Creamy Leek and Asparagus Soup

By:  Julie

Time:  40 min

Serves:  4-6

It’s not really the season for asparagus here in Ontario, it’s the season of snow and preserved goodies.  It’s about the time of year when my eyes are really starving for something green and beautiful.  That’s exactly what this is, a green and beautiful bowl of spring that you can enjoy, briefly forgetting that it is only December and there are still 4 solid months of winter to endure.

I was planning a leek and potato soup, needing some warm comfort food and having to use up some leeks that I had in the fridge, but then I walked by some lovely green asparagus that happened to be on sale.  On sale asparagus is rare in the middle of winter.  It’s imported from California, or Peru.  It’s not the tenderest shoots I’ve eaten, but since the soup will be pureed, this is not a problem.

You Will Need:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 large leek, sliced thin
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 tsp mustard seed
  • a large bunch of asparagus, chopped in to 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 2 cups of water
  • grated lemon zest
  • flat leaf parsley (if desired for garnish)
  • salt and pepper

I used a dutch oven to melt the butter on medium low.  Then I added the leek, garlic, and a few pinches of salt.  I put the lid on and left the leak to sweat for 10 min, stirring occasionally.  I then added about a tsp of salt and the mustard seed.

This smells heavenly.  Resist the urge to eat the leeks.

Add the asparagus, chicken broth, and wine plus 2 cups of water.  Stir and bring to a simmer and allow to cook, uncovered, until the asparagus is tender.  You don’t want to cook it too long or you will lose the lovely bright green colour.

Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 min.  You can puree this in batches in a blender but I used an immersion blender.  I don’t even own a blender so I make due with a food processor or the immersion blender.

Add salt, pepper, and the juice of the lemon to taste.  Serve with chopped parsley over top.  I also added a dollop of sour cream because it’s a really good excuse to eat it.  I served this with toasted turkey sandwiches on 12 grain bread and we really enjoyed it, but it would also make a spectacular appetizer at your next dinner party, warm or chilled.  It was a nice, light, fresh meal

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Pesto Tortellini bites

By Corinne

This appetizer has a short ingredient list, but is big on flavours. They come together quickly and can be prepared the day before your party if desired.

Makes: about 25-27 skewers with 3 tortellini each if you use the whole package

Time: about 10 minutes to cook pasta, assembly depends on how many you decide to make. It took me about 10 minutes to put together about 20.

You will need:

  • 350g rainbow tortellini (or plain will also work)
  • 3 tbsp of pesto
  • seasoned sundried tomatoes in oil
  • bamboo skewers or toothpicks

Cook tortellini according to package directions- if using fresh tortellini, usually the boiling time is only 2-3 minutes. Do not over cook. Drain and stir in a generous 3 tbsp of pesto. Let cool completely. This part can be done the day before if desired.

Slide a tortellini, piece of sundried tomato, tortellini, piece of sundried tomato and tortellini onto wooden or bamboo skewers. Repeat. That’s it. You’re done.

These can be prepped the day before and stored in an airtight container overnight if needed. I usually serve these cold, though they are certainly good heated.

Smokey Caramelized Onion Dip

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By Corinne

This is a riff on one of my favourite dips- but I’ll post this one first since people were crazy for it at a recent staff get together and demanding the recipe!

There are two things that make this amazing, one is caramelizing the onions. Do them low and slow and you end up with delicious, sweet, complex flavours and none of the harsh onion bite.

The other thing that makes this amazing is using bacon jerky from Tim’s Meats. If you live in Thunder Bay, I highly recommend making your way to Tim’s Meats (300 Empress Ave S) and pick some up. It’s marinated in apple juice and honey, naturally hickory smoked, and then cooked. Which means not only is it delicious and amazing, but because it’s already cooked it means it takes no time to make more delicious things with bacon.  It also makes for some amazing carbonara(see photo below!), omelettes, sandwiches or basically makes any bacon application even better!

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Roasted tomato carbonara  made with bacon jerky from Tim’s Meats, Deli and Grocery

Tim’s also has amazing store made smokies, sausages, and very popular spiral stuffed pork with an apple raisin stuffing.  The staff there are lovely, friendly and always helpful. If you aren’t a regular, become one 🙂

If you don’t live in Thunder Bay you can substitute the smokiest thick cut bacon you can find… but it won’t be as good!

Makes: about 2 cups

Time: 1 hour

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 -3 cups chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp butter (less if using regular bacon – see cooking instructions)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup cream cheese
  • 4-5 strips of thick cut smokey bacon or 4-5 strips of Tim’s Bacon Jerky
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • fresh snipped parsley to garnish if desired

If you are NOT using the most amazing bacon jerky, you need to cook your bacon first! Cook bacon in the same pan you are going to do the onions in. While the bacon is cooking, roughly dice onions. It will look like a lot of onion, but don’t worry, it’s going to cook down.

Reserve about a tbsp of bacon fat, add 1 tbsp of butter to pan and then the onions. Cook on low heat for 45min-1hour stirring occasionally until golden and reduced to caramelized heaven.

If you are using the most amazing bacon jerky, add 2 tbsp of butter to pan and add the onions. When onions are just about finished, roughly chop the bacon jerky and add to onions just to render a bit more of the fat/flavour out of it.

Add 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup cream cheese, pepper, onions, and bacon to food processor. Go a head and scrape any melted butter/bacon goodness that is in your pan into the processor too. Give it a couple blitzes until it everything is combined.

This can be served immediately while still warm, or refrigerate for later. Feel free to prepare the day ahead. Delicious served with plain chips, pita breads, tortilla chips, or even vegetables 🙂

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Favourite Marinated Feta Dip

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By Corinne

This is a dip I always request from my friend TL- though I think I am more generous with the lemon and less generous with the oil. I also fondly call it my ’emergency’ feta dip, as I can make it in minutes,  I almost always have the ingredients on hand, and people always seem to love it and think there is something magic about it. This is the basic favourite, feel free to improvise- there is a lot of room for variation with the seasonings. In the summer when I have fresh herbs I use them- they are prettier. Sometimes, I put in some thyme when I have it. Delish served with little rounds of bread, crackers… or umm… with a spoon.

Time: 10 minutes or less

Serves: 4-6 as a little appetizer with bread

You will need:

  • 250 g (1 3/4 cup) crumbled feta
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic minced
  • generous grind of black pepper
  • 4-5 tbsp oil (olive or canola)

Crumble feta and add all ingredients together. Mix well.  Best if you can let it sit for an hour or two to let the flavours get right in there, but also good eaten immediately 🙂 If you let it sit, you might find that the oil and lemon separate a bit, just give it a good stir before serving.

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Mini Lasagnes

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By Corinne

I would love to add a source for this, as I was inspired by something someone posted on facebook, but then when I searched for it I couldn’t find it again. I tried the google, came up with several recipes that were not quite what I wanted. I wanted to use italian sausage rather than ground beef for all the extra easy flavour. This came together quickly. Two plus a salad is a filling supper. To turn this into an appetizer size portion, I would simply do a single layer rather than a double one.

You Will Need:

  • 24 won ton wraps
  • 1 cup (225g) ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 tsp (1.25mL)each of dry basil and oregano
  • 1lb(454g) mild or medium italian sausage (casing removed)
  • 1 28oz (796mL) can of pureed tomato (or use immersion blender to blend whatever you have)
  • 3-4 tbsp (30-45mL) of tomato paste
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 stalk of celery diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • grated mozzarella cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

In order for this sauce to reduce quickly, use a large shallow sauce pan with a lot of surface area. Remove casing from sausage and cook on medium with onion and celery until browned. Add garlic, stir until fragrant but don’t let garlic brown- about 1 min. Add pureed tomatoes and tomato paste. Let reduce, stirring frequently until the sauce is a fairly thick paste- you should be able to scoop it up and heap onto your spoon rather fall off.

Mix basil and oregano with ricotta.

Preheat oven to 400F. Line muffin tins with 1 won ton wrap. Full disclosure, I used a stoneware pan that nothing sticks to, if using a regular muffin tin you MAY have to grease it. The won tons are covered in cornstarch though, so that should help with sticking. Add 1 slightly heaping tablespoon of sauce, 1/2 tbsp of ricotta and then a few shreds of mozzarella.

Place another won ton wrap on top of fillings and press down slightly around the filling. Add another tbsp of sauce, ricotta and then top with a generous little bunch of shredded mozzarella.

Bake in 400F oven for 20min. Check at 20 min- pull one part way out of tin to see if sides and bottoms are browned. If they need more browning but your tops are done, cover lightly with tinfoil and return to oven for another 10 minutes.