Onion Bread (and Split Pea Soup)

With the return of the cold spell, we return to comfort food. Not only did I break out David Crockpot, but I brought forth the bread machine as well. If you have one, this onion bread is amazing. 

Back when we had our old house on the market, I would play dirty and have a batch of onion bread going at every viewing and open house. People would step into the kitchen and go into a trance. "What is that...?"

Try it and see: as soon as the machine hits the bake cycle, the kitchen fills up. It's sweet with brown sugar, flecked with poppy seeds, and packs heat from black pepper. It's superb with split pea or lentil soup, toasted with cheese, and any leftovers make amazing croutons to toss into a green salad, or even into a panzanella with cherry tomatoes, onions and beans.

Onion Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 2 tbsp dry milk
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dried onions
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper (you might want to start with 1/2 tsp if you're making this for the first time)
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds (which I think is stingy, I make it more like a tablespoon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fast-rise yeast or 3 tsp active dry yeast

Measure and add all ingredients to the bread pan in the order listed.  Bake according to machine directions.

Split Pea Soup

This will be prose recipe, as I'm sure everyone has their own methodology for Split Pea Soup.

Once upon a time, there was bacon. 

Now there are two purposes to making bacon: one, to have bacon (duh); and two, to have leftover bacon grease with which to saute greens or provide a base for split pea soup. If you don't have any, no big deal, you can saute up some ham or just use olive oil. But there's nothing like bacon. While I'm frying it, I line a small bowl with foil and pour the grease off into there. When it's cool I wrap the foil packet in another piece of foil and put it in the freezer. When I want to use it, I just slice off a chunk with a sharp knife. Usually I end up slicing off some bits of foil that got smushed in and frozen, but as the fat melts, those are easily picked out with tongs.

Saute onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the bacon fat, then dump that into the crockpot. Add a bag of dried split peas—I love yellow split pea soup because it's pretty, but you can't go wrong with classic green. 12 cups of liquid: chicken broth, vegetable broth, a mix of broth and water. A bay leaf. Cover. Go away for 6-8 hours.

When the soup is done, some people serve as is, country style. Others blend the soup to gourmet smoothness. I have a foot in both camps: I skim out most of the carrots with a slotted spoon and put them aside, then I blend smooth and stir the carrots back in. I do this because I'm all about visual appeal, and I like the look of the orange carrots floating in the soup, especially if it's yellow-split pea.  If I'm making green split-pea and I blend all the veggies in, the carrots turn the soup a really weird color.

Unfortunately there is no money shot as we packed this up and took it over to some friends for dinner.  It got eaten before I remembered to take a picture.  But it looked something like this in a less attractive bowl.

(Photo credit: SimplyRecipes.com):

Cauliflower Corn Soup

Here's another one from my old recipe book of Martha Stewart clippings. The full name is "Cauliflower and Roasted Corn soup with Chanterelle Mushrooms (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fungus)."

The kids were to be sleeping over my mother-in-law's so I was looking forward to making something adult-oriented. Panda came home from a birthday party with a stomach ache and ended up staying home, but she was only interested in saltines and applesauce so I could continue with the menu as planned.

Jeeps was shopping in the vicinity of DeCicco's so I sent him in for a few ingredients, including aforementioned chanterelles, which I was positive DeCicco's would have. Alas, they didn't. After a little debate we figured baby portobellos would probably make a good substitute.  

Jeeps kept sending excited texts, such as, "This place rocks!"  "Un-be-LEEV-able!"  and my favorite, "Did you SEE the beer section?!"  The excitement was warranted. DeCicco's stocks a minimal selection of wine but has an entire long wall devoted to artisan, hand-crafted and locally brewed beer. So home my baby came with his new suit, new shoes, shallots, mushrooms, bay leaves, fresh thyme, and a six-pack of Old Slugger.

Cauliflower and Roasted Corn Soup

  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels shaved from the cob (and no, I did not shave. I had a bag of Trader Joe's sweet roasted corn. I measured out 1 1/2 cups for the soup and 1 cup to roast for garnish, more on this later)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean (I used half my 8-oz box of mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered. At the end of the day, the mushrooms were so delicious in the soup that I wished I'd used the entire box)
  • 1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into florets.
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

The recipe starts off with you roasting the kernels from one of the ears of corn at 400 for 5 minutes. I had my one cup of reserved corn and decided to use a trick that my friend Cyd taught me, which is to toast the kernels on the stove with salt and spice. Drain the corn and pat dry as much as possible before putting the kernels in a dry, non-stick skillet on medium-low heat. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of paprika. As with caramelized onions, low heat and long time is the trick. Just babysit them and shake the pan every now and again. Once they are nice and browned and crunchy, set aside.

Melt butter in your soup pot over medium heat, add shallots, garlic, onion. Cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms, continue to cook until mushrooms soften, another 4 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pot and set aside.

Add unroasted corn, cauliflower, stock, bay leaves and thyme (Ms. Stewart advises to tie up the bay and thyme in cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni; if you have cheesecloth, go right ahead, but don't sweat it—at the end you just pick out the leaves and stems by hand). Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.

Remove bay leaves and thyme stems and discard. Working in batches in blender, or with immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pot over medium-low heat. Stir in reserved mushrooms. Add cayenne and salt to taste.  

Serve garnished with toasted kernels and fresh chopped parsley.

To go with the soup, I had a tube of Trader Joe's crescent biscuit dough. I haven't had these babies in years. They can't possibly be good for you but they are sooooo good.

The soup was delicious.  Even the invalid had a little bit in a ramekin, without the mushrooms.  I am not a mushroom aficionado at all so I don't know what kind of difference the chanterelles would have made, but if I ever see them in the store, I know I'll be giving this soup another go.

Cream of Cholesterol Soup (Broccoli optional)

Well we're home from vacation. Within 15 minutes it was like we never left: every light on in the house, kitchen counters buried under clutter, socks strewn about, and people needing to be fed. So back to DeCicco's I went to shop for the week in general, and for dinner in particular.  

Jeeps requested cream of broccoli soup and I was game. I'd never made a true cream of broccoli soup before. My tried-and-true resource for new soups is Mary Gubser. My mom gave me her great book Mary's Bread Basket & Soup Kettle which, as the title suggests, contains nothing but soup and bread recipes. It's unquestionably one of my desert island books.

So the recipe looks straightforward but a little... Well, let's say it's not for the faint of heart. In fact you might need permission from your cardiologist before consuming it, which guarantees it to be good.

Mary Gubser's Cream of Broccoli Soup

  • 1 quart fresh broccoli heads, packed (I really had no idea what she meant by this. A quart of broccoli? I used four big broccoli crowns)
  • 2/3 cup butter (2/3 cup butter?!? A stick is 1/2 cup!! I love butter from hell to breakfast and ten ways to Sunday, but I could not make a soup with more than a stick of butter in it. I used half a stick and a generous amount of olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 cups whole milk (yes, whole, and the heavy cream is yet to come!)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (this happens to be one of the far-fetched things I keep in the house. I'm partial to a Christmas spice cookie that's made with white pepper, and in the course of making it I've become very partial to white pepper.)
  • 3 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (One clove. Ha! I used three)
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire (Another of my faves, simply because I love to say woostercestershistershire sauce)
  • 1/4 tsp Tobasco (I didn't have this)
  • 2 cups heavy cream (Courage, my friends, courage!!)
  • 3 egg yolks (Stay with me!!)

Have you had your lipitor today? Good. Let's proceed.

Wash broccoli, trim and dry. Reserve a few florets for topping; blanch them separately in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine milk, chicken broth, salt, pepper, garlic clove(s), Worcestershire and tobasco. You're simply doing this so that you don't add cold liquids to your hot broccoli later.

In your soup pot, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat, add broccoli and cook until tender (meaning you can mash it easily with the side of your wooden spoon). Sprinkle flour over broccoli and stir well until coated. Add liquids from saucepan to soup pot, plus the lemon juice. Stir constantly until smooth and thick.

Remove from burner and either in batches in a blender, or with an immersion blender (that your darling seester gave you for Christmas) puree soup until smooth. Return soup to medium heat. Stir in the heavy cream and I admit, I balked again, and stirred in only 1 cup of it, not the given 2.

Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly whisk about 1/2 cup of soup into the yolks to temper them. Then whisk egg mixture back into the soup.

Taste and adjust with salt if needed. Serve topped with the broccoli florets and pierogies on the side.

Oh, have I talked about pierogies yet? I haven't? Oh wow, put these babies in the same category as scrambled eggs. They are in my house at all times.  When the kids and I are eating alone, I'll make an entire box and serve them with a vegetable and that's dinner. Done and done. They are the bomb.

So the soup was also the bomb. Rich and creamy and decadent. Disturbingly decadent. I mean, something was really wrong about the soup but I couldn't put my finger on it. And then later, it came to me as I was thinking about the ingredients:

Egg yolks...

Olive oil...

Lemon juice...

Yes, my friends. We basically ate mayonnaise.

[Editor's Note: Immediately following Mary Gubser's recipe for cream of broccoli soup is her recipe for Boula Boula. One of the ingredients is, and I quote, "4 cups canned, clear turtle bouillon." I will make dinner of choice for anyone who can find me canned, clear turtle bouillon]

Black Bean Soup

Soup has come to symbolize the ultimate in comfort and safety. Many years ago, when I was about fifteen, I saw someone served a cup of soup, and this vision, which had all the sentimental charm of a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, is indelibly imprinted on my mind.It was a cold, rainy autumn night and some grubby teenagers had gathered at a friend’s rather splendid house. We heard the crunch of a car on gravel. A taxi pulled up and into the wet night stepped the friend’s older sister, who was coming home from college for the weekend. She was probably nineteen but she looked liked the picture of sophistication. She wore brown pumps, a green tweed suit, pearl earrings and her hair was pulled back in a French twist.

She took off her wet coat, sat down in front of the fire and her mother brought her a large, ornamental bone china cup of soup. She warmed her hands on the cup and then she set it on its saucer, balanced it on her lap and ate the soup with a bouillon spoon. The dog, a weimaraner, lay dozing at her feet. Outside the rain clattered. Inside that pretty living room, all was safe

Of course you need not have a weimaraner or a fire or anyone coming home from college. To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.
— "Soup," from Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin.

It wasn't wet tonight but damn, it was cold. I cannot deal with with the extreme months of the year, the brutally cold and the beastly hot. During February and August I become something of a lunatic.

Soup is out of the question in August. In February, it is essential.

Tonight I had black bean soup on my mind, and cans of black beans in the pantry. Some die-hards will insist that dried beans make the best soup, and I can appreciate that but usually I am thinking up what to make for dinner an hour before we eat. You can't soak beans in an hour.  

Someday I will try dried beans but for tonight the canned was fine, along with my trusty recipe that I wrote down a thousand years ago from the back of a can of Goya black beans.

This recipe did not contain a diced onion or celery, both of which I added myself because it seemed logical to have them. Some black bean soup recipes have carrots but I feel they make the soup a really weird color. It's all preference.

Preferential Black Bean Soup

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 3 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cans black beans, not drained.

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, saute 5 minutes.  Add garlic, cumin, oregano, pepper flakes and bay leaves, and bouillon cube.  Saute another 5 minutes until bouillon is dissolved.  Add water, sherry, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Stir to combine.

Add beans, stir well.  Lower heat, cover and simmer at least 15 minutes to let flavors meld, but you can keep it on a low flame as long as you need.

You can serve as is, or puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

I like mine with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, some quartered cherry tomatoes, and chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

And a baked potato (Jeep's idea).

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone is one of my very favorite soups and I have two very vivid memories that involve it.

The first was when I was around 11 or 12 and playing at my friend Julia's house. Her mother made us Progresso minestrone soup and Stouffer's french bread pizzas for lunch. It was the most perfectly perfect lunch for that particular day, and a meal Julia and I frequently re-lived as we munched our boring peanut butter sandwiches in the dismal, windowless cafeteria of PVC Middle School (architecturally speaking, that school was one of the most bleak places on earth).

The second memory is a couple decades later, in fact I remember the date:  Sunday, January 18, 2004. Redman was a mere 4 days old. Our dear, dear friends Justin and Cindy came over to the house with a giant gift basket. Among other lovely things, the basket held an enormous tupperware of minestrone soup that Cindy had made just for us. Did I mention they are dear friends? Despite our encouraging, they didn't stay long, just enough to drop off the basket, give hugs, coo over the baby and get out of our hair. 

"Oh, will you look at him?!" Cindy said. "I'm sorry, I'm getting my days all mixed up—what is he, two weeks now?"

"Hardly," Jeeps laughed, "he was born on Wednesday."

Cindy spun around and looked at me and said the only thing a post-partum woman wants to hear: "Oh bull-shit, you did not have a baby four days ago!!"

Did I mention they are dear friends?

Anyway, minestrone soup recipes seem to come in two categories: expert and the rest of us. The expert ones—and I've tried two, one from Martha Stewart, another from Cooks Illustrated—involve dried beans and a soffrito and parmesan rinds and lots of cooking time. They are wonderful if you have the time. For the rest of us insane people trying to get dinner on the table before the Witching Hour, I found this one in that old recipe book of mine so the provenance is unknown. I'm going to guess either Redbook or Better Homes & Gardens.

Minestrone for the Common Man

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced (I used 2 white and 1 sweet)
  • 3 medium-size carrots, peeled and diced (I used 5 because...I like to)
  • 3 medium-size ribs of celery, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced (this wasn't actually in the original recipe which I found quite odd)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed (I used 4 because...I like to)
  • 1 32-oz box chicken broth (I used one whole box plus the odd dregs of 2 nearly-empty boxes in the fridge)
  • 1 bay leaf (I also used a sprig of fresh thyme and some chopped fresh sage leaves because in my opinion, minestrone is nothing without sage)
  • 2 16-oz cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I only had 1 can of these so I used a 16-oz can of chick peas)
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta (optional, but I like pasta in minestrone. Usually I put shells or elbows but I happened to have some leftover orzo in the fridge so I used that)

Heat olive oil over medium heat; add all the diced vegetables and stir well to coat. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add chicken broth and herbs. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low; cover and simmer about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes to soup, dumping in the juice from the can as well and breaking up the tomatoes with the side of a wooden spoon. Add beans, grated parmesan, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and salt to taste. Cook at least another 5 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Or turn heat to very low and keep on the back burner until ready to serve, it won't hurt it.

I made herbed garlic toasts to go with this. The soup was great. The balsamic vinegar pulled all the flavors together, but still, there seemed to be elusive base note missing to the broth. It just needed one last bit of "umph," and I wondered if a couple teaspoons of tomato paste in the diced veggies would have provided it. This could also be, simply, what you get when you go for the quick-and-easy, rest-of-us minestrone recipe. It's delicious, but lacks the soul and wisdom of the expert, slow-cooked version.

I can live with that.

French Onion Soup

And suddenly it's Tuesday, the craziest day of my week. Pandagirl has back-to-back dance classes in two different places so I am on the run pretty much from 4:15 onward. Today I dropped her at her first class, then took Redman to the library, because he asked and I never refuse a request to go to the library. I swung Redman back home, dashed inside to grab something I'd forgotten, and Jeeps posed the $1,000,000 question:  "What do you wanna do about dinner?"

"Can you manage French Onion Soup?" I asked.


French Onion soup à la Wife Running out the Door

(Ingredients will be listed as dialogue because really, you had to be there.)

S: OK, so that plastic bag over there? It has two bags of onions, you're going to use one of them

J:  All of the onions in this bag?

S: (Calling from other room, grabbing things) All of them. Sliced. Then you're going to caramelize them down, use the orange pot. Low flame, take about 20 minutes, you want them really...

J: I got it. In olive oil?

S: And a little butter. (Opening fridge) 2 or 3 sprigs of this thyme go in with the onions, you'll pick them out later. (Opening cabinet) Here's a thing of beef broth.

J: Use all of it?

S: All of it, you add it after the onions are done. (Opening different cabinet) This is cooking sherry. Two tablespoons.

J: What about the bread and cheese...

S: (Opening freezer) Here's bread and—

J: Where'd you get this, it's already sliced?

S: I bought it Sunday when I went food shopping but I knew we wouldn't use it right away, so I sliced it and froze it.

J: You're so smart. Cheese? Do we have any of that Gruyère?

S: (Opening fridge) It's right here, you just have to grate it. About 2 cups. OK. You good?

J: I'm good. I got it. Go.

S: (Dashing for the door) Um... Can you take some pictures?

J: Yes, dear.

I married a prince.

So during ballet class I got only 2 pings from home. First time sending a picture of onions cooking: Brown enough?

Little more, I texted back. Don't forget thyme.

Then another picture about 15 minutes later. Better?

Perfect, I typed. Add broth.  Cover.

Panda and I got home at 7:20 to the most amazing smelling kitchen. And this:

Corn and Seafood Chowder

I totally made this up. I hope I can recreate it. Jeeps has a charming expression for this kind of cuisine...let's jut say he wants me to publish a cookbook called, From My Ass to Your Table. 

Har har.

This dish came to be because last time I was in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe's, I remembered to get roasted sweet corn, and then I saw langoustines.


Langoustines are crustaceans that looks like tiny lobsters. I put a bag in my cart thinking something interesting could be done with them and the corn, and also because I'd seen an interesting recipe with langoustines on Stacey Snacks.  Or maybe I'd dreamed that because when I went back to her site and searched, I couldn't find what I thought I'd seen.

Don't you hate that?

So I had frozen langoustines. I had frozen roughy. I had frozen shrimp. I had frozen scallops. And I had a hot husband asking for soup. Thus was born:

Corn and Seafood Chowder

I defrosted all the seafood in the fridge during the day, then drained it and cut the roughy into chunks. Besides these assorted fruits de mer of your choice, you will need:

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced (the other half from when you made Hoppin' John)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • Dill (fresh or dried), and paprika
  • Frozen corn (Hoppin' John left me with half a bag so I used that)
  • Milk and half-and-half, or heavy cream
  • Bottled clam juice (which I did not have although I made a desperate run to our local specialty deli in the hopes she would have it. She didn't, and don't get me started on there not being any good place around here where one can dash to get out-of-the-ordinary items, it's a post for another day)

Prep and dice all the veggies. In your soup pot (I used Madame LeCreuset), get some olive oil and a pat of butter going. Add the onion, carrot and celery first, saute 5 minutes, then add the garlic, pepper and potatoes. Saute another 5 minutes, then add water to just cover (about 2 cups). Add pinch of saffron threads.

Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add roughy, shrimp, langoustines, and scallops.

Sprinkle seafood with dill and paprika, cover again and simmer at least another 5 minutes, until fish flakes and shrimp are opaque.

Add the corn, 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons sherry and stir. The clam juice would've come in here if I'd had it. I tasted and fiddled with the salt to get it where I wanted it.  

This was one of those recipes where at the end, I am trawling the fridge with one half of me thinking hm, maybe a splash of lime juice, or what about some halved cherry tomatoes? And the other half is yelling LEAVE IT ALONE!

I left it alone, sprinkled a little parsley, and it was pretty damn good.  

Now I know what you're all thinking... OK, maybe not all of you, but I know what my friend Stacie is thinking: did my kids eat this?

(Haughty expression) Puh-leeze. I am a foodie. I am raising foodies. I encourage, nay, I insist my children expand and educate their palates and I make no concessions to picky eaters, thank you very much, what is on the table is what is being served and OH F**K NO, THEY DIDN'T EAT IT!

Yes, I made them scrambled eggs. Lame, but some nights you just want to eat your damn fish soup in peace. And when Redman patted my arm and said happily, "Mom, you make the best dinners," well, you see my point.

Pandagirl at least tried a few spoonfuls and admitted it didn't suck. There's hope.