Archive for the ‘No Food Left Behind’ Category

January 2011 started off well. I attacked the first work week with fresh energy, compiling the schedules of all the nearby drop-in centres and free baby programs. I figured out how to get to a rec centre where a very nice lady will hang out with Penny while I go work out. I made a plan for changing some of my eating habits, and got said plan underway.  And then I got a cold. Happy New Year.

Winter colds, and any kind of sickness, really, are the reason why I try to keep chicken stock in my freezer at all times. Whether chicken soup holds any medicinal benefit I don’t care. All I know is that chicken soup helps me feel better when I’m under the weather, and when I feel the first signs of a bug getting into my system, I stop everything and make soup. (See also: Magical Healing Soup from last winter.)

This soup recipe has evolved from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe passed on to me from a friend years ago. CI is a remarkable source for cooks – like food p0rn for engineers – but I find their recipes overly labour-intensive.  Why should I peel and seed a fresh tomato when I can open a can and live with having tomato seeds in my soup? Why should I fire-roast a jalapeno when I can keep some canned chipotles in my fridge and use one of those instead?

The one shortcut I cannot take with this soup, however, is using stock that is not homemade. In some circumstances using broth from a can or a cube can be okay – like with a pureed soup or a heavily tomato-based soup like  minestrone. But this soup is all about savoury, spicy broth loaded up with fun garnishes.  In general, canned or bouillon cube stock is just too salty. And for this soup it simply won’t do.

This recipe is extremely versatile. If you want a  vegetarian soup, a flavourful veg stock will work just fine.  I use this soup as an excuse to use up stale tortillas, but if you don’t want to make the chips yourself, storebought will work as long as you cut back on salt in the soup. As for garnishes, the sky’s the limit! I have included a pretty long list below, but my mainstays are as follows:

 But of course the best part of the soup is to serve it with all the garnishes on the side, so each person can tailor it to their own taste, like a soup version of tacos. Cause really, we all just want to play with our food.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
serves 4 to 6

1/2 of a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1 fresh jalapeno, diced OR 1 canned chipotle (with or without seeds, depending on your spice tolerance)
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. olive or veg oil
6 to 8 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
salt and pepper to taste

For the chips:
approximately 10, 6-inch corn tortillas
1 tbsp. olive oil
pinch salt

Potential garnishes: grated cheddar, sour cream, fresh cilantro, green onion, diced avocado, diced red peppers, corn, black beans, chopped spinach or swiss chard

1. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno or chipotle and cilantro and blitz it into a thick puree, adding water as needed.

2. On the stove, heat a heavy-bottomed stock pot over high heat. When the pot is hot, add the oil and tomato mixture; it should bubble and steam, so stir it well until it calms down. After a minute or two, turn down the heat to medium and let it simmer for five minutes. Add the chicken stock and shredded chicken. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and simmer for about twenty minutes, while you make the chips and assemble your garnishes.

3. To make the chips, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the tortillas into 1″ wide strips and toss with the olive oil and salt until they are all evenly coated. Distribute over two baking sheets (parchment-lined, if you wish) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven to turn the chips over for even browning and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes, until they are all golden brown.

4. To assemble the soup, place the tortilla chips into the serving bowls and ladle the broth and chicken on top, then top with garnishes.  

To store leftovers, it’s best to keep the broth separate from all the garnishes. The soup will keep in the fridge for at least three days.


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Don’ t you love this time of year? That time of year when the sad, mealy stonefruit of early fall are replaced by glorious, bumpity squashes? Something about the pile of squashes at the market or the grocery store, with all their varying shades and shapes, makes me feel joyful about autumn – right up there with shooshing through the fallen leaves.

Combine those squashes with the official arrival of Soup Season, and the need to use up the jar of curry paste in my fridge and a can of coconut milk in my pantry, and we have this soup.

This soup is easy to make, and ideal for a Sunday afternoon when you’re futzing around the house. It involves roasting the squash first, which adds sweetness and depth. (In fact, if you’re really into squash, you could roast a double batch – one to to have as a side dish with dinner one night, and one batch for this soup.) It’s a forgiving recipe, too. I like to add the potato for extra starch, which helps make the soup creamy, and the carrot for extra sweetness and colour. But if you don’t have these on hand, just straight squash will be just fine.  However. Essential to this soup are the spices and the coconut milk. Without them, it just won’t be the same. It also helps to have an immersion blender to make the soup nice and smooth.

Coconut curry squash soup
serves 6 to 8.
freezes well.

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2″ chunks
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. mild curry paste (I used Patak’s, but you can use any curry mix you like)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
1 tbsp. mild curry paste
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 cups stock or water (In my world, water and a veggie bouillon cube is acceptable for this soup.)
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is heating, peel, seed and chop the squash. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash chunks with the olive oil, curry paste, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and and browned. (Tip: deglazing the pan with some water and adding the juices to the soup pot is a good thing to do, and adds flavour to your soup.)

Make the soup: In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until it softens. Add the garlic, ginger and curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes until very fragrant. Add the potato and carrot chunks, the roasted squash, water and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 45 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.

Taking the soup off the heat, puree with the immersion blender until the soup is completely smooth. If you’re having a dinner party and want to be extra fancy, you can push the puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove some vegetable fibre and make the soup perfectly velvet-smooth. If you just want a bowl of tasty soup, then skip this step. Season to taste. 

Delightful potential garnishes include: chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, a yogurt swirl.

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Whew. Who knew that moving with an almost-three-month-old would be so crazy? Um, yeah.

So, in the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya, let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Did I succeed in using up all my edible inventory before we moved? Well, no. Did I get rid of a lot of it? You betcha. Mostly the victories were in the frozen goods department (ate through all our frozen meats and most of the veg) and the flour. I had a ton of whole wheat flour, which gave me an excuse to bake a lot, albeit with middling results since I didn’t have much white flour on hand.

What do I mean? Generally when you bake anything with whole wheat flour you still need to use mostly white flour since the fibre of whole wheat tends to make things heavy. Still, I pushed it a bit, attempting a pizza dough (semi-fail) and pie crust (super fail) with all whole wheat flour. But! I did find one awesome recipe for ginger scones that call for all whole wheat flour, from Everybody Likes Sandwiches. Mine turned out a bit flat and heavy, I suspect because I was using some coarse, stone-ground whole wheat flour – not because of the recipe. But what they lacked in the light and airy department, these scones more than made up for in the flavour department. And they didn’t look half bad:

Other successes include a fennel risotto with shrimp. Still tweaking the recipe though, so I’ll post it here once I’ve got it down. Also, a squash soup recipe I’ll post separately.

All in all, I found my attempt to leave No Food Behind worthwhile. I was surprised to see just how many meals I could get out of my pantry and freezer with the addition of a few fresh ingredients. It also got me to stop buying food I didn’t need, a habit I didn’t realize I had. Lots of people eat when they’re stressed, but it turns out I also stockpile food as a coping mechanism.  Who knew? So I think I’m going to try working this ‘use what you have’ approach into my cooking more. It may get me cooking different things in new combinations, and lower my grocery bill to boot.

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This week in No Food Left Behind, I made a dent in my stash of dried lentils, used up some nuts and finished up the breadcrumbs I had in my freezer with this tasty recipe. They’re like falafels, but without that messy deep frying. They’re crispy and hearty, and a really satisfying vegetarian dish. 

They’re also fairly versatile – you can make them as full-sized burgers and eat them on pitas, or make tiny patties and serve them as appetizers. (I made them small this time, because I like cute food.) I have served them with a full spread of mezze-style salads and dips, but they’re just as good with nothing more than a side salad. Although! I would recommend taking an extra two minutes to mix some chopped green onions and cilantro into a bit of yogurt for a tasty raita to drizzle on top, as follows:

Lentil walnut burgers
serves 4

3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, and almonds are all tasty choices)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 egg*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the lentils are cooked through but still holding their shape. This takes about 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until fragrant – about 10 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the lentils, nuts, breadcrumbs (if using), garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Move the mixture to a mixing bowl and stir in the egg.

With your hands, shape the patties. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the burgers until browned on each side – about 8 to 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.


3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
salt and pepper


* If you can’t eat breadcrumbs for some reason, just replace this amount with extra nuts.

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Apple Butter Granola

As if one recent major life event weren’t enough change in our lives we have another one looming on the horizon: we’re moving in a month. That’s right. Moving with a two-month old.

This comes with a certain amount of stress, of course, but it’s good. This move to our new condo has been almost two years in the making. And how appropriate that on the day I was in labour, we received a letter from the developers confirming our final occupancy date.  Two milestones made concrete in one day.

So move day is October 15th. And while we’ve started packing, I’m taking a long hard look at my pantry. How long have those rice noodles been there? How about that bag of chick pea flour? Do you ever buy ingredients that are slightly outside your repertoire, just enough that you only use them once or twice before they languish in your cupboard? If you’re anything like me, you do.

But here’s the thing about moving and kitchens: it makes no sense to move food. Special dispensation may be granted for my supply of frozen rhubarb and my stash of homemade dill pickles (more on this later), but damned if I’m going to pay movers to haul boxes full of unused dry goods only to have them gather dust in my new (space-challenged) kitchen. And like my mother, a daughter of Great Depression survivors, I cannot bear to throw away food.

And so, my friends, I give you the No Food Left Behind project.

For the next few weeks, I have made it my own personal challenge to eat up as much of my kitchen inventory as possible. I”m sure some results will be fairly mundane, but I’ll share the more interesting ones here.

Kicking things off, here is how I used up a surplus of rolled oats and last year’s homemade apple butter. The recipe would work equally well if you use orange juice if you don’t have apple butter on hand. Homemade granola is easy to make, and especially gratifying considering how expensive it is. For an equal investment in buying nuts at the bulk food store, you can make something that is as sweet as you like it, in nut-to-oat proportions that are exactly to your taste.

And then, you have a ton of granola in your house, for breakfast, for snacks, or for sprinkling on top of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Granola with apple butter
makes approx. 10 cups

5 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1 cup each: sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, pepitas and slivered almonds
1/4 cup oil (canola, sunflower, or [not extra-virgin] olive oil )
1/2 to 3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup apple butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a very large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and seeds. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, honey, apple butter, vanilla and salt. Heat it gently over medium heat, until the mixture bubbles. Mix thoroughly with the dry ingredients until everything is good and sticky.

Distribute evenly between two cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, mix the granola around to ensure even browning, and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. The granola should be golden brown and slightly damp. It will dry as it cools.

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