Vegetarian borscht with beets and red cabbage.

This is our eleventh day off in a row since we both got time off for the holidays, and right about now I am feeling as though I need a vacation from my vacation, perhaps to sit on a beach and eat lentils and dark leafy greens and drink, I don’t know, like, water or something and do yoga or whatever it is people do to relax without alcohol for another eleven days.

I know “I have just had eleven days off in a row” sounds less like a complaint and more like bragging, especially to those who haven’t had eleven days off in a row, but with all the to-dos we checked off our lists over the past week-and-a-half, I am mentally and socially exhausted – I can’t wait to go back to work tomorrow. On a related note, I am so very grateful for this Meatless Monday, which we are celebrating with dark-coloured vegetables and tea and a marathon of Arrested Development.

For dinner this evening, we ate borscht. It’s vegetarian-friendly, vegan-friendly if you don’t serve it with sour cream, and makes the most of the ingredients because the stock comes from the beets. Simmering whole beets for 90 minutes with garlic, bay leaves, caraway seeds, peppercorns, and fresh parsley not only cooks the beets, but creates a beautiful garnet-coloured stock which you will use as the base for your soup – no beef or chicken bones needed, and no nutrients wasted. This soup is a delicious restorative – tart and earthy – and will certainly do you some good.

My camera died, so the photos here were taken with a borrowed point-and-shoot that does not intend to cooperate with me. I apologize – everything will be all better soon, if bluish and grainy in the meantime.

Vegetarian borscht with beets and red cabbage

(Serves six.)

Stock:

  • 2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 lb. beets, scrubbed clean but not trimmed or peeled (three to four, about the size of baseballs)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 tbsp. Kosher salt

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (start with 1/4 cup and adjust to taste)
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a stock pot or other large pot, heat peppercorns and caraway seeds over medium-high heat for two to three minutes, or until spices are fragrant and caraway seeds start to pop. Add water, beets, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, and salt, and cook for 90 minutes.

Remove beets to an ice bath, and strain liquid through a mesh strainer into a container you can pour easily from. Discard solids. Peel, trim, and then dice beets. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil and add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Sauté until glistening, then add beets, cabbage, and reserved stock. Reduce heat to medium, add 1/4 cup lemon juice, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until cabbage is soft. Taste, adding sugar and additional lemon juice as desired. Adjust seasonings, and serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and a sprinkling of caraway seeds.

Oh! One more thing. This blog has been nominated for a few awards, which is exciting! There’s a “People’s Choice” category (Best Canadian Food Blog) that you can vote for Well fed, flat broke in – here’s the voting form. And while you’re there, check out the other nominees in a wide range of categories – I’ve discovered a few great Canadian blogs I had never heard of, some that I think you’ll really like too.

And don’t forget to pay a visit to Midnight Maniac for another Meatless Monday blog carnival!

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Meatball soup with kale and chickpeas.

Our apartment faces north, and when there aren’t clouds over the North Shore you can see the mountains over the rooftops of the buildings across the way, and it’s very nice except when you look down and then it’s mostly just alley. A tree blocks the light from the living room window, which faces east, and the only two other windows on that side are in the bathroom and the bedroom, and there the blinds are always drawn because it’s possible to see into at least ten other apartment bedrooms from there. Lately, there hasn’t been much light, and this place feels dark. At night it’s nice, because our rooms are not very well lit, so the yellow light of a few table lamps creates warmth, and the glow of a few candles makes us seem more attractive. But during the day, lately it’s just been grey.

November is an ugly month. It’s the warm-up to the holiday season but the sparkle isn’t here yet, and I’m impatient. I want glitter, not rotting leaves, and Christmas songs and puddle-free sidewalks that shimmer with fresh frost, and to be able to wear my sweater with the reindeer on it already. I don’t like dark hallways or radiators that tick like bombs. There is a chill, for sure, and the smell of snow in the air, though none has fallen yet. I don’t want to do anything but sit around in my flannel pajamas and eat soup.

Fortunately, this is an easy, hearty soup recipe, with meatballs for comfort, kale for health, and chickpeas because I love them. It’s best if you make your own stock; it’s not mandatory, but the smell of bones and veggies and herbs simmering in your kitchen for an hour or two is comforting, and will do magnificent things for your mood some drab November evening. This will come together pretty quickly; if you make the meatballs ahead of time you can have this steaming in bowls on your table in under fifteen minutes.

Kale and meatball soup

(Serves six to eight)

Meatballs

(Makes about 30)

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Soup

  • 1 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 4 cups (packed) chopped fresh kale (about one bunch)
  • 1 19 oz. can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine beef, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, oil, egg, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, chili flakes, and salt, and squish the whole thing around with your hands, just enough to mix the ingredients and no more. Roll this into balls about one-inch in diameter – you should end up with 28 to 30 balls.

Meanwhile, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add wine and stock, and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

When stock begins to boil, reduce heat to medium, and add meatballs. Simmer for five minutes, then add the kale and chickpeas, and simmer for another five minutes. Just before removing from heat to serve, stir in cheese and parsley. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and serve with additional grated Parmesan and a few drops of good olive oil.

This is best with crusty bread. Almost all things are.

Celeriac and apple soup.

My awkward phase lasted longer than almost anyone’s. In many ways I’m still in it, but for a good long while there, I was truly, pathetically fourteen. I was in the twelfth grade before my skin cleared and the gap in my front teeth finally closed up and I stopped being so sweaty. I compensated by embracing my weirdness, by painting butterflies on my face and covering myself in glitter, by learning to be funny, and by winning all the nerd contests. Speech meets and writing contests are what you do when you aren’t good at sports and sweat more than is socially acceptable anyway.

I believe that if you’re going to be weird, not that you can help it anyway, then you shouldn’t hold back. Enjoy it. Wow them with your weirdness. Make them uncomfortable with it. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself comfortable with it, even if it means that you won’t be homecoming queen and the popular girls will sneer at you and say mean things about your sparkles when you pass them in the hall.

It might be a stretch, but there’s a point in here somewhere. I promise.

Celeriac always wows me with its weirdness. At first glance, it’s an abomination. It’s dirty and rooty and nobbly, and it doesn’t make any sense – what do you do with celeriac? How do you eat it? To see it is to be puzzled, I think, at least the first time. It isn’t obvious what you’d do with it. It’s the most awkward vegetable, and easily ignored and abandoned in favour of potatoes or carrots or even beets – easy vegetables whose purposes are obvious. And at the risk of saying something hideously trite or drawing some after-school-special conclusion you’ll suspect somehow relates to me (it does not ), many people never think about what’s inside that grotesque exterior.

Inside, celeriac is actually one of the best vegetables. With a pronounced celery taste and silky texture, it’s a vegetable that suits purées, gratins, and soups. That is to say, it’s one of fall’s most delightful treats, and I think you should make soup of it, sooner rather than later. To peel it, cut the ugly parts off with a large knife. It might be in its awkward phase, but it may still surprise you.

Celeriac and apple soup

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lb. celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. apples, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (if needed)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté onions in olive oil until just browned.

Add celeriac, apples, and garlic, and stir until celeriac has begun to sweat. Pour in stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium, and simmer for ten to 15 minutes, until celeriac is tender.

Remove from heat, and purée using a blender or hand blender until smooth. Return to heat.

If it is too thick for your liking at this point, you can thin it a bit with additional chicken stock or water. Add pepper, nutmeg, and then taste. If you have used very sweet apples, you may find that the soup is a touch off-balance – if you need to, add the vinegar. Taste again, and add salt as necessary.

Before serving, finish the soup with the cream, stirring until combined. Drizzle with cream or good olive oil and serve hot, with bread.

Coconut chicken corn chowder, and some pictures that do not do it justice.

I have talked about food and its importance as a tool of expressing love and home, but I would be remiss if I forgot to mention in all that idyll that while I most certainly cook because it is the way in which I convey my awkward affection, I also do it because I want you to like me.

Food is my way of bribing you to ignore the film of flour and cat hair that covers most of my apartment floor, or the weird jumble of things that might come out of my mouth when I mean to say something else but am tired and have had no caffeine today but three glasses of wine already. It’s how I welcome new friends, and how I hope to keep their attention, thus preventing it from wandering to the less-than-savoury elements of my home’s decor.

And recently, though less recently than he will admit (and my badgering has been relentless, so he put up an admirable fight), Paul has found himself a girlfriend, whom he has kept secret from us, as if he doesn’t know full well that I like to know all the things. And when I finally shouted about it in a crowded restaurant this week, begging “Why, Paul? WHY?!” he broke down and offered to bring her to meet us. Mostly to meet me.

I promised that we’d have chicken and corn chowder and that I’d wear real pants, not something in Spongebob-covered flannel. I want her to like me. When you want someone to like you, the best way is to create a feeling of warmth, and more often than not that should involve coconut milk. Cheese is also very good for buying anyone’s affection, but in this case I served it in a side dish (I should give you the biscuit recipe sometime), which still counts.

The recipe that follows is the sort of thing you’d serve if you were inviting someone new in, because it’s warm and comforting with its familiar elements, and because it’s also not what they’d expect when you tell them over the phone that you’re serving them chicken and corn chowder. Also, the name of the dish is a spectacular piece of alliteration, so bonus points for that.

Coconut chicken corn chowder

(Serves four.)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp. minced shallot
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried lemongrass, crumbled
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn, divided
  • 2 cups diced sweet potatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 2 cups diced cooked (preferably leftover) chicken
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Add ginger, shallot, garlic, and lemongrass and sauté quickly, until golden. Add sweet potatoes and one cup of corn. Add stock. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to scrape off any browned bits. Add coconut milk. And then chicken.

Add fish sauce, lime zest and juice, and sriracha.

Bring to a gentle boil, then turn heat down a couple of notches, so that the pot returns to a simmer. Simmer for ten to 15 minutes, until sweet potatoes are fork-tender.

Add remaining corn and the red pepper. Simmer for five minutes. Then stir in most of the basil, except for a little bit which you will sprinkle over top of it all at the end for colour.

Taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. Inhale. Feel wonderful. Serve hot, with baking powder biscuits.

Take better pictures than this. And then turn your attention to Paul’s new girlfriend, who happens to be quite lovely (and also likes cats), and make a mental note to remind him in the car on the way to Powell River this weekend that he ought to remember from now on that you will continue to like to know all the things.

I hope she likes us.

Stuffing ball soup.

If you’re Canadian, it’s nearly Thanksgiving – it’s less than a month away! And I’ve been quite enjoying the soothing fall flavours that have started to take over the kitchen. Roasted tomatoes, fresh-from-the-ground carrots, and big fat pink, purple, and golden beets – all good things, and are you also getting so impatient for pumpkins?

Nick’s been on the cusp of a cold, and I’ve been avoiding it as best I can, and while eating soup can soothe those icky, snotty early cold feelings, the cooking of soup creates an ambiance of comfort, and I don’t know about you but just the smell of chicken stock and veggies burbling away makes me feel so much better, almost right away. Homemade chicken stock is even better – I don’t know what it is, but the rasp in my voice disappears as rich, meaty steam fills the air.

Add dumplings? You’ve got the perfect autumn lunch or dinner, with all the tastes of Thanksgiving  in a bowl. Stuffing balls, which are not unlike matzoh balls (though if you are a matzoh ball purist, then they are so unlike matzoh balls), are light and fluffy, and taste of sage, savoury, garlic, and thyme. Too much butter is involved, which is always good. You can’t have too much butter, I don’t care what Jenny Craig says about it.

Stuffing ball soup

  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 8 oz. of day-old bread, blended or food-processed until only crumbs remain)
  • 1/4 cup finely minced celery
  • 2 tbsp. finely minced onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley plus 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 1 tsp. dried savoury
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (muah ha ha!)
  • 8 to 10 cups chicken stock (good quality is important – best results obtained if you make your own)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice

Optional:

  • 2 cups diced root vegetables

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, celery, onion, garlic, one tablespoon of parsley, savoury, sage, thyme, pepper, and salt. Do not use dry bread crumbs; they are a different animal. Use fresh, if you have to leave a few thick slices of bread out overnight to get stale.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs extremely thoroughly. Whisk in melted butter, then pour over crumb mixture. Mix thoroughly, then cover with plastic and place in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Roll mixture into balls about an inch in diameter. Keep in mind that the bigger you roll them, the more enormous they will get once cooked – they triple in size as they cook. The recipe makes about 20 balls. At this point, if you are going to use less stock and make less soup, you can freeze rolled stuffing balls. If you’re going to do that, stick them on a baking sheet lined with parchment and freeze until solid, then drop into a plastic bag for later use.

If you’re making the full batch, use lots of stock, to which you will add the lemon juice. Bring it to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, then drop in veggies, if using. Turn heat to medium, then drop stuffing balls into the pot. Cover with a lid, and let cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with remaining parsley. And if you’re sort of sickish, eat two or three big bowls of the stuff, curled up on the couch, perhaps with your version of Nick, who has perhaps been secretly excited about the finale of America’s Got Talent, even though he won’t say it out loud.


This soup we like with zucchini, tomatoes, and tofu.

Sometimes we go to this place on Denman for pork belly, and we always get this soup when we go there. It’s a spicy tomato-based soup, and it’s nicely salty and filled with tomatoes and zucchini and chunks of tofu, and it doesn’t sound like much but it’s delicious. I would almost choose it over a table full of meat and beer, it’s that good.

I don’t have the restaurant’s recipe for the soup, but it’s easy enough to interpret at home, with what we have in our cupboards. It’s also perfect for this time of year, when thunderstorms threaten our clear skies and the heat breaks, however briefly. It’s also very seasonal, and all of the ingredients will still be available well into fall.

Spicy tomato and zucchini soup

(Serves four to six.)

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups diced zucchini
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. Sriracha
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 cups diced tomato
  • 1 cup diced tofu
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped dried kelp

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté onions in oil until translucent. Add garlic, cooking until golden, then add zucchini, kelp (if using), tomato paste, and all six cups of stock or water.

If you’re using stock, you may want to lessen the amount of soy and fish sauce you use, especially if your stock is very salty. Definitely start with less and add more to your own taste. I make this with water because of my unshakable cheapness, so I use more of the salty stuff to make it taste not like water.

Add soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha, and lemon juice. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Add tomatoes, tofu, and scallions, and simmer for five to ten minutes, until scallions appear to have softened. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve hot, with something cold, like beer, sake, or shochu.

Roasted cauliflower soup with Manchego. Also? I picked the wrong day for soup. Sweet Raptor Jesus, summer has arrived.

I know that soup is probably not what you need right now as we’re just finally hitting that heat wave we’ve been waiting for since November. And it’s not what I need, especially on a hot night when the apartment seems to have stored all the heat from last night’s marathon pressure canning session, which was necessary because we had so many trout in the freezer from Nick’s fishing expeditions that canning was the only way I could think of to conquer the fishies before they freezer-burned to death.

By the way? A pressure canner is a terrifying thing. It shakes and rattles and threatens to explode, melting the skin off your face and causing your damage deposit to disappear. The cat did not understand. But at least Nick now knows his place in the order of things.

Anyway. Soup’s not what I need. Maybe it’s what you need? (Imagine me shrugging impotently, my face oddly contorted in an expression of meek whateverness and shadowed with smeary makeup. I look like a bog monster. It’s hot. I’m not complaining, but I’m not at my best.) But soup is easy, and my fridge is jam-packed-OMG-full, and the top shelf had been taken up by two large cauliflower so what the hell. Maybe bookmark this one for, like, October or something. Or serve it chilled, like Vichyssoise.

Roasted cauliflower soup with Manchego

  • Olive oil
  • 1 1 lb. to 1.5 lb. cauliflower, cut into bite-size bits
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated Manchego cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Spread cauliflower out on a pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

Roast cauliflower for 25 to 30 minutes until golden, turning once at the halfway point.

Tip? You can stop right here and eat is as it is, or turn it into salad, or use it on pizza. There are so many things you can do with roasted cauliflower.

Anyway.

In the meantime, caramelize the onion in a little bit of olive oil over medium heat until cauliflower is done.

Scrape 1/2 to 2/3 of the cauliflower into the pot with the onion. Add garlic. Sauté for about a minute. Add stock.

Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a gentle boil. Boil until potato is soft.

Remove from heat and blend until smooth.

Return to heat. Stir in milk, nutmeg, and cheese. Bring back up to a simmer. Add remaining cauliflower. Let simmer for a minute or two.

Stir in cream. Add salt and pepper, adjusting seasonings as desired.