Through the Kitchen Window

February - The winter blahs set in . . .

They actually set in early in December when I found out that my flash drive - the one piece of electronic gadgetry that holds ALL of my archival data - had died. Well, maybe died is too strong a word, but every PC I tried to read it from told me it wasn’t there. In fact, they would even ask me if I wanted to “format” it. NO I didn’t want to format it, I wanted to retrieve my January column so I could send it to Ronda for the magazine! I wanted to retrieve my invoice template so that I could send out my final quarter invoices to clients . . . so I could get paid! And here these computers were trying to tell me that there was NO DATA!!!

Needless to say, I asked everyone I know. Did all the internet searches. The answer was the same everywhere. If it was a computer, maybe, but a little flash drive, doubtful!

Well, that wasn’t good enough for me so I kept trying. Eventually, two weeks ago, I had all but given up. We were at a comedy show that we regularly go to at a neighbourhood bar when I remembered that one of the regular comics, who also happened to be a client, is a bit of a PC geek. So, holding out little hope of a solution, I asked him if he could help, or knew of someone who could. He told me to give him some time and he’d see what he could come up with. At the end of the night, he had someone who could help me. Also one of the comics that regularly attend the open mic, Cleve is, by day, an IT guru. “Bring the drive in next week”, he said to me. “I know some guys that MIGHT be able to do something with it.”

So I did, and last night, a week after I had entrusted my drive to him, I received a CD with ALL of my data on it! Can we spell r-e-l-i-e-f???

The funny part of all this is that for Christmas, one of my gifts from the kids was an external hard drive for data back ups. A little too late but the irony wasn’t lost on me!

I sometimes wonder why I am so beset by technological disasters. I try to be up to speed on the newest developments. But they also always tend to backfire on me somehow. No matter! There are now no fewer than three separate copies of my archival data. I’m not going to be caught short anymore, technology demons, do your worst!!!

I have a cold. It’s a simple, common place, garden variety cold. Stuffy, runny nose. Sneezing, coughing, sniffling. Watery eyes. What’s a bit different when I get a cold, is that my brain gets infected too. Now, please, don’t go picturing little staphs and streps making their way to my brain. It’s more along the lines of the inside of my head being insulated with several layers of something warm and fuzzy. It’s odd really. I don’t know anyone else who is affected this way. But when I have a cold, even the most mundane things become next to impossible! It’s no exaggeration to say that sometimes it’s hard for me to string a coherent sentence together. Who am I kidding? Most days I do well to remember my name!

When this affliction strikes, there’s no sense trying to fight it, I need to stay home, crawl into the fetal position, and let it run its course. So you would have found me, this past week, with my hair in a bedraggled ponytail, wearing track pants that have seen better days, with a t-shirt that I wouldn’t be caught dead in in public, curling up under my duvets (yes, TWO of them!) and drinking tea. Oh, and reading. AND, I crave soup!

So, given that February is blustery, windy, cold and unfriendly (unless you’re in a warm climate; in which case, I hate you!!!), I decided to share my two most favourite soups that carry me through my annual, mind numbing, garden variety cold.

Tomato Vegetable Chowder with Turkey

If you’re like me, at Christmas you turned your turkey carcass into stock. Some of which you used right away and some of which you froze for a later use. This year, I was also lucky enough to have a good portion of shredded turkey that I could freeze as well.

Start with a diced onion that you sauté in a couple of tablespoons of butter. Once the onions are soft and transparent, add two cups of diced potatoes and cook till translucent. Add a couple of cups of sliced mushrooms (use an assortment of mushrooms if they’re available) and let them sauté till lightly golden in colour. At this point you can add one 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and two cans of water. For seasoning, add two teaspoonfuls of oregano, one of basil and a pinch or two of thyme. Stir well and let it all come to a boil. Once it’s nicely bubbling, add two litres of turkey stock and stir it through. You should have a nice thick base at this point with some yummy potato, mushroom and onion goodness floating around. You could leave it and add your shredded turkey now and be done, but the last time I made it, I decided to pump up the vegetables. I tend to do that if I’m sick. So I added one cup each of frozen lima beans, peas, and kernel corn. Let it all come up to a boil and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Taste and adjust for seasonings, adding salt and pepper if you wish. Add in your shredded turkey and about two cups of chopped spinach. Heat through and serve. We like to have it with grated Parmigianino sprinkled on top. Add bread and a salad and you have a meal.

Onion Soup

This is one of those soups that I make often, from memory with no real recipe. To be sure, I started out with one at some point, but over the years, it’s been refined, changed and adapted so that the onion soup I produce these days is nothing like the one I first started out making. One thing that hasn’t changed is its popularity. Try it. Even if you’re not a fan of onion, I think you’ll love this stuff!!!

Caveat: I like my onions thinly sliced so I use a food processor with a chute attachment to do mine.

  • 2 large red onions
  • 2 large Spanish onions
  • 2 small white onions
  • 2 small Vidalia onions
  • 6 large shallots
(you could use fewer onions, but, really . . . why???)

All of the above thinly sliced, along with 8 – 10 cloves of garlic, crushed

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt three tablespoons of butter in three tablespoonfuls of olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook till softened and transparent and just slightly golden. Doing this over medium heat while constantly stirring, will ensure that the onions will soften without browning. Once the onions are so soft that they’re almost melting, add in five heaping tablespoons of flour. Stir well and allow the flour to cook while still stirring. Make sure it doesn’t get too browned, reduce the heat a bit if you need to.

Once you’ve achieved a good pasty “mess” you can pour in a glass (6oz) of good Merlot. Remember the adage is true: Never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink! Allow the wine to permeate the onion mixture and at the same time, use it to help scrape any bits off the bottom of the pot. After letting the wine be absorbed, you can start adding warm beef (or vegetable) stock to your pot. I like to add it in small doses, say a half cup or so at a time, making sure after each addition that it’s all melded well together. In all you’re going to add about ten cups of stock. At the half way point, or after adding five cups of stock, I add a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree (not paste) because I feel it enhances the flavor. You don’t need to if you prefer not to. Complete the stock addition process.

Once all the stock has joined the onions in the pot, you can add some seasoning. Here’s what I use: four bay leaves, a handful of fresh Italian parsley, ten thyme sprigs, a good handful of peppercorns, and one whole dried hot chile. I leave them all whole so that I can fish them out of the soup when I serve it (well, the peppercorns kinda stay put, but you get my drift).

Now you just need to sit back and be patient. The longer it simmers, the more the flavours get a chance to marry and become a fabulous taste sensation. I generally start my soup in the morning and serve it for supper. That means that once all the prep and additions are done, it’s usually going to simmer on my back burner for at least six hours. At about the halfway point, taste your soup and adjust it for any seasonings; you may decide it needs salt, or you can take out the chili pepper now so it doesn’t overpower the other flavours.

And here’s a secret, if you CAN wait, it’s best cooled, refrigerated and reheated to serve the next day. But if you’re like me, you won’t be able to wait. There should be plenty for leftovers though!

Once the soup is done, you assemble it for serving.

You’ll need croutons, which you can easily make from day old crusty bread that you slice, toast in the oven and then cut up into small bite size pieces.

You’ll also need shredded cheese. Use anything you prefer really, though the traditional cheese topping is a Swiss or gouda. I use a combination of several cheeses, usually whatever is in the fridge, but almost always including a good cheddar, Swiss, havarti and even some grated Parmigianino and asiago.

To assemble you’ll need oven proof bowls and to preheat your broiler.

Place a handful of croutons and a tablespoonful of cheese in the bottom of each bowl and spoon the hot soup over it, keeping an eye out for the herbs that you want to remove. Once the bowls have been filled almost to the top, sprinkle them generously with more cheese, enough to make a blanket over the soup. Place the bowls under the hot broiler for a few minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese and start it becoming golden. Serve.

I need more tea, so I’m off till next month.