December 5, 2018

Dear friends,
Tony was out of town. The dog and I huddled indoors as sleet encrusted my car in a glaze of ice. We weren’t going anywhere. We needed an extra blanket and soup.

Luckily, I had thought ahead and bought a few ingredients with soup in mind. I didn’t have a recipe, just an idea: potato-mushroom soup. Maybe with bacon?

I hauled out a pot and the ingredients and placed my notepad and a pen on the counter. The way I work is to jot down a list of potential ingredients, in the order I envision using them. I leave space to the left for amounts. Then I measure and cook, measure and cook and, with sticky hands, note ingredient amounts and instructions. My finished written recipe usually has a lot of arrows, rub-outs and additions squeezed in. It’s a mess, but it works for me.

But back to the sleet, the dog and the soup. Oscar left the comfort of the blanket when he smelled bacon sizzling. By the time the soup was done, he was frantic with anticipation. I couldn’t deny him. I spooned a bit of the creamy broth and a few cubes of potato over his kibble, and crowned it with a shred of bacon. I took dog, kibble and a mug of the steaming soup back to the sofa, where we ate while watching “The Christmas Chronicles” on Netflix.

I had two bowls of the soup. Tony ate the rest of it when he returned the next day, proclaiming it the best soup he had ever eaten. I think he was just grateful he didn’t have to eat his hunting buddies’ cooking again.

But the soup was indeed good. After crisping the bacon, I sautéed chopped onions and sliced mushrooms in the bacon fat, added potatoes, sherry, seasonings and chicken broth, and simmered until the potatoes were tender. I finished the soup with a bit of cream to enrich the broth.

POTATO-MUSHROOM SOUP

4 slices bacon
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken broth
2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup cream

Fry bacon in a soup pot until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Fry mushrooms and onions in bacon drippings until onions are softened and mushrooms are cooked. Stir in thyme and salt. Add sherry and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until potatoes are very tender and flavors are blended. Stir in cream and return to a simmer. Makes about 8 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Sirloin steak salad with arugula, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, pear wedges, dried cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts; frozen DiGiorno pizza; potato and mushroom soup; cornbread.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Superfoods salad with chicken from Aladdin’s in Fairlawn (quinoa, dried cranberries, yellow squash, tomato, peas, walnuts, cucumber, lentils and crisp pita pieces with lemon vinaigrette — love it); spicy shrimp and grits and a glass of Malbec at The Merchant in Akron (really good); pulled pork, pot roast, a hush puppy, beets, mashed potatoes, a sugar-free chocolate cookie and sugar-free pistachio cake at Golden Corral in Green. Don’t judge. Some of the food is pretty good.

THE MAILBAG
From William B.:
Does anyone still sell unshelled nuts in bulk quantities? I’m looking to buy like 5 pounds each of filberts and almonds. Aldi’s has a seasonal bag of nuts for about $7 that has way too many walnuts and Brazil nuts for me. I remember grocery stores used to have bins of nuts in the produce department that you just scooped up.

Also, regarding the letter about rotisserie chicken, I get that unctuousness by roasting it in a clay pot, then seasoning it to taste. You won’t get a brown, crackly skin but it is good. I usually stuff a whole bird with two cut-up onions, a cut-up lemon, a couple cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme, with the usual salt and pepper.

When I worked at East Side Mario’s our rotisserie chicken was in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic powder, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and lemon. We usually marinated 40 chickens at a time for at least 24 hours.

Dear William:
I remember those barrels of nuts, too, especially around Christmas. A bowl of nuts with nutcrackers and picks to offer to guests was standard in homes around the holidays when I was growing up. Now we all want our nuts shelled, roasted, salted, seasoned or smoked.

I checked a couple of stores and found that nuts in the shell are sold in bulk at Krieger’s in Cuyahoga Falls and Beiler’s Market in Uniontown. Probably other produce markets sell them, too. Beiler’s carries filberts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, mixed nuts and chestnuts, all $3.99 a pound in the shell except chestnuts, which are $7.49 a pound.

From Molly:
Regarding your Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing, we turned our leftover dressing into waffles. There are recipes for this online, but basically what we did was combine about 8 cups of stuffing with 3 eggs and enough vegetable stock to moisten. It wasn’t liquid-y enough to form a traditional waffle batter but it was wetter than the dressing alone.

We then coated the waffle wells with the stuff, pun intended, and cooked to about a level 5 until done to our liking. The texture of each waffle was semi-crisp. The cooked waffles waited in a low oven until we were finished with all of them. We piled turkey, gravy and homemade cranberry sauce on top. I opted out of the cranberry sauce and put Cheddar cheese on top instead. There were mashed potatoes to go on the side. Delicious. This is how we’ll eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year.

Dear Molly:
Wowzer. That’s how I want to eat Thanksgiving leftovers next year, too. I hope I remember, because it sounds spectacular.

From Karen:
The next time you are at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth, run over one street and check out the cookies at ToastHeads micro bakery at 122 Watrusa St. for the best cookies in the area. They are pricey but well worth every penny. Only place you will ever go after you try them. And they have gluten free for those who have a hard time finding treats.

Dear Karen:
Although I try not to eat sweets, I have pressed my nose to the window of ToastHeads many times. The cookies look and sound delicious. I have a hard time resisting the rotating roster of jumbo cookie flavors such as salted caramel and s’mores, not to mention the orange-cranberry and bacon-Cheddar breads.

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