Tomato Soup to Comfort the Soul

Wow, has it really been 12 months since my last post?! It always amazes me how much time flies. I have no excuses to make, nor do I feel like I need to justify anything. The past year has taken me through a full spectrum of emotions and experiences, none of which I would change. In spite of everything that has happened, I been battling creative block.

But, here I am today, facing the same screen and blinking cursor which has been haunting me for months.

It’s February and we’re in the middle of winter. Snow storms and below freezing temperatures drag us towards heartwarming meals and into cozy blankets, in search of comfort to console our lack of sunshine. To heal my soul from the harshness of winter and my emotional-creative-rollercoaster, I was craving a wholesome tomato soup.

Completely ignoring the fact it is not tomato season, making a soup with these pasty winter tomatoes we get here in Quebec is probably the best way to have them, second only to oven-roasted. This recipe is my own and I hope it brings you warmth as much as it did for me.

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Winter’s Tomato Soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 4 cups Italian tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
  • fresh sprigs of thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot on medium-high heat, add the olive oil, onions, pepper and thyme. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions and peppers are soft. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium, cover and allow them to cook down for a few minutes.

Once the tomatoes begin to soften, add the balsamic vinegar and stir. Add the sundried tomatoes and water. Once the water reaches a soft boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the tomato soup is cooked, remove from heat and let it cool a bit before puréeing it in a blender.

To serve, simply reheat the tomato soup and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, butter or cream, with grilled bread, a spoonful of plain yogurt or sour cream, or even topped with some cheese. Whatever it is you’re craving, go for it!

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Quisotto Primavera

After all the food, get-togethers, parties, and too much indulging overall during the holiday season, it is not surprising that come January, the biggest trend for New Years’ Resolutions has to do with realigning our lifestyle habits such as eating and exercising.  In this part of the world, January is also synonymous with snow and below freezing temperatures, which makes it difficult to stick to those salad regimes we fantasize settling into with little effort. It is easy to succumb to some of our favorite comfort foods that may not be kind to our bodies or our resolutions. Cravings for hot stews, roasts, braised meats, butter, breads, pasta and all those hearty dishes are inevitable. Just because you want to eat better and feel better to start off the New Year, it doesn’t mean you have to ignore your cravings. It’s all about finding the right balance between satisfying your need for comfort in these cold months and choosing the right foods to make you feel better.

This recipe is inspired by this risotto recipe that appeared in Bon Appétit. I have since made my own version over and over again, and even turned it into a quisotto (quinoa, cooked risotto style).The quinoa provides more nutrition than the white starchy Arborio rice, the egg is the touch of comfort and vegetables are simply good for you. Try using different vegetables, keeping in mind that depending on cook time you may need to stagger adding your various veggies. For an even lighter version, poach the egg or skip it altogether and top the quisotto with roasted tomato slices. Ingredients make two hearty portions (or two smaller ones, with some leftovers for lunch).

Quisotto Primavera

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 mushrooms, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 zucchini, diced (about ½ cup)
  • ½ bell pepper, diced (about ½ cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, diced (about ½ cup)
  • 2 carrots, diced (about ½ cup)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried herbs (I like using the Provence blend)
  • ½ cup quinoa
  • ½ cup white wine (optional, replace white wine with broth)
  • 1 ½ cup broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

In a small pot, heat up the broth and keep warm while cooking the quisotto. The reason you want to keep the broth warm is because you want to avoid slowing down the cooking process when adding ladles of cold or room temperature broth to the quinoa/vegetable mixture. This applies to any risotto as well.

In a pot on medium-high, heat the olive oil, add the herbs and sauté the garlic, onion, celery and bell pepper until soft but not browned. Add the carrots, mushrooms and quinoa, stir for about a minute to coat well and toast the grains. Add the white wine, stir the mixture while simmering until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Turn down the heat to medium or medium-low and add a ladle of broth. Add the zucchini and stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Repeat until the quinoa is cooked through and has absorbed all the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you find you do not have enough broth, you can easily add a touch of water at a time until everything is cooked through. The consistent stirring adds “creaminess” but unlike Arborio rice, it is not fussy and does not risk becoming sticky.

In a pan, fry the eggs as desired and serve atop of the quisotto dish.

For those of you detoxing or doing a cleanse, why not try making a raw version of this quisotto with some sprouted quinoa, combining it with the raw diced vegetables and just barely covering with warm miso broth. Of course, skip the wine and the egg.  😉

For information on sprouting quinoa, click here.

And last but not least, a very happy belated New Years to everyone, thanks for reading and I wish you all health and happiness for 2012!

Solo Brunch at Home, Oeuf en Cassolette

With the days getting colder and colder, it makes it that much more difficult to pull yourself out from the warmth of your comforter. As you stumble your way to the kitchen to turn on the kettle for some hot tea or coffee, the last thing you want to do is have to put on a coat and head out to the store to pick-up that one item you are missing for your weekend brunch.

There is something completely induldgent about staying in on a cold weekend morning, curling up with a hot cup of tea or coffee and spending a little quality time with yourself. In my case this usually involves flipping through a recipe book, a food magazine, jotting down some creative ideas… and yes, sometimes watching a movie first thing in the morning.

So instead of venturing out into the cold brisk air, I chose to work with what I had in my fridge. Stuck with an array of vegetables and some eggs, who says that brunch needs to be boring. Cassolettes (or any ovenproof individual dish) are an easy way to make the simple ingredients look like a treat, and when you’re having brunch solo at home – even more reason to make it special!

Oeuf en Cassolette

  • 1/2 small onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, diced
  • 1/3 cup sweet potato, diced (or regular potato)
  • 1/4 cup carrots, sliced
  • 3 mushrooms, cut in quarters
  • 1 tsp fresh herbs of your choice (use dried herbs if you do not have fresh ones on hand)
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring a pan to medium-high heat, sauté the onions, garlic, zucchini, sweet potato, carrots and mushrooms in olive oil. Season with herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the diced tomato and heat through.

At this point you have a couple options (share your ideas in the comments below):

Option 1 – make one big plate all to yourself: pour the entire filling into an oven-proof dish, crack two eggs on top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the eggs are set to desired doneness.

Option 2 – attempt to be reasonable and make one smaller plate for yourself: pour half the filling in an oven-proof dish, crack one egg on top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the eggs are set to desired doneness. Use the other half of the filling to make a second egg cassolette, or turn into a different dish all together.

I made this egg dish a little luxurious by topping it with a square of porcini composed butter that I had on hand. But be creative… top with sour cream, cheese, avocado… anything.

Any leftover filling can be saved for another meal to serve as a gratin in a cassolette (top with cheese or your choice and broil), use as a hearty topping for a salad, or spread in a tortilla and make a quesadilla.

Summer Breeze and Watermelon Gazpacho

Every year my family gets together for a summer weekend party, filled with inside jokes, great food, fun in the sun and sometimes someone gets thrown into the water fully dressed. Lucky me, I come from a family of serious foodies. We all love to cook and experience with new recipes and ingredients. I am inspired by each and every one of them for all the diversity they bring to the table. Sure, sometimes it’s not easy to coordinate when you have about a dozen people contributing snacks, drinks and dishes – in the end it all works out.

The debate is always what to bring. The main is often planned well in advance (and there will be a special blog post dedicated solely to this main), therefore all that is left to do is put together salads, sides, apps, snacks, etc.

For a while I’ve wanted to experiment making a watermelon gazpacho, and now I had the perfect occasion to test out a recipe.

Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 1 red onion, finely diced – about 1 cup
  • 4 celery stalks, diced – about 1 ½ cups
  • 2 cucumbers, diced – about 3 cups
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced – about 6 cups
  • 2 bell peppers, diced – about 1 ½ cups
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 2.5 liters of watermelon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp hot smoked paprika
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

So here it goes… this recipe easily feeds 12 to 16 people as an appetizer. Though I have included fixed measurements, what is important to note is the proportions so that you can cut the recipe is half or multiply it depending on how big or small your family is. When shopping for vegetables, go to your local farmers market so that you can get the freshest ingredients, and play around with colours and try using a variety of tomatoes – this really gives the dish a lot of subtle dimension.

In a large bowl, combine the finely diced red onion with the lemon juice and a couple pinches of salt and set aside for about 20 minutes or while you prep the remainder of the vegetables. When prepping the other vegetables, cut them up into a small dice and more or less the same size. Strain the juices, keeping only the onion. Combine all the diced vegetables, crushed garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices.

Slowly add the watermelon juice until the mixture is as chunky or soupy as you desire it. To make the watermelon juice, cut up a melon and process the flesh in a blender until liquid. You shouldn’t have any problem blending the fruit. If you do, simply grab a large wooden spoon and smash the watermelon a bit before turning on the blender.

 Once all the ingredients combined, refrigerate and allow the flavours to mingle for at least an hour before serving. You can also make this up to 24 hours before serving. Serve cold and garnish with chives or croutons.

As the evening progresses, wine glasses are filled, dishes are passed around, tasted and recipes discussed.

Finally the night falls, a campfire is lit, the acoustic guitar is played, we all sign along out of tune, and so begins the marshmallow roasting competition…

Dressing Up or Dressing Down?

It seems that I am always returning to the same dressing recipes. The same ones that are mixed up in a second and I never have to think twice about it. Sometimes I want to explore flavours, combinations and experiments but at the end of the day I always end up with the same ones. Many weeks ago, I put together a new dressing recipe that has made its way into my regular cycle. This curried dressing easily became a habit and opened up new salad combinations. See how to make it here and it pairs really well with sweet, so go ahead and try adding pears, grapes, apples, mango, pineapple or even dried fruit to your salads.

Recently I was in the mood for something creamy, garlicky and that certain je ne sais quoi, that umami flavour that sets off cravings for, in this case, for the ultra-fatty-not-so-healthy Caesar dressing. I thought about how to make one without all that egg or mayo or any other ingredient I would rather not know about (I’m talking out standard run-of-the-mill store-bought kind).  I was also invited over to a friend’s house who is a rawfoodist, so thought it would be nice to bring a small hostess gift of homemade raw dressing for her. And so, a new dressing recipe is born.

A new favorite ingredient of mine is shiromiso. I used it to make soups and broths, especially good if cooking for vegetarian/vegan crowd – vegetable broths just don’t pack as much flavour. It is a great base for marinades, dips, spreads and dressings. Shiromiso  is a white miso, a Japanese condiment that is made by fermenting rice and/or soybeans, and as a result falls into the living food category. When buying miso in general, watch out for preservatives and added sodium (it is naturally salty in flavour) and try to find organic. The kind I buy costs about $5 and last up to two months (and I use it all the time!). When making broth, I use about 1 tbsp per 1.5 cups of water.

 

Raw Caesar Dressing

  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tbsp shiromiso
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy – yup, it’s just that easy. Pour over any salad and fresh vegetable combination. As you can see in the picture above, I combined lettuce, pears, tomatoes, celery, avocado and a sprinkle of blue cheese. I have also used this dressing as a creamy dip for grilled asparagus, that was awesome!

On another occasion, I brought this dressing with a large container of arugula to my office for a potluck lunch and it was a real hit with my colleagues! On the plus side, you do not have to worry about any ingredients sitting out for a prolonged under that hot summer sun.

Citrus Chickpea Tabouleh

It’s almost summer. Well, judging by this week’s heat wave you would think that we are right smack in the middle of it! Nonetheless, that means it is time for barbecues, picnics, road trips, hot summer days, camp fires, and sweet summer evenings filled with too much sangria… I can just hear the song Days of Summer playing in the background…

I am also looking forward to a summer filled with fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Until the crops are in full bloom, I have to work with what is available – and what comes in my weekly CSA basket. It’s still spring, so asparagus season is still with us for another short while, but more on those later. Still lots of citrus delivered this week and even though we don’t grow them inCanada, they still have the taste of summer written all over them.

Fresh, sweet and light this recipe is perfect to pack up for any get together, in the park, on the road, at a barbecue.

Citrus Chickpea Tabouleh

  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 orange
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 cups parsleys, lightly packed
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed (reach for the low-sodium kind)
    or fresh ones if you’re lucky enough to find some at your local market
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Segment the grapefruit and orange (this just means cutting around the pith to only keep the juicy flesh), make sure to keep all the juices. Cut the avocado into large cubes. Chop the parsley. Thoroughly rinse and dry the chickpeas. If you want to go 100% raw, simple replace the canned chickpeas with soaked and sprouted beans of your choice.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper. A coarse sea salt works wonderfully here. Finish with a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Makes a great appetizer, side or even main for the vegan/vegetarian in the crowd! Serves six appetizers/sides or two mains.

Cooking for a crowd? You can easily double the recipe and be sure to check out Potluck.li for organizing all your potlucks in minutes!