Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sleepy Sunday Soup

Soooooo tired...It's so warm in here, and I actually had a glass of wine, which I rarely sleepy...must post something...must...stay awake...zkhax...Oh! I'm awake. I'm awake!

Can I get away with a quick recap and a recipe? Oh, good. Quick recap...breaking news!!! THE NEIGHBOUR MISSED SUNDAY SOUP. She almost made it to the one year mark with a perfect record! Even we don't have a perfect record, but rumour has it she not only missed SS, but left the island (not permanently, but for a short holiday or something). Anyway, that was a big surprise.

We did have a new guest and she will be referred to as The Hairdresser. This is because we met after I saw her picture on Facebook (another friend posted pictures of a party we were both at) and I messaged her to tell her I loved her haircut and I wanted to know who cut it. Turns out that while she's actually in construction, she cuts her own hair. I was so inspired that this week I cut off all my hair (think: more hair than a Marine, but not by much). Anyway, she had to see my haircut (and yes, even trim it up a bit in back and show me how to use some product to make it really stylin' - or it will be after the baldy bits over my ears grow in a little) and that's how we met. Anyway, The Hairdresser is lovely and we are so glad to have met her and we hope she'll come back again soon (and if she's reading this and wondering why I'm calling her that, it's because everyone has a nickname at Sunday Soup).

The Fix-it Guy and The Musician (brown as a berry from a month in Mexico) dropped in as well. And now, here's your recipe since I'm zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.......................

Red Pepper Orange Soup with Ricotta Dumplings
(soup is original, based on a few others – dumplings are from The Ultimate Soup Cookbook)
This makes a lot of soup – about 7-8 quarts. You could easily halve it. Half would serve about 6.
3 carrots – peeled, sliced
3 medium red potatoes, diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
6 red bell peppers
Orange juice
Salt & pepper
Olive Oil

Halve and seed red peppers, place face down on an oiled baking sheet or glass pan. Roast for 30 minutes at 400. Remove from oven, allow to cool some, and then peel the skins off carefully. Chop roughly. (the roasting step is optional, alternatively, you can just dice the peppers and add to onion mixture and sauté, but the roasting adds flavour).
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook onions until translucent. Add garlic, potatoes, carrots. Cook 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add Thyme, salt and pepper to taste (you’ll add more later, but it’s good to get a bit in from the beginning). Add roasted red pepper. Cover veggies with water, add canned tomatoes, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer until veggies are tender (around 20-30 minutes).
Remove from heat. Mashing the veggies with a potato masher at this point helps, but is optional. Puree with a handheld immersion blender. If you don’t have one, you can use a regular blender and do it in batches, but LET THE SOUP COOL FIRST!!! or it will blow off the top of your blender! Not pretty.
When the soup is pureed, add orange juice. I think I put in about 2 cups, but honestly, I just did it by taste. Also, adjust seasonings at this time. That’s it. Yumm!
The red pepper flavour is very mild. You could reduce the potatoes and add more peppers if you like it stronger.

Ricotta Dumplings
This recipe is from the Ultimate Soup Cookbook, but I’ve altered it just a tiny bit.
1 cup of ricotta cheese
1 egg
½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
3 TBS fresh parsley
Mix all the ingredients together. Bring a large pot of water to boil and then reduce it to simmer. Drop spoonfuls of dough into the water, cover, cook 10 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to a plate to drain a little. Do in several batches unless you have a very wide pot because they’ll fuse together if they’re crowded into it. Place a couple of dumplings in each soup bowl and top with soup. You could put them into the pot, but they break apart some and so I think putting them in each bowl works best.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Soup - Take 2

The Southerner was able to get my pan clean, he did go to the store with me, and he chopped mounds of cauliflower for the new soup. He is a Star! No, I mean a Double Star! No...wait...a Super Star! Yep, that's it!

During the summer, we had a lot of people at Sunday Soup. It dropped off in the fall, and I began to make less soup. However, about a month ago, attendance started to pick up again, so today I made a triple batch of Rachel Ray's Cauliflower Soup. I think the only change I made was that I used plain, unsweetened Silk (soymilk) instead of milk or cream. I made garlic and herb foccacia and roasted red pepper foccacia for the bread.

Another thing that changed over the winter is that instead of people starting to show up around 4:30pm, more and more people have been showing up at 4pm straight up. When no one was here, not even The Neighbour, by 4:35, we were looking at that triple batch of soup and hoping it was really delicious! But then The Neighbour did arrive. And so did The Fix-it Guy & The Fleece Lady, followed by The Real Estate Agent. It was a small group, but a wonderful thing happened. I think that when the crowd is bigger, everyone has one bowl of soup and maybe after a while they'll have a bit more, but most people are cautious about having too much in case there's not enough. Today, however, it was clear that there was a lot of soup, and not many people, and everyone had several bowls! It was great to see the guests choosing the biggest Ugly Mugs and filling them to the top, and then going back for seconds, and even thirds. It made me very happy.

And there's still a lot of soup left, which makes The Southerner happy!

Eat well.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Southerner hearts me

For Valentine's Day The Southerner gave me:
  • Numerous hugs & kisses of consolation after I burned the soup beyond recognition.
  • Then he disposed of said soup, so that I wouldn't have to be sad (it was nine quarts of pretty spendy soup).
  • After his nap, he's going to scour the soup pot - no small feat. According to the internet, all you have to do is boil water, vinegar, baking soda, and a tiny bit of soap in the pot for fifteen minutes and the grunge will practically wipe away. After half an hour of boiling, I could barely make a dent in the charred remains. After an hour, The Southerner showed his muscle and scrubbed part of it clean. I have faith he'll be able to get it clean for me after his restorative nap.
  • Once he's done that, he's going to go to the store with me and buy ingredients for a new soup.
  • And then he's going to help me make it.
I have to admit, I was feeling pretty badly about the ruined soup, but The Southerner made me feel better by reminding me that everyone burns things once in a while. And my record's pretty darn good considering that tomorrow is our 42nd Sunday Soup and not only have I made a new soup every week, but only one other time have I had to toss the soup and make an emergency pot of something else (and that was a recipe issue, not a mistake).

Soup is usually very forgiving. You can forget about a lot of soups (except the thick or creamy ones) and it's not likely you'll burn it if you come back relatively soon, but this one tricked me. It called for quinoa (a rice like grain, but way yummier and a lot more dear). I added the quinoa and while a little of it floated, the rest of sunk to the bottom. So while my soup was barely simmering, and I was busy making The Southerner a heart shaped pizza for lunch, it was quietly turning the bottom inch of my soup to coal. Maybe I should've left it on the burner and waited to see if I got diamonds!

Even with disasters, you learn something. Next time a soup calls for quinoa, I will cook it separately and add it later, just like rice. And tonight, I will meet my sweetie pie in the kitchen, and we'll steam up the windows (making a new pot of soup).
Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tortillas & Tortilla Soup

A friend of mine suggested that I make her Vegetarian Tortilla Soup for SS today, so I did. It's a fairly simple recipe involving canned tomatoes, sauce, green chiles, seasonings and a few other things. Some of the optional things she suggested are faux chicken and black beans. I do sometimes cook faux meat, but not usually for Sunday Soup. For one thing, it's expensive, but for another thing, some people really don't like it. I think I've used it once for SS, but that's it.

I did add some frozen pinto beans that I had on hand, and when I realized that they weren't enough (I'd doubled the soup recipe), I ended up tossing in a can of drained black beans, and a can of drained white beans. You serve this soup over tortilla chips, top it with cheese and diced avocado. I was concerned about the avos sitting out for three hours, even with lemon juice, so I mashed them up and made guacamole instead (which worked well).

Rather than stand around telling people to put the chips in their Ugly Mugs (that would be what I call the mug collection I got from the recycle centre, not their faces), I just put a handful of chips in each mug before everyone arrived. The soup was so popular that half way through, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of black beans, and some water and seasonings - just in case. Of course, we now have lots left over, but it looked questionable there for a bit! I put some in the freezer already, and I'm really not worried about the rest as The Southerner thought this was a most excellent soup. you're wondering about bread, aren't you? Well... Last night I got out my recipe for homemade flour tortillas. Simple! Easy Peasy! Uh-hunh. Guess what tortillas turn into if you don't get them thin enough? Pita bread. Actually, they were quite delicious, but after struggling (for various reasons) with the first batch of 12, I let my dreams of whipping out forty or fifty hot tortillas while everyone stood around marveling, fall by the wayside. I have not given up entirely. I will try again! And The Fleece Lady said she has a tortilla press that she doesn't use because she can't eat wheat anymore. If she can find it, she's going to lend it to me! Yay. Luckily The Southerner came to the rescue by making his famous corn bread. I swear that man will do anything to ride his bike. First he rode to the store for buttermilk and then AFTER he got back he checked to see if we had enough cornmeal.

"Guess I'll have to ride again!" he said cheerfully, shaking the mostly empty container.

Oh, and I know this is a long post, but I do want to quickly say that we had a HOUSE FULL today and it was great fun. We also had three new visitors that I hope to have back again. Wild Iris doesn't get a nickname because she already has such a cool real name. And the other two...well, I shall call them The Farmers, as they are, and they do, and we all enjoy their bounty each summer. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning is ride my bike to the farmgate and stock up on whatever wonderful things The Farmers have that day. Much of their produce has found its way into Sunday Soup and it was so nice to finally have them here! And Wild Iris too. And all you Regulars...gosh, I'm feeling a bit sappy tonight...I often look around my house at Sunday Soup, bubbling over with conversation and food and friendship and I wonder how in the world I ended up so blessed. I hope you are equally blessed. Okay...I'll get off my sappy (but blessed) soap box...or is that soup box? boxed soup here! Until next week...Eat well!

P.S. I may have lost my hat a few weeks ago, but I gained a scarf tonight. If it's yours, I reckon you'll have to come back next week for it!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

All's Well That Ends Well

Ahhhh...another Sunday Soup, come and gone. The Southerner did a few tunes at a benefit for the Gaza victims this afternoon, so we found ourselves racing back to the house from the Theatre Center at the other end of the island at 4pm straight up. We arrived about fifteen after to find The (wonderful) Neighbour in the house, stoking the fire. Soon after, the guests started to arrive and we had a very relaxed and lovely afternoon.

The soup was Lentil Barley and quite delicious. Unlike so many lentil soups, the spices were not curry or cumin, but rosemary and oregano. A simple soup, but I'm too lazy to type up the recipe word for word, so go for it using these minimal directions:
Sautee onion, carrots, celery in a little butter. Add equal parts barley, lentils (around 3/4 cup each), a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained and 6 cups of veggie stock. Season with oregano and rosemary. Add the salt at the very end. That's it, more or less.

The bread was very popular, although there is plenty left for toast, which makes me excited. I might even have to make breakfast for supper (toast, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes) just so I don't have to wait until tomorrow morning to try it that way.

I hope you had a lovely weekend. And just for the record, I'm still really hoping someone will find my hat!!! I did get a new, very hip black one at Artworks, but I'm still really missing that grey one and they don't appear to make it in grey anymore. I know...get out the world's smallest violin and play me a tune.

Eat well!

P.S. The Shakespeare reference is because first of all, I was afraid we wouldn't make it back in time for SS, but we did - pretty much anyway. And the other reason is because at the benefit this afternoon we had the pleasure of seeing two fine actors do some bits and pieces of Shakespeare. Really good stuff. Garry Davies did a variety of monologues including two where he played women - Helena and Juliet, and Antony Holland did a wonderful piece from Merchant of Venice that had everyone sitting on the edge of their seats.

Recipes, experience & a calm mind

I have lately started using recipes. Sunday Soup has forced me to. By lately, I mean for the last six months or so. When I first learned to cook I studied techniques and then applied them to improve the things I "thought" I knew how to cook. The quality of our food improved quite a bit. Then I started experimenting and discovered I have a knack for combos and creating recipes. I cooked like that for several years.

When we moved to the island and The Southerner started bringing home foods I didn't know what to do with (beets, zucchini), I got the cookbook Perfect Vegetables (which I highly recommend). Sunday Soup forced my hand though...after just a few weeks I realized I needed help with both bread and soup. I am now ADDICTED to cookbooks. While I usually swap some ingredients out, or change something because it sounds odd, I still love using recipes. I think the big change in my thinking is because when I first started to cook, if I didn't have two or three ingredients on hand, then the recipe was useless to me. Now I just sub confidently because I know a lot more about cooking.

For example, this week I chose to make brown bread from The Zen Monastery Cookbook (which is one of the coolest cookbooks EVER!). I thought I had all the ingredients, but when I was adding the molasses, I realized I was a bit short of one cup (I was doubling it), so I topped it off with honey and just a bit of water because honey is thicker than molasses.

Interestingly enough, the recipe says to "pour" the batter into a loaf pan. Well, let me just tell you that I think those monks might've had a little too much of their home brew* when they wrote this recipe because the "batter" was somewhere between a thick muffin batter and cookie dough. I double, and then triple checked the recipe. All good. I scooped the batter/dough into the pans and it turned out fantastic. I did have to turn the oven down a bit after half an hour and the bread was done after 45 minutes instead of an hour.

The thing is, this is how experience helps you use recipes. Five years ago I would've panicked at the density of the batter, wouldn't have known to turn the oven down, would've cooked it for the whole hour, and been rewarded with bricks. But on the positive side, that's also how I learned what to do in this case. It's all about trial and error. Thank goodness The Southerner will eat anything! It makes the failures that much easier to stomach!

Try this recipe. It's delish:
Brown Bread from The Zen Monestary Cookbook
(adapted from The Peaceful Palate)
2 cups wholewheat flour
1 cup white flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or soymilk)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup raisisn

Preheat oven to 350. Sift dry ingredients into large mixing bowl, stir to combine.
Mix milk with molasses in separate bowl.
Add raisins and wet to dry. Stir well to combine.
"Pour" into a buttered loaf pan and bake 50 minutes to an hour

Makes one loaf

*Some monks do brew beer, although I don't think these monks do. I think they're at high altitude and I'm at practically no altitude, so that could've made a difference.