January. Ah, January. That magical time of year when you can’t possibly eat another piece of cake, candy or chocolate. You’ve spent the last several weeks eating five meals a day and “tasting” 342 sweet/salty/crunchy/chewy things. You’re craving light, simple food, and at the same time you need to fuel you up for the 20-minute trudge through the snow to check the mail.
So what is the answer? How do you find the balance between getting back to a normal eating schedule and craving warm filling food? Jill Wilcox and the culinary team at Jill’s Table are onto something with their latest book.
Jill’s Soups, Stews &Breads by Jill Wilcox is just the thing to get you through the icy white of January and the bleak grey of February. Spring will come eventually but until then, soup is all you need. Soup and a good loaf of homemade bread. Soup, bread, and a hearty stew on the weekend.
The author has been offering kitchenware, specialty foods and cooking classes at her London shop, Jill’s Table, for many years. Josie Pontarelli is the resident baker and contributed most of the bread recipes as well as some soups to this book. Sommelier Christie Pollard rounds out Jill’s team and contributed some of her personal recipes.
Jill directs us to the equipment and ingredients we need to make great soups and breads without a ton of unnecessary stuff to crowd our kitchens. She shows us that making our own broth is easy, but she also offers great alternatives for those of us not inclined to do so. Many of the recipes include easy alterations to make them vegetarian or vegan.
The food styling by Jill’s team, and photos by Jackie Noble of Noble Concepts, were beautifully done. Soup isn’t always the prettiest food but these recipes all looked delicious.
I think what I liked best about this book is its complete lack of fussiness. There are recipes for some classic soups that have always seemed a bit intimidating to me. Jill’s book makes short work of those same dishes, turning them into something I’m confident I could put together in my own kitchen. Most of the recipes are no more than a page long, including tips, variations and personal notes.
Hearty Bean and Bacon Soup reminded me of visiting my grandparents as a child. Grandma knew it was my favourite and always served the orange stuff in the can. Unfortunately, some things don’t translate into adulthood and that canned soup just isn’t as delicious to me these days. Jill’s recipe takes all the flavours I remember and elevates them into a grownup dish that ticks all the boxes. Hearty, creamy, smoky and salty, this soup will make you smile as you watch the snow pile up outside and bury your car.
I’d never heard of Malaysian Laksa before, but it’s full of the southeast Asian flavours I love, and I was intrigued. This soup would be reason enough to start an indoor herb garden, just to have the fresh mint and cilantro on hand. I could eat a bowl of this spicy soup to help me cool down in summer or to stave off a cold in winter. (I know that probably doesn’t work but it makes me feel like I’m doing something.)
I started bookmarking all the recipes I wanted to try in this book but it was soon bristling with sticky notes and I couldn’t read it anymore. I think it’s going to be easier just to work my way through the book over the winter. See you in the spring!
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recipes and photos excerpted from Soups, Stews & Breads, by Jill Wilcox with Josie Pontarelli.
Hearty Bean and Bacon Soup
Serves 8 to 10
1 lb. (500 g) dry white pea beans
6 slices of thick bacon, diced
2 cooking onions, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
8 c. (2L) chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 28-oz. (796 ml) can plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 In a large saucepan, combine the beans and enough water to cover by at least 2 in. (5 cm). Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 60 minutes.
2 While the beans are soaking, cook bacon in a soup pot over medium heat until golden. Add onions, celery and carrot, and cook until tender.
3 Drain the soaked beans. Add beans to the onion-celery mixture along with chicken stock and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook until beans are tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. You will need to add more stock or water as the soup cooks.
4 Add the tomatoes with their juice and heat through. Add additional stock or water if necessary. Remove bay leaf. Partially purée with an immersion blender.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Laksa is a bit of a newcomer on the Asian soup scene. It’s a Malaysian soup that starts with a bold paste of herbs and spices.
2 stalks lemongrass
2 small red Thai chilies or 1 jalapeno, seeded
2 large cloves garlic
1 shallot, peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 c. (125 ml) each cilantro and mint
2 tsp. (10 ml) dried turmeric
1 tsp. (5 ml) brown sugar
3 tbsp. (45 ml) grapeseed oil
1 lb. (500 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 14-oz (398 ml) can coconut milk
2 c. (500 ml) chicken stock
3 c. (750 ml) snap or snow peas
5 oz. (150 g) rice noodles, soaked in boiling water until tender, and drained
1 Trim the tough woody portion of the lemongrass and discard. Add lemongrass to a food processor along with chilies, garlic, shallot, lime juice, cilantro, mint, turmeric, sugar and 2 tbsp. (25 ml) of the oil. Process until a very smooth paste.
2 Heat remaining oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Cook chicken thighs in batches until golden on both sides. Remove and set aside.
3 Add paste to the soup pot and cook about 3 to 4 minutes stirring constantly. Stir in coconut milk and chicken stock, and bring to a simmer.
4 When chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into strips and return to pot.
5 Add snap or snow peas and cook until just tender. Season soup with fish sauce to taste, adding 1 tsp. (5 ml) at time.
6 Rinse rice noodles in warm water. Drain and divide among soup bowls. Ladle soup over noodles. Garnish with cilantro, peanuts, lime and onions.
Substitute dried turmeric for fresh, by using 1 tbsp. (15 ml) grated.
Turmeric stains terribly, so be careful.
thinly sliced green onions
Jackie Noble is a professional photographer in London, specializing in commercial, portrait, event, and wedding photography. www.jackienoble.com