Archive for the ‘Soups and Stews’ Category

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

9 April 2009
A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Food makes memory concrete in a way nothing else can—except perhaps music. When we make or taste a dish we forge a physical, sensory link to the person who inspired or gave us the recipe. We can almost reach out and touch the dead, nourished by their love.

Laura at the blog The Spiced Life understands this connection. She is hosting a blogging event in which she asks food bloggers to write about their grandmothers’ culinary accomplishments. I went to my paternal grandmother’s house every spring for Passover so I tend to think of her a lot at this time of year.  


The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen oriented. As a young woman she lived a busy life outside the home instead of cooking. We were told she had been a spy in her youth (or at least a smuggler—the tales were all a little murky).

Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country from Poland in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job so that he could support the family.


My grandmother had many skills. She and her mother, who also immigrated (although she refused to learn English), ran their family and eventually their new neighborhood.  


My grandmother radiated competence. I recently learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did on a semi-regular basis!


She was also diplomatic (perhaps a hangover from her days as a spy). When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time when a lot of intermarriage took place. Nevertheless, my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family and defended her against any criticism. She recognized a fellow smart, able woman when she saw one.


As I noted above, my grandmother didn’t do a lot in the kitchen, at least not by the time I met her. Perhaps her mother was the family cook. My father used to recall seeing a carp swimming in the bathtub in his childhood just before it was time to make gefilte fish. In my youth the gefilte fish came out of a jar.


(Although I’m a fan of fresh foods, I think in retrospect this was probably just as well; I would have yelled bloody murder at bath time if I’d seen a fish in the porcelain before me, no matter how thoroughly the tub had been scrubbed!)


I do remember two things that my grandmother made well and on a regular basis—pot roast and matzo ball soup. The matzo ball soup was particularly visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo, unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt in the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that they baked their bread without letting it rise. In commemoration of this event their descendants eat no bread except matzo during Passover, which lasts for eight days. Matzo meal (ground matzo) is a staple of Passover cooking.


For the non-cognoscenti, matzo-ball soup is a bit like chicken-noodle soup. The balls resemble dumplings in chicken broth. The best matzo ball soup—the kind everyone’s grandmother (including mine) used to make—is created with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You may use a high-quality broth from the store, however.


The trick to this soup is not to make the matzo balls too big; if you do, they swell up and overwhelm your soup! You may of course jazz up the soup by adding chopped vegetables and/or a little ginger to the matzo balls. As a sodium freak I actually like to add a drop of soy sauce to my stock. My grandmother made basic matzo ball soup, however, so basic matzo ball soup this is.


When I make or taste it I am transported back to the home at which we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, New York. This tiny house always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover. My grandmother’s Seder table there was a symbol of her hospitality, of her generous personality, and of the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. It was never without matzo ball soup.


For more information about Laura’s Grandma’s Recipes event, click here. Meanwhile, here is MY grandma’s recipe.

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my dad!), and William (then known as Wolf)

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my father!), and William (then known as Wolf)




2 eggs

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

a small amount of finely chopped onion (optional)

2 tablespoons soda water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup matzo meal

6 cups chicken stock




In a small bowl, beat the eggs.  With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, onion (if using), soda water, oil, salt, and pepper.  Then stir in the matzo meal.  Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours. 


Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.


Boil the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat.  Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and put the balls in it.  Boil, covered, for at least 15 minutes.  Serves 4 to 5.
My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)



Michael’s Potato Cheese Soup

11 March 2009
Michael (left) and his partner Tony (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran, West County Independent)

Michael (left) and his partner Tony (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran, West County Independent)

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Potatoes are central to Irish cuisine and have brought both joy and tragedy to the Irish people. This recipe comes from Michael Collins, the chef at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts, now a pizzeria. Michael likes to serve hearty soups along with his pizza. This one reflects his Irish heritage and therefore serves as an appropriate addition to a Saint Patrick’s Day (or week!) menu.


He warns that the soup is quite heavy; if you look at it closely, you’ll see that it’s definitely NOT low in fat. Serve it in small quantities as part of a balanced lunch, however, and you’ll enjoy it without feeling too guilty.


We tend to think of potatoes as not terribly full of flavor, but this recipe shows that they can star in a dish. It occurs to me that chives might be nice as a garnish instead of the suggested herbs……..




2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup chopped leeks or green onions

3-1/2 cups diced potatoes

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (a little more if you must, but don’t go overboard)

1/2 cup milk or half and half

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley

crumbled bacon for garnish (optional)




Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and leeks or onions. Sauté for 5 minutes.


Add the potatoes and stock. Bring the soup to a boil, cover it, and simmer it for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Mash the potatoes a little if you see large chunks, but don’t get rid of them entirely.


Stir in the remaining ingredients (save a little of the herb for garnish), and cook for 1 minute more, stirring. Crumble a little bacon on top if you like for extra flavor (and calories, I fear). The leftover parsley or dill also looks nice on top.


Serves 4 to 6.



A Country Mardi Gras

23 February 2009
Le Rendez Vous des Cajuns (Courtesy of David Simpson LSUE)

Le Rendez Vous des Cajuns (Courtesy of David Simpson LSUE)

A Note to Readers:

This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

My favorite part of Louisiana is a place I have visited only by listening to its music, Cajun Country. Southwestern Louisiana is a sort of country cousin to New Orleans. It is inhabited by a mixture of Cajuns (French Acadians who were expelled from British Canada in the mid-18th century and who became peasant farmers in the South) and the descendents of Black Creoles. Their culture and music are a remarkable blend of French, American, African, Native American, and Island influences. Most of the Cajuns speak English, but a number of residents, particularly older ones, speak French dialects as well.


My main contact with this area is a radio program called Le Rendez Vous des Cajuns, staged weekly in Eunice, Louisiana. The program is hosted by Barry Jean Ancelet, a professor at the University of Louisiana (Lafayette). It airs partly in English but mostly in Cajun French. It showcases the two major music styles of the area, Cajun and Zydeco (an outgrowth of Black Creole music).


Ancelet grew up speaking French at home and has raised his five children in French. He explained in the introduction to the book Cajun Music and Zydeco by photographer Philip Gould (1992, LSU Press) that he only discovered the music of his region while studying in France. A non-Cajun musician who played “la musique de la Louisiane” in Nice counseled the young Barry Ancelet to go home and talk to Dewey Balfa, a legendary Cajun fiddler. Ancelet took the musician’s advice and has been involved in promoting Cajun and Zydeco music ever since.


The Rendez Vous began in 1987. It is part of a revival of French language and culture in southern Louisiana outlined by Barry Ancelet in two journal articles, “Negotiating the Mainstream: The Creoles and Cajuns in Louisiana” in The French Review (Volume 80, number 6, 2007) “Cultural Tourism in Cajun Country: Shotgun Wedding or Marriage Made in Heaven” (Southern Folklore, Volume 49, number 3, 1992).


The struggle of French speakers in Louisiana mirrors a larger debate about what it has meant to be an American. In the early 1900s and particularly beginning around World War I Louisiana and the nation as a whole experienced a wave of nationalism that tried to force all Americans into a single mold, to define what it meant to be an American by sameness. As my grandmother used to say, if we were all the same, we’d all wear the same hat—and wouldn’t that be boring? Or as Ancelet wrote more forcefully in The French Review, Teddy Roosevelt (one of the leaders of the “one America movement”) and his ilk do “not seem to have understood that people from all over the world came here to America to participate in a new experiment based in part on allegiance by choice.”


French-speaking children Louisiana schools were not only taught in English but forbidden by law to speak French anywhere on school grounds. Over the decades this bilingual culture started losing a great deal of its identity.


Beginning after World War II and most strongly since the late 1960s southern Louisiana has seen a revival of popular and official interest in French culture and in the music and folk practices that gave much of this colorful area its personality.

According to Barry Ancelet, when the Rendez Vous des Cajuns was first planned no one was sure whether the program would be in French or in English. “Ultimately it was done in French because I was the host and I did what I wanted to do once the microphone was turned on,” he recalled in Southern Folklore. “It might not have worked, but it did.”

All was not settled on the first night, he went on to explain, particularly since the program received funds from the National Park Service. “At a meeting held specifically to address [the language] question, one Park official commented that the program’s federal funding required that it communicate to Americans. Cajun musician and cultural spokesman Dewey Balfa retorted, ‘But we are Americans. In fact, this two-hour show every Saturday night is one of the only indications I have that the money I turn over to Uncle Sam every April 15th is coming back to me in anything but interstate highways.’”


Eventually, the question of language for the Rendez Vous was settled resoundingly in favor of French, although no one is a purist, and English is smattered throughout the broadcasts. The music played is in some ways new to northern listeners and in other ways familiar because of its multicultural and folk roots. Listening to it is like being invited into a new neighbor’s living room and being enchanted to find that you have a lot in common with each other—but also a lot to learn from each other.


With Mardi Gras just around the corner I wrote to Barry Jean Ancelet to ask whether he by any chance cooked. He certainly does! In fact, he boasted that he won his wife with his Shrimp Creole. For Mardi Gras he shared his mother Maude Ancelet’s recipe for Mardi Gras Gumbo—as well as the following story:


We make large quantities of this recipe (x10) for those who gather together to eat after our traditional Ossun Mardi Gras Run, a procession of revelers in masks and brightly-colored costumes that winds its way through the rural neighborhood visiting, singing, dancing, and collecting the ingredients for the gumbo. Some households contribute rice, onions, parsley or sausage, but ideally the offering is a live chicken that the revelers are expected to catch in the open fields. This is not easy to do, and the hilarity resulting from grownups and children alike running through ditches, over barbed-wire fences and under barns is part of what the households receive in return for their generous gifts. The procession is typically about 12 to 14 miles long with 15 to 20 performances. By the end of the day, the revelers have developed a mighty appetite and are eager to eat the fruits of their labor.


I wouldn’t want to try replicating the Ossun, Louisiana, Run in Hawley, Massachusetts, where the snow would definitely cramp the style of revelers. I love the way in which food, music, terrain, and celebration mingle in this story, however, and I think anyone who lives in the country can identify with the community spirit behind the Ossun Run.


I encourage readers to explore the world of Cajun and Zydeco music for themselves. Listen to the Rendez Vous des Cajuns live via the internet one Saturday on KVRS-FM. Buy a CD of Dewey Balfa, Iri Lejeune, Clifton Chenier, or any one of the other wonderful musicians Cajun Country has spawned. An LSU website devoted to Cajun and Zydeco music is a good place to start looking.


YouTube has many clips of these musicians. It also offers an authorized clip of the film Dance for a Chicken: The Cajun Mardi Gras by Pat Mire, which depicts a Mardi Gras Run—as well as link to the site on which you can view the entire film.





While you’re listening to your music OF COURSE you’ll need something to eat. Here is Maude Ancelet’s gumbo recipe to get you dancing.



Maude Ancelet’s Mardi Gras Chicken & Sausage Gumbo




3 onions, chopped

1 large bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup oil

1-3/4 cups flour

1 gallon warm water

1 4-to-5-pound fryer, cut up (Ancelet notes that an old hen makes a good gumbo but takes 1 to 2 hours longer to cook!)

1-1/2 pounds fresh pork sausage

4 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons red pepper (Cayenne)

black pepper to taste

green onion tops, chopped

parsley to taste, chopped




First, make a roux using 1/2 cup each of the onion and bell pepper, 1 stalk of celery, and 2 cloves of garlic along with the oil and flour. (Save the remaining vegetables for later.)


According to Barry Ancelet the roux is the most important part of the gumbo. I have used a lot of his words in the instructions that follow because they reflect his passion for the cooking process. This basic roux recipe can be used for stews and sauces piquantes as well as gumbo. If you want more roux flavor in your gumbo, you may increase the amount of roux, but be sure to observe the same proportions: always start with more flour than oil.


Set the roux vegetables in a bowl by the stove. They need to be ready to throw into the pot to “stop” the cooking at the crucial moment.


Heat the oil in a heavy pot. When the oil is very hot, add the flour. Keep the fire on medium. Constant stirring is a must. Don’t answer the door if there’s a knock. Don’t answer the phone if there’s a ring. A roux needs your undivided attention. Your eyes should be riveted to the inside of the pot the whole time.


About halfway through the cooking process the roux will become more liquid, but it will thicken again to paste consistency as it nears completion. Making a roux shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. Remember, stick with your stirring spoon. It’s easy to burn a roux but just as easy to succeed with diligence and patience. As you become experienced, you will find that you can cook with a fairly high fire, but at first it is safer to reduce the heat until you get a feel for what is called “stopping the roux.” This involves recognizing the desired color (a rich brown for gumbos, a golden brown for sauces); adding the chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic; and removing the pot from the fire, still stirring all the while. The heat of the roux cooks these ingredients and gives the roux a seasoned taste.


After you have added the vegetables and removed the pot from the heat, you are ready to continue with your gumbo.


(Unused roux can be stored in the refrigerator for at least 2 months. Barry Ancelet cautions readers to be careful to remember what it is, adding that children who mistake roux for chocolate are in for a disappointing experience.)


Slowly add the gallon of warm water, stirring. Return the pot to the heat and bring it to a boil. Lower the fire and let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes. While it is simmering, in a heavy skillet brown the pork sausage well. Remove the sausage, and cut it into bite-size pieces. Add it to the gumbo. Drain the grease from the frying pan, and add about a cup of water to get up the residue from the sausage. Add this to the gumbo for flavor. Add the remaining vegetables and the chicken, plus the salt and the pepper(s). Let simmer for 35 to 40 minutes. Add the chopped onion tops and parsley. Make the gumbo ahead of time so the flavors can steep. Serve over hot rice.


Serves 10.


Barry Ancelet stirs up some gumbo. (Courtesy of Barry Jean Ancelet)

Barry Ancelet stirs up some gumbo. (Courtesy of Barry Jean Ancelet)


Amy’s Award-Winning Super Chili

30 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

The Big Game is just around the corner. (Apparently, unauthorized people are not allowed to combine the words “Super” and “Bowl” into one phrase lest they violate copyright and get raided by the Football Gestapo. So we’re calling it the Big Game. You know what I mean.)


The traditional dish for this event is chili. I usually make my standard beef chili, but this year my college roommate Amy MacDonald has offered something more unusual. Her chili was tied for first place in a chili cook-off last year. She says she was inspired by a class she took years ago with chef/instructor Pat Kapp.





Amy sent me her recipe in narrative form. In her words, “It’s not really a recipe—it took three days—it’s practically a way of life.” I love her attitude and her writing because they illustrate the improvisational way in which we all really cook (yes, even cookbook authors!). I hardly ever follow a recipe from start to finish. There’s too much tasting, thinking, and running out of ingredients along the way.


In the interest of making this blog more or less coherent, however, I have translated her essay about making the chili into a semi-standardized recipe. I’ve left in several of her observations because they reflect her personality and that of her chili.


I should add that my family ran out of time and turned the three-day chili into a two-day chili. We just basically kept it in the slow cooker overnight and thought it was ready to serve after 24 hours, just after we added the brown sugar and jam. The end result was quite delicious and definitely prize worthy. So don’t worry if you don’t have three days before the game.



Amy's son William wanted to add barbecue sauce to the chili.

Amy's son William wanted to add barbecue sauce to the chili.


The Chili






2 chicken breasts (or 5 drumsticks, which I happened to have in the house)

2 4-inch sticks fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh

salt to taste

1 cup red wine, divided (Amy says, “if you happen to be drinking it at the time. I say, “Drink.”)

1/2 pound kielbasa (I mixed kielbasa and locally produced chorizo), plus more if desired

1 large red onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

butter and olive oil as needed for sautéing

2 cans black beans

2 cans other beans (NOT garbanzos; I used pinto and kidney)

1 can pureed or chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari—even better—if you have it in the house)

3 serrano chiles, seeded and minced

6 ounces dark beer or ale

2 heaping tablespoons chili powder, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 ounces barbecue sauce

vegetable or chicken stock if needed

1/3 cup apricot jam

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
hot sauce to taste (optional)



Day I: 

Poach the chicken in a little water along with the rosemary and thyme, plus a little salt. Throw in 1/4 cup wine.


Slice the kielbasa into pieces “about the size of a very thick quarter,” and brown them in a frying pan.


In a separate frying pan, brown the onion and garlic in butter and oil. “I don’t know why both butter and oil,” says Amy. “Just do it.” (Actually, the combination adds flavor and keeps the butter from burning.) “The critical thing here is the browning part. Searing everything adds depth.”


Open the cans of beans. Throw them into a pot. “Heat them to a really good simmer.” While they are heating up, take the chicken meat off the bones. Put that meat and the chicken’s cooking liquid in a large slow cooker.  Add the beans, vegetables, sausage, tomatoes, soy, chiles, and beer.


“[T]hen start worrying about whether there is enough meat,” says Amy. If you’re concerned (I was! I love meat!), brown another 1 /2 pound at least of sausage in a frying pan. Deglaze the pan with the remaining wine, and add the sausage and wine to the slow cooker. If you don’t use more sausage, just throw the wine in by itself.  Stir in the chili powder.  Cook overnight on low heat.


Day II:


On Day II Amy’s son announced that the chili needed some barbecue sauce.  Amy didn’t actually add any, but I misunderstood her explanation of his request, and I put some in. Not bad! Taste for flavoring, and if you want to add more chili powder. If you think you want more liquid in your chili, add some stock. Stir in the brown sugar and jam; then cook for a few more hours on low heat. Remove the chili from the crock pot, and refrigerate it overnight.


Day III:


Return the chili to the crock pot, add the cilantro, and cook it for several additional hours on low heat. Taste it a couple of hours before you’re ready to serve it. If you think it needs more seasoning, feel free to add some chili powder, salt, red pepper flakes, or even hot sauce. If you think it just needs more cooking, increase the heat to high.


If you’re entering a chili cook-off, lobby avidly and look cute. (Amy always does.) If you’re just watching football, dish the chili out.


Serves at least 10 football fans.


Our Michael is ready for the Big Game.

Our Michael is ready for the Big Game.

Soup Days: Chipotle Corn Chowder

27 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

Frank Loesser’s playful lyric is appropriate to this time of year.  It is indeed chilly—and snowy—and icy—outside. The cold gives us an excuse to linger indoors and enjoy ourselves, however. 

And of course we can cook………


January is National Soup Month for a reason. We have entered the season of simmering pots and warming lunches. I have lots of favorite soups for cold weather. I can eat split pea soup for days on end (a good thing since it’s hard to make only a small pot of it). I save my chicken bones religiously for stock. I turn the dregs of pot roast into vegetable-beef soup. And I’m a sucker for the potential in a can of tomatoes.
We can light fires, which always cheer. We can read the occasional novel. We can think about going for long walks in the snow. We can catch up on housework. (We CAN—but I’m not sure I will.)

Here is a soup I’ve just started making, and I love it. It was inspired by the Happy Valley Locavore, a blog maintained by Meggin Thwing Eastman of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Meggin writes about her quest to cook with and eat as much locally produced food as she can.


The soup on which this one was based (which of course used fresh corn!) solved a long-time dilemma for me. I love to make corn chowder, but I have lots of friends who avoid pork and thus can’t eat the bacon that gives my favorite corn chowder its smoky taste. Meggin’s answer is to use canned chipotles (smoked jalapeño peppers). These give the soup not only smoke but a touch of heat as well.


Stay warm and eat hearty!




Chipotle Corn Chowder




peanut oil as needed for sautéing

1 onion,  finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound new potatoes, cut in small cubes (leave the skins on!)

1 quart vegetable or  chicken stock, plus more stock if needed

2 pounds frozen corn (or the corn from 8 to 10 ears), preferably slightly thawed

2 chipotles in adobo sauce, seeded and finely minced

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

cream and milk to taste

chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)




In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté them until they begin to brown. Stir in the potatoes, and cook for a couple of minutes, adding more oil if needed to keep them from sticking to the pot. Pour in 1 quart of stock, and bring the mixture to a boil.


Add the corn and chipotles to the pot, return the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the mixture covered until the corn and tomatoes are soft and the soup tastes good. This takes about half an hour on my stove. Add a bit more stock if the soup looks as though it is drying out.

Let the soup cool for a few minutes; then carefully blend it using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor. Return the soup to the pot, and add a little cream. Stir in milk until the chowder looks and tastes right to you. Heat the milky mixture just to the boiling point, and serve. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired. Serves 8 to 10.


Lorelei Lee likes to nap on soup days (and on non-soup days, too!).

Lorelei Lee likes to nap on soup days (and on non-soup days, too!).