Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weekly Soup: French Country

There are lots of recipes out there for different french country soups.  This is by far my favorite of the ones I've tried.  My research indicates that it is traditionally served with a drizzle of pistou in each bowl (recipe follows); I subsituted basil-infused olive oil because I had some on hand and the results were delicious.

There are also lots of pistou recipes out there, and you could certainly use commercial pesto.  For me, the raw garlic is overpowering to a delicately-flavored soup like this.  But if lots of garlic is your thing, feel free to add a clove or two to the pistou or use a commercial one.

French Country Soup
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
1 Tbsp. butter
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped
1 large floury potato, cubed (I used a Russet)
2 large carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 - 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil and butter in a stock pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add leeks and saute, stirring frequently, about two minutes.  Add potato and carrots, and lightly season with salt and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, about 1 minute.

2. Add stock, bay leaves, and thyme.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Raise heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.  Add broth if needed to keep vegetables submerged.

3. Remove bay leaf, then carefully puree the soup in batches in a blender (you could use an immersion blender if you have one).  Return the soup to the pan and gently reheat, stirring frequently.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Serve very hot.  Drizzle each bowl with a little pistou.


2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Whirl basil and olive oil in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and process until combined.

~ You might want to double the soup recipe -- I definitely will the next time I make it.  The soup can be frozen after step 3.
~ This soup has a delicate flavor, so go easy on the salt and pepper.  Remember you can always add, but you can't remove it once it's in the pot.
~ The dark green part of the leeks can be saved for making stock, but they are also delicious cut up in salads.
~ I used homemade vegetable broth that I had on hand; if I make it with commercial broth I will probably use about 2/3 broth and 1/3 water.  I find commercial broths (especially chicken broth) overpowering in this kind of soup.  But that could just be me...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Healing Herbs: Cinnamon

Yes, I am aware that cinnamon is technically a spice.

Here is the USA, we tend to think of cinnamon and sugar together in baked goods such as apple pie -- and while you will never catch me casting aspersions on pie, cinnamon is so much more than that.  Other cultures use it extensively in savory dishes (cinnamon is an ingredient in garam masala and chinese five spice blends), and for good reason.  Cinnamon is antiseptic, antiviral, and antibacterial, so it helps to kill foodborne pathogens.  It's also a digestive, helping the body to assimilate food and relieving nausea. 

Cinnamon does good things for your blood, too.  It lowers harmful cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar, and aids circulation.  It's warming to the body. 

Some suggested uses:
  • Add to oatmeal to enhance oatmeal's cholesterol-lowering benefits
  • Sprinkle into hot chocolate when you come in from the cold -- it's a delicious combination and more warming than chocolate alone
  • Make cinnamon-ginger honey to add to cereal and beverages
  • Experiment with adding cinnamon to savory dishes
  • Sprinkle onto cooked rice -- it helps with nausea when you're sick or getting over a bug
McBride, Kami: The Herbal Kitchen, Conari Press, 2010
Balch, Phyllis A.: Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2010
McIntyre, Anne: The Complete Herbal Tutor, Octopus Publishing Group, 2010

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cute Food Is Always Better

I don't know about you, but I usually fly the sort of airline that gives you nothing more to eat than a tiny bag containing six peanuts no matter how long the flight is.  Cheap, I mean to say.  So these meals on EVA Air's new Hello Kitty jets didn't just appeal to me because of the incredibly cute Hello Kitty shaped butter pats.  I'm shocked find myself saying it about airline food, but those meals look rather tasty, colorful, and attractively presented.

Look at the cute bento boxes they give to kids!  I wonder if they would give me one of these if I asked really, really nicely.

Unfortunately, traveling in Taiwan is not on my agenda any time soon, and that is where EVA Air  is based.  But you know what would make up for my disappointment about that?

One of these aprons, that's what.

P.S.  I discuss EVA Air's adorable acoutrements that would ease the pain of airline travel over at Third Floor With Water View.

Images: EVA Air via cnngo.com.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Beef Stroganoff - With Recipes!

It's either been cold, rainy, dreary or some combination thereof around the old HQ lately, so when I saw an article about Russian food on YumSugar, I got a craving for Beef Stroganoff.  I used a recipe from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food (which, by the way, is full of lots of great information).  The Stroganoff was good, but it needed paprika, for one thing.  And maybe some thyme and bay leaves.

But fear not, my friends.  There are lots of recipe options out there.  Robert Irvine has one on FoodNetwork.com that looks well worth trying.  So does Tyler Florence, although his is a bit fancier.

And because you know I love those recipes straight out of the 1950s, check out Paula Deen's recipe that includes cream of mushroom soup, and good old Betty Crocker's which eschews paprika in favor of ketchup. That's right, ketchup.  Would I lie to you?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rise & Shine!

Did you know it's National Hot Breakfast Month?  Neither did I, until I read about it on YumSugar.  It makes sense, though, since February tends to be a cold and dreary month.

Here at Old Maid HQ, the go-to hot breakfast is steel cut oats cooked overnight in the slow cooker.  A few minutes of prep at bedtime and I wake up to a hot breakfast and a kitchen that smells deliciously of cinnamon.  Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave.  What's not to like?

Click here to go to the recipe I use.

Image: Quakeroats.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and semi-sweet morsels. 
It's been cold outside so I got my bake on.  One problem: I don't just have cupcakes, Gentle Readers, I have a situation.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Healing Herbs: Pine

I've been wanting to learn more about healing herbs, and it occurred to me that the best way to learn about something is to write about it.  Way back in 11th grade I had to write a report on basketball and to this day I remember something about peach baskets being involved, so I have proof that the system works.  I will be researching the herbs as I write, so my information is by no means the last word on the subject.  Always contact an experienced herbalist if you have any questions about using herbs.

Did you know you can make tea from the pine trees that are probably in your backyard right now?  Neither did I, until my good friend Jeanne Abbot told me about it.  Jeanne owns Abbotswood, a lovely shop on Brown Street in Wickford, RI, where she sells teas, herbs, antiques, art by local artists, and lots of other pretty and interesting things.  She also knows a heck of a lot about herbs.

I knew that pre-Christian Europeans brought evergreens into their homes in the winter as symbols of eternal life, but what I didn't know is that pine is wonderful for winter health problems such as coughs, colds, sinus congestion, and to improve circulation.  It's also loaded with vitamin C, so it helps to build up the immune system.  On an emotional level, pine can help with the "winter blahs" and keep you feeling grounded when you are working on psychological or spiritual healing.  Jeanne Abbot recommends it for times when you need the courage to move onto the next phase of your life.  One caveat, though: pine is better taken as needed and not all the time as the tannins in it can be tough on the kidneys over the long term in high doses.

I thought pine tea would be rather strong and unpleasant, but I tried it anyway because I am your intrepid blogger.  It is actually a very light, tasty, drinkable herbal tea.

Pine Tea

2 teaspoons pine needles per cup of water
honey (optional)

Rinse pine needles under cold running water.  Bring water to a boil in saucepan.  Add the pine needles and simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain out the needles.  Add honey to taste if desired.

The Herb Quarterly, Issue 125 Winter 2010
Hageneder, Fred: The Meaning of Trees, Chronicle Books, 2005
Hopman, Ellen Evert, A Druid's Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, Destiny Books, 1995

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Food Trends: Salt

I've written before about my deep and abiding love of salt.  Some of my Gentle Readers may remember that I had a longtime aversion to caramel until I discovered salted caramel.  Salt doesn't make food taste salty; it makes food taste good.

After years of being vilified, salt has made a comeback.  Salt is trendy, and the trend doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon.  From Himalayan Pink Salt to Maine Sea Salt, a kitchen simply isn't complete anymore without a few fancy salt options.

I have a small jar of fleur de sel with herbes de provence that I got at the Marche Breteil in Paris, but in general, although I have Hawaiian Sea Salt tastes, I have a kosher salt budget.  I keep it, incidentally, next to the stove in a ceramic pot that looks exactly like a sugar bowl.  This is a good thing to keep in mind if you ever come over for tea.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Somebody get me Battle Creek, Michigan on the line, pronto!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Delightful Surprise

The Foodie called me on Tuesday to ask if I might be free around teatime to sample the Laduree macarons and Angelina hot chocolate mix that had recently arrived from Paris.

Might I be free?  Why yes.  Yes, I was.

I decided to fancy up the table as much as I could at short notice with an embroidered table runner and napkins.  The Foodie didn't mind waiting to have our treats until pictures were taken.  In fact, he helped to style the photo shoot.  I think the pictures look better than usual, and that's all him.

Even the packaging is elegant and pretty.  I've got to hand it to the French: they know how to make a simple box of cookies just a bit more elegant.  You know there is something special inside.

And there is: eight impossibly perfect and pretty macaron cookies.  My favorite was the pistachio cookie in the upper-left-hand corner.  It had a delicious marshmallow filling that resisted just a little when I bit into it.

The hot chocolate from Angelina perfectly complemented the macarons because it's slightly bitter and has a savory quality.  We made it with lowfat milk and felt very virtuous about that.

It was a lovely treat at the end of the day -- not just the delectable sweets, but spending some time with The Foodie who has been busy with career-minded things of late.  I hadn't seen him in a while, and it was nice to chat and catch up.  But even if we don't get together as often as we'd like, we'll always have Paris.