Heat Up

winter minestrone

hot & hearty

So far it would seem 2014 is only about one thing. Care to take guess, people? No? Well, I’ll just tell you.

It’s cold. Cold, cold, cold.

But fortunately, that means we’re smack-dab in the middle of soup and grilled cheese season. And you simply can’t have soup and grilled cheese season without a hot bowl of soup. Duh.

Normally I prefer my grilled cheese with tomato soup, but as any 6 year old will tell you, pretty much any hot bowl of soup is perfect for dunking your sandwich. This hearty minestrone uses a healthy portion of winter vegetables, tomatoes and beans to create a grilled cheese worthy soup – that tastes just as good on its own. It also doesn’t take too long to go from stockpot to soup bowl so you can eat up and heat up in no time.

Winter Minestrone
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic & oregano
1 small butternut squash, cut into small cubes
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 15 oz can of navy beans, rinsed & drained
½ to 3/4 cup of ditalini (or other small pasta)
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

In a large stockpot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (including juice) and simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, beans and 6 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the pasta and simmer until tender.

Right before serving, stir in the grated Parmesan. Ladle into bowls and then eat along with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Pho Real

easy beef pho

pho show, yo

Here’s a simple version of the popular Vietnamese noodle soup. You could even call it faux pho. But I guarantee the flavors are for real. It might feel a little weird buying instant ramen (I know it did for me; that was my first time buying that stuff in 10 years) but those packs make it extra easy. I love how the ginger root flavors the broth and all the mushrooms. Don’t worry if you think it’s going to make it taste like gingerbread cookies or something. The root tastes totally different – fresh and lemony. Just remember to take it out before serving. Topping it with serrano chiles and chili garlic paste gives it a double dose of heat, making it the perfect supper for a cold night.

Easy Beef Pho
– 1 small onion, thinly sliced
– 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 1 3-inch piece of ginger root, peeled
– 3 cups of low-sodium beef broth
– 1 large pinch of ground cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
– 2 cups of mixed mushrooms, like shiitake, cremini and white button
– 2 scallions, diced
– 2 packages of instant ramen, noodles only
– ½ to ¾ lb of beef eye round, thinly sliced
– Salt and pepper
– Vegetable oil
– Bean sprouts, thinly sliced serrano chiles & chili garlic paste for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, the beef broth and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 4 minutes, or until slightly soft. Add the scallions, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, boil the noodles until tender but still somewhat firm. Drain and set aside.

Add the beef to the soup and simmer until just cooked, about 30 seconds. Remove the cinnamon stick (if using) and ginger root. Add the noodles to the soup. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with bean sprouts, sliced chiles and chili garlic paste.

Soup’d Up Sweet Potatoes

creamy sweet potato soup

soup’s on

As the weather gets colder, I find myself craving lots of comfort food: chili, chicken pot pie and mac & cheese. But only soup lets me use my immersion blender, and that’s always fun. The cinnamon and nutmeg give this sweet potato soup that classic fall vibe, and the maple syrup adds that extra touch of sweetness. All you need is some crusty bread and you’ve got yourself a very simple yet comforting lunch.

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup
– 1 tablespoon of butter
– 1 tablespoon of olive oil
– 1 cup of diced onion
– 2 celery stalks, diced
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– 1 ½ pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
– 4 cups of low-sodium chicken stock (or veggie stock)
– ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
– ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
– 1 ¼ cups of milk
– 3 tablespoon of maple syrup
– Salt and pepper
– Cracked red pepper

In a large stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and cook about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, and then simmer uncovered until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and puree using an immersion blender. (Or, transfer in batches to a regular blender to puree and then transfer back to the pot.) Add the milk and maple syrup, season to taste with salt, pepper and cracked red pepper, and cook over medium-low heat until heated throughout. Ladle into bowls and eat.