We are in the darkest stretch of the year. The only excuse on our horizon for a big blowout is that first summer barbecue.
OK, depending on your heritage, personal circumstances or religious persuasion, you may celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, or cook a special meal for Valentine’s or Easter, but you know this is the dead-of-winter party-free zone.
Seems to me we need a break. I propose you find something in your life to celebrate and invite some friends over to do it with you. If you choose to take my advice, the food you serve will neither make nor break such an occasion, but it sure supports a festive evening, not to mention great conversation the next day at the office.
Oh, and this idea is not meant to add stress to your life, so please don’t fuss. These two recipes are easy, both to cook and to serve, and make great leftovers.
• • •
How about a soup party? Make this your light vegetarian choice and, along with maybe a pot of moose or chicken rice, or one of the recipes I’ve shared in the past couple of weeks, you’ve got something for everybody.
Lay out a tray of coffee mugs — so much more fun than a sit-down soup supper, heat up a bag of dinner rolls and you’ve got a party on the stove.
You can make this with four large cans of whatever beans you like, but it’s so easy to cook your own — not to mention tastier and cheaper — why not try it? You can buy bean mixtures in the bulk food section of most grocery stores.
If you choose to buy bouillon to make the broth, the best I’ve found is the small bottles of paste. They are more expensive than the powder, but vastly superior in flavour. If you do choose either concentrated or ready-to-use boxed or canned broth, remember they all contain plenty of salt, so taste before you add any more.
Mixed Bean and Spinach Soup
2 cups dried beans, mixed
4 medium carrots, diced
2 large yellow onions, diced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 whole bulb garlic, all cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
10 cups vegetable or chicken broth, water, or a mixture of both
1 cup washed and drained brown or green lentils
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 10-oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed
big handful fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Discard any shrivelled or discoloured beans — much easier to do while they are still dry — and wash well. Cover with lots of water and let them soak for a few hours, preferably overnight. Drain and they’re ready to use.
In a soup boiler or Dutch oven, fry carrots, onions and celery in oil until soft. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil and cook together a few minutes, until fragrant.
Add broth and beans; cover and simmer 1-1/2 hours.
Add lentils, tomatoes and spinach and simmer, covered, until beans and lentils are very tender, but not mushy. Add parsley and pepper, salt to taste and serve.
Saged Pork Stroganoff
Steaming bowls of buttered egg noodles, self-served by your guests and topped with stewed meat and vegetables, make a perfect low-maintenance party choice. Rice or roasted potato chunks would also be a great accompaniment to this savoury mixture.
You’ll notice that I’m suggesting both dried and fresh herbs. The dried really add flavour to the meat, but without the fresh the result will fall a little flat. This quantity easily serves 12.
1 tbsp. each onion and garlic powder
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, to your taste
1/2 tsp. each dried sage and thyme
1 cup flour (divided)
4 lbs. lean pork, either in chops, steaks or a roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or more, divided for frying
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups mixed frozen vegetables
1 large tub (2 cups or 500 ml) sour cream
10 to 12 large fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
large bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Whisk onion and garlic powder, salt, black pepper, cayenne, sage and thyme into about half the flour. Dry pork cubes with a paper towel then toss in flour mixture — a big plastic bag makes it easier.
Brown in small batches in a Dutch oven or large heavy pan, adding just enough oil to keep the pan from drying out; set aside.
Add more oil if necessary and fry onions until they are starting to soften and taking on a little colour. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until everything is golden-brown and mixture is lifting off the bottom of the pot.
Add broth and return pork. Cover and simmer until tender.
Stir in mixed vegetables and bring back up to a simmer.
Combine remaining 1/2 cup flour with sour cream, mixing until there are no lumps. Whisk into hot pork mixture, stirring until thick and creamy.
If it seems too thick, add water or more broth until it is the consistency you like.
Stir in herbs and pour into serving dish or keep warm in a slow cooker or over boiling water on top of the stove. If you bring back up to a vigorous boil, however, you run the risk of splitting the sauce, so if you have leftovers, reheat thoroughly but gently.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s.
Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.