Staff Appreciation Lunch

Every year during Staff Appreciation Week at my kid’s school a group of parents join forces and each provide a Crock Pot full of soup to create a soup buffet lunch for the all staff that work in the school.

In previous years we had provided catered lunches but they weren’t as light as soup can be and with everyone making a different soup there was sure to be something for everyone to enjoy no matter diet preferences or allergy restrictions.

Every year I like to try and make something different. The first year I made a Baked Potato Soup and last year I made a vegetarian Sweet Potato Corn Chowder and both of these I’ve been told were enjoyed by many.

This year I went to a collection of soup recipes assembled over the years by dear friends of mine for inspiration and was struck by the recipe for this Pumpkin Curry Soup from my dear friend Shelley.

Now I will admit to tweaking this recipe a bit by adding two additional spices, Turmeric and Cumin, that weren’t called for in the original ingredients list and their addition just enhanced the overall flavour profile.

Starting top left:

Starting top left: 6 cups prepared chicken stock, chopped onion and minced garlic, spice blend of curry powder, salt, coriander and red pepper flakes, pure pumpkin, and half and half cream.

I didn’t have chicken bouillon cubes in the house as we buy a base that is paste rather than powdered called Better Than Bouillon. So because of this I went ahead and made the stock for my liquid component as instructed on the side of the jar. If you wanted to go vegetarian with this soup you would just need to substitute out the chicken for a veggie based stock.

I also doubled the recipe so I could have a good amount in my Crockpot.

While I did get the ingredients from Shelley the process was my own. Lol there were no instructions per se so I worked with it and followed what seemed most logical.

Butter in the pot.

Butter in the pot.

I started with the butter in my stock pot. I can see how you could easily substitute olive or canola oil in this step to make it a bit lighter. When baking I tend to substitute oils and butter with some unsweetened apple sauce to cut down the fat content but this doesn’t translate to frying as I have found. If someone has a suggestion I’d love to hear your feedback.

Onions and minced garlic.

Onions and minced garlic.

Once my butter was melted and starting to get that smell of browning I put the onions and garlic into the pot and walked away to let them soften. Again when it comes to something like softening onions and garlic I tend to have to find something else to do or I spend a lot of time stirring when in reality it just needs to be left alone to do it’s thing.

Toasting spices

Toasting spices

Once I have softened onions and garlic I go ahead and add my spice blend to allow the spices to toast a bit. The spices made my kitchen smell really great. I love the smell of curry and when I smell it I am struck but how it makes me feel warm. I can’t fully describe it but when I smell it I just feel warmth spreading through my body starting with my belly.

Stock added in.

Stock added in.

After I have given the onions, garlic and spices a chance to come together I stir in my chicken stock and let it come to a simmer. I gave it a few minutes to come together and absorb flavour from each other. Then I whisked in the pure pumpkin.

Finally some Half and Half.

Finally some Half and Half.

The last thing I do is add my Half and Half Cream. I wondered if I could lighten it up by going with a low fat sour cream next time for this and may try it. The nice thing about soup is that you generally use crackers with it so the fact that is it on the thin side isn’t a bad thing unless you were going for a chowder.

Finally into the Crockpot for the next day.

Finally into the Crockpot for the next day.

I got about a 3/4 full 6 quart Crockpot with a double batch of this soup. I didn’t let the cream heat up too much when I added it as I knew that it would have 3 or so hours to warm and come together on low the next day.

I haven’t gotten any feedback yet but when I tasted it before putting it into containers for transport the next morning it had all the notes I wanted from it and felt pretty proud about it.

Pumpkin Curry Soup

From my dear friend Shelley.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 -4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 vegetable bouillon cubes (can also use chicken in a pinch)
  • 1 – 16 ounce can of pure pumpkin
  • 1 cup half and half cream
  • fresh chives, chopped (garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric (My addition)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (My addition)

Preparation

1) Melt butter in a stock pot.

2) Add onions and garlic and allow to soften.

3) Once the onions are garlic are softened, add the spices and allow to toast for a couple of minutes.

4) Add the chicken or vegetable stock. Allow to simmer for a few minutes.

5) Whisk in the pumpkin.

6) Add the half and half cream. Allow to warm through (be careful it could burn) and serve with fresh chive garnish.

Pizza Soup – It’s for Dinner!

This past Saturday night was a night out to celebrate with friends.

When we have sitters come in and I know we will be out past dinner time we try have something simple on hand so that they and the kids can eat and we are assured it is something filling and hardy.

I wasn’t about to let not being home throw me off my challenge of making new soups on a regular basis while the weather is cold. So I dug out my handy Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker and went to find something fun for the kids to try.

Some time on Google later I decided to go with Pizza Soup.

Now this wasn’t the first Pizza Soup I’ve tried to make. I tripped over a recipe by accident one day and I did make it in my slow cooker but the reviews were mixed and the flavour could have been stronger. So I was thrilled to find this variation.

One of the things I love about this recipe is the mix of veggies. Makes it easy to get some solid veggie content into my kids but under the guise of pizza. Talk about win win.

When I start to cook I’m a huge fan of going through the recipe and prepping all my ingredients. This way when I put it together it flows like a Food Network show.

Starting with our onions and garlic.

Starting with our onions and garlic.

Now the first change I made is used olive oil in my version. We keep it in the house as our oil of choice and since I was going with a dish inspired by Italian flavours I hoped this would add another layer. Here I have my onions and minced garlic in my heated olive oil. I gave the onions a bit more time to soften and sweeten as I was cooking for younger palates.

Adding in the pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers.

Adding in the pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers.

Once I had my onions and garlic where I liked it I added the other ingredients as the recipe suggested. Now you have the option of going with ham, turkey or pepperoni and I went with pepperoni as that is the one pizza topping that all 3 of my kids agree on. I did go with Winnipeg Old Country Pepperoni because I knew that a quality product would make the flavour really pop.

Now for my friend who is a vegetarian I would suggest she go with her favourite vegetarian meat product like vegetarian bacon or you could always go with some portobello mushrooms along with the other mushrooms listed in the recipe. Using vegetarian broth is a suggestion from Canadian Living so I think this would be an easy recipe to make for a vegetarian family.

Transferring to the Slow Cooker

Transferring to the Slow Cooker

Now I’ve gotten my ingredients to a good point where there is very little liquid in the frying pan and transfer them into my slow cooker. At this point I get to gauge if I am going to have enough for the kids, the babysitting teenagers and the little friend of my 3 year old who are all hanging out in our home for the evening. I doubled the recipe as printed and once I had my onions, garlic, pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers in the crock I was confident I would be able to have enough for everyone to enjoy just by how far the ingredients went up the side.

A double batch nicely fit in my 6 QT Slow Cooker.

Here is the soup prior to me turning it on low and letting it come together for a couple of hours.

Here is the soup prior to me turning it on low and letting it come together for a couple of hours.

I then add the final ingredients to the slow cooker and give it a stir. I used a spoon to lift some up for the photo to show the tomatoes and other ingredients. One of my cans of diced tomatoes was one of Italian herbed ones. With the final ingredients I ended up with a full slow cooker.

I put the lid on and it was on low for about 3 hours or so. I left some pre-shredded mozzarella and a loaf of garlic bread to go with the soup when it was served.

I have to confess I was a bit excited to get home and get the review from my young diners.

Thrilled to learn that it was a hit from the 3 year olds to the 16/17 year olds!

I also had enough left over for some school lunches.

Which is nice when the kids still have to go to school at -40C.

Pizza Soup Recipe

From Canadian Living

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups (500 mL) sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup (250 mL) diced ham or smoked turkey or pepperoni
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 chopped sweet green pepper, optional
  • 1 can (28 oz/796 ml) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) tomato paste

Preparation

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; sautee onion, garlic, mushrooms, ham, oregano, salt and pepper until liquid is evaporated, about 6 minutes. Add green pepper (if using), tomatoes, stock and tomato paste; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until flavours are blended, about 10 minutes. (Make-ahead: Let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

Source : Canadian Living Magazine: February 2005

I Made Bread!

One of my culinary bucket list items was to successfully make a loaf of bread.

I can remember watching my grandma make bread and buns when I was younger that smell that comes with fresh baked bread.

I decided recently that I wanted to take the chance and really make an effort to produce a loaf of bread. Even if it wasn’t an ideal perfect loaf I would at least be able to tell myself I tried.

Today was the day. I went with a Traditional French Bread recipe from my WestBend Bread Machine Cook Book. I have arthritis and find an assist in one way or another will make it easier to tackle my culinary tasks. So I used my bread machine to make the dough for me.

When the machine had dealt with the initial blending, kneeding and the first rise I placed it on my table to rest for 15 mins.

After the 15 minute rest I rolled out the dough and proceeded to tightly roll it along the long side and make my loaf and placed it on my long bar pan which I had put some cornmeal on to prevent sticking.

Loaf rolled and placed on the pan.

Loaf rolled and placed on the pan.

First thing I notice is that my loaf is longer than my bar pan. So first lesson learned…the loaf probably needs to be a bit shorter.

However, overall I’m happy that I have gotten the loaf as the recipe suggests. It is rolled nicely and a good size so I will consider it a win :D.

I cover my loaf with a clean tea towel and tuck into my oven as I need to put the pan somewhere with no drafts that is warm and hidden from little curious fingers.

After the second rise!

After the second rise!

After 40 minutes in the oven I bring out loaf and score the top. Then a brush with egg white and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. I’m feeling pretty confident that this is working out well. Honestly it looks better than I thought it would for my first attempt.

Success!

Success!

I was overjoyed when I peeked in when the timer went off and found this amazing golden loaf of French Bread in my oven. I was successful in my first attempt in that my loaf was cooked nicely and edible. I learned though which is always the thing when I cook or bake.

There is always something I need to work on. Something I need to learn and about 100 questions I end up asking Kevin about what is a dice, what is a boil, does this look good to you….

I got many compliments on my first loaf and I’m pretty proud of it.

I served it with this Chicken Bacon Chowder recipe from A Taste of Home.

I did a few modifications on the recipe. I roasted my boneless, skinless chicken thighs slowly in the oven in a small Corelle Crock with a lid. I then used the drippings in the chicken stock portion of the recipe to give a bit more flavour.

I’m also feeling pretty grateful for our mini chopper. Best $8.00 we spent on a kitchen appliance. I used it to dice the onions and then get the bacon finely chopped after I cooked it.

If I wanted to make the soup on a week night for a warm up on a cold night I’d go with a rotisserie chicken from the local grocery store to make up the cooked chicken component. From start to finish it took about 30 mins to make the soup and we enjoyed it in our home on a -30 winter day.

So today I successfully baked a loaf of bread and made a big pot of soup to enjoy with it.

Pretty good day for a newbie cook.