Campfire Soup

Soup, boiling away happily

Too hungry to chop wood, just burn the log whole. Soup, boiling away happily.

Everything tastes better when you eat it outdoors. This is the simple truth captured in grill and patio furniture ads everywhere. Take a meal that would be way easier, more convenient, and likely more comfortable to prepare and consume indoors, relocate the whole shebang outdoors instead, and voila! You have a party. This is what you buy into when you go on a picnic, and when you purchase your Sims that 300, 000 Simoleon gazebo they’ve been eyeing. Eating outdoors makes food taste better. We believe it’s true, and so it is.  

This applies to camping, too. Except when you’re camping there are several, slightly less twee reasons for your appreciation for food. For one, you’re probably starving. Camping is a lot of work. Setting up tents, scrounging for kindling, chopping firewood, finding places to pee, getting in and out of layers constantly to keep warm enough without sweating (otherwise you’ll be cold at night). When you’re working hard without really realizing it (because you’re having so much fun!) you build up an appetite. Anything you cook will automatically taste better. All that fresh air helps too, as the more you are exposed to the elements, the more of your body’s resources are used up- you get thirsty and hungry faster outside. Lastly, you’re probably so busy that you’ve only started cooking when you’re hungry, not accounting for the extra time that fire building takes. As such, you’re only getting around to eating way past the point of being merely hungry, well into the murky and dangerous realm of being truly hangry

Then you add bad weather to the mix and things all get much, much worse. Building a fire in the rain is hard. Keeping a fire going in the rain long enough to boil a pot of water is extra hard, and sometimes impossible. Being wet and cold and hangry is a dangerous combination that I suggest you avoid under any circumstance, but which is nonetheless sometimes unavoidable in camping situations. When I was a Scout leader, in times like these, we’d pull out the Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Powdered chicken bouillon with extra salt added, flecks of dehydrated parsley, a distinct flavour of celery and small, quick-cooking wheat noodles. This salty, satisfying broth whipped up in five minutes flat, and, when smothered in saltines, was like mana from heaven for depleted, defeated campers. It wasn’t particularly nourishing, but when you’re camping, cold and hangry, it tastes like the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. 

In coming up with this campfire soup, I was going for that same warm-you-to-the-bones, nourishing, wonderfully salty and savoury feeling. So, I started with my favourite salty, MSG-ridden seasoning, Vegeta. Go ahead and use something healthy if you must, but what you’re really going for here is a strong, salty chicken-style broth with flecks of parsley. I added a few real vegetables, small tofu cubes, and soup noodles, because I wanted it actually nourishing- not just tricking my body into thinking it was getting something worthwhile. Lastly, my new favourite addition to any brothy soup- matzoh. Matzoh holds it’s form in broth in a way that is satisfyingly chewy, almost like a noodle, and a far cry from the spongy, semi-dissolved mass that results from saltines left soaking too long. Without further ado, here is the recipe! It absolutely does not need to be made in cast iron, over a campfire, or eaten outdoors- but I promise you it won’t taste nearly as good otherwise.

Boil faster, darn it!

Boil faster, darn it!

Campfire Soup

1 block firm tofu, cut into 1cm/ 1/2 inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into large 1 inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3 mm thick rounds
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3 mm thick slices
2 minced cloves garlic
1/2 package of soup noodles
Vegeta or bouillon of choice, added to taste
3 tbsp Earth Balance, or margarine of choice
pepper
matzoh

1) Over a steady fire, heat your 8 quart cast iron Dutch oven

2) Saute your onion in the margarine until just starting to turn golden. Add the remaining vegetables and saute until just beginning to soften, stirring occasionally

3) Fill the pot to 2 inches below the rim, put on the lid and bring to a boil

4) When boiling, add soup noodles, tofu and broth powder, starting with about half of what you think you’ll need

5) When noodles are cooked, adjust seasoning and add pepper.

6) Serve steaming mugfuls with broken matzoh to grateful campers

 

 

Easiest Pasta Salad

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can't be choosers.

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can’t be choosers.

Last summer, I lived for a while with some wonderful folks with an amazing patio. You know, the kind that is level with the widest branches of the trees and suspends you above the rest of the city, filtered through the greenery? This location magically inspired food with lots of fresh vegetables. I ate a LOT of salad. Something about being outdoors inspires further freshness. But because raw veggies can only take you so far, I started finding ways to mix grains into my creations. The pasta salad of my youth was an egg-ridden, totally gross swamp of cholesterol, dodgy food standards and sodium. This variation couldn’t be further removed from that science experiment of a side dish.

This little pasta salad is easy-peasy, varied, and filling enough to be a meal in itself. It follows a simple formula, and the secret is in the sauce. No gross eggy-stuff required.

  1. Pick a cute little pasta. I like bowties. Things like shells tend to stick to each other too much. Macaroni is good, if you’re down with the retro-feel of the uniform elbows.
  2. Pick fresh, flavourful vegetables in four different colours. Colour is important to the appreciation of this dish. It symbolizes the variety and abundance of harvest times. I like crunchy veggies and ones that suck up sauces thirstily, like broccoli.
  3. Use good herbs. I use dried marjoram, thyme, and tarragon. And then fresh parsley and/or cilantro. The fresh parsley really contributes to the flavour of this dish, so try not to ditch it. Use the flat-leaf kind, it’s tastier and has a nicer texture.
  4. Infuse your olive oil. Take a good olive oil, and brown a whole lot of minced garlic in it. It will infuse the oil with garlic flavour, which will then distribute evenly through the pasta. If you want some kick, use dried chilis in your olive oil infusion. Go ahead and add some capers, sundried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts for tang and depth. Stir in some nooch, dijon and almond flour enough to make a cream. Add lemon juice and cider or wine vinegar (yes, both) until it is thinned enough to just coat the back of a spoon. Toss liberally with your salad.
  5. I like fresh greens, such as rough chopped arugula, spinach or chard stirred in at the last minute. It makes it all feel fresher and brighter.
  6. Go ahead and add some beans. Chickpeas, small white beans and green lentils are nice.

This recipe makes me long for summer days and crisp, cool Rieslings sipped on the porch. Also, it pulls together in maybe 20 minutes. Can’t go wrong.

Nippy Vegan Mac and Cheese Casserole

I love Daiya, I really do, but I also love good nippy flavours, and Daiya is a mellow, versatile cheese. Thankfully, because of it’s versatility, it’s easy to modify your Daiya recipes to be more or less nippy, depending on your preferences. In this case, the nip comes from miso, tahini, nutritional yeast, good dijon, and good dark tamari. It sounds like a lot, but this pulls together in about 20 mins, minus the baking time. You can, of course, enjoy it without the final baking step. I like it both ways.

Nippy Vegan Mac and Cheese Casserole
Serves 4 as a main course (please eat it with a salad… or something green :P)

2 cups macaroni or small pasta of your choice
1 package of Daiya Cheddar
2 cups finely chopped broccoli florets
3 tbsp Earth Balance
9 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1 tsp Spike seasoning
2 tbsp cashew cream or butter
2 tbsp light miso paste
2 tbsp really good quality white wine dijon
2 tsp tahini
2 tsp good quality dark tamari
a grind or two of pepper

Topping:

2 cups bread cubes
1/3 cup Daiya cheddar
spray oil
paprika
Spike seasoning

Put your pasta water on to boil, and pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, melt Earth Balance over medium heat. Stir in nutritional yeast to form a thick paste. Slowly add two cups of the soy milk, mixing it well into the nutritional yeast/Earth Balance paste. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and immediately turn down the heat to low. Now, add the Daiya to the sauce slowly, stirring as you go. By now the water should be boiling, so add the pasta and give it a stir. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 1/2 cup of soy milk, but not including the broccoli, in your mini blender, or whatever you use for blending things in your house. Blend until smooth, and add it to the cheese sauce, mixing well. Check for seasoning and add more of things as you see fit. Remember, all the flavours will dilute a bit when combined with the pasta, so they should be extra flavourful now. When your pasta is almost but not quite done, add the broccoli florets to the pasta water. Let it come back to a boil, then drain extremely well- let it hang out in the colander for a while and give it a few good tosses. Put the pasta and broccoli back in the dry pot, and pour cheese sauce over. Use your discretion here, I prefer really saucy mac and cheese, but you might not. Prep a baking pan by spraying it well with oil. Pour pasta and sauce mixture in the pan, up to the brim. Top with bread cubes, give them a quick spray of oil, sprinkle Daiya, paprika, and a bit of Spike seasoning over top, and bake for about 20-30 minutes. If you don’t already, you may want to line the bottom of your stove with tinfoil, since this may bubble over.

Easy Spaghetti Alfredo with Spinach and Chick’n Scallopini

I spent the day trying not to be too sick, trying to write my thesis, trying not to get too distracted, trying not to tear the boy to pieces in the middle of it all. There was a lot of trying. It was a trying day. Trying days call for one of two things: take-out, or pasta. In this case, it was pasta, due to the fact that I couldn’t bring Wok Box home on the bus in -17 degree weather without it freezing (not that the bus came, mind you- after standing outside in that nonsense for 30 minutes I split a cab with the other bus stop attendees.)

Rummaging through the fridge I found and almost wilted box of baby spinach that the boy abandoned (I eat the boxes of arugula, he’s in charge of the spinach) and so figured I’d do something with olive oil, spinach, garlic, spaghetti. But then, right next to the bag of leek tops waiting to become broth, I found about a third of a tub of Herbs and Chives Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. I had heard of recipes for Alfredo sauce that use cream cheese before- more stable than regular Alfredo, cream cheese bases are often used in food service to reduce the risk of separating at uneven temperatures or over long wait times. I figured, how hard could it be? As it turns out, it’s ridiculously easy. Hardly even a recipe. Exactly what I needed after a day like today.

Since I refuse to have just pasta for dinner, I served it up with some frozen green and yellow beans, and made up my usual Chick’n Scallopini recipe. It’s quick, super easy, and delicious. The boy doesn’t like it, I should mention, but he dislikes most chicken-style seitan, so that’s no surprise.

Easy Spaghetti Alfredo with Spinach and Chick’n Scallopini
Makes 2 servings for people who live in sub-zero climates, probably 4 elsewhere

For the pasta:

4 servings of spaghetti, or pasta of your choice
1/3 tub Herbs and Chives Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups baby spinach, packed
1 teaspoon Spike, or salt alternative

Make pasta. When cooked but still firm, drain all but about 1/2 cup of cooking water. Put in back on the stove over medium-low heat, make a well in the center and add garlic, cook for about 2 minutes. Put the cream cheese in over the top of the pasta teaspoon by teaspoon. Stir it all in until the water, garlic and cream cheese are blended. Add a bit more water at this time if it’s getting too dry, then add the spinach over top, and put on a lid. In about 1 minute the spinach should be starting to wilt, stir the Spike and the spinach into the pasta. Serve soon. If it gets stogy, add more water and reheat.

For the Scallopini:

1 package Gardein Chick’n Scallopini, or 4 chicken-style seitan pieces
flour for dredging
olive oil for pan-frying
1 teaspoon of Spike seasoning or salt alternative
2 teaspoon tamari
2 tbsp water
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch sprig of thyme, or about 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp vegan butter
juice from 1/2 a lemon
freshly ground pepper

Pre-heat a skillet on medium-high heat with a thin layer of oil. Dredge frozen chick’n pieces through flour, and place in hot skillet. Give the pan a shake, wait a minute, then flip. It should be browning. Sprinkle Spike over, and turn once or twice more to get a bit of golden brown around the edges and crispiness all over. Remove the scallopini, reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the garlic, thyme, tamari, and water, cooking two minutes, stirring up all the brown pits from the bottom of the pan. Bit-by-bit, stir the vegan butter into the sauce. Finish with the lemon and pepper, to taste. Feel free to add a bit more water if it needs to loosen up. Return scallopini to pan and quickly coat with sauce, serve over pasta with a side of steamed freezer veg… or something better, if you have it.