Tuesday, February 3, 2009

when I smell bacon, I can do anything

I will never be a vegetarian. I might cut waaaaaay back on the meat to help shut down Big Food (read this book), but I will always permit myself to enjoy a bit of the pig now and then. When I eat it, I feel calm. I'm safe. I'm young. And more importantly, I'm enjoying the heck out of my food.

Potato soup has many incarnations, and this Potato-Cheese Soup with Bacon is a combo of two favorite soup memories of mine (potato-cheese soup at the late-twentieth-century cas-din chain, "The Black-Eyed Pea," and a hearty bacon-potato soup made by one J. Meyer for a winter birthday last year). I got to thinking about the warming, cozying qualities of potato soup last week, when we had a cold spell (below 40!) in New Orleans. Brrrrr. Anyway, it was time to get to work.

Recreating soups I've eaten at restaurants or other gatherings is a favorite activity of mine, but I'd never attempted to make one that was so far back in my memory. I ate that soup at the Black-Eyed Pea when I was, let's say, 12. We'd recently moved to the Tulsa area. We're talking 1984. But after smelling the cooking bacon (I can do anything when I smell that, seriously), I remembered something else about that soup, by way of another potato memory. I ate some marvelous potato salad at Jason's Deli, about 6 years ago, wherein I tasted a familiar tang--a grassiness, if you will--that I had only ever experienced at...The Black-Eyed Pea! But this time, I was old enough, and obsessed with food enough, to know what the kicker was. Dill. Sweet, soft, licorice-y dill. I believe the potatoes of the world go best with--and indeed, deserve--the fresh featheriness of said herb. Try it. You will believe.

The bacon contributes a subtle undertone to the soup because the vegetables are cooked in its pan bits, but really dresses up the finished bowl as a crunchy garnish. The dill and bacon do not fight. They play surprisingly well together.

Potato-Cheese Soup with Bacon
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium or large carrots, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 3 pounds red potatoes, peeled and diced (you can leave some pieces pretty big, because the smaller pieces will disintegrate into the soup)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 to 3 cups milk
  • 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: a few dashes of something hot, like Tabasco
  1. Cook the bacon slices in a medium soup pot (6 or 8 quarts will work) over medium heat, until slightly crispy. Set aside and drain all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the pot. Don't clean out the browned bits.
  2. In the same pot with the bacon-y bits, saute the onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. The mixture should be starting to dry out by then.
  3. Add the stock and chopped potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low simmer, and simmer covered for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are starting to fall apart into the stock.
  4. Turn off the heat, stir in the milk, and add the cheese and dill.
  5. Turn the heat back on to the lowest or next-to-lowest setting--you don't want to scorch the milk, but you want the cheese to heat up so you can tell what's up with the seasonings.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste (and optional hot thing). I started with about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and went from there.
  7. Crumble the reserved bacon and use it to top each serving.

Serves 8.

Note: We had this with a crunchy salad: baby greens, chopped pears, toasted pecans, and some croutons made from rosemary bread. Toss that with a balsamic vinaigrette, and you're set.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Totally Gobblesome

So you eat the turkey, and you have some leftovers; if you're lucky, there's some meat on the bones. All the little glossies hanging out on the newstand this month will give you lots of ideas about how to use the remains of your feast, but this--this is what you should make. Turkey gumbo.

I mean no sacrilege by discussing gumbo on the soup loop. I know it's not proper to call gumbo "soup." I'm just saying. I want you to try this.

Gumbo can take all day, but it doesn't have to. Now that I live in New Orleans and have talked cooking with lots of folks, I don't feel like I'm cheating with roux from a jar. It isn't a sacrilege here. Again, I'm just saying; you can certainly make your own roux if so inclined (see the Taggert recipe, below, for instructions). And if you find turkey stock at the store, such as Kitchen Basics brand (they do make it!), you can save yourself even more time. If not, simmer your turkey carcass for 45 minutes to an hour in 6 quarts of chicken broth to "turkey" it up (or simmer the carcass in 8 quarts of water with an onion, bay leaf, a few carrots, and a few celery stalks for 3 to 4 hours to yield about 6 quarts of stock). If you simmer bones to make your stock, make sure you strain it well, through a very fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if you have it.

Paul is an excellent gumbo cook. Every one of his gumbos has made me smile and wonder and learn about flavor building, but this turkey version--his first turkey gumbo--was the best I've ever had. We used Chuck Taggert's recipe as a starting point and adapted it according to our preferences and energy level. At our house, we enjoy throwing meaty bones into large pots and letting the meat decide when it's ready to come off, so you see a large thigh bone in the photo. Nice. Unless you have a houseful of people, freeze some. You'll have gumbo all winter.

Paul's Turkey Gumbo Yumbo
  • 1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced into rounds about 1/2" thick
  • 1/2 pound tasso, minced (see Notes)
  • 1/4 cup bourbon (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups prepared roux, such as Savoie's
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil, butter, or a combination
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 quarts turkey stock
  • about 1 pound leftover turkey, chopped, or 2-3 pounds turkey on the bone
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • Creole seasoning, to taste
  • 2 pounds fresh okra, sliced about 1 1/2" thick (it will shrink as it cooks)
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • few dashes Tabasco, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • cooked white rice, for serving

In a large saute pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sausage and tasso for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally (you can do this without adding any oil or butter, or you can add some oil or butter, darn it, if you like). After the first five minutes, when some brown bits start to collect in the pan, we like to add a big shot of whiskey to the pan to enhance the caramelization process. It tastes nice. Drain and set aside.

In the gumbo pot (10-12 quarts), heat the roux over medium heat until it's bubbling, stirring almost constantly. This will take about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, over medium heat, saute the onions, scallions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic in a little oil and/or butter in the pan you used to brown the sausage, just enough to soften--about 7 minutes. When the roux starts to simmer, add the vegetables to the gumbo pot and stir to coat them with roux. Add the stock and stir well. Add the sausage, tasso, turkey & bones with turkey, bay leaves, and Creole seasoning. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let simmer about 30 minutes, tasting & adjusting the seasoning from time to time. Keep stirring the pot from the bottom so nothing starts sticking and burning.

Add the okra and simmer another 30 minutes. Add the parsley, Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste, simmering for about 15 more minutes, until it's just right. Skim off any fat that you can, and remove the bones that are just being bones at this point. You can take big bones out and remove the meat yourself if you like, but that will probably happen tomorrow on its own when you reheat it for supper.

Serve in large shallow bowls with a scoop of steaming hot rice.

Serves about 16.


Tasso is a very smoky, spiced cured pork shoulder used as flavoring in Cajun & Creole dishes. If it's not available, substitute a suitable amount of highly flavored pork, like bacon, pancetta, or ham.

Don't be tempted to throw the backbone of the turkey into the gumbo pot. Instead, use it to make your stock, straining very well. The problem is that the vertebrae can completely come apart, making for some unwanted bone-biting while you're eating; thus, we omit the backbone from the pot of food.

You'll be sad if you don't have some good French bread to eat with this.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Passionately Regressive

You know how it is: the chill of an October morning, the familiar stripes of your favorite sweater, the desire to come home from work or school and dig into a bowl of something hot and filling. This is such a bowl.

"Stuffed Peppers" was one of the first dishes I tackled after moving into my first apartment, when I was attending the University of Oklahoma. I had one cookbook then--The Betty Crocker Cookbook--and I spent hours poring over the recipes for something I felt I could manage, not having much experience in the kitchen up to that point. Ground beef? Check. Bell peppers? Fine. Rice? A little tricky, but I could try. And it worked out. It was good and, most importantly, I hadn't risked losing any pricey ingredients.

Fast-forward a few years. I don't find myself craving stuffed peppers per se, but I crave the time of the stuffed peppers--the times in your life when you're experimenting with everything, even life itself. I'm into soup now. It's time for Stuffed Pepper Soup.

I was a little skeptical of this recipe; it's so simple, after all. Could it please my decidedly adult palate? The answer's yes. The finished soup has a tomato-based broth, but it's not richly acidic like a tomato soup. You end up with a sort of brothy chili, or a stuffed pepper casserole gone swimming. Allspice was the surprise, to me--and I highly recommend it, or at least a substitution, if you don't have allspice on hand (see notes, below). The allspice pushes the flavor in the direction of the Mediterranean (think Moussaka), and the fresh basil gives the entire pot a dose of green. Rachel Ray gets kudos for this update on a classic American suburban dinner--orzo, Parmigiano, and all. Of course, she calls it a "stoup," but I'll forgive her that.

Stuffed Pepper Soup
from Just in Time by Rachel Ray

  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut into bite-size dice
  • 3 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite-size dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup orzo (uncooked)
  • 12 to 15 fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
  • grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to pass at the table

Heat a medium soup pot over medium-high heat with the E.V.O.O. When the oil is hot, add the beef and season with salt, pepper, and the allspice. Cook the meat for 5 minutes or until browned, then add the garlic, onions, peppers, and bay leaf. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until tender. Stir in the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. When the soup is bubbling, add the orzo and cook al dente, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and fold in the basil. Discard the bay leaf. Serve in shallow bowls topped with some grated cheese.

Serves 4, according to her book, but it served us 7 times.

Notes: I had no allspice, so I used 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. French bread is a great go-with. A little extra heat (crushed red pepper flakes or Tabasco) works well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Little Green

In honor of our nation's economic crisis and the first below-80-degree days of autumn in New Orleans, I offer you a smashing recipe for Split Pea Soup. I've made this recipe, from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, several times over the past ten years, and every time I make it, I'm astounded at how easily I forget that (a) it makes a LOT of soup for very little money, and (b) it's darn good.

This is also the kind of food that I crave after weekends filled with fried foods (it is football season, after all). You know how it is when your body aches for something un-fancy, natural, and legumed. You need some green--stat.

No ham? This recipe is meatless, and can be made with water instead of stock, which cuts costs considerably. I've made it before with a big ham hock thrown in at the start, with tasty results. But I honestly prefer the vegetarian version for its clear, earthy flavor.

8-qt. pot? You must have a pot that will hold at least 8 quarts of liquid to contain this recipe. Check the bottom of your pot for its capacity.

Unpeeled potatoes? Ina calls for the potatoes to be unpeeled, I think, for extra flavor and texture. I agree, but to a lesser extent. I usually use 6 potatoes and peel 3 of them.

Parker's Split Pea Soup

from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups diced carrots (a medium-sized dice)
  • 2 cups diced red boiling potatoes, unpeeled
  • 2 pounds dried split green peas (sorted and rinsed)
  • 16 cups chicken stock or water
  1. In an 8-quart stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, potatoes, 1 1/2 pounds split peas, and stock or water. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Skim off the foam while cooking.
  3. Add the remaining split peas and continue to simmer for another 40 minutes, or until all the peas are soft. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom. Taste for salt and pepper and serve hot.

10-12 servings(!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rooted in Fiber

Talk about your inexpensive, good-smelling, sinus-clearing soup: this is a recipe from Soup by Williams-Sonoma, a book I turn to again and again for simple, accomplishable soup recipes. The first time I made their Carrot Soup with Ginger and Orange, I was expecting a healthy bowl, but one I'd more or less be forcing on myself (and others) for health's sake. Surprised we all were that this soup tasted rich. I'm not sure what magic ginger holds that makes it both clearingly light and duskily filling at the same time, but I like it. The orange zest also contributes to the richness, I think.

A tip: buy a real-live orange for the juice and zest (zest is the colorful part of the fruit's skin--just grate the fruit shallowly, before you get to the white underskin). Prepared o.j. doesn't cut it in a soup with so few ingredients.

Carrot Soup with Orange and Ginger
(from Soup by Williams-Sonoma)

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, including tender green parts, thinly sliced (wash these well!)
  • 6 carrots, about 1 pound, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red potato, about 1/2 pound, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock or prepared broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper (black is fine too)
  • garnishes: thin orange slices; fresh mint sprigs
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the leeks and saute until just slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, potato, and ginger and saute until the vegetables are just softened, about 5 minutes longer.
  2. Add the stock, cover partially, and simmer until the vegetables are completely softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches, leaving some texture, and return the soup to the pan. Alternatively, process with a handheld blender in the pan until the desired consistency is reached. Return the soup to medium heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish each serving with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.

    serves 4-6

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Winter Whites

I'm cutting it pretty close here with the title, it being Daylight Savings Time now and a warm-ish Sunday morning in Arkansas, but I know we're still in for some coldness...

That being said, I thought I'd share a method for making homemade soup out of little more than a few handfuls of dried beans. I have only two cardinal rules for bean soup: 1. start with dried beans, not canned;* 2. don't add salt until the beans are tender (or they might never become tender!).

Here's the "recipe," presented more like a guide, with all kinds of possible omissions, substitutions, and additions. Honestly, I think the simpler you keep a bean soup, the better, so think of a final flavor you'd like to have in the soup, and decide on your seasonings and ingredients before you start making it; otherwise you might end up with a sloggy jumble. The photo soup was made with great northern beans, 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 stalks celery, 3 cloves garlic, 1 1/2 cups chopped ham, lots of black pepper, salt, a couple spoonfuls each of Worcestershire and red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoonfuls each of dried oregano, cumin, and fennel seed, and a little paprika over the top. That's it--I didn't even have a bay leaf. You can make a simple Tuscan soup with only dried cannellini, water, onions, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Dig it.
*I don't mean to contradict myself. You've seen me use canned beans in other soups, and I'll always rely on them for their convenience. But when the whole point of the soup is the beans, I go purist, and cook them from the dry state.

Highly Adaptable White Bean Soup

  • Pick through and rinse 1 pound of dried great northern beans (or pintos, cannellini, red beans, black beans, or a mixture). Put them in a medium bowl and cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Let them soak for 6 hours to a day.

  • Drain the beans and place them in a large soup pot, covering with fresh cold water by about 2 inches. Add a bay leaf and/or a ham bone (or hock or shank), or add nothing but the water. Bring to a boil over high heat; place a lid on the pot slightly ajar and reduce the heat to medium, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until tender but not falling apart (there should be no "hardness" left).

  • While the beans are cooking, chop some vegetables: 1 yellow or white onion (or 2 leeks), a few cloves of garlic, 1 or 2 carrots, 2 or 3 stalks of celery--any basic soup vegetables you have lying around (or bell peppers, jalapeno, parsnips, or fennel). Dice the onions, slice the leeks, carrots, or celery thinly, and mince the garlic. Heat a saute pan over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil or butter, and saute the vegetables slowly for about 15 minutes, until they're soft and fragrant.

  • When the beans are tender, add the vegetables to them. Check the water level--you can make the soup very thick or quite thin according to your preference; you'll just need to season it more if you have a lot of liquid. Cook the beans and vegetables together for at least 20 minutes over a medium-low heat to blend the flavors. If you've used a ham bone, this might be a good time to take it out and shred the meat off, returning the meat to the pot; or, you might want to leave it in until the meat is falling off of its own accord.

  • During this last 20 minutes (or so), add whatever other vegetables or meats interest you: diced cooked ham, chicken, pork, or sausage; chopped green chilis; diced tomatoes or Rotel; roasted red peppers; corn; artichoke hearts...And add some seasonings: chopped fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, or cilantro; dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil; spices like ground cumin, ground coriander, a little fennel seed, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning; Tabasco or other hot sauce; freshly ground black pepper; the rind from a chunk of Parmesan cheese; lemon or orange juice or zest; Worcestershire sauce or a splash of red wine vinegar; a dab of mustard; a pinch of sugar; salt (only if the beans aren't hard anymore, remember!).

  • Cook over low heat, tasting and adjusting, til it's good/great/awesome. Don't let anyone eat the bay leaf.

Depending on your additions, you should get at least 6 hearty servings from this pot.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lentils and Friends, or Learning to Trust the Pleasures of Simplicity

There are certain dishes which, when I see their photographs and read their lists of ingredients, I'm less than excited about. Take lentils. Lentils, I know, have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, so we've had plenty of time to learn what goes well with them, how to season them, how to prepare them. And we wouldn't still be eating them if they weren't satisfying, right? In this version of lentil soup, we also have the "humble clan" of onions, carrots, celery, garlic. A little smoked sausage for flavor. I have to admit that I've been staring at this recipe in Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris for years now, and haven't been the least bit inspired to make it (although I have made several recipes from the book and have always been pleased). Haven't I learned by now that the simplest players make the best results?

Something magical happens when just the right seasonings are paired with just the right combination of time-tested ingredients. No fancy herbs or specialty equipment required; you may already have all of these ingredients in your kitchen. Invite some folks over; take turns stirring the pot while you talk and get really hungry; break off chunks of French bread (or whatever bread-y thing you have around the house) and ladle the soup over, topping with Parmesan cheese (if you have it). Ah, good. I'm so glad you did that.

Lentil Sausage Soup (adapted slightly from Barefoot in Paris)
  • 1 pound French green lentils such as du Puy (I'm sure regular brown lentils would work well)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 3 large yellow onions, diced

  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 8 stalks celery, diced

  • 4 carrots, diced

  • 3 quarts (12 cups) chicken stock or broth

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 1 pound kielbasa, cut in half lengthwise and sliced 1/3" thick

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar, or red wine)

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • for serving: freshly grated Parmesan cheese, extra olive oil, bread

  1. In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

  2. In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, heat the oil and saute the onions, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and tender. Don't use too high a heat or the garlic will burn.

  3. Add the celery and carrots and saute another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked through and tender.

  4. Add the kielbasa, vinegar, and cayenne and simmer about 5 minutes. Check for salt: depending on the saltiness of the broth, tomato paste, and sausage, you may need a lot or hardly any. Serve with a hunk of bread, drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated Parmesan.

Serves 8