I’m living out of boxes waiting to move — again. Cooking has not been my top priority this past few weeks and I’m sick of it. So, with the few pots, pans and utensils I have available to me, my first spring renovation is the menu.
Garlicky Fennel and Potato Soup
A bowl of soup can rescue a dreary day. I know how temping it is to open a can when your house is in slings, but that’s exactly the time you need the comfort and warmth of your kitchen to soothe those jangled nerves. This dish is easy and delicious and you can serve it in mugs or bowls or whatever you can find. If your stove is out of commission, this recipe works great in a slow cooker — 4 hours on medium and you’re good to go. If you prefer a brothy texture to this creamy one, then by all means chop the vegetables bite-sized and skip the blending.
Using sweet onion is important because it adds the sugar that you need to balance the orange juice. If you would rather, use yellow or white onion and add a small spoonful of sugar. Count on 6 generous servings.
1 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
2 large stalks celery, sliced
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 large fennel bulbs
4 medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and diced
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled but left whole
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup orange juice (optional)
2 2-inch strips orange peel (trimmed of all white pith)
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
Heat oil in a Dutch oven and fry celery and onion over medium-high until starting to soften. Wash the fennel bulbs and cut off, but reserve the feathery fronds for garnish later. Cut off the stems just at the point where they meet the bulb. Remove any brown spots from the outside, then cut the bulbs in half from top to bottom. Inside, fennel resembles a head of cabbage and you have to do the same thing — cut out the tough core in the middle.
Slice the fennel thinly and add to celery and onion. Continue to cook until the vegetables start to take on a slight golden hue. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer about 1 hour, or until everything is very soft. If you don’t plan to purée the soup, cook just until the vegetables are tender, but still hold their shape.
Discard the orange peel, thyme stalks and bay leaves then puree the soup in small batches. For the smoothest texture strain through a sieve. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Chop the reserved fennel fronds and sprinkle a few on each serving. Float a few crispy croutons and drizzle on a drop of your best olive oil just before serving.
Asparagus, Pork and Mushroom Stir Fry
This is a perfect supper dish when you feel particularly disorganized, because it forces you to put your kitchen in order. Sometimes it’s the little accomplishments that make the giant tasks seem more manageable.
To make a stir-fry taste more like a restaurant dish and less like boiled vegetables, high heat is a must. You don’t need a wok, however, which is just as well because I have no clue where mine is right now. You can’t substitute a non-stick pan, but a heavy Dutch oven works just fine. The hotter you can get the pan the less oil you will need and the less oil the food will absorb.
Another trick is to slice the meat paper thin. Put it in the freezer for half an hour or so and it will cut more easily.
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I will anyway. Stir fry failure is guaranteed if you don’t have everything chopped, measured and standing by when you need it. Read through the recipe first and set out the ingredients in bowls next to your stove before you turn on the heat.
Serve 4 or 5 people with this recipe, and, as an added bonus, it’s great as leftovers.
3 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil, maybe more, divided
1 lb. lean pork roast or chops, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 large or 2 small-to-medium bok choy, leaves removed and stalks thinly sliced
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (Shiitake are spectacular, but any will work)
1 small bunch thin fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
3 green onions, white parts thinly sliced and green stems cut into 1-inch lengths
1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Heat about 1 tbsp. of the oil until it is smoking hot in a wok or heavy pot. Toss pork with cornstarch and shake off the excess. Stir fry half at a time until brown and barely cooked through — just 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Add another bit of the oil and fry onion and celery until the onion is starting to take on a tiny bit of colour and the celery seems to be a brighter green. Add the bok choy stalks, mushrooms and asparagus and fry another couple of minutes. If the pan goes dry add a little oil. Add the white part only of the green onions along with fresh ginger and garlic and fry another minute. Return pork to pot along with bok choy leaves and the green stalks of the onions; fry another minute. Stir together chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and red pepper flakes until sugar dissolves. Add all at once to the pan. Stir to combine then cover just until steam starts to escape from under the lid. Serve over plain rice or with noodles.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.