Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Usual Suspects - Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

Last night - really this morning - I found myself chopping and stirring and frying garlic at 3:00 in the morning.  Very bad insomnia, resulting in what I call a "white night."  No sleep until 6:30.

In addition to cooking, I was noodling around on Facebook, and came across one of those posts that have a poem or a warning or an inspirational saying.  This one was from the Fibro and Chronic Pain Support page, and it was their Insomnia Roll Call. I shared it, asking the question, "who do you think is awake at 3:17 am?"

Almost immediately I heard from the folks I've to think of as "The Usual Suspects", assuring me that they too were up and about.  No matter what time in the middle of the night I post something, I will always get a response or comment from Barbara, Vickie, and Lynne.  I had a few others join the list of Sleepless in Cyberspace, Mark, Jenny, Jean, and Carol.  Between us we must represent about 2 million hours of lost sleep which in my mind translates to a lot of daytime discomfort.  What a damn tragedy!

February 12 - Occasionally, I have the opposite problem - narcolepsy, when I pass out on the couch or in my car (one time I was driving).  Last night was one of those, and I don't know if it was the new medication or something else.  I had some pretty odd dreams, most of which I can only recall in fragments, but just before I woke up I was having a conversation with Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, but they looked more like Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Or maybe it was George W. Bush and Nancy Reagan.  I know they were sitting in wheelchairs, except when they were standing up.  Mrs. Rockefeller - Reagan was admiring my rings and Mr. Rockefeller - Reagan - Bush and I were having a serious conversation about human trafficking.  I can't make this stuff up.

What I can make up are recipes - this one kind of leapt out of my brain and took on a life of its own.  I started out wanting to gather the ingredients for dill pickle soup, but when I opened the refrigerator I realized I had too many fresh vegetables that were going to spoil if I did not use them up first.  So this soup, or stew, or stoup (a Rachael Ray-ism) was born, and I was very pleased with the results.

Also, it turns out this is a progressive soup, which is delicious but different at three different stages of preparation.  A soup that can multi-task!  Even Alton Brown would approve.

As to the title of the recipe, if any of my MOTs have Litvak ancestry, you may be familiar with a dish called "schav with improvements."  My grandmother (she-who-raised-me) used to make this for my Pop when we were getting served borscht for dinner.  Ick.  The borscht was cold, mixed with sour cream, and served with a hot boiled potato.  I don't like cold soups, and I don't like beets all that much.  The hot potato was the saving grace.  That being said, in 40 years of marriage I have NEVER considered serving that for dinner.  Ick.  President Bush 41 has broccoli, and I have borscht.  Ick.

The schav, which was purchased in a big glass jar like the borscht, was considered a grown-ups only dish.  It was bitter and sour and all the things most kid don't like.  There was sorrel, probably very badly prepared, and to this was added sour cream.  Let's face it, everything tastes better with sour cream.  Then there were the improvements - I think they were different sorts of fresh chopped vegetables, including the zippy radishes I love.  I think I liked them even then.

The improvements in this dish include your choice of diced meats - I used kielbasa and some of my tiny turkey meatballs - and the addition of biscuit dumplings.  Next time I make this, I am going to eat it naked - the soup, not me.  Just a creamy soup, without meat. Unlike schav, this dish doesn't really need any improvements (but feel free to try them, just the same).

Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

1 large onion, large dice
canola oil
12 oz. mushrooms, sliced thick
4 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
6 medium red potatoes, quartered (or eighths if potatoes are large)
3 large yellow squash or zucchini (or mix and match), diced
1 - 32 oz. container chicken stock
Kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper
granulated garlic
onion powder
bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cans cream of mushroom soup 

In a medium saucepan, heat the canola oil and sauté the onions for 15 minutes over medium heat until they are softened.  Next, add the mushrooms, celery, garlic, carrots and potatoes.  Add more oil if needed, and cook, stirring fairly often, until the mushrooms are getting soft.  Add the squash, cook a little longer (keep stirring) and then pour in the chicken stock.  Add the seasonings to taste.  Bring the soup up to a boil, add the black-eyed peas and bring back to a boil. Immediately turn the heat to a low setting, cover the saucepan, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the black-eyed peas, celery and carrots are almost done.  Add the peas and corn, cover the pan and cook another 10 minutes. Now stir in all of the mushroom soup.  Keep stirring until the soup is smooth and well-blended, and has reached your favorite soup-eating temperature.  Taste and re-season.  You can stop right now and enjoy, or go whole hog with improvements.


Up to one pound cooked protein - I used kielbasa and my tiny turkey meatballs, a little under half a pound of each.  I heated the kielbasa in a small sauté pan first, then added it to the soup with the meatballs, covered the pan and simmered a while longer until the meatballs were heated through. I would not use the kielbasa again, because it masked the delicate chicken flavor.  It wasn't bad, quite the contrary, but not the flavor I was seeking for this dish.

Biscuit dumplings - I took a tube of Pillsbury biscuits, cut them in quarters, placed them on top of what was now more properly called a stew, covered the pan and cooked until the biscuits had magically transformed into dumplings.  I love these, but for this recipe I should have used half the biscuits, and just baked the remaining biscuits for some other purpose.

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