Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Never mind

Potatosoup_1I'm not one for labels, but damn, am I ADD. I'm probably even ADHD, because that has an extra letter, and so most certainly means extra unfocused and extra spacey. It's no laughing matter, this Attention Deficit Disorder. They put kids on medication for it all the time now.

It's a good thing they hadn't discovered this particular affliction yet when I was growing up or I would never have made it through graduate school.

Because I am a space cadet. In my own little world most of the time. I am amazed I get through every day without forgetting something important like waking up or releasing my parking brake. I'm also amazed I have to ability to eventually finish work assignments, because more often than not, though I do enjoy getting paid, I tend to lose all interest in the topic at hand very quickly, which makes it hard to muster any enthusiasm at all, much less a clever kicker.

But see? I digress. There was this hearty garlic and potato soup recipe in Cook's (my new favorite cooking magazine. A little homespun, true, but they are pedantic about their recipes and I need pedantry when attempting to cook.) At the time I saw the recipe it was cold and rainy and the thought of hearty garlic and potato soup made me sigh with desire. I decided I would make some.

But I needed a few special provisions first. I needed several heads of garlic. And two different kinds of potatoes. I needed some heavy cream. Finally, I needed a leek.

These ingredients took several weeks to procure. I got busy with other things and remember, it's hard for me to focus. While I slowly collected them I read and re-read the recipe. I needed two kinds of potatoes, for example, because one kind broke down easily and provided starch while the other held up better in simmering chicken stock. I had to read the sidebar on how preparing garlic three different ways would lend itself to the perfect garlic taste, and how this taste would blend perfectly with the two different kinds of potatoes. Did I mention that Cook's is pedantic?

Finally, I was ready for a trial run. But wither my leek? I asked Luke, my ex, if he could find me a leek when he went to the Farmer's market on Friday.

He arrived that day to pick up the kids and handed me a pair of long, green leeks. I snatched them from his hand, held them above my head and pronounced, in my finest Elizabethan accent, "If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!"

"What's that from?"


"No it's not."

"Yes it is!"

"No it's not."

For the record, Yes, it is. Hah!

I like any vegetable you can quote Shakespeare by. Leeks are fun. It's a silly word. And apparently, according to Luke, the leek is the national vegetable of Wales. I aim to do more with leeks in the future.

Still, it was another week before I could get around to being ready to attempt my hearty garlic and potato soup, and I only did so because I was afraid my leeks would go over in the crisper.

Here is the recipe (Cook's Illustrated, March/April '07, page 12. Written by Rebecca Hays):

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed and chopped small (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced, plus TWO whole heads of garlic, with the outer papery bits pulled off and the top third cut off.
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus one cup to thin soup if necessary (huh?)
2 bay leaves
table salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2 inch cubes (abut 3 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 minced fresh chives
garlic chips (recipe below)

Now, this might seem simple to some of you readers, but it's fairly complicated for me. And we all know how I don't tend to pay attention to details. Basically this was a disaster waiting to happen.

First challenge: How to cut potatoes into cubes. At my age I'm too embarrassed to ask anybody how this is supposed to be done. So I make my own approximation of 1/2 inch...shapes.

Again I digress...

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add leeks and cook until soft (but do not brown), about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add garlic heads, broth, bay leaves and 3/4 teaspoon salt, partially cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender (between 15-20 minutes).

Discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads and squeeze their garlic mush into a bowl, using tongs or whatever implement you can find. Use a fork to mash the mush.

Stir cream, thyme and half of the mashed garlic into the soup; heat soup until hot again. Taste soup, then add the remaining garlic paste if desired. Using an immersion blender (??WHA? luckily I have a regular blender), process soup until creamy, with some potato chunks remaining. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Sprinkle with chives and add garlic chips (see below)

Garlic chips - 3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin lengthwise.
Heat the oil, fry the garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

You might think, gentle reader, that your humble narrator stumbled and impaled herself on any one of several sharp challenges this recipe presented. But the fact of the matter is, the soup came out pretty well. But it took well over an hour, and, by the time I doled it out into a bowl to taste, I had lost all interest.

The result? It tasted like garlicky potato soup. Nothing more, nothing less. I had a few spoonfuls, but felt nothing. No ahhing, no soul-satisfying mmm-ing. In fact, it cried out for something, but I couldn't figure out what. And there was no one there to ask. No Tony. No Audrey. The kids certainly wouldn't have anything to do with it.

If you eat soup by yourself does it satisfy anyone?

Then it was bedtime and I poured it all out into my big green Tupperware container and shoved it into the refrigerator to think about on the morrow. Only the morrow came and went and I couldn't be bothered. A week went by and out of guilt I opened the Tupperware to heat up a bowl for lunch and was so affronted by the heavy garlic smell that I threw the whole thing out.

I wonder what Ritalin brownies would taste like?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How to have a happy Tuesday

I have discovered the key to happiness. It involves drinking just enough to take the edge off the day while cooking something easy enough to make well even while drinking. And dancing. You gotta dance while you're cooking, too.

I remember a friend, the fabulous Paula Davis, telling me that her favorite thing in the world was locking herself in her kitchen, pouring a big glass of red wine, and cooking the family dinner. I remember thinking, "huh." at the time. I guess I just wasn't there yet. I understand now.

Here's my recipe:

  • Sit the nits in front of a DVD. Give them some pasta to shut them up.
  • Lock yourself in the kitchen. Figuratively speaking, of course. Unless you actually have a kitchen door with a functional lock. I do not. (which is why you distract the children first).
  • Open a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. You can either get a glass or drink it straight from the bottle.
  • Turn the kitchen iPod onto to something upbeat and dance-y.
  • Cook something easy but fragrant, like soup.
  • Wear a faded blue apron an old Russian lady gave you once upon a time a million years ago.
  • Put your hair up. Wash your hands. Take a swig of Two-Buck Chuck for proper attitude adjustment, and begin chopping vegetables.

Your iPod playlist can vary. Mine includes:

La La La - the Birds and the Bee
Upbeat flamenco (bulerias and alegrias) (various artists)
Aimee Mann selections
Beatles (any)
the Cabaret Soundtrack (original Broadway)
Manu Chao selections
Transglobal Underground selections
Squirrel Nut Zippers selections
Frank Sinatra
Steely Dan selections
The Sundays selections
Beck selections

Serve the soup. If they eat it or not, who cares. You've had yourself an hour's free vacation; you're happy and sweaty and you're about to eat.

I'm starting to wonder how many great cooks out there enjoy this very activity. Have you?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wake Me Up

This is picture of my morning cup of coffee. I tried to add a little sugar but dropped the packet in by accident. It floated for a moment, then sunk to the depths before I could save it. I had just taken the trash out, so I couldn't follow up on my first impulse to plunge my hand in after it. In the minute it took for me to go wash my hands and find a fishing implement (my toothbrush), the packet melted open and all the sugar seeped out. So mission accomplished after all, I suppose. But by then the coffee had cooled, and I kept imagining that it tasted...grainier...somehow, and the end result was a wholly unsatisfying morning cup of coffee. I'll try again later, when I'm more awake, and not so hung over.

Lessons learned from this exercise:

One should try to go to sleep before 2 a.m., especially on school nights.

One never needs the better part of a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck to accompany Valentine's Day.

One should always keep a pair of chopsticks handy. Maybe in one's pen basket.

One probably doesn't need sugar in one's coffee anyway.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rice with chicken crap

It's hard being a creative type. Sometimes I get inspired to write something or dance something or...cook something...and nobody else on the planet gets it. I am shunned. Ostracized. I get funny looks from my peers and puzzled, "we still love you Mommy" glances from my progeny.

I persevere. Yesterday found me at 5 p.m. scratching my head and wondering once again what to feed the nits for dinner. I had a brainstorm. One of my hardy perennials is lentils over rice: A can of Progresso Lentil soup thrown over basmati rice. My kids love it. But I didn't have any Progresso lentil soup. It's gotten hard to find, for some reason. My friend Joey and I exchange hot tips on where to find it around town ("They've got it at Smart N' Final! Get over here!"). Tony lucked into three cans of the stuff on a shopping trip to Von's lately, and cleverly bought them all. Alas, I went through it.

What I did have, however, was a can of Campbell's cream of chicken soup.

What if I made that and threw it over rice? Wouldn't it be sort of a creamy, Lebanese-style chicken and rice sorta thing?

So I open the can, taking great care to ignore the 2003 "best by" date on the bottom of the can. It's canned, right? It's all preservatives. And everyone knows Campbell's soups have enough sodium to pickle a small mammal. It'll be fine.

Indeed, I shake the cylinder-shaped mass of...chickenish stuff into the saucepan, where it lolls horrifically. Thank God the kids are in the other room because this is like making sausage: You really don't want to see what goes into it. I am still operating under the delusion that they will find this dish palatable enough for me to include it on the regular weekday menu, and yet I'm still cogent enough to know that one glimpse of what currently quivers in my saucepan would put them off of anything I make them forever. I use one half cup water and one half cup milk to cook the stuff up and make it really creamy.

Ah! Cream of chicken soup! Nice ocher color. I ladle some over a nice bowl of fragrant Basmatti rice and mix it in.

I try it. It's good! Warm! Filling!

I put two bowls out for the kids, plus a little dish of carrots.

They run into the kitchen. They're starving, they say. Then they stop short when they see what's on the table.

"What's that?" asks the boy.

"Rice with chicken sauce," I say, wishing I could think of a more enticing name. My own working title for this dish is rice with chicken crap, but I keep that to myself for now.

He looks at me like I'm Andrea Yates.

"It looks gross," he says.

"It tastes great," I counter.

"I'm not gonna taste it," he says.

"You have to at least taste it before you can tell me you don't like it."

He looks at me. I look at him. I see what's happening. So as the Mother, the custodial parent and number one authority, I play the best card I have.
I bribe him.

"I'll give you a dollar if you take a bite," I say, thinking that surely once he tastes the concoction of starch and chicken sauce, he'll love it, and fill his belly.

"Show me the dollar." Where's a six-year-old getting this kind of mercenary talk? I show him the dollar. He takes a bite. Then puts out his hand. He does not take another bite. He focuses his attention instead on the carrots and his glass of milk.

I'm forced to bribe his older sister, too. She takes three bites before pushing the bowl away. I end up eating the better part of their bowls myself, because I'm starving and I, at least, find rice with chicken crap comforting. I wait all night for them to tell me they're hungry, but they don't.

Maybe they're afraid I'll cook something new for them again.