Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup & Holder’s Last Hurrah

 

Sweet potato, ginger and coconut milk soup

Sweet potato, ginger and coconut milk soup

My friend Oliver and I have a tradition  — every Wednesday we cook dinner and watch TV together. Throughout the years, we have made it through the many seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias. More recently we have veered toward trashier things like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries, and even went so far as to watch the Real World when it filmed in Portland.

A year or so ago we found ourselves in a lull between episodes of something and decided to check out The Killing, which we had both heard good things about. The show follows two Seattle detectives, Linden and Holder, as they solve the mystery of Rosie, a 17-year-old missing girl.

We were instantly hooked, until we realized the show was only planned to be two seasons long. Cue instant distress and sadness. This show was too good, too engrossing, too suspenseful not to continue!

And then the Netflix Gods, the same ones that brought back the final season of Arrested Development, blessed us with a surprise third season of The Killing. Even better, we were further surprised with an unexpected fourth season. Linden and Holder were coming back to us!

Last week, full of bittersweet excitement, we watched the last three episodes. While our emotions were riding an adrenaline roller coaster, our hunger was being soothed by a bowl of the most delicious sweet potato soup I’ve ever eaten.

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Warm-You-Up Thai Curry & Coconut Chicken Soup

Thai Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Curried Coconut Soup with Chicken and Vegetables

It’s been cold and dreary in Portland this week and with every increasingly strong gust of wind, it’s becoming very clear that winter is approaching. A few weekends ago, the wind was so relentless that it took down trees all over town. We were lucky to only lose a 14-foot branch from the fir tree in our backyard. After talking to some of my co-workers, it sounds like we fared pretty well.

Since then, the wind has died down but the rain has not. Being a daily bike commuter means I come home every evening drenched, peeling off my soaked rain jacket, rain pants and booties.

It’s days like these that call for soup — something both warming in temperature and in spiciness.

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Chilled tomato soup for the last dregs of summer

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Deep inside, I know that autumn has officially arrived. The weather has cooled off considerably here in Portland and the markets are full of squash and new crop apples. But my mind — and stomach — aren’t quite ready to let go of summer.

And one of my favorite things about the late summer months in Oregon are the perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes.

I can even tell you a story about how great these tomatoes are. Growing up I hated tomatoes. Oh sure, I loved marinara sauce but fresh tomatoes were not a part of my diet. I picked them off of hamburgers and out of sandwiches for years. Even in college I gave serious side-eye to people who ate cherry tomatoes by the handful. I just didn’t get it.

Then I moved to Oregon and started cooking at a little family run restaurant in the industrial/art area of NW Portland (now the luxe Pearl District). I remember walking to the Farmers Market with the head chef/owner and watching as she bought a flat of pristine sungolds.

Beautiful Oregon sungolds

Beautiful Oregon sungolds

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Autumn Cravings: Roasted Sunchoke Soup

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with hazelnut oil and pumpkin seeds

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with hazelnut oil and pumpkin seeds

Whenever I mention sunchokes, my friend Ariel inevitably brings up the sunchoke soup we both enjoyed as part of a benefit dinner three years ago. It was sinfully creamy with a robust nutty flavor and came indulgently topped with Dungeness crab. It was a soup I was scared to recreate for fear of tainting the fond memories of it.

Also I knew my at-home version would be pale in comparison as I just cannot add as much cream and butter as I’m sure would be necessary to fully capture the flavor of the original. These are why some dishes just taste better if you don’t make them yourself!

But when sunchoke season rolled around this year, I still felt the urge to make a soup. For my wallet’s sake, I eschewed the crab altogether and for the sake of my waistline I used half and half instead of cream. But happily for my belly, this soup was still outstanding and totally hit the spot on a blustery fall day.

Sunchokes, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are rhizomes that resemble gingeroot. They are knobby and fairly unattractive as far as produce goes. However, their unassuming appearance belies their deliciousness. They are sweet when roasted and inherently nutty in flavor. I cannot get enough of them, even overlooking their, well…troublesome nature.

To make this soup, I started with this recipe, changing things up slightly. The main change I made was roasting half of the sunchokes in the oven until they were caramelized. This gives the flavor of the soup some extra depth.

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Freezing Cold with a Chance of Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Split Pea Soup with Ham

As a kid, one of my favorite books was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” For some reason I didn’t own a copy but a friend of mine did, and every time I would visit her house I would spend a good portion of time pouring over the pages. The illustrations were the best part — the one image I remember most vividly was where people dining in a roofless restaurant ran around catching hot dogs as they “rained” down from the sky.

Another part that has been stuck in my head since childhood was the rolling in of a split pea fog. I don’t recall ever eating split pea soup until much later in life — maybe even after high school or college — but I was always curious about it after reading that book. When I did finally try it (hesitantly I might add because the color is not so visually appealing) I was surprised at how tasty it was. Those little chunks of smokey salty ham with creamy pureed peas made for a wholly satisfying bowl of soup.

Ever since that initial tasting, I occasionally get a craving for split pea soup and it seems like I cook up a pot each winter around this time. It could be because post-Christmas is the only time I happen to have a ham bone laying around, or it could just be the fact that it is usually freezing cold outside and I get an urge for something warming.

Both of those things were true last weekend. Thankfully there is still no snow here in Portland, but the viciously cold wind is making my bike commute pure torture. Getting to sit down to a piping hot bowl of this goodness for lunch almost makes up for it. At the very least, its warmth helps thaw me out — from my head to my toes.

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A bone from a Nueskes spiral-sliced ham made this broth fantastically smokey

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Fresh Corn Chowder: A Soup to Soothe the Savage Cold

You know fall is coming when you catch your first cold of the season. I spent a good amount of time last week in a daze of Sudafed and cough syrup, wishing that I felt good enough to enjoy the last of the summer sunshine. Instead I spent every night curled up on my couch watching Season 3 of Drop Dead Diva and eating soup.

I probably deserved to get sick since it seems as though I spent all of September running around with barely any time to rest. First came WAG, followed by a weekend in Tacoma and then the next weekend was FEAST. And FEAST brought with it parties, after parties and after-hours after parties, where I ingested entirely too much free champagne. I got a picture with Fergus Henderson while partying at the top of the Wieden+Kennedy building, shook hands with Sean Brock around 2 am at Nostrana and stalked the hell out of April Bloomfield (though I was too shy to approach her).

And then I caught a serious cold. Even though I’m a little sad about that, I have to say two things:

  1. It was totally, absolutely worth it!
  2. The soups I made to aid my recovery were rockin’!

My favorite one was actually a recipe for White Cheddar Corn Chowder that I pulled from a 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living. How I managed to wait five years before making this, I’ll never know but I can say I won’t be waiting another five before making it again!

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