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Monday, January 26, 2015

Soup Swap - African Peanut Soup Recipe

I hosted a Soup Swap at our house this past Saturday.  The idea was floated in one of my Facebook groups and I hopped the idea and made it an event while the interest was high.  We had 11 participants, mostly from the Collingswood area, come over on a slushy/snowy afternoon, all bringing pints and containers of homemade soups.  The swap was a great way to re-introduce food swaps to friends, old and new, and it rejuvenated me with the idea of wanting to organize food swaps again.  The last swap I hosted was in May, at our 1 year anniversary.  While I've attended a number of swaps - the last one being in December, which was a lot of fun and one of the best events I've attended in terms of the people and food stuffs, I just haven't felt like organizing one.  The October event I wanted to run didn't get any interest and mine just waned.  Hosting the soup swap party truly rejuvenated me.  

I put together the invite on Facebook, on our closed group page - and many people said they would participate.  The idea was to make 5 to 8 pints of soup and then bring them over on Saturday and trade a pint for a pint of soup, stew or if someone felt like making a casserole, they could make that too.  We had pumpkin and turkey chili; pumpkin and onion soup; lentil soup; broccoli cheddar cream soup; chicken and dumplings; kale and curried chick pea; butternut squash and loaves of homemade bread; Tuscan bean soup; tortellini soup; and my favorite in terms of presentation, my friend, Lori, made a Winter Chili Soup, in a dry pack - she layered beans and grains in pretty mason jars and sealed them.  Tied around the lids, with the instructions/ingredients, was a Serrano chili pepper.  A clever and longer lasting packaged soup to take away.

Our crowd was mostly women, but a few ladies brought their husbands, so we had some male influences and Nate had a few guys to talk Star Wars Legos and show off his buildings and such.  We mingled and sampled and nibbled for an hour or more.  Some of us also enjoyed a late afternoon cocktail or two as I brought out the Firecracker Cherry Bourbon that I still have around from the holidays.  It was a very pleasant afternoon filled with a lot of laughter and good company.  And while this is a lot of work to organize and pull together, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The soup I made was African Peanut Soup, and oldie from my days at working for Jill's Vorspeise in the Reading Terminal Market.  I haven't made this recipe since 2006/2007.  When I pulled out the recipe files, from my teaching days at Williams-Sonoma, I had to laugh at myself and how much I've learned in the intervening years about cooking.  I've also learned so much more about recipe writing.  The benefits of having been a food blogger for all these years.  The recipe is easy with few ingredients and it's vegan.  But to make it taste really good, you have to be patient and coax out of the flavors of the vegetables so as to not to rely on adding extra salt or oil to this.  I wish I knew back then what I know now, that you don't need veg stock, extra fat, extra salt, or other extraneous stuff in your food to make real food taste good.
For my swap, I nearly tripled the recipe I had originally written down. I made 6 quarts total.  To re-created it to make it work the way I now know it should work is tricky.  I usually just cook out of my head, tossing in things as I see fit.  Recipes lie.  I try not to lie, but...It's hard to write a recipe exactly as it's actually meant to be made.  Don't worry about exact measurements of the vegetables.  A bit more veggies and a bit less liquid, just try to adjust as you go along and reduce the liquid down if things seem too watery.  Be careful with the salt.  The peanut butter, the soy sauce, the hot sauce, probably the tomatoes all have sodium in it.  I'd say you don't need to add in any more.  And the flavors are going to develop along the way - you'll be surprised how much of a kick this soup has, so be careful with the hot sauce - it can bite!

African Peanut Soup Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable, Canola or Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Onion - Small Dice (about 2 Cups)
  • 3 Large Carrots - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3 Celery Stalks - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3-4 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger - peeled and minced - or finely zested on a micro planer
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato - Peeled and Medium Diced
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoons Dried Marjoram
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1 Cup Smooth Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1 - 28 to 32 ounce can Chopped Tomatoes - low or no salt (if using whole tomatoes, chop into small dice)
  • 1/4 Cup Cilantro - minced
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, carrots and celery and sweet the vegetables until they turn translucent and begin to give off their water - about 20 minutes.  As the vegetables sweat, stir them from time to time.  Sweat them until the vegetables turn a light golden brown, all told, this may take up to 25 minutes for the vegetables to slightly caramelize.
  2. Once the vegetables have caramelized, add in the garlic and the ginger and sauté for one minute, then add in the sweet potatoes, bay leaf, marjoram and water.  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cook the mixture until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart - knife tender, but not mushy - cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. When the sweet potatoes are tender, stir in the hot sauce, soy sauce and peanut butter.  Stir until the peanut butter is mixed in through and is not clumping.  Add in the chopped tomatoes and the cilantro.  Bring the mixture back to a boil and then reduce down to a simmer again, stirring continually so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns.  Cook for another 30 minutes so that the flavors can meld together, stirring frequently.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more pepper, soy sauce, and hot sauce as needed.  As with most soups or stews, this soup will improve with age as it sits over-night.  
  5. Cool in a large, shallow pan before placing the soup into containers.  Refrigerate and eat within three days or freeze and use within one month.  Reheat this soup in a pot on the stove.  If it needs to be thinned, add a bit of water to it.  
  6. Makes about 3 quarts of soup - or 8 generous servings.  This soup is very rich!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomato Vegetable Soup Many Ways!

It's winter. It's cold, and dreary and we've all just spent a month eating and drinking WAY TOO MUCH.  We need healthy quick meals that are tasty, easy and budget friendly.  The less I need to do, spend, cook, prep the better.  If it's free, it's for me.  But I have to want to eat this too.  If I make too much of anything I never want to eat the left overs.  That's a major problem with soup making, it's hard to just make a small batch.  When I put stuff in the freezer, it's the land where food goes to die in my house.  Clean eating meals have to be meals that I want to eat more than once, preferably more than twice since I'll be making this in a larger batch.  

Someone I know posted a photo of minestrone soup on a Facebook group to which I belong.  All week long I have been craving this kind of soup.  A vegetable rich stock, full of hearty filling vegetables and tomatoes that I can enjoy at home and at work (you know, at my kosher/vegetarian required workplace by day).  I tapped into my brain storage files of soup repertoire from my days at working at Jill's in the Reading Terminal Market.  
Funny how I didn't appreciate the food nearly as much then as I should have but now I turn to it all the time, seeing the sensible recipes and ways to make good food out of almost nothing...except for that one case of having to turn potato skins scraps destined for the trash bin into something edible...but that truly is another recipe story for another day.

We didn't have much in the cupboard, pantry, larder, or vegetable bin and yet somehow, with a few carrots, onions, stalks of celery, peppers, cans of diced tomatoes, Israeli couscous, can of chick peas, frozen peas and corn and a handful of dried seasonings, I turned what might have been destined for the compost bin into a meal that's been feeding my belly and soul over through our first arctic blast.

There isn't anything hard about making this soup.  You don't even need to chop anything very precisely - you can use a food processor and rough chop stuff into small/medium sized pieces.  You can hand chop the vegetables.  You can use one of those chop-o-matics.  But do use mostly fresh vegetables.  Canned tomatoes - fine.  Frozen peas and corn.  Fine. But use fresh carrots, onions, celery and peppers.  The flavors will be better.  And you don't need vegetable, chicken, or beef stock.  As a matter of fact, it'll be better if you don't use a canned/packed stock.  Use water.  Less preservatives and salt.  Control the salt and fat.  Use more dried seasonings.  Develop flavors by slowly sautéing the vegetables and bringing out their natural sugars, slightly caramelizing the trinity of the basic three of the mire poix.  

You can make this soup like a minestrone - made with a small pasta and beans, like chick peas or small white beans.  The pasta can be pastina; Israeli couscous (which is a pearl sized pasta); or ditalini. You can add in some fresh or frozen chopped spinach.  

If you need a punch of flavor towards the end after the soups simmered for a few hours, add in some good balsamic vinegar instead of salt, and if that's not enough, add in a drizzle of a good olive oil.  Serve with some nice toasted crusty bread and a bit of cheese and you have a meal.
Tomato Vegetable Soup - Many Ways!
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Onions - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Medium Carrots - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Celery Stalks - Small/Medium Dice (about 1/2 Cup)
  • 3 Small/Medium Bell Peppers Red/Green/Yellow - Small/Medium Dice - (about 1 1/2 Cups-2 Cups)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - Minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 14-16 ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes with their juices (no or low sodium, preferably unseasoned)
  • 1 Cup Tomato Puree or Crushed Tomatoes
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 14-16 Ounce Can Chick Peas or Small White Beans - Drained & Rinsed (optional)
  • 1 Cup Cooked Small Pasta or Israeli Couscous (optional)
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar - to taste (optional)

  1. Use a large stock pot - 6 to 8 quarts.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Add in the diced onions, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until the onions and celery turn translucent and the carrots start to turn tender, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add in the diced peppers and sweat the vegetables another 10 minutes, until all the vegetables begin to caramelize slightly and take on a light golden colour.
  3. Add in the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding in the dried Italian seasonings and dried red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and bloom the dried seasonings flavors.  
  4. Pour in the cans of diced tomatoes with their juices, the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes), water and beans.  Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the soup, uncovered, for about 2 hours.
  5. After two hours, taste the soup and season.  Add in the cooked pasta, if using, and the frozen peas and corn. Taste and adjust the seasons, adding in pepper, more dried seasonings if needed and a dash of balsamic vinegar.  Use the salt sparingly.  As the soup cooks and reduces the flavors will intensify.  If the soup is too watery, reduce it down further.  Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.  Makes about 5 quarts of soup.  Keeps for 1 week.  Freeze in small batches for up to 3 months.
  6. The second way to make this soup, is to either make it as a pure vegetable soup, with no beans and or no pasta.  Or to make it with the beans and pasta.  Or with beans or pasta.  Or with beans, pasta and spinach....or kale.  Okay.  I'll stop.  but you get the point.  It can be adapted to suit your tastes and what you have on hand!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mission to give

On the first Sunday of Advent, our church held and Advent Festival and dinner - crafting, dinning and then a Christmas Carol Sing-along featuring hymnal favorites.  It was a very well run event, with crafting stations carefully organized by the church volunteers and staff.  We had face painting; origami crane making, with the goal of making 1,000 cranes to be hung in the church; a scientific snowflake making station using Borax powder, string, Popsicle sticks, cuts and water. Our crystal snowflake is beautiful! Popsicle stick ornament making; linking paper chains together and topping them off with a star.
 My favorite area, crafting and writing cards to shut-ins and home-bound parishioners.  When I sat down to make a card I was over-whelmed with stickers and glitter glue!  I wasn't sure what I wanted to make but I put my inhibitions aside and just started crafting.  Before I knew it, I had a fun card and was ready to work on another.  
The creative process was easier than I realized.  It was the writing something meaningful that got me stuck.  And then I just looked around the room, listening to the sounds and I took it all in and put it into words.  I wrote of the experience of creating, of sharing a communal experience, of making something and giving it to others.  I wrote about the sounds I could here - the laughter and joy.  I wrote about the way the kids were so carefree and how much love and spirit was present in the Fellowship Hall on this day.  I wrote two letters, each describing the day's event in a way as to let the reader feel as though he or she were with us in the moment. 

I cannot think of a better way to share some bit of love than through a personal letter.  While giving money or gifts, things that people truly need at this time of year (food, clothing, shelter) are our HUMAN duties and obligations to each other, it's not just a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other faith-based duty, it's all of our duty to one another.  The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, an organization that I know of, contacted me recently, asking me to help spread the word through social media, about what they do.  As I thought about what I could write, or tweet, or even Instagram, to help direct attention to The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, it dawned on me during the Advent Festival, that what I was doing at church was very similar to the work at the mission.  We were coming together to help bring a bit of happiness to those in need.  Granted, the snowflakes and paper chains are not going to feed, shelter or clothe a person in need at a mission, but the cards will be mailed out and given to people in order that a connection is made, a joy is shared, a person knows that someone is thinking of you.  

Our church family does a lot of work to help those in need.  We support other missions, do house building, send money, clothing, food to organizations.  We have served meals at Broad Street Ministry.  This coming weekend we are doing a meal pack of 10,000 meals in 2 hours, through an organization called, Stop Hunger Now! We are a community of doers and givers.  I'm happy to be a small part of this just as I was pleased to be asked to help spread the word about Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.  

If you can take the time out to not only make a financial contribution to this charity, or a charity of your choice, you can write a card to someone who may come to the mission for a meal. SBRM is accepting holiday cards and is hoping you will write "something from the heart or a meaningful quote".  Cards or letters can be sent to :

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission
P.O. Box 297
Philadelphia, PA 19105

I think I'll go and make a few more cards now...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Third time is the Charm: Diner en Blanc Philadelphia 2014

Note - 4 months later - this post has been sitting in my draft file for all this time.  I cannot believe my procrastination.  It's really a symptom of my depression and lack of desire to write.  Which is a darn shame, the photos and video are meant to be seen and shared, finally!

I was a table leader for this year's 3rd Annual Diner en Blanc Philadelphia extravaganza, on Thursday evening, August 22, 2014. It was, by far, the best year, best event, best location!  The only down note of the whole affair was that Liz couldn't be with me, as she and Nate went to Colorado for a week's vacation on the same day.

As I was in charge of 50 people, leading them from a meeting location on North Broad Street to some secret location, I was totally into the event from the first moment to the last sweep up of the night.  I treated the entire month of pre-event planning, my small part that is, as all plans for a party that I was hosting. 50 people were going to rely on me to bring them to a swell party, I wasn't going to abandon them once we set up our tables.Before the event, I stayed in close touch with all the guests on my list.  At the event, I had gifts for each guest, bubbles in a silver wand, and candy, along with a tag with the hash tag and my contact information.  Another special thing we planned at the party was to do a birthday sing to one of guests.  It was the 23rd birthday for one guest, and his mom told me in advance.  Since most of my friends at the event are singers, we did an "impromptu" birthday sing - in the best operatic style of Happy Birthday anyone ever heard!  This was an event that no one could ever forget!

The above video illustrates the sheer mayhem, magnitude and well-choreographed work that goes into doing a  party for 3,500 people.  Rules are integral in keeping this event gorgeous and well-run.

My group was seated at the south end of the event, near to Spruce Street, between the Double Tree Hotel and the Wilma Theatre.

One of the most photographed table center pieces of the night - an Eifel Tower with lights and flowers.  It was part of one of my guest's talbescape - it took up so much room they barely had space to eat, but it was worth giving up the space. Pat and her guests were featured prominently in many articles, photographs and the #DEBPHL14 video.

This is one of my favorite photos that I captured on my brief walk down Broad Street once the party began.  Like many of my best photos, it was a lucky accident.  Sometimes I can get that money shot that captures everything about a mood in one fantastic moment.
LeAnne and I got a great tip from Philly Chit Chat blogger and photographer, Hugh Dillion - he told us to pose with our chins down.  Here we are, with our best foot forward and no double chins!
Capturing selfies - LeAnne and my friend, Maren (aka Super Maren) were in the process of taking a selfie photo - so naturally, I had to document the moment.
My friends, Dave and Suzannah - I think we were all tipsy by night's end.  Dave is being rather cheeky here, licking some whipped cream off his wife's cheek. 
All packed up and ready to roll back to our car.  Whew! It was a spectacular night that far surpassed all of my expectations. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Life Hacking: Lemon Ginger Honey and Bourbon Cough Syryp Elixir

I saw a post online from a website that I follow, called The Kitchn.  I'm a big fan of their posts and website.  Most days I find several things or ideas well worth giving a try.  One in particular caught my attention - a "cold or cough medicine" for grown ups.  It was a variation on a Hot Toddy - lemon, honey and a bit of bourbon, maybe thinned out a bit with some hot water, heated up and swallowed to warm you from the inside.  The recipe for this was straight forward, a few tablespoons of each ingredient and then all mixed together and warmed in a microwave.  

I was immediately reminded of a cough syrup elixir that someone made for Liz, a tincture of fresh ginger and lemon slices put into a small jar and topped with honey.  The honey and lemon juices mingle together, creating a light lemony syrup which is then infused with piquant ginger heat. 

Well, you know what I did? I combined the two recipe ideas and made a whole new bottle of joy!  I bought a bag of organic lemons and a big old hand of ginger root.  I knew we had some honey that a friend gave to us a while back from her bee hives, and I still had an ample amount of my favorite bourbon, Bulleit Rye Whiskey.  I cleaned the lemons and ginger, then sliced them all into small pieces and placed them into a 16 ounce canning jar.  Once the jar was packed with lemon and ginger, I poured in the honey.  Then, for good measure, I added the whiskey to the honey bottle, swirled it around to get out the honey crystal dregs, then poured the sweet whiskey into the lemon ginger jar.  All told, I added about a cup each of honey and bourbon to my jar.  Closed the lid tightly and shook the jar a few times to get the honey, lemon juice and whiskey all cozy.  Into the refrigerator it went.  

I'll let this sit for a few days so all the flavors can meld together and then I'll have a sip or two each night with my evening tea.  I may even make a batch or two of this as Christmas gifts - put up into smaller jars though.  4 ounce jars if I like you, 8 ounce jars if you're really special!  The jumbo jar stays with me!  As for how long it lasts, well that depends on how fast you go through the medicine.  I will say that you can keep adding honey and bourbon/whiskey to the lemons and ginger, and you can use the lemons and ginger to flavor your hot toddy, your whiskey cakes, your tea, or other consumables.  Should last you through the next polar vortex...

Lemon Ginger Honey and Bourbon Elixir Ingredients: 
  • 1 - 16 ounce Wide Mouth Canning Jar or other suitable wide mouth glass container with tight fitting lid
  • 4 Lemons (preferably organic) - cleaned thoroughly & cut into quarter sized half moon slices
  • 1/4 pound of Fresh Ginger Root - cleaned, but not peeled - cut into 1/8th inch slices
  • 1 Cup Good Quality Honey (or more as needed)
  • 1 Cup Good Quality Bourbon or Whiskey - Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Bulleit, Wild Turkey, etc. (use more or less as needed to fill the jar)  Do not use a flavored or honey flavored bourbon/whiskey as it will be too sweet or strong

  1. Wash and clean all the lemons and the ginger and the glass jar.  Dry all items.
  2. Cut the lemons in half length wise, then slice the lemon halves into half moon slices, about a quarter of an inch thick.  Cut the half moon slices into half again.  
  3. Cut the ginger root into slices, 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick.
  4. Layer the ginger and lemon slices into the jar, one layer at a time, alternating the layers until the jar is filled to the top, just below the rim of the jar.  Press the layers down with the back of a spoon to compact everything.
  5. Pour in the honey and then pour in the bourbon/whiskey.  Close the lid tightly and shake the jar vigorously a few times to combine all the ingredients and to get the lemon juices flowing.
  6. Put the sealed jar into the refrigerator and let the lemons and ginger macerate a few days before using, ideally 2 to 3 days.
  7. When ready to use, spoon a few tablespoons into a cup of hot water or tea and enjoy.
  8. The lemons and ginger can also be spooned out and placed into your hot toddy or cuppa.
  9. To make more syrup, re-use the lemons and ginger and refill the jar with honey and bourbon or whiskey.  
  10. The syrup will last indefinitely if refrigerated.  The macerated lemons and ginger will keep, in the jar, in the syrup mixture for up to 1 year.