Soup and Love

I love soup. I love a big hot bowl of something good to eat. It can be a big hot bowl of beans, or soupy potatoes (my Mothers special thing she cooked when someone was feeling ill) or a big hot bowl of Thanksgiving dressing floating like an island in a copious serving of giblet gravy, (pretty much dressing soup). That last one is probably my almost favorite, cause I only get it once a year. Although my favorite at any given moment is the one that is sitting on the table in front of me, steaming it’s intricate melding of herbs, vegetables, rich stock, and general goodness into my face as I bend over to have my first spoonful of luscious liquid comfort. Sometimes soup is just a vehicle for a large wedge of buttery golden cornbread, laying in the bowl soaking up all that goodness from the soup. Cornbread is good with almost all soups. Certainly it is a given with beans. I don’t remember eating a lot of different soups when I was a child. Mostly it was vegetable soup made with my Granny’s beautiful canned summer vegetable soup fixings, shining like precious jewels in their glass jars… okra, tomatoes, corn, and green beans. Add a few diced potatoes, onions and some stock and you had soup, magical summer tasting soup, that warmed a winters cold day. Plus if you make it in large batches like I do it’s food for like 3 days.

These days I always make beef vegetable soup, as the men in my house like it that way. But you could skip the beef part and use vegetable stock as the base. But I would add 2 cups of pinto beans to up the protein level, either canned or cook dried ones until almost done in the vegetable stock, I have also bought fresh black eyed peas at the market, they could be added with the potatoes.

The first thing I would like to say is, use fresh everything, as good as you can lay your hands on. I no longer have access to Granny’s soup fixin’s and have not put up produce in a long time, so use fresh.

Candie’s Vegetable Soup Market list

3 1/2 pound chuck roast or 3 pounds stew meat (I generally cube up my own from a roast but I understand if you don’t want to)

fresh celery stalks

2 large boxes (32 oz) of beef stock or beef broth

2 32 oz cans of petit chopped tomatoes

3 dried Bay leaves

1 tsp of rubbed sage or 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh sage (sage gives a warmth to the broth that you cannot get any other way)

4 ears of corn in the shucks (how to tell if they are fresh? look at the silks, light green fluffy silks mean its fresh. If the silks are dried and brown, I’d buy some good, name brand, frozen corn)

1 pound of carrots that’s about 6 or 7

4 to 5 potatoes (russet Idaho hold up better in the soup)

8 white onions (tennis ball size)

2 large handfuls of green beans (about 2 cups trimmed)

4 large handfuls of fresh okra (another thing a bit hard to find in winter but try to use fresh if you can, small pods, bright green) you can use frozen

1 pound bag of White Lily cornmeal mix green label

Butter (the salted kind) 1 pound

Whole milk Buttermilk at least a quart

Let me just say this is going to make you house smell so wonderful.

1st thing is cook the meat…

Take the cubed roast after you have cut it into 1″ pieces or the stew meat and dry it off really well with paper towels. Salt and pepper it, for each pound of meat use 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Lightly sprinkle it with flour, rubbing that in good with your hands. Brown off the pieces of meat on med-high heat in olive oil and butter on all sides in a large skillet in about 2 or 3 batches. Get it really brown, the more caramelized it is the richer the taste. (If you crowd the meat it will steam and get really tough.) As you remove the meat from the skillet put it in a LARGE stock pot. Once it is all browned, add the 2 boxes of beef stock to the pot, 4 cups of water with 4 rough chopped onions, 3 bay leaves, 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut in half, leave the leaves on as they have a lot of flavor, and the sage. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 2 to 3 hours until the beef is fork tender, adding water as necessary to keep it well covered.

After about an hour taste the stock and add more salt and pepper if needed, this is the time to add flavor so it gets well into the meat.

When the meat is well cooked, remove the bay leaves and remove the celery stalks as they have served their purpose and given up all of their fresh greenness to the stock. Taste the stock again, adjust the salt as needed.

Now for the VEG!

You can’t really add the veg all at once as it takes different cooking times to get it to it’s peak flavor. But this is the order I add the vegetables and putting them in this way allows for chopping times in between additions.

Add the 2 large cans of tomatoes with their juice and 4 onions chopped 1/4 inch dice bring stock and beef back to  boil and boil it 15 minutes to reduce slightly, then ADD

1 pound carrots trimmed and sliced into 1/4 in pennies, I don’t peel my carrots, I like the dirt taste

2 cups of trimmed green beans (I cut them about 2 inches long)

Cook at a low boil for about 30 to 40 minutes then add

2 to 3 cups of peeled cubed potatoes (Do about a 1 1/2″ cube)

Simmer this for 15 minutes then add the last 2 ingredients, the okra and corn, both of these only need about 10 minutes to cook. The okra should still be bright green and the corn bright yellow, but tender.

After all the vegetables are cooked and delicious, turn off the pot and let it rest while making a big cake of cornbread. I won’t make you hunt my blog for the recipe…its right here.

Candie’s Cornbread

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees (I know it sound’s hot, but this is a quick bread, they need hot and you want a crispy crust)

put 1 stick of salted butter(use real butter) in a 9″square or round pan, like a good heavy cake pan, if you have a 9″cast iron skillet you are gonna have an extra degree of wonderful, put it in that warming up oven to melt the butter. But keep an eye on it.

crack 2 large eggs (need I say fresh) in a medium size ceramic bowl, I use Egglands Best eggs because they are the freshest I can find, as I no longer have a coop of my own, beat them up slightly with a fork.

Keep you eyes  on the melting butter, you want it to brown slightly and sizzle but not burn!

Add 1 2/3 cups of fresh WHOLE buttermilk to the bowl (Purity Butter Milk in the yellow carton is what I use) don’t use the 2% buttermilk its not as good. Beat that in good, I use a long tine fork.

Add 1 3/4 cup of White Lily Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix (flour is included in the mix so its lighter) it has GREEN writing on the front (they sell White Lily everywhere now so you should be able to find it, go ahead and get the 5 lb bag you’re gonna want to do this again) Mix that well until its smooth and thick about like pancake batter, if its too thick add more buttermilk. If it’s too thin add more cornmeal.

Check the butter, it should be browning and sizzling, if it burns throw it out and clean the pan and start again, burnt is gonna ruin the whole pan of cornbread. (yes I have burned the butter!) Once it has melted and browned carefully take it out of the oven, swirl it around the pan to coat the sides good and pour in into the bowl of batter, this is why you use a ceramic bowl, and it WILL sizzle when it hits, stir the butter into the batter good and pour the whole thing back in your pan.

Stick it back in that hot oven and it will rise and turn golden brown on top. As for how long you cook it, well… until it’s done. Generally about 15 to 20 minutes, but stoves vary so keep an eye out. Some folks (me) like to turn it out onto a plate so the crust stays crisp, but let it cool a few minutes before you do that, this is really moist cornbread and you don’t want it to fall apart on you

Cut you a big old hunk, slap some butter on it, get a tall glass of cold sweet milk, a large bowl of Candie’s Vegetable soup and enjoy a little piece of the happy life.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, it really isn’t and you actually end up having food for 3 days. It also freezes well but use in within 3 months.

It’s starting to snow a bit here in Tennessee so I’d best get to the grocery store for some soup fixings.

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