My first baguettes

6 04 2010

We were committed.  We were making French onion soup.  The recipe called for baguette croutons, and that’s when Karen said the unthinkable.  “Great.  Panera is on the way home so I’ll pick up some baguettes and we’ll take it from there.”

Buy baguettes?

We were going through all this trouble to make this perfect broth from scratch, and she wanted to buy baguettes?  Clearly she’d had too much on her mind lately and she’d forgotten herself.  Good thing I am fearless, and although the only bread I’d ever made was pizza dough I said I’d make the baguettes for the soup.  And if they were terrible, at least I’d get an amusing blog post about how I not only ruined the bread but also the soup by association.  So I went to the authorities on making bread: The flour people.  The lovely folks at King Arthur Flour had this recipe to follow:

Baguette bread by the nice King Arthur Flour people

A great place to start.  Even better, I learned a new word immediately upon reading the recipe.  Poolish.  What’s a poolish?  Apparently it’s a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that’s set overnight on a very slow rise so that it can add lots of good flavor to the bread.  I learned from Alton Brown that slow rise = better flavor.  So how much yeast goes into a poolish?  A pinch.  That’s right, they actually called for a pinch of yeast.  That’s scientific. Fortunately I have the tools required:

So here was my poolish when I mixed it:

And here it was the next day:

Yeah.  I know.  Another couple days and I’d be bowing before it and doing its bidding.  After this part, the recipe is kind of self-directed.  Mix, knead, rise.  Standard stuff.  I found lots of very good instructions on how to roll and shape the loaves on Youtube.  This one was particularly useful:

You know what?  They weren’t as easy to roll as he made it seem.  This dough is sticky and as you peel it off the counter it gets longer and skinnier than you expect it to.  So here they were before they went into the oven:

And after:

I’ve heard people on the Food Network talk about baguettes.  Easy to learn but difficult to master, you know the type?  Well I’m no master, but these will do just fine.  And they were way better than Panera, and do you know why?  Because I made them myself, that’s why.

So, now you want to know about the soup, don’t you?  Well, it turned out great.  French onion soup is supposed to have melted cheese on top.  Notice that the only cheese is a little bit sprinkled on the baguette croutons.  This is, after all, from Cooking Light.  Next time I’ll add more cheese.  Karen found an awesome recipe for sandwiches to go on my awesome bread:

Baguette Cheese Tomato Sandwiches

And we had a perfect soup and sandwich night.

A lot of work? Heck yes.  Worth it?  Oh my, yes.

A labor of love

4 04 2010

Karen loves French onion soup.  She always has.  She’s begged me to make some for over a year now.  I never have because I was intimidated by it.  Think of it.  It’s all about the broth.  There your broth stands, almost alone, with no one to hide behind.  And I don’t make my own stock that often.  So I was scared.  But finally I relented.  We found a recipe in Cooking Light’s Soups & Stews cookbook for the soup.

It calls for beef stock and beef consomme.  Beef stock sounds pretty straightforward, but you know me, I over think everything.  And everyone has their own idea for how to make beef stock.  Tom Colicchio doesn’t make beef stock; he makes veal stock.  No wonder his food is so expensive.   In the end I chose a recipe that called for roasting some bone-in meat before boiling it.  We chose beef shanks and oxtails.

Karen made the stock, and truthfully that’s probably why everything else turned out so well.  The next day I set about making the consomme.  This is the entertaining part, since I didn’t read the recipe before setting to work.  It said to blend ground beef, celery, carrots, onion, egg and beef stock well.  Now, when I read “blend” it means put it in the blender.  The mixture went from this:

to this:

It looked like vomit.  I was horrified at this point, so I read in some of my other books, and they say merely to mix everything together.  I can see how that would be better.  But I’ve reached the point of no return so I put the heat to it.  The egg white is supposed to congeal everything together at the top into what they call the raft, leaving clear broth below.  You’re supposed to disturb the raft as little as possible, but poke a hole in it so the bubbles can rise to the surface as it simmers.  Honestly, for a long time it still looked like vomit.  But I finally saw a glimmer of hope with as the raft took shape.

See some clear broth in there?  I was cautiously optimistic.  Now, getting the broth out without disturbing the raft is another issue.  I decided to use a turkey baster and it worked really well.  And to my surprise, a perfectly clear broth emerged.

Hope?  Now I’m excited to make the soup.  Karen takes it from here and makes the finished product.  I’m busy with other things, as you’ll see in the next post.  We were wondering how clear the broth is supposed to be in the finished product, but the recipe calls for corn meal so it’s not going to be crystal clear.  What you see is not the finished product, but merely the soup portion of the meal.  There are also croutons and cheese included in the recipe, but that’s another post. be continued...

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An embarrassment

23 02 2010

When I’m cooking I talk like my favorite TV food personalities.  My top three are Padma Alton Brown, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay.  So I’m one part food science, one part food history, and one part swearing.  This time it was mostly swearing.

I love soup.  Soup in the winter is an absolute must, and we tend to do it a lot.  Karen got me some soup cookbooks and we’d done a good bit of experimenting, but as is our habit we developed some favorites tended to stick with them.  One such dish is a cream of broccoli soup that even the kids like.  I’ve made it so much that I don’t even need the cookbook any more.  But this time I decided to make some changes to it.

My first change came when I asked myself “If this is a vegetable soup, why am I using chicken stock?”  Now, the answer to that question is simply that the recipe tells me to.  Also we found some very good store brand chicken stocks and we use them with great success.  But I wanted a vegetarian soup for some reason this week so I bought some store brand vegetable stock.  (It was College Inn, in case you were wondering.)

What I didn’t know was that Karen had a quart of homemade veggie stock in the freezer.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I started pouring the stock into the pot.  It seems that in making this stock they use some tomato trimmings or whatnot, giving the stock a red hue.  Doing some math in my head I came up with the following equation:

Red Vegetable Stock + Green Broccoli & Leeks = Brown Soup

I knew that the instant I put the stick blender in this soup I’d be witness to something very unappetizing.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

My next failure came when I went to add the dairy to the soup.  It is a cream soup after all, and the recipe calls for half and half.  And I had bought half and half especially for this soup.  Unfortunately I’d used it all up in my coffee that week.  So in went whole milk.

Yeah.  That’s what I said too.

I’m ashamed to say that I fed it to my kids and told them that it was the same as the nice green soup I usually make, except it’s brown and it’s still good.  They didn’t buy it.  It looked like swamp water and, what’s worse, it was gritty when you did try to eat it.  I still don’t know where all that grit came from; I washed those leeks thoroughly. I could only eat half a bowl, then I decided to strain the rest and “fix” it.  That only made it worse.  After straining it looked more vile than before.  You should be glad I didn’t take any pictures; it would ruin your appetite for days.

Making the new year happy

4 01 2009

“This is the worst Christmas vacation ever!”  said Isaac on Friday evening before bed.  And he was right.  Starting Christmas day, somebody in the family was sick every day, and for a few days it was three out of the four children.  And when that happens nothing gets done.  The dishes don’t get washed, the floor doesn’t get mopped, the boxes don’t get recycled, and the blog doesn’t get updated.  But here, on the eve of their return to school, Daddy made up for all that by making a grand dessert.  

No, we didn't save any for you.  Sorry.

Karen started things off with the perfect dinner, as usual.  Then I got to make the dessert from a cookbook received as a present from my now-favorite sister in law.  It’s by George Duran, the “Ham on the Street” guy, and he calls it Chocolate Soup.  I can see already that I’ll get a lot of use out of this one.  When describing this dish George says “I love soup.  I love chocolate.”  And yeah, it was good.

But really, is it possible to mess up a recipe with this many ingredients?  

Don't make fun of my brittle vanilla bean

Probably, but this was good.  It wasn’t silky smooth or divine or anything, but it got rave reviews around the table.  It was like eating really good hot chocolate with a spoon from a bowl.  You know, like fancy people do.  So thanks to Aliyah, I promise we’ll make this the next time you visit.

My new favorite mushroom soup

6 11 2008

I’m always up for trying new soup recipes.  I already had a recipe for cream of mushroom soup and I liked it, but I wanted to try a different one anyway.  Why, you may ask?  Because it calls for morels.

Eat them straight out of the bag!  They're crispy!

A while ago I purchased two packages of dried morels off the internet.  Each of these wonderful little 1 oz. packages is equivalent to 8 ounces of fresh mushrooms.  I had one left and I was itching to use it.  So when I saw a recipe calling for wild mushrooms like morels or porcini I knew I’d be in fungus heaven.  

The first step was to make a veloute.  I have no idea what that is, but I followed the recipe.  He said to puree the mushrooms raw and add them to the soup at the end, so that’s what I did.  I’m not sure why, though, because there was another whole step after the veloute was complete.  So if you’re not confused enough, here’s what I did:

Morel Soup

1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Madeira
1 quart chicken broth
1 8 oz package white button mushrooms
1 8 oz package cremini mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream

Cook the onion in butter in a soup pot over medium heat, stirring often to prevent browning.  When the onion turns translucent add the flour and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes more.

Add the Madeira and broth, whisk the soup to get rid of any lumps, and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

Put the mushrooms in a blender and add 1 cup of hte hot soup base.  Blend the mushrooms on high speed.  Add liquid as necessary.  When this is done, add everything back into the soup and add the cream.

That’s the Veloute (I guess).  To finish the morel soup, place the dried morels in a bowl and add just enough Madeira (Yay!) to cover.  After about 20 minutes, remove the morels. Transfer the soaking liquid to a saucepan and simmer the morels in it for 5 minutes.  Carefully lift them out and into a bowl with a slotted spoon so that any sand stays in the pan.  Pour the liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove any sand.  Place some morels into each of four serving bowls.  Pour the soaking liquid into the soup base to combine, and serve over the morels in the bowls.

Madeira soup, i mean mushroom soup

I’m not sure if it was the Madeira or the morels (maybe both?), but this was one awesome soup.

Ben’s reach

21 04 2008

Monday was Panera day since nobody wanted to cook. We brought home our wonderful goodness, and since it was kind of cool and rainy I got potato soup. Ben didn’t want to sit in his high chair so he was sitting on my lap as I ate. It was an interesting exchange. Ben was holding a spoon because he likes to hold things, and I was trying to see if he’d let me feed him. He was squirming and not cooperating. In all honesty these days he’s a little more adverse to oral stimulation. Ben’s getting in a few teeth and he’s been making such progress with physical development that I guess the oral motor skills took a back seat. And that’s my fault.

At one point during dinner Ben dropped the spoon he was holding. It fell to my right, so I leaned over to get it. As that happened I guess I leaned Ben forward just a bit, and he saw something else that he wanted to play with. The Styrofoam bowl that the soup was in. By the time I came back up with the spoon (total elapsed time: 0.7 seconds) the bowl was tipped all the way over, and the soup dripping off the table.

So Benjamin is coming up with some pretty creative ways to put an end to any physical / occupational therapy sessions Mom and Dad try on occasion. Luckily it was a thick soup, so it didn’t all land on Ben and my lap.

A good night for soup

26 02 2008

Freezing cold temperatures, rainy weather. Good for two things. Staying in bed and eating soup. I made the soup and Karen made the sandwiches with some leftovers that she threw together after coming home from work.

soup sandwich and hot chocolate

I was shocked to look back and realize that I’ve never posted about my cream of broccoli soup. It’s such a staple at our house; we have it about once a month during the winter. I’m sure Karen’s getting sick of it these days, but the boys seem to enjoy it. I took the recipe from my favorite soup cookbook and made a few minor modifications.

On an episode of Kitchen Nightmares Gordon Ramsay gives his recipe for a broccoli soup. It consists of broccoli, water, and salt. He pits it against someone else’s and asks a “random” taster “which one tastes more of broccoli?” His may taste more like broccoli than mine, but I’d rather eat mine any day of the week.

If you’re interested in reading my ceaseless ramblings about the making of this soup, feel free to click <more>. But I won’t force you to.

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The Football Gods like soup

4 02 2008

To the City of New York: This sentiment comes courtesy of the fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, your own New York Jets, and most recently the Washington Redskins.

Thank you.

That being said, I did my part and I’m sure everyone will agree that the deciding factor in Super Bowl XLII was my Manhattan Clam Chowder. I hope to be hearing from team officials regarding compensation for my contribution to the outcome of the game. And if any other teams would like my assistance I’m willing to discuss terms.

The Chowder Bowl

31 01 2008

I decided to make my Super Bowl pick this year based on soup. And since I’m really hoping the Giants win, I chose Manhattan Clam Chowder. My premise was that the Giants’ fate would be the same as my soup. If my chowder is awesome, the Giants win. I will be playing the role of star quarterback Eli Manning. But I’ve never even tasted Manhattan clam chowder, so you can see that the G-MEN were pretty big underdogs. Here’s how the game went:

WEEK OFF: Eli Manning doesn’t like the coaches’ game plan, so he changes it.

My soup cookbook (from the Culinary Institute of America) instructed me to shuck the clams from their shells, reserve the liquids, and cook the clams in the soup. That sounds really hard, so I decided to steam the clams first, keep the stock for the soup, and put the clams in at the very end. But first things first, I had to clean these things. A sandy soup means a happy Monday in Beantown. I saw on to soak the clams in fresh water for 20 minutes or so and then scrub them down. Later I read somewhere else that you should change the water and repeat the soaking process twice, but it was too late by then. So I soaked them in a big bowl:

breathe!  breathe! one, two, three!

WEEK OFF: The Giants lose some star players to injury.

The book called for four dozen clams. That sounds like a lot of clams (just look at how big those clam shells are) so we decide to use two dozen instead. Yes I said “we.” I’d never make such an important decision by myself, would I? In fact I never considered using four dozen clams. After all, I’m a clam expert.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The Giants go through a week of successful practices.

While the clams were breathing all the sand out of their systems I diced up some leeks, carrot, celery, and red bell pepper.

GAMETIME! FIRST QUARTER: The Giants’ smallest player scores early.

Two strips of bacon. One would think that such a small amount of volume, when compared to the amount of soup prepared, wouldn’t make much difference, but it would go on to serve the soup well. When the bacon was crisped I put in the diced veg and some kosher salt to sweat.

SECOND QUARTER: The Giants start to miss their injured star players. They thought they had enough men. The Giants’ offense stalls, and Eli’s confidence is shaken. The Patriots take the lead.

goodbye clams, hello chowda!

The clams took about 5 minutes to steam open (at least that’s how long I steamed them before opening the lid), and Karen helped me by taking the meat out of the shells. It turns out that the meat does not take up all the interior volume of the clam. I’ll remember that next time. See those beautifully opened clams up there? All those clams in the pot gave us this much meat:

where’s the beef, I mean the clams?

THIRD QUARTER: The Giants’ defense keeps the game close.

I strained the liquid from steaming the clams through 3 layers of cheesecloth (to get rid of any remaining grit). I put it and three cups of clam juice, along with two canned plum tomatoes (seeded and chopped) into the soup pot with the veg. This is the part of soup making that I know how to do, so I started feeling good again.

FOURTH QUARTER: Eli remembers his running game. The Giants start to mount a comeback.

Round about this time Karen said “What about the potatoes?” I look at the recipe and, sure enough, I had forgotten about the potatoes, so I peel and dice up two russets and toss them in and leave it to simmer for about 20 minutes.

FINAL TWO MINUTES: The Giants’ star players return to the field for one final scoring drive.

The soup complete, I put the clams back in just before serving.

FINAL SCORE: A short-handed Giants team in over their heads scores the winning touchdown as time expires. The margin of victory is the score from the first quarter contributed by their smallest player.

23-17 G-MEN!

When all was said and done, the soup was a success. It’s amazing, we really could taste that little bit of bacon in the soup when it was finished. Yes, it would have been nice to have more clams but it came out very nice. Karen made a nice salad and some of her home made Italian bread and that was dinner. Giants win, Eli Manning is the Souper Bowl MVP.

So there’s my pick, Giants over the Patriots. What about you? Who ya got?

Just like Trinidad, only freezing

21 01 2008

This was our second annual “Trinidad Weekend.” The time in the dead of winter where we cook nothing but Trinidad food. The only thing is that it didn’t make it seem any warmer. I picked this weekend because it was so cold. But next year I think we’ll do it around Carnival.

So no, it still seemed cold this weekend but it went well. I made some doubles (more on that later), Karen made curry chicken, channa & potato with bus up shut roti on Saturday, bake and shark for lunch Sunday, and stew chicken with macaroni pie and pigeon peas for dinner Sunday. Good times. I finished the weekend off on Monday with a solo run on Mummy’s oxtail soup. Well, not completely solo, Karen made the dumplings.  I followed her recipe exactly, and noticed some things that I apparently forgot to write down. But I managed it all right and Karen said it rocked. And guess what secret ingredient I added:

and don’t forget the bat’s fangs!

Do you see it in there? Yes, I know it looks like witches’ brew, but pay attention. I added a habanero pepper in to the soup, just like everyone says you’re supposed to. It didn’t burst, and the soup wasn’t hot at all. And it looked a lot nicer in the bowls, too. Even Jonathan and Ben tried some and liked it. Ben likes all my soups. Good boy.