Rainy day soup

This is a strange, rainy month here in Northern California—usually the rain stops mid-March except for a shower or two, and doesn’t start up again until October or November. But this year, it’s as if the Monsoon keeps drifting across the Pacific. It just isn’t stopping.

Because it was so cold and wet, I decided to make soup, looked at what was around and came up with a really yummy roasted garlic and cauliflower soup.

1 small cauliflower, washed and sliced
1 head garlic
oil or coconut ghee
1 leek
1 small onion
6 or 7 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 very small potato, peeled and sliced thin
handful of fresh peas, shelled
juice of half a lemon
good splash of sherry
½ teaspoon of fresh ginger
chopped chervil and chives (about a tablespoon)
salt, pepper
stock and/or water

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put the cauliflower slices in a bowl and coat with oil or melted ghee. Spread the cauliflower on a baking sheet on a Silpat or tin foil. Oil a head of garlic and put it on there, too. Set them in the oven to brown (about 20-30 minutes).

While they are roasting, slice the leek, the onion, the mushrooms and sauté them in a heavy saucepan over medium heat in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  Add some salt, grate in the ginger. Stir as they brown, and when they are lightly browned (about 5-10 minutes, depending on your heat), add the sherry to deglaze the pan.  Once the alcohol has boiled off, add the lemon juice. Take about half the vegetables out and reserve them. Add the potato and about 4 cups of stock (I used a handful of chicken stock ice cubes and about 2 cups of water, but you can use plain water or vegetable stock). Simmer while the cauliflower and garlic roast in the oven.

Once the cauliflower is lightly browned (the small pieces may brown first, if so, take them out and add them to the soup), add all the cauliflower to the soup and continue to simmer while the garlic cools.  Squeeze out the garlic from the peels into a blender. Add about ¼ of the soup. Blend till smooth.  Add the rest of the soup (you may need to do this in two batches; it just about fit in my blender). Once everything is blended and smooth, return the soup to the pot. If the soup is too thick, add some more stock or water—it should be creamy but not too thick.  Add the reserved onion/leek/mushroom mix, and the shelled peas.  Add the herbs.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Simmer another few minutes.

A wonderful cure for spring chill.  I served with slices of whole wheat walnut levain and a salad.  The sherry was Larry’s idea, and a really good one. When I asked him to taste the soup to see if it needed anything, he said, “It needs to be in a bowl.”  I agree!

Pear Tart and Poetry

I’ve written a lot about food and cooking, and wrote this poem after
making a Julia Child tart.

Loaves and Fishes

This weekend, while I poach the perfect pears
in wine and sugar and ginger,
while I bake paté brisée, whip
crème anglaise with its spice-imbued milk,
carefully slice crescents of cooled, softened pear,
and layer them in geometric circles,
armies of hungry children roam the streets
for trash to eat
somewhere far from here.

I know they’re out there.
My whole generation had to finish
what was on our plates
because children were starving
in India, as if we had to eat
for everyone.

If I could, I would take
this perfect tart and transform it
into loaves and fishes. I don’t pretend
to understand why it’s fallen to me,
this cornucopia of succulent fruit,
of scapes and green garlic, tender baby
lettuces spread on folding tables
at outdoor markets four days a week,
while others probe gutters for crusts.

I think if I were out there, scrabbling
for enough to eat, I would be cunning
and merciless. I would be one
who survives.

Meryl Natchez

Cheap Eats

It occurs to me that along with a ruinous national debt, we’re leaving our children untold reams of blather that they’ll have to pick through to find any useful advice. So I’m going to post at least some practical information here. For example, how to eat very well and very cheaply, assuming you cook at all. The key is good stock. Stock is simple, it’s made from the cheapest meat and vegetable matter you can buy, and you can freeze it and add it to beans, rice, sauces, or make tasty soup or stew quickly.

I’ve read a lot of recipes for stock, but you don’t need a recipe. You can make it from almost anything. Chicken stock is my favorite because it’s light and versatile—and Jewish penicillin, of course. If you don’t have a place where you can buy chicken feet or necks or other bony pieces, you can start with the bones of cooked chicken you’ve eaten (even from KFC) and maybe some wings or thighs. Take a couple of pounds of bones and meat and add enough water to cover them along with a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Bring to a simmer, and then lower to just below boiling. Cook for awhile—at least an hour, but more if you like. Then add vegetables. These can be trimmings—the skins and roots and stalks and greens of onions, carrots, celery—the parts you would throw away. You can (one of my favorite methods) just keep your pot on the back of the stove, and throw in the leavings from whatever vegetables you’re using, and bring it to the almost boil for at least 15 minutes a day over a few days time. Or if you’re in a hurry and want to make good stock fast, cut up and add a whole onion, a couple of carrots, some celery, whatever, leaves, peels, etc.  Cook for at least an hour, but no upward limit really.  You can ladle out some stock and strain it into whatever you’re making. For example, put a ladle full of stock into your rice water to add flavor.  Or you can decide you’re done. Then strain the stock, and let it cook down to concentrate (without actually boiling). If it’s fatty, let it cool in the fridge overnight and peel off the top layer of fat. They heat it slightly, put it in ice cube trays, and freeze it.  You have cubes of instant flavor.

There are now great covered ice cube trays with rubbery bottoms that make it easy to pop out a cube or two or twelve whenever you want to make sauce or stew or add flavor to anything on the stove. You can buy these from Amazon—is it still ok to buy from Amazon? they seem to own the world.

If you like beef stock, do the same thing with beef bones; for fish, use heads and tails. You can make plain vegetable stock the same way, just no bones or vinegar. Corn cobs are a great addition to stock, the hearts of celery or cauliflower, carrot tops, onion skins. I’ve even thrown in avocado skins.

If you like your stock rich and dark, roast whatever you’re starting with in the oven for about 45 minutes at 425 degrees first, so it slightly carmelizes before you start simmering (nice to add at least one whole onion). That’s what I did with the fish in this picture.

The only somewhat gross thing about stock is getting rid of the remains that you’ve strained out. These can get smelly if you don’t get them out of the house, especially if you’re using fish heads and tails. More about this when I show you my amazing compost blaster. But this is enough practicality for one day.