white bean tomato stew

It’s funny how cooking can cheer me up. I was not in a good mood when I got home today. I got super stressed out about the essays I’ve got due next week (I’m not procrastinating – I’m cooking dinner. HUGE difference) and I didn’t have a good train trip and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball with a large block of chocolate. Thankfully, I had chores to get me out of this funk.

I took in my washing, cleaned up the kitchen and started up on dinner, then my housemate made me coffee – so good! The little upticks of life just make the day that much better. It’s not about grand sweeping gestures but more about the small pieces of happy sprinkled around.

By the way:

So, about that stew. It’s tomatoey, beany, and all around delicious; this stew ticks all the boxes. Sometimes I’m jealous of all you meat-eaters out there. It’s true, sometimes I just crave the warmth that a big pot of beef bourginon emulates but seriously, try this and you won’t go back. Served with that bread I told you about yesterday, some shaved parmesan and a beautifully poached egg, I could not have asked for more tonight.

It’s almost spring but those August winds are picking up, so make this stew and share it with your friends and family. I promise you, they will be begging for more. I’m lucky to have leftovers. Hello, lunch tomorrow!

White Bean and Tomato Stew

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I made quite a few adaptations to this recipe. I was cooking for seven so I upped some of the ingredients. I don’t like celery so I left that out, I accidentally used diced “Italian” (read: with extra herbs and capsicum, not a bad idea but not one I particularly wanted to invest in this time) instead of pureed tomatoes, I used silverbeet and spinach instead of kale, although I would have liked more greens and less tomato. I will most likely be making this again. I feel it will become a staple.

Serves 8

About 400g (or more) spinach (can swap out for silverbeet or kale or any other greens) stems removed, washed thoroughly (especially if you picked them from your own garden like I did!

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

approx 1 cup chopped carrots

2 medium-large onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

350ml dry white wine

3x400g cans white beans, drained and rinsed (I used cannelini beans)

2 cans pureed tomatoes

1 litre (more or less depending on desired consistency) vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

three or four thyme sprigs

bay leaf

fresh crusty bread, poached eggs and parmesan to serve (optional)

Half fill a medium pot with water, well salted. Bring to the boil and cook the greens 1 minute (no need to cook anything like baby spinach, but silverbeet or anything heavier) drain and squeeze excess water. Chop roughly and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic and carrot and simmer for about15 minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce by about half.

Add the beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Take out the thyme and bay leaf, add the spinach and cook a further five minutes. (This is the point you would poach your eggs and toast your bread, if you wanted to serve it that way). Serve with crusty bread, poached eggs and parmesan, to friends and family.

corn chowder

Did I mention that it’s total soup weather over here? Because it really, really is.

I told you guys earlier how much I love soup. I still haven’t gotten around to cooking 44 clove garlic soup but it will be happening soon. Maybe by my birthday? It’s coming up. Maybe that’s why I love winter so much, it’s my birth season. I was born smack bang in the middle of winter.

Although I know people who were born in summer who hate the heat and people who were winter babies who spend the season in a grumpy daze. But hey, why worry about the whys and wherefores, when it’s winter outside, the fire is blazing, the blood is pumping, the mist is rising… It is such beautiful weather in Melbourne! I love it when the sun rises through the mist. Because we live in the hills, you can see so much more and it is just amazing.

I’m excited because I’m planning to go ice skating soon.

I’ve never been ice skating before. I’m scared I might fall on my butt. Tailbone accidents are never fun. We used to have a bunk bed… well, we still have one at the family home, and me and my sister used it. I was heading down the ladder from the top bunk and the door and the bed were positioned in such a way that the door opened towards the ladder. I sat on the doorknob by accident, quite hard, and whacked my tail bone. That was no fun at all.

Worse, though, my sister did the same thing but worse. I don’t think she could sit down without a cushion for at least a week. Ouch.

Still, ice skating should be fun. I was going to go a couple of years ago but never got around to it. I only learnt how to ski two years ago and I haven’t been back to the snow since then. I’d love to have a white Christmas at least once in my life.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

Until then, though, I’ll sit on my couch in front of my fire, eating this amazing corn chowder. It’s really, really good. I’ve made corn chowder before, but this one uses cumin. It’s supposed to have fresh corn but I used canned and it was still really nice.

It’s supposed to serve eight and we did get eight servings from it, only five of those were eaten by three people on one night. It’s really nice and it’s perfect for a cold winter’s night when you’re really hungry.

This would be really good for a shared meal. It’s infinitely adaptable – more corn, less potato, more cream, pepper, hot sauce, sour cream… and so easy to make more than the eight servings.

So what are you waiting for?

Corn Chowder

Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

100g butter

2 large onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 litre vegetable soup

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1 can creamed corn

1 can corn kernels (or canned corn)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t add this bit. It was too cold and dark to wander out to our back porch. But do. It’s a good idea. )

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

three tablespoons (or more) sour cream (or regular cream)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, to garnish (also a good idea that I did not implement. Do not make my mistakes! [make your own, they’re much more fun and sticky to get out of])

 

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cumin and cook about a minute; put in stock, bring to the boil, add potatoes, and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Add corn (both types) and parsley, and simmer another ten minutes.

Stir in cheese, cream and salt and pepper to taste, and turn off heat. Stir until cheese is melted. Garnish with chives.

Share with friends.

 

 

day four – LBTL

So I know I’ve been banging on about this a lot, but, well, it is kinda my life at the moment. But hey, just so that you don’t think that a) I’m a raging b*tch or b) I’m superhuman, yes, it’s hard. And so I thought I’d answer a few questions that people have been asking me about Living Below the Line.

What do you miss the most?

Coffee. Followed closely by sweets and sweet snacks. It’s just being able to eat whenever I want. I can’t because I have to save it for the next meal.

What’s the hardest thing about it?

You know, I’d originally thought that working around food as I do would be the hardest and it is hard. Especially today when we had cake scraps to pick from, and it’s day four and I really just want to eat cake. And I’m sick (getting over a cold) and that’s been pretty difficult too. Early days for uni, wanting to curl up and go back to sleep. But the hardest thing – harder than no coffee, early mornings, no snacking, no flavour – is that every single time I think to myself  ‘man, I just want a cup of coffee’ or ‘Can I just cheat? just a little?’ there’s this voice in my head that goes ‘Suck it. You know that there are 1.4 billion people who have to do this every day, with even less food because they have to spend their money on other stuff as well.’ The hardest thing is not being able to feel sorry for myself, and then realising how good I have it, how spoiled I really am.

What’s the best thing about it?

Fundraising! All the amazing people who have donated, thank you. All the amazing people who are about to donate, all you have to do is click here! No, kidding. I REACHED MY FUNDRAISING GOAL! YAY! And it’s all for an amazing cause – to help people get out of the cycle of poverty. Education is really good. Be grateful for your education! Utilise your education! Don’t skip class or nap during lectures! It doesn’t take much to make me grateful, sure. Just a week of hunger, longing and beating up on myself.

One day to go!

Tomato Soup

This isn’t a concrete recipe. Just take some tomatoes.

Slice them in half.

Roast them for about half an hour.

Put them in a blender.

Cover them with water. Add a little bit of butter.

Blend.

Eat with yesterday’s flatbread, dreaming of a better world.

day one – LBTL

Day one of living below the line of extreme poverty.

Feeling in stomach – surprisingly full

Feeling in mind – weird

Feeling in soul – quirky.

So, day one. I got up at about nine because I had to make soup for lunch and dinner before I went to work. For starters, I don’t generally bring lunch to work, because I get to eat there for free. Also, I find it odd making soup at nine in the morning.

Anyway. So I made my soup, I made my flatbread, I ate my previously stewed apples and pears – I stewed them last night because I knew I’d need them for my breakfast – and I drank my black tea.

It’s a surreal experience, working around food but not getting to eat any of it. I mean, I don’t usually eat much of it, but I am allowed coffee when I want it, and I get to make my lunch out of pretty much anything I’d like in the fridges and freezers. The thing I think I’m most missing at the moment are sweets – I couldn’t afford sugar and I am so looking forward to breakfast because it means apples and pears, and the natural sugars in them. Hooray!

What I’m not looking forward to is breakfast at six in the morning and being hungry again four hours later. I’ve had to factor in a flatbread snack so I don’t faint. Or something.

Tonight I was at a TEAR young adults action group meeting and we were talking about just war. I’m not going to get into the whole discussion at the moment, because it would take up the whole post (and then some) but we got to talking about how the small things matter too: in peacetime, when the authorities take everything they can from those they rule over, just because they can. How my food choices, my lifestyle choices, are the direct or indirect result of violence, and how violence needs to be reversed not just in war-torn countries but in our country, in our cities, our communities, our lives and our mindsets. We need to think differently than we do now, or nothing will change. Thanks to campaigns like Live Below the Line, to organisations like the Oaktree foundation and Avaaz, we can. We can try to change our minds, and then we might see changes in the wider sphere, and maybe even our world one day.

So my mind is whirling through all these things, but my feeling is a little blank. My soul. I don’t know if by doing this I’m doing anything – I know that I’m raising awareness and money and all that but I don’t feel changed by this experience. I suppose this is the result of my instant gratification culture, the way I’ve been accustomed to getting what I want, when I want. I have to be patient and remember that it’s not about me. It’s about the people in Papua New Guinea who don’t have the luxuries I do. Like microwaves, ovens, lights, kettles. Maybe they do, I don’t know enough about their situations, but I was thinking as I made my tea this morning, maybe this is too easy.

Thoughts to ponder, for sure, but for now, I am grateful for a full belly and the promise of another tomorrow. And thankful for a lovely soup which I didn’t expect to be as satisfying as it was.

Please donate, once again! It goes to education initiatives in Papua New Guinea, to help the people help themselves out of poverty. It’s a long road, but it’s worth it.

Roast Pumpkin and Potato Soup

500g pumpkin, deseeded, peeled, cubed

250g potato, washed, cubed (skin on)

2 cloves garlic

20g butter, melted

Toss the cubed pumpkin and potato in the butter and place on a baking tray, in one layer, with the peeled garlic cloves. Roast at about 220ºC for about twenty minutes. Take out and place in a pot (I melted the butter in a pot, tossed the pumpkin and potato in it and then returned the roasted vegies to the same pot). Cover with water and blend with a stick blender. Serve with flatbread.

leek and potato soup

Ah, leek and potato soup. How I adore you.

I was at my sister’s house on Friday night, and we made this soup. It’s cold over here in Melbourne, and soup is definitely on the agenda, but this soup was so good, I made it twice. Tonight, also, see, because it was my turn to cook.

I love sharing a house and being able to cook for each other. Apart from my housemates being great for when I get into a baking frenzy and start cooking batch after batch of cookies, sharing a meal together is one of my favourite parts about this house.

This soup is filling, it’s very vegetable-y, it can vary by creaminess should you be so inclined to do so (adding more cream, as in our house, or less cream. Like no-one I know would.) And it tastes amazing. Especially should you get sourdough bread and rip it apart with your hands, like heathens, and dip it in.

YUM.

This is especially comforting, knowing that next week I will be living below the line. The poverty line, that is. For five days, I will be spending less than $2 a day on my meals. Less than $2! That’s not much, especially in today’s consumer society. If you’d like to donate money to a great cause, my fundraising page is over here. The money goes to education projects in Papua New Guinea to get people out of poverty for good.

So I was thinking about dinner tonight, and about what I’ll probably be having for dinner for the next week, and I’m telling myself to toughen up because you know what? It’s five days. And that’s not long at all. So I’ll be fine. However, many people in Third World countries, and even in a First World country like Australia, won’t be.

Although I really wouldn’t want to be my housemates come Thursday week. Because me without coffee? Not a great look. If I can scrounge around for some teabags, they may be ok. Maybe.

Potato and Leek Soup

On Friday night we used a recipe; tonight I winged it. It’s pretty easy, but the original recipe is here, if you’re interested.

Adapted from Taste.com

Slosh of olive oil

1 large brown onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 leeks, chopped

4 potatoes (We used Desiree), peeled and cubed

1.25 litres boiling water

1/2 stock cube (optional)

1/4 cup cream (more if needed)

Sourdough bread, to serve

Heat the oil in the bottom of a large heavy based saucepan. Add the garlic and onion and cook over low heat until soft. Add the leek and potato and cook until the leek is soft, stirring often.

Fill the pot with the boiling water, until it just about covers the vegetables. Stir in the stock cube. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat, and gently simmer until potatoes are soft, about twenty minutes. Blend with a stick blender; add the cream and blend to combine. Serve with the bread and more cream, to taste.

onion soup

I love winter. I love the rain, I love snuggling up in my pyjamas and a doona, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate. Or coffee. Or tea. I love watching the rain fall. I love skirts and tights, leggings, boots, socks and legwarmers. I love hoodies and scarves and coats and jumping in puddles.

And I love soup.

Pumpkin Soup.

Minestrone.

Potato and Leek, possibly my favourite type of soup, despite its simplicity.

And I’ve been hanging out to try a whole list of soups, and waiting for winter, and proper soup weather, to arrive for me to do so. On my list, no longer onion soup but 44 clove garlic soup, baked potato soup, homemade tomato soup (maybe with the homegrown heritage tomatoes we have here at the family home) and some sort of dumpling soup. A vegetarian kind of dumpling soup, which by all accounts will be hard to come by. We’ll get there.

There isn’t much to say about this soup, except that it is weepingly delicious, started out life in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, and was the perfect antidote to my flu-like symptoms. They haven’t disappeared, but they are definitely on the back burner of my mind right now. All due to this soup.

Onion Soup

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking via Smitten Kitchen

780g thinly sliced brown onions

3tbsp butter

1 tbsp/slosh of vegetable oil (I have no doubt that the original olive oil requested would elevate this soup even further than it is, however, there was none in the house. We make do.)

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp sugar

3tbsp plain flour

approx 2 litres brown stock (we used mushroom; you can use beef if you’re not vegetarian; but please, for the love of all that is good in this world, make your own. We had 50g of dehydrated shiitake mushrooms and boiled them for about an hour or two. THAT’S ALL IT TAKES PEOPLE. Just remember to keep topping up the water if it reduces too much.)

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 tbsp brandy or cognac (optional but recommended. You can definitely add more to taste; the original recipe called for three tablespoons but we didn’t actually have that much.)

For the gratinée (also optional but recommended.):

About 350-400g sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Crusty bread to cover six bowls, toasted until hard

Butter

Melt butter and olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot or Dutch oven (about 4 litres) and add the onion; stir to coat and turn the heat down low for about 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent ish. You don’t need to baby them; just cover them and let them go.

After the 15 minutes or so, sprinkle the salt and sugar over the onions and stir to coat; turn the heat up to medium and caramelize for 30-40 minutes (or longer if the spirit so moves you) stirring often. Don’t skimp on the caramelization. It’s worth it.

Sprinkle the flour over the caramelized onions and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add all the wine and a little bit of stock at a time, stirring well in between additions. Lower heat to a simmer and cover, partially, to simmer for about 30 minutes or so; skim off the scum if you need to (we needed to).

Correct seasonings and stir in the cognac or brandy. Set aside until needed, or serve immediately, if not gratinéeing the tops.

For the gratinée:

Preheat oven to 170ºC. Line a tray with foil and place six soup bowls on it (we had to use two trays); Fill them with soup. Sprinkle a little cheese into each bowl. Butter the crusty croutons and float them, butter side down, on the soup, covering as much surface area as you can. Cover the croutons with cheese and place in the oven for about 20 minutes; grill them for a few minutes at the end to brown the cheese. Serve immediately and carefully – the bowls will be hot. Cures all manner of ailments.