Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good-bye Summer ...... it is time to go

Dear Summer ,

You have hung around long enough. As we woke up this morning to a shivering below freezing temperature , I think you finally realised it was time to move on . Yesterday you tempted us with temperatures that defy the month of November , temperatures that made us think it was still ok to wear stylish flip flops and squeeze in one more pedicure , and question whether it is really Thanksgiving on thursday.

As I nostalgically looked through my photos I came across photos of my purple bell pepper harvest , and the most delicious tasting basil pesto I have ever made ...... Can you taste food through a photo ??

I realise am not the greatest photograher , I really have to get to know my camera a lot better , however I just stared at this basil pesto for days ..... it was that good . When we finally enjoyed it a few days later in a simple dish of fettucine and pesto - I died and went to heaven .

Tomorrow is Wednesday , the day before Thanksgiving and the day my girls have dedicated to baking . I do not cook for Thanksgiving , I am only just coming to terms with pumpkin pie ( will it be as good as last years attempt ? ) I will let you know . The recipes have been resourced, the ingredients cross checked - there is always a last minute run to the store ..... and the energy is palpable .

Happy Thanksgiving everyone ..... and hello Old Man Winter ..... we are more than ready for you !!!


**** For some great ideas go to my November 2009 archive for something a little different.****  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tale of Three Soups

Friendship is defined by not having to explain yourself . True friends can pick up where they left off and connect in a way that does not require any explanation.

With this in mind I recently re-connected with two wonderful ladies, I got to know through my catering business - and we got together to do what we know best - make soup !! It has been a while since I have had an opportunity to escape the gulag of work and cook soup , but soup it was spanning three very different cultures .

I think everyone understands the nurturing side of soup , the comfort it brings to everyone and the fact that simple ingredients can make outstanding soup . The menu was as follows, pumpkin soup, tortilla soup and miso soup - a very diverse selection which in the end tasted sensational . I did not have my own camera handy , I took the photo of the pumpkin soup the next day ( as i was about to enjoy it for lunch ) the tortilla soup refuses to correct itself and turn right side up - but you get the picture and the miso soup was taken by one of my friends.

The pumpkin soup was delicious and savoury - most recipes I have come across tend to make this soup on the sweet side - by adding apples or apples juice - still love your recipe Ina Garten ..... however it was refreshing to try this soup made with butternut pumpkin, carrots, onion along with fresh tomatoes and hot chili peppers. Simple clean ingredients but with a powerful flavour punch .

Next we made Tortilla Soup , one of my all time favourite mexican soups - and I came to the realisation that all I have eaten in the past is an americanization of the soup . This soup was made authentic , it was full of the mexican flavours we all love and after tasting it gave me a greater appreciation of corn tortillas and the correct way of cooking with them . The soup is basically a very flavourful broth made with dried ancho chilis ( all seeds removed) ,  onions , corn tortillas and fresh tomatoes with chicken broth . One secret ingredient was added to the soup called - espazote - and intensely flavoured herb/green used very sparingly in mexican cooking . The jewel of this soup is in the embellishments we add afterwards like fresh avocado, shredded chicken, queso fresco ( yummy factor +10) crispy tortilla strips and the same of the ancho chilis. The finale to this soup was a touch of mexican crema and a squeeze of fresh lime . OLE !!!

The last soup to be made was Miso Vegetable soup with Tofu and Soba Green Tea Noodles. You know those days when you feel a little run down , those days when you crave a nice clean crisp flavoured soup - then this is the equivalent of jewish penicillin , chicken soup for the soul - the defining pick me up . A flavourful broth of lemongrass and ginger is prepared and allowed to marry for a depth of flavour - to this we added shitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, carrot and celery ( the vegetable component) and then enhanced the flavour of the broth by adding miso paste, soy sauce and a touch of salt . The delicate flavour of the shitake mushrooms is magical in this soup - I would not recommend the regular everyday mushrooms - they will just turn out to be boring and uninteresting and not do justice to the soup . The pick me up finale for this soup is a handful of freshly chopped cilantro and green onions along with a squeeze of fresh lime .

At the end of this session , we had a taste test of the soups we concurred that they were all delicious, they were all diverse and we all went home with dinner ready for the rest of the family to enjoy .

Recipes :

Pumpkin Soup with Tomato and Chili

1 lge butternut pumpkin - cubed
2 large spanish onions
6 vine ripened tomatoes - chopped
4 large carrots
3 red chilis
2 cloves of garlic
flat leave parsley - for decoration

Saute the onions to soften slightly then add the rest of the ingredients , saute for a couple of minutes then cover with just enough water , bring to a boil then simmer until soft . Blend with a hand held blender to a smooth consistency . adjust seasoning if required - serve and sprinkle with some parsley.

Tortilla Soup

1/2 large spanish onion
2 cloves garlic
4 dried ancho chiles - deseeded
3 corn tortillas
4 plum tomatoes
chicken broth
espazote - one small sprig (optional)
mexican oregano

fried corn tortillas
fresh avocado
queso fresco
shredded precooked chicken
mexican crema
friend ancho chili strips
fresh lime

First deseed thoroughly the 4 ancho chilis, put 2 to the side then snip two of them into strips . then gently saute them on some canola oil to soften and release the flavour. remove from pan and keep for the toppings later. 

Next slice the onion and saute along with the chopped garlic in some canola oil until just softened and aromatic. Roughly shred the 3 corn tortillas and add to the onion mixture and saute , stirring all the time - you need to toast and cook through the tortillas - this will be your thickening agent for the broth .

Add the chopped tomatoes , saute for a few minutes then add the broth , bring to a boil , then simmer for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have started to break down. remove from the heat and blend with a hand held mixer until smooth . Bring back to a simmer then add the sprig of espazote and a good pinch of mexican oregano . Simmer for about 10 minutes then turn off the flame and allow the flavours to marry . In the meantime prepare your toppings and add them at serving time.

Miso Vegetable soup with Tofu and Green Tea Soba Noodles

2 small stalks fresh lemongrass
fresh ginger - about the same as 1/2 cup
shitake mushrooms
oyster mushrooms
1 med carrot - peeled
2 stalks celery
miso paste
soy sauce
fresh cilantro
green onions
extra firm tofu
fresh lime wedges
thai bird chilis ( optional)

This soup is all made with approximations. Depending on the size of your pot you adjust the quantity accordingly. Peel the outer layers of the lemongrass stalks and slice into very thin rings , peel the knob of fresh ginger and then slice very thinly and again across the grain - you need to end up with very fine slivers of ginger . add both the water and bring to a boil - then simmer for at least 20 minutes to all the flavours to meld together .

Meanwhile , start slicing the mushrooms thinly, sale for the carrots and the celery - all the vegetables should be the same size as the shitake mushrooms - both for convenience of equal cooking time and for presentation . Once the broth has developed some flavour add the carrots and celery for a few minutes then add the mushrooms and a small handful of soba noodles . Stir to combine - then add the miso paste and soy sauce along with a pinch of salt . At this point you need to taste the soup and adjust the seasoning by adding more miso, salt or soy sauce .

Allow to simmer for no more than 5 minutes , then add the cubed extra firm tofu stir to heat through and off the heat add the chopped fresh cilantro and sliced green onions. Serve with a wedge of fresh lime and some thinly sliced thai bird chilis - for those that like the extra heat .