Ugly Soup

Lentil & Potato Soup

I’m sure there are many Italians who do not appreciate the nickname I’ve given this soup, but really, I had little choice. Whenever make this soup for someone for the first time, objections are raised immediately. I mean, it does look like dog food. It’s really just not even a little bit pretty.

Happily, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in taste. Especially my jazzed-up version. Traditionally, this is a comforting yet very dull soup. But I’ve added a little trick that takes it from good to great, and all because my kids are little potato-heads.

In most versions, this is a plain lentil soup with diced potatoes, a tomato base (I prefer a broth base), some aromatics. Cheap and…not cheerful, exactly, but nourishing. I made it a touch nicer by using Puy lentils or black beluga lentils which retain their shape a little more, are not so musty tasty as regular lentils, and are a less dreary shade of khaki when cooked. I threw in a Parmasean rind to the broth for a little more backbone.

But the greatest tidbit is this: use leftover fried potatoes. Fry them up in olive oil, or bacon grease, or duck fat. Whatever you like. But fry them up with big slices of garlic that get nicely browned and caramelized on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Add those to your soup, then add more garlic. And top with Parmesan cheese.

Now come on. Anything would taste great if you cooked it up like that and drizzled it with olive oil. But these garlicky lentils are more palate-pleasing than you can possible believe. And given that they are full of protein, fibre, magnesium, folic acid, zinc and Vitamins A & C, and cheap to boot, why are earth are you not cooking lentils with regularity?

I know you all have Instapots now, so you can pressure cook your lentils, like I did. Or just cook them on a stovetop. I have a stovetop pressure cooker, which I really should use more often. I find it provides me more control and flexibility than a countertop version. But to each her own.

If you don’t have leftover fried potatoes, it’s worth making them for this soup. Plain peeled, uncooked are fine, but we can have good nutrition AND great taste, and so we shall.

This is your new comfort food. And when you’ve made it and surprised yourself, you can torment and delight your friends and neighbours like I have. And feed them well at the same time.

Ugly Soup

Lentil and potato soup gets a flavour boost form two kinds of garlic and hearty fried potatoes.
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack, Soup
Cuisine American, Canadian, Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup Puy or black lentils Rinse and pick over your lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 8-10 fresh bay leaves (or 3-6 dried)
  • 2 lbs. Yukon potatoes, diced
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fine sea salt (non-iodized)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (or fat of your choice)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse your lentils. If you're using the fancy Puy variety, they should be clean but take a look for tiny twigs nonetheless.
  • Add lentils to a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, 4-6 fresh bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to high heat, reduce to medium high, and cook for 10-12 minutes. The lentils will mostly retain their shape, but if they get a little mushy, that's just fine. That will help add some body to the soup.
  • Or bring the above ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmmer and leave on the stove for an hour and a half. You choose. (Get a pressure cooker!)
  • While the lentils are cooking away, rinse then dice the potatoes.
  • Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the pan is heated, add your oil and let it get hot before adding your potatoes. Throw them in the hot oil, sprinkle them with a tbsp of salt and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave undisturbed while potatoes develop a nice brown crust.
  • Take 6-8 cloves of garlic and slice them into thick pieces, 2 or three per clove. Drop on top of the potatoes as they cook.
  • When the lentils are done, turn off heat. Open the valve for quick release. Once it's quit sputtering, remove the lid. Check to see how much water remains. They should be almost covered but not quite. Add 1-2 cups of chicken stock, depending on how much water has evaporated from the lentils.
  • Throw in the Parmasean rind and the rest of the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer while you turn your attention back to the potatoes.
  • Using a spatula, try to flip potatoes around so that they brown all over.
  • Simmer the lentils for as long as you need to to ensure lentils are thoroughly softened. This could be as little as 5 minutes if the pressure cooker did the trick, but take whatever time you need.
  • Mince 4-8 cloves—I'm serious!—and add them to the soup.
  • Once the potatoes are thoroughly browned, add them to the soup. Stir in grated Parmasean. Taste for salt.
  • Top with more cheese, Italian parsley if you can find it, fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Like most soups, this is better the next day, but it is delicious and fortifying straight from the pot. Stay warm, my friends!
Keyword #lentilpotatosoup, #lentilsoup, #lotsagarlic

Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

My favourite cookies, this recipe is simplicity itself. These cookies are humble, delicious and beautifully unpretentious.

They don’t need beurre noisette (browned butter), they don’t need a topping of large flakes of exotic salts, and they certainly don’t need chocolate chips! (But I can’t stop you, can I?) They just need to made and enjoyed as is.

These may seem plain when compared to the many decadent, multi-layered, adorably shaped cookies that appear all over Instagram and Pinterest. That’s okay. I have always love the delighted look of surprise on the faces of those who try them, often out of sheer courtesy. “These cookies are really good!” they exclaim with shocked expressions. These cookies defy expectations.

This is my grandma’s recipe, and she made damn good cookies. You want super-charged, ultra-loaded, tweaked and upgraded cookies, look elsewhere. Here lies the beauty of the original. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

Grandma's original recipe, these plain-seeming cookies are rich in flavour and tradition.
Prep Time 15 mins
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American, British, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt (or ½ tsp kosher salt)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375°
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars. Add eggs, then vanilla. Alternatively, you can mix them all together by hand in a large bowl.
  • Add flour mixture to the sugar-butter mixture. Stir until combined. Add coconut and oats. Stir in until dispersed evenly. I like to use my hands for this last step.
  • Drop from a tablespoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie tray. Bake for 15 munites, or until tan at the edges and golden brown all over.
Keyword #dadscookies, #oatmealcookies, #simplerecipes, oatmealcoconutcookies

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is less of a pumpkin-spice recipe and more of a pumpkin-herb recipe. I started by wanting to use up leftover Thanksgiving pie pumpkins, so I went to a Bon Appetit recipe that caught my eye. It used butternut squash and coconut milk, but a squash is a squash is a squash. Use whatever you have—I certainly felt free to. And that’s what good home cooking is: using up what’s at hand while making it taste delightful.

The Bon Appetit recipe used garlic and ginger as the main sources of flavour, adding a little heat with chili flakes and cilantro. All well and good, but I needed more from my soup. If I’m to be drinking/eating healthy vegan things, they must have maximal flavour, dammit.

An upgrade was easily achieved with the addition of some chopped lemongrass and fresh lime leaves, simmered in with the pumpkin as it cooks. This made a huge difference. My pumpkin soup went from having a nice taste to an excellent one. It meant putting the lemongrass in some cheesecloth, then extracting it along with the lime leaves right before blending, rather than just dumping the whole pot into the blender. A tiny effort well worth the exertion.

This soup is warm, healthy, and cheerful as can be. If you want to reduce the fat content, use light coconut milk. I made a big batch that was a perfect host to leftover grilled shrimp, some sautéed kale from the night before, some quickly cooked green beans. I topped it with the cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course peanuts and toasted coconut would be lovely as well. Cilantro haters, you know very well that you can and will skip that particular ingredient. You know who you are.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

A warming, filling, herbacous soup that is as healthy as it is tasty.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine Southeast Asian
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 Thai chilis (optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only
  • 4-6 lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 4-4½ lbs pumpkin
  • 1 small bunch cilantro

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Preheat a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat, adding the oil once it's warm. Dice the onion and sauté until translucent. Turn down to medium low.
  • Mince garlic and chilis, if using. Grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro stems. Sauté everything together on medium low.
  • Peel and seed the pumpkins, or whatever squash you have. A thinner skinned squash willl yield more flesh, so you could start with 3½-4 lbs. Chop into roughly evenly sized cubes and add to the pot.
  • Add water just to cover, then add coconut milk and 2 tsp of salt.
  • Chop lemongrass and wrap in cheesecloth or put into a dispoable tea bag and add to soup. Add lime leaves and salt.
  • Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer until pumpkin is soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool a bit.
  • Rinse seeds, discarding most of the stringy flesh. Don't worry if you don't get it all, it will dry up and separate more easily after baking. Cover seeds in 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  • Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Toast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Toast until golden brown.
  • Come back to your soup. Just before you pour it in the blender, remove the lemongrass and lime leaves. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full, and make sure there's a little ventilation if it's still steaming hot. You do not want your kitchen to look like a Jackson Pollack painintg.
  • Blend until silky smooth. Pour back into the pot to reheat before serving. Top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and unsweetened toasted coconut, if you have it. Voilà!
Keyword #coconut, #lemongrass, #pumpkin, #pumpkinsoup, ginger

Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Three small additions take your homemade cranberry from good to great.

So everybody knows you don’t buy cranberry sauce. It’s the very easiest thing to make ever.

You buy a package of cranberries, and as per instructions on the back, you boil them with sugar, water and the zest of an orange. Fait accompli.

That does very nicely. But these three small tweaks take your cranberry sauce from good to great in short order.

You replace the water and brown sugar with maple syrup. Add a strong pinch of salt. Add a tiny pinch of cloves. It’s perfect.

The maple syrup adds complexity. The salt adds depth. The musty, heavy flavour of cloves battles the tart tinniness of the cranberries. The ultimate Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. For a Christmas turkey, add an extra pinch of cloves. Tastes like Christmas in a jar.

This is not only a great sauce, it’s a great gift. My family prefers gravy, so I end up putting the cranberry sauce in plain yoghurt for a week. This is a happy occurrence. But I make it for company, and they always describe it in superlative terms.

Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Maple syrup, salt and cloves add a little backbone to this tradiitonal sauce.
Cook Time 5 mins
Course Garnish
Cuisine American, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 package fresh cranberries (8 oz, 227 g)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • tsp kosher or sea salt
  • zest and juice of one orange
  • 1 pinch cloves

Instructions
 

  • Put all ingredients in a pot, and bring to boil over high heat. Put a lid on and cook over medium heat. When you no longer hear the cranberries popping, about 5 minutes, turn off the heat.
  • Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Notes

Cranberry sauce is lovely stirred into plain yoghurt or on top of plain cheesecake. 
Keyword #bestevercranberrysauce, #cranberries, #cranberry, #cranberrysauce, #maplesyrupeverything, #newcranberrysauce, #thanksgiving, #turkeydinner

Double Maple Pear Pie

This is the most Canadian of pies. And just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, for those of you who don’t like pumpkin pie. (Why don’t you like pumpkin pie? I don’t understand.) Okay, maybe butter tarts or straight up maple sugar pie are slightly more Canadian, but this is delightfully seasonal and tasty as all get out. Perfect for your Thanksgiving table. 

This award-winning pie came first in our local pie contest last year. I was so looking forward to entering again with a new creation. No pie contests being held this year, obviously, but since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to focus on gratitude. Thankful for my family, for kind friends, and the comforts of our yearly turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. Hoping you able to take comfort in the same blessings this year. 

Most of the pear pie recipes I consulted before making this one used either maple syrup or maple sugar. I say double down like you’re at Timmy’s. I have maple flavouring, so I added that as well. And I serve it with a thimble of Sortilège on the side. 

It used to be that you could only find blocks of hard maple sugar at farmer’s markets that you had to grate by hand. Local is always superior, but you can buy maple sugar online now or at Costco. 

Use dark maple syrup if you can find it. I love cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices with pears, but I’ve only used allspice (you could substitute cloves) here because it amplifies the maple flavour without distracting from it. Lemon juice has been replaced by Sortilège, bourbon or rum. 

I always double the recipe so that I can use a variety of pears for a more complex flavour profile. 

Double Maple Pear Pie

The pear pie uses maple syrup and maple sugar combined for an extra dose of flavour. Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Resting time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings -8

Equipment

  • Pie plate
  • Tin foil
  • Apple slicer

Ingredients
  

  • 3 ½  lbs. firm Bosc pears, usually 7-9 large pears
  • ¼  cup maple sugar (plus extra for decorating)
  • ¼  cup dark maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp allspice (or 1/8 tsp cloves)
  • 1 tsp maple or vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 tsp maple liqueur, rum, or bourbon 
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 double crust pie crust, rolled and rested

Instructions
 

  • Line pie plate with one half pie dough. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Roll the other half flat and return both to the fridge. 
  • Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C) in a regular oven, or 350°F (180°C) in a convection oven. 
  • Mix sugar, syrup, salt, cornstarch, allspice, extract and liqueur (if using). Stir together until sugar and cornstarch dissolves.  
  • Section pears with a handheld apple slicer if you have one (see photo), slicing peels off and making each slice relatively even. Toss to coat after each pear to prevent oxidization. 
  • Put pear mixture in the chilled pie dough.
  • Beat the egg with a tsp. of water to make an egg wash.
  • Paint the edge of the dough with the egg wash, then add the other rolled out pie dough in top. Brush egg wash all over. Pinch the edges together.
  • Cut vents with a knife. Sprinkle with more maple sugar on top. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Place or a cookie sheet to catch any spillage.
  • Bake for 45 minutes covered. Remove foil, then bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown and the juices are bubbling up through the cracks. 
  • If you double the recipe, you can skip the tin foil. Just rotate the pies, one above and one below.

Notes

  • For deep dish, add another 4 pears and 2 tbsp. maple sugar. Don’t add more liquid.
  • Use pears that are just ripe or almost ripe. Very ripe or over-ripe pears become mushy when cooked.
  • If a pear is grainy, don’t add it to your mix. Just toss it or eat it raw.
  • For the best all-butter, double piecrust recipe, check Brave Tart’s recipe.
Keyword #falldesserts, #fruitpie, #holiday, #maplepear, #maplepearpie, #pearpie, #pie, #thanksgiving

Poached Pears in Magnolia-Scented Oolong

Many of us are familiar with jasmine tea, but magnolia flowers are a prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine as well, appearing in recipes for food as well as in scented tea. 

Magnolia is usually associated with spring, with weddings, with feminine beauty and purity, so now is an odd time of year to feature this flower. But in traditional Chinese medicine, magnolia is also associated with respiratory health, as are pears. And pears are definitely a fall fruit, so we’ve got all the reasons we need to go ahead. (Note that I’m not claiming this combination as a health tonic, but I feel we need every little bit of comfort we can contrive these days.)

The real reason I’ve united these two together is that they are both delicate. Stronger flavours easily overwhelm the beauty of a pear. Now, not all pears are beautiful. Supermarket pears can be dreary and uninspiring unless they are local and even then, they are often picked far too soon. But when you do get one in its prime, it is a shame to bury it under a heavier flavour.

I’ve used Murchie’s Magnolia Oolong  for this recipe, although I’ve also made it with David’s Tea’s version, which also has jasmine flowers in it. Could you make this recipe with jasmine tea? Sure, but why not try something new? These flowers are prized for their beauty and scent and are every bit as lovely in teas as jasmine flowers.

For the pears: different types of pears require different cooking times. The first time I made this recipe was with beautiful little Fiorelle pears, but those weren’t available when I went to the store. Determined not to let the memory of the perfect become the enemy of the altogether lovely, I tried with the pears that I did find. 

For poached whole pears, I used mini-NorthBrites, since I had those from a local farmer. And my word were they incredible! Perfect pear flavour! But such tiny pears are cooked through the minute the poaching liquid comes to a boil, and so receive very little infusion. This is not much of a problem, since the reduction imparts the magnolia flavour very well, and the magnificent taste of these precious pears is fully manifest.  

To poach larger pears in what is some very expensive tea, I couldn’t bury whole pears under a ton of liquid. I solved this easily by slicing them in half, poaching them, and allowing them to cool just a little before peeling them and basting them with the still-reducing liquid. Here’s where the variety REALLY makes a difference.

Both red and yellow Anjous cook very quickly and become slightly grainy. The texture is like that of tinned pears, so not unfamiliar, and still tasty. Certainly, the red ones offer a lovely hue. But a Bosc pear poaches into a lovely firm, smooth texture, and can be cooked just before it’s ripe. It requires a longer cooking time, which allows for greater absorption of the magnolia flavour, and the result is a delight. 

This recipe is not quite vegan, because it calls for honey, but agave syrup would be an acceptably mild substitute. 

When poaching pears, you can peel them first, or poach and then peel. The peels slip off easily if you blanch them and then shock them in ice water, but we don’t wish to dilute our poaching liquid. You can poach them, then peel them while still warm, and thus make a smoother surface. I’m far too impatient for such careful measures, though, so my pears were a little rough on the surface. I don’t care, but if you do, proceed accordingly. Make ahead, store for a few days, or enjoy the same day.

Magnolia Oolong Poached Pears

Pears are poached in a glorious magnolia scented oolong and drenched in a magnolia-pear-honey reduction for a simple, delicate, unexpected dessert.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • ½  cup magnolia oolong loose leaf tea
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 Bosc pears
  • 1 cup pear juice
  • ½  cup honey

Instructions
 

  • Bring water to a boil. Let cool to 85°C (185°F) and add tea. Let sit for 3 minutes, then remove tea leaves and set aside.
  • Peel pears, then slice pears in half, coring with a melon baller. Place pears in tea, bring tea to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 2 minutes, or until a knife goes in easily.
  • Remove pears with a slotted spoon to a drying rack.
  • Bring tea back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Reduce by half, then add in pear juice and honey, and continue reduce to 1 cup.
  • Remove pears to a dish, middle facing down. Brush occasionally with reducing liquid. When it is reduced to one cup, baste the pears again.
  • Drizzle the remaining rediuction over the pears. Serve right away, or store for another day.

Notes

Use reserved tea leaves to make tea to serve alongside the pears. Fine quality oolong can be re-steeped at least a half a dozen times. 
To make the tea again, heat filtered water to 85°C (185°F) and pour over tea leaves. Always bring the water to the tea, not the other way around. Steep for 3-4 minutes, then strain into teapot. (For a first steeping, try 2 -3 minutes.) Do not leave the tea in the water too long—it will become too bitter. 
Jasmine tea would be lovely in this recipe. A white tea is often too delicate to impart much flavour, so I’d recommend a jasmine oolong or green tea, but experiment as you please. The cost of the tea will likely guide any decisions. 
Try this recipe with a chai blend, or Earl Grey, or blackcurrant tea with blackcurrant juice or syrup instead of honey and juice. 
You could also make pears sous vide with a few tea leaves and some honey – omit the juice, as the pears will create their own juices as they cook. Sealed in a vacuum-packed bag, sous vide pears can be prepared a week in advance.
Keyword #magnoliaoolong, #oolong, #pearseason, #poachedpears