soup's on

soup’s on

This bout of bronchitis is still hanging on. I haven’t been able to do much so I’ve been filling my time with culinary endeavors and working on the cookbook manuscript. I’ve been pretty much a homebody during this illness but late Friday morning I managed to get out on a little adventure to the Brantford Farmers’ Market.

I bought six pounds of fresh local carrots, a few sweet potatoes, cooking onions, and garlic. It was the perfect selection for the soup I decided to make today. This also gave me a chance to take my new Caphalon immersion blender for a spin. I purchased it a few weeks ago with some of my Air Miles so that I could replace the one my husband accidentally melted a few years ago. I forgot how convenient an immersion blender is.

I served the soup with thick slices of Artisan Potato Scallion Bread from the bakery at Sobey’s grocery store.

curried carrot and sweet potato soup

makes 8 servings

My dear friend, Laurie Moniz, loves to pop over for coffee and some days even lunch. One day she arrived bearing a pot of carrot and sweet potato soup and there were leftovers. My husband devoured what was left which was pretty surprising because he usually won’t even try carrot soup. I was impressed so I asked Laurie for her recipe. She’s much like me in that her personal recipes are more like guidelines than recipes. This is my version of her scrumptious soup. 

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 medium sized onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 litres beef or vegetable stock
2 medium to large sized sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 pounds carrots, chopped
2 teaspooons medium curry powder
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté onions until they start to become translucent and soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer, being careful not to brown it. Add the stock, sweet potatoes, carrots, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.

Optional: garnish with your choice of goat cheese, sour cream, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt. Top with a little fresh cilantro.

Vegan option: use veggie stock and skip the optional dairy suggestion.

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 second half-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.

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