Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Half Moon Spring Break

But why should it be that sometimes one sees things clearly--I mean like when the camera is properly adjusted--
-George Seferis (A Levant Journal)

George Seferis never completed that thought; in fact, it seems just to be a passing impression from his diplomatic travels throughout the Middle East in the mid-1950s. But yesterday, for some reason or another, his words really grabbed me. Maybe it was the fact that I'm currently in the middle of my spring break (sadly, it's rapidly coming to a close!) and have been enjoying the distance from campus, work and the typical concerns that plague us all on a daily basis. A vacation, after all, wouldn't be a vacation if it didn't give you a newfound perspective on things and, ultimately, allow you to return to the daily grind with a sense of inspiration and joy. Or maybe it was because my face has constantly been behind the camera since spring break has begun and, surrounded by the beauty of California's cliffs, I've liked what I've been seeing. I like the act of taking pictures and capturing seemingly random moments so that, when I decide to look back, I can almost piece the day together, one shot at a time. It's like a patchwork quilt, somewhat flawed and carelessly stitched together, but it serves its purpose, allowing your memory to work, to reconstruct and relive.

And the only way to make my point is to offer you photographic snippets of my spring break interspersed with a few choice lines from some of Seferis' poetry; these days, I'm all about the relationship between the word and image: a Spinach and Strawberry Pine-Nut Salad, Caramelized Bananas enjoyed while watching my first-ever Greek movie, "The Aunt From Chicago", Apple Cinnamon pancakes inspired by Joy the Baker (any tea can be used to flavor them, although the original chai, admittedly, is fantastic), beautiful Half Moon Bay, the Mill Rose Inn, the coast, tide pools....and beyond. I sadly didn't pull out my camera during the fireside breakfast at the Mill Rose Inn, nor did I take pictures of the amazing (and awfully photogenic) food the Greek and I had at Pasta Moon. Some things you see more clearly with a camera, while others you don't even have the time to photograph. Maybe it's because sometimes the very memory will sustain itself.

"And if I speak to you in fairy tales and riddles
it is because they're sweeter in the hearing..." ("Last Stop")

"The world was becoming again what it had been, our own
with time and earth." ("Engomi")

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bread, Beauty is Thy Name!

Whatever the hands of man take up with love is holy.
-George Seferis

Comrades and faithful readers, I have finally done it: I have baked the bread I've been talking about for months! I know what you're thinking're looking at the picture and wondering if I've gone mad because, clearly, "That's not bread, that's cake!"

My response to you is simple: welcome to the glory of Irish Soda Bread.

What brought this on? You see, yesterday was the first unofficial day of spring break; time now stretches before me and my schedule, especially on the weekend, doesn't need to be nearly so rigid. So, I designated yesterday a "home day" and gave myself some time to think so as to let the ideas percolate while I took care of more pressing matters. All this basically means is that, while I did no writing, I did the laundry, not to mention a huge pile of dishes, swept the floor and baked bread for breakfast. Since I'm still cooking with Ina (I think I could cook with her forever and be incredibly happy), I made her Irish Soda Bread, which she likes to dress up with currants and orange zest. While I had the orange zest, I lacked currants; cranberries, however, are equally good.

One reason I went with this particular bread is that it's infinitely less time-consuming than other kinds of bread. Since you're using baking soda instead of yeast (which is where the soda in its name comes from), it's basically a simple process of mixing the dry ingredients, adding the buttermilk and egg mixture and then minimal kneading. There's no need to wait for anything to rise, no need to punch anything down and then to let it rise again. To a certain extent, it reminded me of making scones--from the very moist consistency of the dough to the crumbly finished product that goes oh so well with a nice slathering of butter.

Another thing I will say is this: apparently, some people take their Irish Soda Bread very seriously, namely The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, which I know, based on their description of what Irish Soda Bread is supposed to be, would never approve of the version Ina and I made. Thanks to the egg and sugar (the recipe called for 4 Tbsp. Because of the cranberries, I wanted to add only 2, but, since the Greek wanted more, we compromised on 2 1/2. Such is the way of things when four hands are obviously better than two), they would call it cake. Oh well, some people can just take themselves way too seriously! Irish Soda Bread, like most things in this world, should and can be whatever you want it to be. And, in fact, in the past few months, I've seen countless takes on this bread: there's Oat Soda Bread, a Six-Seed Soda Bread, Skillet Irish Soda Bread and yet another Oat Soda Bread, slightly different from and inspired by the first. It was thanks to the various recipes that I've read and considered that I decided to make my own oat flour and substitute it for one of the 4 cups of flour that the recipe called for. This, I think, ultimately made it less heavy and added to both its texture and flavor.

Mainly, I'm just happy because I'm getting things done. Maybe it takes me a fair amount of time to complete certain tasks (or even getting around to them), but here's to slow and steady winning the race!

Irish Soda Bread

slightly adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields 12 + slices, depending on their thickness

3 cups bread flour, plus extra for cranberries
1 cup oat flour, made from Old-Fashioned Oats in the food processor
2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried cranberries

-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
-Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
-Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
-With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup.
-With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
-Combine the cranberries with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough.
-It will be very wet.
-Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gently knead it a few times into a round(ish) loaf (the dough is very hard to handle, so make sure to dust your hands with flour and be prepared not to be able to really shape the dough).
-Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
-When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
-Depending on your patience, you have two options here: 1) Cool on a baking rack or 2) Serve almost immediately with butter at room-temperature.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Discipline and Loaf Cake" (My Take on Foucault)

We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are.
-- Tobias Wolff

It's been a tough week, but a worthwhile one. Sometimes you just have to take yourself in hand, ask what's working and not working and try to go about fixing it. The key word in that sentence is most definitely "try" because, really, that's often half the battle. You see, a lot of the time, I look for reasons to avoid real work (i.e. writing) while still being a busy, productive and functional member of both my community and society as a whole. It's not a bad way to live either, considering that, for the most part, you still get to feel good about yourself and all in the process of avoiding the truly odious tasks....But eventually that stops working, you stop feeling so great about yourself and you've just got to get down to business and figure things out. I hit that stage this week. To be sure, it's kind of a low moment, but, if you use it wisely, it's ultimately the catalyst that anybody with a murky, undefined deadline needs.

The way I see things is that, while we're often incredibly nice to others, full of compassion, inspiration and well-wishes, we're often our own worst enemy, self-sabotaging at almost every turn and fulfilling our worst fears about ourselves. It is, however, possible to turn these things around. A long time ago, I stopped eating candy bars. I learned to cook instead of relying on pre-packaged food. I went to yoga and it hurt so badly that I could barely move the next day, but, oddly enough, I enjoy it and keep going back...even though I'm sure I'm not all that good at yoga (if one can even say such a thing about a meditative "sport"). I bought a bike and actually use it, although I hate biking up hills....So, it was time to ask myself what was so different about this from all these other things? It quickly became apparent that what was really at stake here was a matter of self-discipline--knowing that I'm just going to have to suck it up and deal. After all, when you want something, you find a way to make it work.

I'm on day three of my new "rise and shine at 7:30 a.m., write for three hours in the morning and, depending on the need to go to campus or not, maybe even more in the afternoon" plan. And I have to say: it feels good. It's actually kind of fun; it's fascinating to watch something take shape before your eyes and to know that, at the end of the day, this is all yours. Maybe it could be written better, maybe some of the ideas are poorly conceived, but it's yours and it couldn't be, at this moment in time, any other way. To show you the happy proof of my new situation, I offer a picture of my crazy work space at the kitchen table, where I like to joke that the "genius" happens. I keep the food magazines around for the moments when I know I need a break because I want to throw heavy Russian novels against the wall, which clearly none of my neighbors would appreciate.

Perhaps this is a naive thought, but I do believe that we're all just doing the best that we can. Sometimes the best of us manifests itself in a few pages written, other days it may look like a scrumptiously gooey and moist lemon cake with not one, but two kinds of lemony glaze. Even better, some days it can look like both.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

Slightly adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields at least 10-12 slices, depending on how they're cut

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup 2% Greek Yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
3 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
-Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
-Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl.
- In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla.
-Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
-With a rubber spatula, fold the canola oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated.
-Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
-Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
-When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
-Then, carefully place it on a baking rack over a sheet pan.
-While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.
-For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.
-Prepare yourselves for greatness!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Femme Fatale of Polenta

It is true, I have looked at you all this evening. Your beauty troubled me. Your beauty has grievously troubled me, and I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more. Neither at things, nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks.
-Oscar Wilde (Salome)

I'm writing, writing, and writing these days--sometimes badly, sometimes well. The point, however, is that you just need to do it, to allow the bad days and poorly articulated thoughts to occur, and then hope that, when you go back to fix it, you'll magically know how to turn it all into gold. To be honest, I'd even be willing to accept something gold-like. As they say, a dissertation moving in the direction of done is a good dissertation; sitting and being overly fastidious about each and every sentence, fact, thought and book that could prove to be just oh so important is a waste of one's time. This, at least, is my philosophy today and I happen to think that it's a good one.

With all this writing and searching for and analyzing images to go along with the verbal text (this week's theme has been, unsurprisingly, Salome and the femme fatale: in short, how we move from Gustave Moreau's Salome to a mere schoolboy in a geisha costume at a masquerade ball) , there's not a lot of time for high maintenance recipes and two or three course fantabulously planned meals. Fortunately, this hasn't been a problem. Ever since I got my copy of Barefoot Contessa At Home back (I was spreading the love by lending it to a friend), I've been inspired by the simple and delicious way that Ina Garten both prepares and presents her food. This cookbook and I go way back as, in my first year of graduate school when I decided I would conquer home-cooking and stop eating out like it was going out of style, I asked for it for Christmas. Ever since then we've had a happy relationship and not only have I given it as a gift to a dear friend who got married, but I've cooked many, many things from it and loved them all: Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, Zucchini Cakes, Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes, Peach and Blueberry Crumbles...and, my go to recipe, Creamy Rosemary Polenta. You might even say that it's one of my favorite cookbooks, beautifully photographed and accessible on a daily basis.

Just why is this my go to recipe? Well, a) who doesn't like polenta (especially when it's done right and, with this recipe, it can't be anything but), b) it's fast and filling and c) thanks to the rosemary, it's intensely flavorful. It works nicely as a side dish (that is, if you don't spoil the beautifully prepared meat you were trying to make; until cooked, it was a photographic winner, which you can see below!) and just as nicely as a main course. Also, it travels well and keeps. While I used to try to doctor this recipe and add things like spinach, cherry tomatoes and sometimes carrots to it, I've since stopped, realizing that, in trying to make it more vegetable friendly, I was ultimately hurting the flavor and preventing its rustic quality from shining through. Well, no more!

Simplicity and getting the job done are the new name of the game. In fact, I've been embracing this new philosophy so fully that I've decided that, instead of the usual mound of cookbooks sitting on my kitchen table, which as of late have been in deep competition with academic papers and books, I'm going to be cooking from only one cookbook or magazine at a time...You see, I get all these ideas and inspiration and then there's not enough time in the day to do anything with them. So, for now, for the next week or so, Ina and I--along with Sologub, Moreau, Huysmans, Chekhov and co.--will be spending a lot of time together. In some odd way, I can't help but think that, for me, in this very moment, it might not get any better than this. I truly believe that in times of trouble (real or imagined), there are always small and genuine pleasures to be found.

Creamy Rosemary Polenta
Slightly adapted from the Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields 6 servings if a side dish and 4 if a main course

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I've done it with both and had good results)
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup yellow cornmeal (medium grind)
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3-4 teaspoons rosemary, freshly chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

-Heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan.
-Add the garlic and cook over medium-high heat until the stock comes to a boil.
-Reduce the heat to medium-low and very slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps.
-Switch to a wooden spoon and simmer over very low heat, stirring almost constantly, for 7-10 minutes until thick. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring.
- Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, Parmesan, rosemary, and salt & pepper.
-Stir until smooth.
-At this point, add the olive oil and mix to combine.
-Serve hot sprinkled with extra Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Crumbles and Crumbling

And it seemed that, just a little more--and the solution would be found, and then a new, beautiful life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated part was just beginning.
-Anton Chekhov ("The Lady with the Little Dog")

Some days I wake up and I'm just plain inspired: I know what I want to do and, come hell or high water, it will be done. This is how I felt when I woke up on Sunday morning, wanting to do something with my hands--to create something and to use that time to think through a few things that were niggling at my brain.

And fruit was on my mind--apples and blueberries in particular. It must have been due to the gluttonous mediterranean feast I had had the night before at our annual "let's attract prospective students with good food and good ideas" party. Since I'm sure I had more than my fair share of the crispy and honeyed baklava, my fantasies of something fruity only made sense. At least, this is how I justify certain things to myself. It's always interesting to see how one's logic works, right?

The not-so-secret truth is that I've long been wanting a good old-fashioned crumble. A crumble, of course, is not to be confused with a cobbler. The main difference between the two is that a crumble is essentially raw fruit topped with a crumbly pastry mixture (usually oats, sugar, nuts and butter) and baked, while a cobbler is like spoon pie with a topping of biscuit dough. In a nutshell, these definitions explain my obvious preference for the former over the latter; you see, while I love nuts and oats, I don't really care all that much for biscuits. I know, I know, such an admission is nothing short of blasphemous, but there you have it. Given the choice of a muffin, toast or a biscuit with my breakfast, the first two will always win. I do, however, remember having a soft spot for biscuit dough when I was younger...Something about the way the uncooked dough would tingle on the tip of my tongue was my favorite part of making biscuits with my mom for dinner; once they were baked, however, I wanted nothing to do with them. Although, when they're covered with gravy, they do become slightly more tolerable.

The nice thing about doing a fair amount of cooking and baking is that, when a whim strikes, I'm able to fulfill it pretty easily. And so, with the sun streaming through my kitchen window (clearly, sunny days make for better food photography in my apartment), I set out to make a crumble with what I had available to me. Best of all, I consulted no cookbooks, no online recipe guide, no nothing. It was me and my many happy experiences with crumbles--Strawberry Rhubarb, Peach and Blueberry, and Pear and Crystallized Ginger --that led to the finished product and one perfectly tailored to my tastes.

Most importantly, it was also a crumble for two. Two people, two ramekins, two made-to-order crumbles. As much as I love leftovers, sometimes you just want to cook, eat and be done with it. Even though I could happily eat a leftover crumble for breakfast...and, at some point or another, have done so. But, you know, what we're working on here is the "reward system." I cannot provide a link to said system because it's one that encompasses only my own kooky interpretation of living, Pavlovian style. You see, I've officially started writing the old (yet so new) dissertation and, while some days it goes well and I make progress, other days I'd feel better beating my head against the floor and burning my copy of The Petty Demon. I swear, the whole process sometimes feels like a fight for sanity, which is why I rely on crumbles and other such delights to provide a respite from the horrors of decadence, the gaze and mystical interpretations of art. Chekhov too offered a lovely little moment--even if chapter-related--yesterday. And it suddenly somehow seemed like Chekhovian optimism (naturally, one masked in pessimism) was the perfect complement to crumbles. Maybe it's cheesy to say so, but they helped to usher in the inspiration for the chapter and the bright, new life that will (hopefully) follow all of this intellectual joy, torture and other nonsense.

Nobody said it would be easy, but things become a lot less complicated when there's a piping hot bowl of fruity goodness awaiting you. And one that's just begging for an oh so decadent scoop of ice cream.

Apple Blueberry Crumbles
Yields two perfectly filled ramekins

For the filling:
1/2 cup blueberries
1 Gala apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2-3 sprinkles cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
juice of 1/2 lemon

For the topping:
1 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
handful of chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into half inch pieces

-In a medium-sized bowl, combine the fruit, spices, flour and lemon juice and toss.
-In another medium-sized bowl, combine the first five ingredients.
-Then, add in the chunks of butter.
-With your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until tiny pea-sized balls start to take shape.
-Top the fruit with the dry, crumbly mixture.
-At this stage, you can either refrigerate the crumbles or bake them immediately.
-If refrigerating, cover them with plastic wrap.
-When almost ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350.
-Then, bake crumbles for 30-40 minutes.
-Top with ice cream--or not--and enjoy!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pizza and a Puerto Rican Treat...

There is a silence where hath been no sound.
-Thomas Hood ("Silence")

I know I've written about pizza before, but, frankly, when all is said and done, it's something worth revisiting again and again. Pizza is just one of those irresistible comfort foods: you put whatever you're in the mood for on top of a base of what will eventually turn into gooey, delicious cheese and crunchy bread. You eat it warm, but half the fun lies in the fact that, the next morning, you know that you can just grab a piece out of the fridge, eat it cold and relive the magic.

Trust me when I say that it is indeed magical. This was the first time that I made my own pizza dough (you know, I'm still working my way towards making my own bread....slowly, but surely) and it was just really, really cool. I know that may sound a bit silly, but I really couldn't help but experience a tiny jolt of childish delight when I saw that, after adding the yeast and letting it sit for a few hours, it really did rise (for me, seeing really is believing; without it, I'm basically a horrible non-believer)! I was so fascinated by the process and eager to try again that, in one simple weekend--President's Day weekend, so Monday was also mine--I made two batches of pizza dough: one with white cornmeal for additional texture and one with whole wheat know, for the all-important fiber. One of the balls of dough is still sitting in my freezer, just waiting until I get the pizza-eating itch yet again. The good news, however, is that Mark Bittman's pizza dough recipe is so easy to make that I now understand that pizza is within my reach for dinner whenever I want it...which is incredibly dangerous knowledge.

Besides my own gluttony, just what had inspired this pizza-making craze? Quite simply, I was having some people over for dinner and a movie. Pizza is not only an eternal crowd-pleaser, but also convenient finger-food for movie-watching. I settled on two different kinds: the first, sausage, mushroom and tomato and, the second, potato, pesto and roasted garlic. I liked them both, but the latter really stood out--both in terms of flavor and crunch. The trick to making the potatoes have their own special crunch is to parboil them and also to make sure to brush them with olive oil before putting the pizza in the oven. For the pesto, I went to the trusted Epicurious and followed their Classic Pesto recipe (this yielded enough for two pizzas made on cookie sheets). And, for the garlic, I simply peeled off their skins, put them on tin foil, drizzled olive oil on them and added some spices (in this case, Greek seasoning, which entails a mix of oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, spearmint, chili and sweet basil). Then, I wrapped it up, put them in the oven for 30-40 minutes on 400 or until slightly browned and softened. I may or may not have popped one of the pieces in my mouth to test it. I do love me some garlic!

Granted, it was a slightly time-consuming process for the work of one day: pizza dough, pesto and all the additional chopping, parboiling, grating, etc. And I also made ice cream, again Spiced Honey, which just may be the bestest ice cream flavor in the world. Was it worth it? Look at the pictures below and decide for yourselves. Also, keep in mind that I repeated the whole process two days later. But maybe that just makes me slightly crazy and a glutton for punishment?

While you ponder the above question, I will say that there was one addition to the meal that I wasn't responsible for and that was really, really exciting: a Pistachio Coquito! What, pray tell, is a coquito? Basically, it's a kind of egg-nog or a holiday punch served in Puerto Rico with all kinds of delicious ingredients: sweetened condensed milk, rum, coconut milk, coconut cream....Needless to say, it's like drinking candy. I was first told about this drink at Thanksgiving by S, who, when I invited him over for pizza, kindly offered to make this drink and (finally) satisfy my curiosity. He had asked me in advance what flavor I would prefer and, since I love the addition of pistachios to everything, I requested the nutty, green (thanks to a dash of food coloring) version. Surprisingly, pizza and coquitos make a wonderful combination. It's all even better when you've got good company, a movie on in the background and an apartment that's cozy and toasty thanks to cranking the oven heat up to bake the pizzas.

Pistachio Coquito (Coquito de pistachio)
Serves 10-12

1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can coconut milk
1 can coconut cream
1 tsp. pistachio extract (optional)
1 cup pistachio ice cream
dash of green food coloring
a handful of pistachios, ground into tiny pieces
white rum to taste
cinnamon (optional)

Disclaimer: As I was running around making pizzas while this drink was being prepared, my exact knowledge of its preparation is a bit spotty. However, because I don't have a blender and a blender makes these kinds of things infinitely simpler, I can say that this was prepared in a mixing bowl with a whisk.

-Pour all of the canned ingredients into a large bowl and mix together with a whisk.
-Then, add the ice cream, painstakingly mixing it until it too becomes liquidy.
-At this stage, mix in the rum and dash of green food coloring.
-Top with the ground pistachios, stirring them in.
-Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until sufficiently cool.
-Mix before serving.
-Pour into cups and prepare to be wowed.

Can be stored up to a week...that is, if it lasts that long!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Venturing into Vegan, Part II

“Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.”
-Annie Dillard

I'll be honest with you: not many of the recipes I make and post on this blog go through an experimental "let's try this and see how it tastes" test run. And this isn't to say that everything I touch automatically turns to gold. Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen, especially when I'm fiddling with the ingredients. The reality is that sometimes my cheesecake ends up cracking (or, even if it doesn't crack, things end up falling on it; life happens! =p), or I char the bread while pureeing the soup; at other moments, I might accidentally open the wrong side of the pepper container and dump a teaspoon + into what would have otherwise been a superb omelet. Or mistake cayenne pepper for curry powder in my poorly lit kitchen. Another valuable lesson I've learned is that too much baking soda will lead to disgustingly bitter pancakes. Recently added to my list of cooking no-nos was the knowledge that, once potatoes are peeled, they must be put into a bowl of cold, salted water. Otherwise, they turn black from oxidation...just like apples. Who'd have thunk it? The good news, however, is that knowledge is power. You make one of these mistakes, you're unlikely to make it again. Kitchen foibles are simply in a league of their own; you learn fast or you sacrifice hours of labor..and sometimes limbs or hair.

That's why this recipe is particularly special. I made it not once, but twice before I felt it was ready to be revealed. The first time around it was good, but not amazing. And I couldn't help but think that things just didn't have to be that way. There was no reason for a Curried Carrot Ginger Soup to be bland. Such a thing doesn't even make sense!

There were a few complications, however:

1) I recently rediscovered a love for my work. In an attempt both to move towards the writing process and to make it as painless as possible, I'm rereading Sologub and typing up all the notes I've been taking for what essentially amounts to the past year (!). It's been fun and it's definitely helped me articulate some thoughts that have been on my mind. It's also nice to know that if I just sit with a book in Russian and tune the rest of the world out, the pages don't turn all that slowly.

2) Before heading back to the world of carrots and ginger for round 2, I really wanted to try Smitten Kitchen's Baked Potato Soup. Please let me say that this little interlude was more than worth it...and ultimately helped me to perfect the recipe.

3) Besides the fact that I've been on a potato kick lately, I've also been indulging in homemade pizza making. More on that in the next post!

But once I got all of this out of my system and felt that I had earned yet another "cooking day" (yes, we've again returned to the wonderful world of Pavlovian rewards for work accomplished! Downton Abbey is helping things move along quite nicely!) I was ready for another go. I was also slightly enthralled with the idea of taking a basic recipe, sprucing it up and making it my very own. And still in the mood to make things vegan. What can I say? I get an idea in my head and I can't let it go. At least, not until I've exhausted it sufficiently. :) Sometimes that never happens (considering coconut milk is a part of this manner of cooking, this could be one of those times...shhhhhh! I think people are worried I'm switching over to the dark side...).

The good news is that the trial and error method served me well; the second batch of this soup was--and continues to be--a crowd pleaser. So, my advice to those of you who are looking either to experiment with vegan home-cooking or to end up with consistently yummy soup, it's really quite simple: use broth, not water; more vegetables and spices are a must. In short, add that extra tablespoon of curry powder and peel and chop those remaining carrots and ginger! Most importantly, although I recognize that most things are a matter of taste, let's just say that I can't help but feel that garlic is essential to a soup's success. If you don't want to saute the garlic with the onions or leeks (again, your choice), boil or roast it, crushing it into a paste (as this was an essential part of SK's Baked Potato Soup, I had already boiled my garlic and capitalized on this amazingly fortuitous coincidence) and stir it in after you add the broth. With such a method, you really can't go wrong.

And don't forget to top your soup with something that will add a little extra flavor. When it comes to soups like this, I go the simple route with chives. You could add some extra grated ginger or sprinkle it with a dash of curry powder. In either case, you won't be disappointed. The sweetness of the carrots mixed with the soft spiciness of the ginger and the creamy, nutty undertones of the coconut milk may even inspire you to find a soft spot for veganism, flexitarianism or whatever "ism" might currently be lighting your fire.

Curried Carrot Ginger Soup

Inspired by and heavily adapted from the Sweet Dreams Soup Recipe from the Blue Moon Cookbook

Yields at least 6 flavorful bowls

3-4 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 yellow onion, chopped into small pieces
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped/grated
1 cube vegetable bouillon (vegan-friendly)
4-5 cloves boiled or roasted garlic, crushed into a paste
1 can coconut milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. curry powder + more (1/2 tsp) to taste
1/4 teaspoon kosher and/or sea salt (the bouillon I used had salt in them, so I didn't add any extra)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2-4 tsp. chopped chives for garnish

-Boil the potatoes in 3-4 cups of water until tender, about 20 minutes.
-When the water comes to a boil, add the bouillon and stir to help it dissolve.
-Once the potatoes are tender. turn the burner off and let them sit in the pot.
-In the meantime, pour the oil into a soup pot on medium heat.
-Add the onion, half the carrots, the ginger, nutmeg, curry powder, salt (if using additional salt), and pepper.
-Sauté for 6-8 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
-Add the remaining carrots, the cooked potato, and the broth.
-Add 1 cup water, and stir.
-At this stage, you can also add the crushed garlic, which will resemble a paste.
-Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 25-30 minutes.
-In a blender or a bowl, blend or mash 3 ladlefuls of the soup.
-Return the blended soup to the pot with the remaining soup (if you prefer a pureed soup, puree it all; if you, like most Americans, like "stuff" in your soup, puree less. This is all a matter of taste...and, as an article a friend posted recently pointed out, probably also of nationality).
-Then, stir in the coconut milk (make sure to shake the can of coconut milk before opening it; also, stir it before adding it to the soup so as to break it up).
-Add more curry powder, salt and/or pepper to taste.
-Ladle into bowls and garnish with the chopped chives.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...