Roasted pumpkin soup.

By Friday, I was coasting on fumes. There’s a phenomenon called “the let-down effect,” wherein after a period of stress, your body just sort of gives up and gives in. I find myself most productive under a certain amount of stress – I can go and go and go and make and think and do, but I have a hard time prioritizing, like, basic human needs and so by the end of this past particularly demanding season, I was dehydrated and overtired and on antibiotics and just sort of crashed. (I know that this is problematic, and that claiming stress is integral to my success or whatever is akin to perpetuating this un-ideal, but that’s a topic for another time.)

When I was finally feeling better, “carrot soup” was just the thing.

A better parent might be more upfront about things, but I am the tired wrangler of a very opinionated six-year-old. He thinks the soup is made of carrots, but it’s made of vegetables and he eats it, so I don’t correct him. He thinks he hates squash, and I’d rather he eat the soup he likes than take a stand against it, which he would, because he is as stubborn as a mule and his mother.

This is his favourite soup, and my go-to feel-better soup. It tastes a little bit Vietnamese, and it’s made with kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, which you can buy pretty cheaply almost anywhere in the fall and winter. I buy a few at a time and keep them on the porch; they’re fine for a couple of months if kept cool and dry. Kabocha squash tastes a bit sweeter than butternut squash, and is a great source of nutrients and fibre – roasting it brings out the sweetness, and is important to the flavour of this soup. You can roast it ahead of time if you like; it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days once cooked.

Tips

Coconut cream can be on the pricey side as it’s often stocked in the supermarket aisle where cocktail mixes are sold, but you can buy it fairly inexpensively at Trader Joe’s; I get mine for around two dollars a can at Fruiticana in Vancouver, but any Southeast Asian or Indian market will have cans of coconut cream at a reasonable price.

Serve with a wedge of fresh lime, your favourite hot sauce, a handful of chopped scallions, and a few dots of sesame oil, if you like. Bread with too much butter is also a nice accompaniment, but I feel like that, from me, may be a bit redundant by now.

Roasted pumpkin soup

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 kabocha squash
  • 2 tbsp. olive or coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, white and light yellow inner parts only, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce*
  • 13.5 oz/400mL can coconut cream
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

*If you want to keep this vegetarian or vegan-friendly, substitute the fish sauce for a tablespoon of soy sauce.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Adjust oven racks so that there’s one in the middle, and one one directly below. Place a sheet pan or baking dish on the lower rack. (This is an important step, especially if you’re the one who usually gets stuck cleaning the oven.)

Stab the squash around the top in four places, then turn it upside down and stab it four more times, until the knife cuts through the skin and just pierces the flesh.

Place the squash in the oven, and leave, undisturbed, for 45 minutes to an hour. A sticky, sap-like liquid should bubble from the cut marks, and it should smell a bit like roasted chestnuts. Set aside to cool. You can do this step up to three days in advance; wrap the cooled squash in a bit of foil or put it into a large zip-lock bag until you’re ready to use it.

Halve the cooled squash, and scoop out the seeds. Scrape the flesh from the skin, and set aside. Discard the skin, stem, and seeds.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté onion, lemongrass, garlic and ginger until shimmering and fragrant, about three minutes. Add carrots, garam masala, turmeric, and pepper, and stir so that every chunky bit in the pot is coated in the spices.

Add chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until carrots are tender, ten to fifteen minutes.

Add squash, and remove the pot from the heat. Purée using a blender or immersion blender. If using a standard blender, blend in batches.

Return the pot to the heat. Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and coconut cream, stirring to melt coconut cream. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed – sometimes kabocha squash can benefit from a bit more salt, but the amount you need will depend on the saltiness of your broth.

When the soup returns to a simmer, stir in sesame oil and serve.

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Maggi meatball soup.

Maggi meatball soup started out as “groentesoep met balletjes,” or Dutch vegetable soup with meatballs, which I guess it still kind of is? It kind of is. Maggi, the shorthand name for Maggi-Würze, is a sweet, soy-based seasoning sauce Dutch people (and not just Nick) use in abundance, whether a dish needs it or not. It’s actually a rather international thing – Maggi sauce spans continents, and is used everywhere from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Germany to Pakistan. It’s sweet, very salty, and keeps forever without needing to be refrigerated, and it’s great for seasoning meatballs.

This soup is somewhere between Italian Wedding and plain old chicken soup, with soft, tender meatballs, noodles and veggies in a clear chicken broth. If you are like my mother-in-law, you would serve this with soft, buttered buns and thin slices of deli ham and Gouda; if you are like me, you will retrieve half a loaf of grocery store garlic bread from the depths of your freezer and then burn it under your broiler while you eat half a bag of pre-dinner chips and lose 15 minutes Googling Maggi’s origin story. If you are like my four-year-old, you will drown three handfuls of goldfish crackers in the broth and claim it is too hot to eat long after your small bowl of soup has gone cold.

Anyway, this is good with whatever you want to serve it with, but it’s best with soft white bread in some fashion.

IMG_1872Maggi meatball soup

Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Maggi seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

In a large bowl and using your hands, mush together meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form meatballs about half an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter; you should end up with about 40. Set these aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until colours have brightened and everything’s coated in oil. Add salt, curry powder, and the bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two, until the curry is fragrant and starting to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot. Add stock.

Bring the pot of soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Drop the meatballs into the pot, stirring gently, and let these simmer for 10 minutes.

Add egg noodles,. and cook for another five minutes or until noodles are al denté.

Taste the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Add lemon juice, and parsley, remove the bay leaf, and then serve.

Saoto.

CAT.I sat on the couch all day with my cat and season two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, sick in the belly and the head, the latest victim of the illness that’s decimated my office this past week. I ate buttered saltines because we were out of bread for toast, and I was too lazy to put on pants and boots and go outside. I ate oranges, because I thought they’d make me feel better, but then I ate too many of them.

I’ve been tinkering with a version of a soup particular to two countries colonized by the Dutch, which happened to be the perfect soup for today, and for days like these when the rain is relentless and your playlist is just one feeling-sorry-for-self song after another and even Andy Samberg can’t break through the fog of flu season in your head. It’s from Suriname, though there’s something very similar (soto ayam) in Indonesia. It is often served with a bowl of rice on the side; if you’re serving more than four, a side of rice would stretch the dish to serve more people.

The simmering broth is fragrant and soothing, all ginger and citrus, with a floral touch from the coriander. The flavours reveal themselves in moments, like waves rolling in and then back, every bite a little bit different from the last but comforting all the same; it’s salty and briny and just a little bit sweet. It will fog up your windows and you will sweat when you eat it and you will feel better, but not heavy. It’s somewhere between a bowl of laksa and bowl of chicken noodle soup, and all the work is in the beginning, so you can spend the rest of the afternoon with your cat and Jake Peralta and your sad playlists.

Lemongrass and lime leaves freeze well, so when you find them, grab a whole bunch and keep them in your freezer for days like these.

Saoto soup from Suriname.Saoto

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Walla Walla, halved
  • 1 head garlic, halved cross-wise
  • 3-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp. peanut or canola oil
  • 3 lbs. bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 6 fresh or frozen lime leaves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into three pieces
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 14 oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 2 cups finely chopped green cabbage
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 4 thai bird or other hot chilies, finely chopped
  • 4 handfuls fresh bean sprouts
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. rice vermicelli (about 1/2 package)
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
  • Celery leaves
  • Sambal oelek or other chili paste

Heat your oven to broil. Place the onion, garlic, and ginger on a sheet pan, and place under the broiler until blackened in parts, about five minutes.

Meanwhile, salt chicken thighs. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, brown the thighs a few at a time. Drain the oil from the pot.

Heat a second burner. Over high heat, in a cast iron or other heavy pan, toast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and peppercorns until browned and fragrant, tossing regularly, about three minutes. Set aside.

Cut a large square of two layers of cheesecloth, at least eight inches by eight inches. Onto this, place your lime leaves, lemongrass, celery pieces, charred onion, garlic and ginger, and toasted coriander, cumin and pepper. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over, then roll the bundle tightly and secure with kitchen string.

Place the Dutch oven or heavy pot back on the heat, and add eight cups of cold water. Place the chicken thighs and spice bundle in the pot, add fish sauce, then partly cover. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for two-and-a-half to three hours, occasionally skimming the top with a spoon. If it boils, remove the lid and reduce the heat; you want the broth to remain as clear as possible.

Remove chicken and spice bundle. Shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones (you can make another stock out of the bones, if you’re feeling thrifty). Return the chicken to the pot with the coconut milk and cabbage. Bring heat up to medium, and simmer for up to five minutes, until cabbage is tender. Add lime juice and zest, and turmeric. Taste, adjusting the seasonings to your preference. Add cilantro.

Prepare vermicelli according to package instructions, then divide evenly between four large soup bowls. Add handfuls of bean sprouts and a sprinkle each of chilies and scallions. Ladle chicken and broth into bowls, then nestle two egg halves into each bowl of soup. Top with celery leaves and sambal oelek or other chili paste, and serve with quartered fresh lime and additional fish sauce.

Gezellig, and a spot of mustard.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

January is always a month of catch-up, a chilly, cloudy month when all of a sudden the bills are bigger than you thought they’d be and the deadlines you ignored in December are here, now, with projects not as straightforward as you assumed they’d be when you hastily agreed to them during the holiday season’s drinky haze. January is uncomfortable, a time for confronting excesses of every kind, including enthusiasm. Which is why we need gezelligheid.

Gezellig” is a Dutch word that doesn’t really have an English translation. Similar, in ways, to the more well-known Danish concept of “hygge,” what it means, sort of, is something along the lines of warm coziness or comfortable happiness. Pouring yourself into a pair of fleece pajamas and slumping into a heap of blankets and pillows with a cup of milky tea and a book? Gezellig. The way your favourite café or bookstore or brewery glows warm and golden against the black dampness of a January evening? Gezellig. Thick socks and Wes Anderson movies and knit scarves and slow dancing and Rufus Wainwright and the way that vanilla sugar cookies make your kitchen smell as they bake? Gezellig.

A bowl of homemade soup in the yellow light of your dining room with a small person whose hands dimple when his fingers flex to tear a hunk of bread apart, and who pauses after every third bite to get up from his seat and hug you? Gezellig.

It’s the little things that, when taken in sum, are everything. It’s that feeling where you can’t imagine going anywhere, because why would you leave? Gezelligheid is the exact right thing to embrace when it’s January and you just can’t even with any of this other stuff.

The recipe that follows is for Dutch mustard soup, a thing that is wonderful in the way that Polish dill pickle soup is – until you try it, you won’t understand why it should even exist. Traditionally this is thickened with both flour or cornstarch and egg yolks. To make it just slightly healthier, I’ve replaced the flour with a potato and added a couple of extra yolks; the result is something between vichyssoise and avgolemono, but with mustard, and it’s delicious.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 2 slices bacon, sliced into lardons
  • 2 cups sliced thinly sliced leek (from about two leeks, white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 pound starchy potato, (such as Russet) peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard*
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow curry powder

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until crispy, about four minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pot and onto a plate lined with paper towel. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat; if less than two tablespoons remain, make up the difference with a bit of butter.

Add leeks and quickly stir to coat in the fat. Add the potato and garlic, and then the chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as you do. Add salt, and bring the liquid in the pot to a boil; reduce to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, curry powder, and two tablespoons of cold water. Set aside.

Remove the pot from the heat and purée using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let this cool for about ten minutes, and, working in batches, blend until smooth in a regular blender.

Return the mixture to the heat and bring it all back up to a boil.

Remove the mixture from the heat, and, working quickly, pour the sour cream mixture into the pot in a thin stream while whisking constantly, so as not to allow the eggs to scramble. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed; you may not need to add additional salt, as mustard is generally salty enough on its own.

Serve topped with reserved bacon, a dollop of additional sour cream, Maggi seasoning (if you’ve got it), and chopped fresh chives or scallions. Crusty bread for sopping is essential.

*If you can find it, use Zaanse Molen Dutch mustard; if not, Maille’s Thick Country Mustard (or something like it) is a good substitution. In Canada, get President’s Choice Old Fashioned Dijon mustard at any Superstore or Loblaw’s – it’ll run you about two dollars. Can’t find any of these? Mix one tablespoon of grainy Dijon with one tablespoon of regular Dijon. 

Hunger Awareness Week: Slow cooker borscht.

Food bank use in Canada is 25 per cent higher now than it was before the first recession hit in 2008. One of the reasons for this is that many typically reliable or well-paid jobs, especially blue-collar jobs, have disappeared. Another is that wages, especially for what blue-collar jobs or less skilled labour roles remain, have not increased with the cost of living. Particularly vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or those on disability, have also been affected by inflation and corresponding lack of increase in benefits. In addition to providing emergency food hampers, many food banks provide additional services.

People who turn to food banks often need other types of assistance. Food banks have responded and many now provide advocacy and supports such as:

  • providing skills training such as food preparation skills,
    helping people to search for jobs and transition into employment,
  • raising community awareness about hunger and poverty,
  • assisting with the search for safe, affordable housing,
  • helping people find good quality, affordable child care,
  • providing referrals to other social agencies and support services.
    (Source: Food Banking in Canada)

One of the major barriers to cooking healthy meals at home is time. The logistics of poverty are often time-consuming, particularly as the cost of living in urban centres increases; to afford housing, people often live a long way from where they work or from the services they need to access. Many people rely on public transportation which, particularly in Vancouver, is only reliable in urban centres; the farther you get from the city, the bigger a hassle it can be to get to where you need to go on public transit.

Spending all day in transit can sap the enthusiasm for dinner-making from even the most devoted home-cook. The allure of convenience foods is strongest in those moments when even a pantry meal feels impossible, particularly when you need to feed other people (especially small children, who are not known for their patience or empathy).

For people who are pressed for time, crock pot recipes can be a life-saver. You can purchase an inexpensive, good quality slow cooker at department stores, but you can also find gently used slow-cookers online for pretty reasonable prices on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Mine holds about six quarts, which I find handy as it makes enough for dinner and for leftovers, which I can freeze or take to work for lunch.

The following recipe for a slow-cooker borscht is ideal for people for whom time is in short supply. I like to brown the meat and assemble the ingredients the night before, then put everything in the cooker in the morning before I head out the door.

It’s warming and hearty, and it makes generous use of inexpensive but nutrient-dense vegetables like beets, carrots and cabbage. And it makes a lot of it, so you can pack it into containers and reheat it whenever you need a bowl of something warm. Use cheap cuts of beef, like chuck, shank, or brisket, or omit the meat entirely (in that case, just add the butter straight to the Crock Pot).

Slow-cooker borscht

(Makes six servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. cubed stewing beef (such as chuck or brisket) or beef shank
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 lbs. beets, peeled, trimmed and diced
  • 1 lb. waxy potatoes, such as red or Yukon Gold, diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch pieces
  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • 7 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5.5-oz. (128 mL) can tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Sour cream and fresh or dried dill, to garnish

Melt butter over medium-high heat and add beef. Brown on all sides, and then pour into the slow cooker.scraping the pan as you do so as not to waste any of those good flavours.

Add onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and six smashed garlic cloves to the cooker. Add the bay leaf.

In a large bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and six cups of water. Pour this mixture over beef-and-veggie mixture.

Cook for eight to 10 hours over low heat.

Before serving, mince remaining clove of garlic and add the remaining tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. If using beef shank, remove meat from pot and shred it off the bone using the tines of a fork, then return meat to the pot and discard bones. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Serve with toasted bread and a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.

Something to Read: Flavors of Hungary

30days

One of the things I love about where I live is my close proximity to a whole bunch of bookstores. There’s a new one opening this week, even, and it’s on my way home from work! The convenience is incredible. One of the bookstores also happens to have a Twitter account and they post when they get new stuff in. One day last spring they posted – right before payday! – that they’d just received a whole bunch of used cookbooks, some of them classics. I was there the next day, before they’d even finished sorting through the stacks.

There were the usual things, the Jamie Olivers and the Ina Gartens and the Nigellas, and some interesting things, like a Jacques Pepin book on healthy cooking from 1994 (which I happened to already have for some reason) and a few westcoast- and Pacific Northwest-specific books I wanted but not enough to pay the asking price for. And then I found a book on Hungarian cooking, which I don’t know all that much about, and it was beautiful and kind of funny. It’s called Flavors of Hungary: Recipes and Memoirs and it’s by Charlotte Biro. I bought it before the clerk at the bookstore could figure out how much it was really worth. “15?” he said, and I snapped it up right there.

hungary_biro

Buy it for the recipes, love it for the memoir bits.

My basic concern is not to waste any part of the food. For having owned abundant estates, I knew how to manage well. For having experienced poverty, I learned the importance of economy. There is a saying that “you can save only when you have.”

Biro started out as the daughter of a wealthy family and the wife of a high-ranking official with the Credit Bank in Hungary; her life was shattered by war – her home was bombed by the Germans and she lost everything but her family cookbook. She was imprisoned with her husband while trying to escape the country in 1949 after the country fell to communism, and finally emigrated to the US where she joined her brother and daughters in 1957. Flavors of Hungary: Recipes and Memoirs pulls together those family recipes she saved during the war, brought with her to prison, and then took with her when she moved to America.

I did some research, and this book is worth more than the $15 I paid for it that sunny Saturday. Even better, the recipes are as authentic as it gets. They are economical, require very few spices, and, as it turns out, are delicious. There are the recipes you might expect – goulash, schnitzel, pickles – and quite a few recipes for dishes you might never have encountered, but will certainly love. One of my favourites is Korhelylves, or “Hangover Soup,” which is, as Biro writes:

This soup is named after the famous Hungarian actor, Ujhazi. It was his favourite.

One of the most famous coffee houses in Budapest – called “New York” – specializes in catering to the after-theater crowd. From midnight until morning, they serve hangover soup, chicken broth, and pork and beans. The elegant setting of the restaurant is the meeting place for all the prominent people in art, music, literature, and the theater.

Well, I’m sold. You can make this with your leftovers if you’re having ham this weekend for Easter. Plus some sauerkraut and sausage, if that’s not something you usually have on hand? (I’ll be making a visit to my favourite European deli.)

Hangover Soup (Korhelylves)

(Serves 4 to 6.)

  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Hungarian paprika
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 or 2 ham hocks
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 x 16 oz. can of sauerkraut, washed and drained
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pint sour cream
  • 1/2 lb. Polish sausage, chopped into bite-size pieces

Brown bacon in a Dutch oven or heavy 3-quart pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon from the pot, but leave the fat. Reduce the heat to medium and brown an onion slowly, until it is golden and translucent.

Add paprika, water and ham hock(s) to the pot. Simmer for 90 minutes or until the meat is tender. Remove the hocks from the liquid. If there is meat remaining on the bones, pick it off and set it aside.

Add the tomato, green pepper, and sauerkraut and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour and sour cream. When thoroughly combined, add this to the soup with the sausage and any meat reserved from the hocks. Taste, adjusting seasonings to taste.

Serve hot, with additional sour cream on the side.

 

Stock.

Simmering stock

Happy Holidays! Did you celebrate? How was it? We have been busy, and apparently neglectful; the surest way to know we’ve not been home enough is the smell of cat pee on our bath towels and dirty laundry. And it’s not just the cat – our waistlines are suffering a noticeable neglect as well. We’ve eaten more food in the past week than I think we ate all year; definitely more calories. Definitely. I can feel my liver.

It’s not over yet. We have more dinners, more drinks, more friends and family and days filled with driving and negotiating with the car over how little we can get away with spending on gas. Our apartment is a hideous mess, but there’s almost no point in cleaning it. Why bother? We’re just going to have to do it again and again and again.

But the laundry’s going through its rotations, and I’ve found a quiet moment to process the leftovers. There is something meditative about picking meat off of bones; it requires focus, but it’s not strenuous work and the results mean future meals.

Even if we are just in the eye of this seasonal storm, I have found a moment of peace, and in it there is the warmth of bones and the produce that wilted in my crisper finding new life in a pot of stock that will nourish us back to health after December’s frantic gorging finally lets up.

You can’t even smell the cat pee anymore.

Make stock. It will warm your home and then when you’re too tired to do anything tonight or in a few days or next week, you’ll just bring some of it to a simmer with some veggies, a bit of meat and some noodles or grains or legumes and you’ll have an easy (and easily digestible) dinner that won’t take much more than 20 minutes to pull together.

There’s no real recipe. Most of the time I save my veggie scraps in a container in the freezer, and then when we eat a bird or a ham or a lot of bony beef, I put my scraps and bones in a stock pot with some herbs, some salt and pepper and a lemon. I fill the pot to about the 12-litre mark and simmer (never boil) for two hours or maybe more, depending on how the day goes. I usually end up with about eight litres of stock in the end, and that’s enough for eight pots of soup, or eight risottos, or 16 pots of Bolognese sauce or chili.

If you don’t have scraps in your freezer, use a couple of carrots, a few ribs of celery, an onion, the green tops of two leeks, and half a bunch of parsley and as many heads of garlic as you feel like (I always use two or three). For the bones, a carcass from Christmas dinner or a bag of chicken backs from your butcher will be perfectly fine; if you’re using raw backs to start, brown them in a bit of oil in the bottom of the pot with your veggies for extra flavour. But you don’t have to use meat; omit it and you’ll have yourself a perfectly lovely vegetable stock. Add some bay leaves, a handful of black peppercorns, and then just let it go. If anything scummy forms on the top, skim it off. There’s really nothing to it.

Strain it after a couple of hours, then put it back on the stove and simmer for longer to reduce it if you want, or don’t, but salt it at the end after you’ve tasted it. Cool it, then store it in large Mason jars or freezer bags in 4-cup portions.

Trust me on this – make stock. You’ll feel better knowing there’s nutritious, homemade soup in your future.

And enjoy the rest of the holiday season. There’s still fun to be had, and I hope you have it all.