Snow days! The local school kids have loved having some this past week. One wonders what they will be saying next spring when those extra days have to be made up just as they are anxious to get going on summer vacation. Snow days are nice, though, and they give one an excuse to enjoy watching the world go by.
A pot of tea, a rocking chair, a good book, and the fireplace burning so pretty can all be enjoyed when the snow is coming softly down. Of course, that is for us older folks as the kids want more excitement then that. If one has memories of skiing, sledding, bonfires and hot chocolate with oodles of friends, one can relive that period of youth forever. Relive the memories, not the actual activities... Even looking at the high ski lifts now makes me dizzy.
New Orleans didn't have to worry about snow for the giant party it had with the Super Bowl. That dome was packed. With the ticket prices what they were said to be, there is evidence there are many folks who don't have to worry about going to a food pantry for food for their next meal. Even if my favorite team was playing, and I had the money (which I don't), I would think twice about spending it for just one evening. Guess I will never aim to be part of the "jet set." Lots of folks right here in our valley had just as much fun with their Super Bowl parties as the folks in New Orleans did. Just a matter of mind set.
With the winter here and the outside temperatures getting cold, the "little critters" have been invading the cellar. Now, I don't mind mice when they are in a cage at a pet store in fact, they are rather cute but they are not cute when they think they can take over my pantry for their playground and feeding stations. They should know I have fought "mouse wars" for many years longer than they have been alive, and I have a reputation of winning those wars. Some of them think they are really smart, though. They can eat the bait right off the trap without getting caught. Sooner or later, they make that fatal slip and get too greedy. That is when I win. From the different sizes I have been catching, I think I have a multi-generational clan trying to live in the cellar and pantry. There are four cats in this house why do we have a mouse invasion?. They must think they are all too good to work for their living. If they were humans, they probably would be in politics.
Lent starts on Wednesday. It is a time of reflection, devotion and study. While what one eats doesn't have much to do with the kind of person he/she is, it is a sign to one's self of "living not by bread alone." It is a convenient time to start some good habits for an individual and eliminating some bad ones. No one is perfect, so there is something everyone can do to improve we just have to acknowledge what it is and get to work on it. Easier said than done. Maybe just look at those New Year's resolutions we haven't been following the past month.
Anyway, with Lent many folks do try to change their eating habits, if just to show they can, if for no other reason. We all know we eat too much red meat, and this is an excuse to do something about it. Fish and seafood are good for us and are not hard to fix. Some of us could eat like this all year. Fresh seafood is hard to get here away from the coasts, but frozen is quite good and plentiful. There will be some of the recipes I use in the coming weeks.
Of course, today there has to be some of the ones you might plan for that Valentine's Day dinner or Valentine gifts. Make some of Anna Dean's Orange Meltaways for your sweetie and you will have him wrapped around your little finger all week. To make a heart-shaped cake without a heart-shaped pan, just bake your cake in one 8-inch round pan and one 8-inch square pan. Cut the round layer exactly across the center and put them against two adjoining sides of the square layer. The frosting over all will hide the cut edges of the round layer. How about Brownies baked this way and frosted with a rich Chocolate Frosting? Everyone will love you.. (Don't bake it for anyone who isn't eating sweets for Lent.)
Husband Norm loves soups of all kinds, but he has commented that he would enjoy something else with his soup at least one time a day. Guess I have been going overboard with the soup bit. I made some baked Potato Soup as a change from the usual Potato Soup and he liked that. I started with a recipe from a paper. But the same idea could be used with your regular Potato Soup recipe. Just bake (or microwave) the potatoes and use an immersion blender to turn it into a cream soup. I will include the way I made it with today's recipes. Immersion blenders are great, but If you don't have one you can use a regular blender and blend a soup in batches.
Enjoy this winter weather, if you can. Not everyone likes snow like I do, and even I don't appreciate the cold weather anymore that is necessary for snow. One of the great things about our valley is the change of seasons, so we take what we get and like it (or pretend we do). If your bones aren't too old, bundle up the kids and go sledding with them. They will love it and the fresh air will do you good.
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REVISED BAKED POTATO SOUP
Two large baking potatoes
Three strips bacon, diced
One-half medium to large onion, chopped
Two or three stalks celery, chopped
Four cups chicken broth
One-half cup heavy cream
One-cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Bake potatoes in oven for one hour or in microwave for about 10 minutes. Let rest one minute, then slice in half lengthwise to cool. Meanwhile, fry diced bacon until fairly crisp. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Saute onion and celery in bacon drippings until translucent. Empty skillet with veggies and bacon drippings into a soup pot. Add broth. Scoop out inside of potatoes and add to pot along with the bacon bits. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture come to a boil over medium heat as you stir, then cover, lower heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender and soup is well combined, about 15 minutes. Stir in cream. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, over low heat until cheese is melted. Chopped fresh parsley makes a nice garnish for this soup.
This makes enough for two or three hungry people. Increase amounts of ingredients to fit the size of your family.
NOTE: Pureed potato can be used for thickening any cream soup. Using potatoes instead of flour makes the soup gluten free. The taste is better, too.
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Two-and-a-half pounds fish (like cod or haddock)
Two ounces salt pork fat (or bacon)
One large onion
Two medium-sized potatoes
One quart milk, cream or half-and-half
Six saltine crackers
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice pork or bacon, onion and potatoes. Boil fish in a small amount of water. If using a whole fish, boil until meat nearly comes off bones, remove skin and bones and break up any large pieces of fish flesh. Save the water fish in which fish was boiled. Fry pork in soup pot until a light brown (or bacon is cooked and almost crisp). Add onions, potatoes and fish water. When potatoes are soft, add fish pieces and milk or cream. Heat, but do not allow to boil. Roll crackers into crumbs and add to chowder. Season to taste.
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One-and-a-half pounds fresh shelled and deveined large shrimp or one 24-ounce bag, frozen, shelled and deveined shrimp, thawed
Four large garlic cloves
One-half cup butter
One tablespoon fresh lemon juice
One teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon oregano leaves
One-eighth teaspoon pepper
One-fourth cup chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges for garnish
Preheat broiler. Place shrimp in single layer in bottom of broiling pan. Into a saucepan, crush garlic cloves with a garlic press. Add butter, lemon juice, oregano and pepper. Over low heat, heat until butter is melted. Pour butter mixture over shrimp in broiling pan, turning to coat evenly. Broil five to eight minutes until shrimp are pink. To serve, spoon hot shrimp and butter mixture onto a warm platter. Sprinkle with parsley and garnish with lemon wedges.
NOTE: The way I make this is to melt the butter mixture in a large non-stick skillet over low heat, then add the shrimp in a single layer, turning to coat with butter. Saute over low heat until shrimp are pink. I also add some lemon zest to butter mixture as it heats. Good over cooked wild rice, or even plain old cooked white rice.
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ANNA DEAN'S ORANGE CHOCOLATE MELTAWAYS
(This is the best candy I have ever tasted, and the recipe is from one of the top cooks in our area. Make this for your special Valentine.)
One package (12-oz.) milk chocolate chips
One cup (6-oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Three-fourths cup whipping cream
One teaspoon grated orange peel
Two-and-a-half teaspoons orange extract
One-and-a-half cups finely chopped toasted pecans
One-cup (6-oz.) milk chocolate chips
Two tablespoons shortening
Place chocolate chips in a mixing bowl; set aside. In a saucepan, bring cream and orange peel to a gently boil; immediately pour over chips. Let stand one minute; whisk until smooth. Add the extract, Cover and chill for 35 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Beat for 10 to 15 seconds or until mixture lightens in color (do not overbeat). Spoon rounded teaspoons onto waxed paper lined baking sheets. Cover and chill for five minutes. Gently shape into balls; roll half in pecans. For coating, in a microwave or double boiler, melt chocolate and shortening; stir until smooth. Dip remaining balls into this chocolate. Place on waxed paper lined sheets to harden. Store in refrigerator.
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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for the Parkersburg News & Sentinel.