Magical soup base

Chicken noodle soup with mushrooms

I’m not sure how it chemically comes together, but a saute of celery, onion, carrot and garlic in olive oil can be one of the best tools ever in your cooking toolbox. 

Called mirepoix in French and soffritto in Italian (means fried softly), this makes a delicious base for broth and creamy soups alike. Leave the vegetables slightly firm with some crunch for a brothy chicken or vegetable soup. Or cook until soft and puree for the base of chowder or bisque. 

Mirepoix (or soffritto)

Chop a small onion, small carrot and a couple of stalks of celery. Saute gently in two tablespoons of olive oil until somewhat soft but not browned. While sauteeing, add seasonings and herbs to allow them to “bloom” in the oil. This process releases the flavors to infuse your soup. 

If you are making a cream soup or bisque, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of flour and slowly stir in about two cups of milk or chicken stock. Or, puree white beans and add to the soup. If making a broth-based soup like chicken noodle, simply add stock. 

Then, use your imagination and add other vegetables and greens as desired, cooked beans, mushrooms, cooked grains or pasta, leftover roasted chicken or cooked beef. So many possibilities!

Mama’s chicken noodle soup 

½ onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ t. dried basil

½ t. freshly ground pepper

1 cup diced or shredded roasted or rotisserie chicken

½ t. salt

1 cup dumpling style dry noodles (or plain egg noodles)

Saute vegetables in 2 T. olive oil until tender-crisp. Add basil and pepper and allow to bloom for about 30 seconds. Stir in 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Add chicken and salt and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add noodles and simmer about 20 minutes more, until noodles are tender. Be adventurous and add spinach, peas, kale, broccolini or any other vegetables that sound good. 

Potatoes

As the weather cools, we all seem to drift to foods that stick to our ribs. Nothing quite fills this bill like potatoes. Farmers’ markets and groceries are full of earthy potatoes of all varieties from traditional russets to Yukon golds to Norland Reds to a multitude of purple, pink and yellow fingerlings.

We’ve been warned off of potatoes because of the calories and the misinformation that the starch is bad for us. Actually, potatoes are quite good nutritionally, with loads of vitamin C, potassium and fiber and few calories. It’s all the “stuff” we put on them that takes the calorie and fat count higher.

Yukon golds are buttery and tender; russets tend to be drier and hold up better to mashing. Fingerlings and reds are delicious when roasted with garlic and rosemary. Keep the skins on for extra flavor and nutrition.

Best of all, potatoes are adaptable to hundreds of recipes so it’s possible to have them every night of the week and not get tired of them. One of our go-to dinners is a baked potato and a big salad. You can load the potato with cooked lentils and feta, sliced tomatoes and avocado, chili, or just good old butter and pepper.

Potatoes are natural companions to cheese and butter, and they also make a luscious potato salad when dressed warm with a vinaigrette or when baked as potato skins topped with guacamole and salsa.

This recipe for scalloped potatoes is basic. Dress it up as you see fit. It adapts well to added sauteed kale or chard, mushrooms, roasted peppers or sun-dried tomatoes. Experiment with different cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere or goat cheese. Add herbs and seasonings to taste – basil, marjoram, smoked paprika, Italian or Cajun seasoning.

Easy roasted potatoes

To serve two, scrub 1-2 pounds of fingerlings or red potatoes. Leave the skins on and slice or quarter depending on the size of the potatoes.

Toss the cut potatoes with 2-3 tablespoons of fruity olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place the potatoes, cut side down, in one layer in a shallow baking pan. Lay three or four sprigs of fresh rosemary on top. Put on the lowest rack in a cold oven. Turn on the heat to 425 and roast until tender, usually about half an hour. No need to turn the potatoes over. Remove the rosemary and serve warm or at room temperature.

Scalloped potatoes

Scalloped potatoes with spinach

1 garlic clove, halved
6 medium peeled (or unpeeled) potatoes, cut into 1/8 inch slices
2 T. butter, melted
1/2 t. salt
pepper
1/2 c. shredded cheese
1 c. skim milk

Rub an 11 x 7 baking dish with cut sides of garlic, discard. Spray with cooking spray. Arrange half of the potatoes in a dish, drizzle with half butter, salt, pepper and cheese. Repeat for another layer. Bring milk to a boil and pour over potatoes. Bake uncovered at 425 for 40 minutes.

Pumpkins

Pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin

I willingly admit to being a cheapskate. It’s a few days after Halloween and I’ve been scouting for a deal on pumpkins. Accidentally, I found a local nursery, with a gazillion for sale before Halloween, giving them away for free today. So, I loaded up the car. I feel so grateful to have a kitchen full of the golden orbs, just waiting to be processed for the freezer and winter meals. 

I started by roasting two this afternoon. Half of one as well as the stringy goo that holds the seeds will go into homemade dog food. The seeds will be roasted shortly – my favorite snack this time of year and really good for me. The rinds will be tossed out for the squirrels (and maybe bears). I have effectively used every part of the pumpkin!

You can simply scoop the cooked flesh into freezer bags to use all winter. Turn it into curried pumpkin soup, toss the puree with hot pasta and a good cheese, put it in your green smoothie for a vitamin boost. And, of course, it makes the best homemade pumpkin pie ever. Here are a few recipes to get you started: 

Pumpkin or winter squash soup

Pumpkin soup with bacon

small pumpkin, butternut squash, or other winter squash
1 c. chopped onion
2 t. oil
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. molasses
1 t. curry powder or 2 T. red curry paste
¾ t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne or more to taste
⅔ c. half and half or coconut milk
Sliced red sweet or chili peppers for garnish

Mix onions with oil and spread on the pan around squash. Roast at 425 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop out pulp, measure about three cups, and add with rest of the ingredients to a heavy pot. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Puree in blender and return to pan. Add half and half or coconut milk and warm until heated.

Serve with a drizzle of Sriracha or coconut milk, sliced red chilis, crumbled crisp bacon if you have meat-eaters in the house, or chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

Cheesy pumpkin pasta for two

6 ounces pasta noodles, your choice
½ small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 cups broth
dash of red pepper flakes
½ t. salt
dash fresh ground pepper
1 T. butter
2 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes

In a stockpot, saute onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add noodles, vegetable broth, pumpkin puree, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to blend together, and put on the stove over medium/high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover, stir, cover, simmer for 2-4 more minutes, or until pasta is al dente.

Add butter and cream cheese cubes, stir continuously until the cheese is melted and incorporated.

Pound Cake

I know that we’re all watching what we eat – calories, fat, etc. But every once in a while we need some comfort food that throws restrictions out the window. I love pound cake.

I’m not a huge dessert eater, but this is one of my favorites. And the best part is that it is easy to make, easy to take to a dinner party or potluck, and infinitely variable in flavors. My mother gave me her recipe and I’ve enjoyed years of playing with riffs on the recipe. You will find this basic recipe in almost every church cookbook and on countless sites on the web. The best part is that with different flavorings you can make it your own.

The cake is moist and delicious just as it is, but here are some recommendations for additions:

Add one tablespoon of lemon, orange or lime zest and glaze with citrus juice mixed with confectioners sugar.
Add one half cup toasted ground pecans
Add one half cup mashed banana
Add one half cup chocolate chips
Add ½ cup blueberries and 1 T. lemon zest
Add ¼ cup chopped candied ginger
Add ¼ cup chopped dates
Add ½ c. dried cherries or cranberries (great with orange zest)
Drizzle with any kind of jelly or jam thinned with a bit of water and melted
Drizzle with chocolate syrup
Top with a scoop of coffee ice cream

Pound cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8 x 4 loaf pan.

Beat softened butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and salt. Turn the mixer to slower speed and gradually add flour, beating until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 1 hour until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If the cake starts to brown too much, cover with foil. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, remove from the pan and then finish cooling on a wire rack.

Roasted tomato vegetable soup

Our weather is cooling a bit, putting a hint of autumn in the air. And soup is beginning to sound good. Even though the weather is changing, tomatoes are still ripening and I know that after the night temperatures drop into the forties, the flavor starts deteriorating quickly. So, to use the ones that are ripe now, I made a roasted vegetable soup for dinner.  

Nothing fancy, just roasted vegetables pureed with cooked red lentils for some extra texture and fiber. It’s pretty fast and can be prepped well ahead of time when you have an hour for the roasting. You can add whatever vegetables are available – eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, okra, sweet potatoes. 

Red lentils are quick-cooking and packed with nutrients

Roasted tomato vegetable soup (for two)

6-7 tomatoes, any variety

2 cloves garlic

½ cup chopped carrots

2 sweet peppers

½ c. red lentils

1 good-sized sprig of basil

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and put them in a roasting pan. Smash the garlic cloves and add to the pan. Add the carrots to the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and roast 45 minutes at 375. Cool.

Cut the peppers in half, seed and flatten them. Put in another roasting pan and roast for about half an hour in the same oven. When the peppers are tender and the skins beginning to blacken, remove them from the oven and put in a bowl with a plate over it to let them steam further. Peel when cool. 

Cover the lentils with water and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. Cool.

Add everything to the blender with the basil and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a hint of sugar or agave syrup. 

You can make this creamy by adding sour cream, yogurt or ricotta; make it Spanish by adding cumin and chile. Sriracha makes it spicy-sweet. And garlic croutons add another dimension.

Roasted yellow and red tomatoes

Roasted or grilled vegetables with pasta or grain

Roasted vegetables with farro

Something happens when you roast or grill vegetables. Even though we don’t think of vegetables as being sweet, they do have sugars and when roasted, these sugars caramelize and take them from delicious to divine. It’s easy to do, fairly quick, and can provide a myriad of tastes to eat alone or add to other dishes.

Combining them with creamy pasta is my go-to when I have dribs and drabs of vegetables coming in from the garden. It seems every time I go out to the garden, I come in with a basket of small zucchini, an eggplant, a pepper or two. This is a great way to use them together.

Just about any sturdy vegetable can easily be roasted to make an entirely different taste than when fresh. Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, beets and even garlic. Once they are roasted, chop and add to a pasta of your choice, season with parmesan or other cheese.

To roast, preheat oven to 375. Drizzle a broiler or jelly roll pan with olive oil. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Toss with olive oil and herbs of choice. Spread out on pan and roast until tender when pierced with a fork. Carrots, beets and parsnips will take a little longer than summer squash or broccoli so plan accordingly, adding the softer vegetables mid-way through roasting. Or roast seperately.

Roasted broccoli with breadcrumbs

Roasted Broccoli and Carrots with Grain or Pasta

1 c. broccoli florets
½ pkg. baby carrots
3 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ small onion, sliced
½ c. cooked farro, quinoa, rice, bulgur or millet. Or pasta.
1 t. balsamic vinegar
¼ c. parmesan cheese
¼ c. toasted pecans, pepitas or sunflower seeds

Directions

Preheat oven to 375. In a sided roasting pan (broiler pan works well), add the carrots and drizzle with 1 t. olive oil. Roast until a fork inserts with ease, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, salt generously and put aside in a bowl. Add broccoli to pan, drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and roast until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Salt and add to carrots.

Add the last tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Coarsely chop the vegetables and put in a large bowl. Add the onions, garlic and grain or pasta to the vegetables, sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Top with nuts or seeds and serve warm or at room temperature. Use your imagination to add other ingredients like pine nuts, roasted peppers, sauteed mushrooms, etc.

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta
                                                                            ©Kate Jerome 2019

Vegetable Misfits

They may be ugly but they’ll taste wonderful

Let’s be honest – none of us is perfect. Including the vegetables we so carefully nurture in our gardens. But why should the forked carrot, the split beet or the knobby tomato be shunned in favor of their more perfect counterparts? 

The French started a national campaign several years ago called “The Inglourious Fruit.” It was a public relations campaign to get French citizens to slow food waste by purchasing and eating those fruits and vegetables that are not perfect. These were discounted in grocery stores and markets, and the campaign was a huge success. There are several companies in the US that do the same – ship not-so-perfect vegetables and fruits for a fee.

What a wonderful testament to humans – that we really do care about reducing food waste and feeding our bodies with healthy vegetables and fruits. I’ve made a promise to myself to try to use the oddballs in the garden and as much of every vegetable as I can.

While a chopped up tomato with the ugly parts removed may not make the best presentation, it still tastes just as good as a pristine heirloom. And face it, have you ever seen a perfect Brandywine tomato?

Use those misfits in sauce

Instead of discarding the chard leaves that have been somewhat chewed, I throw them in a bag in the freezer to add to a “glut” sauce or to make vegetable broth. I’ve seen recipes where cilantro stems, carrot tops, cucumber peelings can be pureed and frozen to use in soups in the winter. 

One of my favorite things to do at this lush time of year when produce is absolutely overwhelming is make “glut” sauce. I put whatever is coming in, especially those imperfect vegetables, into a large roaster with herbs and garlic and roast until everything is soft. It then gets pureed or milled pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce base. 

Here’s a great recipe to use those imperfect tomatoes and eggplants. And the recipe lends itself to whatever you have in the garden

Roasted eggplant and tomato soup

1 cup roasted eggplant (any type of eggplant, peel if the skin is tough)

1 cup roasted tomatoes

½ cup roasted onions

1-2 cloves roasted garlic

½ c. unsweetened coconut milk

½ c. vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Herbs of choice

You can put eggplant, tomatoes, onions and garlic in one roasting pan. Drizzle with olive and roast at 375 degrees until quite soft and beginning to caramelize. Mix all ingredients together and puree. Serve hot or cold. Drizzle with sriracha and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt if you choose.  

Corn chowder

Summer vegetables are so plentiful right now that it’s almost an overload with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and most of all corn. Corn is at its peak in a lot of states right now, and the sweet Silver Queen, Peaches and Cream, Honey and Cream cobs will soon be just a sweet memory. 

So, we’ve been having corn every few meals in our house, and always seem to have a couple of ears left over. I scrape the kernels to use in salads, stir fries, and my favorite, corn chowder. Even though the hot days of summer don’t always bring soups to mind, summery corn chowder is unlike a regular soup. It’s not heavy and rib-sticking like a minestrone, but sweet, light and chock full of flavor. 

You can make a chowder from any number of vegetables, and I like to spunk mine up with some cayenne pepper or chopped chilies. This recipe certainly lends itself to using whatever you have in the garden, so feel free to add roasted peppers, roasted eggplant or zucchini. Add some bacon for smokiness (or use grilled corn), chopped fresh sweet bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions as a garnish. 

Summery Corn Chowder for two

2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from cob (can be fresh, already cooked or frozen)

1 T. butter (don’t be tempted to use oil – the butter gives it an unsurpassed  flavor)

½ c. chopped onion

1 T. flour

1 clove garlic, minced

2 c. water or broth

2 c. potato cut into small cubes

1 c. buttermilk or half and half

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes:

1 slice bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled

1 scallion, sliced

Cayenne pepper or smoked paprika

Minced sweet bell pepper

Chopped fresh tomato

Directions:

In medium saucepan, saute onion and garlic in butter until soft. Sprinkle with flour and stir. Add corn, broth and potatoes, turn heat low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in buttermilk or half and half. Pour half of mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Return to pan and heat gently, not boiling. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your choice of garnishes. 

Paths and tomatoes

I’m so fortunate. I get to walk a woodland path every morning. I’ve come to rely so much on the relaxation and stress relief that I walk regardless of the weather. Walking in the rain is a sensory miracle. Walking in fog is ethereal. Walking in snow is a quiet, softly soulful experience.

What is it about paths that beckon us to come hither, to explore something new? When you enter the woods, you’re instantly enveloped with the cool, quiet ambience of the forest. 

On a hot summer day, the woods beckon you as being cool and shady. The cool darkness is welcome, and the soft air soothes. If the weather is humid or foggy, the moisture envelopes you like a velvet cloak, and makes you slow down and amble.

The scent after a rain is of water dripping off leaves and  wetting the soil. When the woods are dry, there’s the scent of honeysuckle or wild rose. Pine groves are filled with the scent of pungent resin.

Then again, on a cool autumn day, sunny glades draw you forward, and the warm sun makes your skin prickle. As the leaves begin to turn, the woods turn into a glorious golden aura and they are filled with the acrid scent of crinkly oak leaves. As the leaves fall, they begin to obscure the paths. 

If you traipse the woods daily as I do, you notice nuances on the paths taken. Most of the paths I walk are well-trodden, which is a good thing when I’m wandering in my mind and not paying attention to where I’m going. But a path that is well-trodden means that I don’t have woods to myself.

This is a good thing because it means that many others are enjoying the woods as well. But I’m a bit selfish. I love the time alone, the quiet, and in reality I end up seeing few others.

When we do meet someone, it’s usually someone with a dog, which makes my dog extremely happy. The woods don’t belong to me, and my happiness at having an opportunity for “forest bathing” means I will happily share this lovely place.

Recipes

To keep you going at this time of luscious tomatoes, don’t forget about Catalan tomato bread – a traditional Italian dish in which you toast slices of robust sourdough or artisan bread, rub with a halved garlic clove and then rub with a cut ripe tomato. It’s the essence of summer. 

Another great way to use those tomatoes is to chop with garlic, basil and olive oil. Spread on grilled bread as bruschetta (you can spread the bread with goat cheese first for a deepened flavor), or toss with hot pasta. Simple but infinitely delicious.  

Roasted Beets and sautéed greens

Beets are little magic orbs of deliciousness and nutrition. They come in gold, red, white and even candy-striped. And I learned early in my daughters’ lives to feed them the light-colored beets to keep from staining absolutely everything.

Fresh beets often come with the bonus vegetable of beet greens. They taste just like Swiss chard, which is actually a non-bulbing beet. Beets are traditionally served cooked but they are also delicious in a raw shredded salad. 

Beets are best stored in the refrigerator, and will last for several weeks. If you choose to harvest greens while your beets are still growing, only use about a third of the greens at a time to give them plenty of leaves to continue to feed the root.

Roasting beets gives them a sweetness that you don’t get by boiling. To roast beets,  trim off the greens and set aside. Wash and put them in a baking pan with a few tablespoons of water and cover tightly with foil. Roast at 400 for about an hour. They are done when a fork easily pierces. Cool and then rub off the skins. 

Crispy sautéed beets with beet greens

3 or 4 beets, any type

2 T. butter 

1 T. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 T balsamic vinegar

Few pinches red pepper flakes or ¼ t. tabasco to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Feta cheese for garnishing

Sautéing roasted beets (I promise I didn’t enhance the color!)

Trim greens from beets. Place beets in an oven-safe baking pan, add ¼ cup water, and cover tightly with foil. Roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool, peel (the skins should slip off easily) and slice into ⅛” slices. 

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect). Add beet slices and saute until crisp on one side (about 10 minutes). Flip and saute the other side. Remove from pan and set aside. 

Rinse and roughly chop the greens. Add garlic to olive oil and saute briefly (about a minute). Add beet greens and toss to coat with oil. Saute about 2 to 3 minutes until wilted to your taste. Add balsamic vinegar and red pepper. Remove from heat, plate  and top with the beet slices. Sprinkle with feta cheese and enjoy!  

And here’s an easy, delicious sauce to add to your beet repertoire. Use liberally on cooked beets and/or beet greens. 

4 oz. goat cheese, softened

2 T. milk or half and half

1 t. dried or 1 T. fresh dill

Whisk or blend until smooth. Add more milk as necessary to make a pourable sauce. Stir in the dill. Drizzle over beets and greens