Pot au feu: A winter retreat

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For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, winter is definitely here. With the shorter days, blustering winds, occasional snow, and sub-zero temperatures, this kind of climate calls for food of a heartier kind that warms both body and soul. So earlier this week, with that in mind, I made pot au feu, a traditional French beef stew and also the origin and inspiration behind the much loved Vietnamese phở noodle soups (also pronounced the same way). Not only is pot au feu hearty, but it lends itself well to communal eating as well… if you wish.

At its heart, pot au feu is made from stewing a combination of different cuts of meats and bone. It’s up to you what you use, there really isn’t a wrong way. Select both fatty and leaner cuts of meat, along with cartilaginous bone and you’ll have a great pot au feu on your hands. You’ll also be using seasonal root vegetables to round out your stew. Again, it’s up to you what you put in. I like the combination of carrots, turnip, and onions – potatoes and celery are also popular additions.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 1 lbs. of beef shoulder roast (preferably with the bone), leave whole
  • 1 lbs. of beef round roast, leave whole
  • 1 oxtail and or 3-5 pieces of bone marrow
  • 0.75 lbs. of beef sirloin or other lean meat, leave whole
  • 7 small to medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 large turnips or 4 to 5 small turnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium spanish onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 leek (the white part only), coarsely chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni made with thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves (Go easy on the rosemary as a little goes a long way. You should have a loose bundle of mainly thyme with about 8 to 10 small to medium stems, 1 to 2 stems of rosemary, and about 2 to 3 bay leaves, depending on the size of your leaves.)
  • 4 cloves or 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves if you don’t have the full ones
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • coarsely ground pepper, to taste

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Bouquet garni

IMG_9318A bouquet garni is a bundle or sachet of herbs that you assemble and add to something you’re boiling or stewing for a prolonged period of time like a soup, stock, or stew. The bundling or sachet allows you to remove the herbs quickly and easily once what you’re making has enough flavour – not unlike a tea bag. French stocks in particular strive to be crystal clear, and so the bouquet garni is key in helping to achieve this.

Ingredients:

What you include in a bouquet garni will depend on what you’re making, but generally, thyme and bay leaves are used as a base. Other herbs that can be added or asked for in a recipe include:

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Tarrgon

Some recipes also ask for certain vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions to also be included in the bouquet garni. For those recipes, it’s better to use a sachet method as the vegetables can break down over the course of cooking. Some also wrap everything up inside a few layers of leeks that have been halved lengthwise and tie it together.

Preparation:

Assembling a bouquet is very easy. There are two main methods:

1) Stack and bundle your herbs together and tie it tightly together with a string

2) Place them into a tea bag or cheese cloth and tie that tight with a string

Voilà, You’re ready to go!

Buttercup squash soup to chase the howling winds away

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Winnie the Pooh: Happy “Winds-day”, Piglet.
Piglet: [being blown away] Well… it isn’t… very happy… f-for me.
Winnie the Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?
Piglet: That’s what I’m asking myself, where? [he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]
Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!
Winnie the Pooh: [grabbing Piglet’s scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

If Pooh and Piglet were here in Toronto today, they would agree that today is most definitely a blustery day. With the gusts of wind howling around buildings and off roaring over rooftops – maybe taking a thing or two off with them – it’s a perfect day for a hearty soup. More specifically, buttercup squash soup. Buttercup squashes are a variety of winter squash with a sweet, savoury, nutty flavour to it. They taste more like sweet potatoes than pumpkin, and are perfect for roasting, and taste fantastic in a soup.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 750mL of beef stock (you can substitute with chicken stock for a lighter flavour or vegetable stock if you’re vegetarian or vegan)
  • 2 buttercup squashes, chopped
  • 5 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, halved
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, chopped (optional)
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried, if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (your choice, I used hazelnut oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Chinese radish carrot pork soup

ingredientsWith the changing seasons, I’ve been feeling the edge of sick creeping in this week. Naturally, a pot of soup like the kind my mom used to make was needed. I decided to make a chinese radish carrot pork soup that always makes me feel better (or at least I feel much better drinking it). This particular soup picks up the rich flavour from the pork while being sweetened from the carrots and figs. As a bonus, this soup is also very easy to make. Once you have the ingredients, it practically makes itself.

Ingredients: (serves 5-6, two bowls each)

  • 300 to 400 grams of pork neck, shoulder, or ribs
  • 1 large carrot, chopped or sliced
  • 1 medium sized Chinese green radish, chopped or sliced
  • 4 dried dates
  • 10 cups of water
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. soupBoil water in the pot you’ll be making the soup in. When it’s boiling, place the pork into the pot. Let the meat boil for 2-3 minutes. The pork meat should light brown in colour. The meat does not need to be cooked through at this point. The water will have bubbles start to form on the surface and even become a little foamy (picture on the left).
  2. Pour out the boiled water and rinse your meat. The water at this point will likely be very frothy (picture on the right). These first two steps are important as it’s a cleansing and detoxifying step for the meat – and is also effective in removing fat from your soup.
  3. Fill your pot again with 10 cups of water with the pork still in the pot. Bring the water up to a boil.
  4. Add the chopped radish, carrot, and dates. If you’re using a regular pot, turn the heat down to low and let your soup simmer at least 2 hours. I use a thermal pot for all of my soups – for me, it’s the benefits of a pressure cooker and slow cooker in one. If you’re using a thermal pot, bring the water to a boil and place your pot into the thermal pot and let it sit and cook for at least 2 hours.
  5. Add salt to taste.

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Enjoy!

Winter melon soup

As the days get shorter and nights longer, nothing combats the changing of seasons like a homemade winter melon soup. Winter melon is believed to have cooling properties by the Chinese. It is understood to remove the excessive heat from the body that can lead to ailments and illness. Whether you are believer of Chinese medicine or not, winter melon is loaded with nutrients in a water-rich melon. It has vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin C, and is also a fantastic source of calcium and potassium.

The other great aspect to winter melon soup is that it’s very easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 oz. of cured ham, finely chopped or sliced
  • 4 dried scallops, shredded
  • 1/2 tablespoon of red wolfberries (otherwise known as gogi berries)
  • 1 slab or around 1 to 2-pounds of winter melon (at the grocery stores, they normally sell this pre-cut into a slab or wedge and shrink wrapped), chopped into cubes
  • 1 piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 sprigs of green onion, finely chopped
  • 1-cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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A childhood favorite: Alphabet soup

This weekend, while on a historical tour around Mennonite country in southern Ontario with our family, I came across dried alphabet noodles at a Mennonite General Store. Up to this point, I have never seen dried pasta in the shape of alphabets before. They lived only in the much-loved cans of Campbell’s alphabet or Heinz’s Alphagetti soups – both of which were considered an occasional treat in our household. Especially the Alphagetti, because of its perceived lower nutritional value.

In any case, I quickly scooped up a bag. For less than $3 for a reasonable-sized bag of homemade nostalgia, I didn’t need to think twice.

First thing I made when we returned to Toronto: my own homemade alphabet (and numbers, since it turned out the bag also contained numbers) vegetable soup. In a word, delicious.

As a tip, if you like adding rice or pasta to your soup, make the soup first and then cook the rice or pasta separately when the soup is ready for serving. Spoon in the pasta or rice into your serving bowls first, and pour in the soup over top. This keeps the pasta or rice from overcooking and falling apart.

Most of you will have a fabulous vegetable soup recipe already. However, in case you’re interested, I’ve included my uber-simple vegetable soup recipe below. You can really use any vegetables you happen to have in your fridge. Corn is fantastic to include for the sweetness it adds to any soup base.

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Tomato gazpacho

Nothing shouts SUMMER like a fabulous chilled bowl (or cup) of gazpacho. Gazpacho is a chilled raw tomato-based soup that hails from Spain and Portugal – although some say that before that, it likely had Arabic roots. In any case, it’s a delicious, refreshing soup that fares well as a mid-afternoon snack, cocktail hors d’oeuvres, or appetizer. Even better, it’s incredibly simple to make. That said, note that this soup does need to chill for at least 2 hours, so if you’re crunched for time to serve something right away, it may not be the best soup to make.

Ingredients:

  • 14 large tomatoes
  • 1 green capsicum pepper
  • 1 red capsicum pepper
  • 1 red chili pepper, deseeded (unless you want your soup quite spicy)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 large basil leaves, fresh
  • 1 lime, fully squeezed
  • 2 slices of bread (wheat-based is best, but really, you can use any kind), toasted
  • 2 tablespoons of oliver oil
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey