soda to the pot; bring beans to a boil and simmer 10 min.; skim off and discard any foam. Drain and rinse the beans, transfer to a 5-6 cup slow cooker and add remaining 6 cups water.
Melt butter in a sauté pan over med.-high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery; cook until softened (about 5 min.) Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 min. Transfer mixture to the slow cooker; stir in.
Add ham hock and bay leaf; cover cooker and cook beans until tender, 3 ½-4 ½ hrs. on the high setting, 4 ½-5 ½ hrs. on low setting.
Remove ham hock; pull meat off the bone, discarding any fat. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces and return it to the cooker. Season with salt and pepper; stir in potato flakes, if using, and parsley. Cover the cooker and cook soup until slightly thickened, about 30 min. more. Serve sprinkled with additional parsley. Serves 8.
And of course on any winter soup menu there must be our favorite comfort bowl of clam chowder. As with the Senate Soup, there are variations of this all-time classic, but this is the basic bowl.
NEW ENGLAND CLAM/CORN CHOWDER
6 thick bacon slices, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 ½ t. dried thyme
¾ t. crushed dried rosemary
3 T. all purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 large unpeeled white-skinned potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
3 cans (6 ½ oz.) chopped clams, with juice (or if you’re lucky enough to have steamer clams you’ve dug and cooked, use them along with some of your homemade broth)
1 can (8 oz.) corn kernels, drained (or use frozen kernels, thawed)
Chopped fresh parsley
Cook bacon in a large saucepan over med. Heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but about 3 T. of the drippings, add the next 4 ingredients to the pan, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and sauteè until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 min. Sprinkle flour over and stir 1-2 min. Gradually add milk to pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to med. low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 6-7 min.
Add potatoes, clams and broth and drained or thawed corn. Bring back to a simmer, reduce heat to med.-low and simmer until potatoes are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into warmed bowls; sprinkle with bacon and parsley and serve. Serves 4, but is easily doubled.