a soothing bowl of soup

a soothing bowl of soup

The last time I posted on this blog was in November 2011. In and around that time I decided to become a runner. Fast forward a few years and here I am training for a marathon. Unfortunately I’ve had to put training on a brief hiatus as I have bronchitis. Ack! It’s horrible timing but thankfully it’s early enough in training that I will still be able to work towards my goal.

When I feel like this I want the comfort of a warm bowl of soup. When I was little, my Mom made lentil soup with stock from a ham bone. Her version had onion, shredded carrots, red lentils, black pepper, and was often served it with a side of mashed potatoes. It was good but I like stronger flavors so I decided to kick it up a few notches.

curried chicken, sweet potato, and red lentil soup

makes 6-8 servings

I discovered Arvinda’s line of spices and spice blends at a local shop called Goodness Me. The spice blend is slightly moist whereas most grocery store varieties of curry masala are a dry powder. If you can find it, Arvinda’s is best, but any curry masala blend will do in a pinch. Like all soups, this is better the second day. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large boneless or bone-in chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (heaping)
1 1/2 teaspoons Arvinda’s curry masala blend
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 litres homemade or low-salt chicken stock
1 1/4 cups dry red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water
5 cups baby spinach

If you are using boneless chicken cut it into bite-sized pieces. If you are using chicken that is on the bone cut the breasts in half with a sharp knife. When using bone-in you will have let the meat cool enough to handle, remove the bones and chop before adding the lentils.

Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot on medium-high. Add the onion, chicken, salt, pepper, cumin seeds, and half of the curry masala blend. When the onions are soft and the chicken browned, add the sweet potato and saute for 5 minutes. Then add garlic and saute for another minute. Pour the stock in the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce to a simmer. If you de-boned chicken place it back in the broth. Add the rinsed and drained lentils, the remaining curry masala blend, lemon juice, and 1 cup of water. Let simmer for 40 minutes and re-season if necessary. Remove from the heat and add the spinach. Let it sit for a few minutes until the spinach wilts.

Serve with toasted pita wedges if desired.

Tips
You can easily make this vegan by substituting roasted tofu or chickpeas for the chicken and replacing the stock with your favorite vegetable stock.

I love Friday. There are many reasons for this other than the obvious one—the weekend! My husband has a terrific career but it entails a great deal of travel so the weekend means a few days of time together. One of our little routines is to have coffee while conversing in the mornings. Lately, for me at least, that ritual has turned back to tea. I love tea as much as I love Friday.

Tea and I go back a long way and the love affair with this warming beverage started early. I have fond memories of being kindergarten-aged and Mom making tea for my little porcelain tea set. I was a mere twelve years old when my Aunt Gladys gave me twenty-five dollars as a Christmas and birthday present. I had saved as much from babysitting as well. You’d expect a child of that age to go out and buy some sort of toy, a new trendy top, a new music release, or the latest Trixie Belden book. Not this pre-teen. I went straight to an expensive gift emporium named Duncan McPhee and purchased a gorgeous teapot with a set of four matching cups. I had been looking at it for several months and waiting until I had enough money. Luck would have it that the particular one I wanted, a pure white pot with a gorgeous pink iris, was on clearance. Then it was off to the mall where I picked up a pot worthy mesh tea ball and some wonderfully blended loosed teas from a shop called The Second Cup. While renowned for coffee they had some lovely teas. This was no child-like tea setup and I was very proud of my find. I was still using this set twenty years later and would have continued if it had not been damaged in our 2001 house fire.

a little collection

part of my collection

I strayed from tea for quite some time. My return started in 2004 when my darling little boy, who was three at the time, pulled up a chair and wanted to have tea with us. Tea time became a special time for family bonding.

Fast forward to this morning. My little boy, now a ten-year old with pre-pubescent attitude, is home from school with a sore throat and general malaise. He dragged his groggy self out of bed and came out to the kitchen. I had just put the kettle on. He asked if he could have some tea. I looked through my cupboard which has two shelves entirely dedicated to this beverage, and pulled out a brand-new package of Organic Peppermint Tea from Fair Trade. It is a fragrant and soothing cup that doesn’t have any caffeine, making it a great choice for a child with the chills. This reminds me so much of Mom making cups of Orange Pekoe for me when I was ill as a child.

My Mom has asked me to source a porcelain tea set for my daughter Kaia to have as a gift. As I look at these miniature little sets I am reminded of the times when I played “tea party” with such wonder. What a special memory and a lovely thing for my Mom to do for my daughter. Kaia is also going to her first real tea party in the Spring. My close friend is getting married and her bridal shower is to be a High Tea.

Me, well, I got busy and am just sipping my cup of Double Bergamot Earl Grey. Finally. It’s from Stash Teas, a brand that is one of my favorites when it comes to bagged teas. Their Meyer Lemon is delicious too.

I’ll post more about tea. Perhaps next time I will share some of my favorite ways to cook with tea.

Last weekend I decided that I was going to make soup. Bryan loves the Quinoa and Spinach Soup from my first cookbook, but I was not really in the mood for that particular soup. I was thinking more along the lines of chicken noodle soup.

To satisfy both of us, I suggested that I make a soup inspired by the flavors of Peru. I’d have the yummy chicken soup aspect that I was after and Bryan would have the quinoa that he apparently was craving. Sometimes I think this act of finding the middle ground is why we’ve been together for almost 20 years. The soup turned out fantastic, if I do say so myself, and is now on our list of favorites.

I promised some of my friends that I would share the recipe so here it is…

Peruvian chicken & red quinoa soup

chicken & red quinoa soup

chicken & red quinoa soup

makes 4-6 servings

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is the seed of the goosefoot plant, prized by the ancient Incas. It is a complete protein and a good source of the amino acids. Quinoa is also gluten free. If you can’t find aji amarillo, a yellow pepper with medium heat that has been dried and ground, then use 1 tablespoon of fresh jalapeño pepper that has been finely minced. When you make this recipe, it is best to prep all the ingredients before you start to cook. We like to serve it with grilled flatbread or fresh cornbread.

1 cup red quinoa
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 1/2 teaspoons ground aji amarillo or 1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 pounds chicken breasts, bone-in, skin removed, and cut into 3 or 4 pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 cups cold water
3 medium red potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 small zucchini or summer squash, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Place the quinoa in a fine sieve under running water for about 3 minutes or until the water runs clear. Let the quinoa drain after rinsing. Toast the quinoa in a dry frying pan, preferably non-stick, over medium heat until the seeds start to jump or pop in the pan. Remove the seeds from the pan and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Sauté the onion and celery until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, aji amarillo or jalapeño pepper, cumin, and oregano. Stir for 1 minute being careful not to scorch the garlic. Add the chicken, salt, water, potatoes, and quinoa. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim off foam, if desired. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add the carrots to the pot and let simmer for 15 minutes. While the carrots are cooking, remove the chicken meat from the bones and shred using two forks. Discard the bones. Add the zucchini and lime or lemon juice to the pot. Continue to simmer for 7 to 10 minutes and add the chicken meat back to the pot. Heat the chicken through and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro before serving.

With my second book well on the way to being on store shelves, life has returned to some sort of normalcy around my kitchen. That said, I use the term “normal” in a very loose way, because my cooking adventures aren’t of the normal or mundane variety (or at least I like to think that they aren’t).

Yesterday, with that in mind, I decided it was time to clean some of the cupboards. If you happen to be someone who has visited my home then you’ll know that cleaning my cupboards or pantry is far from a simple undertaking and this will be something that takes a few hours each weekend over the next three weeks.

You see, after finishing the writing of my vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free cookbook for backpackers in February, I had a lot of ingredients that would likely never get used before going off. I went through, checked expiry dates, manufacturing codes, and the like. My goal for the day was to tackle the cans, the baking ingredients and the pasta/rice/legumes cupboards. Three cupboards plus a big bin of speciality flours would be more than enough for one Saturday.

The whole process took about two hours. I used two boxes, a compost bucket, a garbage bag, and the recycle bin. One box was for what I would give away to a friend who has a child on a gluten-free diet. The second was for what would go back into my larder. The compost bucket was for things like legumes for the composter. The rest is self-explanatory. Next thing I knew I had two full bags of gluten-free baking supplies for my friend, a whole heap of things that were well past their expiration. Crackers from 2005? Unopened? Seriously? Then there was the brand spanking new box of Bisquick. I don’t use the stuff, obviously and have no idea how long it had been there. How wasteful! I’m not sure how the crackers or Bisquick got missed in previous throw-outs but they did. This is surprising to me, because I am a stickler for expiration dates.

If you decide to go through the food in your cupboards, which you should do from time-to-time, here are a few resources that I found helpful…

 “Best Before” dates, “Packaged On” dates, “Expiry” dates…Oh My!

Still Tasty – The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide

Who needs to pay a professional organizer? Not me, that is for sure. Just a little time and some discipline is all that it takes. That and a big lack of cupboard space—small spaces mean that I have to stay on top of the organization or I just run out of room for storage. Next weekend I will tackle the pantry or perhaps I’ll work on the tea cupboard, fridge, and the chef’s cart full of spices, herbs, and oils.

I finished the afternoon off by making a big pot of Peruvian Chicken and Red Quinoa Soup in order to use up an open package of quinoa that I found. It was yummy and I’ll post the recipe (with photos) sometime in the next few days.

It is Boxing Day here in Canada and I am not venturing near a stove or oven — after all, even a cook needs some downtime. Because I enjoy sharing my food experiences with you, I thought I would tell you about our new family Christmas Eve tradition. My husband, Bryan, asked me if I would make Boeuf Bourguignon for Christmas Eve last year when we were watching the movie Julie & Julia. At first I thought he was kidding and sometimes it is difficult to tell with Bryan. However, he was being genuinely serious. With great trepidation I perused my cookbooks to find a recipe for the dish. He loved it so much that he asked for it again this year. It has the stigma of being fussy and difficult to make but it really isn’t as complicated as it first seems. I modified the recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook slightly by using triple A stewing beef. The wine I used was a lovely burgundy of which I purchased two bottles from the Vintages section of the LCBO on the recommendation of the Vintages manager. I will post more about the wine below the recipe.

boeuf bourguignon

makes 6 servings

6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch (12 mm) pieces
3 lbs (1.5 kg) beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 1/2 cm) cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 Tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) Cognac or other brandy
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) Burgundy or other dry, full-bodied wine
1 1/2 cups 12 fl oz/375 ml) Beef Stock or prepared low-sodium broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb (500 g) white button mushrooms, quartered
7 ounces (220 g) fresh pearl onions, blanched and peeled (see note)
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In a frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until browned but not crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and brown on all side, 4-5 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the chopped onions and carrots to the pot and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the flour on top, and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. Return the bacon and meat, along with any juices, to the pot.

Remove from the heat, add the Cognac, and flambé. Return to medium-low heat, add the wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and braise, covered, until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours. Discard the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, add the pearl onions, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) water, cover, and cook until the onions are softened, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms.

When ready to serve, stir the mushrooms, pearl onions, and 1 Tbsp of the parsley into the stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 2 Tbsp parsley. Serve at once.

Note: Peeling pearl onions… Sweeter and less sharp-tasting that full-sized onions, pearl onions are no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with papery skins. Because they hold their color and shape well when cooked, they make an attractive visual contrast in a deep brown stew or braise. To remove the skins, trim off the root ends and blanch the onions in a saucepan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, then quickly transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and peel off the loosened skins; they should fall away easily.

courtesy of The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook © 2008

The wine that I cooked with and served alongside the Boeuf Bourguignon was a classic French Burgundy — Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 from Chanson Père et Fils.

Tasting note: “After a beautiful spring, the weather at the start of summer was quite demanding.  It became fine again from the end of August with much sun and a cold wind, which aided concentration of flavours.  The harvest commenced in mid-September in perfect conditions under an Indian summer. Bright red colour with dark purple nuances. Intense aromas of red currant and liquorice with a hint of spice. Concentrated and complex. Refreshing and lively. Very pure fruit aromas. Spicy nuances in the finish.” – http://www.vins-chanson.com

My notes: This was a very nice pairing for the meal. At about $20 Canadian a bottle it is quite reasonable. Because it is a lighter red than the Cabernet Sauvignon that I often serve with beef, the leftover wine also made a good pairing for the roasted turkey that we enjoyed the next evening for Christmas dinner. I love the fruitiness of this wine and how it balances with the meats. It was also delicious on its own and the finish lingered nicely.

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