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Watermelon Gazpacho with Fresh Basil Cream

gazpacho 4

Every once in a while, we need a fresh start.

In order to grow, we need to every so often challenge ourselves, sweep the cobwebs, shake out the rug and take inventory of what we have. And most important, we need to determine whether what we have is what we really want.

You might have noticed my site looks a little different than it did the last time you visited. It’s fresher, brighter and a better reflection of the kind of person I really am and continue to strive to be.

Over the years, this blog has been a resource for me – it’s grounded me, taught me how to cook and given me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. In turn, I’m going to make this blog a resource for you. I’ll be incorporating short how-to videos and offering more instruction on how to make cooking healthier, easier and more enjoyable, and I’ll continue to share the recipes I’m concocting in my own kitchen.

I want to help you rediscover your kitchen as the creative oasis that it is. I want you to take joy in cooking and view dinner as something to be savoured each and every day – not something to dread the minute the five o’clock hunger pangs come along.

Please let me know what you think of the new look – I’d love to hear your thoughts! And special thanks to my friend, graphic designer and illustrator Bianca DiPietro, for creating my adorable logo at the top. For more of her work, check out her website.

I created this refreshing soup a few weeks ago, when we were suffering through a pretty intense heat wave here in Toronto and my stove and I just weren’t getting along that well. It’s a great mid-afternoon cool-me-down for those days when it really is just too bloody hot to eat, let alone cook, and it literally comes together in just a few steps. The basil cream is an indulgent and delicious topper, but totally optional. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Chop your watermelon into medium-size cubes.

watermelon chopped

2. Peel and halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds by running a spoon along the middle of each half.

seed cucumber

3. Purée it all in a food processor with lemon juice and white balsamic for a hint of acidity… and that’s it!

purée

Watermelon Gazpacho with Fresh Basil Cream
Serves 6 to 8.

Serve this chilled soup as a refreshing light summer lunch, or spoon it into small mason jars for a cute dessert option!

INGREDIENTS:

6 cups cubed watermelon
3 cups peeled, seeded and roughly chopped cucumber
2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped

Basil Cream
1 cup heavy (35%) cream
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped (TIP: Basil bruises and browns quickly, so wait until you’re ready to fold the basil into the cream before you chop it.)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. In a food processor or blender, purée watermelon, cucumber, lemon juice and vinegar until smooth. (TIP: You may need to work in batches, depending on the size of your food processor or blender.) Refrigerate until chilled.

2. In a large chilled bowl, add cream. With an electric hand mixer or whisk, beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in basil.

3. Serve gazpacho in chilled bowls with a dollop of basil cream. Garnish with avocado.

Enjoy!

1

Kale, Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup with White Beans

soup final

There are foods that sustain you, satiate and fulfill you. They can be delicious, hearty and satisfying – for some, it might be a creamy bowl of luscious pasta.

For me, it’s soup – soup tends to live in that same place in my heart as my Granny’s apple pie or my dad’s phenomenal weekend coffee. It’s not necessarily perfectly seasoned or cooked just right, but it soothes, comforts and ails in a way that makes everything seem alright, if even just for a spoonful.

It starts with the prep – I find comfort in the simple sautéeing of my favourite vegetables, followed by a quick deglaze with broth and some seasoning to hit that fine balance between salty and savory, hearty and slurp-worthy. Soup doesn’t ask for much; a quick simmer will do.

And then there’s that moment, that perfect second when your brimming ladle hits the bowl, offering up chunks of tender veggies, melt-in-your-mouth meat and full-bodied broth. It makes you wonder why you ever bother trying to make anything else, because this right here, this is the crescendo of comfort food.

I like this soup for its simplicity, but also for its use of seasonal ingredients in this blustery time of year. Kale and sweet potatoes are unbelievably bitter and sweet (and inexpensive!) during the winter months, and they really steal the show for vibrancy and flavour.

To round out this soup, I opted for simple ingredients I already had in my kitchen – sausage for oomph, mushrooms for flavour and white beans for extra creamy texture. You can go ahead and switch up the add-ins depending on what you have on hand, or you can make it vegetarian and double up on beans for extra filling protein and fiber. A curl of Parmesan is great as an indulgent garnish, but make it your own by playing around.

prep
Kale, Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup with White Beans
Serves 4 to 5.

To dress up this simple soup, serve with crusty bread and fresh Parmesan.

INGREDIENTS:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
500 g uncooked mild sausage, casings removed and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1 cup sliced brown cremini mushrooms
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cups chicken broth
3 to 4 cups chopped kale, stems and tough ribs removed
1 19-oz can white kidney or navy beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil on medium. Add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 more minute.

2. Add sausage and sauté until browned. Stir in mushrooms and potatoes and sauté until mushrooms soften, about 4 minutes.

3. Add broth and 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes.

4. Stir in kale and beans and cook for 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

1

Creamy Potato & Ham Soup

It’s been almost a year since I moved away from the East Coast to Toronto – a year that has been by far my most difficult, stressful and terrifying, but at the same time incredibly satisfying.

I’ve had a hard time remembering what my life was like before the move – from the layout of my third-floor Fredericton apartment to the events of the days leading up to the moment where I packed my life in a silver Honda Civic and left everything I knew behind.

I think part of me had blocked it out, to protect myself from getting homesick or feeling out of place in my new home. But lately, as the one year anniversary of my move approaches, snippets of my old life keep creeping in.

It happens unexpectedly, when I’m least prepared. Today it was the smell of an old sweater I hadn’t worn or washed since I moved, still carrying the floral scent of the dryer sheets I used to use.

Yesterday it was the aromatic chance encounter of fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh-made French bread – a heavenly pairing that will always make me think of the farmers’ market down the street from my old apartment.

Once it was a whiff of incense and the distinctive twist of a muscle that, when I closed my eyes, made me swear I was back in my old yoga studio on Fredericton’s sleepy Queen Street.

As I let these memories trickle their way into my consciousness, other things are edging their way back. I can finally remember the drive my mom and I made to move me to Ontario last March, which up until now was just a blur of random gas stations and candy wrappers. I can remember my first week at my new job – the heavy feeling in my stomach of both excitement and fear. And just this afternoon, I was able to fully recollect that moment after the taxi came to collect my mom, leaving me to walk back alone to the strange apartment that was to be my home.

It worried me when these memories first started coming back. I was afraid that it meant I was getting homesick or unhappy. But ultimately, I think somehow I’ve finally come to realize that my memories are not a series of unconnected dots to be filed away by year and forgotten, but rather a timeline of who I am and how I came to be here. These memories are something I should appreciate, because I owe them who I am today.

I decided to make a good, traditional East Coast potato soup after spotting a bag of PEI potatoes at the grocery store last week. I took them home, quickly released them from the familiar Cavendish logo bag, and took a good whiff. You might think all dirt smells the same, but I swear the minute those spuds hit my nose, I was home.

Creamy Potato & Ham Soup
Serves 6.

Tools

Large stockpot
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Slotted spoon
Blender
Small bowl

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 lb cooked ham, chopped
5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
6 Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup table cream (18%), divided
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese for garnish, as desired
Chopped green onions for garnish, as desired

Instructions


1. In a large stockpot, heat oil on medium. Add garlic and onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and onion turns translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add ham and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until any liquid released from ham is absorbed. Stir in 5 cups broth, cover and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes, cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

3. With a slotted spoon, remove 2 cups potatoes and transfer to a blender. Add 1/2 cup cream to blender and blend until smooth; mixture should be very thick and creamy. Scoop mixture into a small bowl and set aside. With slotted spoon, remove remaining potatoes from pot and transfer to blender. (TIP: If you want a chunkier soup, leave a cup or two of cubed potatoes in pot.) Add remaining 1/2 cup cream and blend until smooth.

4. Reduce heat to low, return all blended potatoes to pot and stir well to combine. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth and milk to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and cook (do not simmer or boil) until heated through. Top each serving with cheese and green onions, as desired.

Enjoy!

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Italian Wedding Soup

I’ve always had a thing for Italy. The rolling hills, the winding lagoon, the architecture, the music – I could go on, but I’ll stop it at what’s most important – the food.

What I really love about Italian food is its simplicity – you’ll rarely find an Italian dish that requires more than five or six main ingredients. That’s because Italians cherish quality over quantity – it’s evident in everything from their sturdy, centuries-old homes to their penchant for fine leather. You won’t find any crummy subdivision houses or “skim milk” there, at least in my fantasy version.

Even the integral ingredients are basic and mild, yet rich in flavor. Take olive oil, for example, with its subtle hint of fragrant olives and smooth, buttery consistency. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than free pouring a few tablespoons of olive oil into a warmed saucepan and watching it shimmy its way around the bottom, greeting every corner of my pot.

And then there’s the cheese. I praise the day I discovered fresh, fragrant blocks of Parmesan cheese – until then I’d only ever had it in a can, all dried out and awful like you find in the pizza-in-a-box kits. To this day, I still can’t stand the sound of the flavorless little chunks of powdered cheese shaking around in those godawful green canisters that used to lurk in the back of my parents’ fridge.

My most recent Italian discovery is one I try to limit – only because I know if I allow myself to actually buy it at a market rather than enjoy it fleetingly at a restaurant, I will most definitely fall into a salty ham addiction and end up hospitalized for high blood pressure, all 400 lbs of me. Prosciutto, I’m looking at you.

I could go on and on about breads and pastas and meatballs, but I think this recipe pretty much sums it all up. Rich with flavor and texture, this Italian Wedding Soup is kind of addictive and a total reward for minimal effort.

I came up with the recipe after a year of eating as much of it as I could at restaurants – and once from a can, which I don’t recommend. As I was making it, and tasting as I went along, I noticed something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. It was lacking some kind of thickener, but also a bit of a bit of tanginess – that’s when I realized I’d forgotten to add the eggs. I suggest adding them gradually to get the perfect consistency – and don’t let the soup come to a boil after you add the eggs. And, for the love of God, don’t forget the cheese. It’s the best part.

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 4 – 6.

Tools
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoon
2 large pots
Whisk

Ingredients

Meatballs 

1 lb lean ground chicken
1/4 cup grated yellow onion
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced

*Note: This recipe yields a few more meatballs than needed for the recipe. Add them all for a heartier soup, or boil the amount you’d like to use in the soup, and freeze the rest while raw. Pull them out the next time you want to make Italian Wedding Soup, which if you’re anything like me, will be sometime next week.

Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
9 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup acini de pepe or orzo pasta
2 eggs
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Italian bread, optional

Instructions

In a large bowl, combine meatball ingredients. Mix well, then form into small 1-inch balls. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add meatballs and boil until they are cooked through and float to surface of water, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.

In a separate large pot, heat oil on medium-high. Add onion, garlic and Italian seasoning and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and garlic begins to brown. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Stir in Parmesan. Gradually stir mixture into soup until combined. Add meatballs and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with additional Parmesan. Serve with Italian bread.

Enjoy!

3

Tortellini Soup

A year ago today, I did something I never thought I’d ever be able to do. I started a blog.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I wrote that first post about chicken noodle soup. I was sure no one but my mom and dad would read it, and I never imagined I’d be sitting here a year later writing my 39th recipe with no plans of slowing down.

I was kneading dough for my grandmother’s shortbread cookie recipe when I got the idea to write a book about my newfound love of cooking, and its ability to connect me to the woman I thought I’d all but lost a chance to know. It was kind of a breakthrough moment for me, at a time when I knew my future was coming whether I wanted it to or not, and decisions needed to be made about the next few steps I’d take.

Writing a book seemed a little far-fetched for me at that point. I was 21, in my fourth year of university and in the midst of battling a fairly intense bout of depression. The commitment of writing a book seemed far too much for me to handle.

“Why don’t you start a blog?” my boyfriend asked one evening, shortly after we’d watched Julie and Julia.

I think I responded with something like, “Yeah, maybe,” code words for, “Probably not, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Then I was sitting on the living room couch one Friday night when it popped into my head.

“Stuck in Thyme,” I blurted out to TJ. “I could call my blog Stuck in Thyme.”

I still don’t know where that name came from. I suspect it has something to do with a sketchy little sign for a mending service in the top window of a run-down building next to my orthodontist. That’s the only reasonable explanation I’ve been able to muster up.

But I think it’s the idea behind the name that makes the most sense to me. At the time I started this blog, I was suffering from depression, severe anxiety and an even worse lack of confidence. But when I baked, I was me. I wasn’t some girl on pills that needed frequent naps, I wasn’t a twenty-something in knots over the future, and I wasn’t sad or angry or disappointed in myself. I was just a girl adding flour and eggs to chocolate chips in order to make cookies.

Cooking was and still is exhilarating. It’s the one time of day when I don’t have to be thinking; thoughts come naturally. Cooking challenges me; some days recipes come together effortlessly, other days they’re disasters. But after each screw-up, I’m always wondering what went wrong, and what I can do differently next time. I’m by no means an excellent cook, but I do believe I’m getting there, albeit slowly.

To date, this blog’s been viewed more than 5,000 times in the past year. It’s a modest accomplishment, but considering my doubts that no one aside from my direct friends and family would ever want to read my stories, it makes me incredibly grateful.

For Stuck in Thyme’s one-year anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to make another hearty soup. This one, fortunately, is much simpler than chicken noodle from scratch, but it’s every bit as good. It comes from one of my favourite cooking blogs, the Tasty Kitchen Blog.

Tools

large saucepan
measuring cups
measuring spoons
cutting board
large kitchen knife
wooden spoon

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste
9 ounce package of tortellini
3 cups chopped spinach
parmesan cheese

Instructions

In a large saucepan, fry oil and garlic for five minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then add tortellini. Cook until al dente, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add spinach and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, and serve. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

3

Chunky Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

My sister and I didn’t always get along.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has or ever had a sister; by nature, two girls living in the same household for the majority of their lives are bound to knock heads every once in a while.

The thing about Megan and me is how totally and completely opposite we are: she’s aggressive, I’m passive; she’s outgoing, I’m a hermit; she exudes confidence, me – well, not so much.

I was your typical little sister growing up; I dug through her diary and revealed all the juicy bits to my parents, exaggerated any conflict between us in order to make her out to be the bad guy, and once I stood up in front of the school bus and told the entire school (which, incidentally, fit on that one bus) that she had a crush on Chris Murray. A particularly good find was a cigarette butt in her closet, which got her grounded for at least a month. Sometimes I would purposely do things to push her over the brink, just so that she’d do something to get herself in trouble.

Embarrassing her in front of friends was a real event, and would have me plotting for days in advance of their arrival. Once I replaced her Nirvana cassette with a Fred Penner tape just before a boyfriend was set to arrive. I prepared elaborate outfits of oversized hats, sunglasses and 80’s shoulder pad jackets from my dad’s closet to wear when they came over, parading around the house playing my harmonica.

Although I’d never admit it at the time, half the reason I got her grounded so much was so that she’d spend less time with her friends and more time at home with me. I loved my sister, no matter how much fun it was to make her life miserable, and I was always so jealous of the amount of time she spent with her friends.

I remember the day she moved out; I’ll always remember that day. We packed our old station wagon to the gunnels, in a rush, of course, and Megan was supremely cranky. I remember being mad at her for being cranky on her last official day home, but when I did the same five years later, I understood why. After a long, hot, and argument-filled car ride, we arrived at her new home, unloaded all her stuff onto the third floor of the all-girls’ residence, and then left without her. The ride home was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life; it was just me and my parents, and I was acutely aware of the fact that that was how it was going to be from then on.

The distance was good for us, I think. I missed her a lot, and would write her long, rambling letters about boys at school and fights with my friends. She wrote back, telling me about boys at her school and all the new friends she was making, along with some awkward older sisterly dating advice. When she came home at Christmas or over the summers breaks, we were closer than ever.

Megan and I only see each other a couple times a year now; she lives on the West Coast and I live on the East. It’s funny though, how much alike we’re becoming despite the difference in our personalities and the distance between us. We actually buy the same clothing, read the same books, and have the same duvet cover on our beds (thanks, Mom).

We tell each other just about everything, and thankfully she no longer has to worry about me tattling to our parents if she did something bad. It wasn’t easy, but I believe we’ve finally come to a point where knowing everything about each other isn’t means for ammunition, but a point of empathy and respect.

I know it sounds cliché, but her battles really are mine, she cries when I cry, and the scars from whatever stupid fights we’ve had over the years are only reminders of how far we’ve come, and how much more growing there is to come. And I really can’t wait to see where we go from here.

 

Tools

Cutting board
large kitchen knife
measuring cups
measuring spoons
colander
microwave safe bowl with lid
large saucepan
potato masher
wooden spoon

Ingredients

5 cups broccoli florets
1 teaspoon olive oil
large onion
3 cloves garlic
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/4 cup tapioca

Instructions

Cut broccoli into florets and rinse in a colander. Place in a microwave safe bowl, cover and microwave on high for five minutes.

In a large saucepan, heat oil. Chop onion and garlic and add to pot, stirring often. Cook on medium high for 10-15 minutes. Add broth and cooked broccoli. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until broccoli is soft.

Mash broccoli with a potato masher until desired consistency. Pour in milk and cream and stir. Add cheddar cheese and tapioca and continue to heat on low. Let simmer until soup has thickened, at least 20-25 minutes.

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Veggie Fricot and Dumplings

There comes a time in every relationship when you have to decide if what you have is worth fighting for, if the good times really do outweigh the bad.

Resentment grows slowly when you don’t have much to say. Then the slightest thing can make you crumble.

Our apartment’s become a battle ground, our voices ammunition. Neither of us have bothered to realize we’re fighting for the same thing.

It’s been two straight days of silence now. We’ve lost the will to try.

Sometimes love isn’t enough. Sometimes you can’t forget the past, no matter how hard you try.

Sometimes words won’t go away, and all you have left is tears. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just let go.

When you love someone for so long, you start to lose yourself. You shave off the rough edges to make that person fit. But those rough edges are what make you who you are.

I shaved off too much, allowed myself to disappear. I need to learn to breathe without him, for the sake of both of us. I need to find out who I am before I let him in.

It wouldn’t be fair to say I lost myself to him. When we met, I had no idea who I was.

But I never really got the chance to learn.

Tools

dutch oven
cutting board
large kitchen knife
wooden spoon
measuring cups
measuring spoons

Ingredients

Soup
4 cups cold water
4 tablespoons butter
one large onion
3 cups potatoes
1 cup carrots
1 cup spiral noodles
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon summer savory
pepper to taste

Dumplings
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2- 3/4 cup cold water

Instructions

Pour water into the dutch oven and heat to a boil. Add butter. Chop onion into cubes and add to pot. Cut up the potatoes and carrots into small chunks. Add to water. Let boil on medium heat for a half hour to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Add noodles, summer savory and salt and let boil for another 10-15 minutes. Add pepper to taste.

To make dumplings, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add water and mix well with a fork. Once thoroughly mixed, drop by the spoonful into soup and let cook, cover on, for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!