Summer Solstice Warming Vegetable Soup

"Summer Solstice" vegetable soup with garlic cheese bread

I’ve recently found out that onions are generally a bad idea for me.  If I don’t want to end up having certain health issues that I won’t discuss here, I need to generally avoid them like the plague.

To say the least, this has really put a cramp in my cooking-style.

Almost every recipe out there involves onions of some description or another. Sliced, diced, chopped, minced, pureed… somehow, it’s present in everything from soups and stews to burgers and meatloaf. What’s an onion-avoiding girl to do??

With the recent rainstorms and cooler summer weather, I’ve found myself craving a good, hearty, warming soup. Yes, soup in the summer — I’m not crazy, I promise! But again: soup = onions. Right? Well, not exactly. I’ve found  that I have no adverse effects from onion powder. There’s hope yet! Based on this and wanting to get something equally tasty and nutritious into me, I went out to buy some veggies I haven’t had in recent days: cabbage  and sweet potatoes.

Sure, I’ve got potatoes in my pantry but the  sweet potatoes are generally so much better for you and they just have a different taste. So, today, after I had gotten up from a short afternoon nap, I started chopping and slicing and  whipped up this yummy little number. I’ve dubbed it Summer Solstice Warming Vegetable Soup because I created it on the Summer Solstice and the flavours are warming without being “spicy”. Feel free to play with the seasonings to make it more to your taste, but  I have to say that this turned out better than I originally imaged!

This also makes a huuuuuuuuuge pot of soup/stew, so feel free  to cut these measurements in half to make a dutch oven’s worth of soup. This one took my large stewing pot, just as a warning.  (See the end of this posting to see the “leftovers” after hubby and I both had two full bowlfuls!) Also, this was an instant hit with my hubby, though there was no meat in the soup. Woo! Here’s what I did…

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Jamie Oliver-inspired cooking: slow-cooked beef stew

Jamie Oliver-inspired Slow Cooked Beef Stew in a bowlI have always made stew the same way: saute onions in some oil, then brown some flour-covered beef in batches, deglaze, add the rest of the veggies and liquid and bake for an hour or two, then try to thicken it up on the stove-top with a flour-slurry, because it just  never seemed to thicken in the oven.

I’ve never been happy with this so I’ve been poking around, looking for a better technique.

Then I stumbled across Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Jools’s favourite beef stew. In it, he talks about how it’s really not necessary to brown the meat in batches, as so many chefs would have you do and that he actually prefers the taste and texture of  the stew when he doesn’t pre-brown. He simply sautes his onions, then throws in the floured, seasoned meat, the liquids, vegetables and then brings it to a boil on the stove before throwing a lid on it and forgetting about it in the oven for 3-4 hours. Let me tell you, when I followed these instructions, I preferred the outcome. The taste and texture was indeed better than any stew  I’ve made in the past and the meat was perfectly tender (it’s been tough in the past).

So here’s what I did this time around for my best ever slow-cooked beef stew…

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Not your usual lasagna: Chicken-mushroom lasagna

Three-layer chicken-mushroom lasagna

I love lasagna. I can’t tell you how much I love it. But sometimes, it gets a little ho-hum, repetitive. So I like to play with the fillings from time to time.

Instead of ground beef, why not use shredded or sliced-up chicken breast meat? That’s what I did  this time, as I had a couple of leftover baked chicken breasts kicking around from the day before (I had made a chicken-breast chili soup the day before in the crockpot but didn’t use all the chicken).

What goes well with chicken? Just about anything, really. I’ve made it with spinach but this time, I went with sliced mushrooms that needed to get used up.

I’m also not much of a ricotta fan, so this was done with a combination of shredded mozzarella, Monterrey Jack and light Parmesan cheeses.

The sauce  was also a blend of jarred sauce and homemade sauce, as I didn’t have enough of either one of them to make the lasagna, so I mixed the two together and voila! Lasagna. I’ve even used Alfredo sauce in the past!

Do you get bored with your same-old same-old dishes? Sometimes just changing a couple of ingredients goes a long way in sprucing up the old favourites. 🙂

Kitchen sink… soup!

A bowl of chicken-based soup with veggies.

What do you do when you have a whole lot of bits and bobs in your fridge that need to get used up? Make soup!

I was faced with this dilemma this weekend while fighting off a bit of a bug of some sort. all I wanted was soup. So I looked around and found that I had a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but not a lot of anything that seemed useful, until I started pulling things out of the fridge. I like to call my soup creations that are made in this fashion “kitchen sink soups”. You just throw everything you have, sometimes including the kitchen sink! 🙂

Here’s what I did with this one…

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Barbecue chicken barley soup

A bowl of barbecue chicken barley soup

The summertime isn’t a usual time for soup, I’ll admit, but since I’ve been on this lower carb kick, I’ve been eating a lot of soups and stews. Avoiding too much pasta cuts out a lot of casseroles, right? So I had a pre-cooked barbecued chicken in the fridge from the grocery store. But honestly, I am not a fan of chicken noodle soup. I think I got sick too many times when I was a kid, so I’m just not a fan of one of the best home remedies in the world. I’ll eat it if I’m sick, but I’m not going to eat it “just because”.

So, I thought, why not make something heartier? Why not make something more flavourful? I still had barley in the cupboard and a lot of veggies in the fridge and freezer that could be used up. Why not? Before long, I was saying to myself, “Soup’s on!” I’ll warn that since I don’t use a lot of salt anymore, my soups are getting heavier and heavier in the seasonings department. But don’t worry, it’s worth it, and it’s not as bad as it looks.

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REVIEW & REJIG: Hungarian mushroom soup recipe

A bowl of low-sodium Hungarian Mushroom SoupI was off sick from work today and slept most of the day away. When I awoke, I was feeling much better, but was absolutely famished. I considered calling and ordering some take-out chicken soup from Swiss Chalet until I looked up the nutritional value. For one bowl of chicken and vegetable noodle soup was over 1000mg of sodium!! No thank you!

My husband suggested that I make my own. The problem with that was that I had no chicken in the fridge! I had veggies and broth and whole wheat egg noodles (no yolk) but no chicken. Can’t have chicken soup without chicken, can we?

But by this point, I knew I wanted soup. So I went scouring around the web, looking for ideas. I knew I had about a pound of mushrooms that needed to be used up soon, so I based my searching on that ingredient. What I found was an intriguing recipe over on AllRecipes.com called Hungarian Mushroom Soup. I was surprised to find out that with the exception of the fresh parsley (I just had dried), I had all of the ingredients.

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Hoisin beef stirfry

A white rectangular plate shows off a beef and vegetable stirfry meal with a pair of black chopsticks resting on the napkin beneath the plate.I think I posted something very similar to this a while back, but I’m revisiting it. I’ve changed up the ingredients a bit, including the amount of hoisin sauce and spices, as well as adding a can of water chestnuts (which were a fantastic addition!).

Stirfry lunch or dinner is a nearly no-guilt meal for me. So long as I watch the sodium, don’t add much in the way of oil, and am careful with what sauces I add (and how much), I think it’s a pretty healthy way to eat. And loading it up with veggies but just a little bit of meat allows you to spread out a small portion of meat (especially if that’s all you have) between more people/portions.

You see, I’m not much of a raw-veggie fan, but stirfry needs to be crunchy. Warmed through but still undercooked enough to have that crunch. A floppy, mushy stirfry is just nasty, so the key here is a high enough heat to warm quickly while preserving the crunch of the veggies, but not so high that it burns, along with cooking it very quickly. Cooking it on a lower heat just boils or simmers it in whatever you’re cooking it in. I am by no means a master at this. I just kind of eyeball it and judge by how the food feels against the spatula.

So I had some strips of an Eye of Round roast in the freezer that I hadn’t cooked up yet and decided that was going to be the meat of the dish. Here’s what I did…

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