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Posts Tagged ‘soup’

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For those readers outside the U.S., the election season here in the colonies has been pretty rife with stress—almost tangibly stressful, as if we’re brushing away ions of hate speech and rhetoric and illogic as we walk through streets and scroll through social media. I’m grateful that my friends are the kind type, and consequently I’ve been able to hamster-ball my way through most of the nonsense. Today I took a walk on the beach as I always do in times of chaos, walking in the wind and sunshine, and I felt safe. The ocean doesn’t care about any of this mishagoss. It’s bigger than all of it, and far older, and will remain nonetheless, let’s hope.

But the negative ions are still out there, and on this, the night before the election, I’m just glad tomorrow we’ll have an answer in stone.

Last night I warmed up a bowl of my homemade chicken stock. As I moved through the kitchen, I felt compelled to move very slowly—not my usual style. I chose a footed bowl, poured the stock into my old copper-bottomed pan that I bought from a sale in a lot a half-block away, and waited to hear the soup hiss as it does when it’s just starting to think about boiling. And I felt warm honey-colored peace flow over and through me. Then I drank down the soup slowly—no seasonings, no spoon even. It was perfect.

I have only felt that kind of peace a couple of times in my life. It’s always unbidden, but it also always seems to surface when I need it most. It didn’t last. But I like that word, surface. Implies it’s always inside. It’ll be back.

E Pluribus Unum, everybody. Remember that, and drink it down to the very bottom. Out of many, ONE.

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Most days, I think you guys would agree, I am not a Wendy Whiner.

Today is not one of those days.

Look, I love to cook, and I love ingredients, and I’m creative to the core (for better or worse. For worse, see here and here and ooooh just recently here). So please know I am all for personal expression, for putting something into the world that has your own stamp on it.

But…what is the unholy obsession today with calling dishes by the wrong name? I see it especially in restaurants that call themselves Italian, the cruelest knife in my side. New Jersey has the third largest Italian population in the country and it’s the densest state in the country. So in essence, we’re talking about a whole lot of Italians who really ought to know better.

But this virus is not just in Italian restaurants, nor it is endemic in New Jersey. It’s everywhere.

Stand by for the dirty laundry.

1) Tortellini in Brodo

This translates to ‘tortellini in broth.’ It’s a very simple dish. You can tell by the name. I ate this as a kid when I had a sore throat. A wanna-be-upscale place nearby serves a dish by this name. It has tortellini, broth, lemon juice, eggs, cheese, and Italian parsley. And it’s actually pretty good. But it is not tortellini in brodo. It’s stracciatella, Italy’s version of egg drop soup.

Chefs. Just because you float tortellini in soup doesn’t mean you can pick any name out of the Italy handbook and slap it on. And most importantly? People who eat it and aren’t aware that it’s not what you say it is are going to be misled. You’re the ones wearing the aprons. You’re supposed to be authorities on this stuff. Hello.

Wait, here’s another one. This same place also serves what they call pasta carbonara, and thinks the odd chunk of ham in a cream sauce does them proud. To clarify, there is no cream in carbonara. This sauce is made when you add (along with pancetta and other ingredients) raw eggs to hot pasta, which cooks the eggs on contact and provides a lovely velvety texture. You cannot get this out of a jar, kids.

If you call yourselves a ‘ristorante‘ and brag on the menu that the experience of eating here is going to be authentic, then p.s., you don’t get to lie to us.

2) Turkey Bolognese

Bolognese is my favorite sauce. Marcella Hazan, who even while dead could cook me under the table, calls for butter, oil, onion, celery, carrots, beef, pork, veal, pepper, milk, nutmeg, white wine, and tomato sauce. Recently I saw a recipe named the above. The creator said she loved traditional Bolognese sauce, but likes to vary it up with turkey.

But she didn’t stop with turkey. She spiraled off the map, using red wine instead of white, adding garlic salt and mushrooms…then she remembered the Alamo and threw in steak seasoning and Worcestershire sauce.

Do I applaud her innovative spirit? Without question. Would I eat this? Sure. But it is Bolognese sauce? Not even CLOSE.

Dear lady. Give your recipe a new name. Name it after your sainted Portuguese Water Dog for all I care. Just don’t call it Bolognese.

Her recipe is sitting on my desk next to me as I type this, and re-chafes me every time I look at it. It’s WordPress’s problem now. Recycling.

Okay.

3) Caesar Salad

I’m not sure anyone makes classic Caesar salad anymore, which kills me because it’s a knockout. The dressing is made with raw eggs, anchovies, fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dijon mustard, salt, and black pepper. This is tossed with Romaine lettuce and topped with rustic toasted croutons. It is not, as most restaurants would have us believe, thick, gloppy, and sponsored by Hidden Valley.

4) Chocolate Mousse Cake

This was an edit I was assigned. After scanning the ingredients I called my higher-up.

‘The Chocolate Ganache Cake looks fantastic. But there’s a problem.’
‘What is it?’
‘There’s no ganache in it.’
Pause.
‘Huh?’
‘Ganache is chocolate and cream. This has lots of whipped egg whites. That’s mousse, not ganache.’
I spoke to the recipe writer and we changed the title. There it is above, and it really was delicious. But again. Before you call something something, make sure you know what that something is.
5) Tiramisu
Your dessert may have more layers than an ogre. But if it doesn’t have espresso, cocoa, zabaglione, and ladyfingers, it’s not tiramisu. Chefs: get lazy in this respect and your customers are going to walk out of your place thinking Nilla wafers layered with Snack Pack pudding and out-of-season Peruvian blackberries are tiramisu. Or worse—you think they are, too. Aren’t.
To all of the accused: You’re dropping more work into my In Box. Give me a leg up here.

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Classic adage:

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.

-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, lawyer and epicure

Modern adage and same thing:

Walk me through your checkout line and I’ll tell you who you are.

-Elinor Lipman, novelist and presumably epicure

Some say the surest way to learn about past cultures is not by examining their history books, but by examining their cookbooks. Point well taken: The food on your great-grandparents’ table was a manifestation of their priorities, skills and resources. From planning it to growing, harvesting, cooking and serving it, their world and worldview were distilled down to a particular bread and soup. And it’s no different for us today. The food we choose to eat reflects who we are, how we live and what matters to us.

I’ve written before about my mom’s incredible banana bread above. I love it because my mom made it, because it’s said incredible, and because it’s a scratch recipe. That tells you I value 1) caring effort (especially when, in her case, the smell of raw bananas turns her stomach) 2) good food 3) integrity. I still make it today because all of those points matter to me. They are at the heart of who I am.

Think about what you eat and what it says about you. Maybe you have to have your cherry pie with whipped cream because that’s how it was always served at your aunt’s July 4th barbecue. You miss her, and eating cherry pie this way brings her close to you. Maybe you love fried conch. It’s your dream to live in Bermuda, and fried conch transports you to those pink beaches for a few moments. Or maybe you avoided your uncle’s killer yummy baklava until you were 30 because you knew it all but floated in a pound of melted butter and you were afraid you’d love it and bloat up to manatee levels. This shows you loved good food but you were body image conscious.*

Recently I met an Australian in his early 60s. I asked him what he grew up eating, and suddenly he lit up like a firefly, telling me about the fish he and his family caught—speared, actually!—when he was young. And although he had lived in the States for a very long while and had not eaten some of those varieties of fish in decades, he told me he could still remember how they tasted. His love of adventure, fresh food, his homeland, and his family came through with every word and gesture.

It’s a good rule of thumb, actually: Just met someone new and want to get to know him? Ask him what dinnertime was like at his house. Watch his expression and listen carefully to the words he chooses to describe it. His answer will reveal a lot about him, I promise you.

Let’s go one step further: I read about a food historian who could compile a family’s story—its heritage, its strengths and weaknesses, even its dirty laundry—with astonishing accuracy, simply by hearing what that family ate every Thanksgiving. Food and culture are hardwired.

That godawful string bean casserole with the onion topping makes it onto your Thanksgiving every year even though you hate it. You make it because your family loves it, and you love them. That says a lot about you, doesn’t it?

What dishes, flavors and ingredients are essential components of what make you, you?

***

project: you, me and the world: Reminder, everybody—the deadline for your recipes is June 27, 2013. I’m getting some fantastic stuff. Keep them coming 🙂

* My obscure references aren’t always about me!

/okay, fine, this one is too.

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Storms (both) over! Power (twice) restored! Things getting back to normal! But oh, just kidding, November had one more banana peel for me to slip on.

Last night at around 7p I went down my hallway and heard a…well…watery noise. Turns out the boiler in my building had gone kablooie and my radiators were delivering the message. And continued to do so for the next six hours, until the emergency plumber arrived.

I think it would be simplest to describe the horror event with statements from all involved.

Me: OHNOOHNOOHNOOHNOSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOP

Downstairs neighbors: HOLY F***

Radiators: SPLURT SPLURT SPLURT

Landlord: …crickets.

Plumber: $215 even.

I created the below contraption in an effort to coerce the continually dripping water to do my bidding instead of its own. Low dripping valve to funnel to skillet to long metal cylinder I found in the office closet to my biggest stockpot.  I was exhausted but undaunted, figuring maybe I never took physics, but I sure watched The Goonies enough times as a kid.

I should have taken physics.

And this is what I caught out of my bathroom radiator—rusty water. I call it Gross Soup. Mmmmmmm nummy.

So.

Once I got everything more or less under control—it only took till about 12:30a—I did the only sensible, rational thing I could think of. I sat down and chipped cooled, dried bittersweet chocolate out of a Pyrex bowl with the small plastic spatula that came with my Cuisinart Mini-Mate Chopper and ate it all with very cold milk. Then I roasted hazelnuts in the oven and rubbed their skins off with a kitchen towel. It was surprisingly relaxing.

Today I learned I will not have heat until early next week.* The gas company guy offered a sweet expression of folksy wisdom: ‘Don’t try lighting the pilot light or you could blow this place sky high.’

After hearing this, I ate a wedge of my homemade gingerbread, finished a dopey novel, and shopped for supplies. Knowing the house was going to be cold, I made a point to wear my stage tech boots all day, which make me feel powerful. There are many ways to suit up for battle.

Don’t think for a minute that I am some saccharine-soaked Pollyanna, dismissing the indignity of what happened last night, which was due entirely to my landlord’s negligence**. I took out my frustration by duct taping my radiator valves. And I plan to deliver this guy his comeuppance with shameless abandon. Though not with duct tape, because it’s too good for him.

It’s just that I know people who don’t have entire houses right now, post-Sandy. Or their cars were totaled by ocean waves while sitting right in their driveways. Or their possessions, after gulping 500 gallons of seawater, were totaled as well. Plus…being cold is work enough. Bellyaching about it just makes hard work harder.

Tomorrow I am going to a party, finishing my hazelnut recipe***, tagging my Christmas tree at the farm to be cut next month, and working on my Christmas cards. Here’s the shot. That could cheer anyone up.

Truffle cookies. Way prettier than Gross Soup.

*This is not a repeat from 10/29-11/9.

**His name is Jim. I call him Jimmy Crack Corn, from the old Southern antebellum song, because he doesn’t care.

***It’s called Better Than Nutella. Hello and yes I need to make you.

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My neighbor, Mr. Cook, is to me an example of how to live.

That’s his flag above, which he puts out at dawn, and takes in at dusk, every single day of the year.

Mr. Cook tells me he’s lived in his house since the 1950s, when he was our tiny town’s fire chief. In those days, many of the houses along my street were home to firemen. When the bell sounded from the fire house across the street, the men would hear it and run to gear up and go. To this day, when he sees activity there, he slowly heads over to get in on it. And our fearless boys, young enough to be his kids and grandkids, treat him like a returning hero.

Retired for many years now, Mr. Cook keeps active in dozens of ways. Dancing is his favorite pastime. Every spring he drives to a handful of different town halls up and down the shoreline and picks up a copy of their summer events schedule. Then he goes home, sits on his little porch in one of those white plastic stackable chairs you can buy outside the Home Depot, and details where and when all of the senior dances will be held. He never misses one, and let me tell you—as a single, mobile gentleman in his 80s, his dance card gets filled. Each morning he tells me how it went. Music, socializing? Not a big deal. To him, it’s pretty much a numbers game: ‘I danced with eight ladies last night!’ he’ll say. I think ten is his personal best.

Mr. Cook also travels annually to visit the surviving members of his company from his days as a World War II soldier. (That’s not a typo. He still keeps in touch with his comrades—over sixty years later.) He had a bonus a few years back when he went to the southwest for an army reunion and danced with, as he put it, ‘lots of cowgirls.’

He makes pancakes for himself every Sunday morning without fail. (You’re getting a sense of what kind of man this is, right?) I like to bring a piece of whatever it is I bake to him. Later I’ll ask how he liked it. He always has the same response: an eye twinkle and a ‘Keep practicing.’

And Mr. Cook is the only one I know who doesn’t blink when I say my coffee cake contains wild mulberries that I picked myself. I really think he’s one of the last great outdoorsmen, so to him there’s nothing strange about picking fruit off a tree. He grew up in nearby Asbury Park, NJ, a seaside city flanked by Deal Lake on its north and west ends. A natural lake that once flowed from the ocean, its expansive arteries and narrow, shady fingers stretching further west must have thoroughly enchanted adventurous boys in the 1920s and 30s, with no electronics or malls to distract them. He tells me he canoed every inch of that lake.

A fisherman to this day, when he was in his early 80s he regularly trekked out to Sandy Hook, about 1/2 an hour north, to teach kids how to fish. He still goes in September to pick beach plums, which he collects in a plastic grocery bag and presents to a friend who cooks them down into his very favorite kind of jelly.

He also likes to bag his own turkey for Thanksgiving. The rest of us go to Shop-Rite; Mr. Cook goes to Pennsylvania. He bundles up, packs a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sits down in the woods, and waits. And waits. I asked why it takes so long to get a turkey, and he said, ‘It’s because they’re smart, and very fast. You move just an inch, and they all fly up into the trees.’ We think of turkeys as being slow—in the head and otherwise—because if we have any association with them at all, it’s of farm turkeys. They’ve had all the brains bred out of them, and to add insult to injury, they can no longer fly, either. But wild birds, now—everything is intact. Sharp vision, sharp minds, and they can fly up to 55 mph.

I asked Mr. Cook if wild turkeys make good eating and his eyes lit up. ‘OH, yes,’ he says. ‘They make the best soup you ever had.’

Well, those are the times when he’s able to catch one. He says his Thanksgiving meal is always a 50/50 toss-up. Many’s the Thanksgiving when I’d call out to him, ‘So what’s for dinner?’ and he’d sigh and smirk and say: ‘Franks and beans.’

Independent, adventurous, happy with the little things in life. That’s him all over.

But my favorite image of Mr. Cook is one I have of him on the Fourth of July, in the evening, a few years ago. Just after dark, Asbury’s fireworks were visible over the trees south of us. I climbed out onto my roof just as they started and caught a glimpse of him on his tiny porch, on one of his white plastic chairs, watching and eating a dish of plain vanilla ice cream from Carvel.

Happy Fourth, everybody.

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Last week I decided I was going to make hot pepper oil, something I had never made before.

Hot pepper flakes from the supermarket come in a little jar. I shake some into my pan of waiting olive oil and turn on the heat to medium.

The kitchen is at one end of my apartment and my PC is at the other. (This is the part where I blame the arbitrary layout of my apartment to the initial failure of this recipe.) I head down the hall to check how my mutual fund is doing (Okay, it wasn’t so much the mutual fund as email. Actually, it wasn’t so much email as Facebook) and within a few minutes smell a really off, chemical, burning odor. I run down the hallway to pull the pan and its tiny black dots floating in oil off the heat.

Right, now what do I do with this pan of hot oil? I want to try the recipe again, but all of my other pans are in the sink, and I could pretend I want to wash them, but I’m not feeling imaginative.

So the next steps look like this:

1) Congratulate myself for thinking to pour it into the empty cider carton in the trash.

2) Curse myself for having such lousy aim, as 90% of the yuck splashed outside the carton as I poured, hissing like the Kraken after it devoured most of Crete and adding the smell of molten plastic to the already appealing smell of burnt oil.

Sigh. Hot pepper oil recipe, take 2. Here is what worked:

I buy whole dried hot red peppers at a specialty store, which are as long than your thumb and half the width. They don’t give off that bizarre chemical smell; instead they just smell spicy. All right so far. I grind them up, put them in the saucepan and add the oil. The ratio of oil to flakes is up to you, depending on how much you want to end up with and how spicy you like your oil. It takes experimentation (which has been well, and painfully, documented in this blog).

I set the heat to the lowest setting and stay in the kitchen for once. The oil should never boil; the red pepper flakes should instead move around in it like they’re learning Tai Chi, or are doing a fight scene imitation from The Matrix.

Once you smell the pepper, it’s done.

Let the oil cool off the heat—completely. Then take a funnel and sieve and set them over your bottle or jar or whatever you want to use to store your oil. Pour the hot pepper oil carefully through the sieve and funnel. It will be a lovely goldeny orange color.

Attach your nozzle or lid and you’re done. Store it in the fridge if you have a lot or aren’t going to use it right away. The counter top is fine to stash a small amount or if you’re using it right up.

This is my everyday saute oil for vegetables (especially broccoli, cauliflower, greens or sliced butternut squash), for sauteing an onion before making soup or risotto, for drizzling on top of your lentil stew or pasta. Garlic is its best friend; other good acquaintances are toasted Italian bread, sausages and the tomato in any guise.

Of course it loves goofing off with its first cousins, roasted sweet bell peppers or frying peppers. Scrambled eggs cooked in red pepper oil will make morning time far less dreary. It gives brightness and power to almost anything you pair with it. Plain olive oil will become yawnworthy to you.

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