Every winter I find myself returning to some version of a creamy puréed broccoli soup. This time around I’ve gotten the making of it down to a very simple formula. In fact it’s a formula that I’ve used successfully for making a roasted butternut squash soup and a roasted cauliflower soup. I think it’s a formula you can use to make other roasted vegetables into soups as well, without overthinking it, adding different spices or herbs to bring an individual flavor to each soup.
I’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to root vegetables, which means I eat a lot of sweet potatoes. Nothing wrong with that, but why play the same note over and over again when you have so many others to choose from? I realized how monotone I’d been after eating at a local farm-to-table restaurant where one of the sides was mashed parsnips, and since then I was determined to add it to my repertoire.
If you aren’t familiar with parsnips, they look like a carrot whose pigment has faded. Though the parsnip doesn’t have the vibrant color of its relative, its flavor and fragrance is so much more interesting than the candy-sweet carrot.
Not all things are an efficient use of your time and energy. Take, for instance, the handheld electric fly swatter. The premise of the handheld electric fly swatter is that you smack said insect once and the electric current zaps the bug dead. It’s sort of like the big POW! that kills the bugs in the cartoons in bug spray commercials, but without the use of toxic chemicals. It’s a fine idea, in theory; quick, easy, portable, and just the sort of thing that calls to husbands from hardware store shelves.
Oxtail, known as rabo in Spanish, is a highly marbled and bony cut from the tail of a cow. When cooked in water until tender, and braised in a tomato-based sauce until nearly falling off the bone, the flavor is rich, and pairs really nicely with pasta that’s been tossed with the remaining red sauce.
I’m trying to keep things simple this month, largely because this moving stuff is all-consuming, and a girl can only do so much. Thankfully, when it comes to cooking, simplicity can be and often is the best approach. This cranberry sauce infused with triple sec is my simple take on a pretty standard Thanksgiving side dish. But why save it for Thanksgiving alone? I say use it to complement as many things as you can. Stir it into a scone recipe, spread it on a turkey sandwich, use as a filling for a rustic tart, or whatever else comes to mind. And wherever you are, I hope you share the Thanksgiving holiday among family and friends.
I’ve been experimenting more with spelt flour these days, using it for making our bread, and also for making the pasta we eat at home. In my current bread-making experience, in which I use a high-hydration dough with a natural leaven, spelt flour, with its lower gluten content, needs less moisture than wheat flour, and also tends to be a little looser or dodgier to handle when shaping before baking. But for making pasta, spelt flour is just as easy to work with as wheat flour, and I actually prefer its taste.
For several days last week, the overcast and drizzly weather created this sort of slow, relaxed atmosphere. While I worked in the kitchen, it felt like all my movements had this meditative quality, and I was exactly in that moment and nowhere else. Perhaps it’s the fall season beginning to sneak in, and that’s okay with me. When I was growing up, summer was my favorite time of year for obvious reasons; no school and endless days of swimming and playing. During those days, I was easily lost in moments without notice of time passing until the day’s end was signaled by the setting of the sun. But in the long years since then, fall, with its mellow feel has become the time of year I most enjoy, and maybe it echoes the time of life I’m in too. Dusk, when the sun begins to set, is my favorite time of day too, and a good meal is the best way to enjoy it.
This week, after harvesting the mustard and turnip greens from our garden and buying beets from our local farm, I was overwhelmed by a refrigerator filled with greens that needed to be eaten soon. Of course, that’s a pretty good thing to be overwhelmed with, but if you have your own garden, you know that once things start growing, you’ve got to get cracking to keep up with the output. I’ve been experimenting a bit with a pesto, but in the meantime I needed another recipe that would single-handedly reduce that very large pile of greens into something tasty.
Once, on a New Year’s Eve long passed, my husband’s father made paella for family and friends. Though it’s typically made in a paellera, a very wide, shallow pan with handles, instead my father-in-law used the large, deep steel pot he had available. The uppermost portions of paella were the best; underneath, the rice had become a bit too mushy due to the pan he used. Así es la vida. Despite the slightly mushy rice, there still was the socarrat, the savory caramelized rice crust that forms on the bottom of the pan. I remember the paella was excellent and I ate too much, but I still had room for the flan and turrón that was served for dessert.
As a curious home cook, I’m always looking for new ideas. One place that consistently provides great stuff is an online community for home cooks called Food52. The site is run by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, and has just published its first cookbook with recipes created by members of the community. One of the cooler ideas I’ve come across from Food52 is the method of removing the backbone of a chicken and laying it out flat in a pan to roast it. The method and recipe, posted by Merrill, produced a juicy, evenly cooked whole 4-pound chicken in less than an hour. Since then, every time I make a roast chicken I use this approach.