Lifting the Curse of ‘Annie’: Sweet Potato Soup

Annie the musical Andrea McArdle

Annie The Musical

In 1978 for my something-something birthday (I was pretty young, so it was really more like my something birthday), my parents gave me tickets to see Annie. Are you serious!!! Amazing! I loved and still love a good broadway show. And, this particular one had my name. Brilliant.

andrea mcardle as annie daddy warbucks sweet potato soup

The Amazing Andrea McArdle

Kristy Mcnichol little darlings sweet potato soup

After ‘Family’ KM was in this teen flick

The show had debuted earlier that year and it’s tiny red-headed lead, Andrea McArdle, had rapidly become the toast of the great white way. I idolized her. She was really incredible. Eight shows a week, talk and morning show appearances. She was on Johnny Carson a bunch of times (too late for me to see) and sang a duet with my other hero, Kristy McNichol (who doesn’t love ‘Little Darlings’?), on The Mike Douglas Show.

So, you can imagine that when my parents told me we were going to see Annie on Broadway in the big city with Andrea McArdle, I was so so so excited….

The day of the show, I put on my best going to broadway frock and sat on the stairs waiting to get in the car and go. My mother drove into the city as my friend and I belted out the words to every song (except Easy Street, which I never really liked) in the back seat.

We enter the theatre and are ushered to our seats. I’m so excited at this point, I can barely contain myself. I open the program in hopes of learning everything I can about my broadway icon, Andrea McArdle…Then, it happened… An evil slip of white paper fell from the program….what? I read slowly as my dreams and hopes were shattered to pieces.

shelley bruce as annie sweet potato soup

NOT Andrea McArdle

In today’s performance‘ it read…

the role of Annie usually played by Andrea McArdle‘….

NO…

will be played by Shelley Bruce‘.

WHAT?!?!?!? Who the …is Shelley Bruce????

Shattered. And, I’ve been shattered ever since. Sure, I enjoyed the show (I mean, they sing a whole song about how great Annie is, duh) – but, certainly not as much.

You know I’m a little (read a lot) superstitious. So when a friend offered to give me tickets to Annie (now back on Broadway 35 years later), I wanted to do everything I could to send good ju-ju to the show. I mean, I couldn’t bear to experience the same disappointment again. So to honor Annie, Andrea McArdle, Lilla Crawford (current Annie) and red-headed orphans everywhere, I decided to eat only red, orange and orphan-affordable foods the entire day of the show.

Sweet Potato Soup (Serves 6)

Tiny Apartment Tip: Get a hand held immersion blender. It’s changed my life.

Ingredients:

  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 Celery Stalks, peeled and diced small
  • 1 large Sweet Potato, peeled and diced small
  • 1 Sweet Onion, diced smallish
  • 3/4 or so Cup Diced Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 TBSP all purpose flour
  • 1/4 Cup Parsley chopped
  • 1 TSP freshly grated ginger – remember, you have some in the freezer
  • 1/4 TSP Ground Nutmeg
  • 4 Cups of Chicken Stock – I actually for the first time used 2 Knorr Chicken Bouillon cubes and it was AOK
  • 1/4 Cup of heavy cream (optional….)
  • Salt and Pepper

1. Bring 4 Cups of water to a boil and dissolve 2 Knorr’s Chicken Bouillon Cubes

sweet potato soup chicken bouillon cubes for stock

Just as good as stock in a box

2. In a separate pot, heat 2 TBSP of butter over med/low

3. Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until very soft – about :15mins depending upon how small you diced

saute vegetables sweet potato soup

Saute Veggies

4. Add the tomatoes stir for about a minute

vegetarian soup dinner sweet potatoes annie musical

Add tomatoes, red like Annie’s Hair

5. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook :02 mins

sweet potato soup flour as thickener

Adding flour to help thicken soup

6. Sprinkle the Nutmeg and Ginger over the vegetables and stir

7. Add the diced sweet potatoes and stir just to combine

super food sweet potato soup

Super Sweet Potatoes – same color as Annie’s hair

8. Pour in the chicken stock and the parsley and BTB, RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer)

vegetarian sweet potato soup simmer

Soup A-Simmer

9. Simmer covered for :35 minutes – until the sweet potatoes are super soft

10. Remove from heat and using your brand new Cuisinart hand held immersion blender, blend the soup until very smooth….this takes a while because the tomatoes are pesky and escape the blades. Can’t blame ’em.

sweet potato soup puree hand held immersion blender

Pretty Pink Immersion Blender. Thank you Cuisinart!

11. Optional: Stir in the cream

sweet potato soup dinner recipe

Pureed and creamed and ready to serve

12. Serve with a garnish of parsley and a lovely dollop of sour cream

sweet potato soup vegetarian dinner recipe

Love a little dollop of sour cream…

Annie the musical sweet potato soup

The Exceptional Lilla Crawford

It may have been a silly and superstitious exercise, but I do think making the auburn colored soup helped.

Last night. 6:45pm.

I arrive at the theatre, wind my way through 45,000 or so 8-10 year old girls seeing their first show. I’m greeted by the first usher, she is holding the program, but doesn’t give us one. Instead, she directs us to a second usher….I’m anxious fearing the worst. I finally receive the program and in an attempt to delay the potential despair, hold onto it, clutched in my hand, closed until I reach my seat.

Then….I don’t open the program. Instead, I just flip it over and shake it, hoping no evil paper falls…..AND NONE DID!

The role of Annie would, indeed, be played by the exceptional Lilla Crawford!

OK, I can’t be sure that the soup had anything to do with it…but, 35 Years later….The sun DID come out and the curse of an understudy Annie is lifted!

NOPCME And Other Vanity Plates: Peas and More Pea Soup

pea soup with bacon and creme fraiche

Pretty Pea Soup – With Homemade Creme Fraiche and Bacon Bits

I sorta love vanity plates. I was driving a ton for a job – with a colleague/friend – up and down the west coast training people to sell fragrance. The countless hours in the car led to some in depth conversations….But, by about week 2, we already knew pretty much everything about each other, each other’s families, lives, histories, first loves, last loves, secret loves etc.

So we needed another way to pass the time. And, we were in California – land of the vanity plate. Coming from NYC and without a car of my own at the time, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with deciphering vanity plates. So, this became one of our favorite driving games. It’s like figuring out what text abbreviations mean now.

On our journey, we ran into some great plates including:

LXN1RLND:  Owned by my friend, Alex, who lived on Wonderland Drive

NA HE DNT: no explanation needed

8MPG: A Hummer owner making no excuses

L8ASUSL: For the terminally tardy

4RCEBWU: For the Star Wars junkie

One of my favorites, though, read simply ‘NOPCME’. Nopcahmah? Nopchemey? We spotted this one in the parking lot of a hotel and struggled to determine what it meant. And, then we found out that the owner was a urologist….And, his license plate advertised his business: No Pee? See Me!

So I thought about making Pea Soup…and realized that I had a ton of other vegetables that needed using. And I made…

Peas and More Pea Soup (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • leeks

    Fresh and Dirty Leeks

    2 slices of Bacon cut into small pieces

  • 2 Cups Chopped Leeks – 2 leeks, whites and light green parts – they’re usually pretty gritty, so wash them well
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, chopped and roasted until soft (see below)
  • 2 10oz packages of Birdseye or 365 Brand Frozen Peas – I used a combo of both
  • 5 Cups of Chicken Stock- I use Whole Foods 365 brand, it’s very well priced, rich and delicious
  • 1 TSP fresh Thyme leaves
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • leeks soup pea recipe

    Submerge Leeks to Clean

    1 TSP Pepper

  • Olive Oil
  • A tad of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce – to taste
  • Creme Fraiche for garnish

Sweet Potato Prep:

  • sweet potatoes super food

    Super Sweet Potatoes

    Preheat Oven to 425 degrees

  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining paper – parchment side up
  • Spread the Sweet potato dices in a single layer on the parchment and gently sprinkle with Olive Oil – do not salt!
  • Bake for :08 mins, then toss and bake an additional :07-:08 mins until softened but not browned
  • Remove from the baking sheet and set aside

1. In the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot (my 6qt Le Creuset, for example), heat 1 TBSP of Olive Oil over medium heat

2. Add the bacon pieces and render until crispy

smithfield farms bacon

BCN: Bacon Render Render Render….Crispy

3. Remove the bacon and set aside

4. To the bacon fat add a TBSP of olive oil and then add the carrots and stir – about :04 mins.

whole foods vegetable soup

KROTS: Carrots First

NOTE: You want to add the carrots first because they take longer to soften

5. Add the leeks and onion to the carrots and cook until softened – about :10-:12 mins stirring occasionally

pea soup recipe with sweet potatoes

OLC: Onions, Leeks and Carrots

6. Add the chicken stock, sweet potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil

pea soup chicken stock whole foods

CHXSTK: Chicken Stock

7. Reduce to a simmer and add the frozen peas

365 frozen peas birdseye

+PS: Stir in the Peas

8. Simmer until the peas are softened – about :04 mins

9. Turn the heat off and allow the soup to cool – while it’s cooling, you can wash all of the prep bowls, knives and cutting boards you may have used

10. Set up a Puree Station: In my case…A KitchenAid blender and a second empty heavy bottomed pot on low

all clad puree kitchen aid station

PUR A STN: Puree Station

11. Transfer a few ladles of the soup to the blender and puree

pea soup vegetables

<PUR A: Pre-Puree – Needs to Cool

12. Pour the pureed soup into the second pot and repeat until all of the soup is pureed

365 chicken stock whole foods

> PUR A: Post Puree

pea soup recipe

PP N ACP: Post Puree in Pretty AllClad Pot

13. Serve with a garnish of Creme Fraiche and Crispy Bacon Bits

NOTE: Making your own Creme Fraiche is super easy – mix equal parts heavy cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on a counter over night. In the morning, put it in the fridge and chill for about 4 hours. Done and done.

Years later, I do now have a car…But, no vanity plates. Instead, I allow the DMV to assign me a plate and then I make up a meaning for the letters I get. My first license plates read:

911 URE = Emergency! You Are Excellent.

My next was:

411 XPC = For Your Information. You’re Extra Pretty-Cute.

You can really interpret them anyway you want. Maybe, on my car NOPCME would mean: Numerous Organic Produce Creates More Elegance…in a Peas and More Pea Soup.

Emergency Go-Soup: Cream of Tomato

amore tomato paste cream of tomato soup

Creamy and Delicious

My friends who live in LA sleep at night with an Earthquake Go-Bag under their beds. This includes heavy bottomed shoes (I think because LA gals sleep in stilettos), water, cash, canned food, flashlight etc. Everything they might need to evacuate quickly and survive for a few days following a devastating quake.

henri bendel emergency kit

Henri Bendel-Prepared for the NYC Emergency

Over the holidays at Henri Bendel they were selling NYC emergency kits. Similar to the California quake kit…only very different. Instead of canned beans and a flashlight, it includes a metro card, hair bands, breath freshener, bandages, deodorant towelettes, pain relievers and some other girl stuff…

I’m not really sure what our emergency kit vs the CA one says. Maybe in New York waking up smelly, gently wounded and needing to take the subway constitutes an ’emergency’. It might. It’s no earthquake, but it is an emergency and Henri Bendel has the solution.

For people who cook, that go-bag or emergency kit translates to a go-meal; one that is ready to serve with very little notice…

At about 6pm on New Year’s Eve after a champagne boozy lunch, my friends decided that they would come over to my apartment for dinner. OK. I had :65 minutes to prepare for the arrival of hungry guests.

dinner party main course chicken

Chicken Milanese

I went to my go-to’s and quickly shopped for what I would need to prepare Chicken Milanese, salad, garlic bread, pasta…

And, luckily, I had a go-soup in my fridge. The day before I tweaked an Ina Garten recipe and made…

Cream of Tomato Soup (serves 6-7)

Ingredients

  • whole foods vegetables

    Chopped Veggie Mise En Place

    3 TBSP olive oil

  • 1 Red Onion Diced
  • 2 large Carrots Peeled and Diced
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, diced and roasted
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Minced
  • 6-7 Medium vine-ripened tomatoes Chopped
  • 1 TSP Sugar
  • 1/2 TBSP Amore Tomato Paste
  • Ina garten tomato soup

    365 Brand Chicken Stock

    1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil Leaves

  • 3 Cups Chicken Stock – I used Whole Foods 365 Brand – I know I know, I should make my own…but didn’t
  • 1/2 TBSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TSP Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium/low heat. I used my Le Creuset 6 qt one – it’s just so pretty and so easy to clean!

2. Add the onions and carrots and saute until very tender – be patient, this takes a while – :15-:17 mins.

– In hindsight, I would have chopped the carrots smaller so that they might soften more quickly.

whole foods vegetables

Patiently Sauteing

3. While that’s happening…Place the diced sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining Paper in one layer and sprinkle with olive oil. DO NOT SALT.

sweet potatoes super food

Super Sweet Potatoes

4. Put in the oven and roast for :10mins – Toss and then roast an additional :05-:07 mins until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.

whole foods sweet potatoes

Roasted – but not browned

5. Into the Le Creuset – Add the minced garlic to the softened onion and carrots and saute until fragrant – about 1 minute

6. Add the tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt and pepper and stir well.

whole foods vegetarian

And the soup becomes soupy

7. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for :40mins – until the tomatoes are very tender

cream of tomato soup

Simmering Simmering Simmering

8. Add the cream to the soup and stir

9. If you have an immersion blender…great…But since I don’t – I set up a blending station by the stove on my counter

NOTE: Ina used her food mill…but, seriously, in my apt – no room for a food mill.

cream of tomato ina garten

Soup Blending Station

10. Most importantly…LET THE SOUP COOL before blending. Cuz like if you put hot soup in a blender and turn it on, it will blow the top off and there will be quasi blended hot soup everywhere…

11. In stages, ladle some of the soup into the blender and puree until smooth.

kitchenAid blender

Pre-Puree

12. Transfer the pureed soup into a second soup pot and keep warm

cream of tomato soup ina garten

A few ladles at a time

13. Repeat until all of the soup is smooth and creamy

cream of tomato soup

Kick it up a bit…

NOTE: If you like it spicy….Add a dash or two of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce.

The soup was a great intro to the Chicken Milanese. And, with my ‘stick your head out the window-view’ of the Central Park fireworks and the impromptu late night dance party…The last-minute dinner party was a success.

I don’t have much of a need for the Henri Bendel NYC Emergency Kit because – and I’m not judging – I don’t tend to wake up slightly wounded, smelly and not at home…but a good batch of emergency go-soup in the fridge does come in handy.

The Luck of the Fighting Irish: Vegetable Pie

vegetarian pie

Pretty Pie

My mother is superstitious. I had read that it was the Italians who were most superstitious..but, not it our house. It was always my Irish mother who had us making wishes. We threw extra salt over our left (not right) shoulders. We looked for falling stars. We blew on lost eyelashes. All of the traditional opportunities for wishes. Of course, she took it a step further. The superstitions she carried coupled with her catholicism also meant that every time we saw a ‘new church’ we got to stop the car, get out, pray and make a wish.

I grew up believing that there must be something to the Luck of the Irish. As a fan of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, I’ve had to endure a lot of years bad luck football. But this year is different: Notre Dame is headed to Miami to vie for the National Championship on January 7.

golden dome notre dame

We Are ND

Some haters will call it luck. Others will argue that ND’s season wasn’t challenging enough – what? They defeated Stanford(8), Oklahoma(12), Michigan(19) and everyone else they played…And, one drunken Michigan State fan I met recently tells me that there’s a petition against letting them play for the title…too late, Spartan.

Call it what you want…But, since the boys have done an amazing job this year – what with the being undefeated and stuff – it’s time for me to show some Irish love. And, hopefully, infuse a little luck into the big game for the Fighting Irish.

irish flag

Luck O’…

What better way to show the love and push our luck than with a savory vegetable pie – a pie that proudly showcases the colors of the Irish – fighting or not: Green Spinach, White Cauliflower and Orange Sweet Potato.

Vegetable Pie (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • birdseye frozen spinach

    In your grocer’s freezer

    1 10oz box Birdseye Frozen Chopped Spinach

  • 2 TBSP heavy cream
  • 1-2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
  • 2 Cups Cauliflower florets
  • 1 TBSP Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 Sweet Potato sliced into thin rounds
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Sour Cream
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Ugly Pie Crust (click for recipe)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

The Green: Creamed Spinach:

birdseye frozen chopped spinach

Defrosted but not yet drained

birdseye chopped frozen spinach

Now it’s Drained and ready

1. Defrost the spinach and squeeze out the excess liquid. To defrost: remove from packaging, place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for :06 mins stirring about halfway through.

2. In a medium pan over med heat, heat about 2 TBSP of olive oil

3. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant – about 2mins

fresh garlic saute

Saute Til Fragrant

4. Add the defrosted, drained spinach and stir until heated through

vegetarian pie spinach

Add the drained spinach

5. Add Salt and Pepper – to taste

6. Add heavy cream and stir to combine and heat through

BirdsEye frozen chopped spinach

Make it Creamy

7. Set creamed spinach aside

The White: Cauliflower

fresh cauliflower

Beauteous Cauliflower

NOTE: I bought like a giant head of cauliflower and the hardest part was protecting my fingers as I chopped out the florets….

8. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the cauliflower florets. Reduce to a Simmer and add 1 tsp of Salt

Cauliflower Softening

Holla For Cauli-Flower

9. Cook until the cauliflower is very soft – easily pierced with a fork – about :15mins

10. Drain the cauliflower and place in the bowl of a Food Processor – I heart my Cuisinart

11. Add salt and pepper, the parmesan cheese, sour cream, a little salt and pepper and 1 TBSP of olive oil and pulse until sorta but not totally smooth. Set Aside

Cauliflower florets puree

Like Mashed Potatoes – only Better For You

The Orange Super Food: Sweet Potatoes

12. Lay about 8-10 slices of sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper – you know how I love the Reynold’s Wrap Pan Liner – like the mullet of Reynold’s Wrap: tinfoil on one side, parchment paper on the other

Drizzle with Olive Oil and Gently Salt

sweet potatoes roasted

It’s a Super Food

13. Roast the sweet potato slices until softened – about :15 minutes flipping them halfway through the baking process

Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees

14. Create the veggie pie:

  • vegetarian pie cauliflower

    Smooth Cauliflower Puree

    Birdseye chopped spinach

    Smooth on the Spinach

    Layer in the Cauliflower Puree

  • Top with the Creamed Spinach
  • Top spinach with the roasted Sweet Potato Slices
vegetarian pie

Top with Sweet Potatoes

15. Cover the veggie pie with tin foil and bake for :15 minutes – until completely heated through

Serve warm.

Listen, I don’t know if there’s anything to the wishing on stars or throwing salt over my shoulder. But, couldn’t we all use just a little luck? And, what’s wrong with having an appropriately colored somewhat superstitious Fighting Irish pie to support your alma mater?

Grocery Store Sins And A Frittata For Two

Breakfast Frittata for Two

Forgive me, follower(s), for I have sinned. I went to the grocery store today hungry. Very hungry. Like right out of the gym, no breakfast hungry. Always a bad idea.

What happens when I go to the store hungry, is that I get something in my head that I have to eat. Usually it’s something super fattening like a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato smothered in butter and fried until crisp on the outside and oozy on the inside. Yum.

Images of flavorful, fattening foods fill my head. I think of entire meals that I want to prepare and snack through while I’m cooking. My stomach screams for carbs and sauces and cheese and salt.

As I entered Food Emporium, the voices took over and I knew there was no way to escape.  At first I wasn’t sure what the voices were saying…Then they got louder and louder…’Frittata…’, ‘Frittata’ they called to me.

I had to make one. Had to. And I googled hoping to find a healthy, smaller solution to the traditional dish.

But every frittata recipe I found called for like a million billion eggs and fatty meats like sausage and bacon and russet potatoes and heavy cheeses and a brunch party of 8.

There were not – as you might imagine – seven additional people coming to brunch at my apartment today. Nor did I want to max out my daily targeted caloric intake with meats and potatoes and fattiest of cheeses.  Thankfully, paring down is what I do and if I wanted a frittata, damnit! I was going to find a way!

Sweet and Petite Frittata with Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli (Serves 2)

1. Peel about 1.5 inches of a medium sized sweet potato and slice in half. Then CAREFULLY slice the halves very thin on a mandolin – or with a knife.

CAUTION: the mandolin is a tool of death. I lost the top of a finger last year – shaved it right off – had to throw out those yellow squash. So, Please! Use the gripper/hand protector thing and go much slower than you think you have to…

Tool of death mandolin

Tool of Death

2. Slice about 4 small florets of broccoli into bite size pieces

Thinly Sliced Sweet Potatoes and Chopped Broccoli

Veggies Prepped

3. In a non-stick, oven safe 10inch fry pan (I used my All-clad one), heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium to med/high heat. Add the vegetables and saute until softened – about 6-8 minutes

Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli

Veggie Saute

4. In a bowl, whisk together three eggs and 1/4 cup of milk. I used 2% – but, really whole milk would be more delicious…just sayin’

Krazy Mixed Up Salt

This stuff is the bomb

Add salt and pepper to taste – I used about a tsp of Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt – because it has all the good stuff – like one stop spicing.

5. Once the vegetables are softened, pour the egg mixture over the vegetables

6. As the egg mixture starts to dry, gently push them in toward the center of the pan with a spatula  and allow the wetter mixture to flow out to the edges

Frittata for 2

Pulling edges in

7. Once the mixture looks dry – add 1/4 cup of Mozzarella Cheese – sliced or shredded. I didn’t feel like getting out my shredder, so I sliced pretty thin to ensure melty-ness.

Frittata For Two with Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli and Cheese

Add the cheese

8. Pop the pan into the oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until golden brown

Breakfast Frittata for Two

Frittata Post Oven with Melty Goodness

9. Allow to cool for about :05 mins, garnish with fresh, chopped parsley and then transfer to a plate, slice and serve

Breakfast Frittata for two

Final Frittata

The frittata is a very versatile dish. Really, you can put anything you want in it – within reason. And, you can make it for a large brunch, for just you or, of course, for two.

I got lucky today. When shopping hungry in the past, I’ve come home with bags of expensive food stuffs that were more than I could ever consume.

Today, I beat the hunger pangs and emerged from the grocery store with just two bags of pretty much essentials and a bill of only $25.  I escaped a potentially disastrous and calorie hazardous situation. And, enjoyed a delightful brunch to boot.