Italian Wedding Soup

I had never made meatballs until today. Crazy, right?! Meatballs have never been very enticing to me – an odd fact, since I love sausage. The idea of the grocery store meatball with loads of crappy filler and little flavor is not my idea of cuisine. But, I’m learning to love the humble meatball. Mark’s family made a special batch of their family’s famed Swedish Meatballs for me at Christmas. I’d never even tried these particular meatballs because of the gluten in them, and never really felt like I was missing out. I was wrong. The meatballs were heaven, swimming in a savory gravy.

This week, while I was perusing my favorite food inspiration site, Tastespotting, I saw a couple of recipes for Italian Wedding Soup. I’d never heard of it before, but the recipes featured homemade meatballs swimming in broth. I was intrigued, so I gave it a shot this morning.

The meatballs on their own are well worth making and not that much trouble. I baked them, not having the patience to saute them in several batches, as I had other things to prep in the kitchen. I would definitely make the meatballs for pasta sauce another time. I didn’t have gluten-free bread crumbs on hand (I rarely have GF bread around at all), so I threw a few Ener-G gluten free onion crackers in the mini-prep and whizzed them into submission – it worked perfectly for the meatballs. If you want to cut the calorie load a bit, you could certainly use all turkey sausage for the meatballs – I just happen to love pork. I also cut the finished meatballs into quarters, so that you’d get more bites of beautiful sausage in every bowl.

Once you’ve got the meatballs made, the rest of the soup is a snap, and follows the standard soup operating procedure – saute mire poix, add broth and spices, then simmer. The finished soup is amazing – hearty and spicy and a little like a hot and sour soup. The addition of the dill to the broth adds an almost sour note, but it really works in combination with the red pepper flakes.

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 6

2 links Hot Italian sausage, pork (about 8oz)
2 links Hot Italian sausage, turkey(about 8oz)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T parsley, minced
1/4 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (I used pulverized GF cracker crumbs)
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 with the convection setting on. If you don’t have convection, set it to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Remove the casings from the sausages and place the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hands until combined. Now, shape the meatballs. Use a scant tablespoon of meat for each meatball, and shape them into balls with your hands. Place the formed meatballs on the prepped sheet tray, about 2 inches apart from each other. When you’ve finished making the meatballs, bake them for 25 minutes, then remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes, then store in the fridge while you make the soup.

1 onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 cups diced red potatoes, skin on
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 T dried dill
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 T parsley, minced
1 bunch rainbow chard, washed, ribs removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Meatballs, sliced into quarters

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 T olive oil, then saute the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, 1/4 tsp salt and red pepper flakes for about 5-6 minutes, until the onion is translucent and softened. Add the dill, garlic and black pepper and stir for another minute, until you smell the garlic.
  2. Add the chicken stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are tender. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasonings – adding more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes if it needs it.
  3. Just before you’re ready to serve, add the rainbow chard and parsley to the pot, stirring the greens in gently. Allow them to cook for 2 minutes, then add in the quartered meatballs. Cook for 2 more minutes, then dish up the soup.

341 cal/bowl, 160cal from fat, 17g fat, 85mg cholesterol, 1080mg sodium, 470mg potassium, 39g carbs, 3g fiber, 9g sugars, 20g protein

Seafood Gumbo

This New Year’s Eve, Mark and I had a very traditional Sutherland Family celebration with a quiet evening at home in Chicago. This means staying in your pajamas all day, mimosas in the afternoon, and then a late, leisurely dinner featuring crab. We feasted on king crab, spicy roasted potato wedges and green salad. It was awesome.

The second part of the tradition occurs on New Year’s Day, when you take your saved crab shells and toss them into a pot of chicken stock (homemade, of course), and magically turn it into seafood stock after a short simmer. The resulting stock is nothing short of magical, and begs to be at the center of a meal. The New Year’s tradition in our family means using that stock in seafood gumbo.

I have to apologize to my Southern friends up front – this isn’t a traditional Louisiana gumbo – there’s no roux or okra, but the flavor is just as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant. I skipped the customary step of beginning with a roux since I wasn’t sure a gluten-free roux would hold up in a soup. I am happy to report that a sprinkling of corn flour on the mirepoix at the beginning of the process and a teaspoon or so of file powder stirred in at the end produced a beautifully thick gravy with no gluten!

Gumbo needs a little kick to it, so don’t be shy with the cayenne and spicy andouille sausage. When you serve the gumbo over brown rice, the spice will be soaked up by the rice just a bit, and provide a nice heat without sending you for the water pitcher. For those who like it really hot, put a bottle of hot sauce on the table, so your guests can dose their bowls to their liking.

Seafood Gumbo
Adapted from Momma Sutherland and
Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8, serve over brown rice

1 pound small shrimp, shelled, and deveined (if desired), shells reserved
4 cups chicken stock
1 small pinch saffron threads
leftover crab shells (or 8oz bottled clam juice)
2 cups water
1 T oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 T corn flour
1 14oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 T tomato paste
2 bay leaves
8 oz turkey andouille sausage (Wellshire Farms), sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced into bite-sized pieces
1.5 cups diced, cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 tsp gumbo file powder
salt & pepper to taste

Garnishes: parsley, scallions and serve over brown rice

  1. Bring reserved shrimp shells, crab shells (or clam juice), chicken stock, pinch of saffron and water to boil in stockpot or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 20 minutes. Strain and discard shells. Set stock aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, and cayenne; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften – about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with the corn flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Stirring constantly, cook for two more minutes, then pour in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally – the mixture will get thick and turn into the consistency of loose paste. Add 1 quart reserved stock mixture and stir. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, skim off foam on surface, add bay leaves, and simmer uncovered, skimming foam as it rises to the surface, about 30 minutes.
  3. After 30 minutes, stir in sausage; continue simmering to blend flavors, about 30 minutes longer. Stir in cooked chicken and shrimp; simmer until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in parsley, scallions, and filé powder. Let rest until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne; serve over about 1/2 cup of brown rice per bowl.

Gumbo: 250 cal per serving (about 1.5 cup of gumbo), 70 cal from fat, 7.8g fat, 155mg cholesterol, 770mg sodium, 380mg potassium, 15g carbs, 5g sugars, 29.4g protein

Brown rice: 108 cal per 1/2 cup, .8g fat, 22g carbs, 2.52g protein

Chicken Posole

We’ve had a wonderful holiday season. Mark and I spent a few days in Michigan with our friends and family, and we’re now enjoying a lazy week at home. Going outdoors beyond walking the dog seems like way too much work at the moment. An afternoon on the couch with a blanket in my lap and a cup of tea in hand while I catch up on one of our favorite shows, Beyond Everest, seems just about right.

I really should be using this time off to spend a few hours on the elliptical machine to work off some of the sugar I ate last week, but it just doesn’t seem to be at the top of my priority list. Next week I know I’ll hit the workouts hard and lose the sugar baby currently attached to my belly. In the meantime, winter weather calls for a little more soup.

I couldn’t get enough of that pork stew I made a couple weeks ago, and then Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks posted her version of a red posole. I decided to get the ingredients ready for another go at this one. I wanted to lighten the calorie load just a touch, so I used some roast chicken in place of the pork. Taking Heidi’s cue, I decided to cook my own hominy – I wasn’t thrilled with the mushy texture of the canned hominy last time.

I found hominy at one of the Hispanic markets in our neighborhood, and it came in broken pieces. Hominy can hog all the space in a pot of soup, so I thought the smaller pieces would be nice. I soaked the corn overnight, and then cooked it up with some aromatics, and it is SO much better than the canned stuff – it has much more corn flavor, but more importantly, it has a nice toothy, firm texture. If you can’t find hominy at your local market, you can order it from the amazing folks at Rancho Gordo.

Chicken Posole
Serves 6

1 cup dried hominy pieces (I used Goya brand)
1 carrot, chunked
1 stalk celery, chunked
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, whole
2 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 tsp salt
1 T Mexican oregano

Cooking hominy: Place the dried hominy in a large bowl and cover with three inches of water. Soak overnight. After soaking, drain the corn and rinse it. Pour the corn into a 3qt pot, fill with water, and add the carrot, celery, bay leaf, onion, garlic and oregano. Bring to a boil, cook for 30 minutes, then add the salt, and taste a kernel to see if it’s nearly done. It took about 50 minutes to cook the hominy pieces.

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
4 cups chicken stock
1 14oz can fire-roasted tomatoes with chipotles (Muir Glen brand)
1 T oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 T corn flour
3/4 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed
2 T ancho chile powder
2 tsp cumin, ground
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp coriander, ground
cooked hominy
cilantro – garnish
salt to taste

  1. Cooking the chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place in a roasting pan in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Remove, and set aside to cool while you chop the veggies for the rest of the soup.
  2. Soup: Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and bell pepper to the pot and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle the corn flour over the vegetables, then add the garlic, ancho chile powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cumin and stir for one minute. Add the can of fire roasted tomatoes and stir, cooking for another 5 minutes to develop the flavors.
  3. Add the chicken stock and cooked hominy. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While the soup cooks, remove the skin and bones from the chicken breasts (stash the bones in the freezer for making chicken stock later), then dice the meat into bite-sized pieces. After the soup has simmered for 20 minutes, add the chicken to the soup and season with salt to taste. Serve each bowl garnished with cilantro.

272 cal/bowl, 80cal from fat, 8g fat, 35mg cholesterol, 790mg sodium, 600mg sodium, 31g carbs, 6g fiber, 10g sugars

Indian Spiced Red Lentil and Rice Soup

On my way home from a long week in the office this evening, I somehow managed to get a train without heat. December is giving us a cold start to the holiday season here in Chicago, so between the meat locker-like train and the walk home, I needed something to thaw my chilled bones. The Friday night fridge is a lean proposition since I go to the market on Saturdays; dinner was either going to be another round of bacon-egg-slurry or some kind of soup since I had a quart of stock sitting in the fridge waiting for inspiration.

Heidi Swanson posted a recipe for Red Lentil Soup a couple months ago that seemed intriguing. I’d filed it in the back of my mind on the “culinary to-do list,” but didn’t give it another thought until my friend Emily tweeted that she loved the soup and had already made two pots of it. I trust Emily’s opinions on soup, so I knew this one had to be on the menu soon.

This lentil soup doesn’t call for much in the way of ingredients, so I chopped an onion and some garlic and was on my way. I decided to give Heidi’s recipe an Indian twist with some freshly toasted and ground spices, and WOW, it really turned up the volume on the flavor in the soup. I love Indian daals, and this is very reminiscent of those flavors. This is a case where I would definitely recommend toasting and grinding the spices yourself – you want the flavors to be fresh and bold. Brown mustard seeds are one of my favorite Indian spices, and I don’t use them nearly enough – they add a peppery heat and totally change the character of the cumin and coriander in the dish, making a perfect harmony of heat and spice.

The soup cooks up pretty quickly and with minimal fuss, so you can easily make this on a weeknight. I also made some Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread to go with the soup. And I think that a bowl of soup and warm homemade bread is the perfect kick-off to the weekend.

Indian Red Lentil and Rice Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Spice mix:
1 T brown mustard seeds, divided
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 T coconut oil or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 T parsley (dried or fresh)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/3 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice
squeeze of lemon juice, or a tablespoon or two of red wine or champagne vinegar
salt to taste

Garnish: toasted slivered almonds, chopped cilantro

  1. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Pour the whole spices into the pan – cumin, coriander, peppercorns, red pepper flakes and half of the mustard seeds. Toast for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan often so that the spices don’t burn. When they begin to get fragrant, pour the spices into your spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse powder. Set aside.
  2. In a big soup pot, over medium heat, add the coconut oil, remaining whole brown mustard seeds, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute the onions slowly and let them caramelize a bit, stirring occasionally – about 10 minutes of cooking time. When they start to brown, add the garlic and toasted spice mix. Stir for another minute or two, and when the spices are warm and very fragrant, add the chicken (or vegetable) stock. Cover, and bring to a boil.
  3. When the pot is boiling, add the lentils, rice and parsley. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender – about an hour. Stir the soup occasionally as it simmers. The red lentils will break down into almost a puree and will thicken the soup. If the pot gets too thick for you, add a little water. When the rice is tender, season the soup with salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar to brighten the flavor of the lentils, then serve. Garnish each bowl with toasted almonds and chopped cilantro.

470 cal per serving, 90cal from fat, 10g fat, 10mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 490 mg potassium, 69g carbs, 11g fiber, 10g sugars, 26.3g protein

Tortilla Soup

The warm weather in Chicago this week has my mind solidly split between fall and winter. It’s hard to think about planning the Thanksgiving menu when the sun is shining and it’s 55 degrees out. So, I’m hoping that the final menu will come together before Thursday morning.

A couple of weeks ago one of my readers asked if I had a tortilla soup recipe. And I do – I happen to love this soup, and stockpile sweet corn and cobs in the freezer all summer so that I can make this soup when the weather turns cool. I was amazed that I hadn’t blogged this recipe yet, so I’m happy to finally share it with you.

I’ve adapted this soup from Wolfgang Puck. When I worked at The Cradle, there was a Puck’s Cafe about 7 blocks away, and a few times each year I would go there for lunch, specifically for soup. I’ve always enjoyed watching Wolfgang on TV – he’s a high-energy guy with an infectious love for the food he cooks – and the man KNOWS soup. There are very few restaurants where I will order soup, but Wolfgang’s crew can make me soup any day, as their soups have a very homeade, slow-simmered taste.

This tortilla soup is hearty, and full of chile and corn flavors. Sauteeing the squares of corn tortilla in oil before cooking the vegetables will help to thicken the soup later on – without the inclusion of wheat! If you want to make the soup even heartier, you can add a can of hominy to turn it into posole, or add some shredded cooked chicken. Next time you feel like a spicy, warming soup, give this one a try.

One year ago in the Whole Kitchen:
Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Soup, Root Vegetable Hash

Tortilla Soup
adapted from Wolfgang Puck

serves 5

2 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed from cob, and cobs reserved (or use 1 cup of frozen corn)
4 or 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion (about 2 ounces), peeled, trimmed, and quartered
1 small jalapeño pepper, trimmed and seeded
3 poblano chiles
1 T chipotle puree
1 tablespoons oil
2 corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch squares
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 T ground cumin
6 cups chicken stock or broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

tortilla crisps (see below)
chopped fresh cilantro leaves

  1. Using a large knife, carefully scrape the kernels off the corn cobs and set aside, reserving the cobs.
  2. Using a food processor fitted with the steel blade, coarsely chop the garlic, onion, jalapeño and poblano peppers, and the corn kernels. Reserve.
  3. Make the soup: In a large stockpot, heat the oil. Add the squares of tortillas and cook over low heat until they are slightly crisp. Stir in the chopped vegetables and simmer just until the vegetables are coated with the oil. Do not brown.
  4. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, chipotle puree, cumin and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes to maximize the flavor – the mixture will grow very thick. Slowly pour in the stock, add the corn cobs, and cook over low heat until the soup is reduced by one third – about an hour
  5. Discard the corn cobs and purée 3 cups of the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Prepare the tortilla crisp garnish: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the tortillas into thin strips and arrange on a small baking tray, and toss with 1 T of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Bake until the strips are crisp, 10 to 15 minutes.

239 cal/bowl, 60 cal from fat, 6.9g fat, 620g sodium, 370g potassium, 37g carbs, 3g fiber, 11g sugars, 8.9g protein

Roasted Parsnip Soup

Friday night, my friends Stacey and Jon came over for dinner before we headed out to a David Wilcox concert. I met Stacey ten years ago at Holden Village, a remote retreat community where I lived for 6 months. Holden is a place of spirit and relationships and mealtimes were a highlight of each day because of the wonderful food and conversation that happened around the table.

Lunch at Holden was usually homeade soup, warm bread fresh from the oven and green salad. So when Stacey and Jon agreed to stop by for dinner before the show, I knew that a simple Holden meal was just the thing…And BOY, was it! I think the company amplified the lovely meal, but the parsnip soup worked far better than I had initially thought. Roasting the parsnips before making the soup brought out some of the sweetness in this earthy root, and the leeks added a lovely mellow savoriness, while the potatoes added some body to the soup. The addition of the sherry added just a hint of brightness to boost the flavors just a touch.

If you’ve got parsnips lingering in your crisper, give this one a try, and share it with some dear friends for a perfect evening.

Roasted Parsnip Soup
Serves 6

5 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup half & half
3 oz goat cheese
1 T olive oil
1 T bacon grease (or olive oil)
4 cups parsnips, peeled and cubed
3 leeks, sliced
3/4 cup dry sherry
2 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste

Garnishes: parsley & crumbled bacon

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a sheet pan, and pour the cubed parsnips onto the pan, and toss with 1 T olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes, then stir the parsnips and roast for 20 more minutes before removing from the oven.
  2. While the parsnips are roasting, make the rest of the soup. Heat a large pot over medium heat and add 1 T of bacon fat or olive oil. Add the sliced leeks, and saute for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Add in the potatoes, rosemary, thyme and garlic, and stir for a minute, until you can smell the garlic and herbs.
  3. Add the chicken stock, sherry and the parsnips when they are done roasting. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the potatoes are tender, grab your immersion blender and puree the soup until smooth. Add the half & half and goat cheese, then taste, and add salt & pepper to taste. If you think the soup needs another shot of sherry to brighten the soup, go for it.
  4. Garnish each bowl with some minced parsley and a bit of crumbled bacon.

350 cal/bowl, 100 cal from fat, 11.4g fat, 25mg cholesterol, 370mg sodium, 890mg potassium, 40g carbs, 6g fiber, 10g sugars

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

I have to make a confession. As much as I love the foods of the fall harvest season, I am incredibly picky about the squash I eat. I love butternut, delicata and spaghetti squash. I do NOT love pumpkin and acorn squash, and I struggle to use them up every time they appear in my CSA box. Which makes me feel bad, since Kevin seems to love the pie pumpkins so much. I usually end up feeding half the squash we receive to the dog, as he has seasonal allergies, and some roasted squash puree helps his tummy out a lot.

Earlier this week, Kevin posted a recipe for pumpkin black bean soup, and I thought this was something I could get behind, as is seemed a straight-forward black bean soup with some pumpkin puree added for some body in the soup. And I have to agree with Kevin, that the finished soup is excellent. It has all the zing of my typical spicy black bean soup, but the pumpkin adds a nice earthy, grounding note to the finished soup. Give it a try!

Pumpkin and black bean soup
Adapted from Closet Cooking

serves 6

1 T oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 banana peppers, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ground cumin
1 T chipotle puree
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 cups roasted pumpkin puree
1 (19 ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry Sherry (or dry white wine)
1 handful cilantro (chopped, optional)
1 cup diced lean ham (optional)
1 handful toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven
  2. Add the onions, carrots and banana peppers and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
  4. Add the broth, pumpkin, black beans, tomatoes and sherry and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and puree to the desired consistency – I like my bean soups to stay pretty chunky, so I only puree with my immersion blender for a minute or so. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  6. Add the diced ham (if using).
  7. Serve garnished with cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds.

344 cal/serving; 60cal from fat, 6.4g fat, 20mg cholesterol, 770 mg sodium, 960mg potassum, 52g carbs, 13g fiber, 20g protein

Smoky Corn & Bacon Chowder

Whitney in Chicago
made my day today. Around lunchtime, she posted to twitter about a new blog post with her recipe for corn and bacon chowder. The rest, as they say, is history. I ran across the street to the Prudential Plaza farmer’s market and picked up some celery and chives to go in the soup. I had some peppered Neuske’s bacon at home in the fridge, along with a few ears of corn and some german butterball potatoes from Nichol’s Farm.

Local, wild celery is crunchy mid-summer treat, and if you’ve never purchased celery from a local farmer – try it soon, while it’s still in season. Local celery has an intensity of flavor that the stuff you buy in plastic bag will never have. And the leaves of celery are also a nice addition to soups and stocks, to add another layer of celery goodness.

I changed up Whitney’s recipe just a bit – using corn flour instead of wheat flour, chipotle puree instead of chipotle powder, and omitting the greek yogurt garnish, to keep it dairy-free. The finished soup is spectacular. The smoky spice of the chipotles and bacon plays perfectly against the sweetness of the corn, and the burst of acidity from a few spoonfuls of diced sungold cherry tomatoes. This is the perfect soup of summer, and I think we’ll have a few more pots of this gem before the sweet corn season passes.

Smoky Sweet Corn & Bacon Chowder
Serves 7 (if you don’t eat two bowls, which is hard resist)

4 ounces of bacon, (about 5 slices) diced
1 large onion, diced
5 celery ribs, diced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 cup minced celery leaves (optional – if your celery doesn’t have leaves, don’t worry about it)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle puree
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh-cracked black pepper
3 medium-sized potatoes, cubed
3 tablespoons corn flour (if you’re not gluten-free, just use regular flour)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water
4 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob – reserve a couple of the cobs

minced chives
a few crumbles of bacon
diced cherry tomatoes

  1. Saute the bacon in a large soup pot until mostly crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel and set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from the pot (save in a jar to stash in the fridge). Return the pot to the stove, turn the heat up to medium. Add the onion, celery and stir to coat the vegetables with the oil. Cook until onions are translucent, and begin to soften – about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook another five minutes, until the potatoes have just begun to soften. Add all of the herbs to the pot, and stir. Turn the heat down to low and sprinkle the corn flour over the vegetables. Stir and cook for 5 more minutes.
  2. Add the chicken stock, chipotle puree and water. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon to the soup. Next, stir in the corn kernels. Finally, add the reserved corn cobs to the soup (which will help flavor and thicken the broth). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  3. Before serving, remove the corn cobs, taste, and adjust the seasoning of the soup, adding a bit more salt if necessary. Garnish each bowl with the reserved bacon, minced chives and a spoonful of diced cherry tomatoes.

Winter’s End Beef Vegetable Soup

Spring in the Midwest is a very changeable season that keeps us just a little bit off-balance until the steady warmth of summer helps us forget the cold of winter. Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Chicago that begged to be spent outdoors. Mark and I hopped on our bikes and headed downtown on the lakeshore path to stop by the last indoor week of the Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

When we arrived, the farmers were all packing up their wares, but we were able to score some dairy from Blue Marble, mushrooms from River Valley Ranch and a quart of slightly banged up apples that will be perfect in oatmeal this week. After we hit the market, we wandered through the nature museum. We spent the most time in the Butterfly Haven – a lush greenhouse full of flowering plants and butterflies flitting around and alight on every surface. How can you not be happy surrounded by hundreds of beautiful and delicate creatures?! An owl butterfly even landed on my helmet, and Mark was able to snap the pic below.

Today, the other side of spring is showing her face, and we’ve got gray skies and rain. I know the rain is needed for all the spring flowers and summer crops, but it really would have been nice to have a full weekend of sunshine. So, here at the edge of Spring, it’s time for another pot of wintery soup. I had a beef soup bone in the freezer from the farm share, and one last quart of stewed tomatoes I’d been hoarding, as well as a little bit of wild rice from Minnesota. There’s nothing fancy about this soup, but it’s hearty and I hope will be a fond farewell to the flavors and feeling of winter.

Beef Vegetable Soup
Serves 7
5 Weight Watchers Points per serving

1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 quart stewed tomatoes
1 T dried rosemary
1 T dried basil
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
1 beef soup bone, about 1 1/2lb
1 chunk of parmesan cheese rind, optional

  1. Heat a 8 quart soup pot over medium heat. Add oil, carrots, onions and celery and saute for about 10 minutes, until the carrots just begin to soften. Add the garlic, rosemary, black pepper and basil and stir for one minute.
  2. Add the chicken stock, stewed tomatoes water, bay leaves, beef bone, red bell pepper and parmesan cheese rind, if using. Stir. Cover, and bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, and spooning off any fat that gathers at the edge of the pot.
  3. Remove beef bone. bay leaves and parmesan rind from pot. Toss the rind and bay leaves. Set the beef aside to cool for a few minutes, then remove the meat from the bone and shred, discarding any fat.
  4. Add the beef back to the pot, and stir in the wild rice. Ladle into bowls and grate fresh parmesan over each bowl and serve.

Southwestern Something Soup

I didn’t really know what to call this soup – Southwestern veg soup? Black bean & vegetable? Tomato & black bean soup? Empty-the-pantry soup? The theme here is that I didn’t have enough time to make a pot of soup on Sunday for our weekday lunches. I made a small batch of our favorite quinoa salad, but now that’s all gone. So, when I got home Tuesday afternoon, it was time to sift through the pantry and crisper and see what I could come up with. And this is it.

Spicy, earthy, fragrant, and packed with vegetables – this soup will get you through an afternoon in the cubicle. I also tossed in my last handful of frozen sweet corn from last summer into the pot for a little sweetness. It’s always a bittersweet moment to use the last of my carefully hoarded stash of sweet corn, but I know that another summer is on its way, even if the cold temperatures and Chicago wind make it feel so far away.

Southwestern Something Soup
Serves 5
5 Weight Watchers Points per serving

1 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled & diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T cumin
1/2 T coriander
1/2 T chipotle puree
2 T tomato paste
1 T dried oregano
1/2 lb dried black beans
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3 bay leaves
1 14oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat, and add oil. Saute onion, carrot, celery for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, chipotle puree, oregano and tomato paste and stir for 1 minute.
  2. Add black beans, bay leaves, water and chicken stock and stir. Raise heat to medium, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered, for an hour or so until the beans are almost done.
  3. When beans are nearly tender, add 1/2 tsp salt and can of diced tomatoes, stir, and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, until the beans are fully tender. Taste the soup, and add more salt or chipotle puree to suit your tastes. Add thawed corn and chopped cilantro, stir, and then serve.