Curried apple and Cheddar soup.

Every so often circumstances force us to face unpleasant truths about ourselves. I am fortunate in that I am quite delusional, but over the course of the past week I have come to the stunning realization that I might be just as annoying as anyone else when faced with even the suggestion of illness, and that my dramatics are lost on everyone I’m married to.

As the weight in my sinuses drags me down, I’ve realized that I must feed us real food if we are to survive this thing, even if the idea of cooking in that kitchen that is piled with an unnavigable stack of dirty dishes is so repellent that all I can do is fall into the couch to marathon Glee and slurp kimchi ramen out of a Styrofoam bowl and whine about how no one really loves me or he’d throw out everything we own and go to the store to buy new, clean stuff so we could start over and maybe also give the floor a wash and fold that pile of laundry that’s lived a week on the sofa that gets wrinklier and covered in more and more cat hair every day. Also it would be good if someone would make me a pot of tea and find me my lip balm.

Cheese soup might not be the healthiest thing we could do for ourselves at this tissue-littered time, but it’s restorative in that it contains all of the calories I have not been getting by only consuming bowls of cereal, instant ramen, and juice since my face decided to protest health. It’s an easy meatless meal, and despite its half-pound of delicious aged Cheddar and its scandalous amount of cream, there are good things in it. The carrots aren’t just for colour.

Curried apple and Cheddar soup

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cups diced carrot (about four)
  • 2 cups diced apple (such as Granny Smith, about two large)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Madras curry powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups water or vegetable stock, or a combination
  • 1/2 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 cup cream

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, melt butter. Sauté onion, carrot, apples, and garlic until golden, three to five minutes. Add curry powder, salt, turmeric, and black and cayenne peppers. Stir to coat.

Add water or stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until carrots have softened, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove from heat and purée using a blender or immersion blender. Return to heat and stir in cheese and lemon juice. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed. Stir in cream, and serve hot, with a sprinkling of additional cayenne pepper, as desired.

Also because it’s been awhile here’s a photo of the cat in the laundry basket that we emptied onto the sofa and then just left in the middle of the living room.

 

 

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Salmon and mushroom casserole, or “Salmon Balls.”

One of the first dinners I ever made came from one of my mom’s Company’s Coming cookbooks – I don’t know if you can get those books in the states, but at one time everyone’s Canadian mother had them; I remember a row of them in the pantry cupboard, each book’s plastic spiral-bind a different colour. The recipe was for “Salmon Balls,” which I’ll admit does not sound tremendously appetizing. But it was, as it was little more than rice, canned salmon, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. It was salty, creamy, and very comforting – perfect for one of these Canadian Januarys.

Of course, some things have changed, and around here we’re not really big on canned soups or heavily processed foods in general. I believe very strongly that if something’s going to be bad for you, it should be bad for you for the right reasons. This is why there are things like triple-creme brie, bacon, and bourbon. Besides, this version isn’t really bad for you, if you don’t eat it all the time. The ingredients are pronounceable, and you can easily substitute the things you aren’t sure of. Where I used a cup of sour cream, you could just as easily use yogurt; where I used white rice, you could use brown and adjust the cooking time. I’ve also crammed a few extra veggies in, so bonus points for that.

Also, this easily uses up a plateful of leftover fish, which earns you double bonus points.

But since it’s January and the whole city’s covered in a thick slurp of beige slush, there’s little reason not to go ahead and use the sour cream and white rice. Maybe you also have a hole in the sole of your boot and your work pants didn’t make it into the laundry this week and your hair just hates this weather – there are so many reasons to indulge right now, and who’d blame you?

Salmon and mushroom casserole

(Serves four to six.)

Salmon:

  • 1 lb. cooked salmon, chilled, bones removed
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup finely grated carrot
  • Half of one onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mushroom cream sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Half of one onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried savory
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine salmon, rice, carrot, onion, celery, parsley, lemon zest and juice, eggs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mush the whole thing together with your hands until thoroughly combined. Form into balls about an inch and a half in diameter (you should end up with 14 to 16), and set aside.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, add oil and onions and cook until onions are translucent, three to five minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, savory, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and cayenne, and cook until mushrooms have sweat and no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about another five minutes. Add flour, stir to coat, and then add milk and sour cream. Cook until liquid comes to a gentle boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Ladle a small amount of the cream sauce into the bottom of a 1.5- to 2-quart casserole dish. Line the bottom with a layer of balled salmon, then ladle half of the remaining sauce over top. Place remaining salmon balls over top, and then top with remaining sauce.

Cover, and bake for one hour. If you’re using a casserole dish that doesn’t have a bit of an edge to it, place the dish on top of a cookie sheet before putting it in the oven, as the sauce will bubble up around the sides.

Serve over rice, with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Also, if you haven’t voted and my relentless (if self-conscious) badgering hasn’t turned you off this blog completely, please visit the Canadian Food Blog Awards voting page and select Well fed, flat broke. Voting will close this Saturday, January 15. After that, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back to business as usual.

Which, you know, means a lot of photos of my cat, which are completely out of context for a food blog.

Peas and carrots.

Remember those bags of frozen peas, corn, and carrots, where each bit of vegetable was the same size and roughly the same hue? Do they still exist? We had them a lot in the early 90s – it seems everyone did – and the watery corn tasted just like the watery carrots which were the same texture as the peas, and it was weird. To this day I’m not really sure how I feel about corn. Still, I always have a huge bag of frozen peas on hand. Mostly because I am clumsy and bump into things a fair bit, and because I am an arthritic old lady and a bag of peas is better and cheaper than an ice pack. It’s also easier to justify a big bowl of fluffy, buttered white rice if you throw a handful of peas into the pot right at the end. And peas and carrots – well, you know how they go together.

Carrots are just like candy right now, brightly coloured and sugar-sweet. There are bunches in every shade of red, orange, and yellow – I’ve been buying them up and hording them for snacktime, but they are magic cooked in a bit of butter and tossed with coarse salt, black pepper, and fresh herbs. Go get some for yourself, and turn them into a simple side. You’ll find this dish is a huge improvement on that childhood dinner staple, with no frozen niblets to yuck it up.

Peas and carrots

(Serves four as a side.)

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots, 1/4-inch thick (the smaller ones sold by the bunch are best)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. crumbled dried mint
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium frying pan, heat butter and oil over medium-high until butter melts and begins to bubble. Add carrots, and cook until just soft, stirring frequently, six to eight minutes. Add peas and cook for an additional five minutes. Peas should be soft but still bright.

Add parsley and mint, and salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

A little trip requires a lot of cleaning and I prefer baking so I made cookies and the apartment is still gross. But carrots! Cookies! Carrot cookies!

Tremendous news – we’re going on vacation! A short one, but it counts because there are planes involved (several … which is only glamourous if I don’t tell you that we have layovers … on a trip from Vancouver to San Francisco) and because we are staying in hotel rooms and not tents. I all-caps HATE tents. At the first sight of springtime sun, Nick gets all goobery-eyed at the idea of driving to the middle of nowhere and sleeping in a tent we borrow from one of our sets of parents, and subsisting on hot dogs and box-wine while sitting in busted folding chairs for four days. Which? I’ll pass on, thanksverymuch. The last time we went camping we ended up parked beside the highway and Nick fell asleep under a van in nothing but his underpants and running shoes, and at that point I didn’t even care if he got eaten by bears. We weren’t married yet, so I didn’t have a lot invested in his NOT being eaten by wildlife, and that weekend he had it coming.

But the important thing is not that Nick and I are charmingly, recklessly dysfunctional, or that since it’s my blog I can make him look like the irresponsible one and you have only my word to go on. No. The important thing is that we (me, Nick, and Paul) are going to San Francisco. And also Las Vegas. Because my friend Theresa is flying in from Australia with her boyfriend, and we’re going to have the most fun ever.

And I’ve digressed again, because this isn’t a post to brag to you about my exciting, margarita-filled journey or my tumultuous, margarita-filled marriage. I’m really here to talk to you about cookies, because I thought it would probably be wise to clean out the fridge before we go, and I always get so distracted doing that. Out came the carrots and a lime, and I thought about how nice cardamom would be with all of that, and before I knew it, the butter was unwrapped and the oven was preheating and I’d forgotten why I’d opened the fridge door in the first place.

So these are carrot cookies, but because I was procrastinating, they’re different from your typical carrot cookies. The carrots are not grated as if you were making carrot cake; they’re puréed. The cookies are soft, so fluffy – like little cookie cakes, or sweet tiny scones. I’m going to eat twelve of them with tea for breakfast. There are no awful raisins crammed in, and the spices aren’t autumnal either. Not a whiff of cinnamon in the batch. And forget about cloves! These are carrot cookies for the bunny rabbits – all spring and POP! and there is no way I’m sweeping the kitchen floor tonight.

Carrot cookies

(Makes about 24 cookies.)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 lb. carrots, cooked and puréed (you should end up with 1 cup of purée)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add carrot, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix well. Beat in eggs, vanilla, lime zest, lime juice, and cardamon.

Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. What you will end up with will look like a thick cake batter and a very moist and sticky cookie dough. Place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll chilled dough into one-inch balls, dropping and rolling each ball in sugar. Place each ball on a buttered cookie sheet, about an inch apart, and press with the tines of a fork. Repeat, 12 to 24 times.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned. I’d say golden, but these are already orange. I wish I could show you how orange.

Eat as many as you can hot from the oven. Or, cool on a wire rack, and store in a sealed container.

Not your regular old ham-leftovers soup.

Related to my affection for (or obsession with) all things comfortable, I love soup. Related to my love of all pork products, I also love ham. I like lentils – I would never compare my feelings about them to my passion for ham (or even comfort), but as far as legumes go, they’re pretty outstanding as well. I ended up with a lot of leftover ham this past weekend, as we celebrated my Dad’s birthday and he wanted ham for dinner. He also wanted me to take home all the leftovers, so now my fridge is full – FULL! – of ham. I got the bone too, which is a major score.

I was going to make regular old split-pea and ham soup, because I love its salty porridgeyness, but Nick made a fuss and it was annoying so I caved, and decided that we’d have lentils instead. This is the soup that resulted. Try it with your Easter ham leftovers, and get cozy over a big bowl. And tell me what you think.

Lentil soup with ham

  • 1 ham bone
  • 1 lb. green lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 lb. cubed cooked ham
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large pot, combine ham bone, lentils, bay leaves, and eight to ten cups of water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and carrots, and sautée until glistening. Empty pan into pot.

Stir in garlic, cumin, pepper, lemon zest, and nutmeg, and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, as before. At this point, you may want to add another cup or two of water, and top up as needed to ensure your soup is a consistency you enjoy.

In the last five minutes of cooking, add the ham and lemon juice to the pot. At this point, it would be wise to taste, and add any salt you need. I don’t recommend salting until almost the end, because ham is so salty and you may not need much.

Just before serving, stir in parsley. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of additional parsley, if desired.

Around here, it was a hit. And there are lots of leftovers, so I think it will continue to be a hit, right up until we take home our leftover Easter ham and have to make up another batch.

Cake … again? Or, “How to get ‘curvy’ for winter.”

Yesterday morning Nick, whom I am now referring to as Fruit Fairy, left two lovely red anjou pears on the counter, evidently some sort of gift from people he works with. Earlier this week, he brought home the biggest carrot I’ve ever seen, one that, at its top, was as thick as one of the trees outside.

Heeheehee.

I was going to make a carrot risotto out of it, but we’re kind of too poor to afford cheese at the moment and are rationing what little we have left. And yesterday it looked like this outside:

Red.

Yellow.

Grey.

And Nick hates it when I put landscapey outdoor pictures on here because he says they’re boring, but he only likes photos of meat and Megan Fox anyway so I don’t have to listen to him, and I wanted to show you why I decided it’d be a good idea to bake another cake. I don’t think I need to defend making two cakes in as many days, but this way you understand my motive. Gigantic produce. Incessant rain. You’d want carrot cake too.

And I made a little carrot cake awhile ago, but this recipe is a little different. It’s based on that recipe, but this one is bigger because that carrot was gigantic and I had different stuff in the fridge and was too lazy and warm to go back outside. These recipes evolve and grow and change, so I don’t think it’s slacking off to post a recipe for something that’s already on here. Maybe it is. No gold-star sticker for me.

Carrot pear cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated pear (you don’t have to peel the pear if you don’t feel like it)
  • 3 cups grated carrot
  • 1 cup of the chopped nut or dried fruit of your choice (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, ginger, and lemon zest.

Once combined, stir in liquids to form a batter, and then stir in grated pear and carrot, and fruit or nuts, if you so desire.

Pour into a greased and floured 9×13 baking pan, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Cake on rack.

Once cool, frost with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 cup cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine the cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat well, until perfectly smooth and spreadable. Put on cake.

Cake!

Then, pour yourself a big glass of something potent, shove the cake into your mouth, and dance around your warm, nice smelling kitchen, possibly in your underpants (which is how I do it), preferably to something really terrible that totally tickles you and that you’re simultaneously kind of embarrassed about liking (*ahem* Taylor Swift *ahem*). This is how cake is best enjoyed. Don’t choke.

Handful of cake + mouth = happy!

Eating chicken pot pie is like stuffing a blanket in the crack of a draughty door.

I don’t normally like pot pies, because they remind me a bit of those Swanson’s things that are filled with goop and stringy bits and, oh, let’s say “vegetables,” only you can’t tell which ones because vegetables aren’t shaped like that in real life, and what the hell, Swanson’s? I don’t like them, normally, but Nick does, and so I’ve had to devise a clever plan that will allow us all to enjoy the meal. That clever plan? Curry powder and biscuit dough, and large, hearty chunks to bite into. Nothing like those crappy little things you sometimes get talked into buying when your version of Nick comes shopping.

VegetablesAlso, I’m lazy and hate doing dishes and our sink is still kind of broken, so this whole thing takes place in a single pot, save for the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix the biscuit topping. One pot, hearty dish, kind of like a hug you eat. And when you’re chopping your vegetables, make sure you cut them so that they look like what they are.

Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes, chopped into half-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped uncooked chicken (I prefer thighs, but chicken breast is okay too)
  • 2 carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, including leaves
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or lima beans!)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder (the regular yellow stuff)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk

Crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, also cold

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a pot that can be used on the stove and in the oven, melt the butter and brown the chicken with the onion and garlic over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, and sauté for a minute or two before adding the carrot and leek. Sauté for another minute or two, until the veggies are brightly coloured and have begun to sweat. Add the celery, and then sprinkle the spices and flour over top. Mix well, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

Aromatic!Add the chicken stock and milk to deglaze, reduce to medium, and allow to simmer while you make the biscuit dough. You want the veggies to simmer and the liquid to reduce slightly and thicken, about five minutes, or until the potatoes can be just pierced with a fork. Stir in the peas. This is the thing I forgot, and I was annoyed, because the peas add a lovely punch of colour to the end result, and also I super love peas.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Blend well, and then cut the butter into the mix. You want to work the butter in with a knife at first, and then with your hands, pinching the butter and the flour in your fingers and squishing flakes back into the bowl. You want this to look a bit like the early stages of pie dough, with chunks of butter, in varying sizes. Gradually stir in the milk, and knead to make a dough.

Flatten and roll out to the approximate diameter of your pot. Mine looks to be ten or so inches in diameter, and the dough ended up being about an inch thick. It doesn’t have to be perfect – go for rustic, it’s much nicer. Nothing like Swanson’s. Press the dough into the pot gently. It doesn’t matter if there are little gaps – holes are a good thing. Keeps the juice from bubbling out all over your oven.

A little leakage? That's okay.Stab a slit into the centre, and place in the middle of your oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Toasty/wonderful.Serve with a green salad, and a cold beer. Everything about this dish is warming, from the actual heat of the thing fresh out of the oven to the hint of curry and thyme, to the steaming biscuit topping that tastes like something your grandma would have served with soup. It’s rich and aromatic, and perfect for a crisp fall evening when you don’t want to do anything but finish a very good book, all huddled up in a blanket.

Like a hug, but you eat it. Would've been better with peas.