Soups: 2 Recipes for the Cold Months

This morning, with bits of snow still on the ground, a cacophony of birdsong flooded my yard–as if it were spring. 

The sound stopped suddenly, and I supposed this talkative flock had rested in our large magnolia before heading to its destination. I’m taking it as a sign that spring isn’t too far off. 

In the meantime, we still have cold days ahead and I mean to make some favorite soup recipes and keep the fireplace roaring. At least until every morning is filled with birdsong!

Sidenote: Here’s a tip for when you eat out or order in: if you get soup from a restaurant that fails to impress, add butter and a squeeze of lemon. The combination brightens a dull diner soup. For vegetable soups, a teaspoon of basil pesto swirled in, and a sprinkle of parmesan on top, is delicious.

Parisian Potage 

This recipe comes from Jaques Pépin. Recently, he posted a video on Facebook where he made a quick variation of this soup by adding potato flakes instead of chopped potatoes. For a quick lunch, give it a try–adding potato flakes to taste. For either recipe, top with grated gruyere. Potatoes and gruyere cheese are soulmates.

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large leek, damaged outer leaves discarded, split, washed well, and finely minced (3 cups)

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and held in cold water

4 cups (1 quart) homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chervil

1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese or a dollop of softened unsalted butter (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into sticks about 3/4-inch thick and slice the sticks crosswise into 1/8-inch slivers (you will have about 3 cups). The potatoes should be kept in water after peeling, but they should not be washed after they are cut into slivers; this will wash away their starch, which helps make the soup smooth.
  3. Add the stock, water, salt, and pepper to the leeks, then mix in the potato slivers. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil gently for about 12 minutes.
  4. Serve the soup with a sprinkling of the parsley or chervil on top and, if you like, the grated cheese or a dollop of butter.

Coconut and Chickpea Soup

This is a variation of Epicurious’ African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 medium red bell pepper (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and peeled, fresh or canned (see Cook’s Tip)

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (not lite)

3/4 cup cooked white or brown rice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 

Asian fish sauce to taste–or about two teaspoons

Juice from a half of a lime, or to taste

PREPARATION

  1. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper: cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  1. Add the garlic and chili garlic sauce and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. 
  1. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

To make a heartier supper, add a cup of cooked, chopped chicken to the soup.

Serve with fresh cilantro leaves and lime wedges. 

We hope you enjoy these recipes. Let us know what you think.

Throwing an Intimate Valentine’s Dinner for Two

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. At least according to Plato, who lived well over two thousand years ago.

There’s something comforting in knowing that love hasn’t changed so very much, despite the passing of centuries. It remains undimmed and unweathered. Perhaps the one constant.

If you are fortunate enough to love and be loved, this is the holiday to turn your thoughts towards poetry. But it doesn’t have to be an exercise in actual word crafting, if that’s not your talent. 

Photo by Modern Glam

A careful arrangement of flowers, a poached pear swimming in cream and cinnamon syrup, a room flooded in candlelight: each is a little poem all on its own. Your offering is even more lovely because it reflects the contents of your heart.

Staying in for a romantic evening lends itself to all kinds of creativity. So make your own kind of poetry.

Set the Scene

First, decide what the ideal romantic atmosphere is for you. Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to decorate with pink and purple heart-shaped doilies and gold foil cupids. Every holiday is your holiday, and it doesn’t have to be anything but what you decide.

Consider where you two first met or where you had your first date. Or use elements from a trip you took together. 

Can any of that be recreated? Perhaps a version of a special restaurant’s signature cake, the music that was playing when you first danced, or what you wore and how you did your hair.

Photo by Maringirl

If you’re avid campers, set up the tent in your living room surrounded by candles. Be careful to keep any pets out of the room because tails easily catch fire when a curious furry creature gets too close. (Or, use deep containers like glass vases or mason jars.) A pine bough placed nearby would add a glorious scent of the outdoors while you’re all cozy inside.

Candlelight everywhere, whether you’re campers or not, is always lovely. Have a fireplace? Turn down the thermostat and let the fire roar.

What to Wear

Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to look like it. Dress as if you’re going out to your favorite restaurant. If you would normally wear make up, do so. Or, wear what your partner loves the most. 

Bring the Best of Yourselves: Plan Ahead

In your efforts to give your Love a beautiful evening, don’t overdo it. Don’t let the frazzle of a five-course meal that needs constant care take away from your date. You’ll want to have calm conversation and not end up napping during dessert.

Choose dishes you can make ahead of time. Dip those strawberries early, make that cake the day before. Buy favorite treats such as foil-wrapped hearts and truffles, and display them in a candy dish.

These Greek Salad Skewers with Anchovy Aioli from Food and Wine Magazine can be made up to four days in advance.

For dessert, why not try a Chocolate Budino with Candied Walnuts?

And here’s a recipe for Cold Roast Salmon with Smashed Green Salad from Epicurious that can be made a day before. 

If you prefer your entree warm, have everything else ready and let that be the only element still cooking. 

Avocado butter is the perfect accompaniment to grilled fish. It tastes rather wonderful melting over a piece of chicken or even a steak, too.

This recipe for avocado butter is from George and Piret Munger of Piret’s restaurant in Southern California. The restaurant itself is, sadly, long gone and their marvelous cookbook out of print. Their farmhouse French food, served amidst bright copper pots and a black and white checkerboard floor, was a memorable experience. 

They served this butter with grilled swordfish steaks marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, garlic, oil, and dijon mustard. But, like we said, this goes well with any grilled fish. 

Avocado Butter

½ cup butter

½ cup ripe mashed avocado

5 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt, to taste

Whip the butter in a small mixing bowl until it is soft and creamy. Beat in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine Cookie Knockouts: Using Marzipan

When travel is a possibility again, and should you find yourself going to Austria, prepare for requests from friends and family asking you to bring back chocolate. 

Those in the know will ask for little round balls of pistachio marzipan dipped in light and dark pralines, covered in dark chocolate. Each is wrapped in foil that’s stamped with a portrait of the musical master himself: Mozart. 

Mozartkulgen is a traditional favorite and a popular souvenir of the city of Salzburg. After touring the Sound of Music sites, the cathedrals, the fortress, the marionette theater, and Mozart’s birthplace, no one wants to miss picking up a box or two of Salzburg’s famous delicacies.

Marzipan for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking about marzipan–which is a sugared almond paste. Godiva, apparently, sells chocolate-covered marzipan hearts for the holiday, but going by the public outcry online, the coveted creations are hard to come by. 

Frosted Heart Shape Cookie recipe by Delish

Frosted heart-shaped cookies make an excellent gift, especially when they’re handmade and beautifully decorated. Although fondant allows you to be more intricate with your creations, it doesn’t add anything to the deliciousness of your baked goods. A simple powdered sugar and butter frosting tastes much better on top of the perfect crisp sprinkle cookie.

Now I’ve used marzipan twisted into braided bread and as an ingredient in cake, but I’ve never considered putting it into a cookie recipe before. But it makes sense. Marzipan is an excellent replacement for fondant because it has a lovely flavor .

This year, make your favorite sprinkle cookie recipe, but  substitute the vanilla with almond extract. This will mirror the taste of the almond paste in the cookie. Also keep in mind that people often flavor marzipan. Orange is a particular favorite.

You can purchase red or pink marzipan, or make your own recipe like this at Partylicious. You’ll need to use a gel food coloring, like you would if you were using fondant. Once you have the mixture rolled out, use a smaller (than you used for the cookie base) heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the marzipan hearts. Carefully place them on the cookies before the frosting dries out. 

If you’d like the traditional chocolate/marzipan combination, use chocolate frosting. Pink or red on top of chocolate frosting with some sprinkles around the edges would make a lovely presentation. 

East Marbled Fondant Valentine’s Day Cookie Recipe

Tips For Making Marzipan from Partylicious:

  1. If you mix it too long and it starts to get oily and shiny, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it cool for 15-30 minutes.  It should start to reabsorb some of the oils. Add more powdered sugar while rolling out the marzipan until it is a consistency you feel comfortable working with.
  2. You can color marzipan with gel food coloring the same as you would fondant.
  3. When rolling it out, use a slip mat or parchment paper lightly covered in powdered sugar. This helps the marzipan to not stick.
  4. Keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap when not using. The marzipan will dry out if uncovered too long.
  5. Keep stored in the refrigerator when not using.
  6. You want to use this very soon after you make it. It will keep in the fridge 1-2 days.

After some searching, I was able to find another site that also came up with the idea of topping sprinkle cookies with marzipan. This recipe comes from Canada.They don’t frost the cookies first. Instead, they brush honey on the cookies to attach a marzipan layer and then decorate the marzipan with sprinkles, gold leaf, and non pareils.  Check out the recipe at Canadian Living for more inspiration.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

3 Ways to Make Life More Beautiful in the New Year

There’s very little to be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been said. At its best, the year was a surprise and a challenge. At its worst, for those who’ve battled illness or lost loved ones, 2020  was absolutely devastating. 

In difficult times, choosing joy despite the challenges we face can be an act of bravery. 

Now, we have a new year before us. One we can fill however we like. We may not be able to control all the events in our lives, but we can choose how to respond. No doubt, the time ahead will bring its own challenges and joys, and we can choose to add as much light and beauty in the new year, come what may.

Make and Enjoy Good Art

In a stirring graduation speech, author Neil Gaiman said:

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”

He didn’t say it had to be perfect or Mozart-level genius art. But we can channel our experiences into art and be better for it.

Swannannoa [Oil on Canvas] by Carrie Allen

For some reason, we don’t think we have to be professionals to play tennis or sing in the shower. We think there’s something shameful in writing a poem if we’re not Lorca or painting a landscape if we’re not Monet.

However, we are made up of how we spend our time. The act of creation shapes us into something better.

According to oilpixel.com, “Art in any form, whether while creating or observing, reduces the stress hormone called cortisol. It also releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins which helps you combat stress and pain. By letting you enjoy a sense of fulfillment, it transforms you into a more positive, well-rounded human being.”

To make your life more beautiful, consider adding more art to your life. Dust off those paintbrushes, get your piano tuned, take up the ukulele. Create, and you’ll reduce your stress and invite more happiness into your life. 

Sometimes people don’t realize that beautifying their home or making an exquisite dinner are forms of art too. But they are. A salad can be a poem. Especially if there are strawberries involved.

Artistry in nature can be breathtaking. Bring elegant, natural elements into your home to reflect the beauty and colors we find in the outdoors. Different textures are an essential detail to frame the smoother, softer palettes you have probably already chosen in your decorating. 

In the end, decorating, baking, writing, painting, sculpting, and all other forms of creation make life more glorious.

Besides, if you devote your time and effort, maybe you will make Beauty. Maybe you’ll get better at it.  Maybe you’ll find you’re even good at it.

Help Others

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: … the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” ― Albert Schweitzer

Over the years, we’ve learned that “Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.” 

As we mature, we realize that giving is more satisfying than receiving. Giving doesn’t have to be a financial gift. Volunteering our time to worthy causes boosts our happiness and leads to a better quality of life. Find something you’re passionate about and champion that cause.

In the spirit of giving, one great way to give back is to:

Support Artists

In a world that uses art to survive, but undervalues its artists, support those who make life more beautiful with their creations.

Buy books from Indie publishers so the author will get the standard royalty from the purchase. Go to local galleries and shows, and buy the artist’s work when a piece of art stirs something in you. Promote authors and their work on social media and invite your friends to their events.

Filling your life with beauty, and helping others, might be the best ways to increase your hope and happiness. 

You’ll find combining the two can be miraculous.