Panade of leeks, greens, and gruyere

March 14, 2013 § 24 Comments

panade of leeks and greens above

I’ve been going through a spate of soup-mania lately.  Vast quantities of soup have been making their way from the kitchen to my lips.  It’s practically all I want to eat.

I mean, I always like soup, but right now something about the world, the liminality of so many things – not the least of which being the season – is making soup particularly appealing.  When you’re in between winter and spring as well as all sorts of projects, just waiting (and waiting (and waiting)) for people to get back to you about pesky little things like edits and comments, what better to do than a little slurping?  Soup is there to oblige all slurping needs.   Also, I have a private theory that I’ve been dehydrated because of the dryness in the air, and my body is trying to make up for the fact that 10 or so cups of water a day just isn’t quite enough by steering me towards eating liquid food as well.  Is that even possible?  Not sure.

leeks for panade 1leeks for panade 2

Anyhow, I’ve had avocado soup for lunch for about 5 days in a row.  We’ve had sourdough tomato soup, and Norwegian fiskesuppe (with some extra parsnip and tiny arctic shrimp added), and creamy squash soup, and pho.  To name just a few.  I also just had the sudden flicker of a memory of a spinach and pine nut soup that I used to make for dinner parties in college (because I hosted dinner parties in college.  With no kegs or even drinking games.  Because I was that cool.).  I’ll have to make that some time soon because doesn’t that sound good?

This soup, though, I consider the culmination of sorts (though not the sort of culmination that signals the end.  No way.  More soups to come, so if you’re a soup person you should come on over…).  The soup to rule all soups, you might say.  A soup so filled with wonderful things that it is a considerable stretch to call it a soup.  It should be eaten with a fork.  Indeed, it should be so thick a fork should stand right up in it. « Read the rest of this entry »

Orange cardamom yogurt cake

November 9, 2012 § 90 Comments

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a pastry chef.

In general, I like to think of myself as more of a cook.  I find some self-satisfaction in my inaccurate – or more appropriately, unprecise –  stirring together of a pinch of this and a handful of that until I’ve made a meal of it.  I don’t think of myself as precise enough for baking and pastries.

And yet…And yet, at the end of a very long week, a week  where – let’s just say hypothetically – the workdays have been 12 hours long and the brain has taken the spirit captive, I find that precision is what I want.  The precision is a respite.

Structurelessness can be a tyrant, and precision and strict guidelines can actually offer solace.  In those moments, I take comfort in measuring an exact teaspoon and a half or creaming for exactly three minutes.

I also love pastries for their sheer un-utilitarian-ness.  Sometimes when there’s a lot to do, the wise decision is to make those calls or do that laundry, to stop avoiding and cross some things off your list.  But sometimes the wise decision is instead to do something that delights you, that has nothing to do with the list.

You don’t need sweets in your life, to be sure, but I think sometimes you do need little things that are “just because,” that aren’t necessities for the body, but may be for the soul.  Life needs to contain both basics and beauty, both bread and roses, or perhaps both stews and pâte feuilletée. « Read the rest of this entry »

Since we were talking about butter – smoked salmon quiche

May 2, 2012 § 24 Comments

As any self-respecting, French speaking, art and food obsessed college student would do, I spent a semester abroad in Paris my junior year.  According to my transcript, I was studying something along the lines of French language and literature.  According to me, I was doing an intensive independent study in hot chocolate and pastries.  Intensive.

I made a point of going to a different spot and trying a different pastry every day.  I roamed the city, exploring quaint neighborhoods and corner bakeries, charming cafes and hyacinth-lined gardens.  If my study-abroad major was pastries, my study-abroad minor was people-watching.  And dodging men who were intent on getting to know me – solely because I was blonde, and because they were French, and that seems to be the way of things.

Choosing walking as my preferred mode of transportation, I also wandered through plenty of neighborhoods where I quite possibly shouldn’t have, or at least wouldn’t have selected as a destination.  But, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get from point A to point pastry.

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The green madame

April 24, 2012 § 8 Comments

I have a problem with, no, let me rephrase that, it’s not really a problem, but I have a predisposition toward collecting little scenes that I see during the day and immediately turning them into images or metaphors for something else.  There’s nothing wrong with this at all, of course.  In fact, it’s quite handy at times.

But, today I want to share three vignettes with you that I like so much, I’m refusing to let my brain get all allegorical with them, even though it would be easy enough to do so.  I’m simply going to share them with you.  And if you’d like to  turn them into your own metaphors, by all means, go for it.

The first, I saw when I was running in the arboretum near our house this weekend.  It was swarming with birders, like bees pacing busily about their hive.  A group of them was standing a little ways back from a tall pine.  Each person in the group had binoculars plastered to their eyes.  They all peered upward, craning their necks, searching for something in the empty tree.  Meanwhile, a giant, chestnut colored red tailed hawk swooped down from the tree right behind them.  It stood on the ground, unnoticed, for a while, cocking its head at the birders curiously.   Then it took off, still unseen.  I chose not to say anything.

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Yogurt cake with pear and dark chocolate

January 29, 2011 § 34 Comments

I don’t know if this is the case in most places, but in the town where I grew up, when you graduated from high school, you had a big open house and invited all your high school friends, teachers, and neighbors. Scheduling was, of course, a nightmare, since come June you suddenly had over a hundred kids all trying to schedule parties within the span of a couple weeks while trying to keep from overlapping too much with anyone else.

During those few weeks there was absolutely no need for parents to attempt to cook because we all wound up hopping from party to party, filling up our bellies from the deli platters, crudites trays, and tiered stands bedecked with bars of all flavors – lemon bars, blondies, 7-layer bars… All in all it was a 3-week showcase of quality Midwestern fare (and truly, I say that with a great deal of fondness).

At that age I had developed the standard teenage angsty sense of needing to show how special I was. And since full out coolness wasn’t in the cards, I instead cultivated an interest in high culture, which, while sophomoric and stilted, also turned out to be sincere. I preened and announced my affection for opera and T.S. Eliot. I sketched and wrote pretentious essays about my thoughts. And I liked fine foods (while also being perfectly happy to stuff my face with Oatmeal Cream Pies or Chewy Chips Ahoy topped with Cool Whip. Ah, the teen years. I’m afraid the cream pies and chips ahoy are the only things I’ve fully outgrown.).

So, for my graduation open house, I asked my mother to have it catered with Indian food, which had only just become available in our area. And, I’m pretty sure I mostly did this because my boyfriend at the time loved Indian food. My party dovetailed with that of next door neighbor, who was (and is) also one of my best friends. We had decided that my house would be the savory food stop, and then she had a dessert buffet. I’m pretty sure I left my party early to go to hers and hover with our friends over the chocolate cakes. « Read the rest of this entry »

Roasted vegetable tartines

September 11, 2010 § 8 Comments

Tartine is one of those many French words that sounds beautiful when said by a native speaker, but is rather difficult to get out when you’re someone trying to learn the language.  The particular combination of vowels and consonants with that French “r” right in the middle gets stuck in the roof of your mouth a bit like a spoonful of peanut butter.  You had best learn to say it, however, if you plan on eating breakfast anywhere in that lovely country (unless you’re having a croissant, the pronunciation of which people seem to struggle with just as much anyway).  Traditionally, a tartine is simply an open faced piece of baguette, most often smeared with butter and jam.  This is what I had for breakfast every single sparkling Parisian morning (because it turns out that Paris sparkles, even when it’s gray and drizzly) while I studied there back in college.  Two baguette halves with copious amounts of butter and confiture de framboises, dipped in my coffee.  And then I would be ravenously hungry again within about half an hour.  Scandinavians are bred to require protein at breakfast.  Oh well.

Even though they never filled me up, I loved tartines.  And even more so on the day I realized, “what the heck?!  Why not have an open faced baguette sandwich with something more than just jam?”  (I know, so revelatory, right?)  Much deliciousness ensued.

I like to think of this particular creation as what would happen if an eggplant Parmesan sub studied abroad in France, got a little comfy, and eventually became an expat there.  It has an affected French accent and attempts an air of sophistication, but in the end it can’t help but be overflowing with gooey, bubbling melted mozzarella.  “Deep fry zee eggplant?!  Mais non!  I couldn’t possiblee.  I vil roast eet wiz some peppers and tomatoes, maybe add a leetle chevre and Dijon.  But somesing eez meesing…Oh yes, mozzarella!  Sweet!  I’m so gonna melt that all over the place…Nice.”

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Soupe au pistou

July 9, 2010 § 4 Comments

I would say that this is a story of soup, but then you would probably turn away, shaking your head and thinking, “no way am I going to eat soup in the middle of summer, unless it’s a cool as a cucumber soup.” (Which, by the way, I hope to make sometime here very soon as I have a bumper crop of dill in my fridge.)  So, instead I will say that this is the story of a man named Anthony from Texas.  Technically “from Texas” is not really part of his name, but it may as well have been because he exuded everything I think of when I imagine the good side of Texas, the openness and charm.  Also the big-ness.  He’s a former high school (and college, I think) American football player, and had one of those positions where, as far as I can tell, you pretty much specialize in being the human version of a reinforced concrete wall.

Anthony from Texas and I worked together for a few years, and much of our conversation was about having survived growing up in what you might characterize as ‘extreme climates.’  There was a lot of good natured sparring: “Cold?!  This isn’t cold!  Minus 40 degrees and having to put Vaseline on your face to keep the skin from freezing immediately is cold!”  or “How can you be overheating?  It’s not even hot out!  Try running drills in 110 degrees while wearing layers of protective gear.  That’s hot!”

When it’s (in my opinion) really hot out, I make a concerted effort to whine about at least every hour or so, on the hour.  And, virtually every time I did so, Anthony from Texas would chime in, “what you have to do to beat the heat is take a hot shower, and then have some hot soup!  It’ll kick start your body’s cooling mechanism, and the day won’t feel as hot in comparison.”  I shudder at the thought.  But, amazingly, the practice works.  (If you survive through to the other side of it, which I sometimes think is questionable.)

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