Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cook My Mailbox - Weekend V - Part I

As I quoted Steve Martin a while back:  "I can do this act alone.  I often do."  Even when I've taken baby steps towards linking up with other bloggers, it's been totally virtual:  Everybody make tiramisu!  Send a dozen cookies UPS!  Right up my alley. But I've never actually met any other bloggers in real life, at least not intentionally*.  Sure, I'd enviously read posts from conferences and seminars and clubby trips to the Mexican Riviera with cocktails.  Lived vicariously on tours of wine country and retreats with notable luminaries from around the web.  I felt a pang when I saw the groaning tables of food from the community potlucks.  "Maybe, someday, not now of course"...I'd say to my cat, doing my best Steve Martin imitation**.  He'd twitch his tail, then leave me alone at the keyboard again.

But yesterday, that all changed.  It turns out that you can just...go!  And learn stuff***!  And eat really good food and everyone will be nice to you and invite you back the next time. Who knew?

Fine Cooking, that's who.  When I learned that the upcoming meeting of Los Angeles Food Bloggers had a "Soups and Stews" theme, this had just landed on my kitchen table:

If there ever was a time to cook my mailbox and brave a roomful of perfect strangers in the interest of blogger bonding, this was it.

 There really was a groaning table. Our gracious hostess was Kate, from Savour Fare.

 Vintage Cheese Straws, from Leslie of Bake This Cake

 Our hostess' Mushroom Soup with Parmesan 

 My Sausage & Fennel Chowder

 Crusty Oatmeal Bread, from one of the founders of the group, Erika, of In Erika's Kitchen

 Tomato Bisque with Bacon, from Stephen and Art of Latino Foodie

Sampling the Scottish Lentil and Farro Soup, by Christina of Christina's Cucina

I got lucky this time, but maybe everyone is not quite as warm and welcoming as the Los Angeles Food Bloggers.  I'd hate to have gone all the way to Mexico and been shunned, you know?

Baby steps.

Sausage & Fennel Chowder with Kale
OK, they had me at sausage.  Recipe adapted from the Feb/March issue of Fine Cooking.  I modified it quite a bit, so instead of just referring you to the source as I usually do when I cook my mailbox, I'm including the recipe here. This is a hearty, marvelous cold weather meal. The blogging crew loved it, my daughter, who is a huge fan of Hamburger Soup, said this was a close runner up to that family favorite, and my husband said it was better (as he dipped another hunk of bread into the pot on the stove).  I just polished off the last bowl myself.  Mmm!  There is probably a fancy chef definition of what makes a soup a "chowder", but to me, it just means there are potatoes in it.

1 lb. spicy or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed****
1 really large or a couple of small russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice (should make a generous 2 cups)
1 red onion, cut into dice*****
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into large dice, plus 1 or 2 Tbs. of the fennel fronds, chopped, for garnish
1/4 c. dry sherry
6 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade******
1/2 c. drained and chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 Tbs. heavy cream (optional)
zest of a lemon
Generous 1 c. baby kale leaves, or regular kale, trimmed of center stems and chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage, and cook, stirring to break up the sausage, until browned and mostly cooked through.  Remove all but a few tablespoons of the fat from the pot, then add the potatoes, onion and fennel.  Stir to combine, then cook for another few minutes, until the onion begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes.   Add the sherry and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any of the yummy browned bits.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until potatoes are tender and cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.  Skim solids from the top of the soup (the foamy stuff that can sometimes accumulate when soup boils) with a spoon and discard. Using a potato masher or your spatula, gently crush the cooked potatoes until most of them are mashed and the soup is somewhat thickened.

Stir in the tomatoes, cream, parsley, kale and lemon juice, and allow to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, until kale is wilted but still bright green.  Skim solids one more time, taste for flavor, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve hot, garnished with some fennel fronds.

Click to print this recipe!

* Not counting friends I knew BEFORE they started blogs.
** Perhaps he was recalling with disdain one of Steve Martin's famous riffs on cats gone bad:  "He went down to the bank. Disguised AS me and took out all my money.  He had the little Kitty arrow through the head and everything.  Now, there's like a thousand dollars worth of cat toys down there. And you can't return them, because they have SPIT all over them! Sure, they're fun..." 
*** This month's topic: Search Engine Optimization.  I learned that nobody will ever find this blog.  But I'm OK with that.
**** Go for spicy!
***** You can probably use any kind of onion you like.
****** If you don't have homemade, I am a huge fan of Better than Bouillon.  Great stuff.


  1. Sharon, WE found your blog, and we absolutely love your soup-chowder! Kale makes EVERYTHING taste better, doesn't it? :)

    We're going to feature this on our Facebook page and link here so people can see how you made it, and your lovely photography. If you wish, come LIKE us on Facebook for more recipes and tips on super healthy greens like kale, chard, beet, mustard, turnip, collard, escarole, dandelion and other green leafies.

    --Your friendly Southern California farmers at Cut `n Clean Greens

    1. Absolutely yes from me on the kale! But beware of my husband...he's not friendly. Thanks for featuring this soup on your page!

  2. Sharon, this is a wonderful post with great photos! It was so nice to meet you, but not enough time to properly "visit!" Thank you for linking to our pages, and a warm welcome to the FBLA gang! Christina@ChristinasCucina :)

    1. Really looking forward to it, Christina. Your soup was fantastic!