Flavourful vegetarian soups

Sharon Jessup Joyce

Southwest corn soup

We love homemade soup, but my vegetable soups have traditionally started with homemade chicken stock, either white (boiled on the stovetop) or brown (bones roasted in the oven before water is added). Since Bob and I haven’t been eating meat or poultry lately, I needed a vegetarian soup base, and I’ve been tinkering with several over the past couple of months. In this post, I want to share some of my longstanding soup-making strategies, along with new ones that yield flavourful vegetarian or vegan soups that don’t make us miss our chicken stock one bit.

Commercial broth options: I’ve experimented with different commercial vegetable stocks and broths and found that even the organic and low-sodium varieties tasted kind of fake and salty. Olivia mentioned she prefers vegetable stock in powdered or cube form over the commercial liquids. I tried a Knorr cube in two varieties of corn soup yesterday, tasting before and after I added the cube. I found a single cube in a volume of 4 to 6 servings did deepen the soup’s flavour and tasted a lot better than the commercial liquid vegetable broth. But if time and supply permit, I still want to use homemade broth. Here are some of our favourites:

1. Tomato broth is easy to make from fresh tomatoes being processed for salsa, tomato sauce or roasted tomatoes, either field or roma. As you are processing the tomatoes for other purposes, drain off surplus juice and put one to three cups in each freezer bag. You can also drain the liquid from canned tomatoes and use as broth. Or roast disappointing off-season tomatoes and reserve the liquid as broth.

2. Onion stock can be made from onions sauteed in olive oil until just caramelized. Add salt and a touch of vinegar (balsamic, red wine or apple cider). Add water (1 cup for each onion cooked) and simmer for a few minutes until flavours are combined. Puree and freeze in one-cup portions.

You can make a really nice onion soup with onion stock: 1 part stock to 1 part dry red wine; 2 or 3 varieties of sauteed onion; 2 or 3 types of cheese (we like to include swiss and parmesan, and we never use cheddar) and homemade well-buttered or well-oiled seasoned croutons. You won’t even notice the absence of beef broth.

3. Vegetable stock can be roasted or simmered. Dice one or two carrots, an onion, one garlic clove, a handful of celery leaves and a handful of fresh parsley. (Many recipes call for entire celery stalks, but I find the taste of cooked celery revolting. If you don’t, put celery in.) For every cup of vegetables, use 3 cups water and salt to taste. Simmer on a stovetop until vegetables are completely broken down, which usually takes at least 45 minutes. Strain and freeze broth in one-cup portions. For a richer broth, roast vegetables in an open roaster with a bit of salt and oil until veggies are golden brown and soft. Add water as for unroasted vegetables, cover and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes. Strain broth and freeze.

If I don’t have any homemade broth on hand, or the broth I do have will fight with the soup flavours, I skip the broth and use water. For a creamy soup, I will use milk and cream. If I want to reduce the fat content (and I generally do), low-fat sour cream or low-fat Greek yogurt are good substitutes for cream. If your recipe calls for 1/2 cup cream, substitute 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt mixed with regular milk. Buttermilk also gives a creamy texture and a nice tang with very little extra fat. I sometimes add a half-cup of buttermilk to carrot-dill soup to enhance the vegetable’s natural creaminess and balance its sweetness.

Using milk or water instead of cream or broth can make the soup taste a little flat, but I have a handful of ingredients I turn to again and again to boost flavour:

1. Medium-dry sherry: I keep a bottle in the fridge and put anywhere from a splash to a couple of glugs in a soup that needs a lift. Most recently, I had a cauliflower-cheddar soup made from cauliflower, milk, grated cheddar, onion, butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper. It was lovely and creamy, but it needed something, and a slosh of sherry did the trick. For this soup, I wanted to taste the sherry against the cauliflower and nutmeg flavours, but sometimes I put in just enough to give the soup a bit of depth, without the sherry announcing its presence. I usually like sherry instead of white or red wine because it is less sharp and acidic in soup.

2. Smoked mild and smoked hot paprika: Use these individually or together in any soup recipe that calls for bacon or salt pork. When you add a pinch more salt and a bit of oil or butter, you won’t miss the pig. Unless you are going for serious heat, a bit of hot smoked paprika is all you need. When I want more spice in a soup, I prefer chipotle chili powder, which has a more subtle flavour.

3. Low-sodium soya sauce: A little bit (I’m talking a teaspoonful or less in 4 to 6 servings) can add depth and complexity. Don’t go overboard, or it will dominate, and your soup will smell and taste like something from a Chinese takeout.

4. Double-strength (dopio) tomato paste: This comes in tubes from Italian grocery stores. A dab or two will add sweetness and a bit of richness to soups, even those without other tomato in the recipe. It will also make soup a more appetizing colour if the combination of ingredients makes the soup look a bit gray or tan-coloured.

5. Boiled apple cider: I used to find this only at King Arthur Flour in Vermont, but I’ve now seen it in fine grocery stores and specialty stores that stock jams, jellies and syrups. You can also make your own: boil plain apple cider down to 20% volume or less and refrigerate the result for a week or freeze for up to a year. A splash or two of boiled cider gives a lovely note to vegetable soups, especially those made with root veggies or squash. One of my favourite fall soups has a water base with lots of parsnips, an onion, a white or yellow potato, one each of two types of apple, a heaping tablespoonful of horseradish, a half-cup of buttermilk (optional) and a generous slug of boiled apple cider. Add a little salt and pepper, puree, and garnish with chopped rosemary for a great cold-weather soup.

6. Maple syrup: A small amount can add a hint of sweetness and smokiness to soups. We use the dark syrup usually used for cooking or to make candies. If you can’t find that variety, use the darkest syrup you can find.

In addition to diced onion, which appears in most of my veggie soups, I like to add another vegetable in a supporting role to boost flavour or texture, especially for pureed soups. For example, a couple of roasted yellow or orange bell peppers are great with the onions and squash in roasted squash and chipotle soup; apples add a grace note to lots of sweet or earthy veggie soups; a potato pureed into broth can thicken cream soups and reduce or eliminate the need for cream; a handful of spinach or arugula with pureed green pea soup makes the colour and flavour of the peas more intense, and so on.  My rule of thumb is that if I like the flavours together on my plate or in a salad, I’m likely to find them pleasing together in a soup.

The soups pictured here are two takes on corn as a star ingredient.

Southwest Corn and Bean Soup (serves 4)

  • 2 cups tomato broth
  • 2-3 cups water + 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1/4 cup lime juice or apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and sugar to taste (enough to balance the lime or vinegar)
  • 1 onion, diced and sauteed in olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced and sauteed in olive oil
  • 1 small or 1/2 large jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 large or 2 medium fresh field tomatoes, diced (frozen or canned will work)
  • 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen, not canned)
  • 1 19-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 white, yellow or sweet potato, diced
  • Large handful chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1-2 teaspoons double tomato paste

Cook diced onion and bell pepper in a small amount of olive oil until soft. Add tomato broth, water, stock cube, and lime juice/vinegar and bring to boil, simmering  until cube has dissolved. Add potato and tomato and simmer, covered, until tomato pieces are falling apart and potato pieces are very tender (about 30 minutes). Add corn, beans, tomato paste, cilantro, salt, pepper, sugar, and (if using) dried Mexican oregano. Simmer 15-20 more minutes and serve.

Vegetarian Corn Chowder (Serves 4)

This soup is traditionally made with bacon and cream. Butter and smoked paprika replace the bacon. We like this just fine with milk instead of milk and cream, but if you want a thicker, silkier texture without cream, puree some of the corn (up to 1 cup) with the milk before you add the milk to the soup. If you want a very thick chowder, use the smaller amount of milk called for in the recipe. We like a thinner texture and use the full amount of milk.

  • 2 small cooking onions, diced and sauteed in butter
  • 2 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 3-4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (not tomato-based) or water
  • 2-3 cups milk or combination milk and cream (use preferred fat content, other than skim milk, which is just too thin — we use 1% or 2% milk and 3% sour cream)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1-2 teaspoons mild smoked paprika and pinch hot smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh dill, thyme, chive or parsley to garnish

Cook diced onion in butter until soft. Add salt and smoked paprika and stir. Add water/broth and potatoes and cover pot. Let simmer gently until potatoes are just tender (about 15 minutes). Make sure pot does not simmer dry. Add corn, milk/cream and stock cube. Cook, covered, for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Corn chowder


Sharon divides her time between Kingston, Ontario and St Margarets Bay, NS, where she loves to cook, eat and swap recipes for soup.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance


Letter from Bern 3: The collection

Susan Jessup

Here is collection of photos and thoughts from Bern. All the photos have a bit of a story relating to food. The menu items that I prepared at the time are italicized, as is the photo description. Just post a request for more details or a recipe.

IMGP6769The bee and the lavender: I was on Summer’s balcony having my breakfast of Swiss organic yogurt and spelt flakes, and was soothed by the steady hum of bees. And just so you know, in Switzerland organics are very close in cost, often the same cost, as non-organics. This country has many good things right about the food.

Portrait of a tomato (in process): A photo of one of the paintings for the show, an Italian tomato with a quirky shape that called to me. We were eating these tomatoes sliced thick, sprinkled with sea salt and sometimes drizzled with olive oil. That’s all.


The purple flowers that Summer really likes: You can see the little pot of parsley to theIMGP6803 right, and don’t you enjoy the taste and convenience of being able to have your own fresh herbs to season and garnish meals with! I took this shot late in the day at Summer’s insistence, after we lip-smacked our way through a dinner of Chicken braised with white wine, salted capers, olives and lemon peel. The required trough of a fresh local greens salad and some new little roasted potatoes accompanied the chicken. We washed it all down with a fine Colmar wine in the little green-stemmed glasses of Alsace. The sun began its evening dip as Summer exclaimed, “Look at the colour of those little flowers!”

IMGP6818Dinner with colleagues: Summer’s hand can be seen to the left as she pours the Cremant d’Alsace for the appero. This is how the Swiss refer to the starter course (quite sure that it’s misspelled). Right Summer? Three days previously, I had put a generous portion of Turkish yogurt in the little gizmo that Sharon gave Summer for the making of pressed yogurt. On the day, I tipped the pressed yogurt out onto a serving dish, garnishing it with herbs from Summer’s garden and a splash of chili oil. We had that on crackers with olives, pickled capers, tiny tomatoes and radish leaves from the balcony garden. Earlier in the week, I had purchased a hubbard squash from the farmer, roasting it for the Chick peas and squash cakes. Green beans with mustard and fresh sage completed the table with a stack of vibrant green. A salad of escarole, butter lettuce, sweet peppers, fennel and carrot ribbons after the starter, and then the Spelt crust pizza, which was the feature. You must petition Summer for that recipe. The finish was a Double chocolate mousse that kicked my ass in the making of it. But I won the match! The chocolate addicts were, of course, relieved.

The little cat on the roof: This one is for the cat people. She is a polite, shy little thing who spends much of her time outside, often on the roof right outside Summer’s kitchen window. I was preparing our noon meal using fridge treasures. This tree has other treasures that the cat finds particularly fascinating. I imagine she sources many of her meals from it. She graced me with a nice pose that shows off her colours and those of the leaves.IMGP6826


Farmhouse in the distance: I shot this one standing on the bench where I was having a IMGP6836picnic of boiled egg, cheese, rye crackers and tiny heirloom tomatoes. The sun was dipping and the green of the grass and the leaves is real. This green space and farm is just up the road from Summer’s place, and they appear to have bees. Quite likely some of those bees visit her garden. I really appreciate how living, working and farming space is woven together in Bern.

IMGP6888Children’s park and public gardens: I was on my way home from the river to put finishing touches on a dinner of Retro meatloaf, green beans and salad. I usually take the route through a nice park with adjoining gardens that glow with the setting sun.The play structures are made of chunky smoothed logs and pieces of wood to let kids to climb and explore in a closer-to-nature way.

Reflection in the creek: A photo taken when I was heading back to Summer’s place,IMGP6913 after one of my walks. This little creek runs parallel to and not far from the Aare River. It’s a favourite place for the local children to fish, walk slack line and just splash around and cool off. I often take the camera on these walks to the river. That day, I also had a little feast of local organic smoked trout, boiled egg, beets and a tiny Bern pilsner. All this enjoyed while cooling off under a generous tree, feet in the water, scribbling notes for my paintings. There were many swimmers and rafters that day, flashing past like fish on this fast-flowing green river.

Summer: We had quite a challenge matching music to photos for the slide show, which would be shown at the vernissage. Here she is, the reluctant subject hard at work as she waits for friends and salvation. They took her with them to a restaurant that serves Spanish cuisine. You will have to ask her for the details.


IMGP7029#8: The last canvas painted, and perhaps my favourite. I had trouble putting the palette knives down for this one. There is a point, in the early stages, when I’m supposed to walk away and come back to dry paint with new eyes. This image wanted out, and it kept talking to me, until it was.


At the vernissage, we served Swiss mountain cheese, 12-year-old emmental, gruyere, salted nuts, crackers, vegetable chips and Beluga lentil cakes with reduced orange red wine glaze and piped on lebneh. Summer did not want me to cook. I just had to cook one thing, and so I did. Thanks to Gerard and Summer we drank Amarone and a lovely crisp Italian white.

A big thank you to Summer for supporting the artist in residence for the past two months. She graciously tolerated my weirdness, anxieties and just being in her space, all the while making me laugh every day at the ridiculous in life. What could have been a difficult period of time was not at all. It was lovely and creative.

Good-bye Bern.

Postscript: I would like to go back in time, for my next series, and pass along the food with family adventures in Vancouver at the start of this summer. Justin plucked me out of Ottawa, as the weather burned and my work burned out. He flew me to Vancouver, with 3.5 hours notice. Yeeehaw! We had some amazing moments, which will include a Smoked salsa for halibut, harpooned by one of the dinner guests, Sous vide of pork tenderloin and a five course tasting menu for 7, a Secret Supper (shhhhh).


Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region who just returned home after a short sabbatical in Switzerland.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

    After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Letter from Bern 2: Day trip to Colmar

Susan Jessup

Blog LfB2 street

It’s Saturday and Gerard, a colleague of Summer’s, has invited me to join him for a day trip to Colmar, France. An opportunity for me to reacquaint with Alsace, and for Summer to have a quiet day to herself. I’ve been feeling a little off since Friday morning…a migraine is trying to sneak up on me. Summer asks if a day of traveling is a good plan. But I’m not missing out! I pack snacks, sunglasses and high-test Advil. Gerard is waiting in the car, having arrived precisely at the prearranged time of 8:30. Of course he did. I am in Switzerland after all.

Colmar is charming with what you would expect…typical Alsatian character barely
touched by time. I am stunned by the beauty. It’s sensorially familiar as I’m pulled back intoBlog LfB2 stork in nest the memory of another time. The smells, the language, the architecture, the colour palette and the quality of light. I mention this to Gerard a few times! He nods, smiles, providing the commentary on the region with robust enthusiasm. This is one of his favoured places for weekend escapes. Colmar is situated in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, although many of the residents believe that Colmar is the heart of the vineyards and of Alsace itself. The slipping away of the knowledge of the old ways, and the rich yet unwritten language, is grievous to even the younger generations. Evidence of this is passionately expressed by an Alsatian version of Kevin Kline (sharp wit and all), who is managing one of the wine distribution shops. He is attempting a quiet early lunch, but allows us to enter for conversation. We are keeping it brief and promise to return after ourBlog LfB2 stained-glass window lunch and a market visit.

This town hosts an international gastronomic event known as Festiga, drawing serious  talent and unique food products from everywhere in the world. The town also boasts significant military achievement in the defense of this rich and productive land. And like many places of natural beauty in the world, it boasts several famous artists. The most notable during our time is Auguste Bartholdi, known for the Statue of Liberty. As we’re winding our way through cobbled streets and into a cathedral, I realize the migraine is upgrading to a psychedelic beast. I’m suggesting strong coffee upon leaving the cathedral. I am keeping the nausea, Blog LfB2 migraine viewdizziness, vision apparently through streams of water and thought-scrambling pretty much to myself (I think). But the pain and Gerard’s fractured face are disconcerting and aggravating. I choose a quiet dark  corner in the little café, and with the sunglasses on, gulp water, coffee, too much Advil and nibble on my take-with food. Gerard is quietly continuing with the history of Colmar, while I’m coming back to myself at the café and during a slow walk to the market. I’m giddy with delight, or Advil, while purchasing fresh cheese, duck paté and just-picked apples. The dried-sausage stall is next, where the vendor tells us we can get one more at no added cost if we purchase four. No problem! A hasty conference of choosing and we have hazelnut, blueberry, two kinds of cheese sausage and a plain one (but not really), which is the runner-up for the sold-out venison. And for Gerard…the pastries that he holds dear. The pastries that will smooth rough-edged workweeks.

We put the food in the cooler and decide to have a traditional lunch of tarte flambée (an Alsatian-style pizza that is finished with crème fraiche). And throwing caution away, I sip a  small glass of Riesling. Wines are often served in the Alsace region in a green-stemmed small bowl glass, which is a perfect little glass for an aperitif or white wine (rosé too). Everyday glasses that Summer should have in her collection.

Blog LfB2 bike and flower viewWe leave the café looking for the signature glasses that a few of the little shops sell for a modest price. We purchase six each and head over to the wine distributor. The timing is perfect! There are several other English-speaking people in the shop and they all want wine knowledge of the region. And so our Kevin Kline lookalike puts on the sommelier hat and begins a spur-of-the-moment wine facts and wine-tasting class. And I won’t miss a word of it. His English is as fluent as his French and Alsatian German. Europeans amaze me, with the number of languages they can typically use to express themselves. This group consists of two Danes, three Americans and two Canadians. The shop glows with lovely wine, good conversation and bursts of laughter. A surprise party! All while the back history of the region’s wines and vineyards was being delivered by our multilinguist with such heartfelt pride and care.

The day’s adventures finish with a trip across to the Autobahn side for a brief period at a leisurely 228 km per hour. Gerard’s testing his car, some video thing that he’s installed on the dash, and quite possibly my nerve. I participated in the wine tasting. Gerard did Blog LfB2 Colmar winenot. I’m grateful on both counts. And the heavy traffic begins…….. before the wine glow ends.  Perfect.

I have included a few photos of Colmar (including a psychedelic vision to match my  migraine view) and one photo of the Gewurtztraminer we had later that week. We drank this wine with a salad of butter lettuce and melon, along with fresh cheese, dried sausage and paté. A perfect little feast of lightly sweet, salt and tang. The Riesling is in the cellar maturing for a further 6 to 12 months, and I’m sure we’ll get to the Muscat and the Cremant d’Alsace soon. I’ll send along menu ideas and techniques after we do.

Blog LfB2 market and cafe


Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region, currently on a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where she is following another of her passions, painting.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

    After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Letter from Bern 1: The market

Susan Jessup

Blog LfB1 beans

It’s 11:30 on Tuesday morning. I am meeting Summer at the neighbourhood Migros (grocery store) across from the farmers’ market for 11:45, and I am supposed to have the marketing done. The market closes at noon and, in Switzerland, that means 12:00 Blog LfB1 Market viewsharp. I’m late leaving because I’m drinking enough coffee to neutralize the jet lag, maybe, and I’m fidgeting about with her balcony garden. Her garden is in pots, providing flowers, a variety of fresh herbs, chives, green garlic and, very soon, tiny heirloom tomatoes. It’s the little garden that I call The Bees’ Garden, which supports the critically-important bees. It’s also on the right side in the David and Goliath battle of tiny harmless wasps versus the ash borer beetle.

Blog LfB1 celerySummer and I do the marketing together, filling her shopping bags with helda beans (aka flat beans), broad beans, summer squash, eggplant, meaty heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, new potatoes, a melon, leeks, greens, and free-range eggs. I’m feeling the unique kind of joy that comes with holding a wealth of farm-fresh produce. I can hear the creative gears in my head picking up the pace as Blog LfB1 fruitwe hit the Migros for a few routine grocery items. We grab and go. She’s heading back to the office and I’m back to the lab for the relentless culinary experimenting.

Summer is craving ratatouille, and so the eggplant, squash, peppers, onion and garlic will be cleaned, cut and roasted with some cold-pressed olive oil and sea salt. The beans are calling to me, and those will be sautéed in olive oil with thyme, oregano, and lemon peel julienne, and then finished with a splash of Martini Bianco. Below are the methods for preparing the ratatouille (referred to with affection as “the rat” by the Chez Eric crew) and the green beans.

The Rat


  • Equal parts eggplant, summer squash (there are several varieties) and sweet peppers
  • Onion and garlic according to preference
  • 2 to 6 large meaty tomatoes such as field, beefsteak, coeur de boeuf (according to the amount of other vegetable)
  • Fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram (or all)
  • Basil leaves or smoked paprika for the finish (optional)
  • Enough olive oil to anoint the vegetables before cooking, reserving a few drops or so at the end to finish
  • Half a glass or so of red wine (or a little splash of red wine vinegar)
  • Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper


  1. Set your oven to 375 F.
  2. Roast pieces of eggplant and squash together until tender and caramelized (separate the two on the cooking tray, because your eggplant may need to be taken out before the squash).
  3. Roast a whole head of garlic and coarsely chop onions. The onions, peppers and garlic typically take about the same amount of time.
  4. While the vegetables are roasting, sauté the tomato pieces in olive oil until tender.
  5. Add the fresh herbs, roasted garlic, wine or vinegar to sautéed tomatoes.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and the optional smoked paprika.
  7. Remove from the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.
  8. Toss in the roasted vegetables and finish with a little olive oil.
  9. Adjust the seasoning, add the basil leaves and serve.

blog LfB1 market to home

The Beans


*Use beans you like that are available.

  1. I used 1.5 litres of helda beans and 3/4 of a litre of broad beans
  2. Leeks (according to preference)
  3. Lemon peel (use the peel from 1 lemon per 1.5 litres of beans
  4. Fresh thyme and sage
  5. Olive oil
  6. A splash of Martini Bianco
  7. Sea salt and pepper


  1. Starting at medium heat, sauté the beans in olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt, using a large sauté pan or braising pot (start with the tougher bean if you use more than one variety).
  2. Add the lemon peel, herbs and Martini Bianco.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cover; this allows the beans to steam until they have almost reached the desired tenderness.
  4. Add the julienne of leeks and leave the pan uncovered.
  5. Turn heat to medium-high and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes.
  6. Serve.

Blog LfB1 lettuce

Cook’s note

I also roasted new potatoes and cooked du puy lentils with leeks, thyme and a little beer that we didn’t find so appealing in the glass. The beer was greatly improved with the addition of the other ingredients.

And after all that….A farm- and garden-to-table feast at dinner, with options for the rest of the week.


Susan is a culinary arts instructor, Cordon Bleu- trained chef, and back-to-the-dirt food activist in the Ottawa/Outaouais region, currently on a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where she is following another of her passions, painting.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

    After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

The Ultimate Burger: what’s yours?

Sharon Jessup Joyce

Blog homemade burger

No, I haven’t fallen into the sin of arrogance. This post’s title refers to the search for the ultimate burger, not a claim that I’ve created it. For someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, I’ve enjoyed plenty of burgers, mostly beef, but sometimes vegetarian, chicken or fish (Halifax’s 2 Doors Down should take a bow for the best haddock burger ever, by the way). So I decided I wanted to create a beef burger in the spirit of the gourmet burger many restaurants brag about, with house-ground meat and house-made bun and sauces. I often make homemade hamburger buns and always make homemade ketchup and BBQ sauces, so we knew the potential there. The question was whether grinding the beef at home would help take our burger to the next level.

The obvious first step was choosing the right cut. I know fatty cuts are more flavourful, but they upset my finicky digestion; Bob and Adrian have also become accustomed to leaner cuts. I arrived at our butcher shop assuming I’d pick up sirloin. But Trevor spontanously offered me a great deal on a small and awkwardly-shaped ribless prime rib beef roast. The meat looked beautiful and the price was too good to pass up. So that was the beef taken care of. I figured I could always compensate for the higher-fat cut by making smaller patties.

Blog homemade saucesAt the market, I bought three varities of new onions, which I planned to caramelize with maple sugar. We already had some Cabot cheddar on hand, as well as homemade chipotle tomato ketchup from last fall’s preserving. (I’ll post that recipe in a few weeks, if anyone is interested.)

I decided to trim most of the fat from the beef and then add back some fat with olive oil. I know that sounds weird, but the Blog ground prime ribresults were delicious. After ruthless trimming, we had just under one kilogram of meat (see photo). I added 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. We ended up with seven 140-gram (five-ounce) patties.

I sauteed the onions in some olive oil, salt, maple sugar and a bit of leftover red wine.

A favourite homemade hamburger bun at our house is honey-oat, but I wanted to limit the number of flavours, so I decided to make maple-oat hamburger buns to reinforce the maple flavour in the onions.

We kept the finished burgers simple, with a mix of extra old and chipotle Cabot cheddar melted on the bun, and caramelized maple onions and homemade chipotle ketchup on the meat patty.

Grinding the meat ourselves just before cooking really did make a difference. I won’t claim this was The Ultimate Burger, but it may have been the best-tasting burger I’ve ever made. Now we just need to find the perfect craft beer to go with it.

Maple-oat hamburger buns

IngredientsBlog maple oat hamburger buns

  • 1-1/2 cups ground oatmeal
  • 2-1/2 cups flour of your choice (I usually use a roughly equal proportion of King Arthur bread flour, Five Roses unbleached all-purpose flour, and Five Roses whole wheat flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons yeast

This recipe is for a bread machine, but you can make it by hand. Here’s a great blog that gives easy steps for converting bread machine recipes to by-hand or mixer versions:



  1. Grind oat flakes in a coffee grinder until they have the consistency of a fine flour.
  2. Mix oat flour and other flour(s) and salt together.
  3. Beat egg into buttermilk and add warm water and maple syrup or honey.
  4. Put wet ingredients into bread machine case.
  5. Sprinkle dry ingredients (except yeast) over liquid ingredients.
  6. Spoon yeast on top of dry ingredients.
  7. Use dough setting on bread machine.
  8. Once the dough setting is finished, shape the buns. Use about 70 grams of dough per bun. Roll dough into a round ball, then flatten it very ruthlessly (see photo, above).
  9. Leave, lightly covered, in a warm place until buns almost double in size.
  10. Cook in a 375 F oven for about 15 minutes.


Sharon divides her time between Kingston, Ontario and St Margaret Bay, NS, and has enjoyed some splendid burgers in both spots.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Summer Sunday luncheon

Sharon Jessup Joyce

Summer Sunday salad lunch

Recently we took a day trip to Ottawa. Bob and Shelly and I went to have lunch with Dad and Cassandra (Dave was at the Calgary Stampede and Brody and Adrian each had plans with friends). I wanted a special meal, but it needed to be portable. And it was a hot weekend, so I wanted it to be served cold. We ended up with cold poached salmon with avocado mayonnaise, a Nicoise-style potato and bean salad, baby greens with strawberries and strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette and a corn salad and bread from Pan Chancho. For dessert, we had strawberry-rhubarb vanilla cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Some of Dad’s own white wine complemented the meal wonderfully.

IMG_1642Nicoise-style potato salad (portions given are for 1 pound of potatoes)

Cook new potatoes whole and unpeeled in salted water. When they are done, peel skin (optional), drain and toss with red wine vinegar (about 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 pound of potatoes) and salt to taste. Set aside to cool.

Cook green beans (or green and yellow beans) until just tender, then drain and soak for 10 minutes in an ice-water bath. Drain and dry thoroughly.

Shred about 1/4 cup basil. Dice 2-3 green onions. Set aside.

Crush 2 garlic cloves and mix with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons dijon mustard, 4 tablespoons olive oil, pinch of sugar and black pepper to taste. Add basil and green onions to dressing and dress potatoes and beans with dressing. Reserve about 1 tablespoonful of dressing.

Slice cherry tomatoes in half or large tomatoes into wedges. Put tomato pieces on top of salad and drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with black olives.

Full-meal option: Add wedges of hard-boiled egg or tuna, or both.

Poached Mexican-style salmon with avocado mayonnaise (serves 4)

Mix juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder and 1 Poached salmonteaspoon sugar. A small amount of salt is optional, but I didn’t use any this time.

Pour seasoning into a large skillet with a cover. Put one single piece of fresh salmon (1 to 1-1/2 pounds) in skillet and cover. Bring liquid just to boil and turn down to simmer. Simmer until salmon is opaque and flakes easily. Depending on its thickness and how you like your fish, this may be about 7 to 15 minutes. The nice thing about this cooking method is that the salmon won’t dry out, but you obviously don’t want it to become mushy. When the fish is cooked, set it off the heat, uncovered, to cool. Pour the poaching liquid over the fish while it cools.

Slice limes and cucumber very thin and place in a ring around a plate. Once the salmon has cooled, transfer it carefully and place it in the middle of the ring (a large spatula in each hand, a slow, careful approach, and a certain amount of cursing seems to do the trick).  Garnish with cilantro and chill until serving.

Cassie and hydrangeas Sunday lunch

Avocado mayonnaise

Puree two ripe avocadoes, 1-2 tablespoons buttermilk, juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, 1 jalapeno pepper, 2-3 green onions and about 1/2 cup cilantro, with salt to taste. Add a pinch of sugar if sauce is too tangy for your taste. Blend until very smooth. If you want a thicker sauce, substitute any mayonnaise dressing you like (full-fat, half-fat, no fat, Miracle Whip, etc.) for the buttermilk.

A note about limes (and Atlantic salmon)

Why have limes become so expensive? Mexican and Central American drug cartels have moved in to try to control lime production, since the North American appetite for limes has made the fruit a tremendously valuable commodity. In many areas, the criminals are succeeding, with really horrifying results, including the illegal seizure of farms and crops, and even the deaths of farmers and other citizens in lime-producing regions. It’s a complex situation, with one approach being to stop consuming limes. Much as I love that little green citrus fruit, I did consider making this choice, using lemons as a (poor) substitute for many dishes I cook and my family enjoys. But as I researched the issue, I found that lime farmers are organizing to fight back, with the support of governments and citizen justice organizations. These groups have asked North American consumers to keep eating limes, but source them carefully, from reputable growers and distributors. With the complexity of the food production and distribution chain, I’m not confident that limes I buy in Kingston, Ontario have a legitimate pedigree, the way I could know, for example, if I lived in southern California. It’s interesting that in Nova Scotia, our limes often come from Israel and other Mediterranean locales. In the meantime, I will pledge to keep eating local and seasonal fruits as much as I can — hence the focus on strawberries at our table in June and July.

And yes, farmed Atlantic salmon has also become an increasingly problematic food. I find hope in a recent conversation I had with a fishmonger in Halifax, who was telling me about new approaches to fish farms that will help to reduce overcrowding, disease and escapes into wild stocks so prevalent with current farms. The problem? Cost, of course. As consumers, we will literally need to put our money where our mouth is. And we need to care enough to do our homework to make sure we are eating fish raised ethically for all parties (including the salmon). As a part-time resident of Nova Scotia, the pat answer that I should eat more wild Pacific salmon isn’t a long-term solution for the Maritime provinces’ economy, Atlantic Canadians’ goal to eat locally or for the Pacific fishery, for that matter. And Atlantic salmon is a different species with a very different taste from its Pacific counterparts.


Sharon divides her time between Kingston, Ontario and St Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia, and tries to shop, cook and eat locally — and ethically — wherever she is, but it’s not easy sometimes!
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Easy fried rice

Adrian Schneider

Vegetable and egg fried rice

On Monday, I had a hankering for some eggs. Normally that’s a pretty easy thing to take care of: omelettes, fried eggs, poached eggs… all have a happy place in my limited store of memorized recipes. But I was in the mood for something different. Grasping at everything I could think of to do with eggs, a vision of scrambled eggs popped into my head. Problem was, we had run out of milk, and I wanted something stronger and eggier anyway. Scrambled eggs, just the eggs, the same kind we slice up into strips and put on fried rice….


Fried rice

The following is what I used, but there’s no particular reason to restrict yourself to these quantities or ingredients. It turned out to be a pair of lunches’ worth.


  • 1/2 cup white basmati rice
  • 2 teaspoons low-taste cooking oil (sunflower in this case)
  • 1 cup broth (2 pouches of chicken oxo in water, here, but vegetable stock would work nicely; a teaspoon of soya sauce would have been a good addition)
  • 1/3 cup cooking onions (I used 2 miniature onions from the market)
  • 1/4 of a large sweet red bell chili (ed note: called a bell pepper by many of us)
  • the rest of a bag of frozen peas, like 1/3 cup or so
  • 2 large eggs


A bowl of fried rice isn’t especially difficult to put together. The only real trick to it, rather appropriately, is frying the rice. If you fry the rice after it’s cooked, you get blobs of rice grains that are hard and crunchy on the outside, never a texture I’ve enjoyed. So you do it before. Put the oil in a pan on medium and wait for it to get hot, then put in your uncooked rice. You want to fry the grains until they’re a nice uniform golden colour. They’ll need to be stirred constantly, especially toward the end. You’ll see the grains puff up a bit, but don’t worry, they’ll be nice and golden before they turn into Rice Krispies.

Put the rice aside in a bowl while you start the broth boiling; it needs to cool a bit. Once the rice is fried you just handle it like regular rice: put it in the boiling water, cover, turn down to a low simmer, and steam for ~15 minutes. This is a good time to start your vegetables sauteeing if you like them soft like I do. Frozen peas don’t need the cooking and can just be thrown into the rice once it’s finished steaming, but the onions and sweet chili (ed: bell pepper) want to be diced up and simmered. Once the rice is steamed and in its final absorb-the-water stage, transfer all your vegetables to the rice pot and put the lid back on.

It’s finally egg time. Despite being kinda scrambled egg-like, the cooking is more like making an omelette. Whisk up the eggs and put them into a pan preheated to medium heat. You want them to cook into a flat sheet, so make sure the pan is large enough for them to spread out. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start worrying that they’re cooking too slowly and want to turn up the heat, but keep it even; you want the middle cooked enough that you can flip the egg-disk over, but without the bottom getting scorched. Once the eggs are solid enough that you can flip them, do so (or stick them under a broiler if you prefer). They’ll cook very rapidly from here, probably only a minute or two. Slide them onto a board and slice them into short strips with a sharp knife.

Serve out the rice, and decorate liberally with the strips of egg. Then eat.


Adrian cooks recreationally and eats seriously in Kingston, Ontario. 
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at familyfoodforum@gmail.com.

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance