I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Fresh Corn Bisque with Thyme Buttered Popcorn

Fresh Corn Bisque with Thyme Buttered Popcorn

Fresh corn straight off the cob is one of the great joys of summer. This soup is the freshest of fresh corn flavor, maximizing both the juicy sweet kernels and extracting every last drop of flavor from the cobs to make a broth redolent of summer. There are a few steps involved, but the velvety texture and bright flavor are worth the effort. I really want the corn flavor to shine, so I do not add much else to the basic soup.

Beautifully simple on its own, this bisque is brought alive by toppings. Here, I used a playful, fun sprinkling of popcorn seasoned with thyme-infused butter. You could season some popcorn with any flavor you like (Old Bay Seasoning is particularly good with corn). Or try a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Chopped bacon or garlic buttered croutons. A swirl of olive oil infused with chives or basil.

Fresh Corn Bisque with Thyme Buttered Popcorn
Serves 6
  1. 8 ears of yellow or yellow and white corn
  2. 1 stalk celery
  3. 5 sprigs of thyme
  4. 1 bay leaf
  5. 1 large yellow onion, halved
  6. kosher salt
  7. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  8. ½ cup whole milk
  1. Fill a large bowl or the sink with cold water and ice. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Blanch the corn in the boiling water for 30 seconds and remove it immediately to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl. Scrap the cobs to release any juices. Toss the kernels with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in the refrigerator.
  2. Cut the corn cobs in half and place in a large stockpot (if you use the pot you blanched in, rinse it well to remove corn silks). Add the celery, thyme, bay leaf and half of the onion and cover with 10 cups of water. Bring the stock to a boil, skim off any scum that rise, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 1 ½ hours. The liquid should reduce by about half. Pour the stock through a strainer and discard the solids.
  3. Rinse out the stockpot and add the olive oil. Chop the remaining onion half (you need one cup chopped onion) and cook in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and glossy. Stir frequently and do not let the onions brown. Add the reserved corn kernels and any accumulated liquid. Stir to combine the onions and corn, then pour in 4 cups of the corn cob stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium low and cover the pot. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes, until the kernels are very soft. Leave the soup to cool a little, then carefully puree it in batches in a blender. Pour each batch through a fine mesh sieve set over a large, pressing the liquid through. Rinse out the pot again, and return the smooth soup to it. At this point, you can refrigerate the soup for up to 2 days.
  4. When ready to serve, whisk in the milk. Gently warm through on low heat.
For the Thyme Buttered Popcorn
  1. For 1 cup of popped corn, strip 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves and sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of coarse salt on a chopping board. Chop very finely. Really go to town, rocking your knife back and forth over the herbs until you have thyme salt. Stir the thyme salt into 3 Tablespoons of hot melted butter. Stir very well, pour over the popcorn and toss to coat.
  1. Note: Corn stock is a wonderful thing to have around, it pumps up the flavor of a winter chowder made with frozen corn or any vegetable soup. Make big batches and freeze. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer and add a striped cob everytime I use corn. When I have about a dozen cobs, I make stock.
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Sweet Potato Vichyssoise

Sweet Potato Vichyssoise

I adore chilled soups during the hot summer months and often wonder why restaurants don’t serve more of them, or people make them more often. Nothing could be more refreshing, and filling. Make a big batch of cold soup and keep it in the fridge for quick lunches, cooling snack or part of a simple salad or sandwich supper.

I often make a big pot of classic white potato and leek vichyssoise for myself and dip out of it all week. So I am not really sure why it took me so long to get around to a sweet potato version. Though normally thought of as a cold-weather food, my favorite Southern tuber is a natural match for the cold soup treatment, as we sure do know a lot about hot weather down here. This soup is very simple with the earthy sweetness of the potatoes is balanced by leeks. Herbaceous rosemary and bay and exotic clove add an extra layer of flavor and a wonderful, mysterious aroma. Don’t be tempted to leave them out.

The vibrant orange color of this creamy soup makes it a showstopper on the table. I have served it at seated dinner parties and casual gatherings. If you are so inclined, it would make an interesting soup shot passed as an hors d’oeuvres. I love to sprinkle each bowl with some chopped honey roasted peanuts for a little texture and a sweet-salty finish, plush some chives for color and to complement the leeks.

Sweet Potato Vichyssoise
Serves 8
  1. 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, to make 4 cups chopped
  2. 2 Tablespoons butter
  3. 1 cup white wine
  4. 2 medium sweet potatoes, about 2 pounds
  5. 4 cups vegetable stock
  6. 3 cups water
  7. 2 stalks fresh rosemary
  8. 2 bay leaves
  9. 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  10. ½ cup heavy cream
  11. finely chopped honey roasted peanuts for garnish
  12. finely chopped chives
  1. Slice the white and lightest green parts of the leeks into halves lengthwise, then into thin half moons. Place the leek slices in a strainer submerged in a bowl of water and shake around a bit to loosen any dirt. Let the leeks sit for a few minutes while you melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Then remove the strainer and shake out excess water. Drop the leeks into the pot and stir. Sauté until the leeks begin to soften, then pour in the wine, cover the pot and cook for about 8 minutes, until the leeks are soft. Uncover the pot and cook for a few minutes to reduce the wine until it barely coats the leeks. Do no let the leeks brown. While the leeks are softening, chop the peeled sweet potatoes into small chunks. Add to the softened leeks with the water, broth and a good sprinkling of salt. Tie the rosemary, bay leaves and cloves up into a little cheesecloth package or place in a tea strainer ball and drop in the pot. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium - low, cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the potatoes and leeks are very soft. Remove the pot from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Remove the herb package.
  2. Puree the soup in batches in a blender, filling the blender about half-full each time. Pour each pureed batch into a bowl. When all the soup is pureed, whisk in the cream. Cover the bowl loosely and refrigerate for at least two hours but preferably overnight. Taste for salt and season before serving, garnished with chopped honey roasted peanuts and chives.
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Balsamic Beef Stew with Pearl Onions

Balsamic Beef Stew with Pearl OnionsGood beef stew can be one of the most homey and comforting dishes to enjoy on a chilly winter night. But making good beef stew can be a challenge. Somehow, it seems no matter what you do, the stew tastes pretty much the same. Like beef, carrots and brown gravy. This recipe solves that issue. A bottle of inexpensive rich, tangy balsamic vinegar adds such snap to the finished product that it seems like a very complicated, many-ingredient dish with lengthy preparation and complicated technique. The end result is hearty, sweet and flavorful – the perfect beef stew with a little twist.

Don’t worry about the balsamic – this calls for the supermarket salad dressing aisle inexpensive variety, not the gourmet shop aged expensive stuff. I use pre-cut beef labeled “trim cut”, but you can trim your own, which can be more cost effective. Frozen pearl onions make this stew extra easy, but feel free to peel fresh ones. You could also use peeled shallots or cipolline onions if you find them. There is the added bonus that this stew makes the house smell fantastic while cooking.

Balsamic Beef Stew with Pearl Onions
Serves 6
  1. 4 pounds beef stew meat chunks, or 4 pounds beef chuck cut into pieces
  2. 1 (8 ounce) bottle balsamic vinegar
  3. 1 cup beef broth
  4. 3 garlic cloves
  5. 3 carrots, peeled
  6. 1 (16 ounce) bag frozen pearl onions
  7. 5 thyme sprigs
  8. 2 bay leaves
  9. 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  10. 1 Tablespoon water
  1. Place the beef in a large ziptop bag. Pour in the vinegar and seal. Squish the bag around to coat the meat, then put in the fridge to marinate for one to two hours. If you think of it, turn the bag over once during this time. Meanwhile, chop the peeled carrots into big-bite sized chunks and let the onions thaw a little.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°. Pour the beef and vinegar into a large (5 quart) oven-safe casserole or Dutch oven with a lid. Pour over the beef broth, drop in the carrots, garlic, onions, thyme and bay leaves. Stir to mix, cover, then place in the oven. Cook for 2 ½ hours.
  3. Remove from the oven and strain the stew in a colander set over a bowl. Remove the thyme stalks and the bay leaves from the meat. Carefully wipe out the pot with damp paper towels. Pour the juices from the stew into the pot and cook on the stovetop over medium high heat. Reduce the juices by about 1/3, letting them become slightly syrupy, stirring well. While the sauce is cooking, mix the cornstarch and water until a smooth paste forms. When the juices are reduced, add the cornstarch paste, stirring until thick and smooth. Toss the beef and veg back in the pot and stir to coat.
  4. Leave the stew to cool completely. Spoon the stew into a ziptop bag or disposable plastic containers and seal tightly. The stew will keep in the fridge up to two days or can be frozen for up to a month.
  5. When ready to serve, pour the soup into a pot, stir in ½ cup water and heat over medium high heat, stirring, until heated through.
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Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker

It’s a cold, wintry day. I’m on the sofa with a good book and a soft blanket while my house fills with the smell of warm spices. I know that I’ll have a delicious bowl of rich, flavorful soup for dinner. This is my favorite winter scenario and this soup is a favorite way to make it a reality. The slow cooker does most of the work, simmering the squash to perfection while the spices infuse the soup. But this is a great soup to come home to as well. Put it together in the morning and your house will be warm and inviting with dinner waiting when you come home.

A little chopping is all it takes to put this delicious soup together, and I’ll tell you that I happily buy pre-chopped squash at a busy supermarket where it doesn’t sit around too long. An apple adds a bit of sweetness, while ginger adds a little zing. A good dose of Indian inflected curry powder and garam masala add so much flavor and spice without to much work, and coconut milk adds richness. I love this soup served with a dollop of rich yogurt swirled in and a little chopped cilantro for freshness. Some soft, warm naan on the side is a nice treat.

Indian Spiced Butternut Soup in the Slow Cooker
Serves 6
  1. 32 ounces cubed butternut squash (about 6 cups, from about 2 medium squash)
  2. 1 green apple, cut into chunks
  3. 1 onion, cut into eights
  4. 3 cloves of garlic
  5. thumbnail-length piece of ginger, chopped
  6. 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  7. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  8. 1 teaspoon cumin
  9. 1 teaspoon salt
  10. 4 cups (32-ouncs box) vegetable broth
  11. 1 (13.6-ounce) can coconut milk
  12. yogurt and chopped cilantro to top
  1. Combine the squash, apple, onion, garlic and ginger in the crock of an 8 quart slow cooker. Sprinkle over the spices and stir to coat. Pour in the broth and the coconut milk, stir to combine and cover the pot. Cook on high for five hours or low for eight, until the vegetables are completely tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.
  2. Serve immediately with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro on top.
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Greek Lemon and Rice Soup

Greek Lemon Rice Soup

My area is sorely lacking in Greek restaurants, but we do have a wonderful Greek Festival every year, and they have a lovely roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary on the menu that is a once a year treat. But about a year ago, a restaurant opened up (you may have one in your town too) that serves a Greek lemon and rice soup with the same sunny flavors. It is the reason I go there, and the soup I always want when I am feeling puny. But nobody brings me soup when I’m sick, so I decided I better learn to make it myself.

And this is completely from scratch. I start with plump chicken breasts to make a stock flavored with lemon and herbs, then I pull the tender white meat from the bones. The finished soup has a healthy dose of lemon juice for zing and soft, comforting rice. I love this soup and my family does too. I’m not saying I’ll never have it at that café again, but I think I’ve hit the nail on the head – and maybe improved it! I also have it on my list to try this with dill instead of rosemary and oregano; I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Greek Lemon and Rice Soup
Serves 6
  1. For the Stock
  2. 2 bone-in, skin-on whole chicken breasts
  3. 4 cloves garlic
  4. 2 celery stalks
  5. 2 carrots
  6. 1 onion
  7. 4 sprigs thyme
  8. 4 sprigs oregano
  9. 4 spirgs rosemary
  10. 1 lemon
For the Soup
  1. 8 cups chicken stock
  2. ¾ cup basmati rice
  3. ¾ cup lemon juice (from 5 – 6 lemons)
  4. 2 cups diced, cooked chicken
  5. 1 carrot
  6. 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
  7. 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  8. salt to taste
For the Stock
  1. Place everything but the lemon is a large stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and reserve for finishing the soup. Drop the juiced lemon skins in the pot and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. Strain the stock through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth. Skim any fat from the surface of the stock. The stock can be made up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate (if you do this before straining the fat, it will solidify and be easier to remove before proceeding). Pull the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the skin, and refrigerate as well.
For the Soup
  1. Measure out 1½ cups of the chicken stock and pour it into a small pan. Pour the rice into a small fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Add the rice to the stock in the small and bring to a boil. When most of the liquid has cooked away and there are just a few bubbles and air pockets on the rice, remove the pot from the heat, cover with a tea towel and a tight fitting lid. Leave for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Pour the remaining broth into a large soup pot (there should be between 7 – 8 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice. Add the diced chicken. Peel the carrot and grate it on the large holes of a box grater. Add it to the soup with the oregano, rosemary and cooked rice. Simmer until everything is heated through, taste and add salt as needed.
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Cream of Celery Soup

Cream of Celery Soup

Celery, for many years, was a mystery to me. I know it adds the important base flavors to a million dishes, so I sauté it up with the green bell pepper, onion and celery trinity of Cajun cooking, and with carrots and onions in the soffrito of Italian and Spanish food and the mirepoix of the French. But I never really liked it on its own. Probably because the only experience I had with it on its own was the raw celery stick languishing on the crudité tray. Diet fads and magazines were always telling me to ditch the chips and go for celery sticks instead, and that never seemed like an equal trade off. But love the smell of celery; its fresh and bracing and clean. So I always thought I ought to like it more.

One unexpectedly cold spring day in London, the soup of the day in the café I happened into was cream of celery. I was dubious, but really needed some warm soup, so I ordered it. Again, perception here was the problem. I had only ever heard of cream of celery soup as the glob in a can used for casseroles. It hadn’t realized it was an actual soup. The pale green, creamy soup arrived and was a revelation. Warm and creamy with the taste that captured the smell of celery that I love so much. I jotted down the ingredients (fresh celery, celeriac and cream) written on the chalkboard at that London café and worked on my own home version.

I find this a particularly comforting soup. Just a big hunk of crusty wholemeal bread makes a treat. But for a jazzier meal, try serving this with an apple and blue cheese grilled sandwich.

Cream of Celery Soup
Serves 6
  1. 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  2. 1 medium onion, diced
  3. kosher salt to taste
  4. 1 bunch celery (with leaves), about 1 pound
  5. 1 celery root (celeriac), about 12 ounces
  6. 4 cups chicken broth
  7. ½ cup parsley leaves
  8. ½ teaspoon celery salt
  9. ½ cup heavy cream
  1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the diced onion. Cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the bottom from the bunch of celery and discard, then cut the whole bunch into small pieces. Rinse in a colander and add to the pot. Peel the celery root and cut into small pieces and add to the pot. Sprinkle over about 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir well to coat in the butter, then cook for about 10 minutes until the celery root is becoming tender. Add the chicken broth and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until the celery root is very tender. Leave the soup to cool.
  2. Transfer the cooled soup to the carafe of a blender (working in batches if necessary), add parsley leaves and celery salt and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. (You can cover and refrigerate the soup at this point for 2 days). When ready to serve, warm the soup over medium heat and whisk in the cream. Heat the soup through, but do not let it boil. Season with salt and/or celery salt to taste.
  1. Buy a bunch of celery with as many leaves attached as you can find. They add real punch to the soup.
  2. Celery root is knobbly and a bit of a trick to peel. I find a sturdy peeler works well, but you may need to go back over your work with a paring knife in some nooks and crannies.
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Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam

Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam

I marked a recipe for Gruyere Soup in an old community cookbook years ago. It was very plain, nothing fancy, but I marked it thinking that I could doctor up the recipe with vegetables or herbs or wine or any manner of ideas. But when I came around to making the soup, to test out my theories, I suddenly had the idea that instead of complicating the soup, I could turn it into a sort of reverse-engineered French onion soup. So I kept the soup simple, letting the nutty gruyere shine through with a classically French hit of Dijon mustard. Instead of those oozing cheesy toasts, I float a crisp toast spread with a very rich and flavorful caramelized onion jam. The whole blends into a rich and creamy bowl with the homey French flavors re-imagined in a whole new way.

I love the contrast of the pale, almost buttery, soup with the mahogany rich onions floating on the surface. Using red onions and adding a little cassis to the jam deepen the color and the flavor. I find that finely diced onions make the whole easier to eat and I choose a larger Italian-style loaf over a baguette so there is one nice onion-y raft floating in the bowl. I have thought, but never attempted, to serve this as they would in a restaurant. Serve each diner a bowl with a mound of onions on the toast at the bottom, then pour over the hot soup tableside. Wouldn’t that be a sight.

Gruyere Soup with Onion Jam
Serves 4
  1. Gruyere Soup
  2. ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  3. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  4. 4 cups half and half, at room temperature
  5. 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  6. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  8. 4 cups chicken broth
  9. 8 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
  10. 1 loaf soft Italian bread
  11. Onion Jam
  12. 2 large red onion, finely diced
  13. 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  14. 3 Tablespoons butter
  15. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  16. 1 cup white wine
  17. 3 Tablespoons cassis
  18. 3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  19. black pepper
For the Soup
  1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium. Whisk in the flour and cook until thick and smooth and pale in color, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the half and half, whisking until the soup is thickened and smooth, about 5 – 8 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, salt and nutmeg until fully incorporated. Add the chicken broth and stir until combined, then heat the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil. Stir the grated gruyere in a handful at a time, making sure each addition is melted before adding the next. The soup can be made a few hours ahead at this point, cooled and refrigerated. Reheat gently over low heat before serving. Do not boil.
For the Jam
  1. Melt the butter and oil over medium high heat and add the diced onions. Sprinkle over the salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the ½ cup of the wine and cook until it has evaporated, stirring frequently and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cassis and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender and the sugar is melted. Add several grinds of black pepper. Add the remaining ¼ cup of wine and ¾ cup of water and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes to help soften the onions. Remove the cover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to a light syrup coating the onions. You want a jammy consistency with soft, tender onions. Add a little but more water and cook it off if you need to. Season to taste if needed, then leave to cool. The jam can be kept covered in the refrigerator at this point for several days.
To serve
  1. If you have stored the onion jam in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature or gently reheat it over low heat. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the bread into ½ inch slices and lightly toast on one side on the wire rack. Flip the toasts over and spread the toasted side of four to six slices with a thick layer of onion jam. Heat the toasts in the oven for a few minutes until the jam is warmed through. Ladle the warm soup into four bowls and float an onion toast in each bowl. Serve any extra onion jam and toast slices at the table for people to add to the soup as they like.
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Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo (Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil

Salmorejo is gazpacho’s simpler cousin. It’s a fresh, chilled tomato soup without the added peppers, cucumbers and other business found in gazpacho. I’m not a huge fan of gazpacho, because it varies so wildly and people seem to put all kinds of crazy ingredients in it. You never know what you are going to get. But Salmorejo is right up my alley. I first tasted Salmorejo in its homeland of Andalucia in Southern Spain but forgot the exact name of the dish and didn’t do much research when I came home. But a few years ago, I was staying with friends near the beach close to Valencia, Spain and on a trip to the grocery store, I saw cartons of chilled Salmorejo (next to the cartons of gazpacho) and suddenly remembered the lovely soup from my earlier trip. We grabbed a couple of cartons and served them for lunch. Unfortunately, the first carton tasted a little off… So we opened the next carton and it exploded all over the patio. I think it had fermented. I was kind of embarrassed that I had insisted on buying it. Oddly, I took this as a challenge and decided when I came home, I had to explore the recipe.

I read many, many recipes and most simply blend the ingredients, chill and serve. But this method for soaking the ingredients mellows the soup, cutting the bite of the onions and garlic and softening the tomato skins. The soaked bread is a simple thickener often found in Mediterranean dishes. Use half a crusty baguette and serve the rest with the soup, or use up some older, slightly dried leftover crusty bread.

I saw a picture of a chilled soup with olive oil ice cubes floating in the bowl in a magazine years and years ago and it stuck in my head waiting for the right application. I don’t generally recommend buying specialty kitchen equipment, but I found some little round ice cube trays at a dollar store, so seek them out, they are pretty inexpensive. You can always use them for plain ice cubes. If you don’t have a small ice cube tray, drizzle the soup with a fruity, quality olive oil. Salmorejo is traditionally served with whisper thin pieces of jamon Serrano and sometimes boiled eggs. You could also serve the parsley picada from this wonderful White Gazpacho recipe.

Salmorejo (Spanish Chilled Tomato Soup) with Frozen Olive Oil
Serves 6
  1. ¼ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
  2. ½ small yellow onion
  3. 1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes
  4. 8 ounces baguette
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  7. ½ cup olive oil
  8. 2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  9. salt and pepper to taste
  1. Divide the ¼ cup olive oil between the cubes of an small ice cube tray (about 2 teaspoons a cube). Freeze until firm, 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Slice the onion and place in a large bowl. Half or quarter the tomatoes (depending on size) and place in the bowl. Tear the bread into large chunks and add to the bowl with the crushed garlic cloves and the salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak for an hour.
  3. Drain the tomato and bread mixture over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Pick out the tomatoes, onions and garlic as best you can and place in a blender. Add the ½ cup olive oil and the vinegar and a little of the soaking liquid and blend to a rough puree. Use your hands and the back of a spatula to press as much liquid as possible out of the bread and add it to the blender. Turn on the blender and puree, drizzling in some of the soaking liquid, until you have a smooth, creamy soup. If you would like a silky soup, pour it through a strainer into a bowl, pushing all the liquid through. Let the soup cool, then cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Serve the soup cold with frozen olive oil floating in each bowl.
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Simple Slow Cooker Tomato Soup

Simple Slow Cooker Tomato Soup

I have ditched canned soups for good.

First off, I love making soup from scratch.  There is something warm and comforting about having a big pot simmering on the stove, or knowing there some in the fridge that just needs to be heated and you’ve got instant comfort.  I don’t think the can is an equal match – it is a poor substitute for something that can be so easily made fresh.  Sure, opening a can is quick, but making this soup is as quick and easy as it gets.  Maybe a few minutes more works, but the pay-off is light years ahead.  No unpronounceable ingredients, not metallic aftertaste, no unnecessary added sodium. The slow-cooker and some ready prepared ingredients make it a snap to have fresh, flavorful soup with ingredients you chose, seasoned the way you like.

Tomato soup is my all-time favorite, perfect with a grilled cheese or crusty bread.  If I am industrious, in the summer when tomatoes are fresh, I make lots of tomato soup base for the freezer.  This is my winter version of that.  Minutes to make and hugely adaptable.  You can whip this up before you go to bed and have soup ready for the thermos or the fridge when you wake up.  You can make it before you go to work while you are getting breakfast ready and dressed for the day, then have a warm bowl of soup waiting when you get home.  I’ve listed some ideas on how to change up this recipe, but use your imagination to make the perfect soup for your family.

Simple Slow Cooker Tomato Soup

Make sure your vegetables and tomatoes have no added ingredients

¼ cup ( ½ stick) unsalted butter

1 (12-ounce) package frozen carrots, celery and onions (“mirepoix blend”), thawed and drained

2 teaspoons minced garlic (freshly minced or from a jar)

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 (32-ounce) box low-sodium chicken broth

5 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs fresh oregano

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

Cut the butter into small pieces and place in the crock of a 7-quart slow cooker.  Partially cover and leave for a few minutes to melt.  Add the vegetables and garlic, stir to coat with the butter, cover the slow cooker and leave to soften, about 20 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes and broth into the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Tie the sprigs of thyme and oregano together with kitchen twine to make a neat little bundle.  It is okay if leaves come off, but you don’t want stems in your soup.  Tuck the herb bundle into the soup, cover the slow cooker and cook for 5 – 6 hours on high, or 7 – 8 hours on low.

When ready to serve, fish out the herb bundle and discard.  Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth (you can also do it carefully in batches in a blender).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If you want a creamier soup, stir in the heavy cream and leave to warm through.

Serves 6 – 8


Add 1 Tablespoon curry powder to the vegetables, omit the herbs, and stir in ½ cup coconut milk instead of heavy cream

Add a small can of chopped green chiles to the vegetables, omit the herbs.

Stir in a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans 20 minutes before the end of cooking time and warm through

Stir in some cooked pasta or rice at the end of cooking until warmed through

30 minutes before the cooking time ends, stir in some finely chopped spinach and cook until wilted and warmed through.

Add 2 Tablespoons vodka and replace the thyme and oregano with dill.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world.  I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did.  I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather.  I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child).  I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud.  I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.

The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there.  I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes).  But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup.  I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming.  It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley.  So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out.  I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

For the Broth:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 celery stalk

1 small white onion

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

1 Tablespoons salt

For the Soup:

2 Tablespoons butter

3 leeks

½ cup pearled barley

Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours.  Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich.  Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.

Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel.  Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables.  Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible.  I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight.  It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock.  Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.

When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water.  Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed.  Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers.  Place in a colander and rinse very well.  Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat.  Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and  add the leeks.   Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock.  Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat.  Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.

Season with salt and serve nice and warm.  You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken.  Lucky you!

Serves 4

The Burns Blessing

 Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.