Sunday, February 21, 2010


February 28, 2010

In today's environment when everyone seems to have to pinch pennies, it makes sense to try and use up whatever is in the house instead of going out to buy something that's convenient like pizza or Chinese take out. Most people who love to cook, also love to shop for food. So when the pennies are so tight, I tend to buy things that will keep in the pantry or cupboard for a long time. We could probably live out of the pantry/freezers for a few months if we had to.

For example, today I cleaned out my spice cupboard. Everything was mixed up and turned the wrong way. (I'm a little bit of a neat freak, but not freakishly so). When everything is in order, it's much easier to find what you want when you go to cook something. Anyway, while I was making room for some things that should have been in there, I noticed there were also a lot of things in the cupboard above that I'd had in there for a while. I found three cans of smoked salmon. I bought them at Sam's a while back because the price was so good and I thought I'd just figure out what to make with it some time or another. Well today is that day. You would think I found a bag of money! I knew what I would make with it, and it appealed to my taste buds immediately.

I'd never used canned salmon like this before. I've used the kind that comes with the whole bone down the back and skin on to make salmon cakes. We love those. But this salmon comes packed just like a can of tuna. Clean. No bones, no skin, just nice hunks of moist smoked salmon.

I wanted to make salmon salad. You know, just like tuna salad. I got everything together and realized I didn't have enough mayonnaise! Well, I didn't want to run out to the store. I didn't even get dressed yet today. I'd seen mayonnaise made on television before and it just didn't look that hard. 10 minutes later, I am proud to say, I had two cups of pretty darn good mayonnaise! I used this recipe from RecipeZaar.

So now that I could make my salad, here's how I did it. This makes enough salad for 5 or 6 ample sandwiches.


3 7 oz cans of smoked salmon (no bones, no skin),drained of liquid
1/2 c cup mayonnaise
2 stalks of celery, diced very small
1 tsp dried onion flakes
salt/pepper to taste
4 slices whole grain bread of your choice
2 hard cooked eggs, sliced

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix gently until well blended. Try not to mush up the salmon too much. Re-season as necessary.

Toast the bread and top with about 1/2 c to 3/4 c salmon salad, depending on the size of the bread and how much salad you like on your sandwich.

Arrange the sliced egg on top of the salmon, and top with lettuce.

This is a really good sandwich and we both liked it better than tuna salad.

When I make tuna salad, I usually put some finely chopped fresh rosemary in, and even dice the eggs right into the salad. But I don't think that works for the salmon. The salmon would overwhelm the flavor of the eggs too much. And I really prefer the salmon without the herbs. (Although on second thought, I'll bet some dill might taste good in there). I'll try it one of the sandwiches.) I also don't think I would have liked fresh onion in here -- too strong.

So having extras in the pantry can mean that whenever you don't know what to make, and you don't want to spend more money or go out, just root around those cupboards and see what you have. Some other things I ALWAYS keep around:

Canned beans (several kinds; if it's on sale I buy a few for the pantry)
Canned olives
Various kinds of pasta (I buy what's on sale)
Canned tomatoes
Chicken Broth
Canned Mushroom and Chicken soup (low sodium/low fat)
Canned water chestnuts
Sauces - I'm a huge junkie when it comes to sauces in jars - my fridge is full of them and they keep a long time - peanut sauce, chili sauce, hoison, plum sauce, all kinds of grilling sauces, and bottled marinades, etc.

My freezer always has several kinds of frozen veggies, individually wrapped fish fillets, and citrus zest. I never use a lemon or a lime before I zest it to freeze the zest. I keep puff pastry in there, frozen pizza crust (raw) and I keep my sesame seeds in the freezer too.

With just the few ingredients I've listed, you could make a pasta and mushroom casserole. Cook up some pasta, throw in a can of mushroom soup, a little chicken broth, some herbs, a little garlic, and you could even throw in some of the chopped water chestnuts. If you've got some veggies in the fridge or freezer, throw those in too. If you have some mushrooms, slice those and add them to the mix. Toss in a handful of Parmesan cheese if you have it. Bake the whole thing for 20 – 25 minutes and you’ve got a yummy, comforting meal that even the kids will love!

If you have a can of beans and some garlic and olive oil, you can almost instantly make a really good BEAN DIP. Just blend a can of drained/rinsed canellini beans, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor. Whiz it while you drizzle in some olive oil until it turns into a nice smooth consistency for dipping. That’s it! This also tastes great with some dried thyme or rosemary in it.

I think you get the point. It may sound like a lot to keep around, but If you love to cook, then you’ll find that keeping these things around is essential to creativity. Keep things in the house that last a long time with a mind that you can zip up something, anything, almost right away! And, it's always cheaper to make from scratch. That pasta casserole could feed 4, 5 or even 6 people for just a dollar or two per person. If you go out, you're going to spend at least $5 - $6 or more for each person to eat at a restaurant.

In another post, I'll share some more throw together meals that started out totally unplanned, made from a search of the pantry and the freezer. In the meantime, let me know if you try this salmon salad and how you liked it!


February 23, 2010
March Soup Night is approaching and I don't know what the big pot of soup will be yet, but I will also make my Mother's Green Bean Soup. (Disclaimer: soup menus are always subject to change without notice!) Actually, I think I make her Green Bean Soup a little different than she made it, but it's still delicious. I have some of her recipes written down and I want to make sure they are preserved. My Chicken Soup and Cauliflower Soup are also Mom's recipes.

And since it's the last Soup Night of the season, I think I will make some special appetizers and a special dessert. As always I'll put out a veggie tray, some olives and cheese and crackers. I'll add a wheel of Brie topped with apricot jam wrapped in puff pastry. Also I will add my Jiffy Braunschweiger Dip. I can't take credit for the recipe though - I think I got it from Pampered Chef. It's braunschweiger, blue cheese and sour cream pureed into a lovely smooth dip. (Recipe below). If you like braunschweiger, you will love this! It's a big hit among some of my friends. I know, I know - it's really bad for you, but it's one of those guilty pleasures. I only make it once or twice a year for parties. I will also make my Kahlua Ice Cream Sandwich Dessert. I'll share that recipe here too. (Again, I can't take credit for this one, it is also a recipe from Pampered Chef. It was actually a recipe used to highlight the Strawberry Slicer.)

But first, here's how I remember Mom's Green Bean Soup: makes a pretty large pot of soup.

1 med onion - diced
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 quarts of water (enough to cover beans by about an inch)
1 Tbs. salt
2 lbs of frozen Green beans ( you can use fresh - clean and cut into 1 inch pieces)

2 Tbs Vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbs flour
3 cloves garlic finely minced
1 Tbs paprika
1 Tbs parsley finely minced.
1 Tbs chicken boullion (optional, reduce salt by half if you use this)

Saute the onions in the oil. When they are translucent, add the water, salt, and green beans. While this comes to a boil again, and the beans are cooking, move on to the next step.

The next step that takes place in the small skillet will happen quickly, so pay attention!

Take a small skillet and add the oil, and flour. Cook the flour over med heat until it just starts to change color to light golden. You should already have the other ingredients ready - garlic minced, parsley finely minced, paprika measured.

Just as soon at the flour turns a light golden, add the minced garlic, stir for just about 10 seconds.
Add the parsley and paprika and stir for just a second or two. Now, don't wait another second, or the garlic and paprika will burn. Scrape the entire mixture from the skillet into the boiling green beans. This mixture will not thicken your soup but will give it some body and will add a lot of flavor. Let the soup boil for a second to get most of out the mixture you just added. Turn down the heat and let cook until beans are done to your liking.

If your soup needs more seasoning now, this is where you will add the chicken boullion or more salt and pepper. If you are lucky enough to find some vegetable boullion, you can use that to keep the soup vegetarian.

You can add any kind of starch you want here. Small noodles, spaetzle, whatever you like -- or not.

Note: While I was writing down this recipe for you I decided to call my Mom to make sure I got the recipe right. Well, to my surprise, I got it all wrong! Apparently I was making the green bean soup the same way she made her Cauliflower Soup!!!! which she actually did occasionally. So the saving grace here is, you can make the soup this way with green beans, or cauliflower. And now you have THREE Soup Recipes! because .....

Here is the way my Mom actually made the green bean soup: This is the exact recipe as she e-mailed it to me:

1 1/2 c sliced green beans
2 med potatoes, cubed
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the back of a knife
2 tsp. dried dill
1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp salt

1/4 c. additional water
2 or 3 Tbs flour
1/4 c sour cream

Put the beans, garlic and potatoes in a medium sized pot. Add enough water to cover by about an inch. Add dill and parsley, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to med/low and simmer about 15 minutes. In a separate large cup, mix the 1/4 c water, sour cream and flour to make a slurry to thicken the soup a little. When potatoes are fork tender add the thickening mixture and stir quickly to avoid lumping. Mixture must come back to a boil, and then turn heat down again to get thickening results. Re-season to taste.

So how will I make the Green Bean Soup for March Soup Night? The way my Mom made it, with sour cream and dill. It'll be a great choice for our vegetarian guests. Thanks Mom!

Here's the recipe for the Jiffy Brauschweiger Dip:

1 piece of braunschweiger - 12 oz. or so
1/2 c. sour cream
8 oz piece of a good sharp blue cheese

Put it all in the food processor and whiz til it's smooth. If you think you'd like it softer, just add a little more sour cream. That's it! This is really good on plain crostini, pita chips, or even Saltines.

Here's the Kahlua Ice Cream Dessert:
12 ice cream sandwiches ( low cal ones are fine for this)
1/4 c. + 2 T Kahlua or any coffee liqueur
12 oz. container Cool Whip. (I use the fat free)
12 Strawberries, sliced (optional)
1 c. Chopped Walnuts or Pecans (optional)

Use a 9 x 12 cake pan. Put ice cream sandwiches in the pan to cover the whole bottom. Usually all 12 will fit just right. You can cut one or two of them into pieces to make them fit.

Now pour the liqueur over the whole thing. Try to make sure you get some liqueur all over. MORE IS NOT BETTER HERE! This is going back in the freezer and it will not freeze properly if you put in too much liqueur.

Spread the slightly softened Cool Whip over the top. Cover with saran and put it back in the freezer for at least 4 hours. You can make this up to 2 days ahead of time. The Kahlua will get all soaked up into the ice cream sandwich cookies.

Optional: When it's time to serve, top the whole thing with chopped nuts, and sliced strawberries. The strawberries are really yummy on here so I would recommend not leaving them off. It's good plain too, but ... well ... I love the berries and nuts on this.

Just cut squares and serve. Everyone will want seconds and thirds!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


For the longest time now, I've wanted to blog about food. I love to cook, I love to entertain, I love to plan parties and menus, I love to eat, I love to feed other people. For someone who loves to cook, it's wonderful to have a husband who loves to eat. I thought No Reservations, Ratatouille, and Julie & Julia were three of the most entertaining movies I've ever seen! I even loved the parts in all the James Bond books (and I've read all the Fleming ones) where Ian Fleming was so good at describing what James was eating! It made my mouth water and I always wanted some of it right then and there.

So I feed my passion for food by cooking a lot. I even cook when I'm not hungry. It turns into leftovers for the following night or lunch the following day. When the urge strikes, I start searching the fridge and the pantry to see what I can concoct. My husband is a wonderful taste tester. He will eat anything I put in front of him. There's isn't much he doesn't like - not a picky eater which would depress me, I think.

I started this blog today because I was thinking a lot about my Soup Nights. Before I moved to the Ocean City, MD area, I lived in Cleveland, Ohio. A friend of mine hosted what she called Soup Night. She invited "everyone" she knew and had a big pot of soup on the stove, some crackers, bread, butter, and whatever anyone else brought along to add to the buffet. It was an open house type affair beginning at 6:30 in the evening, and finished when everyone was gone. When you got there, you helped yourself to soup whenever you wanted, and got to eat as much as you like. We each brought our own "cocktails" and she provided soft drinks.

We loved Soup Night. It was held once a month on the 1st or 2nd Saturday. We met a lot of nice people whom we'd never known before. The crowd was different each time. She had a really big house and two kids, so her friends brought their kids along too. They all usually went down to the lower level where they played until they fell asleep. They had a blast.

After we moved back to Ocean City (that's a whole different story - we met on the internet) I realized I missed Susan's Soup Nights. So I began having my own. Every year from October through March - 6 Soup Nights a year. We will finish up our third year coming up with the last Soup Night of the season next month.

My house is much smaller than Susan's, so ours is adults only. We don't have that many friends who have small kids anyway. There is simply not enough room in my house to have a lot of kids running around. The crowd is different each month. We started having what we call our 65th Street gang most of the time, about 10 people, and we have evolved to include people I work with, new friends we've made since living here, and a bunch of women that my husband takes yoga with! Last month, most of the guests were single which we found interesting. The guests are invited to Soup Night and never need another invitation. Once invited, always invited. Of course I do send out e-mails as reminders for the date or a change of date.

Each month I make a different, huge pot of soup, and smaller pot of something else. For example, I made a huge pot Chicken Paprikash Soup, and a smaller pot of Vegetable Soup. We have several vegetarian guests so I always try to make something for them too. I always have a table full of appetizers too. Cheese board, dips, crackers, veggie tray, etc. In some later posts, I'll include some menus and recipes and some anecdotes.

Soup Night. It's becoming a very warm tradition in our household and among our friends.