Spoonin' some slurpy stuff about the world's drippiest drool

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Szechuan Pork and Pickle Soup, sort of

So, remember how I went to the trouble of color coding the lids on my broth. Apparently, that only works when you pay attention to the broth you are pulling out of the freezer. Because frozen, chicken brown broth looks a lot like beef broth. One trick, look for stray beef particles at the bottom of the container.

With that said, the other night, I made Szechuan Pork and Pickle Soup, sort of. Very quick and easy. Marinate very thin slices of pork in sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, combine with Szechuan preserved vegetable (you can get this at a specialty shop - there are lots of different kinds - cabbage and other vegetables). I wouldn't worry if you can't find the Szechuan preserved vegetables - even kimchee or any other asian pickled vegetable will impart that sour, spicy taste that makes this soup wonderful. I used a pickled cabbage, but not the szechuan version, so my soup was not terribly spicy. You can always add chiles to suit.

Next step, combine the meat and pickle with chicken broth, unless, of cccccourse you have defrosted beef broth. Since we all know what a time consuming activity it is to make broth, guess what I used...

Finally, add scallions and serve. Season with soy sauce if necessary.

Here is what I learned regarding this soup:
1) beef broth is too heavy a substrate for pork - even marinated pork is lost
2) I might have been able to use water instead of the beef more effectively. It didn't taste bad, its just that the pork was lost.
3) Keep the cooking time on the pork to a minimum. Unless it is paper thin, it will get chewy quickly.
4) Slice the pork paper thin

Here is what I am thinking for next time:
Substitute tenderloin or even brisket for the pork, use the beef broth and use spicier preserved veggies like kimchee or the Szechuan cabbage recommended originally.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunchoke Soup?

Sunchoke Soup

Sunchoke soup. It was on the menu last night at The Blue Duck Tavern - a fabulous restaurant in DC. The full description included black garlic custard and gingerbread flavors. I was salivating. And yet I didn't order this spectacular soup. Why? Well, two reasons really; there was another appetizer that really intrigued me - when I am dining from the menu of a master chef, I am inclined to try dishes that I might not try at say, Denny's. A lesson learned from my husband - if I am going to try something questionable, I should at least be reasonably sure it is cooked properly, and - I knew at least one other person at my table would order the soup and I could have a taste.


First things first. The sunchoke, also called the Jeruselem Artichoke, sunroot, earth apple or topinambur, is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States. It is a tuber, with a nutty, artichoke like flavor and a potato like consistency. It is wonderful to puree with other root vegetables, cauliflower, artichokes - you name it. Like everything else in life, it is great with bacon. Between the nuttiness and the sweet earthyness of the sunchoke, the possibilities for flavorings are endless. Add some good stock, a little cream, season to taste and off you go.

The soup last night was everything I expected - creamy texture, complex flavors that were made richer and sweeter by the additional flavorings.

So, what did I pass this all up for? Veal cheeks, that's what. Subtle flavor, succulent, braised to sublime tenderness, it doesn't even matter what other flavorings were on the plate (smoked potato puree and celeriac fondant). These cheeks definitely added to my smile.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Soup Flight

January is National Soup Month. Makes sense, sort of. I mean, yes, soup is wonderful comfort when it's cold out, but frankly, soup is wonderful period. Still, glad it's being given its due.

As for me, I will continue to celebrate the glory of soup on a regular basis. However, since it is soup month, I felt a little extravagance was in order. So, off to dinner I went, to Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda. Why you ask? Was it for Michael Corso's wine selection? Was it for their reknowned steak frites? Was it for the lovely dining experience? No, no, no. I wanted the soup flight. Three two ounce portions of their specialty soups (ok, and the wine).

The soup du jour was white bean purée with garlic and fried sage. Frankly, they had me at garlic and fried sage, the purée was just an added perk. Next was the porcini mushroom purée. Also lovely, great texture, nice flavors. Finally, onto my personal favorite - French Onion Soup - bubbly cheese tightly gripping the sides of the mug, thick with carmelized onions, tantalizing aroma - sigh, heartbreak - totally flavorless broth. Oh well, two out of three isn't bad for $5.95!

I paired my flight with a very dry reisling. Quite a nice way to begin an evening, or a mid month celebration of a favorite repast.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie

What do you do with a mountain of roasted chicken meat leftover from making stock? Why, you learn to make pasta, cut it into squares, and cook it in your fresh made chicken broth.

Learning to make pasta was easy - I had a good teacher and a hand crank pasta machine. I used a non egg dough recipe, passed down from my husband's Great Grandma. Mix it up, knead it till it holds together, flatten it out and crank it through on the fattest setting. You will have to put it through a bunch of times at that setting until it is fairly elastic again and ready for thinning. We folded it each time and turned it 90 degrees to keep it smooth and even. Keep cranking on thinner and thinner settings until you like the thickness. I rotated the strip 180 degrees each time to keep it smooth at the ends.

The rest was easy. once the pasta dries a bit it is easy to handle and cut - if it is too dry it will crack. Once it is cut into squares, you can add the squares, one layer at a time to the boiling broth. If you add them all at once they won't cook properly. I added a pinch of saffron too. Start checking the noodles after about 15 minutes.

I also sauteed carrots and onions in butter, and added them and the chicken meat to the broth after about 10 minutes of noodle cooking. A bit of good vinegar to taste and again, great, hard crusted bread. Who needs more? Well maybe a nice glass of wine too. A buttery Chardonnay would be lovely.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stock Talk

Stock. Do you immediately think of your portfolio when you hear that word? I do too, sort of. My portfolio is in my freezer. Chicken stock, beef stock mostly, but you never know. Except my portfolio was empty. Time to reinvest.

Stock - simple to make, if you plan well. Things to consider:

• How much? Stock is time consuming and freezes well, making large amounts can be cost effective and practical. Shop with an open mind - if chuck is on sale, great, but shanks and neck meat work well too. Whole roasting hens can be a lot less than cut up parts. Necks, backs and wings work too. Will you reuse the meat once its cooked - that will help choose the cuts you use too. Personally, I think beef chuck has a more pleasant taste and texture once it has been used
for stock than shank or neck.

Beef Stock

What kind? What do you use most - chicken can be substituted for beef if necessary, not alwaysthe other way around. Consider the time of year and the kinds of dishes you will be making.

Chicken Stock

• What will you cook it in? If you plan to make multiple pots at once, make sure the pots are large enough, and will all fit on the range top at once. At about five hours prep and cook time, I try to make as much as I can together!

    • What will you store it in? Multiple size containers give you flexibility when you are cooking - no point having to defrost more than you need. I use a color coding system with my lids to differentiate one type of stock from the next.

    With those questions answered, time to consider some details:

    • White or brown stock? For me, unless the color of the stock will effect the color of the dish, I go brown. That means the extra step of roasting the meat and veggies before simmering. It adds about 45 minutes, but the result is deep, rich color and a more developed flavor. I also think the cooked meat tastes better for the roasting.

    Roasting the Chicken

    • Veggies - the basics - onions, carrots, celery. For chicken stock, I like to add leek greens. I don't want to muddy the flavor of the meat, though, just enhance it.

    • Herbs - bouquet garni - standard is parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Consider what you will use the broth for. If you tend toward Mediterranean cooking, maybe rosemary and or sage would be better. I usually make batches with different herb combinations depending on what looks good at the store and what I will use the broth for.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Butternut Squash Soup

    The answer to winter's chill is soup. Soup to satisfy as many of the senses as possible. Last night I chose butternut squash. Beautiful orange color, aromas both sweet and smoky, silky texture with bits of bacon and smoked clams for chewing satisfaction, and a complexity of flavor. If this soup could play jazz, it would be perfect.

    As usual, I consulted a couple of cookbooks for ideas. Some I kept, most I didn't. I was in a hurry, so my usual approach of roasting the squash was out. Cooks Illustrated provided an option for steaming the squash. Shallots, squash seeds and guts are sauteed, then water is added to boil, creating an aromatic steaming liquid. Rather than 90 minutes, it took 30 minutes. Much quicker, but not as sweet as when the squash carmelizes from roasting.

    At this point, my path deviated from my recipe books. Rather than go the maple syrup or brown sugar route, I happen to feel that butternut squash has enough sweetness to stand up to smoky, savory flavors. So, into the skillet went chopped up bacon. When it was getting chewy and deep red/brown, I added diced jalepenos, diced red onions and after a few minutes, diced yellow pepper. I let it all drain and blot to remove as much bacon grease as possible then threw in a small container of smoked clams.

    Once the squash was tender, (and a bit cooled) I pureed it until it was smooth. I heated it up then took off the heat, and swirled in some golden balsamic vinegar. I put heaping spoonfuls of the bacon mixture in each bowl, poured the soup on top and yum.