Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Mouse is not a Moose

One of the only complaints I have with vegan foods is when they call things cheese, its well, not. As an omni, I am intimately acquainted with the “real” flavors of cheese, pepperoni, and cake. I am delighted by the textures, flavors, and consistencies of non-vegan foods. But I am equally delighted by new recipes, inviting me to experience a new part of my culinary world – so long as you don’t call a mouse a moose.

Take for instance vegan macaroni and cheese: really? Vegan? When you hand me a plate of your animal free epicurean experiments and call it cheese, I will eat it and hate it. If however the word cheese has been exiled and it is called something non-dairy soundingish, I will eat it and give it a fair shake. Why? Because I will not be expecting the rich, creamy, slightly sharp taste of cheddar that won’t be there.

So Vegans, know when I try your mac & “cheese” recipes, I will re dub them yellow pasta, or baked pasta, or Reginald, anything else really. Boring and lame, but there is a much better chance at success, and if it fails, it will not be because of unrealized expectations due to a misnomer.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Soup mix

Today I will take you on an adventure!!! And adventure in soup. Oh yes, soup. I love soup. Love, love, love. Soup is glorious to behold, to smell, and to taste. It is warm, hot, cold, sour, sweet, savory, spicy, chunky, or smooth. The textures are wide and varied, sometimes in the same bowl; flavors are uniform or complex, robust, or playful, delicate, or forceful. It can be a comfort, to warm the soul with a hearty winter vegetable soup, or cool and refresh the palate with a chilled summer fruit soup. To put it simply, the shades and tones of soup, and the making thereof, are a representation of life.

And as is true with life, the whole of soup, its nature, history, and the nuances of connection cannot be fully realized in one lifetime, let alone one blog post. So we will explore one soup, and my connection, my journey, with this particular soup.

This voyage will take you two places simultaneously. The first place is to the world the cook book wants you to go, where the recipe is leading. The second place is wild and unfocused as I traverse the list of instructions and ingredients, and try to follow the recipe to a delicious meal (please oh please make it delicious, or at least palatable, please, I have guests coming and there aren’t enough cookies for everyone to eat for dinner if the soup doesn’t work), exposing my tenuous relationship with recipes and offering insight into the inner workings of Kitchen Rachel. My words will be italicized, and those in plain text will be the words of “Ribollita”. The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Soup. Ed. Debra Mayhew. New York: Barns & Nobel Books, 2003. 125.

Let the adventure begin and thank you Barnes & Nobel for not suing me for reprinting your recipe without your permission.

Ribollita (pronounced rib ryb um Not-Minestrone)
Ribollita is like minestrone, but includes beans instead of pasta. In Italy, this is traditionally served ladled over bread and a rich green vegetable, although you can omit this for a lighter version. (Or out of fear and laziness)
Serves 6-8 (really, cuz I don’t believe you)

3 Tablespoons olive oil (sure, that looks about right)
2 onions, chopped (tears of joy)
2 carrots, sliced (I will use all five carrots I have in my fridge, *crunch, chomp, crunch, crunch, yum* I will use these 4 carrots I have left)
4 garlic cloves, crushed (right, good thing I have a garlic press to do this. Wait! I will use some crushed garlic from this jar here in my fridge.)
2 celery stalks, finely sliced (yes, 4 celery stalks, finely sliced)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (check)
2 large zucchini, finely sliced (I will buy 3 and eat one…I will use all 3 zucchini in the soup, minus the slices that accidentally fell into my mouth) 14-oz can crushed tomatoes (GAH! They only have 28-oz cans of the crushed tomato, every other kid of canned tomato known to man in the smaller can, but not crushed! Stupid local grocery store conveniently located next to my apartment complex, hence the reason I will continue patronizing your store. Now I will double the recipe, but I will neglect to go back to produce because I can only think I want to go home and have dinner.)
2 Tablespoons pesto, either homemade or store bought (or 3 heaping Tablespoons of purchased homemade style pesto. Hurray for Trader Joe’s! Why aren’t you the store next to my complex?)
3 ¾ cup vegetable stock (how about 2 four-cup boxes of vegetable broth, which I am told is different than stock, and all I have, because that’s what Trader Joe’s sells)
14-oz can haricot or borlotti beans drained (Ummm. Not found at next door grocery store (is anyone really surprised?), nor my beloved TJ’s (what?!)…Ummm, I know! For a different soup I use canella beans, I will use two 14-oz cans of canella beans!! )
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (*an hour after soup has been consumed* Oops.)

To Serve: (or not to serve, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…what? You know you thought it too.)
1 pound young spinach (I don’t wanna)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling (mmm Old Town olive oil tasting)
6 to 8 slices white bread (or have a friend bring wheat French bread and let folks have it on the side with butter. Mmm wheat French bread and butter ghghghhhgghghhghghg)
Parmesan cheese shavings, optional (Recommend, especially if *ahem* someone forgets the salt, or um wants individuals to salt according to taste…uh yes, that’s it, according to taste.)

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan add the onions, carrots, garlic, celery, and fennel and fry slowly for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini slices and fry for 2 minutes longer

1. Heat oil in 12 quart stalk pot on too high heat, add onions, carrots, celery, fennel and garlic cut the night before. Stir like crazy and turn the heat down. Laugh and question that whole “slow frying” thing because the vegetables are a couple of inches deep in the pot. Stir occasionally anyway for like um ok it’s probably been 10 or 15 minutes, sure. I hope these onions weren’t supposed to change color, you know, “frying” in the liquid from the veg. Add zucchini and stir. I guess for 2 minutes-ish.

2. Add the crushed tomatoes, pesto, stock, and beans and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

2. Add the pesto, stock, tomatoes, beans, cover and bring to a boil. Now bite nails because guests are late, which is awesome, but the food will be later, which is not awesome. Read simmering part of directions, look at clock, turn down to medium and hope it doesn’t simmer too long before it goes back up to an unattended boil. Completely miss salt and pepper thing. Seriously, that wasn’t there before. When carrots are done-ish, serve the soup.

3. To serve fry the spinach in the oil for 2 minutes, or until it wilts. Spoon over the bread in the bowls and ladle to soup over the spinach. Serve with extra olive oil for drizzling onto the soup and Parmesan cheese to sprinkle of top, if liked.

3. Put bread and butter on the table, along with Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Enjoy soup, friends, and conversation.