Counter Action: Sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits


Well, this is embarrassing.

Sorry about the month of silence. Let’s turn it into a game. I was:

a) in a coma after I heroically foiled a plot to blackmail the Duchess of Winnipeg;

b) abducted by space pirates and pressed into service on a mission to seize control of the galaxy’s last supply of pyridium;

c) super busy with the pre-Oscars press junket (you know how it goes); or

d) in grad school.

If you guessed C, you are … sadly mistaken. I weep with you. It’s D. But as my cohort’s Facebook page just reminded me, we’re in school for just 79 more weekdays! And then we’re done with school forever!

Or, you know, until our mid-life crises hit and we start thinking longingly of astrophysics.


Hey there, Centaurus A. I love it when you talk density to me.

In the meantime, it’s been a fun ride. Here’s a snippet of what’s been on my mind:

  • Emotion-recognition technology: The future is here, and somehow it’s a lot creepier and a lot less jetpack-y than I was counting on.
  • Righteous trolling: How being right can easily overtake recognizing someone’s humanity.
  • #FITIN15: Jessica Smith might be my favourite YouTube workout leader — she’s always so positive, and she knows how to strike a balance between meeting people where they’re at and encouraging them to push themselves. Right now she’s doing a series called #FITIN15, which is a bunch of 15-minute workouts. Pair a cardio one with a flexibility or strength one, and it’s a great start to any day.
  • Madame Tussaud: My current read. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but so far I’m loving the balance between the strong, complex protagonist and her turbulent, richly detailed setting.
  • This soup-and-biscuit pairing. It’s been on my cooking bucket list for ages, but I didn’t have an excuse to make it until last week when a friend gave me some chevre. The soup is velvety smooth, with a mellow flavour that pairs well with the sharp tang of the goat cheese on top and in the biscuits. Next time I make it, I might roast the sweet potatoes before adding them to the soup, to deepen the flavour. For a special occasion, I might even caramelize the onions. But for an everyday winter soup, it works just fine as is.


Sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits

(From the inimitable Joy the Baker)



  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2-1/2 lbs. (between 5 and 7) sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 T. chopped fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 8 c. liquid (I used 4 c. broth and 4 c. water)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • goat cheese to garnish


  • 2 c. flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. cold butter
  • 4 T. goat cheese
  • 1 c. buttermilk


  1. Over medium heat, warm oil in large stockpot. Add onion and cook 3–5 minutes or until soft.
  2. Add garlic, sweet potato, and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook 5–7 minutes.
  3. Add broth and raise heat to high. Simmer 15–20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  4. In batches, liquify soup in blender. Return to stovetop and heat on low until ready to serve, garnished with goat cheese.
  5. For biscuits, combine flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
  6. Cut in butter and crumbled goat cheese until mixture resembles small clumps.
  7. Mix in buttermilk thoroughly. Drop onto baking parchment in spoonfuls. Bake at 425°F for 12–15 minutes, or until golden brown.


Image credit: Galaxy from WikiImages on Pixabay.


Counter Action: Broccoli–cheese soup


As I look at my post calendar, I’m seeing a theme.

In November, there was roasted garlic soup and spicy white bean stew. Today there’s going to be this broccoli–cheese soup. And in the not-so-distant future, there’s going to be French lentil soup and Tuscan bean soup and onion soup.

We’re big on soup here. I hope that’s okay.

Other things I’m big on, at least this week:

  • Jonathan Coulton’s song “Ikea.” It’s everything you ever wanted in a song about everyone’s favourite elegantly furnished maze.
  • A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter. Sure, it was published in 1909, but its themes of familial loyalty, independence, and staying true to oneself are as pertinent as they ever were. If you haven’t read it since you were a kid, try giving it another shot — I was amazed by the new nuances I caught this time around.
  • Bath & Body Works’ Purple Amethyst lotion. Here’s how the pros describe the scent: “A hypnotic blend of Italian bergamot, rare camellias & exotic sandalwood.” Here’s my analysis: “Strong on the unicorn tears, with top notes of summer moonlight and the Jazz Age and a faint afternote of Nicholas Sparks.” Bottom line: It smells good.
  • Winterspell“, by Two Steps from Hell. Would you find tasks easier to accomplish in this dark, cold month if they were accompanied by a sweeping dramatic score? Look no further: Two Steps from Hell has your back. (Other favourites: “Spirit of Moravia“, “Cassandra“, and “Men of Honor Part II“.)
  • The 2013 version of The Great GatsbyThis is preemptive praise — I haven’t actually seen it yet; it’s just been sitting in my “borrowed items” stack for longer than I care to admit. But given the reviews, I fully expect to enjoy it when I sit down to it tonight with my bowl of soup.


Broccoli–cheese soup

(adapted from Peas and Crayons’ recipe)


  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced finely
  • 2 c. broccoli flowerets, diced finely
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 c. vegetable broth
  • 4 c. water
  • 3 T. butter
  • 3 T. flour
  • 1-1/2 c. milk
  • 1 c. grated cheddar cheese


  1. Warm oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion. Cook 2 minutes.
  2. Add carrot and broccoli. Cook 3 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, spices, and salt. Stir to combine and cook 2 minutes longer.
  4. Add bay leaf, broth, and water. Increase heat and cover pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  5. In separate saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in flour to form a thick paste. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Continue to heat and stir until mixture has thickened.
  6. Add cheese to saucepan and stir until melted and incorporated.
  7. Ladle some broth into cheese mixture and stir. Gradually add more hot broth, stirring between each addition, until saucepan is full and cheese sauce’s temperature is similar to stockpot’s temperature.
  8. Pour cheese sauce into stockpot and stir to combine. Serve with green salad and crusty bread. Garnish with grated cheese, crackers, or fresh parsley if desired.


Counter Action: White bean stew with Parmesan and greens


I have an alarming amount of fun in my local grocery store.

It’s one of these food outlet deals, where they stock surplus goods from other grocery stores. You do have to be a little careful about expiration dates, and if you’re working from a strict list of needs … well, you probably shouldn’t. They’ll probably carry bread and milk every day, but don’t count on habañero–mango salsa or fresh ginger.

On the bright side, this now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t policy turns grocery shopping into a little adventure every week. They might have regular old chicken stock … or they might have a bunch of super-fancy organic free-range chicken stock for 50 cents a box. They might have your normal bagged spinach … or they might have a set of fancy bagged salads, croutons and dressing included, that will forever change the way you feel about kale.

A couple of weeks ago, I was prowling the aisles with my cart when I saw something new at the end of the bean/lentil/rice display: a whole carton of Great Northern beans.

I’ve been curating a slew of Great Northern bean recipes since forever, and now making some of them was actually within reach, thanks to some other store who ordered too many of them.

I tried to play it cool. I’m technically an adult, after all, even if I sometimes temporarily lose that card by, say, buying ridiculously cheap chocolate milk instead of regular, as I did today. But with those beans, I knew, my adult card would be sticking around a lot longer. They’ve got fiber, they’ve got protein, they’re low in cholesterol and calories and fat, and if you’ve been putzing around saying to yourself, “Boy, I’m feeling a little low in iron and potassium,” they’ve got you covered. To make them even more attractive, in this stew, they’re anything but bland. There’s red pepper flakes and paprika to give them a kick, Parmesan and the aid of a potato masher to make them creamy, and greens to boost their health quotient even further.

In short, if you’re looking for a way to keep your eating on the healthy side this holiday season, this stew is the perfect way to do that. And good news: If you start haunting your local outlet store today, you might be able to track down some Great Northerns by New Year’s.


White bean stew with Parmesan and greens

(adapted, barely, from How Sweet Eats)


  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 4 c. vegetable stock
  • 4 c. water
  • 2 c. dry white beans (I used Great Northern), soaked overnight
  • 1 Parmesan rind (+ more to grate on top)
  • 1 c. chopped kale
  • 4 c. chopped spinach


  1. Heat olive oil in large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic, peppers, salt, and paprika, and cook until fragrant.
  2. Add stock and water. Raise heat to high until soup boils.
  3. Add beans and Parmesan rind. Reduce heat and simmer covered until beans are tender (between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on how long they soaked).
  4. Add greens and cover pot for a few minutes, or until greens are wilted. Stir to combine. Simmer uncovered until contents are thick enough to be called stew instead of soup.
  5. With potato masher, mash stew a few times. Serve with Parmesan grated on top and plenty of sourdough.

Counter Action: Roasted garlic soup with rosemary yams


Three truths about this soup:

  1. It isn’t the prettiest soup on the block. It’s beige at its best, and greyish at its worst. That’s one reason I like to throw some roasted yams on top — in addition to being super tasty, they liven things up like a disco ball in a middle-school gym. Joy the Baker, the source of the original recipe, used purple potatoes to the same effect. Whatever you choose as a garnish (fresh parsley and crumbled goat cheese? broiled cheddar lids?), be sure it’s bright and attractive.
  2. While the roasting process turns garlic from a zippy, pungent bulb into a deep, velvety flavor vehicle, it’s still recognizably garlicky. So, maybe steer clear of this soup before job interviews and meeting future in-laws. Save it for a dark, rainy day when you’re home with the flu — or else a group of adventurous dinner guests.
  3. It’s a seriously good soup. I believe I already used the word velvety, so let’s try … silky. Warming. Full-flavoured.  Comforting. It’ll win over guests in no time — and earn you instant admiration points when you reveal how much garlic it contains.

Roasted garlic soup with rosemary yams

(Adapted from Joy the Baker’s recipe)


  • 25–35 unpeeled cloves of garlic (divided)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 medium onions, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 6 c. chicken broth
  • 4 T. lemon juice
  • ¾ c. plain yogurt (can also substitute milk, whipping cream, or sour cream)
  • grated Parmesan
  • 3–4 yams, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 T. dried rosemary, crushed


  1. Place 20–25 unpeeled garlic cloves in oven-proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast garlic at 450°F for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
  3. Remove garlic from oven, let cool a few minutes, then pop garlic out of skins. Throw away skins and set garlic aside.
  4. Heat 2 T. olive oil in stock pot over medium-low heat. Add onions, Yukon Golds, thyme, and 5–10 raw unpeeled garlic cloves. Cook until onions are translucent.
  5. Add broth and peeled roasted garlic. Raise heat to medium-high.
  6. Simmer until potatoes and raw garlic are tender.
  7. Toss diced yams with olive oil and rosemary. Roast at 450°F for about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  8. Purée soup in batches and return to pot. Add yogurt and lemon juice, and stir to incorporate.
  9. Scoop soup into bowls. Top with roasted yams and Parmesan. Swirl in extra lemon juice, plain yogurt, and/or extra virgin olive oil if desired.

Possible variations:

  • Boil and drain 1/2 c. cannellini or Great Northern beans. Add to soup before puréeing for extra protein.
  • Replace Yukon Gold potatoes in soup with yams for a brighter colour.
  • Dice onions instead of slicing, and purée only half of the soup for a chunkier texture. Stir in 1 c. shredded chicken before serving.



Counter Action: Roasted tomato–basil soup and Parmesan–pesto grilled cheese

tomato soup i

Soup for everybody!

If I had a family motto, I think that would be it. Or possibly “More butter!”, with “The book was better” also in the running.

Our crest: A blue field with butter rampant.

Our crest: A blue field with butter rampant.

I first made this soup in the summer of 2011. I had a lot of soup recipes on my bucket list, but no food processor or blender with which to make them. It was also beastly hot, and I had no car. So I got up one morning, very early before it was too warm, and trekked 1.6 miles down to Walmart, then 1.6 miles back home, blender triumphantly in hand.

And before you ask, yes, it was uphill both ways.

Actual footage of the journey. I'm telling you, Wal-Mart will build anywhere.

Actual footage of the journey. Seriously, Walmart will build anywhere.

The very first thing I made with that blender was Smitten Kitchen’s summer squash soup with parsley–mint pistou. The next thing was this tomato soup, and believe me, it was worth every sweaty step of the journey. Roasting the tomatoes gives the soup a smoky depth that draws it away from typical fresh, light summer fare and into the neighbourhood of more contemplative fall foods. Meanwhile, the basil keeps the soup from being a one-flavour wonder, and the cream mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes. If grilled cheese sandwiches aren’t your thing, try ladling the soup into ovenproof bowls, topping with pesto-spread toasts and thick mozzarella slices, and broiling for a few minutes, à la Heather Christo’s caprese soup.

But whatever you do, don’t skimp on the butter.

tomato soup ii

Roasted tomato–basil soup

(Barely adapted from Ina Garten. Serves 6. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.)


  • 3 lb. tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 medium onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 c. fresh basil
  • 6 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. heavy cream or whole milk


  1. Halve tomatoes lengthwise and place cut-side up on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Grill at 400°F for 35–40 minutes.
  3. Melt butter in large stockpot over medium heat.
  4. Cut onions into half-moons and add to butter. Cook 3–4 minutes or until translucent.
  5. Mince garlic and add to stockpot with thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook 1–2 minutes or until fragrant.
  6. Add canned and roasted tomatoes to stockpot, along with juices and oil from tray. Cook 3–4 minutes.
  7. Chop basil roughly and add, along with broth. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer 30 minutes.
  8. Blend soup in batches (or use immersion blender). Return to stockpot and add milk.
  9. Garnish with plain yogurt, extra virgin olive oil, basil leaves, or grated Parmesan. Serve alongside grilled Parmesan–pesto sandwiches (recipe below).

Grilled Parmesan–pesto sandwiches

(Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)


  • Bread of your choice (I recommend French or sourdough)
  • Pesto
  • Butter
  • Thinly sliced Parmesan


  1. Spread butter on one side of each piece of bread. Place bread butter-side down on prep board or plate.
  2. Spread pesto thickly on every other piece of bread.
  3. Top with Parmesan and plain buttered bread, with butter facing outwards.
  4. Place in preheated frying pan or sandwich press. Grill until each side is golden-brown.


  • Replace Parmesan with mozzarella or extra-sharp white cheddar.
  • Include thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, or kalamata olives in filling. (The thicker the filling, the more you’re likely to need a sandwich press. Alternately, use a regular frying pan and put a heavy, heatproof plate on top of the sandwich to press it together.)
  • Rub inside of sandwich with garlic clove (roasted or raw) before adding filling.
  • Spread other side of sandwich with your favourite canned tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, or ricotta.
  • Drizzle balsamic vinegar lightly over filling.
  • Use artisan bread with olives, garlic, cheese, herbs, or tomatoes already baked in.


Photo credits: Crest from Nemo and desert from tpsdave on Pixabay. Also, fun heraldic fact: In that crest, the horizontal stripe is called a fess. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Counter Action: Black bean–corn chowder

Goodbye, white balance. I'll call you if I need you.

Goodbye, white balance. I’ll call you if I need you.

Do you ever have days where it feels like 4 a.m. all day?

Maybe it’s because you have actually gotten up at 4 that day. Maybe you ran out of bread and cereal and pancake mix and had to make do with a mushy banana for breakfast. Maybe you checked your library account and discovered that you had three books a week overdue. Maybe you glanced at the New York Times Bestseller list and found that the book at the top — the one everybody is raving about, even that crusty old critic in Chicago — has a setting, characters, and premise very similar to the book you’re currently writing, and now if you try to publish or promote your book in any way, everyone will think you copied.

This has never happened to me. Well, except for that one time.

"What do you mean, the Molokai leper colony isn't fresh material anymore?"

“What do you mean, the Molokai leper colony isn’t fresh material anymore?”

On days like these, I find soup extraordinarily comforting. It demands to be eaten slowly and contemplatively, with an attention that isn’t often due to food. And when the soup is as good as this one, it’s well worth paying attention.  The cayenne and canned chilis give it an up-front kick, with the curry and cumin lingering underneath for a deeper flavor, and the dairy products rounding it out into a rich, filling soup. It’s a great one for these lazy summer evenings as well as chilly winter evenings, if you happen to be of the Southern Hemisphere persuasion.

And if you’ve just faced a grave disappointment of the early rising/library fine/literary anger persuasion, this soup will nurse you through the grief. It’s multifunctional like that.

Black bean–corn chowder

A combination of the black bean chowder from Time-Life Books’ Vegetables and the Pioneer Woman’s black bean chowder with yogurt–cilantro relish



  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 4-oz. chopped green chilis
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1–1-1/2 c. dry black beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 c. corn kernels
  • 2 T. butter
  • 3 c. whole milk (embrace it, friends)
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 T. flour
  • salt to taste


  • 1/2 c. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, diced
  • small handful of cilantro, minced
  • pinch of salt


  1. Heat olive oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until tender.
  2. Add chilis and spices. Cook until fragrant.
  3. Add broth and raise heat to medium-high. When boiling, add beans, cover, and simmer until beans are tender.
  4. Add corn, butter, and milk.
  5. Mix cheese and flour together, add to soup, and stir until thickened. Salt to taste.
  6. Mix relish ingredients together. Serve on top of soup.


Photo credit: Unhappy child from Bonoz on Pixabay.