Friday, September 18, 2009

White Bean and Chard Soup, and a tale of two pulleys

Happy new year everybody. Here's a recipe that is neither illustrated nor particularly timely. I was going to post "break-up pie," and I even have pictures of it! But I'm not in the mood. Maybe later. Hopefully.

Sigh... break-up pie.

This is also not a Rosh Hashanah recipe. How about that.

But this is a recipe that I JUST wrote down, and even... invented! So how about them apples! It's also excellent comfort food, or at least would be if the weather were cooler, and seeing as our post-break-up theme is supposed to be comfort food, I suppose that it fits.

Last weekend, my neighbors had a potluck. Some background on my neighbors:

They are complete badasses. We have set up a pulley system whereby we can pass things between our windows. Items so far: t-shirts, a "tribble," a gun that shoots little foam discs, a book on sanitation, three cupcakes, change for a $5, and a mint plant. Huzzah.

I was a little worried about actually meeting them, though. Until then, I'd only seen them from the waist-up as we talked across the alley. Would it spoil the magic?

Certainly not. The magic remains.

Perhaps the magic can be attributed to the fact that there was so much YUMMY food at this potluck. Ben made his trademark chocolate-caramel torte, Bonnie made free range, organic, local chicken legs (which I was SUPER excited about, given my recent decision to incorporate this kind of meat into my diet), and I made White Bean and Chard Soup of my own invention.

Of course, there was lots of other yummy food, but who cares about those other people? They don't have pulleys.

It felt weird to make such a wintery soup during what is still technically late summer, but it was a rainy, chilly weekend, and it sounded like just the thing at the time. Other people seemed to think so, too. I was pretty proud to make up a soup and have so many people ask me for the recipe. Ben just asked me for it across the alley, so I typed it up and emailed it to him. Since I'd already done half the work, I figured I'd go ahead and post it here.

To adapt it for Israel, I'm sure almost any kind of bean would work here. Canned beans are easiest and seem to puree the best, but do what you want. As for my precious chard... replace it with spinach. It will be sad and wilty compared with the mighty chard, but it'll have to do. Everything else should be easy to find, except of course the vegetable stock. Either make your own (which is what I should have done/would do if I had that kind of time and energy), use a sad sad mix, or use water with some extra salt and maybe a teeeeensy bit of tomato paste to give it that extra kick.

Callie's White Bean and Chard Soup

2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 green bell pepper, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (That's what I used, but next time I'll use way more because I didn't find it particularly garlicky.)
1 bunch chard, chopped into large bite-sized pieces
1 big bag of mushrooms, wiped clean with a paper towel and thinly sliced
6 cans cannellini/great white Northern beans (I actually had 5 cans, but one of them was a larger size. I'd say, if they're all standard size, go with six. More beans is not a bad thing.)
2 1/2 c vegetable stock*
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
sea salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the carrots, celery, and an inordinate amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook until beginning to soften; then add the bell pepper and garlic. Cook until the bell pepper is soft.

Push the vegetables to one side of the pan and saute the chard. At this point, you can add salt depending on whether the beans you're using are salted, and how salty the vegetable stock is. My beans were unsalted, so I added a bit of sea salt. Just a little -- you can add more later if you need it.

Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid.

At this point, all of the vegetables should be cooked through or even browning. Cook longer if not.

Drain most of the liquid (but not all of it) from the canned beans. Working in batches, puree all but one to two cans' worth of beans in a blender, depending on how many whole beans you want in the final soup. (I pureed all but one can -- you could also puree all of the beans if you just want smooth texture.) Add all of the beans (pureed or not) to the pot along with the vegetable stock. (My secret ingredient? I used "Better than Bouillon" -- which really is better than bouillon! Since my beans were unsalted, I used 3 cups of water and about twice as much of the Better-Than-Bouillon paste as I was supposed to, and threw it into my already-dirty blender, both picking up the extra beans and mixing the paste in without having to heat up the water separately. Also, I found that 3 cups made it a little thinner than I wanted it, which is why I said 2 1/2 c above.)

Scrape the bottom of the pot to get anything that's sticking and mix it in thoroughly with the soup. Add the spices and additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

Simmer for as long as you want to heat it, thicken it, and let the flavors merry. I cooked it for about as long as it took me to do a few dishes and get dressed for the potluck.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fish, it's a mystery

This weekend I helped my dad in the kitchen.
He invited over friends for dinner, offering fish as a main course. I was home for the weekend, and what-do-ya-know he had an extra fish. I quickly graced my parents with my presence for another night. Offering my dad to help out in the kitchen just a few hours before the meal is really taking the easy way out. If my mom cooks daily in 20 minute sprints of cooking fervor, my dad goes at it like a marathon runner. A marathon runner on anabolic amphetamines hurdling up a train through the aisle. At least a week in advance, he lays out the plan and follows it to the t. It's always a set menu with a fancy main. This time it was a grilled fish. Not fancy, you're thinking, ain't cha? Well you should get the context.

My mom can't stand fish's fishy smell. She'll enjoy eating a fish, providing it's not too sea'ish. But preparing a fish at home? Having a fresh fish in the house and then let its aroma spread through the house? Dear lord, no. That's why I can only remember once before that we had fish at home. It was a test drive, never to be repeated.

Perhaps that's part of the reason i didn't really like fish or seafood until the age of 21. I used to say "why bother spending money on fish and seafood when you can suck on a fisherman's net for free?". I changed my mind one faithful day in the Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. I was there with my parents, and we entered a restaurant. Always one to try new things at least once, i was not deterred by the fact that it was a seafood fish critters place. My parents picking up the tab also helped. We did have one small problem, though. Being a small local restaurant, there were no English menu. How do we order? We started out with waving our arms stuttering and mumbling randomly, but were quickly saved by the waitress. She found a way to communicate we were in good hands and she will take care of us. And care she did. When the forth course arrived, we started to get a bit distressed - how much to go? Give us a hint, a clue, a warning. I think there were about 8 dishes of sea stuff in any form you can imagine. And by god, I loved it! Even the tiny deep fried fish - heads and all. I've been a fish-avore since.

The dish my dad made wasn't very complex. It was a pre-cleaned and open fish - we call it Musar and I think it is Meagre in English. Using just chopped coriander, garlic, butter and lemon juice, it's a simple and quick main course. Providing the slaughtering part is done for you, that is. Take the fish, rub it inside and out with all of the goodness I just mentioned, and stick it in the oven for 20 minutes. That's all.

Sorry there's no picture of the end product. By the time it was ready, I was totaly invested in digestion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Oh to have a grill: Mushroom Caps with Arugula Butter

The long-awaited mushrooms post!

Things are beginning to settle in here in California, which is to say, class is started and Berkeley has begun to eat away at my existence. FUN!

It's the fifth day of school, already time to look back and think, Remember how fun life was when I was on vacation? (AKA "unemployed...")

With that in mind, I'm posting a recipe that is altogether unlikely if not impossible that I will ever make in my time here: grilled stuffed mushrooms.

Since I don't have a grill, it's pretty unlikely. Considering that one of the things that made these so amazingly delicious was not only the grill, but the smoker (oh, God bless the smoker), well, that's just impossible. At best, maybe I can use a friend's grill, or maybe if I really get the craving, I'll just make them in the oven. I've been trying to figure out how to get that smoky flavor into food without the grill lately, and mostly my ideas are falling flat. Maybe some smoked paprika?

Anyway, here's the recipe, taken from my dad's favorite cookbook of late, The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen.

Mushroom Caps with Arugula Butter

1 bunch arugula, stemmed, rinsed, spun dry, and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 Tbs (1 stick, or around 110 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I'm pretty sure I used salted -- that's just how I roll.)
a few drops fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 jumbo or 16 large white mushrooms, stemmed, caps wiped clean with a damp paper towel
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Finely chop the arugula and garlic in a food processor. Add the butter and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper to taste, and process until smooth. Spread the butter mixture in the mushroom caps and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

Set up the grill for indirect cooking, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to high.

When ready to cook, preheat a vegetable grate (if using) and then brush and oil it or the grill grate. Arrange the mushrooms in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the mushrooms until browned and tender and the butter is melted and sizzling, about 20 minutes. For a smokier flavor, move the mushroom caps directly over the flames for the last 5 minutes of grilling. Serve at once.