Monthly Archives: June 2008

Fantasy Vinaigrette

I haven’t really felt like talking much, recently. Not here, anyway. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the nice weather. (These days, I am not feeling what I would call driven.)

Maybe it’s that the things I’ve been “discovering” have felt awfully simple: Bacon. Salad. Eggs.

(Have you ever made an egg quesadilla for breakfast? Heat the tortilla up on one side, flip it over, and crack the egg onto the hot side. Use a fork to break the yolk and spread the egg around on the tortilla, like Anita does with her savory crepes. Add shredded sharp cheddar cheese. When the egg has set, fold the tortilla in half: Breakfast burrito effect, without the egg pan. I just had it for lunch. Right now, I want to make it again tomorrow, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as exciting.)

Or. Maybe it’s just that there’s not much to say.

I have been meaning to say thanks, though – to my neighbor for watching the dog, to friends for having us over for dinner. . . I’ve found just the thing. It’s my fantasy vinaigrette. From now on, I’ll be making it by the gallon.

Maybe you have such a vinaigrette in mind, too – it’s creamy without being too fattening, tangy and interesting but not clingy or cloying, flexible but never pedestrian. I found mine at American Flatbread in Burlington, Vermont, on a mixed green salad served with goat cheese. When I asked the server what was in the dressing, she rattled off an ingredient list – tahini and ginger, she said, and the tang is raspberry vinegar. (Really? Raspberry vinegar and tahini? Oh, yes.)

I’ve recreated it, with even more success than I hoped for. I’ve already found a home for it on an easygoing Bibb salad with avocado, tomato, and cucumber, and also on a simple plate of arugula. We slathered it on grilled salmon, and frankly, with today’s second batch, I plan to make a habit of eating it on a spoon, for snack. That is, unless I have a second quesadilla. In that case, I’ll wait until dinner.

Fantasy Vinaigrette 2

Fantasy Vinaigrette (PDF)
with tahini, ginger, and raspberry vinegar

Serve the vinaigrette as is, over anything that’ll hold liquid, or use it as a dressing for pasta or chopped vegetable salads. I can’t wait to try it on a carrot salad, with scallions, cilantro, and a dash of cumin.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 3/4 cup

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 small garlic clove, smashed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons (well stirred) sesame tahini (I chose the roasted kind)
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil

In a blender or food processor, whirl the first six ingredients until smooth and well blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until emulsified. The vinaigrette keeps, refrigerated, up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.


Filed under recipe, salad, side dish

Peas and onions

Ginger-Roasted peas and onions

The peas I’ve been planting all spring are dying with the dependability of Henry VIII’s wives. The first planting succumbed to frost, the second to shade. The third was a victim of dog trampling, the fourth made a slug family’s lunch. I do believe I’m on my fifth try. While my neighbor’s vines sprout edibles, my tendrils struggle skyward, inching their way – well, millimetering, really, to be generous – toward the strings I’ve set out for them to climb. I’m not exactly holding my breath for them to produce and, I’ll admit, I’ve been unfaithful. I bought peas at the farmers’ market this week. (Finally.) I wonder if this time, they’ll die of depression.

pre-peeled cipolline onions

I thought I’d stir some together with cream, or pasta, something traditional, but when I found my very favorite onion, the sweet-sexy cipolline, so conveniently pre-peeled at Trader Joe’s, something else came up.

This should feed four, but my husband and I finished the dish off together without a problem.

Ginger-Roasted Peas and Onions (PDF)
Peas and onions have always made good spring bedfellows. Here, they take a turn away from their traditional form. Roasted first with ginger, garlic, soy and rice wine vinegar, soft cipolline onions are baked again with snap peas, so instead of creamy and heavy, the result is sharp and fresh. The juices simmer down into a lovely glaze. Serve with grilled fish and a fresh green salad.

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1/2 pound small to medium cipolline onions, peeled
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 pound snap peas

cipolline onions to be roasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except the peas in a small baking dish, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, or until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the bottom of the onions are beginning to brown. (If the pan gets too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and shake the pan to release any brown bits.)

(Note: You can prepare the dish ahead up to this point, set aside, and finish right before dinner.)

Stir the peas in with the onions, and roast another 10 minutes, or until the peas are bright. Serve immediately.


Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

Cherry Grump

Piece o' grump

I have a new favorite word: Grump. I like the verb best, as in to grump. It may look like a noun, but in my mouth it acts just like it sounds, like a bad mood coming to life. (Say it a few times. You’ll see.)

My friend Sarah said it first, when her dog was grumping around the house, pouting about being bullied by her cat. Then my dad’s knee started grumping, and before I knew what hit me, my pie crust started doing it, too.

Washington cherries will really start rolling into Seattle next week. (I can never wait. I bought two pounds from California. I consider it training for the cherry season.)

I wanted to make a big cherry galette, the kind whose folded, sugar-sprinkled edges are the high-end jeans of the dessert world. (You know the type: They’re supposed to be low-maintenance, but by the time you buy everything, trim the edges just right, and find the perfect thing to slip on top, you’ve spent just as much time as you might have spent on something “fancier.”) In the end, galettes look so perfectly unperfect, each pleat folded neatly over the one before, juice bubbling up and over one precisely unprecise undulation in the dough.

“Who, me?” says a galette. “I just threw on an old pair of jeans.”

Usually, though, like the jeans, galettes are worth it. More so than pie, if you ask me, which is why I’ve been making them recently.

(I just replaced those chocolaty jeans, by the way, because they also happened to have holes in unladylike places. It took me two whole months to find the ones, but they’ve been worth every penny.)

Bowl o' pits

This time, I started with a whole wheat crust, whipped about in the food processor with plenty of unsalted butter. I pitted a giant container of cherries, enough that by the end I wanted to toast and eat the actual pits, since I’d worked so hard for them. (Has anyone done this?)

fresh halved cherries

I mixed the little ruby halves up with lemon juice and a whisper of ginger, to satisfy my husband, who equates “ginger” with “dessert.” Just when I thought I was ready to pile the fruit into the crust, though, I noticed the cherries’ thin red liquid coating the cutting board and spilling out onto the counter, into the cracks between my granite tiles and down the facing on my kitchen cupboards (white, of course).

I’ll be honest: It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there are cherries in the kitchen, but I wasn’t having a very good day yesterday. My hands ached from typing (and then, stupidly, pitting), and this goshdarn notsummer weather Seattle’s been hanging onto wasn’t doing me any favors. (I’m wearing ski socks today.)

You could say I was grumping a bit myself.

I took one look at the juice, and self-doubt flooded in. I wondered whether I’d put enough cornstarch into the cherries to convince them to gel up together. I thought about the time I put too much fruit in my galette, and the edges simply unfolded like a flower. The dough relaxed under the weight of the berries and they all rolled right out in a blueberry stampede, so I ended up with a round of uncrusty dough, topped with a pool of blue goo.

I grumped that day, too.

Yesterday, my pie crust looked perfect, but I worried the edges weren’t up to their task. I didn’t want a cherry galette that would be, in Eloise’s words, ruined ruined ruined. Plus, I’ve been a little down on my luck recently. There were the cashew noodles that seized up into a delicious, but entirely too sticky mass five minutes after they hit the serving bowl. And those giant calzones, made with a sausage I somehow didn’t realize was chicken-based (and smoked, which I hate) until entirely too late. My ego wasn’t up for another failure.

I decided to hedge. I made my galette bloom-proof by cornering it in a cake pan.

Pie making seldom offers one a sigh of relief, at least not before it goes into the oven. But as I rolled the crust out and flopped it into the pan, I was more relaxed than ever, knowing that instead of patting and gently squishing and cutting and folding, I would only have to slop the edges over the cherries, easy as dropping a wet towel on the floor. It wouldn’t matter if there were a few microscopic holes in the crust, because the pan would hold any errant juices in.

That pie crust, I think she was a little relieved, too. I mean really, each and every time, she has to mind her manners. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. This time, she could really let her guard down, and grump if she wanted to. I felt like I might have been doing her a favor, flipping her on top of the cherries like that, without a speck of pretention.

The galette turned into a deep-dish cherry galette, with straight, sturdy sides that stand up royally on a plate.

I’ll call it a grump, because from now on, it’s what I’ll make when I’m grumping. When I know I don’t have the attention span for pie, or the self-confidence for a pretty galette. When I need something that puts me in a good mood the instant it pops out of the oven. (I think its success is impervious to bad moods.)

Whoever started naming fruit desserts after one’s constitution was a genius. Take the grunt, for example. It’s a fruit dessert, topped with big plops of biscuit dough. On its way into the oven, it’s sloppy enough that you almost always emit some sort of unsatisfied grunt. It’s perfect for the days when nothing can impress you.

In my opinion, though, even with betties and slumps and cobblers, that person didn’t go far enough.

Think of those days you dawdle in the kitchen – when you really mean to make dessert, but one thing leads to another, and suddenly dinner’s on the table and the chosen fruit is still languishing on the counter, unattended – why not go for a Raspberry Dither?

I’d love to know what comes out of the oven on the crankiest days. Maybe a Blueberry Bitch?

Guess I’ll find out. The season’s just beginning.

cherry grump

Cherry Grump (PDF)
Made with a robust whole wheat flour (I buy Stone-Buhr , if you must know), the crust for this faintly gingered grump – just another variation on fruit pie, made in a cake pan without pinching, folding, latticing, or worrying – has a sweet, almost graham crackery flavor. Serve it warm, with vanilla, ginger, or coconut ice cream.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

For the filling:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 pounds Bing cherries, stemmed, halved, and pitted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on crust
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
Milk, for brushing crust

First, make the crust: Whirl the flours, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter, and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the water a little at a time, pulsing as you go, until the crust holds together when you press a handful into your palm. (You’ll need more water on a dry day, less on a humid one.) Transfer the dough to wax paper, form into a flat disc, wrap well, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and grease an 8” cake pan with butter. Cut the tablespoon of butter into small cubes, and set side.

Make the filling: Combine the cherries with the lemon juice in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir the sugar, cornstarch, and ginger together with a fork until no lumps remain. Add this dry mixture to the cherries, and stir until moist. Set aside.

mixing cherry grump

Remove the crust from the refrigerator, and let sit on a floured surface at room temperature for a few minutes, until soft enough to roll. Using a floured pin, roll the dough into a roughly 14” circle (no need to be too precise about the shape). Fold the dough into quarters, transfer it to the cake pan, and unfold it, centered on the pan. Gently fit the dough down into the sides of the cake pan, allowing the edges to flop over outward.

grump crust

Fill the dough with the cherry mixture, and dot the cherries with the reserved butter. Fold the dough’s edges inward, over the cherries, allowing them to land wherever they may. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle the crust with sugar.

grump headed ovenward

Bake the grump for 10 minutes. Decrease heat to 350 degrees, and bake for 60 minutes more, or until the crust is browned and the filling bubbles excitedly. Let the grump cool about an hour before slicing (the fruit will firm up as it sits). Serve warm.


Filed under dessert, fruit, kitchen adventure, recipes

Makin’ bacon

baking sheet bacon 2

I have bacon on the brain, and I want your help.

I was reminded recently that bacon doesn’t always happen on top of the stove. I knew this, I think, in theory, but not in practice.

If you’re a converted baking sheet bacon maker, pardon me: I’m a little slow on the uptake. But if you’re still scooting bacon around in a pan four pieces at a time, the way I’ve always done it, and if you aren’t too attached to your container of congealed bacon grease, I have a weekend experiment for you. It saves time, and probably calories, and if you’re as sloppy a bacon maker as I am, a good deal of laundry detergent.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Fit a cooling rack into the sheet. Arrange bacon slices on the rack – yes, you can cook, lordy lordy, a whole pound at once, if the bacon’s sliced thick! Slide the sheet into the oven and heat to 400 degrees. When the oven tells you it’s preheated, start checking the bacon – it should be done about five minutes after the oven reaches 400 degrees.

The beauty of the thing is that you can just let the grease cool right on the foil, then fold it up like it never happened. There’s the argument for not wasting the foil, but I think this technique reduces the number of paper towels you need, so perhaps the waste discussion is a moot point.

You can cook the bacon plain, of course, but baking bacon opens the door on bacon as substrate. I drizzled ours with maple syrup and sprinkled it with a good dose of chili powder before popping it into the oven, and it disappeared with greedy reviews.

But Oh! the places you’ll go! I’m envisioning smearing it with mustard and drizzling it with honey, or coating it with my own cracked black pepper. . .

What else have you done with baking sheet bacon?


Filed under Breakfast, pork, recipe

I’m so glad you’re here

thai basil salsa verde

I’m falling in love with my best friend again.

I don’t mean that in any sort of romantic, husband-replacing way. I mean that when she moved to Seattle last month, I found part of myself I didn’t know I’d been missing.

Hilary and I have known each other since 7th grade reading class. I still have the coral-colored t-shirt I borrowed in junior high and accidentally-on-purpose never returned. (It’s very, very soft. And a little short.)

Growing up, our friendship followed a predictably rollercoasterish pattern. We spent symbiotic summers bouncing between each others’ houses, playing by the river in McCall, and sneaking out of the house late at night to do nothing besides be out of the house late at night. There was a group of us, with secret symbols and code names and personal mottos. All the things a girl could want.

Each winter, ski racing would start up again, and I’d travel a lot for various races. Hilary and I would fight, dependably and bitterly. One year, she threw all of my schoolbooks out of our locker. They skittered clear across sophomore hall, right in front of everyone. “It’s not like you need a locker anyway,” I remember her saying through clenched teeth. “It’s not like you’re ever here.”

Somehow, over the years, we’ve kept it alive, even living (sometimes literal) oceans apart. (I suppose it helps that her husband is in the military, and that they’re constantly stationed in exotic locales I can’t help but visit.) But the more time we spend together, the better we do.

A few weeks ago, Hilary and her family moved to Seattle. To my neighborhood. Ten blocks away, to be precise.

In the weeks before she arrived, I almost panicked. We’d never lived close with real grown-up restraints on our time – things like jobs, and laundry, and families, and other friends. We’d never had to say I’m sorry, I can’t have coffee, I have a deadline. Or No, I can’t turn on NPR right this instant. It’s bath time. Our careers don’t collide in any way, really, and our recreational interests have long since diverged. I wondered whether we’d have anything to talk about, and whether I’d be able to be around as much as she might expect.

Mostly, I was afraid of getting kicked out. The first time was bad enough, and I have a lot more books now.

But it’s been good. Really good. We’ve had meals and walks and coffee and even a few late-night phone calls. (Only now, “late” is a lot earlier.) We’re settling into our new version of permanent summer, with the added benefits of age and hindsight.

There’s nothing that builds friendship as well as time. Hilary was there when I got my braces on, for goodness’ sake, and for the beginning of my orange phase. We’re no longer so twinnish and predictable together, but her company feels necessary, like that good wool blanket you keep in the back of the car. I feel warmer with her here, even on the days I don’t see her.

The funny thing is, since Hilary arrived, I’ve been feeling pretty good physically, too. Long ago, we formed a habit of talking, about nothing and everything, without thinking about time. I’ve been surprised to find I can still do it – I can still fall into a conversation without envisioning its end, or watching the clock, as I admit I do so often. She doesn’t make me nap, or tell me what to eat, but she calms me. (I wonder how much modern medicine might improve if doctors started prescribing long-term friendship.)

I’m helping her, too, I think. The other day I babysat, so she could go see a movie with another friend, for the first time in months. I raced around the house with her toddler, Abi. We read seven books. Then we napped together. As she snuggled up against me, I couldn’t help but feel like my best friend had blossomed into two people. I felt so lucky.

Abi woke up and looked at me with woeful, sleepy eyes. “Eeeeeaaaatttt,” she pleaded desperately. “Cheeeeeeese.”

Wouldn’t it be great, if every time you got hungry, you could just wail the word “Eat,” and food would come your way? (I’m going to work on that with Jim: “Eeeaaatt. Enchilaaaadaaaaas.”)

“Yes,” I said to Abi. “Eat. Let’s eat.”

We sat on the kitchen floor together and ate cheese. (Abi wants to name her baby sister Cheese, too. I believe her suggestion is still under consideration.)

In high school, when a crisis hit, our group of girls would flock around the victim with food: Ben & Jerry’s, or hot, gooey rice crispy treats. We shoveled food in through tears and laughter, usually slumped against the cupboards on someone’s kitchen floor.

Sitting there, with Abi, I thought of how life evolves, about how what qualified as a crisis before – a mean rumor, or a disastrous exchange student – lead us to the same spot Abi needed, to cure post-nap hunger pains. They say comfort always comes in the kitchen; I sometimes think it has more to do with the kitchen floor.

As I was leaving that day, Hilary said, “Call me for dinner. We’re always available.” Her intonation reminded me of her mother. Standing there on her porch with one foot in the house and one stepping into next week, I’m sure I reminded her of mine.

I took a deep breath. “I think I need to work on being a little less available,” I sort of half-whispered, still afraid of not being the friend I’d want, if I were her. It occurred to me that almost twenty years ago, I might have passed her the same words in a note, written on purple paper and folded into some nifty shape.

“Okay,” she said.

And it was as easy as that. No book throwing. Just complete understanding. We hugged good-bye.

The next day, I emailed her: You have plans for dinner?

She responded: Coming to your house?

I seared salmon, and topped it with a Thai basil salsa verde. You could call it an Asian chimichurri, which it was, or a pesto made with all the green things leftover in one of my refrigerator’s produce drawers, which it also was.

We chatted and gossiped while Hilary picked the basil, then tried to convince Abi that salmon is not poisonous. (She much preferred dipping her rotini into the green sauce.)

Then we had ice cream (no crisis required), and talked about nothing and everything, without thinking about time.

Hil, I’m so glad you’re here.

salmon with thai basil salsa verde

Thai Basil Salsa Verde (PDF)
Smeared into Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches or scooped onto grilled salmon, this bright, slightly spicy condiment opens the door on the word “pesto.” It keeps nicely in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week without turning brown.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 1 cup

1 packed cup Thai basil leaves (the kind with purple stems)
2/3 packed cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic, smashed
Juice of 1/2 large lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Add the first six ingredients to the work bowl of a food processor, and whirl until very finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.


Filed under appetizers, recipe, side dish, vegetables

A casualty of Big Bertha

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins 2

If what you really want is a way to spend more time with the nice TSA folks the next time you travel by air – if all that removing and rearranging and Ziplocbagging and patting and puttingbackon isn’t enough – I have a suggestion: Pack an ancient cast-iron muffin pan in your carry-on luggage.

I inherited one when I was in Boise. It belonged to my mother’s mother, Merle, who used it for popovers.

It’s certainly dainty-looking, with those cute petal-shaped cutouts on the edge, but I have trouble picking it up with one hand. We’re calling her Big Bertha.

While her twin stayed asleep in my mother’s baking drawer, I swaddled Big Bertha in my yoga pants, rust and all, and crammed her into my roll-aboard for a long-term stay in Seattle.

pan made in the USA

Sure enough, the agents at Boise International were on point. She was spotted in the X-ray machine, unearthed, tested, and passed from person to person until they were all yesverycertain that the muffin pan was not a bomb.

I scrubbed the red dust off the inside, and made the homecoming meal any cast-iron pan deserves: Corn muffins.

Only, they’re not everyday corn muffins. They don’t crawl around in your mouth like a napkin, selfishly mopping up every last bit of moisture, like so many corn muffins do. Moistened with sour cream and spiked with a smattering of crunchy whole grains, they have a little more class than the crumbly version, and quite a bit more intrigue.

Now, I’m not one to scorn a box of Jiffy. (That blue-and-white box is a go-to every time chili comes off the stove.)

But for breakfast, on a cool, sunny summer morning, with a smear of butter and a dollop of Anna’s cinnamon creamed honey, these are hard to beat.

muffin pan casualty

Next time, I hope I won’t be so blase about balancing the wet muffin pan on the edge of the sink. Big Bertha takes no prisoners.

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins (PDF)
In her essential breakfast book, Sunlight Cafe, author Mollie Katzen always mixes the sugar right into the dry ingredients for muffins, and stirs the melted butter in at the end. I’ve adopted her technique, because it saves the time required to cream butter and sugar together. (These muffins really do take 15 minutes to make.) When you pry open your first grain-studded muffin, hot from the oven, consider topping it with a fat slab of salted butter. Drizzle it with creamed honey, for good measure.

For savory muffins, skip the sugar and increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. Stir in a handful of Parmesan cheese, sautéed onions, and/or chopped green chilies, if you’d like.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 regular or 12 small muffins

Vegetable oil spray
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup (raw) millet
1/4 cup (raw) quinoa
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with the vegetable oil spray. (The batter will make 11 muffins in an age-old cast-iron pan, or 8 regular or 12 small muffins in a contemporary standard muffin pan.)

Whisk the next nine ingredients, through sugar, together in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream and eggs together until well blended and smooth. Stir in the melted butter, then add all the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until no dry spots remain.

Fill 8 muffin cups almost to the top with batter (or for smaller muffins, fill 12 cups a little less full), and bake for 20 to 25 minutes on the middle rack, or until puffed and barely cracked. (The muffins won’t brown much.) Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then serve warm.

Store cooled leftover muffins in an airtight container. Halve and toast before serving.

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins 3


Filed under bread, Breakfast, kitchen adventure, recipe, travel, vegetarian

Soup for consumption

Chicken Soup for the Road Biker's Soul

Calling this beauty a soup is a bit of a stretch. Sure, it fits on a spoon, and slides down the throat like a cure, but it’s really meant to be just that – a tonic, with some occasional added chewability.

I met her at Frank and Michelle’s house last week. We gathered there for a Saturday night feast, with a Wooly Pigs Berkshire pork shoulder and a few bottles of St. Joseph, to hear about their trip to India. (We never did talk about India, did we?)

Before dinner, Michelle pulled a pot off the back of the stove. “It’s a quick little consommé,” she murmured nonchalantly. Like we all make consommé on Saturday nights.

The kitchen showed no signs of the true consommé process, a (probably, once you’ve done it more than twice, not all that) tenuous procedure that involves adding ground meat and finely chopped vegetables and egg white to an intensely flavorful stock. (The choppy bits gather up all the impurities in the stock (read: the fat), and eventually float to the top of the liquid, to form what’s ridiculously (in my opinion) called a “raft.” You take the raft off, and serve a perfectly clear, delicious liquid. Here’s a great Cookthink post on making pho from scratch with good pictures of how the raft works. The final product is gorgeous, but I’m only convinced it’s worth it when I’m not the one cooking.)

Chopped chilies

Michelle’s consommé was a well-dressed, low-maintenance version. She started with a rotisserie chicken and a box of store-bough chicken broth, and let the two simmer together with ginger and lemongrass, and enough spice to really get the nose running. We chopped basil and cilantro and mint up good and fine, stirred it into the strained liquid, and served it in big mugs, along with lime juice and thin hot pepper slices.

It was as convincing as chicken soup, but bright, and fiery, and somehow quite springlike, with the soft, sweet herbs floating on top. The night got cold more quickly than any of us expected, and when we went outside to wait for the pork to cook, the consommé was a necessary companion. I almost didn’t want dinner to come.

Then the pork came out, with silk stockings around each and every string of muscle, and we ate it with Frank’s lemon gnocchi, and we were ohso happy we hadn’t stopped at soup.

I made Michelle’s soup again a couple nights ago, only for dinner, with shredded chicken, to feed the cold Jim contracted in Boise. (Last weekend, he and my brother had another adventure. They rode Bogus Basin Road, 16 miles and 3,000 feet up. At the top, they got caught in a thunderstorm. Jim stuffed his jacket, Tour-style, with the first 100 pages of a phone book, to stay warmer on the way down. Even so, the next day, he was sick sick sick. We thought perhaps it was consumption. Or SARS.)

I left the herbs whole this time, simply because they seemed more fortifying that way.

Sure enough, when Jim left for Finland this weekend (I do hope we’ll hear from him here, but no promises), he seemed stronger.

Maybe it’s just a cold. Or maybe it’s The Soup that Cures Everything.

I certainly feel better.

Chicken Soup for the Road Biker's Soul 2

Chicken Soup for the Road Biker’s Cold (PDF)
When your immune system gets caught in the undertow, you need a soup that sasses back. Here’s a spicy Asian-inspired broth for spring, whose bright spice and fragrant whole herbs make eating chicken soup out of “soup season” an actual pleasure. This shortcut version, based on one my friend Michelle makes, is spicy enough to warm you up, but if you’re really under the weather, load up on the chilies (or use a spicier variety) and smoke the bad stuff right out.

For a more filling soup, turn it into a version of pho, with vermicelli and bean sprouts, or stir in chopped spring vegetables, like asparagus, chard, peas, and green garlic.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

3 1/2 to 4 pound rotisserie chicken (look for a plain flavor)
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2” piece ginger (about 1” in diameter), peeled and thinly sliced
3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1” chunks (white and light green parts only)
5 peppercorns
5 cilantro stems
2 red jalapeno peppers, very thinly sliced (seeds included)
Juice of 2 medium limes
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce (or to taste)
4 big stalks Thai basil
4 big stalks mint
1 cup cilantro

If your chicken has any sort of wacky seasoning on it, remove the skin. (Your dog will be happy to help, if it’s not crisp and delicious enough for your standards.) Remove much of the chicken’s breast and thigh meat and shred it. (You should have 4 loosely packed cups of meat, and enough meat left on the bones to flavor the broth.) Set aside.

Place the chicken carcass in a large soup pot, and add the next 7 ingredients, along with about 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a strong simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Add one jalapeno’s worth of pepper slices, and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Strain the broth carefully through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to a clean pot. Add the lime juice, and season with salt and fish sauce, to taste.

Divide the chicken and remaining jalapeno slices between 4 large bowls. Add broth to each bowl and top with herbs. Serve immediately.

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