Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Steve Jobs and Potato and Maui Onion Soup

I've been thinking about making this soup since last week when Steve Jobs died. The link? Kona Village Resort, where my husband and I honeymooned (sixteen years ago this week!) and spent several subsequent family vacations. Jobs was a frequent visitor there and we saw him once or twice.

There were strict but unstated rules about technology at Kona Village: no phones, devices or laptops allowed on the beach (or really in the public areas). There were no telephones or televisions in the hales (thatch roofed bungalows). Being at KVR meant unplugging. Relaxing. But no one ever bothered Steve, who I recall on one particular morning, plunking away on his laptop on the lanai, as other guests mingled between tables and the outdoor breakfast buffet.

The food there was good. Entrees were not usually anything to write home about but the fresh fruit, local veggies and fish were always wonderful. Two things were my favorite on the menu: the French Toast, which I ate with ying-yang puddles of maple and coconut syrup, and the Cream of Potato and Maui Onion soup. Both contained enough dairy fat to sink an outrigger canoe.

KVR made other food introductions for me. Thanks to the generosity of my west coast family for whom a trip to Hawaiʻi is just a hop, skip and a jump, I almost always have a bottle of coconut syrup and a jar of Volcano Island White Honey in my pantry.

Kona Village suffered substantial damages as a result of the March 2011 tsunami and has been closed since. I do hope they reopen. Where else can you wake to the delicate but relentless chirping of a thousand birds? Where else can you watch a donkey picking its way over a hardened mass of black lava? Where else is the air is scented by plumeria? Next door at the Four Seasons Hualalai? Death first!

Well, soup first, anyway. Now is a good time of year to pick up a sweet onion. I got a fairly generic one at Trader Joes. Other varieties of sweet onions include Vidalia, from Georgia, and Walla Walla, from Washington State. Just pick up a big one. I use a scale for this soup to make sure the proportions are right, though I did include rough estimates so you can make the soup without a scale.

Potato and Maui Onion Soup
Print recipe only here

2 T olive oil (or 1 T oil and 1 T unsalted butter)
1 large sweet onion - Maui, Vidalia - trimmed and chopped (250 g)
4 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped (500 g)
32 ounces Imagine Organic chicken broth
1/2 cup water
Salt and fresh ground white pepper (if you have it, otherwise use black)

Set a medium-large soup pan over a medium flame and add the olive oil (or combination with butter). Add the onion and turn down the flame a bit. Sauté for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the potatoes and stir to combine. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the broth and water and bring to a low boil. Turn down flame and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Turn off heat and allow to cool. If you are in a rush, transfer it to a bowl and set that bowl in a bigger bowl filled with ice. Stir until the soup is at room temperature.

Blend the soup, working in batches, and strain through your finest mesh strainer into a clean soup pot. Reheat and taste for seasoning. If it's too think you can add more stock or dairy (nonfat, lowfat, heavy cream - your choice, but please no that the soup is plenty cream without the addition of any dairy). But if you deem it too thick you can add up to a cup of liquid.

Serve and enjoy.

If you want to fancy it up a bit, you could add one of three accoutrements:

1. Sautéed leek - Trim white park of leek into 3 inch pieces, then cut in half so you have two half circles. Separate the leaves a bit, then slice very thin strips. Sauté gently in a bit of olive oil until just softened, then spoon them into a light, floating puddle in the center of the soup.

2. Chives - finely chopped and scattered in the center of the bowl.

3. Old school dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, in the center.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sì, Ho Fatto Ciabatta!

I love Google translate, but this particular translation (Yes, I made Ciabatta) looks to have been completed by Jabba the Hutt, and not just because Ciabatta sounds a bit like Chewbacca.

If you are a fan of Ciabatta you simply must try this recipe. I've made two batches now and while I still have miles to go in tweaking my form and the loaves' final appearance I'm pretty stoked to be able to turn out some great bread for sandwiches or antipasti. We had flank steak sandwiches tonight on fresh ciabatta and they were wonderful.

The photo here is from my first batch. I made it on Friday and served it that evening with Italian Beef and Giardinera. At lunchtime on Saturday I toasted it a bit and it made for a nice Avocado Lettuce & Tomato sandwich. Tomorrow my girls will find a caprese sandwich in their lunch totes. I'll say, those neoprene lunch totes must have hit the tipping point with the elementary set over the summer. My daughters and all their friends showed up with them on the first day of school. Anyway, the caprese sandwich is something they had at Red Hen over the summer - the classic, too-good-to-fail combination of  fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and tomato slices. At Red Hen they serve it up on their jaw-breaker ciabatta, drizzled with a bit of balsamic. It's become a favorite sandwich of theirs, especially on Bennison's ciabatta which we prefer. But now that I can turn out a decent loaf myself, my ciabatta purchasing days are a thing of the past.

Let me know if you try the recipe and what you think. I used the first recipe, not the semolina. You will really need a scale, and a solid stand mixer. I could measure out the flour and give you approximations, but that's just not how bread is made. A kitchen scale is a great tool. This is a close relative of the one I have. I've also seen decent ones (Salter is a great brand) at Bed Bath & Beyond in the Beyond section.

Yawn. Nighty-night.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't Let the Pigeon Can Tomatoes

I forgot this until this very moment, but my nickname for a scant few years of childhood (a scant few years itself, childhood) was Pidge. Short for Pigeon. It was on account of my propensity for chasing pigeons. Silliness is so underrated.

Last week, the lovely Catherine and I embarked on an inaugural canning event. It's always good to undertake a project like this with a friend. They will provide moral support and sound advice. And in Catherine's case, the wisdom of experience as well. I had not canned anything in about 15 years but she regularly puts up glossy jars of summer berries. Her blueberry jam is wonderful. Makes me think of the wonderful Blueberries for Sal book. Ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk.

Tomato canning was not difficult, and it didn't take that long. We wrapped up the work part in, oh, two hours?? The rest was just watching the pot boil. This is the order of operations:

1. Get some tomatoes. We're city girls so we didn't have choice but to rely on the good farmers who come to the Green City Market. We bought 25 pounds from Kinnikinnick Farm. We did this pretty late in the season so we got what Kinnikinnick had. Next time we'll do it earlier and get all Romas. Romas are the best for canning because of their lower water content.

2. Get wide-mouthed quart-sizes mason jars. Run them thru the dishwasher.

3. Size up your stockpots. You need to submerge the mason jars. We were able to put 4 jars in each stockpot. I only have one stockpot so it was great that Catherine brought two of her own.

3. Boil water like like a couple of midwives. As in, get a pot on every burner.

4. Roll up your sleeves. You need to core and score all those tomatoes: cut out the core and mark the bottoms with an X.

5. Boil the tomatoes - not too many at once - for about 2 minutes to release the skins. We boiled them as we cored and scored.

6. Ice, ice, baby. Have an ice bath ready, probably in your sink. You will need to transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath to stop them from cooking.

7. Peel away.

8. Load them into the jars. Twenty-five pounds will fill around 12 quart-sized mason jars. Our yield was 10 jars.

9. Mash down the tomatoes with the handle of a wooden spoon. Add a few more tomatoes if necessary. You want to fill the jars with no air bubbles, up the the lowest part of the rim.

10. Boil the lids to sterilize the lids and soften the wax.

Steps 1-10 are easy enough. Here's what the Pigeon can mess up:

1. Not having enough lemons on hand. You need to add about 2 T of lemon juice to each jar. I barely had enough.

2. Not having the magnet stick to help you retrieve lids out of the boiling water.

3. Not sufficiently wiping the glass rims before placing the lids. There won't be a good enough seal and you won't know it until you've boiled the jars for 85 minutes. The solution is simple: do it over. Remove the lid, wipe the rim, boil the lid, replace it, and boil the jar for another 85 minutes.

4. Getting #3 wrong twice.

Only one jar failed to seal and I'm not positive that it failed the second time. To be sure, I saved that jar in my fridge and need to cook them soon.

Honestly, I'm sort of terrified to try them. If I love them I'll want to hoard them and if they're no good it will be disappointing. I'll make Tomato Basil Soup tonight along with our Lamb Kabobs and Quinoa and let you know.

Want to know more or can stuff yourself? Check out Food in Jars.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Zen and the Art of Weeknight Cooking

A former neighbor, a lovely woman with money to burn, once explained to me the necessity of employing a cook. The timing of dinner preparation fell right smack in the middle of the time when her children needed her most. When kids come home from school they have a lot going on - homework, school projects, after school activities, play dates, not to mention (sometimes) wanting to tell you everything about their day, or air their grievances on a variety of subjects. My neighbor felt better about being present and engaged with her children than cooking for them. The part about employing a cook was unrelatable for several reasons (my inability to abstain from micro-managing included) but, even tho at the time my children were not school aged, I understood completely that when they were I would have to navigate the late-afternoon/early evening with a skillet in one hand and a science fair rubric in the other.

Tonight I had planned to make Asian Grilled Salmon Salad but even before I picked my children at the end of the day I knew there was no way that meal was going to happen. So I changed things up and made Teriyaki Salmon Bowls instead. And given the cool fall night we're enjoying, it was a better meal than the salad would have been. Here's what I did:

Teriyaki Salmon Bowls
No recipe. Just follow my lead.

The critical task was that earlier in the day I made it to Whole Foods and purchased a 1.25-pound farmed Norwegian salmon filet (skin on). They had King available but it didn't look great. Also, King is so darned big and I do like staying away from the bigger fish.

Back at home, between supervising and correcting school work, unsticking the mouthpiece from my daughter's trumpet, and collecting my other daughter from her after-school sports, I made a pot of rice. Brown rice would have been my preference but I made Basmati since it was already 6:30. I rinsed the filet with very cold water, patted it dry, and transferred it to a small baking sheet. I poured over it a tablespoon or so of my favorite teriyaki sauce (Veri Veri Teriyaki) and gently but intentionally stabbed it all over with a dinner fork. This makes me feel like a bad person, but my fishmonger says it makes for a good marinating practice. I preheated the grill for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I turned off my rice, fluffed it and replaced the cover. I chopped a green onion on the diagonal. I didn't have any broccoli, but I would have steamed some at this point. I also pulled out a jar of sesame seeds.

When the grill was ready, I put the fish on, skin side up, for about 5 minutes. I flipped it and cooked the other side for 2-3 minutes. It was perfect when I pulled it off. I slid the whole filet onto this beautiful plate my lovely friend Nora gave me and brought it to the table. And there, with the rice in its cooking pot on a hotplate on the table, ramekins with green onions and sesame seeds, and the jar of Veri Veri, we assembled our Teriyaki Salmon bowls: rice on the bottom, topped with salmon and the green onions and sesame seeds on top. The broccoli was missed, but I heated up some frozen edamame, so we had something green.

And that's it. This is one of those meals I make when there's really no time to cook. The time between starting and when we sat to eat was about 20 minutes. I hate giving times for things - I've done this meal before, so don't be mad at either one of us if it takes you longer. I cannot overstate the importance of setting a meal plan for your family for the week, and shopping to support the menu you write. I'll post on how my menu takes shape - and how the menu is shared with the family - later in the week.

Happy Monday.

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