Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Taking Stock

Thanksgiving came and went in a flash.

Soon after I sat down to take stock of all the things I had cooked, all the things I was going to cook, and all the things I needed for future Christmas cooking.

That's when I realized that I had this beautiful turkey carcass to contend with.

So I took stock.

Literally, of all the onions, carrots and celery strewn about the bottom of the vegetable bin.

Also by visiting Michael Rhulman's blog  www.Ruhlman.com where I became so inspired that I could hardly sleep that night at the prospect of making this stock.

Kinda weird, I know.

In case you're not familiar with Ruhlman, I highly recommend his books and blog. They are a great resource for anyone who is truly interested in cooking and learning the basics. Ruhlman is adamant, as am I, about the virtues of making homemade stock. No matter how convenient or tempting the store bought stuff may be, it just doesn't compare to homemade.

I looked up the verb take-stock today on the Internet and it said: to look at critically or searchingly, in minute detail. And when it comes to stock, Ruhlman has certainly done that. His was recipe was the most delicious stock I have ever made. And so simple. Liquid gold! His method is a bit unconventional, however, as it's cooked in the oven and not on top of the stove. Ruhlman recommends adding garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and other aromatics near the end of the cooking process, so the stock doesn't become too overpowered or bitter from the aromatics.

I highly recommend his technique.

This turkey from WS is going to make some great stock.

I  can't wait to make a smoky, chicken Tortilla Soup; beans; chili; and even a nice turkey noodle soup would be good.

So slap that turkey carcass back into the pot and make a big pot of stock.

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanksgiving Reclamation

I know I said Halloween was my favorite holiday.

But when it comes to food, Thanksgiving rules.

What's better than turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, freshly baked pumpkin pie and a nap?

Even with its drawbacks: the crowded grocery stores, the mounds of dirty dishes, the long hours spent on your feet. It's worth it.

I think of Queen Elizabeth I ... I may be a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king!

Well, the stomach part is certainly true.

For me, Thanksgiving is a time for food and family, for coming together, for celebrating Autumn.

No tinsel, no toys, no crowded shopping malls. A simpler holiday.

For years, I have been astonished whenever I see stores decorated so early for Christmas. I want Thanksgiving(!).

And I am here to proclaim its importance.

We don't send out cards with little hearts on them on New Years Eve.

Would the Easter bunny even consider infringing upon Uncle Sam's holiday?

I don't think so.

So let's unite and reclaim our national Norman Rockwell-autumnal-football-watching-stuffed-to-the-gills-holiday. It's our right!

Hmm. I guess it's pretty clear, I am passionate about Thanksgiving. And turkey, too.

My husband reminds me of the Dad in A Christmas Story - a real turkey junkie. So we always buy a much larger bird than we need, and therefore, have plenty of leftovers.

This has become a seasonal favorite and for some reason seems a bit elegant to me.

Creamy Wild-Rice Soup with Smoked Turkey,
adapted from Cooking Light.

2 tsp. butter
1 Cup chopped carrot
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped green onions
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14 oz.) cans low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups chopped smoked turkey breast
1 cup uncooked wild rice
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 3/4 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
1/2 tsp. salt

1. Melt butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot and the next 5 ingredients(carrot through garlic); saute 8 minutes until browned. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in turkey and rice, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

2. To thicken, combine flour and milk in a small bowl, stirring until smooth with a whisk. Add to pan. Cook over medium heat until thick (about 8 minutes), stirring frequently. Stir in sherry and salt. Yield: 8 (1 cup) servings.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Beethoven and Soup

Beethoven said, "Only the pure of heart can make good soup."

I'm not sure how this explains the Soup Nazi.

But I think Beethoven was on to something.

It's good to put a little love into your food, to be at ease, open up a bottle of wine, turn some music on, enjoy the cooking process.

Be pure of heart.
The meal tastes better.

To me, food and music go together. I have a son who plays classical guitar. He likes to practice while I cook. We make a good team. He plays. I cook. He eats. I clean. But I don't mind. It's all about enjoying time with those we love, being creative, and reaping the benefits of a meal shared.

One of family's favorite meals is Tortilla Soup. I could eat it every day. It's evolved into one of those things that I don't really measure ... an amalgamation of all the different Tortilla Soups I've eaten over the years.

For the moment, we are enjoying this lighter version, with zucchini, chicken and corn, and if there's an avocado in the house, that's always a bonus.

It is easy to imagine Beethoven ... introverted and tormented ... hunched over a steaming bowl of soup.

He new a good thing when he tasted it.

Tortilla Soup

In 1 T. Oil saute:
1 small onion chopped
1 Anaheim pepper chopped
1 or 2 tomatillos chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped

1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (chopped and mashed up a bit)
1 tsp. New Mexican chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. Mexican Oregano
1 (14.5 oz.) can chopped tomatoes
Salt to taste

Simmer a few minutes until tomatoes begin to break down and then add:
1 (32 oz.) carton organic chicken broth
1 or 2 small zucchini chopped
1/3 cup of frozen corn
1 cooked chicken breast shredded into pieces

Cook until vegetables are tender and chicken is heated through.

Serve in a bowl topped with chopped avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, a squeeze of fresh lime, and plenty of fried corn tortilla strips.

Note: Chipotle peppers are hot. I usually add a dash of the adobo sauce along with it. You can play around with the recipe to see what works for you - but it's best to begin with a small pepper then add more if you like.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

New Beginnings

It's the day after my favorite holiday, Halloween.

The kids are off to college, the hubby off to work, and the candy bowl, happily, empty.

I enjoy a quiet moment to myself. Me, Nora Jones and a Coke Zero. A time for reflection. A time for new beginnings. Autumn gets a bad rap. Summer is over, the crops are harvested, things are put away. Time to bed down, sit tight and wait for spring. For me, however, it is just the opposite. When the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length, that's when I get going.

After months of stifling heat, I feel the urge to fling open the windows, get out the pots and pans, turn the oven on and make a mess. As a lover of bread and soup, the autumnal equinox marks the official beginning of cooking season for me. I enjoy autumn so much that I even had a child born on Halloween.

And, what a better way to celebrate a birthday and Halloween than with soup.

So yesterday, I took my soup-loving 19 year old daughter who is spending her first year at college, to one of our favorite little cafes where we both delighted in a very refined autumnal soup. A surprisingly light but spicy tomato broth with an array of vegetables including red peppers, broccoli and asparagus.  The most we've ever been impressed with plain ol' vegetable soup(!). I'm already craving it again. We topped it off with chocolate mousse birthday cake and my daughter returned to her dorm wearing her gift, a new pair of Frye boots, and I made the lonely drive home. Thus, my new beginning.

With both kids in college now, I am hoping to read, write and discover new recipes. The kids are home most weekends and quite a few evenings too. Always hungry. Always eager for a home cooked meal. The leaves on the maple tree have turned a brilliant red. Squash and pumpkins are in season. My favorite time of year is upon us. And I am looking forward to dusting off those underutilized cookbooks and trying some new recipes as well as some old favorites and sharing them with you. It's a celebration of Autumn, cooking, and new beginnings.

I can't wait.