Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tomato, White Bean and Spinach Soup

We are having a typical October around here.  Yesterday the temperatures climbed to the mid-70s.  Today started at 51 degrees and is expected to reach a high of 60.  There is no sign of the sun yet but it is early.  The wind is sending a few leaves skittering outside my window.  After a few errands, I plan to stay in and work on the cluttered drawers in the dresser and the cluttered closet shelves.  I have declared myself the "curator of clutter" and plan to continue curating it right out the door!!  I don't even have to stop to prepare dinner.  There's a container of soup in the refrigerator.  Such a comforting thing.

It's hard to go wrong with a soup.  I did read once that soups should be put together carefully and with purpose.  Just tossing ingredients into a pot did not make a soup worthy of eating.  I totally disagree!  To be honest, I can't remember the last time I faithfully followed a soup recipe.  Sometimes I don't have all the listed ingredients.  There are times I think I can improve on the recipe.  Maybe it's just using canned beans instead of soaking and cooking the dried ones.  Enough with excuses!  This soup is one from an obscure source that has changed a little every time I've made a pot.

Here's my recipe.  Improvise all you want.  As for the Parmesan rind:  It takes a while to use up fresh Parmesan to have a rind for the soup pot.  I've found containers of Parmesan rind at my Whole Foods for just a few dollars.  If you don't have a Whole Foods, check your local grocery.  They are a very nice addition to the soup but, if you don't have one, it will still be tasty.

Tomato, White Bean and Spinach Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tsp sugar
1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes with their juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste (I keep a tube of tomato paste in the refrigerator)
1 14 oz. can white beans drained and rinsed
6 oz (or so) of baby spinach (or another green that you might like)
2 x 1 inch (or so) of Parmesan rind

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute.
2.  Pour in the chicken stock, stir in the sugar, add the bay leaf, tomatoes and tomato paste.  Simmer covered,  for about 20 minutes.
3.  Add the beans and the Parmesan rind.  Simmer for another 10 minutes.
4.  Check the seasonings and add salt and pepper if needed.  Add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach is wilted.
5.  Remove the bay leaf and the Parmesan rind.

ENJOY with a nice crusty bread!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving to My Canadian Friends

I'm wishing my Canadian friends a happy Thanksgiving!
Does your meal center around a roasted turkey?
Pumpkin pie?

Do your hotels and restaurants offer a feast?

During our recent visit to Canada, I discovered a well-kept secret (to me anyway).  It was disclosed  in the form of breakfast at the Fairmont Royal York.  My son knew about this "secret" from a visit to Quebec City a few years ago and suggested we seek it out at some point.  

Peameal Bacon!!

Made from boneless pork loin and rolled in cornmeal.
So moist and tender!!
It only resembles our Canadian bacon in that it is round.

Eggs Benedict with peameal bacon at the Royal York.
I've begun a campaign to find it here.
So far, no luck but I am doggedly determined!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Tea at the King Edward Hotel--Toronto Part II

Stefan and Elyssa treated us to a long-standing Toronto social tradition.
Tea at the King Edward Hotel.

The only things we didn't partake of was the 
champagne and sherry.
We had a museum to see later in the afternoon or we would have done so.

Elyssa and I fell in love with this perfect Wedgewood teacup.
It was beautiful without being delicate and generous enough to hold 
more than a sip or two of tea.
We each had our own teapot and could chose from an array of teas.

If you look back up at the menu, you can read about these tasty savories.
From the blini to the velvety deviled egg,
not a crumb was left on my plate.

Then came the sweets!
I managed to enjoy some of most.
Actually, most of most!

The tea, described as being
"designed for the aristocratic palate",
was a culinary highlight of our visit!!

Thank you, dear ones, for such a lovely afternoon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Visiting Our Neighbor to the North--Toronto (Part 1)

We've had some nice visits to Canada.  Other than a very brief visit as a teenager, Toronto had not been a destination.  This was the year to visit this wonderful place.  Public transportation is excellent.  Driving yourself around isn't too bad unless you want to park.  Each of us had an idea of what to do.  On the agenda:  Niagara Falls (Canadian side), the Shoe Museum (yes, shoe) and The Royal Ontario Museum.  We also planned to check out a few restaurants and markets.

Union Station
  The beautiful beaux-arts style building serves 250,000 travelers per day.

Late September provided us with perfect days.
These lovely flowers were everywhere we went,
outside and in the lobby of the 
Royal York Hotel.

We met up with these two for a family vacation.

Stefan and Elyssa


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and an Asian Dinner

The Muses met on Monday evening to discuss The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo.  I think it was the consensus of the group that the book was a worthwhile read.  Each of us seemed to be at certain stages of tidying up.  Quite frankly, I think we were all rather neat and tidy before the book ever came out.

Almost every book chosen through the years has been a great read sparking good discussions.  That said, food is always involved and it is always excellent!!  We all take turns hosting.  Often, the book will suggest a theme.  Muse Cindy treated us to an asian setting that was perfect for our dinner.  I wish I had thought to take a photo of the entire table.

Delicate and beautiful, this teacup was ready for green tea.

Individual bowls of edamame--a perfect appetizer!

Edamame Appetizer

1 bag frozen edamame in the pod

1.  In a pot large enough to hold the edamame, boil enough water to cover.  Add 1 Tbsp salt.
2.  Add edamame and cook for five minutes.  Drain and sprinkle on more salt if desired.

I ate the entire bowl of cool, crisp cucumbers with chopsticks!

Cucumber Salad (Shieldzini)

3 cucumbers
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp white sugar
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce

1.  Peel cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop the seeds out and slice into bite-sized pieces.  Transfer to a large bowl.
2.  Mix together the salt, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce.  Pour over the cucumbers and gently toss.  Chill for several hours before serving, tossing occasionally.

The main course was juicy chicken bites served with rice and sesame green beans.  I was so eager to lay down my chopsticks and pick up a fork,  so as not to miss a single bite, that I forgot to get any photos!!

I'll share the recipe for the delightful dish of dessert later.

Thank you, Cindy, for a lively discussion and a lovely meal!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wheat Berry Salad

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile."
~ William Cullen Bryant

My mother was of the opinion that food, whenever possible, should be colorful and true to the season.  Winter whites.  Spring greens.  Summer was pretty much the same as spring.  But, fall was her favorite season and her favorite colors--in nature, in her dress and on her table.  Mother never put wheat berries on our table so far as I remember.   I think she would have loved the colors of this salad though.  Fall seems to call for bolder salads and this one is certainly that.  It was inspired by Ina Garten.

Wheat Berry Salad

1 cup hard winter wheat berries
1 cup green onions (use the white and about an inch of the green) thinly sliced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or your choice)
2 tsp sugar, stirred into the vinegar
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
Freshly ground pepper to taste


Soak the wheat berries in water to cover overnight.

Drain and place into three cups of boiling, salted water. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until they are soft. Drain.

While still warm, add the olive oil and the vinegar/sugar mixture. Mix well and then combine with the rest of the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Allow to sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Even better when refrigerated overnight and brought to room temperature before serving.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Tempest and The Repast (Shakespeare at Navy Pier and Dinner at Valley)

Yesterday is right up there with the most perfect late summer day we've had in many years--maybe the most perfect ever.  The weather was glorious!  Sunshine and cool breezes.  We joined our friends, Jane and Jim, for our day at Chicago's Shakespeare.  The drive along the lake was a little slow.  Since we had allowed ourselves plenty of time, it was good to slowly drive past the lake front.  Fewer boats bobbed on the aquamarine Lake Michigan.  Folks were either out enjoying the calm waters or had already dry docked their boats.  Runners and bikers were participating in some event that we weren't aware of but enjoyed watching their participation.

We have had season tickets to Chicago's Shakespeare for close to twenty-five years.  While I prefer the tragedies to the comedies, I think the season opener of The Tempest may be the best performance I've seen anywhere!  Of course, having Teller of the famous Penn and Teller as the adviser for the magic in the play didn't hurt.  An added bonus was the wonderful Larry Yando in the role of Prospero.  In fact, the entire ensemble was wonderful.  Magic, music and comedy all came together and brought the entire audience to it's feet at the end.  What a performance for what is thought to be Shakespeare's final play!

We decided to come home and have dinner locally.  Valley Kitchen and Bar in Valparaiso was an easy choice.  Always delicious, the restaurant uses local sources as much as possible.  It was easy to recognize what my favorite farmer, Linda at LE Gardens had provided.  Her lovely produce appeared in some form on each of our plates!

We all started with a delicious and flavorful tomato soup.  We had a cup and, were it not for other dishes coming, could have eaten a bowl.

I can't remember the last time I (we) ordered French fries.  However, our friends mentioned how tasty they were as an appetizer.  And they didn't lead us astray on that idea.  Crunchy and redolent of truffle oil and showered with fresh Parmesan cheese, we made short work of the bowl while sipping on our wine.

The men ordered meat!  Andrew had a succulent pork roast and Jim opted for the Amish chicken.

I ordered the chicken taco appetizer as my entree and was treated to four flavorful treats.  Amish chicken in crisp shells were deliciously balanced with a sweet chile, basil, cherry tomato and pickled jalapeƱo sauce.  

Jane chose the pizza special.  We asked twice about the ingredients but were so eager to enjoy it that we forgot and were embarrassed to ask again.  I can tell you that chicken, corn, red onion and herbs were involved.

We returned home sated with the perfection of the day!