Wonderful Vegetarian Corn Soup with Avocado and Lime

corn-avocado-soup

Why are there so many competitive cooking shows on TV?

There is Master Chef, Recipes to Riches, Cutthroat Kitchen, My Kitchen Rules, just to name a few. What happened to educational programs like Cooking with Julia or Jacques Pepin where the chef prepared dishes and explained classic techniques as they went along.

What are we learning from watching people compete against one another to win cash or titles? Are the people who are disqualified lesser chefs, or did they just not do well under pressure? Are we learning how to cook or how to compete?

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a program filled with fresh ideas, demonstrations and tips on how to make the dish work. Show me a chef with a passion for food and some amazing ingredients. Then show me how they can turn those ingredients into mouth-watering dishes and I will give you my attention and I will come back for more.

I find my cooking inspiration from great chefs, home cooks and wonderful cookbooks. I am often found sitting curled up in an arm-chair, sipping a cup of tea, and pouring over a good cookbook or a beautiful magazine. I imagine the taste of each recipe and how I might tweak it to make it my own. I look for ones that include seasonal ingredients so the flavours will be fresh and delightful. I mark my favourite pages with sticky notes so when it is time to go shopping I can refer back to those recipes, easily, to make my list.

When I saw this recipe in Gourmet Traveller I was immediately inspired. I have changed the ingredients to suit my taste and to make it work as an easy vegetarian soup that is perfect for this time of year. I love the combination of the tomato and corn based soup with the freshness of the lime and avocado.

Corn Soup With Avocado and Lime

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, halved
14 oz. can Plum tomatoes, drained
1 Spanish onion, cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic gloves, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
3 cups frozen corn
2 avocados, coarsely chopped
1 fresh lime, juiced
1 fresh lime, cut in wedges for serving
1/2 cup fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
Hot sauce, optional-add to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place tomato halves, skin side up on a cookie sheet, add onion and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Place tray in the oven and cook 5 minutes or until the skin starts to blister. Remove the pan from the oven and remove skin from tomatoes.

Heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until tender. Add stock, roasted vegetables, canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Season and simmer 10 minutes.

Pulse in the blender in batches until it is a coarse puree and return it to the pot. Add corn and bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes on medium heat, until the corn is tender.

Coarsely crush the peeled avocado in a bowl, add lime juice and coriander.

Serve soup in individual bowls topping each with the avocado mixture and serving with extra lime on the side.

Hot sauce can be added to taste. I left it out since I prefer a milder soup.

Recipe inspired by Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook-2013 Collectors Edition

Tuscan Bean Soup – Warming Hearts for a Worthy Cause

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Instead of starting my year with resolutions about losing weight and getting in shape, I decided that this year I would try to give back to the community in some way. I am blessed with a good job, a thriving business, good health and loving people in my life. There are so many others who are less fortunate who could use some help.

My hope is that if we each decided to perform a single act of kindness each month or give of ourselves regularly, collectively it would make a difference. Of course, if you can do more, it would be more beneficial. I plan to feature some groups that are giving back to the community in some way through cooking or giving of food.

I was really inspired by the Sharon Hapton story. Sharon decided, as she was turning 50, to do something to give back to the community so she founded Soup Sisters. Soup Sisters is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comfort to women and children in need through the making, sharing and donating of soup to domestic abuse shelters. Soup Sisters have twelve chapters across Canada, with plans to expand into the United States. At the time of printing the book, the organization had provided over 100,000 bowls of soup to women and children in need.

It is not often that I am able to feature a cookbook that is produced by a charitable organization. Often, books produced to raise funds are a collection of home recipes by volunteers photocopied and clipped together with a cerlox binding. The Soup Sisters Cookbook is so much more than that. This lovely cookbook features 100 recipes for heartwarming soups from more than 50 chefs and food professionals. Mouth watering recipes such as this Tuscan Bean Soup, or Curried Squash and Coconut, or Apple, Carrot and Parsnip are divided by season and are accompanied by lovely photos. Although most of these soups were made in large batches for the shelters, the recipes are all written to yield 6-8 servings.

If you are a soup lover, as I am, you will love this cookbook.

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tuscan-bean-soup

Tuscan Bean Soup

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) cooked white navy beans (drained and rinsed if canned)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, washed and sliced
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
6 large Roma tomatoes, diced
3 gloves garlic, minced and finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
8 cups (2 L) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Directions:

Puree half the beans until smooth, adding a little water if necessary. Place the pureed beans in a bowl with the remaining whole beans and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the onion, carrot, celery and leek in the oil, until the onion is softened.

Stir in all the beans and the tomatoes, garlic and thyme.

Add the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low.

Simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle up in a bowl and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Recipe from The Soup Sisters Cookbook contributed by Caren McSherry, cookbook author and Owner, The Gourmet Warehouse, Vancouver, BC

I bought mine here:

For more information visit www.soupsisters.org or email: info@soupsisters.org

Food Styling with some Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Class-102

School is out………….Let the fun begin!

I just spent the past 2 months in the Food Styling Program at the famous George Brown College Culinary Institute in Toronto. I signed up for the course after taking Culinary Arts 1 as well as other Food in the Media courses so that I could learn to create beautiful, mouth watering shots.

FS-Class-101

All of the photos on my blog have been of food that I have cooked or baked, styled and photographed myself. Since I had no formal training in food styling, I decided to try out the program at George Brown College. I like the idea of offering clients a full service of styling and shooting if their budget does not allow for a team.

FS-Class-ice-cream

In the course we learned how create fake ice cream out of shortening and icing sugar, as real ice cream would melt under the hot lights while shooting. This was fun but more difficult than it sounds. The mixture needs to be just the right consistency to look real.

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It was a great experience working with a teacher who has been styling for years, as well as another food photographer. We styled ice cream, pancakes, burgers, fruit salads, cupcakes, full course meals, as well as hot and cold drinks.

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One downside to taking a food styling course in a cooking school was the problem finding a place to shoot the food, once it was styled. The lighting in the kitchen was strong overhead lighting that reflected off of the stainless steel cooking surfaces and there was only one small window in the area where we cooked. I took these quick shots of my creations to share with you and to remind me of the techniques.

I plan to spend the next few months playing with the concepts that we learned and creating some really fun shots. There is nothing more relaxing than spending time creating food shots that are as delicious to look at as they are to eat.

I have also started working on some pairings of local foods with Ontario wines so please pop back and have a look.

This recipe intrigued me because of the wonderful combination of lemon and dill with the chicken soup.

lemon-orzo-soup

Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick

1 celery stalk, sliced crosswise ½ thick

12 oz. skinless, boneless, chicken thighs

6 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ cup orzo

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

Lemon halves (for serving)

Directions:

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes. Add chicken and broth, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente 8-10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over

Recipe from Bon Appetit April 2013 edition

Vegetarian Borsch

Borsch-V2

I recently had the honour of making a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for some friends of mine. The Sviaty Vechir consists of a meal including 12 dishes that contain no meat and no dairy products. This special dinner is held on January 6th which marks the beginning of the Christmas season on the Julian calendar.

It is tradition that the family gathers around the table to celebrate the holiday that begins when the first star is seen in the night sky. The table is set and the candles are lit and an extra place is set for those who cannot be there. It is a night to celebrate and a night to remember ancestors.

The meal always begins with a serving of Kutia which is a pudding made from wheat berries often flavoured with poppy seeds, fruit, nuts or honey. This course is followed by Borsch soup, cabbage rolls, and various fish and vegetable dishes.

Since I am not Ukrainian I had to do some research before inviting my friends to dinner. I wanted it to be special, while preserving tradition.  I admit that I picked up a few of the dishes at the Deli and Ukrainian bakery in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. Even with the dishes that I picked up, I still had many more to prepare. I wanted to make it a meal to remember.

One of the dishes that I made was this rich, ruby-red borsch soup.The recipe can be altered by using beef broth but am posting the vegetarian version. The broth is light and flavourful and the vegetables add enough substance to make it a heart warming addition to any meal.

Vegetarian  Borsch

Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 cups vegetable broth
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 large beets, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
1 large potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Pour vegetable broth into a large pot and add beets, carrots, and potato; bring to boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir in cabbage and 1/2 cup dill; cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in vinegar.

Ladle soup into bowls. Top with a sprinkle of dill or a dollop of sour cream.

Roasted Garlic and Acorn Squash Soup

Roasted-acorn-squash-soup-revised-and-cropped

The holidays are ending and so is the mild weather. We had a snow storm the other night and now the world is covered in a blanket of white. Winter is here.

In order to continue with my exercise program throughout the winter I have taken up skating and will soon be trying downhill skiing for the first time in years. I cannot wait!

I am also going to take classes in Culinary Arts. Since enrolling in the Culinary Arts program at Toronto’s George Brown College I have been busy preparing for classes that start January 8. In Culinary Arts 1 we will be learning the basic skills to prepare and cook food in a similar way to how chefs are trained. From there I can take a number of other courses to expand my repertoire and eventually earn a certificate.

We were given a list of required tools that we need to bring to class. I had most of them in my kitchen but needed to source a few items from local cooking stores.

Culinary Arts 1 Tools List:

1              GBC approved uniform and black safety approved shoes
1              Set of knives (10”-12” French, Serrated and Boning)
2              Paring Knives
1              Knife bag or toolbox
2              Wooden spoons
1              Metal spoon
1              Rubber spatula
1              Tongs
1             Vegetable peeler
1              Ladle (3 ounce)
1              Pastry brush
2              Dessert spoons
1              Bib apron
3-4          Side towels
1              Plastic/canvas bag (to bring product home in)
1              Measuring Spoons
1              Measuring Cup

We will be given the George Brown College continuing education chef’s uniform in class but have been asked to buy a pair of black non skid shoes to wear in the professional kitchens. I chose some great black Danko clogs that many chefs use.

I am getting very excited about this course and the experience of being in a professional kitchen. It will challenge me and provide me with an interesting way to pass the winter months. I am a huge believer in life long learning and in expanding my skills.

I will also blog about what we make each week and about my experience in cooking school.

When it gets cold outside there is nothing like a bowl of homemade soup. I recently picked up a copy of Splendid Soups by James Peterson so I could try some of his great recipes. This roasted garlic and acorn squash soup is hearty and rich with flavour; it warms you from the inside out. I served it with a small dollop of goat cheese which provided and excellent garnish.

Roasted Garlic and Acorn Squash Soup

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

3 acorn squash, about 1 pound each
4 heads of garlic
2 medium-sized red onions, peeled and halved
3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
¼ cup olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh sage leaves
4 cups chicken broth
Salt
Pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the squash crosswise in half and scoop out the seeds. Break the garlic into cloves but do not peel them. Toss the onions, carrots, and garlic in the olive oil and put everything in the bottom of a roasting pan with the squash halves flat side up. The pan should be just large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer. Roast for about 1 ½ hours, stirring the vegetables (except the squash) every 20 minutes so they brown and cook evenly. Add the thyme to the pan for the last 10 minutes of roasting.

When the squash is easily penetrated with a knife or a skewer let it cool and scoop the pulp into a mixing bowl and discard the peels. Combine the squash with the roasted vegetables and herbs, and enough broth to get it to turn around in a blender or a food processor and, working in batches, puree until smooth. Work the puree through a food mill or strainer into a clean pot. Add the rest of the broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want the soup to be silky smooth, strain it again through a fine-mesh strainer. Ladle into heated bowls and serve.

Recipe from Splendid Soups by James Peterson

Soup Bowls for the Arts-Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup

Every November we attend a wonderful luncheon at the Burlington Arts Centre in Burlington, Ontario. It is their annual Soup Bowl event.

Dozens of potters work countless hours throughout the year to produce beautiful hand-made bowls. For one weekend in November 1,000 of those bowls are sold off to raise money for the arts centre. Each person buys a ticket and is allowed to choose one bowl as they enter the dining hall.

Once you have chosen your bowl you take it to one of the restaurant stations where they fill it with delicious soup and provide you with a side salad to go with it. After you finish your lunch volunteers take away your bowl, wash it and bring it back to you all wrapped and ready to take home.

There were four local restaurants who donated soup and salads for the patrons. This year the generous donors were Socrates, Pepperwood Bistro, Canyon Creek and Emma’s Backporch. I chose the Lemon, Chicken and Rice soup that Socrates had provided. It was light and lemony and delectable.

I was invited to this event by my sister who is one of the potters at the centre. She made 50 bowls for the event on her own. It is a great way to start off the holiday season and to support the arts. It is also a great place to find local works of art for holiday gift giving. She has invited me a few times over the past few years and now we consider the day a tradition. It is a great way to get together with family and friends over a sumptuous lunch.

As a tribute to this event I am featuring a wonderful fall soup that I found in my new cookbook Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga. This beautiful cookbook is a work of art on its own. I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I did.

Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup with Mustard Croutons

Makes: 6 to 8 Servings

Ingredients:

1 lb. parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for garnish
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, diced 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
3 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Grated Gruyère cheese, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Toss the diced parsnips, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the parsnips halfway through the cooking process.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender but not browned.

Add the roasted parsnips, apples, potatoes, chicken stock, coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, remaining olive oil, and thyme leaves. Add the diced bread cubes and toss them in the dressing. Lay the croutons on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden and crispy.

Puree the soup in a blender in batches or with a hand blender in the pot.

Top each serving with the croutons, and Gruyère cheese.

The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or it can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Recipe from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Perfect Thanksgiving Pumpkin Soup With Honey and Cloves!

Fall Colours-Algonquin Park

Algonquin Park

Algonquin Park

Algonquin Park

We took a day trip to Algonquin Park last weekend to take some photos of the fall colours. The day was amazing; the air was crisp and the sky a rich blue. The fall colours were at their peak and everywhere we looked the trees were showing their fiery autumn hues.

I am truly ashamed to say that this is the first year that I have enjoyed this gorgeous place, even though it is only 3 hours north of Toronto. It is a great place to camp or to go for a day hike through the trails and around the multiple lakes. We hiked a 5km trail that was fairly rugged and full of surprises.

We made our way up and down the terrain, in and out of the bush. When we were in the middle of the forest we could have heard a pin drop in the silence that surrounded us.

It was magical!

This Monday is the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada so I thought I would  feature a traditional fall soup. I served this soup to my family for dinner and it was a huge hit. It is nice served with some toasted pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed kernels sprinkled on top. Otherwise you can add a small dollop of soft goat cheese if you like. It makes a rich, flavourful soup for the first course of a holiday dinner or for lunch served with warm panini or croissants.

Pumpkin Soup with Honey and Cloves

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 2-pound pumpkin peeled, seeded, chopped (about 6 cups)
6 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
5 whole cloves
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp. honey 

Directions:

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery and onion; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add pumpkin, 6 cups stock and cloves. Cover and simmer until pumpkin is very tender, about 25 minutes.

Discard cloves. Purée soup in batches in blender or use a hand blender to purée in the pot.

Return soup to Dutch oven. Stir in cream and honey. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Bring to simmer before serving, thinning with more stock, if desired.)

Recipe from Bon Appetit, October 1995

Tortellini Soup with Vegetables

Don’t you just love spring? It is the time of year when the world comes to life again!

Those beautiful spring flowers are breaking through the ground, buds are forming on the trees and the birds are migrating north again. During March and April we see hundreds of bird species in this area as they stop by on their migration to Northern Ontario. Someone told me they stop for a rest after crossing the great lakes.

Some of the species stay with us until winter adding life and music to the landscape.  As soon as I hear the sound of birds outside my window in the early morning, I know the weather is changing.

Another great thing about spring is the burst of colour. The grass turns green all of a sudden and the drab greys of winter disappear. It’s time to pull out our bright spring wardrobe and pack away our winter woolies for another season.

This colourful soup reminds me spring. I used multi-coloured tortellini to add extra flavour and colour to the vegetables.

Tortellini Soup with Vegetables

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 medium leeks
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 oz. frozen cheese tortellini
1 cup frozen peas
1 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

 

Directions

Trim off the roots and dark green leaves from the leeks. Slice the white and light green part in half lengthwise and then slice the halves thinly crosswise. Rinse well and drain.

Melt the butter in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, leeks, and carrot. Season with a couple of pinches of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in ¼ tsp. black pepper and cook about 20 seconds, then add chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Add the tortellini and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the peas. Continue to simmer until the tortellini are cooked 3 to 5 minutes.

Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

Serve in warm bowls and top each bowl with some parmesan cheese.

Recipe adapted from the Best of Fine Cooking Pasta

 

Noodle Soup with Kale and Cannellini Beans

I am still trying to get used to spring arriving so early. I love the warm weather but my mental clock is still on March time.  I am more accustomed to seeing flowers come up in early May but this year we are seeing buds already. I hope this means that we will have a wonderfully long summer. There is something about walking in the sunshine that not only brightens your day, but also brightens up how you feel.

Before I move on to Sicily, I want to share a few more recipes with you from Tuscany. I made this hearty Tuscan noodle soup with cracked pepper fusilli and it was brimming with great flavour. Italians refer to this dark reddish black Kale as Cavalo Nero or black cabbage. Enjoy!


Noodle Soup with Kale and Cannellini Beans

Ingredients
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup broken (2- to 3-inch pieces) fusilli or spaghetti pasta
2 quarts lower-salt chicken broth
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 6 cups)
One 14-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Heat 1 tbsp. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and just golden-brown, about 8 minutes.
With a rubber spatula, scrape the vegetables into a medium bowl and set aside. If necessary, wipe the pot clean.
Heat the remaining 1 tbsp. oil in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring often, until dark golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the broth and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any stuck-on pasta. Add the carrots and onions, kale, beans, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the kale, carrots, and pasta are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt, and pepper before serving.
Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine