Category Archives: soup

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.

I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.

Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.

As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.

I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.

The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.

So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4

Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.

Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Mirror, Mirror

Identical feet, give or take 50 years

I thought I was going to Portland to help my grandmother June heal. I’d planned to teach a doughnut-making class at Sur La Table there, with Mark Klebeck of Top Pot Doughnuts, and I thought staying with June the night before would give me a chance to pop in with some soup. She had massive abdominal surgery three weeks ago; perhaps I didn’t know what that meant. I expected to wash sheets, or fold laundry, or perhaps run errands for her. I arrived with a tub of cumin-scented carrot soup, a gentle, fragrant concoction I thought might be easiest on the most timid of tummies.

Of course, any woman with the name “June” who lives in the Northwest will have a strong constitution; I should have known that she’d answer the door in her usual singsong voice, and that by the time we’d shared the soup and her salad—tiny pink shrimp piled into avocado halves, adorned with her sister Mary’s famous dressing, made of mayonnaise and Cholula (and darn good, I might add)—I’d nearly forgotten that she’d accidentally carried around a ruptured appendix for three weeks. She’s from good stock, that one. She’s healing just fine.

And every time I visit her, I’m reminded how much we have in common, even though she’ll be 85 this summer. We have the same flushable cheeks, and the same strong, thin hands, and the exact same feet, size 7 1/2, with unusually pretty toes. (Someday, I’ll show you in person, if you want. I feel very good about my feet.)

I like to think I have her sense of humor, too. After dinner, it seemed perfectly normal that we ended up standing next to each other in the bathroom, shirts pulled up to our bra lines, complimenting her nicely-healing scar and comparing our bodies, mine an almost carbon copy of hers, give or take 50 years.

When we were done bragging to each other about skin that doesn’t seem prone to stretch marks and lamenting the inconvenience of the sub-bosom sag, we moved right along, as if a two-generation gap somehow makes it perfectly normal for two women to act like 16-year-olds in front of a bathroom mirror. I’m sort of surprised we didn’t go through her old lipsticks together.

Cover: Pike Place Market Recipes

But we didn’t. Instead, I dug out the copy of Pike Place Market Recipes
I’d brought to share with her—the one I’d begged my publisher for, before leaving for Portland, because I wanted to give her one in person. I showed her the recipe for the carrot soup, and she promised she’d lend the book to her friend Verna, who would certainly make it. (Grandma June doesn’t really love cooking, so she avoids it. I’m finally getting used to this.)

But June liked my carrot soup, people. In fact, she said it was the best one she’d ever had. Now, carrot soup isn’t a hamburger or a dish of macaroni and cheese; one only tastes so many carrot soups in a lifetime. (You’d never see “Best Carrot Soups” on the cover of a magazine.”) But she said it.

When I made it the first and second and third time, this soup was about the Market. It was about walking into World Spice and reaching for a Kleenex halfway into my journey through the paprika selection, and about tufts of carrot tops tickling my armpits as they poked out of a packed produce bag.

From now on, though, it’ll be about June. Carrot soup will be about sitting at her kitchen table, drinking water from fancy pink wine glasses, because neither of us felt like drinking wine, anyway. It’ll be about watching her hand flutter excitedly along the side of the stove while the soup warmed, because she was she was so nervous, telling me about her new boyfriend. It’ll be crawling into that pink metal-framed daybed (that wasn’t ever mine, was it?), realizing how much her pride and approval matters to me.

So here’s a carrot soup that tastes like looking in a bathroom mirror, and finding someone you wouldn’t mind being at 85. If that’s not entirely relatable for you, just make it. I can promise that at the very least, it will taste good.

Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey

Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey (printable PDF)
Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle’s Famous Market

Sometimes, shopping for a small, simple dinner at the Pike Place Market can be overwhelming – there’s unavoidable temptation to buy, say, and entire salmon, and take it home for a holiday feast when you’re only two for dinner. When you just need something warm and satisfying, make this velvety carrot soup, spiced with cumin, cayenne, and pimenton de la vera – smoked paprika from Spain’s La Vera region. Look for the pimenton at World Spice Merchants, DeLaurenti, The Spanish Table, or in the spice aisle of a large supermarket, in a red box.

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton de la vera)
Small pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, season to taste with salt and pepper, stir, and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper, then add the broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook until carrots are completely soft, another 10 to 20 minutes.

Using a blender or food processor, carefully puree the hot soup in small batches and return to the pot. Stir in the honey, then check the seasonings, adding more cayenne or honey to taste. Serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, Pike Place Market Recipes, recipe, recipes, soup

This is what I love.

Nothing is more useful in defining what foods you love to eat than writing a cookbook. I’m weeks away, if all goes well, from finishing Dishing Up Washington. (Lots of them, but weeks.) Leafing through my little booklet of recipes, the one that lists the details of each chapter in twelve smudged and scribbled pages, is becoming a habitual guilty pleasure. I tatter them every time I set them next to me on the bench at the coffee shop, and when I page through to cross off the testing and writing and retesting of each recipe. I’m reaching the point where I have to pick favorites. Do I axe the blackberry oatmeal bars in favor of two-pound espresso brownies, made with a full pound each of butter and dark chocolate? Or do I talk my editor into including both? Do I show off my favorite potato producer, Olsen Farms, in the refined, ramp-infused version of vichyssoise I made last spring, or in their family’s rustic, basic, delicious version of chunky potato soup? These are awesome choices. This is my favorite part of writing a cookbook–the arranging and headnote writing and imagining and menu designing part. It’s like reorganizing a closet full of only clothing you love (if you’re that sort of person, like me), only everything you like fits. Sure, there are annoying parts. I hate fact-checking. The holes where I’ve written “TK” in place of the perfect word make the thing look like post-war London. But soon–24 recipes from now, to be precise–I’ll fold all of those little files into one big manuscript, and the holes will start disappearing.

But first, the 24.

Mostly, the recipes that are left fall into two categories: those that come from chefs I’m still wrangling, like you do, and those I’ve been putting off because the ingredients are particularly expensive, or time-consuming to prepare, or so breathlessly exciting that I keep putting them off in the hopes that I have just the right dinner guests when I actually get around to making them. (Spring Hill‘s chicken-fried veal sweetbreads come to mind for the latter.) It’s appropriate, I think, that I save these recipes for the end of this whole process, when (I’ve learned) I’m most critical of my own recipes, and even more so of others’. If I’m going to make you plunk down a few Jacksons for a pot full of crab, the dipping sauce had better be damned good, right?

So yes, the pace of testing has slowed. And suddenly, I can cook a little without a book in mind for the first time in what feels like years. Last night, I made a simple chicken and wild rice soup. It was the simplest thing, just fat, dark grains simmered in homemade stock greasy enough to give the lips a good gloss. My son ate out all the carrots, and my husband loaded it with sriracha, and I ate it like a normal person, with my bum glued to the chair, instead of hopping up and down to make notes on a piece of paper, like I usually do with whatever it is we’re eating. And I remembered, because I wasn’t navel-gazing over the amount of this or that in a recipes, that this is what I love–the eating, and sharing, and slurping together.

There was a time in my life when I had extra recipes floating around me all the time. With Dishing Up Washington, though, I can’t share all those recipes. Not just yet, even if they end up as extras in the end. This week, at my computer, there will be planning and organizing and listing and calling and all those things that make folks without OCD squirm. There will be Picnic’s kale and white bean salad, and a razor clamming trip to plan, and perhaps those sweetbreads, but I might also just cook. We’re having 30 people over for an event for my husband’s work on Wednesday, and I’m not going to write a single thing down, before or after. There will be pork tacos, probably, and whatever else Wednesday afternoon decides there should be.

You, though. I know you. You’re the one who panics at the thought of preparing more than one dish at a time, lest things all come out of the oven at different times. I’ve heard you muttering, in the aisles of the grocery store, about how much this season stresses you out. I haven’t forgotten you, which is why Hannah Viano and I have decided to share the recipes from our winter recipe card set here. You’re not into the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to holiday entertaining. (You would never leave tacos for 30 for the last minute.)

And do I have the plan for you. Hannah and I were giggling the other day, plotting, hoping you’d try it. Here’s how it works: You buy our recipe cards (or just print the recipes out, if you so please) and send one to each of five friends. You make dessert. (Goodness knows there are plenty of options these days, but if it were me, I’d make cranberry-oatmeal streusel bars, because I have about a quart of cranberry relish leftover still.) You set the table. And your friends bring dinner.

Now that’s a holiday party. Have fun.

The menu:

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)

Roasted Pork Tenderloins with Kale, Leeks, and Hazelnuts (PDF)

Greek-Inspired Slow-Roasted Onions (PDF)

Vinegared Beet Salad (PDF)

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

The perfect table

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 3

It all started, I suppose, with an article in The New York Times about a vacation home in Nova Scotia. It wasn’t a home we’d ever build, even in our dreams, because to me, it seems strange to have your dream life more than 3,000 miles away from your real life. Even so, the inside was so light, and so welcoming to crowds despite its small size, that it got us thinking. We loved its long, slender, people-friendly eating space. We loved the built-in bench that ran along one entire wall of the living room. Since we’re predisposed to feeding crowds of people quite regularly, and usually on short notice, we thought, wouldn’t it make sense for us to have a big, hefty, crowd-loving dining table, instead of a formal, ill-fitting, accidentally inherited one?

And so early this fall, armed with advice garnered while writing a story on how the Seattle restaurateurs behind Bastille and Poquitos and Caffe Fiore (and soon Macleod’s) use reclaimed materials, my husband and I set out to convince a large piece of wood that it wanted to be our a new dining room table.

First, we found a church pew. It’s evidently a remnant from an old Episcopalian building in Portland, Oregon, one that spent the last 30 years in a garage in Kirkland, Washington. It made its way to our house on a trailer that only came unhitched once, complete with a pre-communion gum stash, but lacking hymnals. It’s nine feet long, so we settled on a seven-foot table.

Later, at Earthwise, a reclaimed building materials shop south of downtown Seattle, we found a 14-foot-long cedar board leaning up against the outside of the building nonchalantly, almost modeling, as if it knew just how we’d ooh and ahhh at it. It was a bear of a thing, and as we brought it home, our ski rack bent and cursing, we wondered whether we’d done the right thing. It had clearly spent the majority of its life outdoors, and even though my husband, a hobby woodworker, had A Vision, I couldn’t see it. He disappeared into his shop, about once a week all fall, to sand and chisel and patch and epoxy and finish. I made him coffee, and found great little wooden chairs at a consignment shop in Walla Walla, and hoped for the best.

The day before our Thanksgiving crowd of 20 started arriving, friends helped us assemble the table in the living room. (It’s bound by metal rigging that emits a high-pitched hum if you pound the table in just the right place.) I slapped burlap coffee sacks on top of the girly turquoise fabric the chairs had come with, and suddenly, instead of a dining area, we had a gathering space.

Working at the table

I’d be willing to bet that if I poured carefully, I could fit a full cup of liquid into the cracks and crevices still undulating across this table. If you’re one for symmetry, it’s imperfect. Its two halves are mismatched in both thickness and shape, and now, with my computer high-centered on its highest section, it rocks back and forth a little as I type. I’ll have to be careful not to wear too much fine silk, because the edges are still a bit raw in places. We may have to floss food out of the center. But there are two full quarts of epoxy in this thing, making cracks that once went straight through the wood perfectly impervious to anything one can see with the naked eye. And filled with grandmas and grandpas, sitting hip by hip in the same place filled the hour before by scribbling toddlers, it has somehow, with its mere presence, made our house more of a home.

play-doh at the new table

We had a lovely Thanksgiving week. Despite the conditions on Snoqualmie pass, everyone eventually arrived. The cousin who stayed with us cooked and stirred and scrubbed more than any guest ever has (although I won’t say should, because I loved it). The other cousin made real southern biscuits, the kind you can pull apart layer by layer, and I ate them, gluten and all, and didn’t notice a thing. (That’s another story.) My brother brought a fresh venison roast. My parents did dishes and dishes and dishes. We made two giant meals in my own house, and held Thanksgiving itself at my in-laws’, which meant that the work was spread out enough that I could still taste the food by the time it hit my plate.

lunch at the new table

And now that everyone’s gone, this new table still works. My sister, who has been traveling the world (literally) for months, is here staying with us for a bit. When she wakes up, we’ll sit here together, dappled by the rare Seattle sunlight, with my recipes and her photos and our dueling coffee cups, and we’ll just be family. As the day wears on, we’ll eat split pea soup made with the bone of the ham she roasted to keep the turkey company. The empty bowls will sit on the table, I’m sure, like they did so often this past week, just resting, as if they themselves wanted a feel for it, too.

Then, as the days wear and tear on it, the table will get dinged and stained and scratched and abused, and slowly, year by year, it will become perfect. I can’t wait.

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 1

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom (PDF)
Based on a recipe from my forthcoming cookbook, Pike Place Market Recipes (Sasquatch 2012), which is itself based on a verbal recipe from the ladies at the counter at Bavarian Meats in the Pike Place Market that uses their smoked ham, this soup blends the earthiness of split peas and leftover ham bone with enough dried dill and cardamom for intrigue, but not so much they take over the soup. You can puree it before stirring the ham pieces back in, if you prefer.

Time: 40 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2-pound) ham hock, or meaty bone from a holiday ham
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 pound dried split peas
1/4 cup cream or half and half (optional)

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ham hock, broth, water, bay leaf, dill, cardamom, and split peas, stir, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a bare simmer until the peas are soft and the meat falls off the bone, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the bay leaf.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle. Finely chop the meat, discarding the bones and any fatty parts, and add it to the soup. Add additional water, if necessary, to thin the soup to your desired consistency, and rewarm over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you won’t need much salt because the meat is usually salty enough), stir in the cream, and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, leftovers, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup, soy-free

A newish thing

One day last week, I accidentally terrified my child. I was strolling with him and my mother-in-law through the produce section of a grocery store, and like anyone might, I stopped to marvel at a buddha’s hand—those eerily hand-like, vibrant yellow citrus fruits. I picked one up and sniffed it, and held it out for him to smell, and he looked at me, wide-eyed, when I said something about a monster’s hand. I put it down and we moved on.

It wasn’t until later, when my mother-in-law wheeled me a sobbing, bone-shaken creature, that I realized what I’d done. She’d strolled him past a fish display, where some perfectly innocent fishmonger had creatively staged another buddha’s hand where the head of a giant salmon should be. He shrieked, and clung, and hid his face for many long minutes. It’s not unusual for a 2 1/2-year-old to go through a phase of being scared easily, but it doesn’t feel good to be the one who starts it. Suddenly, my formerly unfazable kid is scared of everything. Thunder, leaf blowers, unpredicted stomps, particularly loud motorcycles—they all make him cower in the fetal position on the ground, face down. So far the solution has been to play Wagon Wheel and talk and dance until he comes out of it, which he does suddenly and completely after about 90 seconds. “Mommy, what’s a southbound train?” he asks. (No, I don’t show him the video.)

I don’t feel particularly proud of scaring the shit out of my kid. I am, however, impressed with how his fears have fueled his creativity. He’s talking about being scared, and showing me how his animal “friends” feel, and developing a community to help him get over the new frights. And out of that experience comes a lesson for me: even though I don’t have a typical job or lead a very typical life, I don’t do new things all that often. My life is composed of a series of expectations, all of which are more or less met on a daily basis. I plan articles. I test recipes. I shop for groceries. I make lists of inspirations. Then I write, and write, and write. But week over week, month over month, the overarching theme hasn’t changed in a while. The closest thing I’ve been to scared this week had to do with making corn dogs for the first time.

This isn’t to say I’m ready for something completely new or scary; it’s only to say that every once in a while, I appreciate a little shake-up. Something newish. Something fun.

Luckily, one of my friends happens to be one of the most persistently inspirational people I’ve ever met. Hannah’s the type of person who leaves a wake of ideas behind her when she walks across a room; she sheds creativity like a long-haired cat in June. When she proposed we do a pack of winter recipe cards together, pairing her artwork with my recipes, I jumped. Actually, I got in the car and met her for a drink. This was months ago.

We let the idea linger through the fall. But for some reason, with Graham’s buddha’s hand scare, I started thinking I should perhaps hop on these fun new things when they crop up, instead of running, which is what I’d do more instinctively. Because when else am I going to find an artist whose illustrations—papercuts, to be exact—so perfectly depict the foods I want people to eat? When would artwork, rather than a photograph, be a good representation of my food? When Hannah’s behind it, of course.

These here papercuts are just a little glimpse of our project—and the squash soup below is the starter, in a smartly wrapped package of winter cards each containing one recipe. There are five in the package, and together, they make up a lovely little winter dinner party menu.

There, now. Doesn’t’ that feel liberating? Food, illustrated in a completely new way. Stay tuned; we’re hoping to get them printed this week.

For now, the soup recipe. I’m off to figure out how to get Graham to eat salmon again.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)
Time: 30 minutes active time / Serves 6
Based on a recipe that serves me all winter long, this squash soup has a lovely velvety texture–make sure you puree it until it’s silky–and enough cumin to scent every corner of your house.

4 pounds hubbard squash pieces • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil • 1 medium onion, finely chopped • salt and freshly ground pepper • 1 teaspoon ground cumin • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth • 2 large tart apples, such as Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Plunk the squash pieces on a baking sheet, skin side down, seal the pan closed with foil, and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the squash’s meat and skin are completely soft when poked with a fork. Cool until the squash is comfortable to touch, then scoop or cut out and save the flesh. (You should have about 6 cups of 1” pieces.)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the butter, then the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the cumin. Add the broth, apples, and squash pieces to the onions and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the soup off the heat, and let cool for about 15 minutes. Carefully puree the soup until very smooth in multiple batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat, season to taste, and serve hot.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup 1

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Filed under Et cetera, Fun food sites, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, soup

A soup of my own

There are a lot of days when I don’t make it out of my pajamas – not because I’m a naturally lazy person (I’m the opposite, to a fault), but because I rev up to full speed before it occurs to me to change. If I showed you a photo of the hairdo worn to create every recipe here, I guarantee you’d make fewer of them.

These are the days I like being on the radio. A microphone is much more forgiving than a camera. And like people, there are some recipes that just aren’t meant for magazines.

Matzo ball soup with parsley and lemon zest looks great on the radio. I’ve tried to photograph it. I know these girls could do it, and do it well, but me? Not this time.

Click here to listen to me talking about my mother’s matzo ball soup on the radio.

The lesson from Mom: It’s important to choose where you spend your time, then to not feel guilty about your choices. Here’s my matzo ball soup (PDF). (And a hint: Sometimes knowing when not to cook is as important as knowing how.)

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Filed under recipe, soup

On the border of Spain and Germany

IMG_5907

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Jess, good God, didn’t you ever take a geography class? I did, but sometimes geography just gets in the way.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The manuscript for Pike Place Market Recipes is due in nine days. Technically, I have five entire uninterrupted hours to work on it right now, which is why instead of buckling down with a French press and a sheath of notes, I’m blogging. (Procrastination is alive and well.)

The thing is, there’s something about writing a cookbook that’s bugging me. It’s about how we use cookbooks. Yesterday, I was interviewing Uli Lengenberg, the German master butcher and owner of Pike Place Market’s Uli’s Famous Sausage. He’s a big bear of a guy who ferries links around the city on the back of his motorcycle, wearing a canary yellow helmet. And when it comes to recipes, he has opinions.

Yesterday, I asked him what he tells people when they want to know what to do with his sausages. He was emphatic that a recipe is just a guideline, and I couldn’t agree more. “You don’t die if you don’t cook like the recipe says,” he said, hands waving in the air above his tiny little spectacles. “Your love for creating something tasty and enjoyable will always be bigger than the need to follow a recipe.” Yes, Uli.

And my biggest challenge, in these next nine days, is to somehow create a book that gives people perfect guidelines for great food without making them feel totally wed to the recipes. I don’t want the book to prevent people from (as Uli calls it) cooking from their hearts.

As we talked, his love for food spilled into the air, in a genuine, helpless way, circling up around his helmet and his big black work boots and the beer taps halfway between us and the meat case. He explained a concept that I’m very familiar with, but that doesn’t (to my knowledge) really have an English equivalent. Literally, mit fleischeinlage means “with a meat ingredient,” but like so many words in any language, in German, einlage also means “orthotic.” Uli explained that in German, cooking something mit fleischeinlage means that you add to it what you have, and that all of those little things—leftovers, half-dead vegetables, special ingredients that you only have in miniscule quantities—are what add up to make a dish special. All those little things are what support the dish.

When I got home, I took some of his chorizo out of the freezer. I’d been saving it to remake a recipe from the book for Spanish Chickpea and Chorizo stew, but given my conversation with Uli, it didn’t seem like I should hold myself to the written recipe if I had chorizo on the brain and a fridge full of mismatched ingredients. I ditched the chickpeas, and threw in potatoes and cabbage, and a bunch of spring onions that have been sulking in the back of the produce drawer. They’d been back there, forgotten, since I bought them thinking I had to and then cooked spring asparagus instead.

Simmered down for an hour, the stew looked like a remarkably gentle collision between Spain and Germany—the rich, red color of pimenton de la vera and the chorizo crumbles swam around the whitish shredded cabbage and potatoes, somehow coexisting happily, like when my dog and cat are both in good moods and they curl up on the couch together.

At the end of our conversation, Uli told me that he always asks people what they want to cook when they ask him for advice. He doles it out, but always, always volunteers to also show them how to eat it. Might have to pack some of this stew up and head down to the market.

But first, the book. I need to write it mit fleischeinlage.

The UnRecipe
Spanish-German Chorizo Stew starts with good chorizo. Crumble a few fat links into a hot soup pot, and let them cook until your house smells like a different country. Add a big handful of chopped alliums – whatever mixture of garlic, onions, and leeks your refrigerator offers up – and then add about 5 chopped carrots and 3 chopped celery stalks. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and a good dose of Spanish pimenton, then add two peeled and chopped russet potatoes, half a small head of green cabbage (nicely shredded), and enough chicken stock to cover it all. Oh, and glug in some sherry vinegar, because you want a little tang. Bring the stew to a simmer, and go do something else, but every once in a while, come back and stir it.

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