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It's Friday so It Must Be Soup! Black Bean Soup

It's weird weather out there and I am not as compelled to make nice, warming soups as you would think I would be seeing that it is the end of November. It might be the end of November but it is also going up to about 15C today which is more about grilling and taking long walks on the boardwalk than it is about hunkering down in the kitchen to make a hearty, long simmering soup.
The perfect compromise is a nice, spicy soup that doesn't take all that long to throw together if you  used canned black beans instead of soaking dried. I am also starting to pine for Mexico since we would normally be leaving for our Xmas trip there next week but we went somewhere else last year and we aren't sure where we will end up this year. Shack's crazy work schedule dictates that we make all of our life decisions the night before so we could end up anywhere, at any time over the next month or so but for now, I will satisfy myself with a little taste of the country that I love so much. I have made black bean soup before but I made it with a ham bone and dried beans and although delicious, it was pretty labour intensive and time consuming and I wanted something much quicker so I settled on this recipe from Food Network Canada.
I used Christine Cushings basic quantities of beans and stock and although it was tasty, I think I would double up on the black beans or maybe cut the stock back to 3 cups next time because it was a little thin. Now, if you like your soups thinner then don't change a thing.

Black Bean Soup
adapted from Christine Cushing's Recipe

1 540ml can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbls olive oil
2 ounces of bacon
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbls cumin
1 tbls mexican oregano
chipotle chili in adobo to taste
2 stalks celery, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock (I would reduce to 3 cups if I make it again)
1 jar of tomato puree (about 1 cup)
salt and pepper
cojita cheese, cilantro, greek yogurt and lime to garnish

heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for a few minutes until soft and just starting to colour. Add the bacon and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes before you add the cumin, celery, red pepper, garlic, chipotle and bay leaf and sauté all of that for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the tomato and cook it all until the vegetables are tender, half and hour at least.
Remove half of the soup and puree it. Add it back to the soup in the pot, stir well and serve.
I garnished each bowl with some crumbled cojita cheese, cilantro, greek yogurt and a squeeze of lime juice. If you can't find cojita cheese you can use queso fresco or even mild crumbled feta but I was lucky enough to have a small piece of this yummy Mexican cheese in the fridge.

Its Friday So It Must Be Soup! Creamy Mushroom Soup

The Kid was away this week from Monday until Wednesday so that always means a mushroom orgy for the adults. Little Shack certainly has a pretty good palette, he eats a really wide variety of foods and is, in many ways, less picky that his father but the one thing we have not been able to sway him over to are mushrooms. Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with my kid because anyone who will eat fish eyes, chicken bones, bone marrow and raw quail eggs but WON'T eat mushrooms has some issues. I mean, he is a nice kid and all and we will keep him but the mushroom thing is really starting to cramp our style. This is, therefore, the perfect soup for a kid free week and the adults were very, very happy. As always, I try to lighten up the foods that we love and so I subbed in evaporated milk for the cream and I don't think it suffered at all. It's still creamy enough but it's light and mushroomy and you don't feel guilty eating a big bowl of it.
One big bright spot in our mushroomless like with my kid is that he did taste the soup after he got home and declared the flavour to be excellent but the texture of the mushrooms to be unappealing. A quick whiz in my trusty bullet and the soup was consumed so as long as I make things that can be pureed, we can start to add mushrooms back into our diet.
Oh happy day!

Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

Okay people, the holidays are quickly approaching and that means people dropping by with gifts and lovely bottles of wine to share and you need to be prepared. In the olden days, I would make fussy appetizers and hor d'oeuvres that would require hours in the kitchen and would often take me away from my guests. The oohs and ahhs were good for the ego but I realized that just as I was ready to sit down and relax, my friends were getting their coats on to leave. I thought it was more important to wow them than to sit and have a glass of wine with them but with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes a much more enjoyable, relaxed holiday season. 

What I do now is make sure my fridge is stocked with a variety of nice cheeses, a couple of nice charcuterie items like pate, sliced italian salamis etc and spicy, savoury jams.jellies  and chutneys.  This way, I feel like I can invite friends over last minute without having to worry about what I am going to serve them.

I do like to include things I have made myself so every year I try to make one savoury jam myself, some sweet things like cookies and truffles  and a couple of different types of spicy cookie or cracker to serve with the cheese and charcuterie. 

I was pretty honoured to be one of six Canadian food bloggers to be featured in the holiday issue of Eat In Eat Out Magazine and we each gave them two recipes for entertaining during the holidays that we felt represented us so I went with one sweet and one savoury. This recipe is being featured this month and in January, they will feature our second recipes (in my case, my cardamom truffles). This nippy little biscuit is very me - buttery and smooth but with a surprising bite to it and a little bit unexpected.

There is a company in Toronto that makes the most delicious shortbreads and I have spent years trying to replicate my favourites. I think I now have a pretty good base recipe that you can change by subbing the cheeses and the spices. I usually do a cheddar/chipotle cookie but since I have this beautiful spanish smoked paprika I am dying to use, this year I changed it up a bit. 

You can freeze the logs of uncooked dough for up to a couple of months and you can also keep a log in the fridge for about a week and just slice off as many cookies as you are going to need for the 
evening so that you can always have a fresh batch of shortbread for your guests. I don't know about your personal levels of self control but I know that if I bake up 20 of these cookies when I really only need about 10 that I will eat the other ten myself before I finish my morning coffee the next day and I don't need to be doing that. These cookies are nothing butter butter and cheese so don't forget that when you are popping them into your mouth like popcorn.

Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

makes about 30 cookies
*** CORRECTION: the recipe in the Eat In Eat Out calls for 21 tbls paprika - it's only 2tsp

1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
15 grinds black pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne
200 grams finely grated sharp cheddar (I used Alex Farm Reserve Cheddar - 8yr)
1 cup unbleached flour
lightly toasted pecans
1 egg whitewater
coarse salt like kosher for sprinkling on the top (i used fleur de sel but kosher works fine too)
parchment paper

Using either a hand mixer or your stand mixer, cream together the butter, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Now, grab a wooden spoon and start mixing in the cheese and flour a bit at a time until just combined. Use your hands to work the dough until it sticks together and put half of it on a sheet of parchment paper and press it into a log shape, probably about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter. Wrap it up in the parchment and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. You can also freeze it (i always freeze half to use later) by wrapping the log in a double layer of plastic wrap and then covering that in foil.

Preheat the oven to 350, put the rack in the top third of the oven and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Remove your cookie log from the fridge and carefully slice into 1/4 to 1/8" slices and arrange on the cookie sheet. Brush the tops with some beaten egg white, sprinkle with a touch of course salt and press a chunk of toasted pecan into the centre of each cookie.

Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 15 minutes.
Cool on the baking sheets for five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. If you store them in a tightly covered container in the fridge and just take them out an hour before serving, they will keep for weeks.

It's Friday So It Must Be Soup! My Mom's Beef Vegetable Soup Rethunk

My mom used to make a really fabulous soup that was full of stewing beef, tomatoes and cabbage and I never learned how to make it. I think my sister knows how but I never really paid enough attention because I was all about the fancy pants food and this was just a plain old soup to me. Now that she is gone, I really miss it and keep meaning to ask my sister if she can show me how mom made it but , of course, I keep forgetting. A container of leftover braised pot roast with espresso and balsamic got me thinking that maybe I could make something like her soup with that because I am not crazy about pot roast in the first place and I really just made it for the boys and am always stumped with the leftovers. I was happy to find a use for it that was less pot roasty and more soupy. You can use less cabbage if you aren't crazy about cabbage but I love the stuff so I used quite a bit.
I knew that there was beef, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and celery but I couldn't remember what spices she might have used or if she made beef stock from bones or not. In the end, it came out tasting enough like my mom's soup that I think I have paid proper tribute to her but just different enough that it's still my own. I also love that, unlike her delicious soup that cooked all day, if you have some leftover roast, this one only took about an hour from start to finish. I will have to ask my sister to show me the recipe one of these days.

Beef and Cabbage Soup

glug olive oil
2 large shallots or 1 small onion, diced
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced celery
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/2 small to medium head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
6 cups of stock, water or a mix of both (I used chicken because I always use chicken)
796 ml (28 fl oz) can plum tomatoes
2 to 2 1/2 cups of leftover pot roast, chopped and shredded
2/3 cup leftover pot roast gravy (if you don't have any leftover gravy, just add more stock)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat up a big soup pot over med heat and add a glug of olive oil - not a ton, maybe a couple of tbls. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until they start to soften and then add the carrot, celery and garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring and keeping an eye on it so nothing burns. Add the cabbage and stir that all around for another minutes before adding the stock. When you add the canned tomatoes, crush the tomatoes with your fingers as you add them - you want some chunks, not pureed tomato. Now add your leftover roast beef and stir in the gravy, add the thyme and bring to a boil and then turn down and let it simmer until the cabbage is soft, about half an hour or so. Because it's soup you can let it cook a bit longer and it won't really hurt it.

It's Friday So It Must Be Soup! Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup

So, this week I am going to feature a recipe that The Neighbours made and shared with me. I have been eating it for lunch every day and would have just made it myself if they hadn't already provided me with a big container to keep me happy all week. We are very lucky to have such awesome neighbours who are also such great friends and someone is always knocking on someone's door with a cookie to try or some sauce to give an opinion on.
Sometimes we are tempted to add more things than we need to make a delicious soup and in this case, less is more and I was really glad that there is no cream or anything else heavy to weigh it down. It's a nice, light soup that has just the right amount of red pepper to tomato and that touch of honey cuts the acidity a bit. Perfect.
 They read a few recipes and took what they liked from each and came up with this light, savoury soup:

The Neighbour's Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup

3 medium onions chopped
3 large cloves of garlic fine chopped
6 x  398ml fire roasted tomatoes
3 x 900ml of no fat reduced salt chicken stock
3 extra large red peppers
2 Tlbs of honey
fresh ground pepper to taste
2 tlbs of butter
1 tlb of olive oil

Roast pepper @ 400 degrees until blistered and black and place in an airtight container until cooled.  Then peel and wash away seeds. Chop roughly and set aside.
In large pot melt the butter, add the olive oil and caramelize onions and garlic until they are rich, golden brown. Add the  tomatoes to pot with onions and stir before adding the chicken stock and peppers. You can emulsify with an immersion blender or do it in a blender until smooth then pepper to taste.

This made a huge batch and all recipes they looked at stated great for freezing.

Cardamom Dark Chocolate Truffles

I was one of six lucky Canadian food bloggers chosen to be featured in the holiday issue of Eat In Eat Out, Canada's first online magazine for foodies who love to eat - whether you like to cook and eat in or whether you are a restaurant junkie and love to eat out. You might be like me and fall somewhere in between and love to do both equally. We were asked to come up with two simple, original recipes for the holiday season. I always like to make a box of treats to give to friends and I try to have a good variety of sweets in there. This year there will be the same ginger snaps I make every year, meringues, these chocolate truffles and probably some toffee.

I attended a crazy, multi day Hindu wedding this summer and I cannot get the sweets we ate out of my head. I don't know what they all were but they all seemed to taste like cardamom, sugar and pistachios and everything was covered in this delicate silver foil. I LOVE shiny things and couldn't' wait for a chance to use this pretty silver foil, called Vark, on something when I got home. I found the dark in a shop in Indiatown so buying it was the easy part. Applying it was another thing altogether. I knew I didn't want to totally cover every inch of the truffles with the foil but I was kind of hoping for an organic, haphazard look which is fortunate because that is exactly what I ended up. Clearly using this stuff takes years of practice but that is no reason to not use it anyway, right? A truffle is already decadent and festive but the addition of silver to them just takes them over the top and I love them.

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