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. 

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Roasted cauliflower soup.

Gloom.

This is the hardest part of the year to get through. I have no patience left – please, no more squash! I’m done with potatoes. And I have no kindness left in my heart for kale. Let’s have some asparagus, already!

Tossed.

Spring gave us a sneak preview last weekend, a single day of sunshine and warmth where I ran around with bare arms and ate a bahn mi sandwich in a park while the baby learned the pleasures of sliding and swing-sets. And then things went back to normal, and the sky turned grey, and it has been that way ever since.

This time of year feels like purgatory. Molly Waffles has been pacing the apartment and pressing her paws to the window, scratching at the glass. She is desperate to go outside, but there is a family of raccoons out there, and city raccoons are the size of adolescent black bears and she would be little more than an appetizer. I am similarly desperate for something new and different. Maybe that’s strawberries and pink wine in the sunshine, or maybe it’s something bigger? I will be 30 in 30 days, and I am starting to feel like I’ve been pacing around and scratching at windows, like it’s time to make a mad dash for whatever’s beyond here, whether that means outrunning city raccoons or something even scarier.

Roasted.

Or maybe the wet that seeps in through the holes in my boots has found its way into my bones and now there’s mildew in my bloodstream. Maybe this itch for something fresh is just impatience, because something really good – like peach season – is on its way. And maybe what I need isn’t so much an escape as a way to bide time. If that’s the case, then soup will drag us all through these last dark days before the sun brings back all the green things that make us feel alive.

Soup.

Fingers crossed, anyway. We’ll know better what’s out there for us once the sky clears.

Roasted cauliflower soup

(Serves 4.)

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese (between 1/4 and 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Chop cauliflower and onion, and place in a large bowl with garlic cloves. Pour olive oil over top, mixing thoroughly with your hands so that all the pieces and bits are coated. Sprinkle with salt, and pour into an oven-safe pot – ideally one that will transfer from your oven to your stove-top.

Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Stir halfway through cooking for even browning.

Remove from the oven to the stove-top, and add almonds, stock, lemon zest and juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over medium heat for ten to 15 minutes, until the almonds have softened. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or regular blender, then return to heat. Add cheese, stir, then add milk. Taste, adjusting seasoning as needed and thinning to your desired consistency with more stock or water.

 

Creamy garlic and white bean soup.

Dinner for two.

Nick and I have been talking lately about whether we might the “too much garlic” people. Is that a thing? When people leave here after a dinner party, do they talk in the elevator on the way down about my heavy hand and effluvious kitchen? Do they sniff their breath from behind cupped palms and cringe? Anytime I make a recipe from a cookbook, I double the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, at least. Sometimes I smell it on my skin and in my hair, and always on my breath.

Raw garlic.

There are people for whom there is such a thing as too much garlic, and those are the people I will never understand. I once absentmindedly cut a slice of bread using a knife I had used earlier in the evening to smash some cloves of garlic, and I put peanut butter on the bread, and when I noticed it tasted like garlicky peanut butter toast, I still ate it. Also I should wash things right after I use them, but whatever.

My parents get garlic from a friend of theirs who grows fat cloves of organic garlic in his backyard, and though I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to give it to me (this garlic is not meant for just anyone, I’ve heard), sometimes they do. The garlic is pungent and aggressive, and it is so fresh that even dried, the cloves do not pull easily from the bulb. The skins are thick and ruddy, more like parchment than the whisper-thin white skins on imported supermarket garlic. This is good shit, and I get it all year round. For free.

Beans and garlic.

You can buy local garlic at your Farmer’s Market, and sometimes places like Whole Foods have some good options as well. The white, delicate bulbs you get from the supermarket are usually imported all the way from China, so there’s no way to know how fresh they are. They are subdued, but they will do in a pinch. Less-garlicky garlic is far, far better than no garlic at all.

Simmering.

If on occasion you want to feature garlic beyond being heavy handed with your marinara sauce or whathaveyou, consider putting it in soup. An easy weeknight garlic soup will fill your kitchen with slow-simmered aromas and your mouth with a healthful, soothing richness. White beans add body to this dish, and herbs bundled together and removed at the end lend complexity without leaving visual evidence of having been there. This is peasant food, simple and straightforward and wholesome. To save time you can roast the garlic the night before, and your apartment will smell like a bistro some late night in Paris and there is nothing wrong with that.

Dinner.

Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches. In case that wasn’t obvious.

Creamy garlic soup

(Serves four.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 540mL/19 oz. can white beans, such as navy, white kidney, or great northern beans
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a small baking dish with two tablespoons of olive oil, roast whole garlic cloves for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and sweet-smelling.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion with remaining oil until golden and lightly caramelized. Add beans, roasted garlic, and chicken or vegetable stock, and stir to combine. Bundle sage, parsley and bay leaf using kitchen twine, and pop into the pot. Simmer together for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove bundled herbs and discard. Puree soup using a blender or immersion blender. Taste, adding salt and pepper and adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve immediately, or simmer for an additional five to 1o minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved. Remove from heat and finish with cream, if desired.

Scraped clean.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

Tomato soup is one of those things on the list of “Oh, I thought I didn’t like that,” which has gotten shorter and shorter as I’ve gotten older.

For years I despised tomato soup, because I thought it all tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, which always tasted tinny on my tongue and then itched in my throat going down.

My Dad liked it though, and our little cat at the time, Truffles, would lap it furiously out of her bowl the instant the bowl was put on the floor (she would coat the wall in orange splatter, unable to wait until it cooled even slightly to dive in), so we always had cans of it in the pantry. I preferred Cream of Mushroom, but I was in the minority.

You don’t need beautiful tomatoes for this; the ruddy, ugly, sort of soft or bruised ones are fine. The secret to good tomato soup is to roast the tomatoes first. Though around here that isn’t such a secret – a friend at work pointed out that roasting is my go-to technique for just about every ingredient. It sounds like I might be a bit predictable. But anyway. Roast the tomatoes. And the garlic. Use too much garlic. This is the future, and we’re okay with that now.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

(Serves six)

  • 5 medium field tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 3 heads of garlic plus three cloves, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Quarter tomatoes, and line up in the pan. Scatter the peeled cloves from three heads of garlic over top. Drizzle olive oil over the contents of the pan, and sprinkle about a teaspoon of coarse salt over as well. Roast for 90 minutes to two hours, until tomatoes have withered and garlic is deeply golden. (This step you can do in advance; I like to roast a lot of tomatoes and garlic and stick them in freezer bags for easy weeknight dinners during the winter.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add three remaining cloves of garlic. Sauté onion until translucent, then add pepper, pepper flakes, and oregano, stirring to coat. Add tomatoes and garlic to the pot, scraping any solids that remain in the pan into the pot. Stir.

Add stock, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until later garlic cloves have softened. Purée using an immersion blender. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed, then add basil and parsley and purée again. Add water to thin to desired consistency, if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil.

Mexican minestrone.

If there seem to be a lot of soup recipes on this site, it’s because we seem to have more bouts than we ought to of not taking good care of ourselves. Nick’s belly aches and his glucose levels are all over the place and I am eating grapes and Cheerios as if either is sufficient nourishment all on its own. So we have soup to feel good when we have been bad, and generally, it works.

Of course, as I write this I am snarfing down a bowl of bunny-shaped pasta and cheese that came from a box and that is organic, and I believe I am meant to pretend that it being organic somehow makes it less bad for me than conventional boxed macaroni and cheese. I don’t call this eating because I am ingesting it in a manner that more closely resembles inhalation.

There is shame in this, and I am grateful that few can see me. I am tucked into a corner of the couch while I write, ignoring the incessant groaning and play-by-play analysis of the hockey game by a team of grown-up boys in my living room as they in turn ignore me. If this game is anything like the last one, it will last four hours and emotionally devastate them. But I digress, as that is not important, at least to me. What matters here is that yesterday I had a nourishing bowl of soup, and it contained vegetables and I was better for it. I hope the effects are lasting.

The soup is something like minestrone, or maybe pozole, and it tastes sort of like salsa and Mexico. It’s best if you chop all your veggies to about the same size. It’s an easy vegan recipe, though I’ve made it with chicken and chicken stock and it was not harmed by the addition of meat. It is very hearty. Serve with avocado or a dollop of sour cream.

Mexican minestrone

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced sweet potato
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can hominy, rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro

In a large pot over medium-high heat, sweat onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, and garlic until the colours have brightened, two to three minutes. Add jalapeño, cumin, chipotle powder, oregano, and pepper, and stir to coat.

Add vegetable stock and tomato paste, and bring to a gentle boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, until sweet potatoes have softened.

Add hominy, diced tomatoes, black beans, and red bell pepper. Stir in lime zest and juice, and then taste. Adjust seasonings and add salt as needed. At the last moment, stir in a handful or two of cilantro; chop additional cilantro for serving.

And, because it makes me so happy, here’s my favourite photo of the week.

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.

 

 

Meatless hot and sour soup.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s chaos, Nick spent today on the couch, fielding phone calls from everyone in the world and suggesting today was the day I take charge of his correspondence. No luck with that, so every 30 minutes he’s telling the same story. The cat seems to sense something is wrong, and has been his constant companion. I am helping by drinking all the wine.

We still had yesterday’s groceries in bags as I’d just shoved them into the fridge before running out to the ER, and since my only outing all day was  to get Nick’s prescription, I figured we might as well do Meatless Monday over.

We’ve been battling colds (it’s starting to feel like like we’ve always been battling colds), so soup was what we wanted yesterday, specifically hot and sour soup, and to be able to eat within fifteen minutes of arriving home after a long day. I picked up some fat white mushrooms and some crisp-looking bok choy, and couldn’t wait to eat.

You could use cabbage, if that’s what you’ve got, or any leafy green thing you have on hand. The point here is ease while still making a dinner that’s somewhat interesting. This is a short-cut version of the kind of hot and sour soup I’d have delivered if it didn’t take so little time to make, a soup that captures the gist of what I’m after when I’m after salt and spice and tang, and it makes enough for four to six people. This is the basic recipe, but if you like it hotter, or sourer, or if you prefer a bit of lemongrass, or chicken or pork instead of tofu, there’s room for creativity and adaptation.

Meatless hot and sour soup

  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic (heaping)
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger (heaping)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. sriracha, or to taste
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 block tofu, cubed
  • 3 cups thinly sliced bok choy
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Bean sprouts and chopped scallions and cilantro for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, cook garlic and ginger in sesame oil until fragrant. Add soy sauce, vinegar, sriracha, and honey, and stir to combine. Let simmer one to two minutes, until reduced by a third. Add stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly so that liquid comes to a simmer. Add tofu, bok choy, and mushrooms, and let cook three to five minutes, until bok choy has wilted. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. I used homemade stock, so I had to add a little bit of salt. If you’re fighting sniffles, a little more hot sauce might be a good idea.

Stirring the liquid in the pot, pour the egg in a steady stream, swirling the liquid so that the egg forms many strands. If you don’t keep the liquid moving, the egg will form an unappetizing-looking glob.

Serve immediately, garnished with bean sprouts, scallions, and cilantro as desired. I bring out the bottle of sesame oil and the sriracha as well.