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It’s soup night – NO it’s pasta night! November 16, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Cooking, Food, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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Regular readers of this blog will recall that, once upon a time, Peeps and I owned a meal-prep business.  In short, the idea was to “prep” a series of meals in advance, to be frozen, then defrosted and finished later.

Spending an hour or two in the kitchen pre-preparing our week’s meals is still a great time-saver, and we still dust off some of the recipes that we used back then, although we don’t necessarily follow them quite to the letter these days.

After all, we’re not trying to make a profit anymore (not that we did then either).

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So with the beginning of soup season, we thought it would be nice to revisit one of our then-favorites – a simple pasta and bean soup.

I believe our Italian friends would call it pasta e fagioli but we’re Swedish, so we just call it pasta and bean soup.

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As so many things do, we start with bacon – just a couple of slices, diced.

Start cooking that in a small Dutch oven, and once some of the fat starts to render, add a diced up onion, and cook over medium-ish heat until the onion starts to soften.

Stir in a tablespoon or so of tomato paste.   Then toss in two or three diced carrots, a clove or two of garlic, minced, some chopped rosemary and parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper – maybe a bit more pepper if that’s how you like to roll.

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Add a quart of chicken broth (that’s 4 cups if your broth doesn’t come in Mason jars) and let it simmer 20 minutes or so.  You want your carrots just softened – like they should be for soup – so I guess how long it needs to cook is going to depend on how big or small you dice your carrots.

At this point, you can just add your beans  (I used half a pound of dried cannellini beans, cooked.  Or you could use a couple of cans of canned beans.), let everything cool, and stick it in the fridge for later.

PhotobucketThat’s what we did.

So when it’s later, you’ll want to dump it back in the pot and add another 4 cups of liquid – water is fine.  If you happen to have, say, a partial jar of chicken stock in the fridge that needs to get used up, by all means, use that.

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Get the soup re-heated – it’ll actually get thicker, what with the beans and all in there – and bring it up to a boil.

Once the soup is slowly boiling, add 2 cups of small pasta.  We’re partial to ditalini, but that’s mostly because we have a bunch of it.  Barilla makes a line of piccolini pasta – itty bitty miniature pasta shapes – that would certainly make a fun choice.

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At any point until you add the pasta, you can also easily divide the soup in half and freeze half of it for later.  Just make a note of what still needs to be done – we divided it right before adding the ditalini, so all we’ll need to do is reheat and add a cup of pasta.

This is such a wonderfully easy, flavorful soup, made with a few basic staples.  Do give it a try and let me know what you think.

It’s November – that means soup night! November 10, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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There are winter-ish things we sort of miss during the summer.

Wool.

Braised meat.

Baked potatoes.

And soup night.

PhotobucketWe love soup night.  When the weather starts getting cold, there’s just something so warm and cozy about a nice bowl of homemade soup, with a hunk of fresh bread, isn’t there?

So now that pretty much every vegetable known to man is in season (hyperbole much?), Cook’s Illustrated published their recipe for Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup.

PhotobucketI like vegetables, and I like barley.  I think we have a winner here!

Only . . . the first ingredient is 1/8 ounce of ground dried mushrooms.

We don’t really do fungus.

The fact that I have not one, but two different varieties of dried mushrooms in the cupboard is . . . an anomaly.  Yeah, that’s it.   It just sort of happened that way.

PhotobucketHere’s the thing.

You know about the whole umami thing, right?  It’s all sort of science-y, really, involving glutamates and nucleotides other chemical stuff.  It seems that mushrooms, along with soy sauce, tomato paste, and some other stuff, is just loaded with it.

It makes vegetable soup taste hearty- even meaty.  Savory.

PhotobucketOooh. . . . mommy.

So.

We start by sauteeing a couple of diced carrots, some leeks and some celery in butter.  And we add a bit of white wine (1/3 cup), soy sauce (2 tsp.) and a couple of teaspoons of salt.

This all gets cooked until the celery is soft and the liquid has evaporated, maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

PhotobucketThen we added a bunch of water – 6 cups! – plus a quart of stock (either chicken or vegetable – I went with chicken), a half cup of pearl barley, 2 teaspoons of the ground mushrooms,  a clove of minced garlic, and a bunch of parsley, thyme, and a single bay leaf, all tied together.

Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Let it cook about half an hour, then add some diced potatoes (a pound or two), a single turnip, diced, and about a quarter of a cabbage, sliced.

PhotobucketAt this point, we stopped and stashed the whole thing in the fridge until Peeps got home with his mom.

Honestly, we prefer soup that’s had a chance to set.

To rest.

Get happy.

You know what I mean, right?

PhotobucketThen, we reheat and simmer until the turnip, et al, are tender – if it’s on the stovetop it’ll be a half hour or so, once it’s hot – the better part of the day if you go the crock-pot route, which is what we did.

Just make sure your potatoes and turnips are soft – nobody wants crunchy turnips in their soup.

Now Cook’s recommends serving the soup with peas, lemon juice, and chopped parsley.

PhotobucketI didn’t bother with the peas, forgot the lemon juice, and stirred the parsley in before reheating.

And you know what?  It was still pretty good. I enjoyed it, and Peeps’s mom said she enjoyed it (though she may be been being polite).

Peeps had trouble getting past the turnip.  That’s cool.  We’re not all cut out for vegetable soup.

But I still like it.  A lot.

It’s certainly very . . . colorful October 5, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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I will admit it:  I’m a sucker for fresh produce.

I don’t mean fresh in the not-frozen, not-canned sense – I mean it in the “picked yesterday from that farm down the way a piece” sense.

FRESH.

So of course, when I saw bunches (stalks) of fresh, local celery at the public market last time, I had to have some!

See, celery is one of those things that I’ve never seen grown in person – I don’t know why, but it just always came from the store.  The thought of actually growing celery, well, it’s just cool.

PhotobucketSo as I was saying, I got this stalk of farm-fresh celery, and it was lovely!

Well, as lovely as celery can be, I guess.  But still.

It was a deep green, topped with plenty of crisp, fresh leaves, and just as fragrant as you could possibly hope for!  This was not celery to stick in the produce drawer, there to languish away until I needed a mire poix, or even to dip into peanut butter.  No, I wanted to use this gorgeous bit of greenery as the highlight of  a meal.

PhotobucketSo we did the obvious – we made soup.

It was actually quite simple – first we washed the celery (and boy, did it need it!) and cut it into couple of inch hunks.

Then the celery, along with a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, got sauteed until the vegetables just started to soften, a couple of minutes.

Then, of course, I had to throw in some of those lovely, lovely leaves.  After all,  celery leaves are chock full of flavor.   Plus, they’re probably full of vitamins or antioxidants or some such.  (You do use them, right?  In stock, if nothing else?)

PhotobucketThen the greens cooked down, and we add half a cup of dry white wine (or what was left in our box-o-wine) and let that cook down for a few minutes – you’ll want the wine to reduce by about half, maybe 5-8 minutes or so.  It always seems to take about twice as long as the “official directions” say it will.  I have no idea why.

Anyway, after the wine, I added a chopped potato, the starch of which will ultimately help thicken the soup, and a quart of stock.

Sure, you could use chicken stock, and don’t think I didn’t consider it.  But then Peeps reminded me that we did, in fact, vegetable stock on hand, so that’s what I used.  But chicken would work nicely too.

Maybe add a pinch of salt and some (white) pepper if you’d like, though you will be seasoning to taste later on.

PhotobucketLet the whole thing cook until all the vegetables are soft but not mushy, maybe 15-20 minutes, depending, I guess, on how big you cut them in the first place.

Once the celery and potatoes are done, you’re going to want to blend the soup – this is a pureed soup.

You can try the stick blender, but you’ll quickly realize that, unless you’re going for “rustic,” celery is never going to get truly smooth that way.

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We blended the soup in batches until it was nicely smooth – a truly creamy soup, without the cream.

Oh, and, while the soup was cooking (and blending), we contemplated a finish for it – a garnish, if you will.

Of course we’d use some croutons to add a bit of crunch, but. . . what about a pesto of sorts?

A celery-leaf pesto?

We had plenty of leaves (I didn’t put them all in the soup, after all), so why not, right?  After all, if anything would work, flavor-wise with celery, it’s got to be more celery.

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So, basically, I took a handful of washed celery leaves, a clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, some white pepper, and a handful of almonds, and I stuck them in the food processor.  Once chopped, I drizzled in some extra virgin olive oil, just until the whole thing came together.

Interesting.

I figure what’s left over will be a pretty interesting to a future vegetable soup, or even a stew of some sort.

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So, how was it, you ask?  You are asking, right?

Well. . . I’ll tell you.

I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  I liked the creaminess, and I liked the celery-ness of it, and I even liked the croutons floating on top.  Though I honestly could have done without the faux pesto – it looked nice, but flavor-wise, I thought it was a bit much.  Still, it’ll be great to perk up a stew or something later on.  It made a wonderful light supper, especially if there’s a nice big cookie for dessert.

Now Peeps, he liked the soup – and the pesto – just fine, though he really didn’t find it satisfying.  I guess he’d have been happier with two cookies.

And the Boy.  The poor Boy.

See, he works evenings, until 11, which means he misses dinnertime and reheats his after we go to bed.

And while he knew we were having “soup” for dinner, he saw the container of vibrant green-ness, and he thought it was one of his favorites – split pea soup.

He was, to put it mildly, disappointed.

So the bottom line – it’s a lovely soup, but not a whole meal.  And make sure everyone knows it’s celery, and you’ll be fine.

I Went to the Market. . . September 28, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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You know, there’s more to my bi-weekly trips to the public market than just stocking up on lovely, seasonal fresh vegetables.

It’s not just “oh, look at all the pretty produce!” or “I think I’ll have an empanada today” and “or maybe some poutine,” you know.

Let me try to put it in perspective for you.

We have what you might consider a “tiny” kitchen.

As in, the Jar can lie, only somewhat stretched out, and touch the refrigerator with his nose, block the stove with his body, and his tail end is brushing the dishwasher.  And that’s pretty much the whole kitchen.

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So, while it may be all well and good to come home with scads of fresh produce (which it is, to be sure), well, I’ve got to have a place to put it, now, don’t I?

The obvious solution is to stick what I can into the fridge.

Which I do.  After cleaning it, chopping it, and otherwise preparing it for weeknight use, that’s a lot of stuff going into the fridge, isn’t it?

Have I mentioned that we do a lot of cooking?

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Yeah, there are always leftovers of one sort or another knocking around the refrigerator.

Plus, there’s always counter stuff – fruit and the like.  And, when I’ve got a counter full of tomatoes, well, it gets a little crowded.

Of course, with fall on its way, we’re getting into soup season, and what better thing to do with excess market produce, overstock tomatoes, and random leftovers than make soup?

But one thing I’ve learned – and maybe you’ve heard this before – is K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid.

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I can’t tell you how many soups I’ve ruined by, essentially, trying too hard.

Get a picture of what you want, and find the simplest way to get there.

In this case, I had some beet greens to use (they came off the most beautiful beets!), which is  where I started.

I also had plenty of ripe tomatoes on the counter, just getting riper, and about a quarter pound of crumbled cooked Italian sausage (left over from pizza night).

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Huh.  We could work with that.  Soup it is!

We started by sauteeing a chopped onion and some slightly old fennel we found in the freezer in olive oil with plenty of oregano and black pepper.

Add the chopped stems from the greens (waste not want not) (which is kind of why my fridge is always full to overflowing, but never mind that), and maybe a couple of cloves of garlic, then a couple, three chopped fresh tomatoes.  I’m sure you could throw a can of diced in if that’s what you’ve got handy.  We’re just making this up, you know.

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Add about a quart of chicken stock, and maybe some parmigiano rinds (if you’ve got them stashed in the freezer, which of COURSE you do!) and let simmer for a bit, maybe an hour or so.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t taste like much yet – just add some cooked sausage, and maybe some beans.  I still have some dried red beans from last fall – I pressure cooked those and tossed them in, but canned would work as well too.

Lastly, you’ll add the greens – you can either add the greens to the soup and let them cook until they’re to your desired tenderness, or what I did stuff the greens into a large container and dump the soup on top of them and shove it in the fridge, since we weren’t going to serve the soup until later in the week.  Then, a few days later, it got transferred to the slow cooker, to simmer happily until dinnertime.

PhotobucketThis was definitely  a tasty soup – the cheese rinds added a certain body which made it a hearty soup indeed.  Well, that and the beans.

While, if I did this again, beet greens wouldn’t be my first choice of greens, (I’d probably go with something more traditional like escarole)  they certainly didn’t hurt it – just added an unexpected beet-y flavor.

So tell me, how do you fly by the seat of your pants to get rid of stuff in the fridge?

Tomato Tuesday: Soup by any other name September 12, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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Have I mentioned that it’s tomato season?  And that I planted 9 (count ‘em – NINE) tomato plants in my garden this year?

The way I figure it is that I’ve got plenty of fresh tomatoes to keep me satisfied – and to share – all season long, PLUS I can do some cooking with fresh tomatoes AND if I’m lucky I can even preserve a few.

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And, of course, tomato soup – hot or cold.

You know, there’s just so many options for fresh tomatoes, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have a plant or two.  They just don’t know what they’re missing. . .

Clearly, Katerina at Daily Unadventures understands the magic of tomatoes – you remember her from the Leek Soup entry, right?

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Well, I’m not going to lie to you – this is a blatant ripoff of Katerina’s recipe.  Sure, I made a couple of wee changes along the way, mostly shortcuts, because that’s just how I roll.

But the main part – the amazing spice combination – that’s all hers, and I give her complete credit for her Warm and Spicy Cashew and Tomato Soup.

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While Peeps was grilling (yes, grilling!) a pound and a half of fresh, oiled tomatoes, I sliced half an onion and started sauteing it with a splash of olive oil (we ultimately want it GBD) and assembled the spices: a clove of chopped garlic, a teaspoon of fresh ginger (from my freezer stash), and a tablespoon of tomato paste (also from the freezer), along with 1 teaspoon each garam masala and ground coriander, 1/4 tst. chili powder, and 1/4 cup of cashews.

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See, here’s the thing.  I don’t know what cashews actually do for soup.  I mean, as far as I’m concerned, cashews are for picking out of the mixed nuts and eating before anyone else gets them.  But we’ve made soup with cashews blended into it before and been more than happy with it.  So whatever their purpose, when it comes to cashews in soup – I’m a believer.

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So once the onions are browned, we “bloom” the spices – stir them into the still-oiled onions until you can smell them, then add the ginger, garlic and tomato paste, along with those cashews.  Stir well, then gradually add 4 cups of water (really, just water!) a cinnamon stick, and maybe 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (or a single cardamom pod, but mine’s ground).  Scrape the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks, then add your grilled whole tomatoes (remember the tomatoes?), kind of mashing them into the water.

Doesn’t that just make you want to grab a bowl and a spoon?  No?

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Well, it will.  You’ll want to let that simmer gently for about half an hour or so – the tomatoes will break down more and the flavors will start to blend nicely.

Meanwhile, I mixed together about 3 tablespoons each of nonfat plain yogurt and sour cream – believe it or not, we could not find full fat Greek yogurt.  And since I drain the whey off my plain yogurt anyway, it is, to all intents and purposes, “Greek-style.”

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Once the soup had simmered the requisite amount of time, we blended it with the stick blender.  You could certainly blend it in a real blender (in batches, of course), and even strain it, but for just us, there was no need to go crazy.

Oh, and be sure to take the cinnamon stick (and cardamom pod if using that) out of the soup before blending.  The cinnamon stick will not dissolve.

You’ll need to temper your yogurt-sour cream mixture – spoon a bit of hot soup into the dairy, then a bit more, until it’s thinned and warm.

Then stir it all into the soup.

Now is when you’ll want to grab that bowl and spoon.

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And I will tell you – this soup was fantastic.  The spices seemed, at first, to be not quite enough, but once everything was stirred and blended, and we sat down to it, it truly was perfectly spiced.  Not too strong, not to spicy, not too sweet, not too anything.  Just perfect.

PLUS – there was one leftover serving, which I very much enjoyed for lunch, and it was even better, if you can believe it!

I fully intend, before tomato season ends, to make this soup again, leave the dairy out, and freeze it for later in the year – the tomato-less months.

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