Starting soup season: Lentil, rapini & sausage soup

As the chilly crispness of autumn settles in my bones, it becomes obvious that all I want is a hearty bowl of broth.

I don’t know why the brilliance of soup comes to me as a sneaky surprise every October. It’s possible that the summer weather is just so stiflingly hot that I feel as though I’ll never need to eat warm food again. But when the fall does come, eating that first bowl of seasonal soup comes with some sort of strange high – it fills me up, recharges me, and brings me to a place I didn’t know was possible. What’s good about soup, though, is that the high never falls. Every time I slurp, spoon, and sip, it’s better than before, and filled with new flavours and innovative ways to use up a crisper full of half-eaten vegetables. I think that’s why I love soup and pizza so much – they’re both foods that provide the base for what is really an empty canvas. Want to throw in carrots and kale? Have some garlic white sauce you need to use up? Toss ‘er in. Soup and pizza are leftover enablers.

I kicked off the 2012 soup season with a big bowl of this lentil, rapini and sausage soup. While the Chatelaine recipe originally called for kale, I was unable to locate any in Sudbury. Apparently word of how awesome it is has finally caught on.

A whole pile of rapini. I love adding leafy greens to soups, stir fry, and sauces, because it’s fun to watch it shrink down into almost nothing at all.

When at the Farmer’s Market searching for kale, I also picked up a basket of jewel-coloured heirloom carrots. They were absolutely beautiful. I apprehensively took a bite of the beet-coloured carrot, expecting to have flavours of raspberry wine explode in my mouth.

Since I’m also big on side bread, I made a batch of sweet potato biscuits to accompany the soup. They were lovely and soft and unique. Thanks to Emily for posting the Instagram photo that inspired these!

What soup shall I scald my tongue on next? Wait and see.

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Corn chowder and baking powder biscuits done right

As mentioned in my Boston cream doughnut post, I was house sitting for my parents last week as they travelled about and did what empty nesters do. I’m a fairly tidy person overall, but I can only clean on my own schedule. So I enjoy being messy when home alone…the freedom to leave a bowl on the counter and clean it on my own will when I get home from work (without fear of parental or roommate persecution). I love making a total mess of the kitchen when cooking and baking and not having to give whoever walks into the room my apologetic/guilty/sad puppy eyes.

Disaster zone

But anyways.

I wanted soup the other night. And, despite my parent’s soup mugs saying otherwise, I intended to get some. As a side note: my knowledge of Seinfeld and Frasier references are literally the only thing on this Earth that make me even slightly pop culture cool. I am so out-of-touch with the television shows and movies of past and present that it’s embarrassing. But hey, want the Hail Mary said in Gaelic? I’m your girl.

So I made this soup, and, just as I was spooning the corn chowder into my mouth for a final test of readiness, it hit me. There is absolutely no way I can eat this soup without an accompanying carbohydrate. A: Cornbread. Soupy mouthfuls from earlier already had me craving the taste, and what better way to eat a corn-based soup than to bake a cornmeal-based bread?! Global corn shortage? What global corn shortage?

I grabbed my mixing bowl and whisk and was ready to go to town. And then I realized – the process of making cornbread can be hindered when one is not in possession of cornmeal. Alas, in my transition from high school home to new adult home, I moved my cornmeal over and had forgotten to bring it back for this meal.

So I took the biggest cop-out route ever and made a batch of those baking powder biscuits that every child and their dog can make. Well, almost every child. One childhood kitchen memory involves my mistaken substitution of baking soda for powder into a batch of biscuits I made when I was 13. My parents smiled and pretended to enjoy them, while I probably scarfed them down because, like most pre-teens who were madly in love with something (Orlando Bloom, the idea of being Amanda Bynes, purple corduroy bellbottom jeans), I was in love with bread.

Making baking powder biscuits also triggers another childhood memory. Due to the simplicity of ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt and a liquid – it just so happens I had made a similar combination long before the days of mistaking soda for powder. When I was in grade four and obsessed with all things Harry Potter, I used to create “magic potions” out of stuff hidden in our pantry. One of my favourites was combining flour and water to create a pale white goo, a substance that was secretly funnelled into those tiny black film canisters and stored in my closet in hopes of spawning new life). That went about as well as you can imagine.

In the end, the corn chowder was delicious and the extra simmering time added by biscuit-baking worked out swell. Perfect for cold nights, warm blankets, and teeth that don’t want to do much chewing. I drank my chocolate milk out of a mug and felt as though I was a small child pretending to be a grown-up, staring up at my dad while sitting at the kitchen table. This was a great recipe and I definitely intend to make it again.

Speaking with my parents upon their return, it turns out this corn chowder, like my Boston cream doughnuts, was a tribute to their time spent in ‘murica. They had bowls of the famous Boston clam chowder, and I had this. Go figure.

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Chicken and white bean chili verde-inspired soup

If you’re a student, your best food friend should be the half roast chickens you can buy over the deli counter at the grocery store. They cost $5.99 and can be tossed into just about anything. They’re also a steaming plastic container of temptation. After my chicken almost exploded in my bicycle’s saddlebag, I took it out, cradled it in my arms, dropped it on the kitchen counter…and attacked.

I don’t eat meat very often (too cheap, too lazy), so this chicken is like a tiny, pre-prepared miracle.

I start cutting the chicken…then, my behaviour transforms into that of a five-year-old while picking strawberries: “cut one piece of chicken, eat the other, cut, eat, repeat.” My half chicken dinner rapidly turns into a third-of-a-chicken dinner. The dark meat that melts off the bones is just so fatty and warm and delicious…

But enough of my half chicken love affair. Lets not embarrass ourselves, shall we?

My soup, complete with a beautiful yard sale-purchased platter that I forgot I owned and strawberry iced tea

This soup was earlier this week in very non-soup-friendly weather. We’ve had a warm streak in Ottawa, meaning that I’ve been biking around in my little short shorts and lying on the roof until I almost fall asleep. When the temperature is 20 degrees +, soup isn’t normally first on people’s lists of things to make. BUT THIS WAS ACTUALLY A GOOD SUMMER/SPRING soup and it turned out really, really well. The fresh ingredients meant that the flavours were still crisp and lively enough to be refreshing, even in the balmiest of freak weather days.

And, as Ottawa temperatures go back to being more seasonal this week, I implore you to make this. No excuse.

Ah yes, and I’m still continuing with Operation Clear Cupboard in preparation for my end-of-April move. This meal used up: one can of white beans and one box of chicken stock.

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An ode to Italian wedding soup

Italian Wedding Soup + Hilary, Hilary + Italian Wedding Soup. It’s a loving equation like none other. This is my all-time favourite soup.

Like any significant relationship, we have a lengthy history, our ups and downs. But considering we’ve been in love for more than half a decade, I’d say our commitment to each other is something phenomenal.

We first met when I was so young, at East Side Mario’s, one of those restaurant chains that northern Ontario family’s such as my own relied upon for a decent meal out. I’m not sure how we were introduced – maybe it was my mother, always trying to set me up with vegetables, trying to get me to go on just one date with that nice spinach boy. I finally complied with her wishes. It was love at first taste. My soup was dressed in a clean white bowl, its top speckled with a blend of pepper and a load of Parmesan cheese. I was hooked.

As time went on, Italian wedding soup was always with me. It accompanied through my band camp days (three years, fyi), where the cook (conveniently my best friend’s mom), would always sneak me extra meatballs.

Things got shaky when I returned to East Side Mario’s, only to discover that the soup wasn’t how I remembered it. We had grown apart, and it had changed. There was less of it now, less warming love to sooth my hungry heart. We broke up temporarily.

My love was rekindled when my mom started making her own version of the soup. It was simple and fulfilling, everything that a good relationship should be. We started up again, and I haven’t looked back since. Now, this Italian wedding soup is what gets me through the winter. We spend full days together: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sometimes he even stays over for a midnight snack. What would I do without you, Italian wedding soup?

Alright, I’m done.

Are you creeped out yet? I’m sorry. I just really, really like this soup. It only takes about half an hour to make, and the result is a giant pot of liquid gold that will get you through the next half week. Guests will be pleased, however I recommend that you keep this one all to yourself. If you must share, I enjoy packing it up in Mason jars and giving to your friends as a surprise, middle-of-class lunch.

PS: add freshly grated Parmesan cheese, please. It’s a beautiful threesome.

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Homemade beef pho and cheddar cheese popovers (cozy winter meals, pho the win)

One of my favourite things to do on a cold day in Ottawa is eat loads and loads of pho at one of the Vietnamese noodle shops in Chinatown. Lucky for me, a bunch of my old roommates live in the neighbourhood, so nearly every trip to see them involves a meal at one of these restaurants. And trust me, when I say there are no shortage of places to go (seriously, there is a Pho Bo Go La and a Pho Bo Go La 2. It’s like a bad sequel to a classic, but I digress..) I mean it.

For those who don’t know what pho is (like my entire family), let me try and explain. Simply put, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, often made with chicken or beef and served with rice noodles, basil and bean sprouts, all swimming about in broth. If you’re like Ariel and I, you’ll often squirt a large amount of two mysterious sauces into said soup (I think one is some sort of hot sauce), mix it about, and enjoy the blossoms of flavour.

Bean sprouts and basil - classic pho toppings

Though you can order many different variations of pho, my favourite is one made with well done and rare beef. Number 5 on the menu, I believe.

Anyways, it was this style of pho that I decided to recreate for my family. I found this recipe, which got me started on tonight’s dinner. Turns out I didn’t actually use it very much, and just ended up half hazardly throwing things into the pot when the urge struck me. I was hoping my “it’s hard to screw up soup” mentality wouldn’t let me down.

Luckily it didn’t, and this was lovely. The chopped, fresh ginger really made a difference flavour-wise, and I loved the extra chopped green onions.

Note to people buying beef: You want beef that is thinly sliced, a la beef you would use for a Chinese fondue. They probably won’t have any cut and put out in the meat section, so you will need to find a kindly butcher employee and bat your eyelashes. Seriously, I could get used to freshly cut meat orders.

We ate this pho to the sound of the wind whipping up our backyard cliff and circling the walls of the kitchen. It was winter food bliss.

Moral of the story: homemade pho, pho the win.

Oh hey, little brother!

PS: I also made these cheddar cheese popovers. In retrospect, they probably weren’t the most culturally appropriate side to accompany my pho (no kidding), but they just looked so damn good. Cheese cheese cheese cheese… After a moment of panic when I thought they were going to be permanently stuck on the bottom of the muffin pan, my mom swooped in and saved the day. Slightly deformed, but delicious nonetheless. Using old cheddar is a must. (Note: have adapted the recipe slightly to hopefully avoid the sticking issue!)

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