Tag Archive | cooking

Soup-er Simple: My top 6 soup spices

I reached a point last year where my spice cabinet was overflowing with bottles and packets, and I knew I had to pare down. So I asked myself, what spices do I really use and love? When making soups (my specialty) I rely almost entirely on the following set of dried herbs and spices. I would recommend this set to any home cook who is building out – or paring down – their spice cabinet.

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Five-spice powder – This is my mainstay for winter soups, especially anything based around sweet potatoes, squash, beef, or lamb. The blend of cinnamon, fennel seed, cloves, star anise, and white pepper imparts a rich, earthy sweetness to the soup. Be judicious with this powder – a little goes a long way.

Curry powder – A boring soup can be turned into a delightful curried concoction in a flash with the addition of a good curry powder. Different curry powders have different blends of ingredients and different spiciness levels, so you may need to try a few to find your favorite. Add a few tablespoons to the pot along with any vegetables you are simmering, a minute or two before adding in the soup liquid (stock, water, etc.) so the powder can “toast” and develop its flavor.

Cayenne pepper – A tiny shake of cayenne adds kick to all types of soups and enhances the natural flavor of the ingredients. Adding heat is also a great way to reduce sodium in your soups – believe me, you won’t miss the salt if your tongue is tantalized by capsaicin!

Thyme – Thyme lends brightness and grassiness to lighter summer soups. Add a few generous shakes of the dried spice, or throw in several whole sprigs of fresh thyme (and remove the stems later).

Bay Leaves – A single bay leaf lends aroma and depth to an entire pot of soup or stew. I throw one in to almost every soup I make! Toss it in at the beginning, once you add the liquid – it should simmer the whole time the pot is cooking. Pick it out before consuming.

Turmeric – It took me awhile to develop a taste for the flavor of turmeric on its own, but it’s really, really healthy, and easily disguised in hearty soups. Thus, turmeric is on the list mainly for health reasons! Add extra to curried soups, or toss some in with a beef stew, minestrone, or chili.

Honorable mentions: Salt & Pepper – Obviously salt is a requirement to bring out the flavor of the soup ingredients. But don’t overdo it, and remember that stocks, broths, and canned goods (tomatoes, beans, etc.) often already have a lot of sodium included. Black pepper, if used, should be freshly ground on top of the individual bowl, since it’s flavor gets lost when you stir it into the large cooking pot.

Do you agree with my list? What spices are your mainstays for soups and stews?

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How to decrystallize honey: Just add heat (gently)!

Have you ever purchased a fresh jar of honey, and then discovered a few weeks later that it has entered a solid state? Don’t fret – the crystallization is normal, and the honey is still perfectly good. In fact, crystallized honey can be an ingredient of its own, making an excellent spread for toast, rub for chicken, or addition to a cheese plate. If you drop a chunk into your tea or any warm dish, it will dissolve in seconds.

But if you’re like me, and you prefer your honey in its drizzly, viscous form for everyday use, then use this easy fix to soften it up. The key is to add some gentle heat, so that the sugary crystals re-dissolve into a supersaturated solution. Although this can be done in the microwave, I prefer to heat honey lightly on the stove. Too much heat will destroy the fragile aromatic molecules that make good honey so delicious.

I recently bought a glass jar of raw lavender flower honey, which was already 90% crystallized on the store shelf. After a couple of weeks, it looked like this:

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Time to decrystallize!

First, I brought a pot of water to a very light boil. Then I turned off the heat and set the jar of honey in the pot, swirling the jar around in the warm water every few minutes.

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After about fifteen minutes, the jar looked like this:

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…I should have used a taller pot! To get the honey at the top, I re-boiled the water, let it cool a little bit, and laid the jar in the pot at an angle. I rotated and shook the jar every few minutes. Soon, the whole thing was liquified:

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Voilà – Pretty simple!

A few weeks later, the very bottom of my jar has started to re-crystallize. It’s a very gradual process, so I am guessing I won’t need to re-heat the jar again before I use up the honey.

A few notes:

  • The stovetop method only works for honey in glass jars. The plastic bears just can’t handle the heat.
  • Be careful when you remove the jar from the pot – glass can get very hot! Use a glove or potholder if you’re uncertain.

 

Soup-er Simple: Smooth curried broccoli-cauliflower soup

My very favorite thing to whip up in the kitchen is a soothing pot of soup.  Soup is a great culinary canvas for people with any level of skill in the kitchen, from teens just learning to cook from scratch to professional chefs that want to impress their customers. Best of all, soups and stews provide a large amount of satisfying food without crazy amounts of effort or money. Once you master the basic rules of soup, it’s easy to create your own concoctions from whatever ingredients in your fridge are calling out to be used.

I value simplicity, and am guessing that my readers do, too. Hence, I am starting up a series of posts on my blog titled “Soup-er Simple” (pun-tacular!). I’ll post some basic tips for readers who are interested in becoming soup aficionados, and easy recipes for those who just want a quick meal idea. My goal is to create and post recipes that are very much no-fuss – not too many ingredients, no precise measurements, minimal clean-up, etc.

First up – a recipe that I came up with last weekend when I was in need of a quick, filling, and healthy lunch. I had a bag of cut broccoli and cauliflower florets that I did not feel like steaming. So I made them into an incredibly simple soup! An immersion blender makes this one extra easy.

Smooth curried broccoli-cauliflower soup

Vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free. Recipe makes about 4 servings; just double it for more!

Ingredients
1 small or medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 bag of pre-washed broccoli and cauliflower
1 small potato, chopped/diced
handful of cashews (raw or roasted)
curry powder
olive oil (~2 tbsp)
salt

Cook time: 20 minutes

In a large stainless steel soup pot, sautee the onion and carrot with some olive oil and a solid pinch of salt until tender. Add about 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir for about 30 seconds until it’s “toasted.” Next, toss in the chopped potato, broccoli/cauliflower florets, and cashews. Add water until the ingredients are just covered. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until all ingredients are tender. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to blend the soup to a moderately smooth consistency. Add salt, pepper, and additional curry powder to taste.

This makes a great lunch or appetizer for a dinner party!

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