Waste-Less Wednesday: No-Recipe Soup

January 28, 2015 § 1 Comment

Why is that food cravings have no sense of timing and just won’t respect your schedule? Yesterday I was craving a bowl of fresh, homemade, flavorful soup. Problem? I had about 25 minutes to assemble and consume this fantasy soup before I had to be somewhere. Yikes! There was no way I had the time to make my new favorite: Chow’s Basic Vegetable Soup. The prep alone (cutting vegetables into tiny cubes), not to mention the assembly and simmering time, made it just not an option. Phooey.

What to do when you’ve got your heart — and your stomach — set on soup and no time to spare? Get creative with leftovers and vegetable broth. (Even if you don’t make your own, you’ll find that having store-bought broth in your fridge or pantry can be a lifesaver when you need to throw together a quick meal.)

Don’t fear the idea of soup-sans-recipe; it’s easier than you might think. You’ll want to make sure that you have a  ratio of stuff-to-broth that makes your mouth happy, but the rest is up to you as far as flavors and textures go.

Mmmmm, soup.

Mmmmm, soup.

So, how to make soup magic happen in 25 minutes or less? As I’ve mentioned, make sure you’ve got the broth aspect covered. Also, try to group your leftovers together on the same shelf in the refrigerator. (Trust me, it might seem a little, er, over-organized, but after years of “where the f— are the beets I roasted last night?” or “what happened to the last piece of cake?” and moving plastic containers around like chess pieces, I’ve learned my lesson.) With no time to spare, here’s what I found:

  • 1.5 quarts of vegetable broth (ok, that’s probably more than enough for a bowl of soup)
  • About 1/2 cup of two-day-old roasted butternut squash cubes
  • About 3/4 cup of two-day-old sautéed chard with red onions and garlic
  •  About 1/4 cup roasted carrot and onions (actually, it was half a roasted carrot — yes, I’m serious about the no-food-waste thing!)
  • Two small-ish roasted beets
  • A chunk of baked swordfish with olive oil and preserved lemon (Yes, you can use leftover fish! Next-day use is fine, especially for firmer fish. I don’t keep cooked fish longer than a day, though.)

    From this: a flavorful, satisfying soup. Who knew?!

    From this: a flavorful, satisfying soup. Who knew?!

I immediately nixed the beets. Everything else was an option, though. The butternut squash and carrot pieces were pretty chunky, so I quickly cut them into bite-sized pieces. It wasn’t pretty, but I was going for filling and tasty, and no one was grading me on my plating. I then dumped the carrot and squash pieces into a microwave-safe soup bowl, along with the chard and onions. I gave the fish a quick heating in the microwave — about 20 seconds, just enough to take the chill off — then shredded it by hand into small pieces and mixed it in with the vegetables. Finally, I poured in just enough broth to cover everything. After a quick spin the microwave (about a minute or so, with a couple of pauses to stir and taste), the addition of salt and pepper to taste, soup was on.

And it was good soup. Recipe or no, it had flay-vah! The homemade vegetable broth definitely brought something to the party, as it has its own combo of flavors going on. The vegetables were close to al dente in texture, but not mushy, because I didn’t have time to simmer the soup. I think the aromatics — the combo of onion, garlic, preserved lemon (just a hint) — definitely helped make the soup interesting. And the swordfish gave the soup some body and an almost stew-like consistency. While I probably won’t be able to replicate that exact soup next time, I’m looking forward to the next no-recipe waste-less Wednesday soup.bowl-o-soup2

What about you? Do you make no-recipe soup? How are you using leftovers to reduce food waste? Share your ideas, either in the comments below on our Facebook page.

Eat Local: Comfort Me

November 20, 2014 § 4 Comments

FINALLY we’ve been getting some much-needed rain here in the 650. (Damn, wish I’d remembered to cover the patio furniture before that started!) Unfortunately, for those of us prone to sinus-related misery — colds, infections, allergies, and the like — the season’s first round of feeling-under-the-weather ick has blown in with the rain. Ugh.

Yes, I’ve been a frequent flier with this sort of thing, so I have refills of the appropriate pharmaceuticals on speed dial, but I usually go there as a last resort. I’d rather fight the bugs with extra sleep, homemade nourishing food, and lots of filtered water. The problem is that when you’re feeling all draggy-ass and foggy-brained, you don’t really want to be in the kitchen cooking anything. And yet, this is the time when you want — maybe even crave — comfort food: something warming, flavorful, and easy to eat. (Somehow crunchy and raw food just don’t cut it when you’re feeling under-the-weather.)

But what to do when you feel rung out, sniffly, and just want to curl up in a blanket fort? Unless you have a staff of minions anticipating your every need, figuring out what to eat — let alone cook — seems like too much trouble. Here’s where a little advance planning can go a long way. No, I don’t mean stocking up on canned soup and frozen meals. While those might be quick and easy choices, the added salt, fat, and sugar aren’t doing your body any favors. And well, there’s something about homemade that just hits the spot when you’re feeling all yucky. Keeping vegetable stock and some prepared (washed and chopped) vegetables on hand can go a long way toward easy-to-make, comforting dishes that can help you feel better.

I know I’ve been hit with a bug when I start craving soup — a bowl of steamy, flavorful broth brimming with a colorful assortment of bite-sized pieces of perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, and leeks.

Comforting, nourishing vegetable soup made with homemade vegetable broth

Comforting, nourishing organic vegetable soup made with homemade vegetable broth

Here’s where having a batch of Spring Vegetable Broth (I should have called it “Any Season Broth” because it really is) on hand in your refrigerator or freezer is a lifesaver. So, on those days when you need soup — oh snap! — you’re all prepared. Heat up the broth and add whatever you’ve got handy — prepared or leftover vegetables, pasta, rice, tofu, last night’s grilled chicken — simmer on the stove top for about 20 minutes, et voilà: comfort food.

Tip: Need a pointer to a foolproof vegetable soup recipe? Try Chow’s Basic Vegetable Soup. The recipe is really versatile, so you can use whatever you’ve got in the refrigerator or pantry.

Roasted Vegetables
Roasted vegetables are always on in my house. Carrots and sweet potatoes are at the top of my list, and I usually make enough for leftovers (and oh, how those leftovers come in handy when I don’t feel like cooking!). Their bright orange color and roasted, sweet flavor complement so many dishes. Plus they’ve got that whole Vitamin A, good-for-you thing going on.

Roasted carrots (fried sage leaves optional)

Roasted carrots (fried sage leaves optional)

As far as comfort food goes, you can’t beat roasted vegetables for a satisfying flavor-texture combination. Best right from the oven, they’re earthy, slightly caramelized, a little crispy around the edges, with a texture that falls between soft and al dente when you bite into them.

Prep is minimal: cut the vegetables into evenly sized pieces (after washing/peeling as you like), toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 20-40 minutes. Sweet potatoes are on the low end of that range, carrots on the higher end. Other root vegetables will fall somewhere in between.

Sweet potatoes ready for roasting

Sweet potatoes ready for roasting: season them your way! Add savory seasoning with salt and pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper. Or, go sweet with a little cinnamon and sprinkling of brown sugar.

Tip: You can make small batches of roasted sweet potatoes in your toaster oven. Preheat the oven to 400℉. Line the baking tray with two layers of foil, then spread the prepared sweet potato pieces onto the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes, flipping the sweet potato pieces halfway through cooking so that the bottoms don’t get too crispy or dark.

Sautéed Greens
Kale, spinach, beet greens, chard greens, and even radish greens can all be sautéed for a healthy, flavorful dish. Need a place to start? Try this Savory Kale Saute recipe, substituting other greens if you like. Aside from being a good source of vitamins and protein, sautéed greens are quick-cooking, filling, and can be paired with pasta, scrambled eggs, soup, or roasted vegetables (see what I did there?).

Quick, savory kale saute with garlic and roasted red pepper

Quick, savory kale saute with garlic and roasted red pepper

Tip: Give yourself a break and split up the prep and cooking times. Wash, dry, then chop or chiffonade your greens and store them in an closed bag or container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to sauté.

Added Bonus: Garlic, Ginger, and Crushed Red Pepper
The power trio of garlic, fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper (yes, together!) are tasty and healthful additions to soups, roasted vegetables, and sautéed greens. All three have therapeutic properties that can help you fight off bugs:

Sure, that’s all good, but flavor is the big draw here. The combo of spicy, earthy, and slightly sweet really amp up the flavor of a dish, making it more interesting and complex. (Helpful if your senses of taste and smell have taken a hit from the winter nasties.)

That’s how I’m trying to handle the latest round of the sniffles. What’s your feeling-under-the-weather comfort food?

Out of the Box, Part Deux

November 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

While I was being all giddy about my first CSA (“farmer’s market”) box, I was not being a good blogger and photographing what I actually did with the contents. So, this post is more “tell” than “show.” I really wanted to go with simple uses of the produce in the box to enjoy the flavors, so you won’t find any fancy cookin’ this time around. Oh, and I promise more food porn going forward, but for now… read on…

Kale and Potatoes
I used the kale and potatoes to make Mark Bittman’s Kale and Potato soup (from How to Cook Everything). The recipe is a super-simple and low-fat take on Portuguese caldo verde. With Bittman’s recipe, you simmer the potato and kale in veggie broth — each vegetable in a separate pot with its own broth — then puree the potato and use it to thicken the kale-broth mixture. With no added fat in the recipe, I felt rather healthy eating this soup, but the recipe was a bit bland. I would make it again with a few modifications: more potato for a thicker soup and more spices… possibly a bit of olive oil added.  The potato and kale flavors came through well enough, but it needed something more to give me that can’t-stop-eating-it experience.

Red Romaine, Persimmons, Apples, Pears… and Those Radishes
When I mentioned the contents of this box to a friend of mine, he said “That just sounds like one big salad to me.” Nothin’ wrong with that — I love salads! For me, making a good salad is a lot like making good chocolates: choose fresh ingredients that taste delicious and that add a variety of flavors and textures. (What do I know about making chocolate? Lots! Check out my previous gig.)

The red romaine was the foundation for my salads, then I just mixed and matched ingredients I had on hand:

  • Radishes, potatoes, tuna
  • Persimmons, dried cherries, goat cheese, toasted pumkin seeds
  • Persimmons, pears, apples, cashews, and a sprinkling of shredded parmesan
  • Smoked salmon, pears, goat cheese

You get the idea (and yes, I had a lot of goat cheese on hand)! Needless to say, I didn’t get through all of those radishes before the second box arrived. Which leads me to… tah-da!

The second CSA box in all its glory…

CSA Box 2 contentsThe rundown:
(1) small bunch Nantes carrots
(1) small bunch herbs (sage, oregano, rosemary)
(1) fennel
(1) bunch broccol
(1) butternut squash
(6) Satsuma mandarins
(2) apples
(1) container cranberries

A colorful assortment as we head into Thanksgiving week! Already I’m thinking about roasted veggies with fresh rosemary, maybe even  butternut squash soup garnished with fried sage leaves. First up, I’ll definitely be making my favorite Cranberry-Orange scones. The apples, though, are already gone. My 17-year-old kitty, Dante, absolutely loves apples, so we shared them for breakfast. It’s a good morning when I can share a sweet, organic apple with my favorite boy.

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