It Comes Together Organically

Did I imagine that it was 70 degrees and partly sunny a few days ago?  The chilly gray skies have returned and I'm starting to think I dreamed the whole thing.  I'm feeling a bit deceived by the weather patterns.  Spring and I are on a cycle of spending some time together and then suddenly we are estranged.  I'd like it if Mother Nature could make up her mind about letting the warm weather stick around for good.  My green thumb would appreciate it, too. 

I can't help but feel a little bit like I am backsliding into a winter coma every time the temperatures slip.  I instantly start to refer to my mental winter-survival-guide, "Make a pot of soup!  Build a fire in the woodburning stove!"  Tim and I divide and conquer, sticking with our strengths; he loves to make a fire and I love to cook soup.

We are running a little light on homemade chicken stock so I opted to use the vegetable stock we made earlier this year.  I figure if we are starting there I should just make a vegetable soup.  As I gathered vegetables from counter-top baskets and the bottom drawer of our refrigerator, I really didn't have a starch like a potato to give some bulk to the soup.  After a quick peek in our cabinets, we had less than a quarter box of elbow macaroni so I decided to use pasta as my starch.  That's the thing about soup--it comes together organically that way.   

So I chopped the vegetables somewhat uniformly and into the pot went a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a yellow onion, a few medium carrots, two stalks of celery, several small parsnips, and some garlic.  I stirred occasionally, allowing the vegetables to sizzle over medium heat until they developed some color.  Then I added a heaping spoonful of tomato paste to add that essential umami flavor, balancing the sweet of the carrots and parsnips with its savory richness. (If you don't have tomato paste, a bit of full-bodied red wine will add the same depth.)

Then I added 3 containers of vegetable stock (about 6 cups) and a cup of water to the pot, stirring to combine and lift any bits off the bottom.  Two bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and some salt & pepper were all the soup needed for that last bit of flavor development.  I turned up the heat to medium-high to bring it to a boil, and then reduced it to medium-low to simmer. 

After ten or so minutes, I remembered that I wanted to add macaroni, so I tossed in two handfuls and set the timer to check it again in ten more minutes.  When the timer went off, the macaroni was just al-dente and the vegetables were all cooked through without being mushy.

After I served myself a bowl, I decided the soup needed some color.  I suggested Tim add a handful of frozen peas to the pot and before he ate any.  The addition of the peas (not pictured here) gave the mostly reddish colored soup a pop of color and a nice snap in texture when eaten.  It turns out between the parsnips and the macaroni noodles, I didn't miss the potatoes at all.  

There's really not much of a recipe to this so I won't pretend to give you one, but if you hesitate in trusting yourself to make soup without a recipe I suggest throwing caution to the wind.  Simple soup like this tends to pull itself together without much help from the cook. 

On a completely unrelated note, I've been compiling a list of food-related podcasts that I have been listening to while I travel for work so keep an eye out for those soon!


Equal Opportunity Gelato Consumers

How was your St. Patrick's day? 

I'm wondering what you were up to yesterday because it seems like everywhere I went there were people wearing green t-shirts, green knee socks and drinking suspiciously green beverages.  I, too, sported a green sweater, though I'm aware it was a weak attempt at partaking in the holiday.  I did consume a green beverage (margarita on the rocks) and watch some Sons of Anarchy (SAMCRO has quite a few Irish connections) but neither of those really made me feel like shouting, "Kiss me! I'm pretending to be Irish!

What can I say--I'm not Irish and I kind of don't get it.  I suspect part of it has to do with the fact that St. Patty's fell on a weekday this year and frankly, I am having a tough week at work.  My heart wasn't into the celebration.  I will do better next year--maybe even cook up some homemade corned beef.

On the other hand, Tim was a little more in the spirit.  While green beer wasn't on his agenda either, he did surprise me with a small St. Patrick's Day gift from Findlay Market.

Guinness flavored gelato from Dojo Gelato and a set of 4 gelato spades*.  What a gift!  The spades make so much sense for eating gelato, particularly pints that sit in the freezer and won't have that softness that you get from fresh.

The Guinness flavor was surprising and subtle.  There was a dark earthiness that I didn't expect and I could definitely tell that it was Guinness.  It wasn't savory--it was definitely dessert--but I appreciated the complexity of the contrast between the dark beer and what was likely vanilla gelato.  It was simple and smooth and did pump a little Irish into our day. 

Just to be clear--I am an equal opportunity gelato consumer--so please check out Dojo's and Madisono's blogs for their seasonal flavors.

*Oh, and the spades were purchased from Dojo's booth at Findlay Market.


The Perfect Steam-Fried Egg

There is an art to making the perfect runny egg.  The white needs to be fully cooked but the yolk must be carefully preserved in its runny, warm state.  The problem with flipping a fried egg is that it's very easy to break the yolk, so the steam-fried egg is the perfect solution. 

My mom used to make everyone in the family runny eggs on weekends.  I, like my father and his father, have never been a compartmental eater; when my siblings were eating their pancakes and eggs on separate plates, I poked my yolks so that they would mix with the syrup and be sopped up by the spongy pancakes.  I am firmly on the side that there is no point in having a runny egg if you don't have something to soak up the yolk.  

I like my eggs on top of crusty bread, waffles, pot roast, or like today, over roasted vegetables. 

I want to share my technique for a steam-fried egg.  It may not be earth-shattering, but it can definitely save you from the time-consuming, pot-stirring involved in poaching an egg.  

The Perfect Steam-Fried Egg

Step 1:  Butter the Pan. 

A small,non-stick saute pan over medium heat works best.  Allow the butter to melt completely before step 2.  

Step 2:  Crack in 2 eggs. 

If your eggs are especially fresh, the yolks will be firmer and less likely to break. 

Step 3:  Allow the whites to cook.  

This may take a minute or two.  You will know you are ready to move to step 4 when the whites begin to slightly bubble under neath. 

Step 4:  Add 2 tablespoons of room-temp tap water and cover.  

This is where the steaming comes into play.  If the pan doesn't sizzle immediately when you add the water, it's not hot enough.  It will take between 1 and 2 minutes for the whites to complete cooking and the top of the yokes to barely firm up.  When you remove the lid, there should be very little water remaining. 

Step 5:  Uncover and check for doneness.  

You should be able to touch the yolk lightly with your finger without it breaking, but there should be considerable give and "jiggle" to the yolk.  If you over-cook, give these to your spouse/friend/roommate and make yourself a new pair.  Tim, being a compartmental eater, has endured his fair share of over-medium eggs and thankfully loves me regardless.  He knows how I feel about eggs.

Step 6:  Prepare your plate.

I roasted some red peppers, onions, potatoes, and cauliflower tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees F for 40 minutes. 

Step 8:  Eat.

Step 9:  You're welcome.