Category: Soup

Family Obsessions

January 20, 2012

In my family, there is this thing we do when we find something we want.  Some might call it obsess.  Some might call it fixate.  However you want to name it, both of my brothers and I will, on occasion, seize upon something and not let it go until it is ours.  My dad has a touch of this characteristic so it probably came from his gene pool.  This thing we want is not necessarily a tangible thing.  Maybe it’s an experience we want to try or a place we want to visit.  One of the earliest memories I have of this trait is my brother Alex saying over and over again that he wanted to go see the movie Outrageous Fortune.  It was 1987 and we were on a ski vacation staying in sleepy town in central Washington.  All that stands out from that trip is him saying, “All right, let’s go see Outrageous Fortune” over and over again until we finally went just to shut him up already.

This same brother recently got it in his head that he wanted an almost full sleeve Polynesian tattoo.  (For the record, my family is Jewish and hails from Eastern Europe.)  He did a lot of research and found that one of the experts in the country lives in Vegas.  He booked two trips and sat for almost 24 hours under the needle to get this tattoo.  His wife was not excited about it but she has learned that once Alex gets an idea in his head, that idea is happening.  My brother Michael’s obsessions have included bikes and biking gear.  With my dad, stereo equipment.  Me, well, there have been some big things – like the past two houses we have owned – and small-ish.  Like a blender.

About  a year ago, I got it in my head that I needed a VitaMix blender.  I had seen enough bloggers write love letters to their VitaMix and knew enough people who had an adored one that I felt it was the one appliance keeping my kitchen from being perfect.  I had a blender, of course, but it was over ten years old and really didn’t work that well.

Now, I am more subtle than Alex.  I only worked the VitaMix into conversations a couple of times a week for an entire year – not multiple times daily.  But I did it enough that Spencer, who is not quite five, said as I was making him a lumpy smoothie, “Mommy, you need a new blender”.  Lo and behold, a few weeks before Christmas, we got a friends and family discount coupon from Williams Sonoma for 20% off.  Now, those blenders never go on sale – never.  The price at Costco is the same price everywhere – there is no deal to be had.  I know this because my husband looked around to, you know, shut me up already, and he kept finding the same price.  And that price is expensive.  But 20% off is slightly less expensive so Randy passed the coupon on to Santa and the man in red brought me a blender.

My first smoothie test drive came on Christmas morning.  And it was good.  Smooth.  Not earth shattering.  And I had to keep using the tamper to move the contents around so the blades would keep moving.  Is this what you get for an over $400 blender?  I kept making smoothies and kept worrying that I had made a mistake.  Wondering if Williams Sonoma might take back a blender without the box because it’s not earth-shattering.  So I started asking around.  What did people who owned them make in their VitaMix?  What made it irresistible?  I got several different answers but all the people I asked said soup.

Of course.  That dreamy but ever elusive soup with the smooth velvety texture you find in restaurants.  The perfect purée.  I have tried with my food processor, my blender, and my very competent immersion blender but I could never get a lump free soup.  I even tried all three appliances for one soup for a very special dinner and I made an enormous mess and a still somewhat lumpy soup.  An intriguing bread recipe came through my inbox recently, which I will write about soon, and there was a link to a celery root soup.  I knew this would be my test run for the blender.

Do you use celery root in your cooking?  I think it is the loveliest tasting ugly vegetable out there.  I love recipes that tell you to “peel” it – I know of no peeler you could use to successfully navigate the thick skin and gnarly roots of this beauty.  A sharp knife is the best tool for this job and under that somewhat scary exterior lies a smooth white subtly scented interior.  Celery root is wonderful shaved raw, diced and sautéed, simmered, and boiled to oblivion and puréed.  Not too many vegetables you can say that about.  In this soup, it simmers along with leek, potato, garlic, and a chopped apple.  I added some thyme to the recipe – it needed an herb.  Your end result is one of those subtly flavored, perfectly textured soups that tastes creamy, feels creamy in the mouth, but contains no cream.  In fact, this soup is vegan.  I’m keeping that VitaMix.

One Year Ago:  Winter Market Soup
Two Years Ago:  Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard
Three Years Ago:  Sicilian Eggplant Spread with Crostini

Celery Root Soup
Adapted from Chow
Serves 4-6

I topped this soup with a sprinkle of garlicky breadcrumbs that I had leftover from another recipe.  I loved the added dimension of texture and the hint of flavor.  This soup would also taste great with larger croutons of grilled bread or without any garnish at all.

Olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced leek (about 1 medium), white and light green parts only
Kosher or sea salt
2 ½ pounds celery root, also known as celeriac (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
12 ounces boiling potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped or 1 tsp. dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel brand)
Bread crumbs, for garnish (optional)
Garlicky breadcrumbs, optional

Place a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high.  Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the leeks with a large pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add celery root, potatoes, apple, garlic, thyme, another pinch salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Stir to coat vegetables with oil, add water and broth, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until vegetables just give way when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth, removing the small cap from the blender lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam from the hot soup to escape and prevents the blender lid from popping off). Once blended, transfer the soup back to the saucepan and keep warm over low heat.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and breadcrumbs if desired.

Garlicky Breadcrumbs

3 large thick slices stale country bread
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher or sea salt

Tear the slices of bread into small pieces.  Put into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Process into very fine crumbs.  You may need to stop the machine and move the bread around a bit and will have to process for a couple of minutes to get the right consistency.  Set aside.

Place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in the oil, then add the bread crumbs and the garlic along with a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the bread is nice and crunchy, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.  (Unused breadcrumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.)

Soup for Later

December 23, 2011

This soup recipe?  It’s not for now.  Now is roast and potatoes, or maybe ham or maybe duck.  It’s figgy pudding and sticky toffee pudding, and maybe a Bûche de Noël.  If you come to the house where we celebrate Christmas, it is exactly the same dinner as Thanksgiving, minus the pumpkin pie.  Or perhaps now is latkes and donuts in which case, can I come over?

Now is cookies and treats and presents and stockings and dreidels and gelt.  Now is wrapping and bows and lights and songs and menorahs.  Now is not soup.  But soon it will be soup.  Soon it will be over-full and clean-up and let-down and you will want some soup.  Soup that has nothing to do with ho ho ho or Hanukkah Harry.

I’m not being pessimistic.  I don’t want any of this to be over.  I just know how I feel on December 26th and I know I will want soup.  You might too.

I’m a Jewish girl who grew up in a suburb of Seattle.  So I feel kind of funny calling a Minestrone Soup a Dana Treat original.  It started as a soup from a magazine whose font I don’t recognize (Sunset maybe?) and I have changed so many things about it that I call it mine now.

One Year Ago:  Chocolate Coffee Cake, Scalloped Chocolate Pecan Strip

Minestrone Genovese
Dana Treat Original
Serves 6-8

I’ve made this with all different vegetables (zucchini is nice in the summer) and different pastas.  To make a lighter soup, I use a small pasta, like an orzo or a ditalini.  If you do so, use about a cup of dried pasta and cook it directly in the soup.  About 10 minutes before you are going to serve it, bring the soup back up a boil and add the pasta.  Cook through and serve.

10 ounces cheese tortellini
Olive oil
2 large leeks, washed well, cut in quarters and thinly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled, cut in ¼-inch dice
2 large stalks celery, cut in ¼-inch dice
1 tsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained
2 quarts (8 cups) vegetable stock
5 large leaves kale, leaves stripped off the vein, and finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp. pesto, homemade or store-bought, plus more for serving
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the tortellini and cook according to the package instructions.  Be sure to cook them just to al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Place the same pot over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.  Add the leeks, carrots and celery.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the oregano, a large pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Cook for another 5 minutes, taking care the the leeks don’t burn.

Add the white beans, give everything a good stir, then pour in the stock.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender.  Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add the tortellini and peas and cook just until heated through.  Spoon in the pesto and give everything a good stir.  Taste and add more pesto, salt, and/or pepper to taste.

Serve in shallow bowls garnished with Parmesan cheese.  Pass more pesto and cheese at the table.

(Someday) Retirement Plans

December 14, 2011

My parents are living the retirement that we all dream of.  They deserve it.  My dad had a busy oncology practice for over 30 years that had him leaving the house at 7am every morning and coming home at 7pm every night.  There was evening call and weekend call and when you are an oncologist, you get a lot of calls in the middle of the night.  He worked with extremely ill people and their families and had many people he grew to truly care for pass away.  He also had other patients who should have passed away but did not because he is a terrific doctor and an all around smart man.  He is also, as I have said here, kind and compassionate – a doctor that the nurses loved.

My mom also worked very hard.  She spent the first eight years of motherhood staying home with us and then, soon after my youngest brother was born, decided that she was tired of spending the day waiting for Sesame Street to come on (pre-DVR days) and then waiting for my dad to come home, so she went back to school (with three children) and got a nursing degree.  She spent worked full time on a evolving range of shifts (including night shift) for a number of years before settling in to a half time job in the recovery room of our University hospital.

Eight years ago, while still working full time, my dad, the cancer specialist, developed cancer himself.  Bladder cancer.  Randy and I were living in London at the time and we had just returned from a weekend away in Dublin.  Once back in our flat, I picked up a voice mail from my dad asking me to call when I got a chance.  Even though it was the middle of the night in Seattle, I called right away.  If I get a voice mail from my mom saying “call when you get a chance” it usually means she just want to chat.  I had probably never gotten a voice mail from my dad period, let alone one asking for a call back, so I knew something was up.  Calmly, he told me that he had a tumor in his bladder and they were hoping to be able to remove just the tumor and leave his bladder intact.  More tests were imminent and he was thankful that he had had symptoms so that they could catch it early.

A couple of weeks later, the phone call that I didn’t want to receive came across the ocean.  The tumor was invasive and they were going to have to remove his bladder.  His surgeon would make him a new bladder (called a neo-bladder) out of a piece of his own intestine.  Since the intestine is a long tube and the bladder is essentially fist-shaped, many cuts would need to be made to make the new bladder.  It would be hooked up according to the laws of anatomy and we would all hope for the best.  My dad, entering into surgery, contemplated retirement.  He would need to take a couple of months to recuperate from the surgery, he was near retirement age, so why not just retire?  But in the months following the surgery, he realized he needed something to work toward.  He wanted to go back to work.  And so, after a successful surgery and a rocky but successful recovery, he went back to treating patients full time.

Now eight years cancer free, my dad is a success story.  About three years ago, he decided to finally retire.  I worried about him a bit.  He identified very much with his job, with his role as doctor (although he never introduced himself that way), and I had trouble imagining him as a retiree.  Also, the fact that both my parents are very youthful, in shape, and active, did not fit with the picture in my mind of retirement.  I thought they both would be bored.

I was wrong.  They threw themselves headlong into life after work.  They took birding classes, yoga classes, did continuing education classes in art history and aviation history.  They exercise everyday and are traveling nearly constantly.  They are not sitting still for more than a moment.  They had always liked to travel but with my dad’s busy practice, it was hard for them to take consecutive weeks off.  Now their time is their own and they have discovered going on tours and cruises as a way to see parts of the world they have been meaning to visit.  These are not the groups with the blue hairs and senior water aerobics classes.  These are the trips I would go on right this minute if I could.

My parents recently returned from a cruise that left from Istanbul and ended up in Cairo.  They stopped in Israel and Jordan along the way and went through the Suez Canal.  They saw Luxor and the pyramids and Petra in Jordan.  In the past couple of years, they have taken a trip to Paris (with me for my birthday) followed by a week in Budapest and Prague, a cruise throughout Croatia, a group trip to Austria, but they recognize that this Middle Eastern cruise was truly a trip of a lifetime.

My parents don’t really shop when they travel.  It’s just not their thing.  But this time they brought me back something special.  Saffron.

If you aren’t familiar with saffron, it is the world’s most expensive spice.  It is probably one of the priciest food items period if just considering price per pound.  The reason it costs so much is that saffron is actually the stamen of the crocus flower and it is harvested by hand.  I can’t imagine the number of flowers and the number of (wo)man hours it takes to get an ounce of saffron.  Consequently, much of what we can buy in this country is not true saffron, but the stamens of other flowers.  Nothing compares to true saffron, in taste, aroma, and color, so be sure to buy yours from a reputable place.  And if it’s not super expensive for a very small amount, it’s probably not real saffron.

The stuff my parents brought me is Iranian saffron and it is shockingly red and the strands are nice and long.  It is gorgeous.  It is the kind of thing I might be tempted to put away and save for something special, but I believe in using gifts and besides, they brought me three small envelopes of it.  While saffron does have a very distinctive flavor, that flavor is subtle.  The color that it gives to food is truly extraordinary.  When I found this recipe for red lentil soup in a well-loved cookbook and it mentions that saffron rice would be a great accompaniment, I knew I had my first dish with my new spice friend.

So yes, you need three different pots to make this soup.  Do not let that deter you!  One pot makes the soup, one pot separately sautés the onion and spices and then the greens, and one pot makes the rice.  It  may sound like a pain but please believe me when I tell you that this is a very easy dish to make and you get a LOT of soup for your effort.  Red lentils are one of my favorite ingredients on earth and this is a fabulous way to make the most of them.  Red lentils love things like mustard seeds, cumin, and tumeric – all present in this flavorful soup.  I had never used lime juice with them before and was hesitant to add as much as the recipe called for.  But I loved the subtle sour flavor paired with the savory soup.  I made the soup for Randy and I to enjoy, brought leftovers over for dinner with friends, and then made another pot to eat with my parents so they could see how much I’m loving the saffron.

One Year Ago:  Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios (I just made a quadruple batch of this stuff)
Two Years Ago:  Blackberry Rugelach, Frittata with Carmelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Sage

Red Lentil Soup with Lime
Adapted (barely) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 6-8

You certainly don’t need saffron to make this dish and actually, you don’t need the rice if you want to save that step.  You can make this a super thick soup by adding less water or make it thinner by adding more.  If you make it in advance, know that it will thicken up as it sits but you can always add more water as necessary.  For this rice, I used ½ cup raw basmati rice in 1 cup of water and a pinch of both saffron and salt.  This might be more than you need for the soup, or make more as needed.

2 cups split red lentils, picked over and rinsed several times
1 tbsp. tumeric
3 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 3 limes, or to taste
1 bunch kale, or other leafy green, chopped into small pieces (I’ve also used beet greens)
1 cup cooked rice
Plain yogurt

Put the lentils in a soup pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of water, the tumeric, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and 1 tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes.  Purée for a smoother texture (an immersion blender is great here).

While the soup is cooking, prepare the onion flavoring:  Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and throw in 1 tablespoon of butter.  Once it is melted, add the onions and a large pinch of salt.  Cook for another five minutes, until soft, then add the cumin and mustard seeds.  Turn the heat to medium-high and allow the onions to brown slightly, stirring occasionally.  This slight bit of char will add great flavor to the soup.  Add the cilantro and cook just until it wilts.

Add the onions mixture to the soup, then add the juice of two of the limes.  Taste, then add more if needed to bring up the flavor.  The soup should be a tad sour.

Just before serving, add the last tablespoon of butter to the same skillet the onions were cooked in.  Once melted, add the kale and a large pinch of salt, and cook just long enough to wilt.  Add to the soup and let all the flavors blend for a couple of minutes.  Even though you have added salt several times along the way, you will probably need to add more to your taste at this point.  If the rice is warm, place a spoonful in each bowl.  If it’s leftover rice, add it to the soup and let it heat through for a minute.  Serve each portion with a dollop of plain yogurt if desired.

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger

November 23, 2011

On Saturday, I braved a suburban mall.  I had a birthday present to buy for a sweet niece who is turning six and, like many six year olds, she is obsessed with American Girl.  I have boys so I know very little about American Girl, but I have heard stories of this mythical place where there is a hair salon and even a hospital – for dolls.

I wish I could have seen my own face when I walked in to that store.  Girl overload.  If I had walked into that same space and it had been filled to the brim with boys and construction vehicles, I probably would not have batted an eye.  I have two brothers and two boys – I get boys.  It’s not as though I am, or ever was, a tomboy.  I’m pretty girly as a matter of fact and if I had a girl, chances are we would have already gotten a couple of doll manicures at American Girl.

Alas, I was overwhelmed, intimidated, and I had two boys who were initially in awe of that place but soon were like “get me out of here!”  I flagged down a salesperson and had her help me with decisions about doll pajamas and five minutes later, we were out.  We took a long walk through the mall to get back to our car and I was miffed.  Annoyed.  Disturbed.  Not by the doll experience but by the fact that there were Christmas decorations everywhere.

I’ve said it before – I love Christmas as much as the next person, but it’s not Christmas time yet.  Not in the States at any rate.  Let’s enjoy the holiday that is almost upon us.  Let’s savor autumn before winter comes.  Let’s enjoy our Butternut Squash Soup before the trifles and fruitcakes and sticky toffee puddings arrive.

I love butternut squash soup and I have tried many in my day.  I’ve even posted a very good one here.  But this is my favorite and one I have been making for a long time.  Ginger and squash were made for each other and just a bit of cinnamon stick simmered in the pot makes all the difference.   This is a very simple recipe that uses squash to its best advantage – roasted in the oven.  To the well-loved original recipe, I’ve added just a touch of cream to round out the flavors and a squeeze of lemon to wake everything up a bit.  I have a very good immersion blender and was able to get a really nice smooth texture with it but if you don’t, blend it carefully, in batches, either in a blender or a food processor.

I have four tips for you.
1.  Like most soups, this one tastes great the next day.  It will be fairly thick, so you can add a bit of water, broth, or even cream to smooth it out if you wish.
2.  The easiest way to cut the squash here is to cut off a bit of both ends and then stand the squash it up on its base end.  Using a large sharp knife, cut straight down the center.  This way, you aren’t battling with a rolling squash and you also have gravity on your side.
3.  Roast the seeds!  Rinse them well, allow them to air dry, toss them with a bit of olive oil and salt, then roast them in a 375º oven (same temp as the squash!) until they are golden.  Garnish the soup with them, they provide a lovely crunchy contrast.
4.  Don’t forget to remove the cinnamon stick before you use your immersion blender.  Ahem.

One Year Ago:  Orecchiete with Creamy Leeks and Winter Squash, Vegetarian Gravy
Two Years Ago:  Maple Roasted Delicata Squash, Yogurt Flatbread, Peanut Curry, Cider Caramelized Apple Pound Cake
Three Years Ago:  Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies, Brussels Sprouts Hash with Caramelized ShallotsParmesan Thyme Crackers

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 8

2 butternut squash (about 5 pounds total), halved lengthwise, seeded
Olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. golden brown sugar
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
5 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Drizzle the cut side of the squash with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Place cut side down on a large baking sheet and bake until squash is very soft, about 50 minutes.  Allow to cool enough to touch, then peel the squash using a paring knife, or just your fingers.  Roughly chop the squash.

Place a soup pot over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the onion and a large pinch of salt.  Cook for five minutes, then add the brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon.  Cook for another five minutes, then add the squash and vegetable broth.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Discard cinnamon stick.

Purée the soup either using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender.  Once the soup is back in the pot, turn the heat on low and pour in the cream and the lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mellow Yellow

October 4, 2011

I’m going to keep this short because, you know, it’s October and I’m still talking about corn.  On Saturday, my little family went apple picking and we passed farm stand after farm stand advertising corn.  It occurred to me, after the fifth one or so, that I had yet to make corn chowder.  And even though what I really wanted to make is butternut squash soup, I can’t deny corn when there is corn to be had.

Chances are, if there are still a few ears to be bought where you live, you might want to get right on making this soup and not read a rambling post from me.  But a few notes.  I love this version.  I don’t like super creamy soups so this has just a hint and it comes from puréed corn kernels and coconut milk.  Big chunks of potatoes are key, I used some with a lovely pink skin and a while flesh and I kept fishing them out of the pot long after I was full.  And I think tarragon is really important here.  Basil would be good too if you want to defy me.

One Year Ago:  Savory Rugelach
Two Years Ago:  Smoky Chard Over Grilled Bread
Three Years Ago:  Fruit and Spice Granola

Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

4 ears of corn
1 cup of coconut milk, divided
Olive oil
1 large leek, washed well, trimmed, cut into quarters, and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound red skinned potatoes, scrubbed well, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped

Shuck the ears of corn and set aside two ears.  Cut the kernels off the other two and place the kernels in a blender along with ¾ of a cup of the coconut milk.  Add a pinch of salt and purée until smooth.  Set aside.

Set a soup pot over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot and then add the leeks, carrots, celery, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir well, then add the dried thyme.  Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are fragrant and starting to soften, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the potatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.  Pour in the corn/coconut milk mixture and stir to coat the vegetables well.  Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook until the potatoes are tender, about another 10 minutes.

Cut the kernels off the other two ears of corn.  Add to the soup pot and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the corn is just cooked through.  Stir in the remaining ¼ cup of coconut milk.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve in soup bowls garnished with tarragon.

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