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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    Column: Hot soup after an hour in the deep freeze

    Editor’s note: Rich Swanson’s biweekly column will delve into his experiences and experiments with new food trends, classic recipes, cooking and shopping tips.

    Cleaning out my chest freezer and inventorying the contents was Item #4 on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

    I cook and experiment with new recipes constantly, and I’m always stashing great deals and prepped meals.

    Last weekend, after I had completed my favorite midwinter project, curing and smoking homemade bacon, I headed down to my basement to stash 30+ vacuum-sealed packs of porky, smoked gold.

    Only to find that my chest freezer was absolutely full when I packed in the bacon. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, If I had made more bacon, I would have had to sit on the lid like an overstuffed suitcase. I had already removed the hanging baskets inside the freezer to create more storage. So on this day, the coldest of the year, I headed to the basement to take the plunge into this mess with two objectives: throw out anything that was too old, and take out a couple items to make something for lunch. I ended up making a thick, hearty Polish style stew that really hit the all the right notes (see below).

    Sorting through the hoard wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’m pretty diligent about vacuum sealing individual cuts of meat and prepared foods and putting a dated label on them. Most of the time. Vacuum sealing meats in heavy gauge bags can extend the freezer life quite a bit. But if I come across any meat that predates COVID, it’s going bye-bye.

    Vegetables are a different story. As a rule, I don’t buy canned or frozen veggies; just fresh. But I will buy fresh corn on the cob during the summer from Whittle’s or Scott’s and freeze a bunch of packs to get me through until next summer.

    A couple of years ago, I had a contractor working in the basement, and he unplugged the freezer to use the outlet. When his work was completed, he forgot to plug the freezer back in, and I didn’t discover it for two days. The freezer was so tightly packed, it was almost self-insulating. None of the food thawed, and I used that going forward as a justification to fill it up.

    I started sorting and was actually surprised at my level of organization. But as I began to get close to the bottom of the freezer, I did find a few UFOs: Quart containers of homemade stock from indeterminate species. Chucked.

    A few labeled items that were just too old. including collard greens from 2017. Chucked.

    A couple experiments that went awry but I froze anyway: Clam chowder with chopped seaweed, anyone? Chucked.

    When all was said and done, I threw away about 20 items and got back about 1/3 of the space in the freezer.

    I reorganized the main compartment, putting older items near the top and cleared enough room to put the hanging baskets back in, grabbed a frozen ring of kielbasa and a vacuum-sealed pack of cubed golden beets (Big Y, the only place that carries them consistently) and headed back upstairs to make some soup.

    I bounced back and forth between a couple internet recipes for a Polish soup called Bialy Barszcz and the NYT recipe for White Borscht and came up with this spin.

    Creamy Golden Beet Borscht

    3 Tbsp butter

    1 lg onion, chopped

    2 cloves garlic, crushed

    2 qts chicken stock

    1 lb fresh or smoked kielbasa, cut into 4 lengths

    1 heaping tsp caraway seeds

    2 tsp ground black pepper

    14 oz bag coleslaw mix (cabbage & carrots)

    1 lb peeled, diced golden beets

    1 lb mini red or gold potatoes, Skin on, cut in half

    2 cups shredded fresh Italian or French bread (or panko crumbs)

    3 oz block of cream cheese (or 1/3 cup of sour cream)

    1 heaping teaspoon of dried dill

    1. In a Dutch oven or Instant Pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sweat them for about 2 minutes.

    2. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add kielbasa, caraway seeds & black pepper and cook covered for about 20 minutes.

    3. Remove kielbasa and set aside. Add coleslaw mix and beets; cook covered for about 10 minutes. Then add potatoes and cook until both are equally tender. Reduce heat to low and cover.

    4. Place shredded bread into blender. Remove 2 cups of broth from the pot and add it to the blender along with the cream cheese. Blend for 1 minute until creamy and smooth.

    5. Stir bread mixture and dill into the pot until incorporated

    6. Cut each piece of kielbasa in half lenghtwise and then cut each piece into half moon slices. Add them back to the soup, stir and continue to heat on low for another 20 minutes.

    Don’t bring it back to a boil; the dairy will separate.

    7. Enjoy!

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com

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