And Then It Was Thanksgiving

Last I remember, I was writing a Labor Day reminiscence of summer and now bang, the Thanksgiving holiday is in my forecast.  Is it my age or a symptom of our lifestyle, but I just don’t have time to yearn much for future events, anymore.  I feel most often that I am scrambling to keep up with the present week and have to be clear with myself, and others who will be involved, that yes, Thanksgiving is going to be a thing again this year, get ready, and then we just have two weeks of school after that.  It is all cued up very tightly.

Let me recap a little from the fall, however.  Work has been busy, busy (Three busies wouldn’t even be overkill.)  First, I have a group of seventh graders who are challenging all of my 30 years of behavior management strategies, so days and nights blur with that strategizing.    I also directed a middle school play in October, and anyone who has ever done that will know how time consuming it is.  How did it go?  Well, the first act I was saying to myself, My God, they are pulling it together.  Then the second act began.  Lines started being skipped.  One student stood with his back to the audience and mumbled line fragments sending his fellow actors scrambling to pick up the dialogue.  There were awkward, long pauses, with darting glances between actors and dead time between scenes where the spotlight circled the closed curtain waiting for some action, any action.  One scene was repeated, and it was a death scene.    It didn’t turn into a full fiasco (listen to This American Life for how bad it can get.)  They kept in character and didn’t start fighting right on stage, but it ceased to be a story about a young bat hero and turned into a reality play about middle schoolers trying to bring a play to an end.  Which had its own fascination.  When we debriefed the next day, at a little cast party, they all seemed to feel pretty good about the experience.  One girl asked in a confidential tone, “Do you think anyone noticed we skipped some lines?”

“Oh, no,” I could answer in all honesty.

We took two incredible trips this fall.  One was to the south of Tunisia.

S. Tunisia

Pomegranates and Dates

Men, Dominoes

I will have to write more, very specifically about it.  I will just say that it was rare and precious, and I wish we had gone our first year here.  It won’t be our last time.

We also just got back from close to a week in Seville, Spain.  We were there for a school conference (I know), but we considered it a preview as we are going back to Spain for two weeks with Gabe and Anton over the Christmas break.  Obviously, there will be more to come about Spain, as well.  I adore it and can’t wait to go deeper.

Freshest in our minds, however, are our singular trips this week to the underworld of the stomach flu.  Allan was sick all last weekend, and I puttered around doing what people do to care for the violently infirm.  Then, on Wednesday night, the Grim Reaper came for me.  I scrawled some barely decipherable substitute notes, much like what you would write if you were being kidnapped, and then 24 hours were lost from my life.  If I wanted to look on the bright side, I guess it isn’t bad to have a complete purge diet right before the beginning of the holidays.  We’re both on our feet again, but our appetites are still a little peevish, so I’m sticking with some clean flavored comfort dishes.

I am back to reading David Tanis recipes, who I’ve written about many times before.  I like him so much because his cooking philosophy is about making something delicious using just what is lying around on your counters.  Really, in his newest book, One Good Dish, he begins with several recipes for using bread in successive degrees of staleness.  It is exactly the thing I find enduringly intriguing about French cooking.  Here is a recipe using precisely what I have on my counters, or elsewhere in my refrigerator and garden,  today.

 

Garlic Soup 2

Save-Your-Life Garlic Soup

“Like chicken broth, garlic soup is said to have all sorts of medicinal properties.  It apparently can both prevent and cure hangover, and even aid digestion…”  David Tanis

  • 2 heads garlic, preferable new crop, separated into cloves (about 16 medium) and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 slices bread, lightly toasted
  • Chopped parsley, scallions, or chives

Slice or roughly chop the garlic cloves.  Warm the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sage and let them sizzle a bit without browning, about 2 minutes.  Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a brisk simmer.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle about an inch of the soup into a skillet and bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat.  Carefully crack the eggs into the pan and poach for about 3 minutes.

To serve, place a slice of toast in each soup bowl and top with a poached egg.  Ladle the soup over the eggs and sprinkle with a little parsley.

Serves 4

 

 

Red Snapper Chowder

            The soup worked.  I was kind of stressed about it.  After I made such a dramatic point about the fish stock with my glassy-eyed John Dory photo, I knew some people wanted to know how the actual soup came off.  And to tell you the truth, I had to really think about it.  It has been a couple of years now since I’ve had the pleasure of a serving of the snapper chowder at Stock Market in Granville Island Market.  I actually scrolled through the reviews of the restaurant looking for descriptors and found a few helpful ones.  In the end though, I had to go deeply into my taste memory and what I clearly remembered is as follows:  It was a little chunky.  It had a base flavor of oysters and bay leaves.  There was a ton of celery with some actual stringy bits that didn’t puree out.  And it was completely nondairy.  Here is how I built the soup to go with the stock.
Ingredients
1 ½ – 2 yellow onions, chopped
A bundle of celery about 3” in diameter, including leaves, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1-2 leeks, chopped
3-5 bay leaves
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 liters fish stock
¼ cup Arborio rice
2-3 fish fillets, diced into ½ inch cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
            Sauté all of the vegetables, except the potato, in olive oil until soft, but not browned.  Cook the potato in a small saucepan, with a little water, until tender.  Puree vegetables in a food processor or with an emersion blender.  Leave it a little chunky.  Add solids to fish stock and heat.
            Stir in Arborio rice and simmer until rice is soft.
            Add the fish to the heated stock and simmer, without boiling, until fish is cooked, but tender.
            Season with salt and pepper.
Serves 8-10
The Rosemary, Scallion Focaccia Bread is a David Tanis reprint.  I have already written about it at Dinner at Diane’s.  It’s always great, but remember, you have to start it one day ahead of when you want to eat it.

Fish Stock

 If I could do anything I want to this weekend… anything at all, I would go to Vancouver for the day and wander around Granville Island Market.  This False Creekside maze is the creative, culinary hub of the city that is still my standard as the greatest city in the world.  Sydney? Barcelona? Munich?  They’re all great, but you cannot beat that fresh, west, native feeling of Vancouver, which at the same time is Manhattan hip and San Francisco grounded.    With all of the big bounty of the Frazier Valley and the Pacific Ocean at hand, Granville Market serves as a food terminal moving it all along to kitchens and tables.  There’s the produce, strawberries stacked in almost 12-inch high pyramids, and the seafood, the cheeses and pastas and almost every beautiful food item you could desire.  So I dawdle through the sectors of the market, totally wide-eyed, my mind spinning with the options of the meals I could cook.  And suddenly, I’m starving.  Hunger comes upon me instantaneously and I have to eat that second.  I always go to the same place; it’s called The Stock Market.    This is a kiosk that sells vacuum-packed liters of their made-fresh-daily soups, fresh soup stocks, pasta sauces, dressings, and pestos.  You know, this is where you really need to start your shopping and then work backward, picking up meat, or pasta, or vegetables to complete the dish.  But how does this help my hunger issue?  They sell containers of their daily soup topped with a big hunk of Rosemary focaccia bread and they always seem to have my favorite:  red snapper chowder.  I never considered that anyone else in the world had noticed the red snapper chowder at The Stock Market on Granville Island, but me, yet when I researched it, there seems to be an entire cult following for this soup.

            I found a beautiful St. Pierre, which is a Mediterranean species of John Dory, at a local market this week.  I’ll admit that he’s not the most handsome fish, but I knew when I saw it that the post-fillet carcass of this fish was bound for fish soup stock, which is what is absolutely required if you’re going to make any kind of fish soup.  This formula will fill a 1-gallon stock pot. The ingredient amounts are suggestions to give you an idea of the proportions so you can, of course, adjust them.
Fish Stock
Ingredients: All well-washed and chopped in large pieces
Onions, 2 large
Celery, 3 stalks, including lots of leaves
Leeks, 1 large or 2-3 small
Carrots, 2-3 large
Fresh garlic, 1 clove, peeled and smashed
Fresh parsley, about 1 cup
Thyme, 6 healthy sprigs
Bay leaves, 3-5
Cloves, 2
Black peppercorns, 20 whole
Sea salt , a little for now.  You can adjust the salt in your finished dish.
Non-oily white fish bones (halibut, cod, red snapper or sole), rinsed and kept in large pieces
Cover with filtered water and low-simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
When cool, strain the stock and compost the solids.  Freeze or use the stock in soups, sauces, and braises.I plan to follow through with the snapper chowder and Rosemary focaccia bread this weekend and if all goes well, I’ll post it here.   Otherwise, I’ve got a gold mine of stock in my freezer for my next endeavor.

Greens Soup

This recipe is the follow up to the vegetarian stock that I previously posted.  As I wrote there, I planned to make a soup of greens that I heard described on The Splendid Table (NPR).  Anna Thomas was the guest and she just published a new cookbook:  Eating Well.  From listening to the interview, I believe that Anna’s definition of eating well means eating whole foods, extracting as much of the foods’ flavor and nutrition as culinarily possible and I definitely agree.

            If you’ve got the vegetarian stock already packed away in your freezer, this can come together after work.  If you need to start from stock, then this is a weekend project, but worth it.
            I won’t summarize the recipe first, but I do need to comment on the onions.  Anna made a big point about caramelizing those onions to what may seem like an absurd degree.  Her rule of thumb was when you think you’ve overcooked them, go another ½ hour.  The bit of water you sprinkle over them once they’ve browned, and lidding the pan, keeps them from burning and steams them a little.  I almost had caramelized onion paste when I finished and that’s probably about right.
            This is not a bright, springy type of green soup.  Recall all of the browning of vegetables that has occurred both in the making of the stock and in the soup.  Additionally, the Arborio rice base you create before cooking the greens sets a nutty, warm palette.  You will need to finish it with good salt and fresh lemon juice to bring up some pop.  I also especially enjoyed the lingering heat of the cayenne and don’t think that drizzle of olive oil is optional.  Buy the grassiest, first-cold-pressed olive oil you can find and top it off with just a touch.
            The soup is an excellent team player.  Just on its own, it might be a little heavy.  I had it once alongside a sparkling salad of fennel, parsley, and cranberries, with a citrus dressing, and they were perfect mates.  We all went home that night and dreamed of dancing vegetables.  I had it a second time with a brunch of potato/gruyere quiche and blood orange juice and couldn’t imagine a more delicious combination than that.  Make it up, pack in the greens, and pair it up with just about anything.
Basic Green Soup
From Eating Well, by Anna Thomas
Yield:  8 servings
Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons, plus 3 cups, water, divided
1/4 cup arborio rice
1 bunch green chard (about 1 pound)
14 cups gently packed spinach (about 12 ounces), tough stems trimmed
4 cups vegetable broth
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Drizzle of first, cold-pressed olive oil
Instructions
1.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cover.  Cook, stirring frequently until the pan cools down, and then occasionally, always covering the pan again, until the onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25-30 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a soup pot or Dutch oven; add rice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Trim the white ribs out of the chard (save for another use, such as stir-fry or another soup).  Coarsely chop the chard greens and spinach.
3. When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, stir in the chard greens.  Return to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes.  When the onions are caramelized, stir a little of the simmering liquid into them; add them to the rice along with the spinach, broth, and cayenne.  Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender, but still bright green, about 5 minutes more.
4.  Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth or in a regular blender in batches (return it to the pot).  Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired.  Garnish each bowl of soup with a drizzle of olive oil.

It Begins with the Stock

I make chicken stock regularly.  This ritual has been a staple in my life for years and though I have wished for a vegetarian stock that is the chicken soup equivalence, I have yet to discover one that satisfies me.  I have tried many:  organic store bought, concoctions involving brewer’s yeast, but I’m sorry to say that they have, for the most part, come out tasting strongly of a strange, particular ingredient or else… dish water.  Usually, when a recipe calls for vegetable stock I substitute homemade chicken stock.

            I love The Splendid Table on NPR.  I feel happy in the radio presence of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host.  She is wise, yet so fresh with food.  She is also constantly affirming of all the guests on her show, taking a sincere interest in their culinary discoveries and implying that she is eager to learn from them, too.  Even Amy Sedaris.
            I am on a trajectory this week to make a greens soup that was described by a guest on The Splendid Table, Anna Thomas, who wrote a book called Eating Well.  I am going to save her greens soup recipe for a few days because I first need to make a deeply flavored vegetable stock.  I turned to the experience of Lynne Rossetto Kasper on this.  She has a recipe for a Hearty Vegetable Broth.  Her words, “There is nothing weak-kneed about this vegetable broth.  It’s big flavors hold their own in any dish…”
If you are used to tossing a bunch of raw ingredients in a pot, covering them with water, and walking away to let them simmer when you make stock, you may find this is a little more complicated.  To bring up the sugars in all of the vegetables, you cook them down until they are brown and beginning to stick to the pan.  You then deglaze the pan with white wine and let that cook off.  Finally, you add the cooked vegetables to some fresh ones, cover it all with water, and simmer it for a couple of hours.  This process, along with a large portion of sautéed mushrooms, gives the stock depth that I think rivals a beef stock.
Hearty Vegetable Broth
Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table, NPR
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, coursely chopped
2 large stalks celery with leaves, coursely chopped
4 medium onions, coursely chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, coursely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dry basil or marjoram
2/3 cup dry white wine
6 large romaine lettuce leaves, coursely chopped
1 large ripe fresh tomato, chopped, or 2 canned plum tomatoes, crushed
A pinch freshly grated nutmeg
About 4 to 5 quarts of water
1.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch saute pan or skillet (not non-stick) over medium-high heat.  Add the carrot, celery, onion, and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spatula, until the onions are golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and basil and cook a few seconds more.
Vegetables caramelizing and beginning to stick to the pan
2.  Add the wine and stir, scraping up any brown glaze in the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Transfer to an 8-quart stock pot.  Add the romaine, tomatoes, nutmeg, and enough water to cover the solids by 3 to 4 inches.  Bring to a gentle bubble, partially cover, and simmer slowly for about 90 minutes.
Deglazing the pan with white wine
Simmering stock
3.  Strain the broth into a large bowl, pressing down on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible.  Cool and chill.  Skim off any solidified oil from broth’s surface.  Refrigerate or freeze in 1 quart portions or in ice-cube trays.

I felt like I was making an Asian soup with the lettuce and the mushrooms.  The broth has a complex, yet natural flavor and this is only the stock.  On to the greens soup.