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Dreary days and spicy tomato soup.

Since I’ve been in Massachusetts there has been 4 snow storms. I’ve been here 2 months. Welcome to New England, right? I usually love snow, but this year I’m waiting for Spring. I’m craving brightness. I want the freshness of Spring. I guess I’m looking the rebirth that comes with the season to coincide with my new beginning. I’m waiting for the crocuses to emerge, the asparagus to appear in the market, the sun to warm my bones.

Bright flowers for a dreary day

Bright flowers for a dreary day

But right now it’s snowing.

The (financial) demands of moving have kept my cupboards lean. Thankfully I preserved a lot last summer, both in jars and frozen. (Yes, I packed up all my frozen produce and moved it from Ohio to Massachusetts.) Fortunately/unfortunately, you have to get creative sometimes during lean times. Sure, I have some preserved things, some beans (uncooked), rice, pasta…. But what to do when you don’t want to wait for beans to cook, and you’re tired of pasta with tomato sauce? Flipping through my cookbook collection just made me more frustrated as I kept finding recipes I wanted to make only to find I was missing a major ingredient. Normally, I substitute. Sometimes when I’m tired and hungry, I don’t want to think about flavor combinations and what could fill the giant void of ‘X’ main ingredient. Too technical. Blah.

So, I stared at my cupboard. Tomatoes. Chicken stock. Cumin. Onions. Tomato soup! Wait! I have squash in the freezer. Southwest-style tomato soup!

Warms from within

Warms from within

And here ya go…

Spicy Tomato & Squash Soup

  • 1 qt, or 1-28oz cans- chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 c chopped zucchini, cooked
  • 1/2 med onion, diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, minced (or any spicy pepper, such as chipotles)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 c chopped cilantro
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • juice of 1 lime (optional)

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add tomato paste, cumin, salt & pepper, thoroughly combining. Cook until tomato paste just takes on a brown color. Add tomatoes and zucchini; cook for 5 min. Finally, add chicken stock. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings as needed. Right before serving, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Notes:

*I used yellow squash, but any summer squash will work. *Adding shredded rotisserie chicken will make a heartier soup. *Adding crisp tortilla strips and avocado will make this like a tortilla soup. *Switch up the cumin for other spices to take this soup around the world. *make this vegetarian by using vegetable stock or water.

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Election Day soup. A quick post

It’s that day again, the culmination of the long campaign season. We’ve had to endure ads, speeches and rallies. Now it’s the day to do your civic duty and vote. I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you do. And that’s as political as I’m going to get.

Most people will have to squeeze in voting between their lives, and then wake up tomorrow to find out who the next president will be. I would love to throw a returns watching party. I’m a bit of a geek that way. But I’m one of those that has to vote, then go to work. It will be late when I get home, so I’m just going to grab a bowl of soup and watch the returns.

Your civic duty

Since this is a food blog, I will share the recipe for my soup. It’s truly one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. A great soup for busy people. And it’s great for chilly days.

French Onion Beef Barley Soup

  • 1/2 lb stew beef, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 c beef broth or stock
  • 2 c water
  • 3/4 c pearl barley
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a stock pot,  heat oil over med heat.Season beef. Brown beef in batches; set aside. Turn down heat to med-low.

In the same pot, melt butter. Add onion and cook slowly until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Return beef to stock pot. Add thyme, broth, water and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until barley is cooked, about 60 minutes.

Note: feel free to add diced carrots when you add the beef back to the pot.

Summer chowdah in winter

I have challenged myself to make meals based on what’s in my freezer or pantry. Not as easy as you might think. I do have a lot of boxed rice mixes and soups given to me by a friend on a special diet. I could always cook one up and add things to it to make it new and unique. Heck, just the other day I made a rice pilaf into an Asian-inspired dish with the addition of meatballs, veggies and a lot of Asian condiments. Not bad. It does go against the habits I’m trying to get into (and stay in) which is eating more healthy via fresh ingredients. But what’s a girl to do when she has a cupboard full of packaged meals, and a freezer full of need-to-be-used-yesterday veggies?

Tonight, I wasted a bit of energy by staring into my freezer trying to come up with ideas. Green beans, corn, tomatoes, bacon, stocks, single-serve soups and a small baggie of jumbo shrimp stared back. There was more but I’m sure you don’t want or need to know the entire contents of my freezer.

Soup.

I can always make soup. I am almost souped out, but it’s an easy supper. Some sorta take on pasta fagioli/minestrone almost sounds good. It would use up those green beans that have to be cooked or pickled into salad because they have a weird taste otherwise. (Too much? Does anyone else have this problem?) Shrimp. Corn. Wait. I have potatoes. Chowder! I like chowder. Problem solved…for now.

There are a million places to look for cord chowder recipes, but I pulled out my trusty Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook (stained pages = trusty). While they didn’t have a shrimp and corn chowder recipe, they do have an amazingly simple corn chowder. It’s a snap to just throw in some shrimp at the end. It really couldn’t be easier. I had everything I needed on hand…except cream. I made do with 2% and a bit of half & half.  p.s. This will work for a Lenten Friday meal. Just remember to omit the bacon.

Give it a try. A bit of summer in the dead of winter.

Corn and Shrimp Chowder

adapted from Little Compton Corn Chowder, The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook

  • 1 quart frozen corn kernels (or kernels from 4-6 ears sweet corn)
  • 4 bacon slices, diced
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 quart milk
  • 1/2 quart heavy cream
  • 1/2 lb shrimp (raw or cooked)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bacon!

In a large saucepan or stockpot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside. Add onions to the bacon drippings, cooking until onion is tender. Add the potatoes and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Jumbo shrimp

Add the corn, reserved bacon, milk and cream to the pan. Season to taste. Add raw shrimp, if using. Continue to cook until the shrimp are cooked through. *If using pre-cooked shrimp, add them a few minutes before serving to heat through.

Serve in warmed soup bowls

Wish I had some sourdough bread.

Notes: The original recipe calls for using the bacon as a garnish only. You may certainly do that; I prefer my bacon in chowder, not on. *The cooking time on raw shrimp will vary with the size of shrimp used. They’re done when they’re pink. I used pre-cooked jumbo shrimp that I chopped before adding. Also, I used a smoked black pepper to compliment the smokiness of the bacon. If you can find any, grab it!

Potatoes in water. Keep them white

Tip: I filled a large glass measure with 1 cup water then added my diced potatoes. It kept them from getting brown, and adding a bit of starchy water to the chowder.