Archive | February 2016

Quick Pumpkin Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup is as much a staple in the Mexican diet as tacos or salsa. The ingredients are often pretty simple, as the base usually consists of not much more than some broth, peppers, tomatoes, beans, spices, and maybe some other added protein like chicken or pork. I enjoy few things in the world as much as I enjoy authentic Mexican food. Therefore, I often cringe in disgust (or at the very least in disappointment) at many of the variations of Tex-Mex that we have managed to concoct north of the border over the last 50-plus years.

With that being said, many knock-offs of traditional Mexican can still be quite tasty. This month’s recipe is one of those reproductions that is quick, easy, healthy and delicious. It can be prepared in about 30 minutes with ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen. The end result is a light, but filling, meal that is an excellent source or fiber, protein and vitamin A. Serves 8.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 15oz can pure pumpkin
  • 2 (14oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn, canned or frozen
  • 1 cup medium salsa
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of hot sauce


  • Chopped cilantro
  • Sliced green onions
  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sliced avocado or guacamole
  • Sour cream


  1. In a soup pot, sauté the onion, garlic and spices in olive oil at medium heat until it begins to soften (about 3-4 minutes).
  2. Add vegetable stock/broth, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Add pumpkin and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add remaining ingredients. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Ladle soup into a bowl and garnish with any or all of the toppings/garnishes.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 140 / Fat: 2g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 24g / Fiber: 8g /

Protein: 6g

# # #

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 


Cumin is the spice that brings the musky edge to curries and deepens the flavor of chili. It’s unique flavor complexity has made it an integral spice in the cuisines of Mexico, India and the Middle East. While cumin seeds are sometimes used whole, they are more commonly ground into powder which allows the spice to integrate more fully with other ingredients and seasonings.

Native to Egypt, cumin seeds have been cultivated in the Middle East, India, China and Mediterranean countries for millennia. It’s seeds were highly honored as a culinary seasoning in both ancient Greek and Roman kitchens. Cumin’s popularity was partly due to the fact that it was a  viable replacement for black pepper, which was very expensive at the time.

But, it’s not taste alone that has made cumin a favorite spice for centuries. Cumin seeds are excellent source of iron— an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells. Recent research has shown that cumin may also stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, compounds necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. Cumin seeds may also have anti-carcinogenic properties as demonstrated in one study, where cumin was shown to protect laboratory animals from developing stomach or liver tumors.

Whole cumin seeds have a shelf life of at least a year if you store them in an airtight jar or container while ground cumin loses its strong flavor and aroma after a few months, even if you store it well. Grinding your own cumin from whole seeds allows you to store the whole spice in your cupboard and have it on hand when you need it, while still enjoying the flavor and texture of the ground version.


Adventure Cuisine – Chef Brandon McDearis Prepares Herb Gnocchi at Kenai Riverside Lodge


A nice piece about myself and the lodge where I have been working for the past seven summers. 

July 7, 2015 at 10:30 am by Lis Korb

Adventure Cuisine at Kenai Riverside Lodge

Kenai Riverside Lodge is located on the banks of the Kenai River, about halfway between Anchorage and Homer, Alaska. It’s one of our favorite add-ons to our selection of Alaska small ship cruises as this lodge is both conveniently located and serene and remote feeling. Kenai Riverside Lodge takes great pride in the food that they serve. Onsite chefs return year after year, and they put time and love into every meal. The lodge is known to go to great lengths to accommodate specific dietary needs and food allergies. Food is an integral part of any vacation experience, and they work hard to ensure it’s a phenomenal one!

Each morning, a hot breakfast buffet is served before you head out for a guided activity, such as fishing or river rafting. You might walk in to the aroma of hot blueberry pancakes, bacon, fresh fruit, coffee and tea. A made-to-order lunch will be prepared to take with you on your guided activity. On a river rafting trip taken by one of AdventureSmith’s staff there was a spread of smoked Alaska salmon, fresh veggies and breads for a make-your-own sandwich station, with hot beverages to keep everyone warm.

In the evening, Kenai Riverside Lodge serves four-course meals family-style. Share stories about the day over a glass of wine or Alaskan micro-brew beer. After dinner, guests can spend time on the riverside deck over a campfire or have another glass at the lodge’s bar!

Chef Brandon McDearis

Brandon McDearis, head chef at Kenai Riverside Lodge, first came to work in Alaska in 2010. He has a BS in Foods and Nutrition from Radford University and a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before coming to Kenai Riverside Lodge, Brandon worked mostly in high-volume catering and cooking in upscale restaurants, as well as running his own personal chef business.

Brandon’s past couple of winters have included ventures such as cooking in Australia and Antarctica and running expeditions in Peru. When he is not working in the kitchen, he is often writing about food and  nutrition, both in magazines and on his blog at

Herb Gnocchi with Sautéed Spinach & Charred Cherry Tomatoes

Chef Brandon McDearis has prepared this gnocchi recipe a number of times over the years at the Kenai Riverside Lodge. It’s been featured as an appetizer, a vegetarian entrée and as a side item for halibut and rockfish.

They can be prepared ahead of time and frozen to cut down on the total prep time. The step with the ice bath can be skipped, but Brandon says he finds it to be failsafe when making them fresh, in order to not overcook them. Also, feel free to leave out the spinach and cherry tomatoes. The gnocchi can just be sautéed and browned in a little olive oil and butter, seasoned, tossed with Parmesan, and paired with another vegetable and/or protein. The recipe makes 8–12 servings.


2 pounds starchy potatoes
2 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 bunch parsley (finely chopped)
1 sprig rosemary (finely chopped)
2 sprigs fresh thyme (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups spinach (packed tightly)
1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
¼ cup white wine
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese


  1. Boil the whole potatoes until soft (about 45 minutes). Peel while still warm and pass through a ricer or vegetable mill into a large bowl.
  2. Boil 1.5 gallons of water in a large stockpot. While water is coming to a boil, set up an ice bath of 6 cups of ice and 6 cups of water beside the stove.
  3. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and sprinkle all over with the flour. Place egg yolks, herbs and spices in the center of the well and mix egg mixture into potatoes and flour with a fork as if you were making regular pasta.
  4. Once everything is well blended and dough has formed a ball, roll it out onto a clean, floured surface and knead like bread dough for about 3–5 minutes until the dough is dry to the touch. Up to 1 more cup of flour may need to be used during this step, depending on how moist and starchy your potatoes were to begin with.
  5. Cut hunks of dough off and roll into ¾ inch diameter dowels that resembles snakes and cut into ¾–1 inch pieces. Drop the pieces in the boiling water and cook until they float (about 1 minute). As they rise to the top, scoop them out and put them in the ice bath. Let sit about a minute in the ice bath and then drain.
  6. Meanwhile, heat up a sauté pan with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil at medium-high heat. Drop tomatoes in the pan, and toss for about 20–30 seconds until you see a little color on them. Then, add about 2–3 cups of your gnocchi to the pan and continue to sauté for about 1 minute until they begin to lightly color and heat through. Feel free to add a little more olive oil if your pan looks too dry.
  7. Finally, add the white wine to the pan along with the spinach. Continue tossing until spinach is wilted and wine has cooked down. Remove from heat, toss with butter and Parmesan. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Note: If you are not going to serve the whole batch at once, then lay the gnocchi out on a greased pan and freeze. Once frozen, they can be stored in a Ziploc bag or plastic container in the freezer for a few months.

Keep tabs on the AdventureSmith blog’s Adventure Cuisine series for more recipes from our partner small ships and lodges.