Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fresh Tomato-Tortilla Soup

Costa del Sol resturant, Powell River BC
Wayne and I love the Costa del Sol restaurant in Powell River. It has upscale Latin cuisine, and we love everything they serve. One of our favourites is Tortilla Soup.

The recipe at Costa del Sol has a unique thick tomato base with traditional avocado and a crispy tortilla topping.

I’ve been making tomato sauce to freeze. When it’s done, it has the same consistency as the restaurant soup, so I decided to try making into soup. I found a recipe online to use as a guide.

Tomato-Tortilla Soup


2 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken broth
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice
¼ cup fresh line juice
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Making homemade tomato sauce.
Of course, I had to modify it a bit to use my own tomato sauce, forgo the immersion blender, and reduce the size for dinner for two.

First I skinned my tomatoes, cooked them down, and pressed them to remove the seeds and pulp. Then I simmered the juice until it became a thick sauce. (If you use canned diced tomatoes you will need some way to blend them smooth.)

Fresh ingredients make it good.
In a frying pan, I sautéed finely chopped onion with one teaspoon oil until it was translucent. I added finely diced garlic and jalapeno pepper. I diced everything fine since I didn’t have an immersion blender to use to puree the soup at the end.

Next the cumin and oregano went into the pan to cook for one minute. Cooking the spices in warm oil releases more flavour than adding them later to the soup.

Baking the tortilla strips.
I didn’t have canned broth, so I used chicken bullion in boiling water. Bullion cubes are easy to store at the cabin, and they are always on hand. I mixed together the chicken broth, the sautéed ingredients, and my prepared tomato sauce base.

Then I added salt and pepper to taste. I even added about a tablespoon of chili powder to give it a little more kick. Next time I'll use more jalapeno pepper.

The soup after simmering.
While I let the soup simmer to marry the flavours, I prepared the tortilla strips. I brushed each side of the tortillas with oil then cut them into short strips.

I placed them on a baking pan, sprinkled the tops with salt, and baked them in the oven at 350° until crispy and golden brown.

I always make extra. They're good for munching, and Wayne can't resist.

Tortilla soup supper on a cool rainy evening.
To assemble, I chopped avocado into the bowl, ladled in the soup, squeezed fresh lime over the top, sprinkled chopped green onions (I didn’t have any cilantro), and finished it off with a dollop of sour cream.

With a salad and crusty bread, it made a nice meal on a cool rainy evening up the lake.

What are some of your favourite fall and winter soups to make?

I was featured this week on the Homestead Blog Hop for my Fresh Tomato-Tortilla soup recipe. Thanks to my readers for all of your support. -- Margy

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Crockpot Braciole for Crocktober

Crockpot Braciole with spaghetti and salad for dinner.
I was just reading the Nancy On The Home Front blog. It had a post calling October the month of Crocktober.

How fitting, what better way to make a meal on a cold blustery day than in a crockpot. Now that's comfort food for sure.

Here's a crockpot recipe I've used. It's a little more involved than stew, but the results can be used for an evening meal for two or party fare, the choice is yours.

I get things going early in the morning and then have the rest of my day off without worry.

Funny, I use my crockpot more now than I ever did when I got it as a wedding present in 1971. Who would have guessed.

I chose a new recipe for Braciole from Rival Crock-Pot Cooking. This edition is out of print, but you can find it in used bookstores or online for a reasonable price.

Crockpot Braciole

2 1/2 lb. round steak, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
8 slices Provolone cheese

1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1 teaspoon leaf oregano
1 teaspoon Italian spice
1 teaspoon salt

Chop and saute garlic and onion in olive oil. Put in mixing bowl. Crumble and lightly brown sausage. Add oregano and Italian spice. Put in mixing bowl and let cool slightly. Add bread crumbs, grated cheese and salt. Beat an egg and add to the mixture to act as a binding agent. Mix well.

1 10 oz. can diced stewed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion
1 tablespoon leaf oregano
1 tablespoon Italian spice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt

Chop and saute garlic and onions. Add oregano and Italian spice. Add stewed tomatoes and tomato paste. Use water to rinse cans into the sauce. Add garlic powder and salt to taste. Let sauce simmer while assembling Braciole.

Trim fat from steak and cut into 8 evenly sized pieces. Pound steak pieces until thin and easy to roll. Place a slice of Provolone cheese on each piece of steak. Cover with about two tablespoons of filling and roll jelly-roll style. Secure with toothpicks. Don't worry if you have any extra filling. Just add it to the sauce.

Spray crockpot with Pam to reduce sticking. Cover the bottom with sauce. Layer in the steak roll-ups. Cover with the remaining sauce. Cook on low for 7 to 10 hours.

To complete the meal, cook some spaghetti to serve with the Braciole and sauce. A vegetable and garlic toast makes a great meal. -- Margy

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Something from Nothing:
Inexpensive Large Planter Pots

Life slows each fall. Bears store up fat for a long winter's sleep and plants bear seeds for the coming spring. As nutrients are stored in roots and stems, leaves change colour and drop, a sign they too are ready for a rest.

My blueberry bushes need larger pots for the coming spring.

Transplanting time comes during the dormancy period from late October to early spring. I have two blueberry bushes I want to transplant. To be ready, I needed larger containers.

Blue 45 and 55 gallon blue barrels used for vegetable gardening.

Large pots are expensive. Because I live in a floating cabin, weight is also a problem. Heavy items make the floating foundation sink and sunken cedar logs get waterlogged. Anything to minimize weight is a positive.

Step 1: Cut the barrel in half with a grinder or skill saw.

So, how could I reduce cost and weight at the same time? The answer was blue barrels. They have become my go-to for vegetable gardening pots for years. But this time I wanted something more decorative.

Step 2: Drill plenty of drain holes.

The tops of the barrels have a pleasing sculptured rim. You don't want to cut up good barrels, they cost  $25-$45 each. But damaged ones can be found for free floating around the lake after winter storms.

Step 3: Clean the barrel and rub off any rough edges.

Picking one up is good for the environment, and a way to make something new and inexpensive from "nothing." That's recycling at its best.

Step 4: Spray paint the barrel in a desired colour.

Going from a "nothing" barrel to a large planter pot takes a few easy steps. The hardest part is cutting it in half. You do need power tools for this step. We've used either a skill saw or a grinder. For my decorative pots, I picked two barrel tops with decorative rims and bands. The remaining bottoms became blue vegetable garden planters.

Step 5: A large decorative planter to match the cabin's hunter green trim.

I picked Krylon Paint and Primer in hunter green to match the trim on our cabin. The can advertised that no primer was needed, even for plastic. After my first coat there were a few chips so I gave them a second coat on the outside. Maybe if I had used primer first that wouldn't have been needed. Getting paint to stick to plastic can be difficult.

My pot-bound Dracaena plants will receive the old pots.

Now I have two beautiful pots for my blueberry plants for less than $10 in spray paint. The barrels and labour were free (unless you count sweet-talking Wayne into the project). And in the spirit of letting nothing go to waste, the old blueberry pots will be inherited by my two rapidly growing Dracaena plants. They are popping out of their old containers and ready for new homes.

Do you have any tips for getting free or inexpensive large garden pots? I'd love to hear about what you use. -- Margy

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Gathering Gloom

There's a song by the Moody Blues that I love called Late Lament.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.

Sometimes the skies above Powell Lake appear to be gathering gloom.

Another line says, Senior citizens wish they were young.

That just how living up the lake makes us feel, young!

Want to hear it as a song?

Here's a YouTube version by 1DansBlues. -- Margy

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cirrus Clouds

I love watching the sky here in Powell River because there are so many different types of clouds. Today I'm going to share some of our cirrus clouds. Cirrus are thin, wispy, high level clouds that are blown into long streamers. Cirrus clouds form above 6000 m (20,000 ft.) and usually mean the weather will be fair.

Cirrus Vertebratus looks like a spinal column with vertebra and ribs or fish bones. 

Cirrus radiatus cover the sky in bands.

These clouds caught the light and were coloured by the sun setting to the west. -- Margy