soup

Farmin’ Ain’t Easy

If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram (and really, why haven’t you?), then you may not know that last week, my little 2002 Honda Civic (which I’ve started to lovingly refer to as “The Tardis” because I’ve managed to cram an impossible amount of stuff in there and still be able to lay my seat back to sleep) and I made our way back to Oregon for an almost month-long stay at Dunbar Farms, a small, family owned, organic farm in Medford. I found the opportunity through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, after a few phone calls, submitting my resume and waiting for references to be checked, I was invited to come out and get my hands in the dirt. And boy, have I.

I might not be a farmer, yet. In fact, I know I’m not. I get days off. I sometimes get to sleep in. If I don’t feel well, I can text my boss (the actual farmer) and let him know I’ll join the crew at 9am instead of 630am. An actual farmer gets to do none of those things. This farm is a living thing, and it doesn’t take, or give, a day off. Not really.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned. People don’t farm like this (organic, sustainable, in the rhythm that nature sets) because they want to become rich, or famous, or powerful. They do it because it’s in their DNA. I’ll tell you more about the folks who run Dunbar Farms in a future post, but suffice it to say, this beautiful spot in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a labor of love.

Mondays and Fridays here are harvest days, so they’re our busiest, longest days. We get to work harvesting at 630 in the morning. On Monday, we’re fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants and other commercial customers. On Friday, we handle CSA orders. On either, or both of those days, we’re also stocking the farm’s “honor barn.” They have a farm stand on the property, which carries everything from greens, to flours made from the farm’s wheat and corn, to dried beans and popcorn. It’s open 24/7, so locals can stop by at their convenience, grab what they need, and leave cash or a check in the cash box up front. On their honor. It’s amazing and kinda beautiful that it works out that way.

After we harvest, we bring everything back to the clean room to be washed, dried, bagged, weighed, and labeled. Commercial orders are delivered on Tuesdays. CSA orders are picked up Friday afternoon, and customers are encouraged to stay for a minute and enjoy a glass of wine, also made here at Dunbar under the Rocky Knoll label.

On the other days, we do things like thinning the carrot patch, which involves laying down at ground level so we can get up close and personal with the soil to thin out carrot starts and pull the tiniest of weeds before they have a chance to lay down a root system that could choke off the main crop; or pulling last year’s left over potato sprouts (and more weeds) out of this year’s onion fields.

It’s hard work, but not too hard, and quite honestly, pretty satisfying.

As I mentioned, Dunbar Farms grows beans, among other things, and one of the first things I got my hands on to cook was some of their black beans. I know black bean soup isn’t revolutionary, but I wanted to share the recipe I used to make the version that’s been serving as the main part of my dinner almost every night since I got here. It’s super easy, requires only a handful of budget friendly ingredients, and, paired with a pile of lightly dressed greens, serves as a pretty great post-harvest day supper. This recipe makes about four servings.

Equipment:
4 qt sauce pot
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Stick blender, stand blender, or hand masher, whichever is available
Spoon for stirring

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like, to taste

Cook the beans, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme with enough water to cover by about 2 inches at a low boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through. You may need to add a bit more water over the course of the cooking time to ensure the pot does not boil dry.

Pull out the thyme stems and discard. Reserve one cup of the cooked beans and veggies if you like to keep a little texture in your soup, like I do. If you’re using a stick blender, you can puree remaining beans and veg with the liquid right there in the pot. If you’re using a mixer, blend the remaining beans/veg/liquid in two batches until it reaches your desired consistency. If you’re using a masher, just mash away until, again, it reaches the consistency you like. You can add a little more water or some veggie stock as needed at any point to thin out the soup to your liking.

Add the reserved beans/veggies back into the pureed soup at this point, as well as the 1/4 cup of salsa, then season as you wish. We didn’t have much in the kitchen when I got here, but the tomatillo salsa I used provided a lot of great flavor so other than salt, mine didn’t need much. Cumin, chile powder, and/or fresh jalapeno would be nice additions, as well.

This soup holds well as leftovers, although it will thicken up in the fridge. At that point, you can pretend it’s bean hummus and eat it with pita or chips, or add more liquid to soup it up again.

Enjoy!

Things in bowls…

As I write this, I’m listen to the popping and crackling of a fire burning in a little black stove in the corner of the room. It’s different from a fireplace, which, in my mind at least, evokes nostalgia and maybe a touch of romance more than anything else. But, the fire that burns tonight is one of necessity. It requires attention– poking, prodding, stoking, and feeding. It’s the fire that warms us, that heats the water for tea, that warms through chunks of leftover cornbread, and keeps a large pot of split pea soup bubbling away. This home is not without some modern amenities, but when this little stove can do so much with so little, it’s easy to forget that they’re there.  Like a ballerina dancing a steady, controlled adagio so slowly that you are somehow a little surprised when she’s made it to the other side of the stage, I’ve barely noticed that time has seemed to march backwards a little. I don’t feel inconvenience, or “without.”  Just… I’m not sure what the right word would be. Content? Sure? Serene? I do know I’ll miss that little wood stove when it’s time to move on.

My time here in Taos, so far, is making me thinky. Very, very thinky.

I’m thinking a lot today about things that cook in pots, and meals eaten out of bowls. Those soups and stews and braises cook for hours. They’re the things we cook when there is still so much work to be done. While chores are finished, projects moved forward, emails checked and answered, phone calls made, homework done, blog posts edited, snow to be shoveled… whatever it is that needs to be accomplished, these pots of things simmer and bubble away, filling the house with promises of an end in sight. When we finally sit down, bone and/or brain weary, to a bowl of comforting… whatever it is that’s been cooking in that pot all day, it feels like the logical, natural conclusion to something.

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Our soup feels somehow even more fulfilling because the peas, and the carrots, for that matter, came from the ground right outside the front door. It’s a big pot, and we’ve revisited it multiple times over the past couple of days. I’m not bored with it yet, and am actually a little sad knowing we’ll hit the end of it soon.

I ventured into town today, and, fortified against the cold with an Americano spiked with cinnamon and chile powder (called The Coyote), wandered around Taos’ central plaza. After a little bit of shopping, lunch was yet another meal in a bowl– a fiery green chile, thick with tomatoes and potatoes and a delicious broth that delivered on both heat and flavor.

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My server warned me, “It’s really spicy,” and kept coming back to check on me to make sure I was ok. “Geez, you’re a trooper.” I ate the whole bowl, and every last shred of the homemade tortillas that came with it. I’ll admit, it took another hour for the last vestiges of heat to fade away, so maybe I’m not so much a trooper as I am a glutton for punishment.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about food with the locals here. There’s a strange dichotomy that comes from living in a place that supports both a thriving locavore community as well as native culture, but also the hesitant necessity of big chains. I’m still learning, so maybe I’ll hold back on pontificating any further until I’ve gotten to dig in a little more. I really don’t think a week and a half will be nearly enough time to learn it all, but isn’t that the way? For now, I’ll just enjoy the lessons as they come. Hopefully there’s more to learn from the things that come in bowls.

You’re Kale-ing Me!

The boyfriend and I are working on a few things when it comes to the food/eating situation in our house. First, we’re trying to cook together at least once a week, because it’s fun, and because I work most nights, so our time together is limited to a couple nights a week and the three or four hours I’m awake on the weekend days before I have to go back to work. Also, we’re trying to get our meals prepped ahead of time for at least a few days. He’s been better about that than I have because he’s got these slow cooker meals he throws together that have been providing him with lunches for the whole month. And finally, we’re trying to eat just a little healthier through the week, so we can still go have beers and nachos, wings, etc. on the weekend. Soup seems to be an easy “go to” for us at least a couple times a month.

I think my love of soup is pretty well established, right? I’ve seen several versions of a Kale and Sausage soup on Pinterest, other blogs, and various other websites. For some reason, I’d never actually made one, and I thought it was about time. This one is packed with flavor, a little smoky, and requires no additional salt. The recipe is bulked out a bit for guaranteed leftovers, but only takes about 45 minutes (including non-active cooking time) to come together.

Equipment:
Your favorite large soup pot
Spoon for stirring
Can opener
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cup and spoons

Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 14 oz smoked turkey sausage, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 can diced tomatoes (I used the Italian ones with oregano and basil because they were on sale, but use whatever you like)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained but not rinsed
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 bunches kale, cut into 1-1.5 inch strips (I used the curly kale that might also be called Scots kale because I feel like it holds up better in soup. Use whatever’s available, though.)

In the bottom of the soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until it just starts to give off some fragrance–less than 30 seconds, probably. Then add the onions and stir. Saute until the onions are soft. Add the smoked paprika and sausage. Stir well and cook for about 2 minutes. The sausage doesn’t have to brown. You’re just giving each ingredient time to make friends with the others to build layers of flavor.

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Add the can of tomatoes, stir, and let everything cook together for another couple minutes. Then, repeat with the two cans of beans.

Stir in the chicken broth, bring it to a boil, and add the kale. It’s probably going to look like way too much for the pot at first, but just push it down into the soup until you can get a lid on the pot. Turn the heat down to medium and let it bubble away for about 5-7 minutes. This will help the kale wilt down. Uncover, give the whole thing another stir, and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Give it a taste to see if you think it needs any additional seasoning. I felt like it didn’t need any additional salt, but your palate might be different.

Happy Soup-ing!

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Well, that’s just souper!

First of all, Happy New Year! I hope everyone’s 2016 is starting off well. I know we all have resolutions or intentions or maybe just things we’re NOT going to do this year, and I wish you the best possible outcome for all of that. I’ve got some goals for this year, for sure. One of the biggest, most important ones is to REALLY focus on this blog, and my social media presence, and connecting with all my readers, other bloggers, and other food industry folks. The boyfriend and I are in the process of clearing out some space for me to create a little home office, so I can do this whole thing in some sort of organized, professional manner. Even though I have lots of past content here, I’m looking at it as a brand new project, and that means approaching it in a brand new way.

*Forrest Gump voice* And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. For now.

Let’s get down to business, and my love of soup. I adore soup. It seems like the perfect vehicle for experimentation with (usually) a minimum of fuss. Of course, this time of year in our part of the world it’s pretty cold, so soup also has the added benefit of being warm, hearty, and satisfying without being too heavy. This Latin American inspired Turkey Meatball Soup is no exception. It’s colorful, flavorful, and filling without landing with a thud in your guts. It also comes together pretty quickly, making it great for a weeknight, and, depending on how many you’re feeding, has the potential for leftovers later in the week.

FYI: You can totally leave out the meatballs and replace the chicken stock with veggie stock and this would be vegan and vegetarian.

Equipment

Your favorite large soup pot
A spoon suitable for turning the meatballs and stirring the soup
Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Paper towel lined plate for holding the browned meatballs while you assemble the rest of the soup

Ingredients
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground lean turkey
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the soup:
1 small yellow onion, medium dice
1 Pasilla pepper, seeded, medium dice
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained but NOT rinsed
2 cans diced tomatoes
15 ounce can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, and Mexican oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the spices, salt, and pepper into the ground turkey and form it into walnut sized balls. Heat your soup pot over medium high heat, add the canola oil, and brown but do NOT cook through the meatballs. They’ll finish cooking through in the soup. You’ll probably want to do them in two batches to avoid crowding the pot.

Hold the meatballs on the paper towel lined plate while you put together the rest of the soup.

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Add the diced onion and pepper to whatever fat is left behind in the pot. Saute until the peppers are softened slightly and the onions are translucent. Lower the heat to medium, then add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Let all that hang out for 2-3 minutes while you open and drain all your cans. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, and the spices. You can also add black pepper if you want, but don’t add salt until the very end because the soup will reduce a bit and you don’t want it to get too salty.

Give all that another big stir, and let it simmer together for about 5 minutes. Then, add the stock and the browned meatballs, knock the heat down to low, cover and let it simmer away for about 30 minutes.

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Remove the lid, and let it continue to simmer for another 10-15 minutes, then give it a little taste to see how much salt, if any, you want to add. There’s so much flavor in there already, I only added maybe an 1/8th of a teaspoon.

You can garnish this with pretty much anything you think works. We used diced avocado and a lime wedge, because a little squeeze of lime juice at the end brings another layer of flavor to the party. You could also use tortilla chips or strips, shredded cheese, sour cream or Mexican crema, sliced olives, or some rough chopped cilantro. Of course, a bottle of hot sauce might come in handy, too, if some of you want to kick up the heat in there.

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I hope you’ll give this one a try. If you do, let me know how it works out for ya. Enjoy!

Simple, Soulful Soup

I don’t know about you, but this time of year for me just screams for soup. All kinds. Veggie, chicken, beef… Asian, Irish, or Latin. I’m not picky. I just want a big bowl of something hot and flavorful.

This soup definitely fits the bill, in my opinion. It’s not your standard soup, though. I learned how to make it last quarter in school when we were studying the cuisine of China. It’s called Spinach Velvet Soup, and when made correctly, it really lives up to its name. If you like egg drop soup, and you like spinach, this will be right up your alley. It has ginger, which to me always says “restorative,” since it’s good for all sorts of things, from nausea to inflammation, and you can certainly add more ginger than the recipe calls for if you really want to give it a boost. You could also add diced Asian chilies as a garnish if you wanted to amp up the cold and inflammation fighting power of this soup.

Just a note… this soup comes together really fast, so I recommend having all your prep done and liquids measured out ahead of time so you don’t get stuck on a step (especially the last few) and risk having the soup get too thick.

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Equipment
:

Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Large measuring cup plus a 1/4 cup measuring cup
Small mixing bowl
Grater or ginger board
Small pot for blanching the spinach
at least a 3 quart pot for cooking the soup
Whisk
Cloth kitchen towel for squeezing the water out of the spinach

Ingredients:

3 cups fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 egg whites
2 quarts plus 1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 large knob of fresh ginger from which you will extract 1 tablespoon ginger juice (this can be retrieved by grating the ginger and then squeezing it in a coffee filter to retain the juice)
2 tablespoons diced ham, 1/4″ dice (optional if you want to make this soup vegetarian)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and (white, if you have it) pepper, to taste

Remove the stems from the spinach (or just use baby spinach, because those stems are tender enough to keep), rinse and drain. Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the sugar and the spinach, stirring until the water comes back up to a boil. Immediately drain the spinach and run cold water over it to stop the cooking.

Squeeze the spinach through the kitchen towel to get out as much of the liquid as you can. Finely julienne the spinach. Do not use a blender.

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Beat the egg whites with 1 tablespoon water until smooth but not foamy.

Mix the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the stock.

Heat the rest of the stock over high heat until it boils, then reduce the heat to medium. Add half the ham (if you’re using it) and the ginger juice and cook it for about 4 minutes. Turn the heat back up to high and add the spinach, stirring until the stock comes back up to a boil.

Season the soup to taste, then add the cornstarch/stock mixture and stir until the soup is creamy and slightly thickened.

Take the pot off the heat and slowly swirl in your egg whites. DO NOT STIR for about 30 seconds to allow the whites to set, then stir gently to mix them into the soup. Add the sesame and vegetable oil.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To serve, garnish with the remaining ham if you like, or some diced chilies or whatever you think looks pretty on top.

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This soup doesn’t really freeze well, so just make enough to serve right away. The good news is that there’s not a ton of prep, and, as I mentioned,  it comes together really fast so making it isn’t such a pain that doing it to order is a big deal.

Enjoy!

Don’t forget, I’m doing the drawing for the Crisp™ paring knife on Wednesday. Check out this post for details on how to enter.