Two Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Everyone has their immediate yes foods. When I'm dining out or just stepping away from the office to grab some lunch to go, if the daily soup on the menu is cream of mushroom I will order it. You really don't need to tell me what other soups are available because it's a yes to the mushroom. Every time.

That's why I'm excited to share this new recipe for a creamy mushroom soup with crunchy, cheesy croutons. It's robust and filling enough to make a meal, with loads of deep and earthy mushroom flavour. 

The soup starts by browning a thinly sliced onion under a heap of fresh mushrooms. The temptation to stir while the onions are browning is strong, but if you restrain yourself as the recipe suggests, you'll be rewarded with the most beautifully browned onion and mushroom aroma and flavour. The extra mushroom goodness comes from soaking dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water to create a dark and delicious broth for the soup. You can find packages of dried mushrooms in the produce department of most grocery stores.

Although this is a new recipe from me, I am already confident it will become a classic in my kitchen that I'll make again and again. You can get the easy recipe below. I hope it becomes a classic in your kitchen too.

Two Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Serves 4-6

For the soup:
1 package (14 g) dried porcini mushrooms
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 lb (450 g) fresh white or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp (30 mL) white wine
1/3 cup (75 mL) all-purpose flour
1 box (946 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) half and half cream

For the croutons:
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
3 slices of fresh or day-old bakery bread (any kind), cubed
2 tsp (10 mL) grated parmesan

Soup directions:
Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a heat-proof container or bowl. Pour three cups of boiling water over the mushrooms and set aside to soak.

Warm the olive oil in a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cover with the fresh mushrooms. Allow to cook for 10 minutes without stirring. Stir and cook another five minutes. At this point you can set aside a small amount of mushrooms as a garnish if you wish (optional). 

Pour in the white wine and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the flour and stir well to coat. Pour in the porcini mushrooms and soaking liquid, as well as the chicken or vegetable stock. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and allow to bubble away for a minute or two to thicken slightly. Turn off the heat.

Puree using an immersion blender right in the pot, or by ladling into a traditional blender (if using a traditional blender, you will need to work in batches). Add the cream to the soup and heat through over medium heat until hot. Remove from the heat.

Croutons directions:
Warm the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the cubed bread and cook, turning often, until golden (usually 2-3 minutes, but it can depend on the type of bread). Remove from the heat. Add the parmesan to a bowl. Toss the croutons in the parmesan and serve on top of the hot soup with any reserved mushrooms as a garnish.

Quick Chickpea and Carrot Salad Topper

It has been a long time since I last shared a recipe from my kitchen, but it seems I'm back.

After a couple of very busy years - the busiest of my life - things are starting to settle down in my life and in my kitchen. In 2016, after nine years at home with the kids while food writing on the side, I picked up my career again and went back to the office Monday to Friday. The steady income and routine has been good for me, but it has meant less time in the kitchen and adjusting to the weeknight scramble to figure out what's for dinner - a routine I know many of you live everyday as well. 

On top of that, in 2017 we started planning a major house renovation. And at the start of 2018 we moved out of our house for ten months, relocating four times while the renovation was completed. Builders put on additions at the front and back, re-did the layout, replaced the stucco with siding, replaced the electrical and plumbing, new roof, new deck, new stairs, three new bathrooms and a new kitchen. It has been a journey to say the least, but we are now settled into our lovely new/old house and I am finally making time again for the things that make me truly happy, like knitting, catching up with friends and, yes, writing about cooking. It's amazing how quickly the activities you love can fall away when you're trying to figure out the basics, like where your family is going to live.

Now that I have more free time, I'm in my new kitchen as much as possible. Soon I'll share some photos of what it looks like. For now I'll just say it's a big white kitchen with a long turquoise island, and it's my favourite place to be.

My first new recipe reflects the way I like to cook - casual and unrushed. To do that within my new career woman lifestyle it helps to have some things prepared ahead of time, like this quick chickpea and carrot salad topper. Yup, a salad you put on a salad. It's yummy on its own but best used piled on top of dressed greens for a weeknight dinner salad or a packed lunch as a quick hit of protein and texture. I used pre-cut matchstick carrots which come in a bag in the produce section to save myself time, but you could also julienne them yourself. 

I can't tell you how good it feels to be writing a recipe again - you can find it below. I'm finally slowing down to enjoy the good life again. I hope you're getting the chance to do that too.

Quick Chickpea and Carrot Salad Topper

Makes about 2 1/2 cups (625 mL)

1 can  (398 mL) chickpeas, drained
1 cup (250 mL) julienned (matchstick) carrots
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp (50 mL) canola or other light tasting oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider or red wine vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) tahini
1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp (1 mL) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chickpeas, carrots and chopped parsley. Add the oil, vinegar, tahini, Dijon, thyme and salt. Stir to combine. Serve immediately on its own or on salad greens, or cover and store in the fridge for up to five days.

Blueberry Pie That'll Make You a Hero

The job of family baker, and I'm guessing that's you since you're reading this, is a special one. You get to tempt taste buds with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies and Sunday morning cinnamon buns, and everyone ooh and ahhs over your creations. Yes, baking is work and there isn't always a lot of time to make the magic happen, but when the time is there and the ingredients are handy, there's something empowering about being the one with the white thumb (like a green thumb, but dusted in flour).

Unless of course they don't ooh and ahh. Unless they say no thanks, I don't really like pie/those cookies/that kind of cake today. Yes, there are people out there, including one in my very own home, who are extra particular about what they eat or don't have a single sweet tooth to count. Or they do have a sweet tooth but it belongs to candy. Let's not pretend it makes sense, it's not logical. We can only hope to win them over one day.

Then there are the home baking superfans. I have one of those in my house too. He jumps up and down at the mere mention of pie, takes a first slow bite then rolls his eyes back in his head and pretends to fall off his chair. Yup, those are the hero moments for the family baker. Those are the moments when you swing your apron around to the back like a cape and take the dramatic bow you deserve because you. are. that. good.

Blueberry pie in butter pastry is a winner. This recipe uses frozen blueberries so you can whip one up any time of year and be the family baking marvel that you are. Who knows, maybe you'll even convince the tough to please.

Blueberry Pie (using frozen berries)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter, cubed
1 egg
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp water

4 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
Extra granulated sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the pastry, stir the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter using a hand pastry blender or two knives working across each other (or pulse all ingredients so far a few times in a food processor) until coarsely blended and there's not much flour dust left in the bottom of the bowl. In a small dish, beat the egg, vinegar and water. Add to the butter mixture and stir with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Form the dough into two balls. Roll out one ball on a floured surface and transfer to an 8 or 9-inch pie plate. Set the other ball aside.

To make the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, flour and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Stir to coat the berries. Pour into the pie shell and spread out evenly. Cut the butter into pieces and dot across the filling. Roll out the second ball of dough on a floured surface. Transfer to cover the filling. Crimp edges and cut a few slashes in the centre for a vent. Dust pie top with extra granulated sugar.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 65 to 75 minutes until the filling can be seen bubbling through the vent. If the edge is getting dark while baking, cover with foil.

NOTE: A hot-from-the-oven blueberry pie tends to be soupy. It's best to let it cool back almost to room temperature, or chill it after it cools, to allow the filling to fully set. 
What do you bake that makes you feel like a hero?

Curried Apple Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps

This post is sponsored by SweeTango. 

It's remarkable I've managed to be so quiet on apples so far this fall. In past years it has felt like wall-to-wall apple talk around here because I love the little things so much. Pretty sure I've even called them my favourite all-time ingredient in the past. I'll stick to that. 

The truth is some big changes have happened for me this fall. The biggest of which is I'm back in the workforce! I mean like, out there, beyond the walls of my kitchen and my laptop screen, doing actual officey things. My youngest boy is now in school (how'd that happen so fast?!) and so I have all this time during the day to get out there and be productive, for my family and for myself. And I'm loving it.

But I'm still blogging too, and sharing stories, images and recipes from my kitchen, like this oh-so-tasty chicken salad recipe. It gets a big flavour boost from curry powder and diced SweeTango apple. This apple has one serious crunch. In fact, the world record for loudest apple bite was won with a SweeTango. For reals, it's that crunchy. The experience of a SweeTango is described as a burst of sweet juice with notes of citrus, honey and spice. That's the kind of apple I want in my chicken salad!

Head on over to the SweeTango website to get your hands on the recipe, and let's be all-apple all-the-time together.

3 Life Lessons From the Garden

One of the best things about having a backyard veggie patch and fruit trees is how much they teach me. When I'm back there, my toes in the grass and the sun on my face, there is no technology to distract me. No one pleads with me to do things they can perfectly well do for themselves. There's nothing in the way of listening to my own thoughts (you parents of young ones know what I'm talking about). It's just me and the plants, slowly and quietly changing and trying to improve every day. 

There's a lot to learn while watching the beans grow and the zucchini plants blossom. Here are three life lessons my garden has given me:

1. All Things Come in Their Own Time

You can't rush what grows in the garden. It requires patience and time to reach its potential. A careful eye and a little experience will tell you if carrots are ready to be yanked from the soil or if tomatoes need another couple days to ripen on the vine. On the flip side, you also can't deny something its readiness when it comes earlier than expected. For example, the warm, dry weather this year means I am picking apples in July. Granted we have an early ripening variety, but it's typically the first week of August before I'm canning my first batches of garlic rosemary apple jelly and cinnamon brown sugar applesauce, and filling the freezer with apple oat crumbles. The truth is the garden responds to the conditions in the air and in the soil, whatever they may be, just as we must learn to thrive as best we can with whatever life blows our way and plants at our feet.

2. Good Things Grow on Trees
You can't always get what you want and money doesn't grow on trees, but plenty of really great stuff in life does start out on a branch. Peaches, pears, apples, apricots, nectarines and plums arranged neatly at a roadside stand or growing in your own backyard are as beautiful as life itself, and sometimes the cherry on top of a good day is quite literally a cherry on top. All these beautiful things bring us together, whether we go fruit picking with friends, chat with the seller at a roadside stand or preserve jars of dill pickles with a neighbour. All of that makes life richer, feeding our bellies and our hearts at the same time. Trees also bring us nuts, olives, bananas, lemons, limes, oranges, coconuts, figs and so much more. Yup, if it starts on a tree it can improve your life.

3. If We Don't Change We Don't Grow
There's no denying that change can be difficult, especially big changes like the one I am working on. After nearly nine years at home with my kids, I am planning to return to work outside the home this fall once my youngest son starts school. It's a big change, and not one that comes without a little anxiety, but the garden reminds me that change isn't only natural, it's actually healthy and can bring new things that I didn't even see coming. Just as a bean seed changes into a sprout, then into a stalk, then it flowers and produces fruit, people too can blossom through change. And just as the roots of the bean plant when left behind can add important nutrients to the soil over winter, we too leave our lasting marks on the world behind us as we change and move forward. Change is always coming our way, but we get to choose how we want to handle it.

What life lessons has your garden taught you?