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Archive for the ‘soup’ Category

I just got back from vacation (more on that soon, pinky swear) and while I miss having a made-to-order omelette (tomato-mushroom-cheese, thank you very much) every morning draped over a pre-split English muffin (all I had to do was lower the halves into the toaster) and sidling up to a rainbow of orange, green, and pink melon slices, it’s still good to be back in the kitchen.

Most of my meals since coming home have been no-cook affairs, essentially lots of salads. But Sunday morning felt like pancake time and I begrudgingly fired up the stove. (My apartment layout is such that even with the a/c on full blast, the kitchen is warm and stuffy, even before I start cooking.)

In an attempt to detox after snacking on fries everyday for a week, I created a higher-ish protein breakfast, replacing buttermilk with yogurt and using a bit of garbanzo flour. I dotted the pancakes with a pint of blueberries threatening to shrivel if they sat one more day on the counter.

The result was a little less fluffy than my go-to pancakes, but otherwise a great addition to my weekend breakfast repertoire. I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I realized I had eaten half the batch. I put the remainder in a bag and in the freezer. Detox schmetox, I say.

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Blueberry yogurt (higher-ish protein) pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. In trying to up the protein content of these, I substituted chickpea flour for rye. The batter is very thick – thicker than my normal pancake recipe – and it doesn’t bubble very much after a couple of minutes on the pan, so you’ll need to peek underneath to see when it’s time to flip. The pancakes aren’t very sweet, and I lightly sprinkle with white sugar rather than maple syrup which would hide the blueberry flavor.

Makes 12-14 4-inch pancakes

– 2 large eggs
– 1 C plain yogurt (I used 2%, a mix of regular and Greek because that’s what I had)
– 3-6 T milk
– 3T canola oil (plus extra for pan – I used a spray)
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/2 t lemon zest or 1/4 t lemon extract
– 1/2 C all-purpose flour
– 1/2 C whole wheat flour
– 1/4 C garbanzo (chickpea) flour
– 3 T sugar
– 1 T plus 1 t (i.e., 4 t) baking powder
– 1/2 t sea salt
– 1 C blueberries, rinsed and dried

Whisk. Whisk eggs and yogurt together in a medium/large bowl. If you use regular yogurt, you don’t need to add any milk; a thick Greek – add enough to thin it out to the consistency of cake batter, dripping from the whisk in a thin (not skinny) stream. Whisk in oil, vanilla, and lemon zest or extract.

Layer. Add the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a layer over the wet ingredients. Gently stir them to mix just the dry ingredients. (Or you could dirty another bowl for the dry ingredients).

Stir. With a spatula, stir the dry into the wet only until the dry ingredients are moistened. A few lumps are ok. If you over-mix, the pancakes will be dense. The batter will be thick and when you drag your spatula through it, it will leave behind a trail of bubbles, the action of the baking powder.

Cook, flip, repeat. Heat a pan (I used a cast-iron one) over medium heat and spray sparingly with canola oil (or use whatever fat you’d like). The pan is hot enough when you flick a few drops of water on the surface and they jump around and dance. Drop a scant 1/4 cup (about 3 tablespoons) of batter at a time, leaving space between each pancake. Press a small handful of berries into the top of each pancake. When the pancakes are dry around the edges and golden brown on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes, flip them and cook for another 3 minutes until golden underneath as well. (Start by making one small pancake at a time so you can adjust the flame to the right temperature before making the rest of the batch. Despite what they say about the pancake, I just think of it as the cook’s treat.) Continue to adjust the heat as necessary.

Serve. Pile the pancakes high and serve with plain white sugar.

 

 

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Big surprise: another soup.

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‘Tis the season, clearly.

You could call this one a lazy cook’s version of stuffed cabbage, essentially unstuffed cabbage in broth. It’s a throwback to my Eastern European roots, though it took me until my late twenties before even trying the traditional stuffed version. My reaction was mixed. The meat was dense, as if the leaves were rolled too tight, and studded with raisins. (Raisins! I plucked them out as best I could.) The sauce was on the too-sweet side but it did had a tart kick and a glossy silkiness that had me sprinkling it with salt and sopping it up with pieces of challah torn off the end of the loaf. I’ve only eaten stuffed cabbage a few more times since, and making it myself seemed a bit of a potscke.

Enter this winter when I’ve found myself eating soup for lunch or dinner at least five days a week. And ground beef in the freezer and a cabbage head rolling around the bin at the bottom of my fridge. I made the soup once. And then I made it again, tweaking and taking notes until I came up with my perfect savory-sweet-sour-spicy balance.

I played around with traditional (vinegar, paprika) and not-so-traditional (sumac, chili flakes) ingredients to get the tangy results I wanted. I also texted my Ukrainian-born sestra (Russian for sister, though we’re not officially related) Marina with questions. Do you put garlic in? NO! What do you put in your sauce? She sent a photo of a can with Cyrillic writing and a Chef Boyardee lookalike. It’s sweet, she said. Eh, I said.

Curious about the “true” taste profile of stuffed cabbage (I should have known there’s no single answer), I turned to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Jewish food historian extraordinaire, the late Gil Marks. In his multi-page entry on the subject, he traces this peasant food’s eastward path from Turkey and/or Persia and talks about differences in palates across different geographies. Seems that, like the “gefilte line” (talk to Jeff Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern about that), there is a distinct preference for sweet in Galicia (today’s southern Poland and northern Ukraine) where sugar beet factories were common – or, actually a sweet-sour combination. North of Galicia is savory stuffed cabbage, and in gefilte fish this translates to being all about the pepper.

Then I went down a rabbit hole, poking around the family tree that my sister started a few years ago to remind myself where my greats and great-greats and great-great-greats and even great-great-great-greats were born. Essentially, my father’s side of the family is from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (our last name used to be Skversky) and came to the US in the 1880s; my mother’s side is from Poland, Germany, and Hungary, coming over after WWII. So, both in and north of Galicia and that savory-sweet-sour-spicy preference makes sense.

Marina calls stuffed cabbage golubtzi. In my reading (Gil, again), I learned that the name comes from the diminutive form of the word dove – golub in Russian, holub in Ukrainian, golab in Polish – because all those cabbage rolls packed into the pot looked like cute little birds huddling together in a nest. Marina was floored when I mentioned this to her, I never thought of that, she said. Made all the funnier because she calls my sister (Robyn) ptichka – little bird.

I poked around in some of my other cookbooks to see what twists on stuffed cabbage I could find. First up, Jeff and Liz in their Gefilte Manifesto mix kimchi into their meat filling and sauce. Leah Koenig makes a soup in Modern Jewish Cooking that’s a mix of chorizo, cabbage, tomato, and potato. And my friend Meira told me about a soup she used to make that had ground beef and sauerkraut in it. Seems like there are a lot more variations to explore before Spring finally arrives.

(Thanks Inna for the great blue and white plates!)

***

This past week, I happened to go to two interesting dance performances, both of which explored identity, specifically Jewish identity. First was Ka’et Ensemble – a contemporary Israeli dance company comprised of only religious men. Their performance “Heroes” – described here – looks at different male roles and dichotomies such as secular/religious, spiritual/physical, strong/weak, and how they can influence each other, how there can be an ebb and flow. The other performance was Hadar Ahuvia‘s “Everything you have is yours?” – also discussed in the New York Times –  in which the choreographer and two other dancers show and tell and question the origins of Israeli folk dance, raising issues of cultural appropriation and looking internally into her own biases and assumptions.

I’d really love to get back to dance one of these days.

Unstuffed cabbage soup

Makes a generous 3 quarts

Make sure to taste taste taste as you go. I’ve put total amounts of salt and spices as a guide, but this may not work for you, so see where I suggest you taste and adjust along the way. Use a big Dutch oven – mine was 7 quarts – because there is a lot of cabbage to add. It eventually cooks down, but it’s easier if you can put it in all at one time.

If you don’t want to add the grains, use only half a can of water or the soup will be too thin.

– 1-2 t olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef
– 2 large onions, roughly chopped into medium-sized pieces
– 1 T kosher salt (I’m using Diamond Crystal these days, which is less salty than others)
– freshly ground pepper
– 2 t sumac
– 3-4 t hot paprika
– 1 t hot chili flakes
– 1/2 head celery (about 6 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch chunks (about 1 1/2 C)
– 1/2 head cabbage, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 8 C)
– 1/4 C brown sugar
– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes – don’t throw out the can because you’ll use it to measure water to add
– 3 T red wine or sherry vinegar
– 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries or other grain (freekeh, barley, rice, etc.)
– Fresh parsley, chopped

Saute. Just barely cover the bottom of a big Dutch oven with olive oil – you don’t need much at all – and place over medium-high heat. Crumble ground beef into the pot and stir around, breaking up any clumps until it turns from pink to brown (but no need to really brown it until it develops a crust) and releases liquid and fat, about 7 minutes. Drain the beef and set aside, leaving the fat/liquid in the pot.

Stir. Drop the flame to medium and then cook the onion in the meat juice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, the sumac, 2 teaspoons hot paprika, and the chili flakes. Cover. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. The onion will, however, turn brown as it absorbs all of the meat juice. Add a little water if the pot gets too dry. Stir in the celery and cabbage. Keep stirring until the cabbage wilts. Taste a piece of cabbage to see if it needs more spice or salt and adjust accordingly. I found it needed more salt so I added another teaspoon. Stir in the brown sugar. It will taste too sweet, but the rest of the ingredients will dilute the sugar.

Simmer. Add the meat back to the pot and pour in the tomatoes followed by 2 cans of water. Bring to a boil and then a slow simmer. Add the vinegar. Taste again – at this point I added another teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons hot paprika.

Submit. Add in the cooked wheat berries and continue to simmer until the cabbage completely submits, about 30 more minutes. Taste along the way, adding salt or spice or vinegar or sugar.

Serve. Serve with parsley.

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the soupiest

Winter is soup time chez moi. Probably chez toi as well. When the temperature drops – and whew, how it’s dropped! – all I want is hot lunch or dinner in a bowl that I can warm my hands around and lift to my lips when too tired or lazy to bother with a spoon until I get to the bottom. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve pulled down a rainbow of cocottes (Dutch ovens, if you must) from the narrow space between my kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. There was a riff on Marcella’s tomato sauce, Joanne Chang’s hot and sour soup thickened with not cornstarch but egg swirled in like the egg-drop soup of my childhood, a return to my long-ago Ukrainian roots with an unstuffed cabbage soup, and a clean-out-the-fridge minestrone.

Today’s soup is tortilla — piquant with jalapeño, loaded with shredded chicken (that you sear in the pot so as not to dirty an extra pan) and black beans, scented with cilantro, doused in lime, and topped with baked stale tortillas (or crispy chips if you have them around) and avocado. It’s kept me going the past few days and I froze a quart to save me the next time I’m resigned to Rice Krispies for dinner.

On another note, since I know you check this blog every few days (ha!) and have been wondering where I’ve been (ha!), I wish I had a fun story to tell. There’s been lots of family time and a bit of travel over a bunch of holidays, an intense project that required a recovery longer than the work itself, and a good number of library books. There are a bunch of recipes that I’ve written up and just need to get out there, so stay tuned.

In the interim, here are some things that are worth checking out, while warming up with a steaming bowl in the soupiest time of year.

This article and music video.

Photos from a pencil factory.

I love flour tortillas and use them in this soup even though most recipes call for corn – this made me feel less bad about it.

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Tortilla soup

Inspired by Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman

This is the type of soup that’s an entire meal. I’d say a serving is about 2 cups, and then you’re good for the afternoon or evening. Kale is clearly not traditional, but I wanted to slip in some extra vegetables. Leave it in, leave it out, or add in other vegetables – corn (frozen works just fine here), bell peppers, and maybe some small diced butternut squash or other pumpkin. 

This has a nice heat, but you could definitely add another half jalapeño if you like things on the spicier side or a tablespoon or so of chipotle in adobo sauce (I always have leftovers when I make this vegetarian chili, a smooth black bean soup with a kick, or salpicon and then freeze it in ice cube trays in one-tablespoon scoops). Make sure to add a squeeze of lime before you serve, and don’t skimp on toppings either – especially fresh cilantro and, of course, the tortilla strips.

Makes just under 3 quarts (12 cups)

– 3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
– 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, any large pieces cut in half
– Kosher salt and pepper
– 1 – 1.5 onion, roughly chopped (1 – 1.5 C)
– 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
– 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1½ t cumin
– 1 t coriander
– 1 t chili powder
– 1/2 t garlic powder
– 1/2 t onion powder
– 10-12 stems kale, sliced into small pieces (2 cups)
– 28 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
– 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
– 4 C chicken or vegetable broth
– 1/2 bunch cilantro (10-12 stems), stems wrapped in twine so you can easily remove
– 1-2 limes, cut into quarters or sixths, depending on the size of the citrus

Toppings: tortilla strips (recipe below, or store-bought), extra shredded chicken, avocado, finely diced red onion, chopped tomatoes,

Cook. Pour enough extra-virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons, to cover the bottom of a medium to large heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 4-quart Staub cocotte – thanks Mom! – which was just big enough), and turn heat to medium. Once oil is hot (a drop of water should make it splatter), add 3 chicken breasts or thighs and a large pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Sear on one side until the chicken forms a crust and releases itself from the pot, about 10 minutes. Turn over and repeat, cooking until the chicken is just done on the inside. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool to the touch, shred the chicken with your fingers.

Saute. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to pot if too dry. Add onion and jalapeño pepper, and saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften but don’t brown. Stir in garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, garlic poster, and onion powder. Turn the heat down a tad if the garlic starts to burn. After a few minutes, add the kale and stir until it begins to wilt, another 3 minutes or so.

Boil and simmer. Add the black beans, tomatoes, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then taste for salt and spice, adding salt and chili powder as necessary. Add most of the shredded chicken (set aside about a half-cup to use as a topping) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro.

Serve. Ladle into large bowls. Top with a squirt of lime, extra chicken, slices of avocado, tortilla strips, cilantro leaves, fresh tomatoes, minced red onions, or some combination thereof. But do not skip the lime and fresh cilantro.

***

Baked tortilla strips

– 2 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) or 3 corn tortillas
– 1-2 T extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Preheat. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Cut. Using a large knife or pizza wheel, cut the tortillas into strips about 1/4-inch wide and 2-inches long.

Toss. Toss the strips with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake. Bake for 7-10 minutes until toasted but not burnt. Allow to cool.

 

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Not much of a story today, just a recipe that is almost ridiculous in its simplicity. It’s a soup that may look familiar to some of you based on its sparse ingredient list: tomatoes, onions, and butter. Yup, it’s a riff on Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with just slightly different ratios. More vegetables, less butter, and a bit of water to thin it out. You could use fresh tomatoes, but why?

This is the savory version of hot chocolate after a romp in the snow. And if you want to up the ante, make a grilled cheese sandwich and cut into cubes (if you’re like me, they’ll be oh so raggedy, but who cares, really?) for oozy croutons.

The soup is just creamy enough to feel decadent but not New Year’s resolution breaking. So poke around your pantry and fridge and cook up a batch tonight.

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Three-ingredient Tomato Soup

Inspired by Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauceIf you’re using whole tomatoes, snip them with scissors or squish between your fingers to break them up.

Makes approximately 6 cups

– 2 28-oz cans whole peeled or crushed tomatoes (ideally San Marzano)

– 2 onions, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C butter

– 1 t salt

– 1/2 – 1 C water

Simmer. Mix in a saucepan the tomatoes, onion, butter, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour until the onion is almost falling apart.

Puree. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add water and continue to puree until you get the texture that you like.

 

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We got quite a bit of the white stuff around here this weekend with a little over two feet in Central Park. It started snowing much earlier than expected (or at least much earlier than I expected), so I ended up having to struggle home from dinner Friday night in a pair of high heels. Not my best move. I’ve now swapped them out for boots, so I’m all good. My home town of Maryland was also hit pretty hard, from what I can tell, my friends are are still digging out, schools are cancelled, and government offices are closed.

In the days leading up to the storm, I’d been working from home, laid up with a case of the sniffles and a sore throat and a general achy-ness, and I made a soup that helped me muddle along and, since it’s one of those clean-out-your-pantry dishes, I figured it would be good for those of you still stuck inside with limited access to fresh anything until the stores restock. I intended to post it before the storm, but, well, sometimes life gets in the way, so you can think of this as preparation for the next snowfall.

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This red lentil soup is admittedly not dissimilar from one that I made on this blog almost 5 years ago. I even photographed it in the same bowl! You let the lentils melt in piles of onions and tomatoes and spike the whole lot with cumin, coriander, and a healthy pinch of cayenne. I amped up the tomato flavor using estratto di pomodoro – an intense tomato paste made by concentrating tomato pulp in the sun – that I toted home from Sicily. You can obviously use regular tomato paste if you didn’t have the luxury of having one of the best vacations of your life over the summer. This soup is a savior if you’re sick or holed up or just want dinner.

Red lentil tomato soup

Adapted from the New York Times. I didn’t have whole cumin and coriander seeds, so I used about half the measure of ground. 

Makes approximately 3 quarts

– 2 T vegetable oil
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, minced
– salt to taste
– 1 1/2 t ground cumin
– 1 t ground coriander
– 1 1/2 t curry powder
– 1/2 t cayenne
– 2 T tomato paste
– 1 28-oz can chopped tomato with juice
– 1 lb red lentils, washed and picked over
– 8 C vegetable stock or water (I actually used half stock, half water)
– 1/4 – 1/2 t ground black  pepper
– juice of 1/2 lemon
For garnish:
– yogurt
– chopped parsley or cilantro
– lemons, cut into wedges

Cook. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander, curry powder, and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is frangrant. Lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice.

Simmer. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add salt to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon).

Simmer more. Stir in the lentils and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, covers and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (I didn’t feel like it needed any more at this point) and continue to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes,  until the lentils have fallen apart and thickened soup.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add the pepper, taste, and add cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve. Top each bowl with a swirl of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of parsley or cilantro. Squeeze a lemon wedge over top.

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I received an email the other day. The subject: Made this soup and thought of you.

sweet potato chickpea stew

The message was from my friend Nachama who I met in Boston several years back. We lived just a few blocks from each other and used to go to the gym together. It’s hard for me to motivate to exercise, so it was great having a buddy. She’d run on the treadmill, I’d swoosh along on the elliptical, and we’d meet up at the end to stretch.

Nachama now lives in DC. In her email, she described the soup: “It was warm, simple but tasty, smooth and thick, and had just a pinch of kick – reminded me of the times we would bunker down in the Boston cold and watch movies at your place.”

This was all the impetus I needed to pull out a large pot and get cooking this chickpea soup that, according to recipe, hails from Madagascar. Its base is a sweet potato broth that you make from scratch (or buy in a box). Toast a handful of spices (including types of red chile) with garlic, then add the broth, a splash of coconut milk, and a big pile of spicy mustard greens, and chickpeas.

After an hour and a half, the greens wilt into the broth and the whole mess thickens to a stew. I invited over some friends and we crowded around my table to finish most of the pot. We ate it with spoons, but forks would have worked just as well.

Thanks, Nachama, for the recipe and inspiration!

Sweet potato chickpea stew

Adapted from this recipe. If  you don’t want to make the broth from scratch, either substitute with sweet potato broth, or make a semi-homemade broth by simmering 3 sweet potatoes in 8 cups of vegetable broth and then pureeing with an immersion blender. 

Makes 12 servings.

For the sweet potato broth:

– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 medium onion, sliced
– 3 celery ribs, chopped
– 3 carrots, chopped
– 3 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 8 cups water


For the stew:

– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 T olive oil
– 2 t dried crushed red pepper
– 2 t ground red pepper
– 2 t ground coriander
– 1/2 t ground turmeric
– 8 C Sweet Potato Broth (recipe above)
– 2 C unsweetened coconut milk
– 1 bunch fresh mustard greens, chopped
– 3 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Make broth:
Cook. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add sweet potato, desired amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and water. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until sweet potato is tender. Discard cloves. Let mixture stand 15 minutes.
Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately, or cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container up to 5 days.
Make stew:
Toast. Sauté garlic in hot oil in a large saucepan over medium heat 1 minute; add red peppers, coriander, and turmeric. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes or until fragrant.
Boil. Stir in sweet potato broth, coconut milk, and greens. Bring to a gentle boil; add chickpeas.
Simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until greens are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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I just got back from that big trip I mentioned a few weeks back. I started with two days in Paris. Then, Sicily where I spent a week at Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school for a food writing course taught by Luisa Weiss and Rachel Roddy and rounded out the rest of my trip with a few beach days in Cefalu on the northern coast of the island. There’s so much to process and write about the past two weeks – in short it was vacation far dreamier than I could have imagined – but for now, you can check out my Instagram for some photos. Here’s one of my favorites.

aprons

I came home yesterday to bagels and lox. My parents had been in town while I was gone and spent their last night at my place, so when I walked into my apartment with my suitcase on its last legs, er wheels, my mom was there with a true New York welcome. There were also some take-out leftovers, including a container of rice.

Fridays are greenmarket day in my neighborhood and I went a little overboard with all the goodies that hadn’t been in season when I left: zucchini, cherries, garlic scapes! There will probably be a raw summer squash something coming out of my kitchen in the next day or two; the Short Stack that arrived before I headed out should come in handy right about now.

Until then, there’s soup. Yes, it’s summer. But while we were in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the name of the courtyard where the school is located), we ate soup several times, including a smooth fava bean concoction called macco and a more rustic minestra di tennerumi made from the tender vines of long cucuzzo squashes. So, back in my kitchen, I got my cooking sea legs back with a simple soup of rice leftovers and canned tomatoes and not much more.

No food photo today, though. One of things we discussed during the course was morning pages, a discipline of writing every morning – before coffee, before checking any technology – on paper, and for 12 minutes. We did a lot of timed writing exercises and I found I enjoyed writing in concentrated spurts. So now, as I settle back into real life, I’m committed to doing morning pages. I’ve set a notebook and pen by my bed and started this morning. As an extension of that, I’d like to do some more spontaneous writing here. That will probably mean more posts and recipes with fewer photos, but I think that’s a fair trade.

PS – I’ll probably take some photos tomorrow and post them after the recipe. Some habits are hard to break, but this way I’ll at least get things on proverbial paper rather than waiting for the right light and perfect angle.

Tomato rice soup

Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in the New York Times. The wine is optional, but this soup was good enough reason to uncork a red; a big (but not huge) California cabernet worked well here. Feel free to play around with herbs (cilantro or parsley would be nice) and spices (I’m thinking cumin, or thyme). Or keep the soup as is and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Or not. This soup is lovely in its utter simplicity. 

UPDATE 6/27: Last night, I ate the soup with shredded parmesan, but this morning I buzzed it with an immersion blender and sprinkled some fresh cilantro. Today’s version feels a bit fancier and could be served as a non-dairy cream of tomato soup. Yes, I ate it for breakfast with my coffee. The soup does thicken overnight as the rice absorbs more liquid, so I’ve modified the below recipe to increase the amount of water. 

Makes about 1o cups

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 onion, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1/3 C dry red wine

– 2 C cooked rice

– 4 C water

–  1 28-oz can (about 3 C) chopped tomatoes

– sea salt, to taste

Cook. Heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. By this point, the bottom of your pot should be nice and brown.

Pour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those brown bits.

Stir. Add the cooked rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to break up the rice. Taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary.

Simmer. Add the water and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the rice is heated through. Add more water to get the soup the consistency you’d like. Optional: buzz with an immersion blender.

UPDATE 6/27: a photo!

tomato rice soup

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On Labor Day, a bunch of us from the restaurant went to Sycamore Farms.

Sycamore Farms

We toured the land on a tractor.

Sycamore Farms

Our guide, Kevin, let me drive the tractor. Everyone on board survived.

Sycamore Farms - another tractor

Just barely.

Sycamore Farms

We picked corn.

corn at Sycamore Farms

That’s Chef Carmen*.

Chef Carmen picking corn at Sycamore Farms

We picked tomatoes.

Sycamore Farms - tomatoes!

Lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes at Sycamore Farms

We cooked together.

We ate together.

Then I went home and turned our torn-from-the-stalk corn into soup.

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* A special thank you to Krishna Kinsey, Union Square cook and one of the best pasta makers I know, for the photo of Chef.

Farm-fresh corn soup

Improvised after consulting David Lebovitz’s recipe for fresh corn soup and Dorie Greenspan’s for summer corn soup in Bon Appétit. 

Makes 8 cups

– 6 ears of really fresh corn, shucked (I like the microwave method)

– 6 C water

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 large onion, chopped (approximately 1 C)

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 red poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (approximately 1/2 C)

– 2 t hot paprika, plus extra for garnish

– 1 C cream

– 1 T salt

– 1/4 C chopped parsley for garnish

Slice. Slice the corn off the cob into a large bowl. This should yield about 6 cups total. Reserve the naked cobs.

Boil. Cut the reserved cobs into 3 – 4 pieces. Bring water and cobs to a boil in a pot. Lower heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes to extract the flavor from the cobs. Remove the cobs. Some of the liquid will evaporate, so you should be left with about 4 cups of corn stock.

Saute. In the meantime, in a larger pot (the one you plan to make the soup in), heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent, but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, and paprika, continuing to saute for another 5 minutes until the pepper starts to soften. Stir in 4 cups of corn kernels, reserving the remaining 2 cups.

Simmer. Pour the corn stock over the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is as smooth as possible. If you want the soup to be perfectly smooth, strain it, pressing hard on the solids, but it will be a bit on the thin side. I didn’t bother straining.

Serve. Divide the soup among bowls, garnishing with corn kernels, parsley, and a sprinkle of paprika.

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Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I’m still figuring that out.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

– 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

– 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

– 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

– 1 small yellow or red onion

– 3 cloves garlic

– 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

– 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

– 2 T sherry vinegar

– 1 T cumin

– salt

– Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. On an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menus. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Note, some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomate.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. There is a tasting menu and you can also order a la carte. This is not an inexpensive restaurant. That said, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip and the view of the port is spectacular. It’s worth the splurge.
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

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I have a quick little soup for you today and it’ll take me longer to tell you about it than it will for  you to make it. So gather round for a brief chat and then grab your blender and a handful of ingredients and get going.

cucumber avocado soup

It’s a chilled soup – you might even be tempted to call it a gazpacho, but I’d advise against it because it’s unbelievable creamy. While I haven’t (yet) posted a true tomato and cucumber gazpacho on the site, you might want to check out salmorejo, a Spanish tomato soup I first tried in Seville, or cucumber mint gazpacho adapted from Ten Tables in Provincetown.

But back to today’s recipe. I came across it when Rivka mentioned that it was time for  one of her oft-repeated cold summer soups. As I’ve been forced to close my window shades from dusk until dawn when I’m not home and crank up the air conditioning while I sleep, it’s a welcome reprieve with a some jalapeño heat – but not enough to get you sweating again – requiring the same amount of effort as cleaning your blender when you’re done.

It does greatly benefit from a little bit of crunch to balance out the creaminess, so I toasted up some lavash chips. The  lavash itself has a little story, one that left me and my colleagues in a fit of giggles. Friday morning, I was greeted in the restaurant office by the following note perched upon a 4-inch stack of wraps, tortillas, and lavash.

A guest last night left this for you: endless possibilities… Some guests palm a hundred for a table. Others shower you in flatbread, I guess.

The prior evening, a bakery owner had stopped in for dinner and when we were chatting about his work, he said he’d leave me a few samples from his bakery. I schlepped the bread home, toasted it up with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and served it next to the soup. Luckily I have enough lavash to for an entire summer’s worth of chilled soup.

cucumber avocado soup

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s recipe. This is one of those recipes where you barely chop the ingredients, throw them into a blender, and press a button. One minute later, maybe two, you have soup. It is quite thick and creamy – if you’d like, add additional cucumbers and extra water to thin it out a bit. Top with something crunchy for a little texture – I used toasted lavash, but pita or tortilla chips would be great too. 

Update 6/23/14: To thin the soup out a bit, I doubled the cucumbers, and then added a bit extra salt. Excellent!

Makes approximately 6 cups

– 3 avocados, preferably Hass, halved and roughly chopped

– 3/4 lb seedless cucumbers (I used 5 large Persian cucumbers), roughly chopped

– 2 pickled jarred jalapeño peppers, chopped (with seeds), more to taste

– 1 1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you use regular yogurt, the soup might be a little bit thinner – not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

– 20 fresh chives, roughly chopped

– 20 mint leaves

– 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

– salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with half of the jalapeño and reserving 4-5 sprigs chives. Add 1/4 cup water to get the blending started, then blend on medium until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more jalapeno to taste. Thin out with extra water to get the texture that you want.

Chill. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Ladle. Fill bowls and garnish with chives, minced jalapeño,  and/or mint. Serve with something crunchy.

 

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