No Croutons Required - The Winner for January

The challenge for January was to make a Thai inspired soup or salad. It was a tight race but the winner this month is Mangocheeks with this creamy and luscious Thai Butternut Squash Soup with Tofu Croutons. Congratulations Mangocheeks! This soup is certainly an inspired creation.

Jacqueline will be hosting the February edition of No Croutons Required. The theme for February is the copy cat round. The challenge is to recreate a vegetarian soup or salad from a restaurant that has left a lasting impression. See Tinned Tomatoes for more details.

Green Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Green Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk
Sometimes there is nothing better on a cold winter day than a warming bowl of simple lentil soup. This version is extremely easy to prepare, but very nourishing when served with buttered basmati rice and perhaps some homemade biscuits. I have adapted this recipe from a charming cookbook entitled Once Upon a Tart that I will be revisiting often. Not only are there lots of good ideas for sweet and savory tarts, but also lots of soups, creative sandwiches, salads, condiments, quick breads and cookies. The writing is fresh and witty and most of the recipes include helpful cooking hints and information about the ingredients used. The book is written by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau, who own and operate a bake shop in New York City.

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Raisin Cranberry Tea Biscuits

Raisin Cranberry Tea Biscuits

I don't normally put raisins in baked goods, but I recently had a request for some raisin tea biscuits, so I decided to experiment. These turned out light and flaky and the addition of dried cranberries added a nice natural sweetness. If you are a savory person like me, I would even suggest you only add a tablespoon of sugar instead of two. If you don't have dried cranberries on hand, just add a few more raisins. The raisins can also be soaked in a bit of water and drained before adding to the batter for an extra plump raisin flavor.

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No Croutons Required - Thai Soups and Salads

The No Croutons Required challenge for January was to make a Thai inspired vegetarian soup or salad. Spicy Thai food is probably my favorite cuisine after Indian. For some reason, I rarely cook Thai at home but that will surely change after receiving these inspiring entries. Influenced by the flavours of China and India, but with a unique blend of stylistic flavours of its own, Thai cooking is fun and worth the effort in the kitchen. As usual, the choice won't be an easy one, but please vote for your favorite submission in the comment section or via email. Please note my contribution is not eligible for voting.

Our very first entry is this flavorful Thai Soup with Tofu from Mansi of Fun and Food Cafe. A homemade green chili paste made up of Thai chilies, garlic, shallots, galangal, kaffir lime rind, lemon grass, cumin and coriander seeds is simmered into a delicious soup with cubes of tofu, fresh basil leaves, peas, coconut milk and fresh lime juice. More veggies can be added to this soup, but such elegance as Mansi has produced has me craving a bowl just as is. (California, USA)

Priya is up next with this tempting Thai Green Mango Salad. This crunchy salad is made up of green mango, bean sprouts, fresh coriander leaves, spring onions, roasted peanuts and Thai chilies and then tossed with a dressing of soya sauce, lemon juice, a bit of brown sugar and some Thai chili sauce. So fresh and nourishing, this salad would make a perfect side dish to any spicy meal. (Paris, France)

Usha of Veg Inspirations submits this quick and easy, but oh so tasty, Vegan Thai Curry Soup. Soon to be regular on her menu, this delightful soup combines the goodness of onion, carrots, button mushrooms, sweet potato, ginger, red curry paste, red chili powder, coconut milk and cilantro. Usha suggests you add spinach for a slightly earthier flavour. Either way, I'd be sure to enjoy a bowl of this healthy soup. (North Carolina, USA)

Graziana of Cooking with Herbs gets inspired and makes a Steamed Vegetable Salad with Homegrown Herbs and Thai Seasoning. This veggie packed salad is made up of steamed potato, cauliflower, onion, carrot and served with homemade Thai curry paste, peanut butter, tamarind, coconut powder, soya sauce and Nuoc Nam sauce. A flavourful and healthy side dish for any occasion! (Italy)

Nina of Miss.Adventure@Home cooks up a Thai Hot and Sour Soup that she was inspired to make after enjoying one from a local restaurant. Easy to make says Nina, this brothy soup combines homemade vegetable broth, lemon grass, a small amount of sugar, tamarind paste, lime juice, chili paste, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms. bamboo, tofu and a beaten egg if desired. Other vegetables can be added to this yummy soup if desired. (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)

Lisa of Sunday Hotpants contributes this elegant Cucumber and Papaya Thai Salad that she adapted from a Thai cookbook by David Thompson. This hot, sour and salty salad is made up of papaya, cucumber, shallots, mint leaves and coriander leaves and tossed with garlic, a pinch of salt and sugar, chilies and lime juice. Lisa suggests adding Mangosteen if you can find them. (Dunedin, New Zealand)

Sweatha of Tasty Curry Leaf prepares a fresh vegan version of Som Tam that would be ideal served with sticky rice. This Thai Green Papaya Salad includes shredded papaya, tossed with crushed garlic, cherry tomatoes, green beans, green chilies, lime juice, soya sauce and some sugar. Simple but not lacking in flavour! Delightful for any occasion. (Bangalore, India)

My own contribution this month is a Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup made with fresh Nam Prik Sauce. I can never resist mushrooms and for this unique soup I used oyster mushrooms, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, tamari sauce, a wee bit of sugar, fresh lemon juice, dried wild mushrooms and green chilies. The left over Nam Prik Sauce made up of roasted eggplant, shallot, tomatoes, garlic and tamari would go nicely with veggies or served over pasta. (London, Ontario, Canada)

Jassy of Gin and Crumpets contributes this winter Hot and Sour Tofu Soup that is packed full of veggie goodness. A paste of shallots, chilies, galangal, garlic, lime and soya sauce is made into a soup of tofu, veggie stock, fresh orange juice, tamarind paste, a sprinkling of sugar, soya sauce, broccoli, cabbage, carrot and fresh coriander leaves. Perfect for lunch or a light dinner. (London, England, UK)

From Mango Cheeks we have a pretty Thai Butternut Squash Soup with Tofu Croutons. This creamy and luscious soup features butternut squash, coconut milk, veggie stock, kaffir lime leaves, baby spinach, lime and fresh coriander. No croutons required, but Mango Cheeks served the soup up with some crispy tofu croutons coated with soya sauce and Thai curry paste. Serve with rice for a substantial and satisfying meal. (West of Scotland)

Nupur of One Hot Stove cooks up this colourful Thai-Spiced Mushroom Noodle Soup which is certain to cure all that ails you. This slurpable soup combines the goodness of mushroom stock, soothing lemon grass, cremini mushrooms, green onions, red curry paste, soya sauce and udon noodles. Garnish with green onions, lime juice and cilantro for a real treat! (St. Louis, Missouri, USA)

Last, but certainly not least, Kevin of Closet Cooking submits this gorgeous Thai Black Rice Salad. This vibrant salad and irresistible dish brings together Thai black rice, red pepper, mango, green onions, fresh cilantro and mint, cashews and is tossed with soya sauce, lime juice, a small amount of palm sugar and a bird's eye chili. Totally drool worthy! (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Jacqueline will be hosting the February edition of No Croutons Required. Check back at the beginning of the month for the theme.

Hot and Sour Thai Mushroom Soup with Nam Prik Pow

Hot and Sour Thai Mushroom Soup with Nam Prik Pow

Spicy Thai is probably my favorite cuisine after Indian cooking. Oddly enough, I have rarely cooked authentic Thai food, opting instead for take out from Thai Taste, my favorite Thai restaurant in London. I suppose that is one of the reasons I chose Thai soups and salads for the theme for this month's No Croutons Required — this challenge inspired me to come up with a Thai meal in addition to getting some lovely ideas from fellow bloggers.

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Poppy Seed Cheese Biscuits

Poppy Seed Cheese Biscuits

Quick breads are not only a perfect way to fill out a meal, they are fun to make too and a good choice for novice bakers just starting out in the kitchen. I just love these soft, moist savory pull-apart biscuits with sharp extra-old Cheddar cheese — they ended up being an evening snack well after the dinner was over. Dotted with poppy seeds, they're a very pretty quick bread too.

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Peanut Butter and Blueberry Shortbread Bars

Shortly before Christmas, I received a press release and care package of some Gay Lea butter to make some shortbread. Gay Lea launched a bake-off contest back in the fall to find the best shortbread cookie. Robert Maxwell of Liaison College entry was judged the most creative. He submitted a recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread bars. How could I resist trying these!

I meant to make them for Christmas, but I usually make my famous Rum Balls and with so much activity going on over the holiday season, didn't get a chance to make these moist and sweet bars until yesterday. The occasion was a dear friend's birthday. Shortbread is a treat anytime of year as far as I am concerned! The recipe is only moderately adapted from the original.

On the menu with Poppy Seed Cheese Biscuits and Mushroom Oven Pancake with Chive Sauce.
Peanut Butter and Blueberry Jam Shortbread Bars

For the shortbread

1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 small egg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt

For the filling:

3/4 cup blueberry jam
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Line an 8-inch pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough until 2 equal portion, knead briefly and wrap in plastic wrap. Leave the dough in the fridge overnight or freeze for 1 - 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove half of the dough from the fridge or freezer. Shred the dough with a coarse grater or food processor. Pat the shredded dough down into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for about 20 minutes.

While the shortbread is baking, prepare the filling. Blend together the peanut butter, icing sugar and butter until smooth. Spread the peanut butter mixture over the shortbread base. Drop spoonfuls of jam over the peanut butter and gently spread over the peanut butter layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and shred it. Sprinkle over the jam layer and spread it out so it covers the jam. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until the top is set and golden brown. Cool and cut into bars.

Makes approximately 16 bars, depending on how large you cut them.

More shortbread recipes from Lisa's Kitchen:
Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread
Jalapeno Cheddar Shortbread

On the top of the reading stack: Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor

Audio Accompaniment: Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk

No Croutons Required - The Winner for December and the Theme for January

For December, we decided once again to go with festive photos. I'm delighted to announce the winner for December's roundup is Wendy of a Wee Bit of Cooking with this lovely photo entitled Wee Bird. Congratulations to Wendy who also won last year's festive photo challenge.

I will be hosting the next edition of No Croutons Required. The challenge for January is to make a soup or salad inspired by Thai cuisine. You have until the 20th of this month to submit your entries. For a recap of the rules, go here.

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope to be visiting your blogs again shortly.