Sunday Night Soup

I looked in the fridge tonight, which is a bit bare at the moment, and saw some lovely local corn that needed a home. A glance in the veggie drawer revealed the makings of soup, which may be a bit much on a hot day, but a nice clear broth with fresh summer veggies seemed right.

I sauteed the onions, celery and carrots in a bit of olive oil, added in 2 handfuls of red lentils for a bit of protein, and got them glossy in the oil. In went 6 cups of water and a healthy sprinkle (1-2 tsp.) of Vegeta (the MSG free kind); chicken or vegetable stock would work too. After about 10 minutes, the veggies and lentils had soften up and I added the corn (cut off the cobs), some canned diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of parsley. That simmered for about 10 minutes, and combined into a wonderfully simple pot of summer flavours. Two bowlfuls for dinner were just the ticket.

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Simple Summer Fun: Lemon-Limeade Concentrate

For the first time in my life, I have a Costco membership. I’ve always resisted, having no storage space and only 2 people to buy groceries for. But due to some tire problems on a roadtrip, and Costco saving the day, I found myself back at home for another long hot month of summer with a membership card burning a hole in my pocket.

Last night, on our inaugural grocery shop, I came across a mammoth bag of lemons and limes. They were just so pretty and happy, all jumbled up in their bag. Sunny yellow and tropical green, singing a siren song about homemade lemon-limeade. And I couldn’t resist, even though there were about 20 fruit in the bag (which is kind of an insane number when you have no firm citrus plans). But it was a good impulse buy, as I recently acquired an amazing citrus press from Crate & Barrel (an impulse buy on my roadtrip). So all this following-of-citrus-gut-instincts came to fruition (literally) in my kitchen this evening.

About 20 minutes of squeezing and squashing 5 lemons and 5 limes yielded 1.5 cups of lemon-lime juice. Mix this with 3.5 cups simple syrup (2 parts water, 1.5 parts white sugar, heated to boiling and then cooled), and you’ll have a mason jar full of concentrate, just ready for mixing with still or sparkling water any time you fancy a refreshing summer drink.

I mixed around 1 part of the concentrate with 2 parts water, threw in a handful of ice, and the drink had the perfect sweet-tart ratio you expect, with a hint of lime with the lemoniness. I declare this citrus indulgence a firm success.

Baked Brie with Carmelized Pears

Fresh out of the oven and ready for some crackers.

I was grocery shopping this week, just before a snow storm was scheduled to start, and disaster happened. I needed some raspberries for my go-to baked brie recipe, and they were nowhere to be found. And my pre-snow shopping window was rapidly shrinking! Rather than stress out trying another store, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and googled baked brie. One of the first hits I came upon that didn’t require a crazy amount of ingredients was from Canadian Living. It called for pears, which are nice this time of year, and much easier to find than raspberries. The fate of my girl’s night menu was sealed.

Simple ingredient perfection.

The recipe is so easy- just saute a shallot and a pear in butter, then simmer the mixture in apple juice with a drop of maple syrup and a sprinkle of thyme and S & P. Let that cool at least 10 min, then pile it on top of a round of brie, bake it at 350F for 10-15 min and top with toasted almond slivers.

The sweet/savoury combo of the topping is really nice with the creamy richness of the brie. I love that the ingredients are easy to come by. I think this will be my new fancy cheese recipe for the winter, and I’ll switch back to the raspberry version in the summer.

Marvelous Mediterranean Dips

From left: Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

Last week, we hosted a fantastic wine party, some final festivities of the holiday season. We host 2 or 3 of these a year, and each time I knock myself out planning a feast of a spread, and overheat the guests and the kitchen by making fresh baked munchies. So this time around, with about 15 people RSVP’d, I thought I’d better come up with a no-bake solution. Less stress for me, better temperature for all!

I try to keep things home made, fresh, and somewhat healthy, so some dips that could go with veggies and pita sprang to mind. We had been eating store bought Baba Ganoush over the holidays, which is full of mayo and sour cream, and is nothing like the real thing. So I thought I would try making it myself- how hard could something with about 6 ingredients be, anyways? And, once you’ve got the Baba ingredients going, you might as well swap the eggplant for chickpeas and make Hummus, or swap those two out for some greek yogurt and cucumber and make Tzatziki!

These dips are a dream- easy, healthy, pretty cheap, and people will be wowed that you made them yourself. You just need a blender and a little patience. The guests devoured them, especially the Baba, that was the first to go. The pita disappeared pretty quickly, so make sure you’ve gots lots on hand. Next time I think I might toast some and make pita chips too. I think these will be a staple in my entertaining repertoire, because I actually got to relax and enjoy the party this time around. Nothing to keep an eye on, just put out your spread, uncork some wine, and let the party happen!

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Roast the eggplant at 400F for 30 minutes. You can fire roast it first if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Make sure to poke some holes in your eggplant before you roast it. You can also roast your garlic at the same time, if you would like it be more mellow and sweet.
  2. Place the cooked eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily. Remove the stem, give the eggplant innards a rough chop and place in a blender.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of paprika for garnish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, water half drained
  • 1 red pepper, roasted
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Fire roast the red pepper if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Place the blackened pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily, remove the stem and seeds and give it a rough chop. You can also use store bought roasted red peppers.
  2. Start by blending the chickpeas a little at a time, the liquid from the can and the lemon juice will help. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down and stirring as needed to get everything blended.
  3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper or mint.

The 3 dips joined a mountain of crackers, cheese, chocolate, fruit and other treats. Thanks to everyone who brought something to add to the deliciousness. We’ll have to outdo ourselves next time, which could be hard. But I’m willing to try if you are!

The full spread- wish I could eat like this all the time!

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

This is time of year when most of us feel guilty, overindulged and a bit slothful. We make a return to work, and the gym, and the grocery store, hoping for a better year. If you are someone who manages to remain virtuous all year, this post is not for you. But if you are someone who lets it all hang out at the holidays, and is now looking for redemption, read on.

It’s really cold out right now, the kind of weather that makes frost on your eyelashes and tests your car battery, and always makes me want soup. I borrowed a friend’s Chez Piggy cookbook a while back, and have been eyeing its soup section ever since. I can’t wait to try more of the recipes, because tonight’s experiment was fantastic.

For those looking to up the taste, but not the calories, this is a great soup; definitely hearty enough to be a meal on its own. Lots of protein and fiber from the lentils, some good fats from the olive oil and coconut milk, and vitamins from the veggies. A perfect winter warm up that leaves you feeling satisfied and maybe even a little self-righteous.

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

Based on Curry Red Lentil Soup from the Chez Piggy Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 3 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can light coconut milk

Directions

  1. Saute the onions, carrots, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add the spices and cook one more minute. Add the lentils and coat them in the oil.
  3. Add in the vegetable stock and coconut milk, bring to a simmer.
  4. Simmer 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Blueberry Raspberry Crumble

Berry Crumble

This has to be the easiest dessert I make. We always seem to have frozen fruit hanging around for smoothies, and everything else is waiting in my baking drawer. I don’t really have a recipe, I just like to eyeball things, and it always tastes great. The key is to put the crumble on the top and bottom, so the fruit is sandwiched between layers of sweet buttery oats.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Soften 1 stick of butter in a bowl. Add 2 large spoonfuls of flour, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1 or 2 cups rolled oats and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Crumble all ingredients together, if it’s too buttery, add more oats.
  3. Press half the mixture into the bottom of an oven safe dish.
  4. Spread a few cups of frozen berries over this layer.
  5. Sprinkle the last of the oat mixture over the top.
  6. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes.

Simple, comforting, hearty, great for breakfast the next day. This is one dessert I am happy to make again and again.

Beery Crumble

Morning Glory Muffins

I’ve been in a baking mood this month, so far churning out several batches of muffins and last week’s chocolate cake, but am starting to feel a bit guilty at the thought of making one more sweet treat. So today’s mission was to make something that had some amount of nutrition hidden amongst its tastiness.

There is a chain of cafes that started in Calgary called the Good Earth, which I miss regularly. I see that they have expanded into BC and Saskatchewan, and can only hope that one day they will make their way to Ontario. Kingston’s closest equivalent would be the Sleepless Goat, but I almost don’t want to insult the Good Earth with the comparison. The Good Earth is always clean and comfy, while still maintaining a bit of a hippy vibe and serving healthy, earth friendly food. While the Goat is undoubtedly earth friendly, their lack of cleanliness seriously limits my visits there.  One of my favourite things from the Good Earth is a Morning Glory muffin, with one of their fabulous lattes made with fair trade espresso. The best breakfast!

With these muffins in mind, I trolled the internet for recipes, and came up with my own version of the muffin. I’m happy to report that they do the Good Earth proud, and came out beautifully domed and dense with healthy goodness. A perfect breakfast treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 apple – peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup sultana raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 12 muffin cups.
  2. Mix ground flax seed with water, let sit for a minute. Then add eggs and beat mixture. Stir in oil and vanilla, then add grated carrot and apple.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Gently stir in the wet ingredients.
  4. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Appetizers for Dinner

Sometimes,  I come home from a long day and think “cooking feels like too much.” And so, 1 of 3 things usually happens: 1. Kevin gets stuck with the job, 2. we pay someone else to feed us, or 3. we rummage through the fridge and have appetizers for dinner. Option number 3 provides the chance to use our funky pottery appetizer dishes, which is a bonus. We got them at a little pottery workshop outside Winnipeg during our summer travels. The smaller plates fit perfectly in the palm of your hand- made for snacking.

The appetizers for dinner plan is obviously best when you have some good wine already on hand, and the fridge is well stocked with tasty treats. Lucky for us, we had a decent selection of meat and cheese, a small baguette, and some of our favourite Dunes chilled in the fridge. You’ll notice a sad absence of olives in this spread (Pasta Genova was closed), but some home made pickles tried their best to substitute. The only item above that probably needs some explaining is the lower right dish, that’s goat cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. It’s the world’s easiest bread dip, sprinkle some fresh basil on top and people will rave.

And so, we carried this feast upstairs and watched a movie in bed. Is there a more luxurious and gourmand way to spend an evening at home?

Big Breakfasts

If I had to pick one that thing that keeps Kevin & I together, it would be our love of breakfast. Breakfast is definitely our glue. I’m not saying there’s nothing else that is important in our lives, of course, but I feel that if we ran into trouble some day, a breakfast like this would be the first olive branch. Kevin makes an egg over-easy that cannot be beat. And obviously, the way to La Gourmandesse’s heart is through her stomach.

Having traveled in Europe and Asia, I can say that the Canadian thing I have always missed the most is bacon and eggs. In the UK, they know how to do it right, and I love the addition of fried tomatoes and mushrooms, and baked beans. But in France, all I could ever think was that baguette with jam was not going to take me very far. And in Asia, I never quite got behind the noodles or rice for breakfast, although I would love some more tropical fruit in my life.

So, today, we made the best of it: some grease to satisfy the traditional cravings, and some fruit salad to tell ourselves that we were paying attention to health. This is best prepared on a Saturday morning when you can lay around and watch PBS building shows and think about great houses that you will probably never own.

Cheers to weekend indulgences with the person who loves you most.

Broccoli Bisque

It’s officially that time of year: soup time.  You can make a pot of soup any day of the week and be guaranteed that your partner will walk in the door of their warm and cozy house and exclaim “that smells good!”  Kevin really likes this soup specifically, and the night I made it he exclaimed with glee: “I smell leeks!”

Although broccoli is the most obvious ingredient in this soup, I think leeks are actually the show stealer. They lend a mild oniony zip, without being overpowering. They’re a great base for the soup. Leeks are always a bit finicky to get washed and chopped, so I use a technique I learned from watching Jacques Pepin on PBS one lazy Sunday long ago. You cut the leaks into 4 lengthwise, but keep the root intact, that way you can easily wash them, and you don’t end up with strings of leek all over the place.

This soup recipe is my take on one that appeared a few years ago in the LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine. I really love reading Food & Drink, their photography is so lovely and the food so tempting. And I always find a wine or two that I want to try. My one beef with the magazine is that I find their food a bit inaccessible to the average person. Everything has too many ingredients, or obscure ingredients that you’ll buy for their recipe and never use again. I hate that, and generally cook nothing that I see in the magazine. One issue this year had tips for unusual drinks, and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe there was a bacon-infused vodka recipe. For a magazine that is free to the Ontario public, they might want to try to be a little bit more relatable.

However, one autumn issue had several easy-to-make soups, and this broccoli bisque was one of them. It has 8 ingredients, most of which you will probably already have in your fridge or cupboard.

Ingredients

  • 3 leeks, white and light green part only, chopped
  • 1 head broccoli, stems included, roughly chopped
  • 2 small Yukon Gold potatoes (or 1 large), peeled and cubed
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light cream or milk
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Saute leeks in oil until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add in broccoli and potato, saute another few minutes. Cover vegetables with chicken stock, bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or ordinary blender), puree the ingredients until velvety smooth.
  4. Add in cream, bring soup back to boil and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This soup is simple, but perfect. Which I think is the mark of culinary genius. I’m always happiest with meals I slaved the least over. This soup is great as a main, add some bread and cheese on the side and you’re set. It’s also a good first course, and because it is so unfussy, I think it would be a lovely start to a dinner party.

It keeps well, never forming that annoying skin that a lot of cream soups are prone to, and is thick enough to travel in your lunch bag without leaking. Make a pot for dinner one night, and you’ll have some lunches set to go as well.