Category Archives: Soups, Stews and Chili

Craving Comfort Food? Prescription: Ratner’s Potato Soup


If you are craving comfort food, my Prescription: Ratner’s Potato soup! It may not seem like good medicine, but I promise it is.

Last week was filled with ups and downs for me. It was bookended by two grandbabies being born to two different friends both named Lisa! Monday, I lost my driver’s license (not a big problem in the scheme of things, just a nuisance!) Tuesday, my coworker left work and headed to see her closest friend who is in hospice. I was out of sorts the rest of the day thinking about and praying for her. Wednesday, a dear friend of mine lost her father. Thursday, after four cold and very grey days, I tried to write, but realized I was just blocked and couldn’t. The bright spot to my week was seeing photos of two beautiful baby boys! Of course, I forgot to get a new license!

Friday, I went to the BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) with an envelope containing my birth certificate, passport, social security card, and marriage license, everything to prove who I am. While sitting there 20 minutes or so, I leafed through my identity envelope, as I like to call it, and what do you think was wedged in my passport? My driver’s license – I had it all along! What it was doing in my passport is an entirely different story for another time. The good news is I caught it before waiting another half hour and being embarrassed at the desk when they called number 47!

I got into my car and said out loud… REALLY! What I knew for sure, is I needed something comforting for dinner and I knew just the prescription: Ratner’s potato soup! The only problem, Ratners was a restaurant in NYC that is now closed, and while they use to sell it in the freezer section of the grocery, they no longer do.

Now for the good news… I have the Ratner’s Cookbook and I can share it with you! Ratner’s was a Kosher Dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for almost 100 years (97 to be exact!). They had the best everything and their soups, memorable and amazing.

To read more about the restaurant, click on the link http://unofficialmadmencookbook.com/blog/ratners-kosher-restaurant-the-harmatz-family-shares-memories-of-the-mad-men-era-a-recipe-and-giveaway/

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My recipe is adapted from The World Famous Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook by Judith Gethers and Elizabeth Lefft. I changed things to make it healthier and a little simpler without losing anything in translation. For example, I didn’t think the soup needed 1/2 cup of butter so I added a couple of tablespoons just to give it flavor. It is the only potato soup I have ever had, and in my opinion the best. The only thing missing from my dinner was an onion roll! For those of you who may have been to Ratners, you remember their delicious onion rolls! I will be trying to make those very soon, and will share them with you! Until then, enjoy this delicious and comforting potato soup.

Ingredients

6 to 8  potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces – I used Yukon gold (about 8 cups)
3 or 4 onions chopped to equal 3 cups
1 leek white and light green parts only to equal
1 cup 3 to 4 tablespoons light olive oil (evoo is fine too)
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 quart water
1 quart vegetable stock* (look for a clear vegetable broth, one without tomatoes)
1 quart water
2 teaspoons salt (original recipe 2 tablespoons salt – OY, can you feel your blood pressure rising?)
1/2 cup caramelized onions (made from the onions above)
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (black is fine too)
Fried onions (optional)

 

Directions
In a large frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and one cup of the diced onions. Cover and leave on medium heat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, uncover and keep cooking while preparing the rest of the soup. You may need to add another tablespoon of olive oil. The onions should not sauté dry. You want to break down the onions until they are soft, falling apart and golden brown. This step is to take the place of the baked onions* called for in the original recipe.

In a stock pot (Ratners called it a kettle!) add the remaining 2 cups of onions and two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté until translucent then add the leeks. When the onions just start to brown, add the carrots, celery, green pepper, parsley, tomato juice, vegetable stock, water and salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered for 40 minutes.

The original recipe calls for blending the soup at this point. I remember the soup having some potato pieces in it and wanted that texture. With a slotted spoon, I took out about 2 cups of potatoes and set them aside. Stir in the caramelized onions, dill and pepper, blend thoroughly. I used a hand held stick blender for this. Then I added the potatoes back in to the soup. Add two tablespoons of butter, allow to melt and stir well. Finally taste the soup and check for seasoning. You may like more salt or pepper so feel free to add it a pinch at a time.

I served it with a sprinkle of fried onions on the top. It added a great textural crunch and for me, reminiscent of Ratner’s delicious onion rolls they served alongside! Enjoy!

Serves 10

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* The original recipe called for 2 quarts of water and no stock. I used a quart of vegetable stock for flavor since I cut the salt down from 2 tablespoons to 2 teaspoons, I felt it needed something more than water.

**BAKED ONIONS… I chose to use caramelized onions for a couple of reasons. First, the amount of butter added, second, I like the taste of caramelized onions and thought they would be a rich compliment to the soup. The original recipe called for ½ cup baked onions) If you would like to try it, the recipe is as follows:
1 cup clarified butter
3 lbs onions, peeled and sliced
Preheat oven to 350F. Stir butter into onions in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until golden brown in color. Stir occasionally. Cool and refrigerate till needed. May be stored in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Photo of the menu compliments of The New York Public Library

 

Beef Stew… The Lost Recipe

When thinking of a title for this post – beef stew… the lost recipe seemed to fit the bill! You’ll find out why later on.

In the 70’s I was a latchkey kid. I rode my bike home from school, let myself in the house, and started my routine while my parents were at work. Every day included watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and I Dream of Jeannie, while enjoying a treat from the ice cream truck. In Florida the ice cream man came around every day of the year! After that, I would talk to my friends on the phone while cooking the dinner. I’m sure you noticed doing homework was never mentioned!

I think one of the reasons I like to cook so much is because when I was a kid, I was the one my mom left in charge to prepare dinner. Sometimes that meant heating up what she already prepared, putting together bits and pieces, or cooking the whole meal. I didn’t really mind and kind of enjoyed experimenting a little in the kitchen. She always made it easy for me and sometimes I even had time to whip up some Rice Krispy treats!

Beef stew was one of those meals. So why did I call it a lost recipe? In all my mom’s recipe cards, newspaper clippings, or cookbooks, beef stew never made an appearance. I remember the ingredients, but not the ratios. I also remember it was one of my favorite meals. After looking at a variety of recipes, and with my sister’s help, I found a couple that had the basics of a stew, but not her ingredients. Tonight I recreated it and it tasted just like my mom’s! I think she would be very impressed and happy I added a little bit of wine to it. It was a very welcome treat to enjoy one of my childhood favorites on the coldest night of the year… 2 degrees in Ohio! What a warm and comforting meal. Now all I need is a fudge pop, a rerun of Gilligan’s Island, and I’m all set!

Total Time: 3 hr 20 min… Prep Time: 50 min… Cooking Time: 2 hr 30 min… Level: Easy

Ingredients
2 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
4 to 5 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
One cup sweet red wine (I used a concord grape wine)
1 – 14.5 ounce can whole or diced tomatoes
1 cup water, beef broth, or vegetable broth
2 ½ cups Yukon gold potatoes cut into 1” pieces
2 ½ cups pearl onions (I used a bag of frozen from Trader Joe’s)
4 large thick carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces to yield 2 cups
3 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 – 12 or 16 ounce packages of baby portobello mushrooms, cleaned well and sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (fresh are difficult to find so frozen are fine)
3 to 4 garlic cloves finely minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions
Sprinkle 3 or more tablespoons of the flour evenly over the meat and toss to coat each piece.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef in a single layer without crowding the pan (work in 2 batches if necessary) and cook, turning, until browned on all sides. Remove the beef from the pan and reserve.

Add the red wine to deglaze the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil then add the minced garlic. Return the beef to the pot and add the potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and water or broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook until the beef is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Add the peas and continue cooking until the stew is thickened and the peas are cooked, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. I used 1 teaspoon of pepper, and a pinch of salt. If the sauce seems a little thick, add a splash of wine, water or broth. You may also need to do that when reheating if there is anything leftover. Enjoy! Yield: 4 to 6 servings

An Unexpected Guest for Thanksgiving… Lentil Soup!

Last week we had an unexpected guest for Thanksgiving… lentil soup! We were in Virginia for the holiday and my sister-in-law Barbara went all out with the dinner. The table was filled with a bounty of people, and a bounty of food. There was two of everything! It was like Noah’s Ark as two by two dishes came to the table – even two pumpkin pies! I was happy I was able to contribute a little something and brought my cranberry sauce (luckily I brought two!). Now that I think about it, I brought two pans of stuffing, and two bottles of wine!

Dinner included a turkey of course, stuffing, vegetables, gravy, and a special sweet potato soufflé made by my niece Sara – all the usual stars of the show. To start the meal she served two soups, one butternut squash (with a nice kick of heat) and an unexpected guest – the lentil soup. It was delicious and a welcome surprise.

Yesterday I went to the grocery and bought a bag of lentils, carrots, onions, and celery. Basically this is all you need for the base. I always have vegetable stock and cans of tomatoes in my pantry so I was ready to go. This isn’t my sister-in-law Barbara’s recipe, maybe we’ll be lucky and she’ll share it with us! My recipe is a combination of a family recipe with a “splash” of extra vegetables and a little less lentils than most recipes. I’ve made variations of this for years and each time, it comes out great. This time I added a parsnip but if you don’t like parsnips leave them out or swap in a diced potato. At the end of cooking, I added a handful of chopped spinach but if you don’t like spinach leave it out or swap in kale. I have made it with water instead of vegetable stock – still good – it’s indestructible!

On a cold night I love lentil soup; it’s high in protein, a good source of fiber and magnesium, and a quick and easy soup to prepare. The next time you are at the grocery, pick up a bag of lentils – you’ll be thankful! With bread and a salad, this soup makes a whole meal, so don’t wait until next Thanksgiving to make it! Enjoy!

Ingredients
1 ¼ cup green lentils picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion peeled and diced
2 carrots peeled and cut into small dice (equivalent to 1 ¼ cups)
2 stalks of celery diced (equivalent to ¼ cups)
1 – 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 – 32 ounce container of low sodium vegetable stock
2 tablespoons fresh parsley minced
1 to 2 cloves of garlic minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (more or less to taste)

Optional
1 parsnip or potato diced
handful of chopped spinach or kale
1 cup cooked elbow macaroni

Directions
In a large stockpot on medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic with the olive oil 10 to 15 minutes, or until translucent. Add the celery and carrots and sauté for 10 more minutes (if adding parsnip or potato, add at this time as well). Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes, bay leaves and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 1 hour or until the lentils are cooked through. Add the parsley, salt and pepper to taste. If you are adding spinach or kale, add it in at the end. Taste the soup to check the seasonings and adjust accordingly. This soup freezes great.

2 hours to prepare. Makes 8 to 10 servings

Soups on! Tuscan Vegetable Soup with Canellini Beans

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I truly have no story about this soup. It’s not linked to a family memory, favorite restaurant, or anything in particular. I was planning my husband’s birthday dinner last week and needed a starter to go with the meal. It was very cold outside so I knew I wanted to make a soup. My main dish was simmering away on the stove and I needed something quick. I searched online for mediteranean soups and came across this Tuscan Vegetable Soup from Ellie Krieger. It’s made with ingredients I had on hand, makes 6 servings and only took 30 minutes to make from start to finish. This seemed like a winner plus it got a review of 5 stars. I would like to add my 5 stars to that review! Enjoy!
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The recipe is adapted from Ellie Krieger’s Tuscan Vegetable Soup with a few changes. She uses zucchini which I didn’t have so I substituted two peppers and also boosted the amount of vegetables a little. The recipe called for thyme and sage which I also did not have so I used Herbes de Provence which contains both sage and thyme. All we need is parsley and rosemary and we have a song! You know Simon and Garfunkel…
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
I can’t be the only one that sings that when I’m cooking with these herbs. Am I?
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1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 to 3 carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
2 to 3 stalks celery, diced, (about 1 cup)
2 peppers cut into 1″ pieces (I used one yellow, one red but any combination is fine or use 1 small zucchini)
32 ounces vegetable broth
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium canellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (or combination kale, Swiss chard and spinach)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons herbes de provence*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, salt and black pepper. Cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Now add the peppers and or zucchini, mix and cook for a couple of minutes longer.Add the vegetable broth and diced tomatoes with the juice and bring to a boil. Add beans and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the spinach leaves and cook until it’s wilted, about 3 minutes more.Serve topped with fresh grated Parmesan, if desired.
*or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
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Creamy Cauliflower Soup with no Cream!

There is a television show on PBS entitled America’s Test Kitchen. It’s filmed in a working test kitchen and is the home of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. They have test cooks, food scientists, tasters and cookware specialists on the show. Every now and then I’ll catch an episode and find them doing something interesting whether it’s testing recipes, rating products, or trying out the newest kitchen gadget. When they create a recipe, they explain the science behind why it works or doesn’t work. Which is great especially when you try something out that is a total flop! I have gotten a few very good ideas on new tools and tricks when cooking, as well as recipes from the show like this creamy cauliflower soup.

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Their original recipe called for 1 and ½ sticks of butter – that’s 12 tablespoons of butter! So while they were very excited to have come up with a creamy soup that added no cream, it had plenty of butter to give it that creamy texture. That’s a lot of butter for a 2 pound head of cauliflower; it’s the equivalent of almost 2 to 3 tablespoons per serving! That’s way too much if you ask me.

It looked so simple and delicious, I decided to try it but with a Splash of Sherri! I used olive oil instead of butter and cut that way down. The result was a delicious tasting soup. One of the secrets to the soup’s flavor is cooking the cauliflower at different times. According to the show’s test kitchen, adding it in two stages gives a grassy flavor of just-cooked cauliflower and the sweeter, nuttier flavor of long-cooked cauliflower.

It was a real winner in my house, very simple, very quick, and a great new way to cook with cauliflower. So here is my version adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Enjoy!

1 head of cauliflower (approximately 2 pounds)
2 to 3 tablespoons light olive oil
1 leek, white and light green part only – washed very well and sliced thin
1 medium onion diced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon white pepper (more or less to taste)
4 ½ to 5 cups water
3 or more tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon of light olive oil (to sauté the reserved cup of florets)
1/2 teaspoon Sherry vinegar (cider vinegar works great as well)

This recipe serves 4 to 6

Pull off the outer leaves of the cauliflower and trim the stem. Use a paring knife and cut around the core to remove. Thinly slice the core and set aside. Separate it into core/stems, and florets. Reserve one cup of small ½” florets and set aside then cut the remaining cauliflower into ½ inch thick slices.

In a medium size pot sauté the sliced leek and diced onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté for 7 minutes until translucent then add stems, core and ½ the florets plus the 4 ½ cups of water. Bring it to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, add the rest of the cauliflower and cook another 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, brown the remaining 1 cup of florets in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat – stirring frequently. Sauté the cauliflower until golden brown; this takes about 5 to 10 minutes. When done, take the florets out with a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl and toss with the vinegar and season with a pinch of salt. Reserve the oil for a garnish or discard.

Puree the soup in a blender, food processor or use a stick blender until smooth (about a minute or two). Simmer the soup another couple of minutes on medium heat and adjust the consistency with more water as needed. The soup should have a thick, velvety texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with the browned florets, chives, and olive oil as a garnish.

Total cooking time should be no longer then 40 minutes. After that, the cauliflower will start to loose it’s flavor.

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