Posts Tagged ‘spice’

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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I vividly remember my first taste of roasted cauliflower. At the tender age of 23, I had just started my First Big Cooking Job, and among my marching orders was to help prep the sides that went with main dishes. One of these was honey garlic cauliflower, roasted at high heat until caramelized, and it tasted like candy.

Sadly, I’m the only one in my household who really likes cauliflower, which means I cook it rarely – and even then, I have to cook it with enough other stuff so that Andy can begrudgingly eat one or two pieces and then eat something else. Tonight, while cooking dinner, I found a small head of cauliflower calling out for my attention, and I decided to improvise.

With awesome results. Look at those caramelized bits!


This could be considered a kind of cheater’s Aloo Gobi. You par-cook the veg, toss them into a mix of curry-spiced yogurt, and roast until crispy and golden brown. Even Andy agreed they were fantastic. I plan to make this again and again.

 Indian-spiced cauliflower and potatoes 
Serves 4 as a side dish; takes approx. 45 minutes from start to finish

Heat the oven to 450F.

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into large florets

1 large potato, cut into 2-inch chunks

¼ cup yogurt

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. curry paste (I used Patak’s Madras Cumin and Chili sauce)

½ tbsp. turmeric

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2-inch piece of ginger root, minced

generous pinch salt

pinch cayenne

Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cauliflower; the cauliflower will float to the top, making it easier to remove (since it cooks faster.) After the cauliflower has cooked for 5 minutes, remove them from the pot and set aside. Continue cooking the potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a fork.

While this is happening, grab a large mixing bowl and combine the yogurt, oil, curry paste, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne.  Toss in the semi-cooked cauliflower and potatoes and toss to combine. (It should smell heavenly.) Spread the vegetables out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Mix them up about halfway through the cooking time so they can brown evenly.

They should look like this:

Devour at will.

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Spice-crusted rack of lamb

Let’s face it: I am a cooking addict. One of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon is in the kitchen tending several pots that will not only make dinner and a few weekday lunches, but a pot of stock or a hearty soup that can live in my freezer and serve as an emergency weeknight supper. But since I got pregnant (and made it through the first trimester), my addiction has gotten a little out of control.

Behold,  the freezer of a mad pregnant lady:

Which brings me to Valentine’s Day, when I feel called upon to make something especially tasty for my lovely husband. Enter, the rack of lamb bought on sale at Loblaws just before Christmas. We bought tons of it at the time, planning to have it as an unorthodox Christmas dinner, and even then we had some left over. Now I’m all for using less expensive cuts of meat as a rule, but as a quick-cooking, delicate, delicious dish, something that’s sophisticated and elegant and downright special, you simply cannot beat a rack of lamb.

And although one might feel some pressure not to mess up an expensive ingredient, the method for cooking it is easy. Put a tasty coating on it, sear it, then finish cooking it in the oven at high heat.

In this case, the coating is an unorthodox mix of cumin, coffee and cocoa. I worried at first about how these might taste together, especially when I first caught the combined aroma. But the application of heat works wonders, and the result is a gentle, rich and dark flavour that doesn’t overwhelm the taste of lamb.

This is adapted from a recipe at Epicurious.com.

Spice-crusted rack of lamb

Serves two

1 Frenched rack of lamb

pinch kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 tbsp. each: cumin seeds, coffee and cocoa powder 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a coffee grinder, grind the cumin seeds and coffee together until very fine. Mix in the cocoa, and spread the mixture onto a plate.  On the stovetop, heat a cast-iron frying pan until smoking hot. This will take a while to heat, so let it sit on the stove while you get the meat ready.

To get the meat ready, wrap the bones in a piece of tin foil to prevent burning. Sprinkle the meat with a pinch of salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Then, coat the meat in the spice mixture – I like to do this by picking it up by the bones and rolling it around in the mix. 

When the pan is smoking hot, sear the rack meat side down, moving occasionally it to prevent sticking, until the crust is a deep brown –  about 2 minutes. Flip to sear underside in the same way, about 2 minutes more.

 Transfer the meat to a small roasting pan, then stick it in the oven and roast approximately 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers about 130F for medium-rare. Remove it from the oven, and let it rest about 15 minutes before slicing.

The end result, accompanied by some mashed sweet potato and a simple spinach and orange salad:

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