Carrot & Orange Soup

Carrot & Orange Soup

You know your soup is good when you’re enjoying it cold from the refrigerator in the Tupperware container you stored it in.  It’s even better served warm.

Carrot soup is pretty tame, some might say boring, until it’s cheered up with freshly grated spicy ginger, freshly squeezed orange juice and acidic tomatoes.  Now, that’s a soup with personality!

If you prefer a silky smooth-textured soup, as I do, pour the finished soup through a fine-mesh strainer.  It’s a simple technique that gives puréed soups a luxurious texture, especially when finished with a bit of cream.

Serves 4 – 6

  • 1 tablespoon butter or mild-tasting oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 pounds carrots, about 7 medium, chopped
  • 1 cup diced ripe tomatoes or, if not in season, canned
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, plus zest from half an orange
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated ginger (a microplane is ideal for this)
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cream

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the onions and cook over low heat until translucent and tender.  Add the carrots, tomatoes, orange juice, ginger and only 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, approx. 30 minutes.

Pour the vegetables and liquid into a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process until smooth.

Photo by Caroline West

If you prefer a very smooth-textured soup, pour the finished soup through a fine-mesh strainer (pictured), pressing any remaining solids against the strainer with the back of a spoon.

Return the soup to the pot and reheat. Add only enough chicken stock to reach the desired consistency — you may not need it all.  Add the salt and taste the soup — you may need more salt, depending on your chicken stock.

Add the cream, but be careful not to boil the soup once the cream has been added.

Serve in heated bowls with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt or creme fraise, if desired.

Pita Chips

Using a knife or scissors, split open a pita pocket and cut into wedges. Place the wedges onto a baking sheet, and brush the coarse side of each piece with a little vegetable oil and sprinkle with a bit of Kosher salt.  Bake at 360 F until golden around the edges.

Save


Spicy Thai Noodle Soup

Spicy Thai Noodle Soup

When the weather’s at odds with the season, this light, yet comforting, soup hits the spot.

The aromatic Thai-flavoured broth is made of fish stock and coconut milk steeped with ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. Sidestripe shrimp, rice noodles, and broccoli make for a soup that’s so heartening, you might even forget it’s raining.

I prepare the vegetables and rice noodles separately so there’s no risk of overcooked vegetables or mushy noodles. Everything but the shrimp can be cooked in advance, making this an ideal company dish, rain or shine.

Note – If your grocer doesn’t carry a full selection of Thai ingredients (lemongrass, lime leaves, fish sauce, etc), you’ll be sure to find them at your favourite Asian market.

Serves 4

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound of raw shrimp, shells reserved for the stock
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves minced garlic, about 1 1/2 tsp
2 Tbsp minced ginger, about 1 1/2” chunk
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
2 Tbsp red curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen)
2 – 12 oz [400 ml] cans coconut milk (regular, not “light”)
2 pieces lemongrass, lower three inches, sliced in half and bruised with the dull-side of a knife
4 kaffir lime leaves, each torn in half
2 cups fish (vegetable or chicken) stock
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
4 ounces rice noodles
3/4 cup blanched vegetables* (broccoli, carrots, or bok choy)
Bunch fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
lime slices, for finishing the soup

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the prawn shells, shallots, garlic, ginger, jalapeño pepper, and curry paste. Stir for about two minutes, being mindful not to burn the mixture. If your coconut milk has separated (with thick cream rising to the top), add only the thick cream to the curry paste mixture. If the coconut milk has not separated, use about ½ cup of the the liquid. Simmer until the oil starts to separate and pools on the surface of the spice mixture.

Add the remaining coconut milk, lemongrass, lime leaves, stock, fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then strain the mixture into a clean pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional lime or fish sauce, if desired.

Place the rice noodles in boiling water until just softened, about 2-3 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cold water to prevent overcooking.

Just before serving, bring the soup to a simmer.  Add the prawns and cook just until they’re no longer translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the blanched vegetables and rice noodles to reheat.

Transfer to warmed soup bowls and garnish each serving with cilantro leaves. Serve with fresh lime wedges for guests to add as they wish.

* To blanch vegetables, place them in rapidly boiling, heavily salted water until crisp-tender. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice cold water to retain the colour and prevent overcooking.


Fish en Papiotte

This simple recipe brings back one of my fondest food memories. I prepared this dish in France a few summers ago, when my family exchanged homes with a family from Bordeaux.  Our temporary French home was beautiful but ancient with an oven so small we named it Le Easy Bake.

Whether your oven is big or small, cooking fish in parchment is as easy as it gets. The fish — any variety is fine — is topped with sliced vegetables and a generous pat of flavoured butter and baked in a tidy parcel of parchment. I always enjoy watching my guests tear open their packages, everyone pausing just long enough to inhale the fragrance first. Who wouldn’t love perfectly moist fish, steamed in its own juices and bathed in scented butter?

It doesn’t take a trip to France to create a memorable meal, only the freshest of fish and a courageous amount of butter.

 

Serves four

3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
Kosher salt
1 lb fresh halibut, divided into 4 equal portions, skin removed
2 small sweet yellow peppers, thinly sliced
2 small sweet orange peppers, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp olive and caper butter, recipe below 
4 sprigs thyme
Parchment paper
Egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
Vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Spread the tomatoes on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme and a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Roast in the oven for about 7 to 10 minutes until softened and aromatic.

Cut 4 sheets of parchment large enough to encase the fish and vegetables, measuring about 16” x 12” each.  Fold each sheet in half, leaving four “envelopes” about 8” x 12”.

Open an “envelope” and place one portion of halibut in the centre of one side; season with kosher salt.  Add a quarter of the sliced peppers and roasted tomatoes. Top with a disk of olive and caper butter (about 1 generous tablespoon) and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the edges of the parchment with the beaten egg white.   Fold the parchment in half to enclose the fish, and press the edges together to seal.  Fold or crimp the parchment edges to reinforce the packet.  (It’s important to seal the edges properly, to keep the steam in.)   Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the top of the packet with the vegetable oil to prevent it from burning.  Place on a baking tray.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.

If not cooking the fish immediately, refrigerate the packets until ready to cook. Then allow them to warm at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes before placing them in the oven.

Bake for about 7 to 8 minutes or until the packets puff up and the fish is just cooked.  Serve immediately on warmed dinner plates.  Allow your guests to open each packet themselves.

 

Olive and Caper Butter
½ cup pitted olives, black and green varieties
3 anchovies fillets, mashed with a fork
2 Tbsp rinsed capers
1 ½ tsp hot smoked paprika
1 tsp hot sauce (Sriracha or chili paste)
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup of butter, softened to room temperature

Combine ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and mix until well combined.  Alternatively, chop the olives, anchovies and capers finely; add the paprika, hot sauce, sugar, lemon juice and softened butter. Check the seasoning, adding more hot sauce, salt and lemon as desired.  It should be piquant with a smoky finish.

Spoon the mixture onto a piece of parchment, wax paper or plastic wrap and roll into a cylinder.  Place in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

 

 


Sparkling Consommé

Chicken Consommé

In culinary school our chef instructor insisted on consommé so clear you could read the date on a dime at the bottom of a bowl. He never tossed pocket change into our soup but he did teach us how to transform cloudy stock into a consommé so light and translucent it sparkled — with flavour so pure it can only be described as intense.

The process is old-school odd but fascinating:  you mix lean meat, in this case ground chicken, with egg whites and stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Eventually the proteins merge together and rise to the surface of the stock, creating a grey, scary-looking floating mass, called a “raft” in culinary speak.  The simmering motion draws the stock’s impurities to the raft, rendering the stock beneath it clear and proving, once again, the ingenuity of the French.

If you’re up for a challenge, give it a try and keep the change.

6 cups homemade roasted chicken or beef stock
1/2 pound ground or finely chopped chicken breast, chilled
3 egg whites, chilled
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1” piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
kosher salt

You’ll need a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and placed over a large saucepan.

In a large pot, combine the stock, chicken, egg whites, onions and parsley. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly (to prevent the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the pot). When the stock becomes cloudy and the clarifying ingredients float to the surface and merge together to form a raft, stop stirring and allow the stock to simmer very gently, without disturbing, for about 45 minutes.

Using a large spoon or a ladle, carefully poke a hole in the center of the raft without disturbing the entire raft. If the raft collapses and falls back into your stock, well, you’ve learned a very important lesson on what not to do.

Carefully ladle the consommé from the pot into the cheesecloth-lined sieve. Discard the raft.

Taste the consommé and adjust the seasoning with a pinch of kosher salt if necessary.  Serve on it’s own or with blanched thinly sliced vegetables, steamed chicken or dumplings.

 


Cured Salmon

Cured Salmon

I first cured salmon at culinary school where I learned to scale, gut and fillet whole fish.  If you’ve ever peeled fish scales from your cheeks or plucked them from your hair, you’ll know that scaling fish is a messy job. Fortunately, fresh salmon is readily available scaled and filleted, making the curing process simple even for the most reluctant cook.

There are numerous variations for curing salmon but the principles are similar: bury the fish in seasoned salt and sugar, add a few pounds of weight (cans work well) and allow the salt to work its magic. The salt draws the moisture from the fish and transforms its texture; it’s a preservation technique that’s been around long before refrigeration.

I’ve flavoured my salt with wispy fennel fronds but you could use dill, parsley or a combination of your favourite herbs. Just stay away from pungent herbs,  like rosemary, because they’ll overpower the fish.

I enjoy cured salmon drizzled with a simple vinaigrette and served with raw shallots, fresh dill, capers, lemon and freshly ground black pepper.

Cured salmon keeps for about a week in the fridge, but it never seems to last that long.

Makes about 3/4 – l pound of cured salmon

1 ½ pounds salmon fillet, skin on
2 generous handfuls of fennel fronds, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups kosher salt
2 1/2 cups white sugar
1 Tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 lemon, sliced
2 Tbsp capers
1 shallot, sliced
freshly ground pepper

You’ll need a container large enough to contain the salmon, sugar, salt and herbs. The salmon will release plenty of liquid as it cures, so select a container that will accommodate the additional fluid.

Run your fingers over the flesh of the salmon to check for pin bones; remove with tweezers if present.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped fennel fronds with the salt, sugar, and crushed fennel seeds. Place half the mixture in a large shallow container. Nestle the salmon on top and cover it with the balance of the mixture.

Cover the salmon with plastic wrap and weight it down with a flat object, like a small plastic cutting board, and then with 2-3 cans or other suitable objects weighing about 5 pounds in total.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove the salmon from the curing mixture and rinse thoroughly in cool water. You’ll notice that the salmon’s texture has become firm. Pat completely dry with paper towels.

Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon thinly at a 45-degree angle, holding a corner of the skin to keep it in place. Discard the skin.

Serve with fresh lemon, capers, thinly sliced shallots and freshly ground pepper.