Soups

Khao Soi

As a general rule, I won’t complain about the weather. Snow happens. As does rain. As do those chinooks which bring a brief and welcome reprieve from the short days of winter.

But this year, for the first time, I’ve actually found myself daydreaming about a tropical holiday: aquamarine waters, warm beach, cold drink.

My bank balance, however, won’t allow it.

The next best thing is to eat like I’m somewhere exotic.

A spicy kick to warm the belly was the aim, a meal evocative of southwest Asia to cut through the grey afternoon with wind-whipped snow swirling outside. A little searching led me to Khao Soi, a Thai soup thickly spiced with red curry, but balanced with creamy coconut and spikes of lime. Chicken shredded after cooking in the broth and egg noodles add heartiness to this dish, which requires both fork and spoon to eat.

Pickled mustard greens or cabbage, crispy shallots and deep-fried noodles are traditionally added, but I craved a simpler soup that could be whipped up in less than hour without the need for all the pots in the cupboard. If I was going to pretend to be on a holiday, then coming up with something easily put together made sense.

As such, despite my recent vocal opposition to “recipes” that use cake mixes or jarred sauces – which I’m not against them as a general rule; I just expect when I click over to a food blog for a recipe that it will be how to make something, not just assemble it from pre-made parts – I admittedly came up with a version of Khao Soi that uses Thai red curry paste. I’d argue this falls more toward the practical end of the jarred sauce continuum since it’s comprised of numerous, and sometimes obscure, ingredients. But, since I could have technically made my own curry paste (recipes abound on the Internet), I’ll simply say there are times when shortcuts are warranted; this is one of those times.

I did enhance the curry paste with more garlic and ginger and a sprinkling of spices sautéed to enhance their flavour. The broth is rounded out with salty fish sauce and a bit of brown sugar then poured over bowls of chewy noodles and chicken cooked in the creamy, hot and spicy soup.

A bit of cilantro, lime wedges and bean sprouts added just before serving adds to the complexity.

The soup was all I had hoped for, hot and spicy enough – definitely at the upper end of my albeit low tolerance for heat – with the requisite sour, salty and sweet components that comprise a lot of southwest Asian cooking.

It wasn’t quite like sitting on a beach as aqua waters lap at the sandy shore, but it was at least a culinary escape from the dreary winter.

Khao Soi

I adapted this from a number of sources. I used chicken thighs which have more flavour, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work just as well in a pinch or if preferred. It can easily be made vegetarian by skipping out on the chicken and using vegetable broth. In that case, I’d add some fried tofu to round out the dish.

  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) ginger, finely minced
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cardamom
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) red curry paste
  • 2 14-oz cans (796 mL) coconut milk
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (750 g) chicken thighs, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp (20 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 lb (500 g) fresh egg noodles (see note)
  • Lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots, bean sprouts for serving

In a large pot set over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s shimmering slightly. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir in the ginger. When the garlic and ginger are just cooked, but aren’t yet brown, add the curry powder, turmeric and cardamom. Sauté the spices until the form a paste with the oil and are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red curry paste and stir with the spices, garlic and ginger. Work the paste and spices together and continue cooking, stirring nearly constantly and scraping it up off the bottom of the pot, until they are completely mixed and fragrant, another 2 to 3 minutes. Watch to ensure the spice mixture doesn’t burn. Scoop off the solidified coconut cream from the two cans of coconut milk and add to the pot. Mix well with the spice paste and cook, stirring often, until the red oil from the curry paste starts to separate, bubbling up to the surface, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover until the chicken has cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the chicken to a dish and shred with two forks, setting aside until ready to serve.

Add the fish sauce and brown sugar and taste for seasonings, adding more of one or the other if desired.

Bring another pot of water to a rapid boil and cook the egg noodles until just tender with a slight chew. (Mine only needed about 45 seconds.) Drain and divide between 4 bowls.

Top with shredded chicken and ladle over the broth.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots and bean sprouts.

Serves 4.

 

Note: Find egg noodles at most grocery stores in the produce section or at Asian supermarkets.

Cheddar Corn Chowder

It’s cold. Ergo, I want soup.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - close crop

For one thing, it’s warm and soothing. And for a second, it doesn’t need to take much time to put together, which means I’m back under a blanket eating it without much fuss.

Soup for me often means throwing in random vegetables from the crisper, potatoes, onions and garlic, a Parmesan heel (the leftover rind, which I save in a tightly sealed bag in the freezer) if I have it, fresh herbs if there are any to be found and a few handfuls of a small pasta or rice. It’s about creativity and frugality. Emphasis equally on both.

Other times, I want a bowl of soup that requires no real thought on my part, but delivers with soothing flavour.

I want comfort in a bowl.

Without much hassle.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Cheddar Corn Chowder delivers.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - blue napkin

“It tastes like Thanksgiving,” a friend once said when she tried some.

It’s an apt description. The corn and potatoes, combined in the unexpectedly rich, chicken-y broth is a nod to the family holiday.

The turmeric adds a nice golden colour, while the addition of flour cooked in a decadent combination of bacon fat, olive oil and butter, thickens the soup to an almost gravy-like consistency. The sweetness of the corn works nicely in the savoury broth with the soft potatoes, and a few handfuls of white Cheddar.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - ingredients

And yet for a mid-week meal, it’s a good choice. The chowder is relatively quick to make — especially since you can easily substitute frozen corn for fresh, as I have done here, and the potatoes require no peeling. Paired with a salad, it can be a full, well-rounded meal.

Frankly, on its own, it’s quite filling.

And fairly fast.

From start to finish, this took less than 45 minutes. That could be partly because I prepped as I went along. Tossing the bacon into the pot, I started chopping onions. Onions starting to saute, and I moved on to dicing the potatoes. (I use baby potatoes, which need little more attention than cutting into quarters, so even less work this way.) Once the potatoes were cooking in the soup, I got on with grating the cheddar. And so on.

(That even includes the inevitable 30-second break I have to take after chopping onions to deal with my intensely watering eyes. Aside: I seem to have lost any immunity to raw onions. Sad but true.)

There are enough gaps between adding ingredients and letting them cook that there’s even a bit of time to tidy up before the soup is served.

That means when it’s ready, there’s less guilt about pouring a bowl and getting back under the blanket for some soup sipping.

And with temperatures slipping back down to the negative double digits this week, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - red napkin

Cheddar Corn Chowder

I cut this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 1999) in half because the original serves 10 to 12 people. Even halved it makes a lot of soup, which is great for leftovers.

Need more? Doubling it is easy. In the summer and fall, substitute frozen corn with fresh (from about 5 ears) by cutting off the kernels and cooking them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water.

  • 1/4 lb (125 g) bacon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
  • 3 cups (750 mL) chopped yellow onions (about 2 large)
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground turmeric
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) chicken stock
  • 3 cups (750 mL) medium-diced white boiling or baby potatoes, unpeeled
  • 5 cups (1.25 L) corn kernels
  • 1 cup (250 mL) half-and-half
  • 1/4 lb (125 g) sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large stockpot on medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Add the corn to the soup, then add the half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

Serves 5 to 6.

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.

Bonus: I took a shot of the set up I used to make this photo work. Since it was earlier in the day than usual (I typically shoot in the afternoon), I needed to get the dish up even closer to the window. So, that’s why there’s a stool on the table. That’s a laptop sleeve propping up the edge of the white cardboard. Classy, right? Sometimes I have to also hold up the edge of the cardboard to ensure it’s a plain white background. This gets particularly tricky when dealing with things like soup. It’s really time to invest in a tripod.

This is how I shoot photos

Basil Vinaigrette

If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you may remember when I mentioned that I once bought a cookbook simply for a salad dressing recipe. Subsequently, I’ve learned to love Rebar’s lime sugar cookies and have tried numerous other recipes in the book. But it’s the basil vinaigrette that keeps me coming back to this book every single time.

Salad close-up

I first tried the basil dressing when I had a salad at Rebar one afternoon. It was a fantastic meal. (I have this theory about salads, that they are always best when someone else makes them. In this case, it’s not all that surprising when you look at what they include in their giant salads: grated beets, grated carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheese . . . . The list goes on.) And I’ve barely tried anything else when I’ve gone there again because the salad is so good.

And they don’t blink when I ask for a little extra dressing on the side.

People, this is good stuff.

And no doubt, there is A LOT of basil in here. Once blended with vinegars, dijon and a few other ingredients, then emulsified with olive oil, this comes out very thick, very green and very fantastic.

Basil

As soon as basil starts to show up at the farmer’s market each summer, I buy a couple of huge bunches, make a batch or two of pesto and then this dressing, which I devour on salads all week.

(Um, may I suggest checking your basil before blending?)
Extra passenger

The measurement for basil (1 1/2 ounces) doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a few cups, so make sure to buy enough. Otherwise, cut the recipe in half if you don’t have enough.

All in the blender

Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette II

Dressing on lettuce

Simple salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette

from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor (I use a blender and that works just as well, I’ve found.) and blend. Slowly add olive oil in a slow, thin stream until thick and creamy.

Season to taste and serve. Can be refrigerated up to three days.

Vichyssoise

What do you get when you bring together four food bloggers and the idea to all cook something from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking? A helluva lot of delicious food and many full bellies. Not that any of us were complaining, that’s for sure.

It was all Julie’s idea. In honour of the move Julie & Julia coming out, she invited over myself, Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet, Pierre of Kitchenscraps and Gail of The Pink Peppercorn, along with everyone’s significant others. Our only task was to bring one dish out of Child’s cookbook. Since I had to work that day, there seemed to be only one logical choice: a chilled soup. That way I could make it the day before and just let it sit in the fridge at work without doing any harm and no need to reheat. The fact that it turned out to be about -29C that day made my choice seem to be a bit ridiculous. After all, who wants to eat cold soup when it’s stupidly freezing out? But, after a first course of delicious French cheeses and Julie’s homemade Raincoast Crisps (along with a glass or two of bubbly), we had all warmed up enough that it didn’t seem so bad.

Soup on the table

There is something a bit daunting too about cooking for other food lovers, particularly two who have cookbooks out and are serious players on the local (and beyond) food scene. But, I’m happy to say, this soup is stupidly good.

“Potato milkshake!” Pierre declared.

Leek and Potato

Vichyssoise

And he’s not wrong. It was a rich, thick, creamy soup (I’m sure in no small part to the 3/4 cup of whipping cream that went into it!) that was intensely flavoured. I definitely could have eaten more the bowl I had, but I’m glad I didn’t because there was more courses to come.

The other thing that happens when you bring together four food bloggers is that the actual eating doesn’t take place until after all the photographing. We were all jammed into Julie’s kitchen snapping away for a good 15 minutes or so; what the significant others were doing during that time, I know not.

Bloggers

(For the record, yes, I shot the soup earlier in the day at work because the light was better. I really need to get better at flash photography.)

And it was a fine spread that needed to be documented. Boeuf Bourguignon with mashed potatoes, ratatouille, Pommes Parisien (read: cooked in delicous oil and butter) and a work-of-art Moussaka that had us all holding our breath as it was unmolded.

Unmolding

Moussaka

Potatoes

The Spread

And that was just dinner. For dessert, Cheryl outdid herself with Reine de Saba (a chocolate cake, though that is an understatement) and a Grand Marnier Souffle that I sous-chefed with her (thanks Cheryl!)

Grand Marnier Souffle

The food was fantastic; I stuffed myself silly and felt like I needed to roll myself out to the car after. The next time we do one of these, I’m wearing stretchy pants.

All done

Most of all, though, it was great to meet some great new people and hang out with some old (as in known for longer, for the record) friends.

Conversation

This is the original recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Vichyssoise
[Cold Leek and Potato Soup]

  • 3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes
  • 3 cups sliced white of leek
  • 1 1/2 quarts of white stock, chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons minced chives

Simmer the vegetables in stock for about 40 to 50 minutes until tender. Puree in a blender or through a food mill. Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as the salt loses savor in a cold dish. Chill. Serve in chilled soup cups and decorated wtih minced chives.

The recipe says it serves 6 to 8. We stretched it to nine with no great effect. But, then again, we had about 10 other things to eat….