Ham and White Bean Soup

Ham and White Bean Soup

Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.

BHG red and white cookbook

Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!

If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.

So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.

Ham and White Bean Soup

Print Recipe
Ham and White Bean Soup
A hearty soup to warm you from the inside out!
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
  1. In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
Recipe Notes

Kinda-sorta based on this recipe from Simply Sated.

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Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup

This recipe is one of those with a name too long for my blog’s title box parameters. If I had my way, I would call it “Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Cauliflower Soup with Goat Cheese,” but that’s, like, more characters than you can even fit in a Twitter post. When you’re a food lover and recipe developer, though, it’s kind of like being in love–when you find a great recipe, you want to shout from the rooftops about all its wonderful qualities (and the various ingredients that give it its complex flavor profile). You don’t want to leave anything out. With this soup, I want to tell the world that it manages to be both creamy and chunky, that it beautifully blends the boldness of roasted red peppers with the subtler flavor of cauliflower, and that it’s a perfect bowl of healthy vegetarian comfort on a cold winter’s night. But my title box on the blog can only take so many words, so let’s just call it by the abbreviated name “Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup.” Think of it like that Fiona Apple album that everyone just calls When the Pawn, when the real title is:

When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.”

You’re welcome for that.

Roasted Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup

At any rate, this soup is a whole food recipe you can feel good about in the midst of this season of indulgence. Make it a meal by serving with a side of crusty bread. And when you taste the mix of roasted red pepper, cauliflower, onion, garlic, spices, and goat cheese, you’ll understand what I mean about acknowledging every ingredient. Feel free to shout from your rooftop!

Print Recipe
Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup
This vegetarian soup is both healthy and hearty!
  1. Heat broiler to high and place red peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet about 4 inches from the broiler. Broil until skins are mostly blackened, checking frequently, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a sealed container and let steam for 20 minutes. Peel off skins and dice peppers.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  3. Heat the other 1 Tbsp. in a stock pot over medium heat and saute the onion until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add diced red peppers, roasted cauliflower, broth, paprika, and goat cheese and simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender, stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Closet Cooking.

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Ham and Potato Soup

Ham and Potato Soup

I know people come to Arizona, especially in the winter, for all the sunshine. And yes, sunshine is great–good for your mood, you can do fun stuff outdoors, Vitamin D and all that jazz–and generally, I enjoy living in a place that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. But having lived in the Phoenix area my whole life, I have a confession to make: sometimes I get sick of sunshine. Sometimes I feel like the Marvelous Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone:

i hate sunshine

…minus the red splotches and the purple hair. I can remember one particular summer as a teenager opening my blinds every morning hoping for foul weather and going, “Oh. Sunshine again.” with the extreme contempt only a teenager can muster. I know, I know, people from the East Coast are coming for me with their torches and pitchforks right now. We all need a little variety in our lives, though, right? ….right?

So when a rainy day like today comes around like a magical weather unicorn, I try to savor it. (BTW, am I the only one who’s starting to get a little freaked out by that Madam Mim gif on endless repeat? Feel free to scroll it out of your screen.) This morning I had planned to finally go out and get myself a membership at a local yoga studio like a good new year’s resolver, but instead I found myself curled up on the couch wondering which kind of herbal tea to brew. It’s just that kind of stay-at-home rainy day.

A quick aside: truth be told, my guilt over not going to yoga got the better of me and I ended up doing this crazy 20-minute high intensity interval training Youtube video:

All I have to say is it left me like…

E.T. Ouch

Anyway, if a rainy day doesn’t call for signing up for a yoga membership (or torturing yourself with cheerful bikini body Youtube workout instructors), it DOES call for soup. That we can all agree on. There’s a reason that old Campbell’s commercial where the snowman melting into a kid when he eats soup was such a classic:

Because soup is cozy and comforting, warming you up from the inside out–the gastronomical equivalent of a fleece blanket. If you don’t love soup on a chilly, rainy day, you may be a robot. So I have for you today one of our family’s favorite “fleece blanket” soups (no actual fleece involved). We have enjoyed this with crusty bread as a light dinner on more than one Christmas Eve, as well as numerous other chilly-day occasions. I suppose you could call it a chowder, with its creamy texture punctuated by chunks of ham and potato, dotted with pops of yellow corn. My 8-year-old, who typically turns up his nose at leftovers, literally jumped up and down with excitement when I offered him leftovers of this. The kid’s no dummy. This is an awesome soup.

Ham Potato Soup

And with that, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rain a little bit longer and ponder what soup to make tonight.

Ham and Potato Soup
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)


3 1/2 c. peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 c. celery, chopped
1/3 c. onion, diced
1 c. cooked ham, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
3 1/4 c. chicken broth
salt to taste
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 c. frozen corn
5 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 c. milk
Shredded cheddar cheese for garnish, if desired


  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, combine potatoes, celery, onion, ham, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (The amount of salt will vary depending on how salty your broth is. I say err on the side of caution with the salt.) Add frozen corn and cook until heated through, another 3 minutes or so.
  2. In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Slowly add milk, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to cook and stir another 4-5 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick enough for a fork to leave a defined trail.
  3. Add milk mixture to broth mixture and cook until completely heated through. Garnish with shredded cheddar, if desired.

Serves 6 as a main dish, 8 as a first course.

Ham Potato Soup

How to Make Chicken Broth with a Deli Chicken

Chicken Broth

Happy Boxing Day! Just kidding, who the heck celebrates Boxing Day? (Well, except for most of the rest of the non-American English-speaking world.) For us Americans, the day after Christmas is better known as Christmas Cleanup Day. I spent the morning gathering up used bows and itty bitty scraps of wrapping paper ground into the carpet, cleared the dining room table of Christmas dinner remnants, and finally caught up on an item that had sat on my to-do list all week. As written in my day planner, that item was “Strip Chicken.” Yes, I still keep a day planner like a Melanie Griffith in the 1988 classic Working Girl, and yes, “Strip Chicken.” What am I doing stripping chickens, you may ask? Sounds a little illicit, like…

Chicken Strip Cartoon

Okay, not that kind of Chicken Strip….wah wah wah. Rather, the kind where you strip all the meat off a rotisserie chicken in order to use its carcass to make chicken broth. In my fridge for almost a week there has sat what I recently heard referred to as an “astronaut chicken”–you know, the kind encased in a plastic capsule that looks like it’s ready to be blasted off to the moon. A little bit like…

Astronaut Chicken

Okay, done with my terrible cartoons. I was pretty enamored of the idea of deli chickens as astronauts, so I was tempted to call this post “How to Make Chicken Broth with an Astronaut Chicken,” but somehow I don’t think that would be great for my search engine optimization.

Annnnnyway, let’s talk about the real reason for this post: to give a quick and easy tutorial of how to use an astronaut/rotisserie/deli chicken to make delicious homemade chicken broth. I try to do this every time I buy a deli chicken, and I’m never sorry I went to the effort. You can’t really beat a deli chicken for convenience, as well as providing enough cooked chicken to use in at least a couple of meals during the week. And once the meat has been used up in chicken divan, chicken tetrazzini, or chicken pot pie, you have a friendly carcass awaiting your use for broth to use in white chicken chili, lentil sausage soup, or broccoli cheese soup (shameless self-promotion, sorry). So grab your nearest astronaut poultry and let’s get started.

Homemade Chicken Broth with a Deli Chicken
A Love Letter to Food Original


1 deli chicken, stripped of all usable meat
1 carrot
1/2 onion
1 stalk celery
1 clove garlic, peeled
about 15 whole black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sage leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
8 c. water


1. Place stripped chicken carcass in a large stockpot (if you have a pot with a strainer, use it–it makes things easier).

Chicken Broth

Chicken meat out-of-body experience complete

2. Assemble all other ingredients: 1/2 an onion, 1 carrot (no need to peel, just wash), 1 stalk celery, 1 peeled garlic clove, about 1 tsp./15 whole black peppercorns, and an assortment of fresh herbs. If you don’t have a variety of fresh herbs, feel free to use a single kind. (I don’t recommend using dried herbs for this recipe, though, since they are harder to strain out later.)

Whoops, I lied–16 peppercorns!

While we’re on the subject, did you know that most fresh herbs freeze extremely well? I for one almost never use up an entire container of herbs before they go bad, so I pop them in Ziploc bags and store them in the freezer. FYI.


3. Place prepared vegetables and herbs on top of chicken in the pot. Pour in 8 c. water.

Press any herbs or vegetables down into the water if the water does not already cover them.

Chicken Broth

4. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for 60-90 minutes.

Chicken Broth

5. When liquid is golden brown and reduced by about half, carefully strain out all solids. Cool broth completely and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Makes 1 quart.


Lentil Sausage Soup

Lentil Sausage Soup

You know when you go to a sit-down restaurant–usually an Italian place–and the waiter asks if you’d like any fresh-ground pepper or Parmesan cheese on your soup or salad?  There must be something inherently funny about this scenario. I mean, isn’t there something vaguely discomfiting about having someone lean over your meal to drop stuff on it? Ever see the Saturday Night Live sketch with Adam Sandler and Dana Carvey as two overly enthusiastic pepper grinder guys? Like many SNL sketches, it goes way too long and gets fairly raunchy, but it does capture the awkwardness of the situation (and it includes Chris Farley with a totally ridiculous beard, so it might be worth a watch):

Also, while we’re pointing out what’s a little unusual about this practice, why is it always an Italian place? Couldn’t the waiter at a Mexican place grind extra cheddar on my enchiladas? And why don’t they “fresh-grind” other things? What if I want some fresh-ground beef to top my salad, hmmm? Or some fresh-ground chocolate shavings on my dessert? (Actually, they could fresh-grind that straight into my mouth…cause that wouldn’t be awkward.) For whatever reason, it has been decreed by the Italian restaurant powers-that-be that only pepper and Parmesan may be fresh-ground tableside. Not that I’m complaining. I’m no fan of extra pepper, but can never turn down a little extra cheese for free. The ideal soup, for me, comes away from its encounter with the cheese-grinder looking a glacier of cheese rolled straight across its top. The soup in the picture below, with its dusting of white, is maybe halfway there. Except perhaps in the case of this aromatic lentil sausage soup, because it really doesn’t need much to enhance its flavor.

Sausage Lentil Soup

As I mentioned in my last post, a copycat recipe for Carrabba’s herbed dipping oil, my husband and I enjoy Carrabba’s as one of our favorite chain Italian places. When we dined there recently, we both ordered the same thing (this never happens–we’re one of those couples that generally refuses, on principle, to order the same thing): their lentil sausage soup. Because it’s just. that. good. Having discovered lentils only in the last year or so, I’ve gone a little lentil crazy to make up for lost time. Around here, there have been spiced red lentils, lentil dahl, and a funky red lentil sweet potato stew with mango chutney-goat cheese toasts that my kids made lots of empty promises to get out of eating. My husband and I lap it all up, though, and this soup is no exception. As we shamelessly licked our bowls finished our meal at Carrabba’s, Anthony asked me, “Could you make this at home?” A week or so later, I tracked down this recipe and after making it deemed it, if not a perfect match for the restaurant version, delicious enough to forget what might be different. With aromatic vegetables, creamy, wholesome lentils, a pitch-perfect blend of herbs, and piquant sausage for a bit of bite, it’s everything one could hope for in a fall/winter soup. Plus, it goes great with crusty bread and that herbed dipping oil referred to above.

And yes, the waiter at Carrabba’s offered to fresh-grind Parmesan cheese on top. Yes, I accepted. No, I did not jump up and kiss him like Janeane Garofalo in the SNL sketch–licking my bowl in the restaurant was embarrassing enough.

Lentil Sausage Soup

Lentil Sausage Soup
(Adapted from Food.com)


1 lb. mild Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
6 c. chicken broth
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. dry brown lentils
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. In a large stock pot, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving as much sausage grease in the pot as possible.
  2. Add minced garlic, onion, celery, carrots, and zucchini to the pot and sauté for a couple minutes. Return sausage to the pot and add all other ingredients.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour or until lentils are soft.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup in the pot until desired consistency is reached, or remove about 2 cups of the soup and carefully blend in a countertop blender until pureed; return to the pot and stir. Add more broth or water if soup becomes too thick.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6-8.