Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kaiser's Country Diner Ham Soup Recipes

12/26/07 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Ah, “leftovers.” I imagine that your refrigerator is overflowing with all kinds of foods left over from your Christmas feast. Those scraps of meat, bits and pieces of vegetables and limp remains from the appetizer tray can be a challenge to work into a meal. A couple of days from now, they’re going to be downright unappetizing.

The day after a big dinner, it is easy to transform the leftovers into a mini-buffet. Most of us ate too much anyway. So, a bite of this and a dab of that will fill up the family’s tummies. The pecan pie, fancy gelatin salad, homemade rolls, olives and stuffed celery will disappear quickly as a flash.

Meat, however, can be a problem. What is one supposed to do with the remainder of all that Christmas ham? A couple of days of ham sandwiches or dry dinners and the best of hams loses its appeal.

In many ways, ham is less versatile than chicken or turkey. And that’s why soups and casseroles were invented. The stronger taste and texture of ham doesn’t lend itself to melding flavors with the variety of dishes that poultry does. Ham enchiladas? Nope. I don’t think so.

Traditional but often forgotten ham combinations are the old favorites of ham and navy bean soup; ham and split pea soup; and not to forget a delicious ham and potato soup. All homemade, of course.

The following ham and lima bean soup recipe was served weekly in our restaurant. It is not a perfect replication, having been reconstructed from our memory banks. Chuck (as with all good cooks) would decide to add a pinch of this or a pinch of that, changing it ever so slightly, according to his whim. You can do the same.

I recently served the potato soup at a luncheon and it was pronounced a success. Both recipes are complimented nicely when served with a green salad and hot corn bread or biscuits.

Kaiser’s Country Diner Ham and Lima Bean Soup

2 cups dried lima beans
2 cups cooked ham, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, shredded
2 pints tomatoes
2 pints hot water
1-8 ounce can tomato sauce
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1-teaspoon basil
1-teaspoon thyme
1-teaspoon garlic salt

Put lima beans in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit one hour. Drain.

Sauté onion, celery and carrots in small amount of oil and put in slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, drained lima beans, hot water, tomato sauce, cloves, bay leaves, basil and thyme. Simmer several hours to blend flavors and finish cooking beans. Add more water if necessary.

One-half hour before serving, add diced ham, ¼-cup brown sugar and garlic salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Simmer and serve hot. This soup keeps well and is even better “leftover.”

Quick Chunky Potato and Ham Soup

4 red potatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ cup margarine
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1-cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3 ounces cream cheese
2 cups ham, diced
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

Put potatoes in pot and cover with boiling water. Cook until nearly tender. Drain, reserving some of the liquid if broth needs thinning. Peel the potatoes, (leaving some of the skin on for color) and dice.

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté chopped onion until tender. Add flour to mixture and stir until smooth. Cook until bubbly to remove starchy taste. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Add reserved broth if consistency is too thick.

Slowly stir in cream cheese, cheddar cheese and ham. Add salt and pepper. Simmer the soup over very low heat, for about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with green onions.

Note: If you have a lot of leftover mashed potatoes, they can be substituted for the red ones.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email bchatty@bettykaiser.com

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Giving: Its joys and pitfalls

12/19/07 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The age in which we’re living
Is an awful time for giving
Albert Stroud, Coffeyville, Kansas: The Journal Press, 1917

My hairdresser was on a rant about inappropriate and unnecessary gifts. As I listened to him, the above quote from nearly a century ago came to mind.

Waving a comb in the air, J.H. animatedly said, “Betty, you’ve got to write a column on Christmas gift exchanges!” It’s gotten completely out of hand. My sister and mother insist that each of us buy gifts for all 21 members of the family. Ridiculous! I’ve got all the soaps, colognes and candles that I’ll ever need. It’s got to stop!”

Pausing to take a breath, he composed himself. Then, smiling somewhat wickedly, he said that this year would be different. No more family trinkets for him.

“Last week I went over to the Tree of Joy in Springfield and chose 21 ornaments with individual wishes. I happened to choose mentally handicapped individuals. Do you know what most of them want? Backpacks! So I’m buying backpacks for them in my relative’s names. Each one of my relations will get a card stating that a gift has been purchased in their honor. Voila! Mission accomplished.”

Well! I must admit that we ladies in the salon were stunned into silence. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that he was holding the fate of our Christmas hairstyles in his hand. Scissors will silence a woman when nothing else will.

J.H.’s point was well taken. Mindless giving just for the sake of tradition is ridiculous. Giving a bottle of perfume to great aunt Bertha (whom we’ve never met!) is a waste of time, money and effort for both the giver and the receiver.

The gift giving mindset covers a wide range of views. First, there’s the over-the-top, more-is-better, shop ‘till you drop individual. Next, there’s the very selective shopper looking for just one special gift. Then there are the alternative gift givers, seeking alternatives to the traditional. Hand made items, buying “green,” providing a goat or chicken for a micro-enterprise overseas, charitable financial donations, the choices are only limited by one’s imagination.

The non-gift givers are usually pretty blunt in their assessment of the whole Christmas gift scene. One individual summed it up by saying, “Christmas is an abomination! I don’t celebrate it anymore.” Obviously, that attitude reflects the way many people feel. It really doesn’t matter whether they are agnostic, atheist, Christian, Jew, or Buddhist; the whole manic scene disgusts them.

So who should we buy gifts for? And why? Or should we even buy gifts? I say, it’s a matter of personal choice and neither mindset is right nor wrong.

As for me, to give or not to give is a no-brainer. I view gift giving as a tangible expression of my love and affection for special people and special occasions. Plus, I love shopping! At Christmas I can indulge in both my passion for shopping and gifting.

I do, however, have my limitations. I absolutely do not gift distant relatives with whom I have no connection. Nor do I have any qualms about dropping people off previous lists. Times and circumstances change. There are one-time gift giving occasions and there are times to disconnect. For instance, I no longer give to neighbors or best friends from 30 years ago when we were raising kids. They are part of my memory bank but not my shopping list.
Mostly my husband and I buy for our grown kids and grandkids plus a family in the community that can use a little help. I collect things throughout the year and fill in the big gaps on a three-day shopping spree. By the second week in December, I have assembled lists of everyone’s sizes, wishes, needs, likes and dislikes. I am happily prepared to do battle.

First, I scout the territory; then I narrow down my choices and find the best buys. The final challenge is to find those perfect, magical gifts at sale prices and made in the U.S. A.

This latter criteria is becoming nearly impossible. Imported merchandise seems to be the norm. Some of it is good but much of it is just plain junk. Third world factory workers must think that we Americans are really strange, stupid people to buy some of the ugly, quirky stuff that they are sending over here.

This year, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” quickly became “Bah, Humbug!” as I searched for items that were made in the USA. Try buying a UO sweatshirt, cap or football that isn’t made in Haiti, Mexico or El Salvador. A designer Claiborne jacket was made in Vietnam. Children’s games and clothing inevitably came from China. The only things I found manufactured domestically were art supplies! Disgusting!

What to do? Well, in my case, I bought the gifts anyway. So much for having high standards! Bah, Humbug, indeed!

As I write this, I’m laughing at myself for getting huffy. We’ve all got our quirks, don’t we? How silly! ‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m complaining about one tiny little facet of the blessing of gift giving. Shame on me. Let me paraphrase that quote at the top of the page:
The age in which we’re living
Is a wonderful time for giving

Some things can be given freely whether you’re a shopper or not. If you’re not interested in shopping, forget the store-bought stuff but stock up on the true gifts of the season — love, joy and peace — then freely distribute them to all.

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Betty returns to work after failing retirement

12/5/07 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Hello. My name is Betty and I am a recovering retiree. I failed retirement.

Last year, I reluctantly tendered my resignation from the Sentinel and prepared for a change of lifestyle. I blithely looked forward to a time of leisure, travel and catching up on a multitude of unfinished household tasks. It didn’t work out that way.

After decades of working outside the home, I had a big wish list. I ambitiously planned to get 10 years of photos put into albums, write our family history, go through 20 years of tax returns, clean out my filing cabinet, take tap dancing lessons, brush up on the violin and maybe even play a little tennis. It didn’t happen.

Instead, my hiatus from the Sentinel revealed what deep down I already knew. I am hardwired for a certain amount of work and accountability. I am most productive under pressure.

In retirement, I deeply craved the satisfaction that comes from doing the job that I love. Writing is like breathing to me and freedom from writing left me short of breath. Retirement robbed me of an outlet for my creative writing juices. Eventually, like an addict, I went into withdrawals.

Initially, I didn’t have time for withdrawals or anything else. As former readers may remember, my husband and I have been on a five-year health catastrophe roller coaster. Shortly after my so-called retirement, we were thrown into yet another crisis that consumed our time and attention for the better part of a year.

Thankfully, the timing of my retirement became a “God thing.”
In May 2006, Chuck had what we now call the surgery from hell. It was one of those not-so-routine spinal fusions, complete with titanium rods and screws. From the get-go, everything that could go wrong with the surgery did. The situation immediately dictated that I become a fulltime nurse and patient advocate.

The doctor said that he should be up, walking and home in 3 days. It took 8 days. His lean, all muscle back became a source of excruciating pain, not the strong asset that we expected. (Perhaps a little fat would have masked the pain?) The man who barely took an aspirin after his open-heart surgery was administered pain pills around the clock for 3 months. Our time was consumed with learning how to walk again, doctor visits and driving several times a week to Sacred Heart for physical therapy.

It was a tough time and believe me, more than once, I was grateful not to have any deadlines to meet. And to most people, that’s what retirement is all about. Retirement is freedom from deadlines.

Retirement means doing what you want when you want. Right? Well, In May of this year, I began to taste that freedom. Chuck was doing well and I was relatively free to do whatever I chose to do.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the surgery from hell, we launched a travel program. First on our list was a month-long European tour that gave new meaning to the phrase “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium.” We visited multiple countries, delighted in different scenery, made new friends and were thrilled to return home.

Then came summer with its outdoor activities, guests and RV trips. We were busy coming and going and sprucing up the house and yard. By the end of September, I realized that something was lacking in my life. There was a void that needed filling. I missed writing.

Most retirees find life outside of the workplace fulfilling. I know that when I mention returning to work, my retired friends just shake their heads and look at me like I’m crazy. They’ve worked all of their lives and now is their La Dolce Vida.

Several times a year they are out cruising the waters of the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Russia or South America. Some invest quality time into community service boards and activities. Others have fulfilled life long dreams of horseback riding or ice-skating. Some play tennis while others golf daily. Many join philanthropic organizations or guilds.

Maybe I just need time to transition into that lifestyle. Right now, I still need to work (just a little). So, I’m back! And I am thrilled to be writing the Chatterbox and Cook’s Corner on a part-time basis as a semi-retiree. Please give me a call, drop me a note, or send me an email and let’s chat.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.