Sometimes, inspiration strikes… from the most unlikely places. I needed to make soup, and I was wandering around the various parts of the kitchen looking for things to use. In dry storage I ran across some apple wood chips that we use to smoke things sometimes. Then in the cooler I saw a bunch of yellow tomatoes that we needed to use really soon. So, I started thinking, “What if I smoked the tomatoes?”
When I started making this soup that was really all I had for an idea. I had no idea how long it would take to get a decent smoke flavor into the tomatoes, and no idea how I was going to season it once I was ready to put the whole thing together. It all worked out quite nicely, through a series of accidents, and correcting them!
Step one, deal with the tomatoes. There are a couple of things that you will have to do with this, but none of them are particularly difficult. First, quarter the tomatoes, and cut out the little place where the stem attached. Then squeeze the quarters to get rid of the seeds. All of the flesh parts of the tomatoes are going to get smoked. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Get your smoker set up. At work I use a deep hotel pan to hold the soaked wood chips and a perforated hotel pan to hold the smokee. Then I just cover the whole thing with foil. Simple, and having an exhaust fan keeps it from getting smoky inside! I have a stovetop smoker I use frequently at home, and it works well. I think I had the tomatoes on for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, I just tasted a piece of a tomato to see if I had enough of a smoke flavor. I didn’t want it to be super strong, but I wanted to be able to taste it. Once I had it where I wanted it I pureed it in a food processor, and left it to cool. (This doesn’t make a lot of puree, but you’ll be adding more liquid to get it to a soup consistency, so don’t worry. I nearly doubled what I had to start with,)
Next I roughly chopped some onion and tossed it with a little salt, pepper, cumin, corriander, and oregano, and a couple of cloves of garlic and olive oil. This all got roasted under the salamander (broiler) until lightly browned, and tender. Then I pureed it, and let it cool over night.
When I was ready to start the soup I started adding the onion mixture to the tomatoes, and added some lemon juice to brighten it up, and water to get the consistency I was looking for. I added more than I thought I wanted. Oops! So, to balance out the lemon juice I added a little bit of honey. Now, it was too sweet. Salt helped bring things together a bit better, but although it tasted good, it was kind of one dimensional. I started looking for things that would help accent the smoke flavor, and balance out the sweetness a bit more. With the cumin, corriander and oregano I realized that I could go with sort of a Southwestern thing, and grabbed the container of ground ancho chili powder, and the black pepper. Ancho is not hot, but has a nice earthy flavor. Turns out the ancho was EXACTLY what was needed in the soup! I had no idea how much I needed so I added a little and tasted, and added more, until I liked it. This soup was all about tasting. There was no recipe, and no plan. Just a bunch of tasting spoons, a container of soup, and me, playing!
Sometimes, this is the most fun kind of cooking. Start with something simple, and see what you can do with it. In this case, a very tasty cold soup!
I will often garnish soups, just because it is nice for presentation and if you can make something that goes nicely flavor-wise that is always a good thing. In this case I made a little bit of pico de gallo.
With the hot weather we have been having lately a nice cold soup is a great lunch, or part of your lunch.
Anyway, my point here is we should give ourselves time to really play with our food. We need to eat, but it doesn’t have to be boring, and it should really taste good and be fun to get it on the table! Right?
As you’re probably aware the middle of the US is currently in a heat wave… in July we had 15 days over 100F! I’ve been trying to come up with light cold soups for the summer. I decided to skip Vichyssoise because it just seemed a little heavy with all of the cream and potatoes. I might make it once it cools off a little though. I’ve made gazpacho, and a very nice cold roasted pepper soup. The other day I decided to make a melon soup. Served chilled it is sweet, light and refreshing. Frequently in soups like this the addition of some herbs will add some complexity to a rather plain, but very tasty soup. I’ve used mint and basil before, but after thinking about a cocktail I had at my brother’s wedding I decided to take a shot with rosemary. (In that case it was lemonade and vodka with a sprig of fresh rosemary, very tasty, and the rosemary balanced the sweetness of the lemonade very nicely.) This soup will be very easy, and also vegan!
The only real equipment you will need is a blender/food processor and a bowl.
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
juice and zest of one lime
splash of white wine (optional)
sprig fresh rosemary
The first thing you will want to do is combine the water, sugar and lime in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
While the liquid is cooling peel your melons, and cut them into pieces that are small enough to fit into your blender. The easiest way to peel a melon is to cut off the stem end and the blossom end. This will give you flat spots to steady the melon while you peel it. Using your chef’s knife slice down the side of the melon following the curve. You want to make sure you get all of the peel. In this case it is pretty easy to know you have it right when you cut off all of the green.
Once you’ve peeled the melons split them in half. Scoop out the seeds, and then cut the melon into pieces. Place the half of the melon in the blender with some of the water mixture, and puree. You’re going to have to taste this to decide if it is too sweet, or not sweet enough. When you blend the second half you can adjust the sweetness of the soup by adding more or less of the sugar syrup. Hold a little bit back just in case you need to adjust. Transfer the soup to a bowl, and taste it again. (Add the wine now if you are using it, the acid will brighten up the flavors a bit.) Once you have the soup as sweet as you would like you can turn your attention to the rosemary. Set the whole sprig on your cutting board and use the back of a skillet to gently smash it. This will leave it intact, but release more of the oil into the soup. Then simply place the rosemary in the bowl with the soup, and make sure it is submerged. Allow the soup to cool in the fridge and serve in chilled bowls. Maybe top it with a dollop of sour cream for garnish? Eat it just like it is.
This is a very simple soup, but it is very tasty, and very refreshing for a hot summer day.
There are some flavor combinations that just work. Carrot and ginger are two flavors that really go well together. In this pureed soup, you’ll get the spicy ginger flavor complimenting the sweetness of the carrots. When you add the amazing orange color of this soup to the flavor, this is sure to be a big hit with everyone!
This is a very easy soup.
1 medium onion diced
1 stalk celery diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2″ long piece of ginger minced
1 pound carrots cubed
1/2 pound potatoes cubed (The carrots and potato should be about the same size so they cook evenly)
water, chicken or veggie stock to cover
2 bay leaves
1 pint heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Put in the onions and celery, sweat until tender, and then add a little salt. Add the garlic and ginger and sweat until fragrant. Lastly, add the carrots, potatoes and bay leaves and cover with stock or water. Bring it up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer until the carrots and potatoes are tender.
When the vegetables are tender, remove the bay leaves and discard. Now puree the soup. How you do this depends on what you have on hand. If you have a food processor drain all of the liquid, and puree just the solids. If you use a blender you will need some of the liquid to make everything go. The last way would be to run the soup through a food mill, but most people probably don’t have one.
Once you have everything pureed, put it all back in the pot, and return to a boil. Whisk in the cream, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you wanted a vegetarian option you could very easily use coconut milk, or soy milk.
Clearly this is not for the vegetarians among you. If you are one, perhaps now is the time to go look at something else…
Are you still with me? Good, now, lets talk about meaty chili goodness!
I know most of you probably make chili using ground beef or turkey, but we won’t be doing that. What I used might make this the most expensive pot of chili you have ever made. What I used is a piece of beef called the chain. The chain is a strip of meat that is located next to the tenderloin. It is pretty similar as far as tenderness and flavor, but because it is wrapped in fat and connective tissue it is rarely eaten except as ground beef. You can’t buy chains* in the store so I would suggest a chuck roast, and cut it into cubes. Since you will be simmering this for a while you will end up with nice tender meat by the time the chili is ready.
This wasn’t originally going to be chili. I’m not sure what I was making, exactly, but I had a few ideas in mind. As I gathered ingredients it sort of became obvious that it was, in fact, chili.
2# beef chuck cut into cubes
1 TBSP achiote paste
1 TBSP canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large onion diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large poblano, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
25 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cooked black beans
salt and pepper to taste
ground cumin, corriander, dry oregano to taste
3 bay leaves
ancho chili powder to taste
The first step is to get the meat marinating. Combine the achiote, oil, salt and pepper, and mix them into a smooth paste. Add your cubed meat. I used the cryovac machine at work to seal this up, and left it in the fridge overnight. Obviously a ziplock bag would do almost as well. At this point you should also cook your beans. Drain them and cool them in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook, gather all of your ingredients. We are going to start with the meat. Heat some vegetable oil in a large pot, and add the meat. Lightly brown the meat, and add the onions, peppers and garlic, and a little salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, and then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring up to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and season to taste with salt, pepper, ancho powder, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, and oregano. Allow your chili to simmer, and add the beans after an hour or so. Taste it after a while and adjust the seasonings if you need to. If it is to acidic you can add a little bit of honey. That will help balance things out. Give it a couple of hours to simmer, and enjoy. This is not going to be a spicy chili, but it is tasty! If you like it spicy there are lots of possibilities, for instance chipotle peppers would be nice in place of the ancho chilies while still giving you a nice smoky flavor.
This chili was a huge hit at work, and I think it will be for you as well. There are plenty of things you can tweak, but this should get you started. Enjoy it! I know I did!
*In the course of day to day prep at work we do some butchering, and end up with scraps that are perfectly edible. The chain falls into that category. The only way to get chains is to buy beef tenderloin PSMO (peeled, silver skin, side meet on or pismo). To make this chili you would probably need three chains. Of course if you like filet mignon or chateaubriand this will save you quite a bit of money. The less processed the meat the less expensive it tends to be. The last time I went to the store pismos were $19.99/pound, and filet mignon were $23.99. Breaking down PSMO’s takes a bit of practice, and time. It is certainly something you can do, but you do need a sharp knife, and the time to do it.
A lot of people say that they can’t cook because they have to use a recipe to make anything. They seem to be under the impression that a real cook can just throw things in a pot, and have it taste good. In truth you should be able to do both. Very often you will see people who for whatever reason are unable to follow a recipe, but can cook very well. Learning to use a recipe can help you learn to just throw things in a pot and end up with something that tastes good. Pay attention to what flavors work together and use that knowledge to help you with your own dishes.
Throwing things in a pot and making it taste great takes practice, and being willing to fail often. Eventually you will learn that some things just don’t work together. Using a recipe on the other hand is pretty easy, because everything you need to know is right there in front of you. All you have to do is follow directions. Of course, as we learned in grade school sometimes following the directions is the hard part.
With a recipe you can make anything. It really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you have ever eaten it before. The first thing to do is to read through the entire recipe. There may be ingredients or techniques that you are not familiar with. Now is the time to find out what you need to know, and not while you have things burning in a pot . While you read through the recipe you can determine that you have everything you need, or decide what to substitute for something that you are missing. Once you have made the recipe a few times you will probably feel pretty comfortable with it, and be able add or subtract things, or use it as a base for making up your own dishes.
Recipes can come in a lot of formats. The format will depend on the source. The recipes that you see most often on the internet, and in cook books generally list ingredients and quantities. This is followed by a description of the methods used to prepare each component, and the how to assemble them.
In some older cookbooks you may find a very different format:
If you pick up a copy of Escoffier you will find the same format. These books assume a certain level of knowledge and understanding. (I won’t tell you that I am always up to the challenge of these recipes. Some of them are very complex, and may require things that are not used frequently any more.) Although Escoffier and Larousse are old they are very interesting reference books. Some of the recipes you will be able to use, for instance coq au vin. Of course you can find recipes that are in the format we all know for coq au vin in lots of cook books.
Interestingly,you can also see recipes in a similar format to those in Escoffier and Larousse on Twitter. Both Eric Ripert, and Rick Bayless have posted recipes on Twitter. Rick Bayless even ran a contest using recipes in a single tweet. There is very little information given, but in many ways that is freeing. When you have a recipe that is that stripped down, you are free to make it whatever you envision the dish as being.
In a restaurant kitchen you may see recipes that are in a similar format to what you are accustomed to seeing, but often they leave out the directions. So you might get something that looks like my recipe for Shrimp and Basil soup.
Shrimp and Basil Soup
4 large onions large dice
½ cup garlic minced
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons dry thyme
3 cups fresh basil chiffonade
1 #10 can diced tomatoes
½ bottle white wine
1.5 Gallon vegetable stock
2# frozen peas
2.5# 21-25 shrimp
salt and pepper to taste
That is the extent of the recipe. Since this is used in a restaurant a certain level of knowledge is assumed, just like Escoffier and Larousse. Obviously, this is not really a complicated recipe, but makes a lot of soup! If you have the rest of the information you will have no problem making this soup.
In a large pot sweat the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add the thyme and basil. Sweat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, and wine, mix well, and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable stock, and return to a boil. Add the frozen peas, and shrimp. Bring back to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 to fifteen minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Assuming you had a pot large enough to make this recipe, lets look at it since we now have it in a format you are familiar with. First, look at the ingredients, is there anything that you don’t have? Anything you don’t understand? Now is the time to find out this kind of thing. It is a lot easier to solve problems before you have food in a pot. Do you know what chiffonade means? Do you have white wine? Do you know what 21-25 shrimp are? Do you know what sweating is? Whatever issues you may need to resolve should be done now.
Only after you know exactly what you need and what you need to do should you even start to do anything that remotely resembles cooking. This hopefully will only add a few minutes to the time it takes you to prepare your dish. Although, if you need to run to the store for something it may have added a little time, but nowhere near as long as if you had started, and realized too late that you needed a crucial ingredient, and then need to start over.
Once you know what you need to do start gathering ingredients, and then prepping them. If you have containers large enough to hold a single step’s ingredients put them together, and once you have everything ready to go into the pot, turn on the heat, and cook!
Some people have trouble with terms used in recipes such as “cook until tender,” “al dente,” “season to taste.” With phrases like this pretty much what you will have to do is fish something out, put it in your mouth, and see if it is tender, al dente, or if it is seasoned properly. These are things that may be hard to specify in a recipe, but are very important. They are pretty easy to check once you realize that all you need to do is taste your food. You should be doing that anyway!
Cooking is very easy once you realize that tasting and adjusting things is part of the fun. If you follow a few very easy principals you’ll have no problem. When you are eating you can take your time, and evaluate things that didn’t turn out quite as well as you would have liked, and remember them for later. The next time you make the dish you can make the changes you noticed. It can be helpful to take notes, and leave them with the recipe to refer to next time you make it.
Now, from the title I would imagine that there are at least a couple of you looking at the screen, and thinking “WTF??” This is the kind of thing that I sometimes come up with when I am facing a seemingly random assortment of things on my shelf, and need to come up with a seafood soup for Friday lunch at work. It isn’t really chili, being short on beef, and having lentils, but don’t really know what to call it. It was very tasty (I have been told.), and could have been made gluten-free very easily!
This all started with a container of roasted poblano peppers that were sitting on my shelf next to a container of diced tomatoes. I have no idea how much precedence for a soup like this there is, but I’ve used similar things together before, and had great results.
You’ll want to cut down the size of this recipe… I tend to make large batches of soups. This one was roughly 4 gallons.
I had eight poblanos that had been roasted, but I had to peel them. This is easy to do, but it is easier to do when they are still warm from roasting. If you’ve never roasted a pepper, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Simply hold your pepper over the flame on your stove, and when it starts to turn black on the side, turn it. Once the skin is blackened and bubbly all over put it into a sealed container of some kind for about 15 to 20 minutes, and the steam will make it easy to just rub most of the blackened skin right off. Then pull off the top of the pepper, and scoop any seeds out. Done.
1 #10 can diced tomatoes, divided in half (At home: 2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
8 roasted poblanos (2 peppers)
2 large onions chopped roughly (1 regular sized onion)
1 cup garlic cloves (4-5 cloves)
3 pounds of 26/30* shrimp tail off, deveined and peeled. You could also use smaller shrimp if you want. (1 pound)
1 gallon vegetable stock (1 quart)
4 bay leaves (1 or 2)
ground cumin, corriander, and oregano
salt and pepper
honey (if it is too spicy honey is a great way to balance things out)
Once you have your peppers roasted put them in your food processor with the onions, garlic, and half of the tomatoes, and process until smooth. You’ll have just made a very tasty salsa! .
Place the salsa in a large pot , and bring it up to a boil. You’ll want to be careful doing this, between the peppers and tomatoes there is plenty of sugar to burn. Keep it moving. Once it is up to a boil, add the shrimp. I just sort of sautéed the shrimp until they started to cook a bit. Then I added the beer, the rest of the diced tomatoes, the cumin, coriander, oregano, bay leaves, and the stock. Bring it up to a boil, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If it is too spicy add a bit of honey to balance it out. Let it simmer for a little while, and serve.
This kind of thing is quite easy to make, and tastes great! Its great if you are abstaining from meat during lent, or are looking for a nice seafood soup that isn’t they typical clam chowder!
* When buying shrimp you’ll often see numbers like 26/30 or 21/25, or U10. These numbers tell you how many shrimp are in a pound. The U10 means that there are less than 10 shrimp per pound!
I make a LOT of soup. Soup is especially great when the weather is less than warm. Like now, for instance. There is snow on the ground, although the temperatures are finally above freezing during the day. Sounds like perfect weather for soup, doesn’t it? I’ve been kind of avoiding writing about certain kinds of soups. What I mean is that I haven’t written about soups that are thickened. There are quite a few ways to thicken soups. You can use a slurry, a roux, cream can give body, eggs can give body as well(They are a little hard to hold for long though.), and sometimes the ingredients of your soup will cause it to thicken, potato, and bean soups do this fairly well. What generally gives us trouble is when a soup is thickened with a roux. Generally, a roux is equal parts flour and butter. It doesn’t have to be wheat flour though, and in this case we’re going to take advantage of that fact.
What we’re going to be making is called a velouté. That translates as velvety, or smooth on the palate. The velouté is one of the five mother sauces. In this case it’s not really a sauce so much as the base for our soup. To make it into a soup we’ll be adding some different flavors, and more ingredients. When I make this soup I generally go for a Cajun flavor. I looked for a blackened seasoning, but couldn’t really find one I was comfortable with. I made my own. I had everything I needed, although I would have added a few other things if I had them.
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cayenne
1/2 TBSP kosher salt
1 TBSP thyme
1 TBSP black pepper
1/2 TBSP oregano
Blackened seasoning (see above)
1 4oz package of wild rice (prepared according to the directions)
4 chicken breasts cubed, seasoned lightly with blackened seasoning, and cooked
1 large onion diced
2 carrots diced
4 celery sticks diced
2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 sticks butter
8oz (weight) flour or starch of your choice (I used potato starch)
salt and pepper as needed
Wild rice is not actually rice, but it is gluten-free and very tasty. Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It is also very easy to cook, but takes a little bit of time. I found a 4oz package of it. Bring 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil. Stir in rice, bring it back to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. By that time most of the water will be absorbed, and the wild rice will be tender. Drain any liquid, and cool in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Next we want to move on to the chicken. I had four breasts which I cubed into small pieces, tossed with some of the blackened seasoning, and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes. Later, I chopped them up a bit so that they would be small enough to fit on a spoon easily. Set this aside in the fridge as well.
Next up, mirepoix. You should have 50% onions, and 25% each celery and carrots. You’ll need about 2 cups total. Figure one large onion, three or four celery sticks, two or three carrots. This should all be a nice medium dice. Having everything exactly the same is not super important, but it helps to be close. That way you don’t get a piece of raw onion in a bit with nicely cooked onions. Whenever you’re cooking you should always try to cut things in similar sizes. Since food is cooking together if your onions are all the same size they will all be about the same doneness. Again, put all of this in the fridge, and we’ll get to it in a bit.
If you’re wondering, breaking a project down into manageable steps is a big part of getting things done in a restaurant kitchen. I can have all of these containers on a tray in a cooler, and add things as I do them. Then if I have to stop I can step away, do what I need to, and come right back to my soup when I have a few minutes. The wild rice takes the most time to cook, so you can really just set a timer, and walk away to do something else.
Our next step is to get the broth heated up. Two quarts of chicken stock, and two quarts of water, plus a couple of bay leaves. In a large pot, and bring it up to a boil. This will take some time. You have everything else ready, right?
Now, what we’ve got to do is make our roux. In this case I used potato starch. I was expecting the potato starch to thicken more than it did. I ended up making a slurry of potato starch and water to get the consistency that I was hoping for. A roux made with wheat flour thickens at a nice one pound per gallon rate. Other starches, and flours will have different thickening abilities. You’ll have to play with them a bit. Generally a starch like potato or corn will thicken more than flour. Also if you’re using a wheat flour roux the darker the roux the less it will thicken. You will get more flavor from a darker roux though. Gluten-free roux will scorch before it will brown, so I wouldn’t try.
Since we’ve got a gallon of liquid on the stove to thicken, and the amount of roux we’re going to be needing is a pound (apparently) start by melting half a pound of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Once it is fully melted, add a half pound of your flour or starch(Yes, you should weigh your flour. This goes for you gluten eating folk as well.). Whisk it into the melted butter. (Do NOT use your non-stick skillet for this.) You want to keep stirring the roux. You’re cooking the flour, but don’t want it to burn. When it is ready it will have a nice nutty smell. At that point season your roux with the blackened seasoning you made earlier. You’re not trying to make this soup super spicy, just a little. At work since I can’t taste the soup I go by smell when I season the roux. When I can smell the spices I know I am good. Remember, you’re going to be putting this into a gallon of liquid with vegetables, rice, and chicken. Cooking the spices helps the flavors develop, but if you end up a little mild you can adjust, after the fact. Next, pour in the mirepoix, and sweat the vegetables in the roux. You’re looking for the onions to start to get tender. They will simmer for a bit so they don’t have to get fully cooked at this point, but you do want to get them started. Once the onions are starting to get tender set the roux aside, and let it cool.
Once your liquid comes to a boil scoop a bit of the cooled roux mixture onto your whisk, and mix it in a bit at a time. As you do you’ll notice that the soup starts to thicken up, and you’ll see that the liquid will cloud up a bit. If you’re using wheat flour it will look almost creamy, and I would imagine that if I had made my roux from the usual flour blend that I use it would look creamy as well. Hopefully, you get a nice velvety consistency from your roux. If you decide you would like a little thicker soup (like I did) make a slurry of your starch and water, and whisk that in slowly. Whisking will prevent lumps of whatever thickener you have decided to use.
At this point simply add the cooked chicken and the cooked rice to the thickened soup. Bring it back up to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. Taste your soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more of your blackened seasoning if you want it! Let your soup simmer for about 20 minutes or so. If you want your soup to be a bit richer you could add cream while it simmers. Serve, and enjoy.
The cool part of this soup is that you now have a basis for making lots of other soups. Shrimp bisque, for example, is only a few adjustments away. You could even use a velouté asthe basis for making New England Clam Chowder, and I know you’ve missed that one!
Hope you enjoy your soup!