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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

gazpacho

gazpacho

Goodness, folks, where did you come from? You are just about the most amazing bunch of people, you know that? I give you boyfriend news, and you send me the internet equivalent of a hug and a squeal; I send an online video your way – and you’re all support and glee! How did I luck out with you as an audience? I must’ve done something right!

I want to take a minute and just say something here (all the while you look at these amazing tomatoes) about the internets, and friendship, and taking chances, and following your gut. I want to take you through a little exercise, on a journey of linking events. Last summer, I had just moved to Brooklyn and as I was settling into my apartment, I was also ordering kitchen goodies to fill out my new, shiny, spacious kitchen (I am still pinching myself that I have a kitchen like this, in a rental, in NY, but I digress). I had accidentally ordered two cherry pitters and was “complaining” on Twitter about my lack of attention to detail and whatever would I do with two pitters? Enter Jennie, who is one of my dearest friends now, who half-jokingly responded, I’d be happy to take one off your hands and refund you the cost. And I wrote to her, look since we’re in the same neighborhood let’s meet up and I’ll give you the pitter. Free of charge. Because, they are, like, $12 and charging you for that would just be silly. Right? Right.

scooping out the tomatoes

So Jennie and I, two perfect strangers, outside of being Twitter buddies, met up at One Girl Cookies for a coffee and a pitter drop-off. Jennie, and this tells you about the kind of person that she is (and that kind is amAzing!), brought me some tomato jam she had made earlier (which I promptly ate in one sitting with one of those gigantic spoons you see in pictures here) because she liked sharing as much as I did and because Jennie, at heart, is a mom. But mostly because Jennie looks to seeks out individuals such as herself that she can build communities with. Jennie, at her core, is a builder and a nurturer.

o hai, am a little piece of crustless baguette!

Something about that meeting, maybe it was our candor, maybe it was our similar sense of humor (dry, sarcastic) that sort of sealed the bond between us almost instantly. I call her my neighbor-sister-in-crime. I’m not sure what she calls me, but I’m sure it’s something nice. But we’ve become fast friends because we took a chance and we had a good gut feeling. Now, fast forward a few months to late fall and the Bon Appetit bake-off. Jennie had mentioned that her friend Alice, of Savory Sweet Life was coming to town. Jennie had roomed with Alice at another conference, and Jennie, who’s a keen judge of character, thought Alice was kind, sweet, and joyous. After Alice and I exchanged a few emails about hotels in New York and their respective costs, I quickly realized how quickly everything in New York can add up. I knew Alice had three kids, and that money could and should be spent on them, and I offered Alice and her husband my place to stay. I didn’t think much on it, nor did I contemplate the matter that long.

scooping out the tomatoes

I suppose it’s a little odd to invite people you’ve never met to stay in your home. I suppose it’s also a little odd when someone you’ve never met before offers you their place to stay. You might start doubting that person’s sanity. Home is a very personal thing. It’s your haven, your cocoon, your place of rest and protection. After a bad day, home envelops you, holds you close. Home offers things like soup and stews and blankets and warm cups of tea. And if you’re anything like me, then you’re a bit of a homebody, and like to spend your evenings curled up with a book on the couch, the television softly on in the background. But even though I treasure my home, I also understand that for a lot of people, coming to New York is a huge financial burden. Especially if you have children.

scooped!

I’ve grown up in a very “open” house so to speak – people came and went, and we always had someone over. By nature, Russian culture is very communal: people’s accomplishments and contributions are measured through their involvement with families and communities. Little premium is placed on being an individual, whereas in the American tradition we are reminded of the “rugged individualism”. In America you are encouraged that you must push your limits, that ceilings exist only to be broken, that your inner voice should be the strongest one.

mashing the garlic into a paste

Growing up with these two cultures, I am an amalgamation of both views, depending on the situation. I am very “Russian”, I suppose when it comes to sharing my space, as I love to have people over, love to host them and don’t feel annoyed when hungry friends show up unannounced. So sharing my home with Alice seemed natural. Something in my gut told me I should take a chance and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have met Alice and become friends with her the way that I have. Had I not arranged to meet Jennie for coffee, who knows if she and I would have grown to be so close? I am grateful for these opportunities, grateful that I have people at my table eating, and grateful for all of you. It’s nice to have you here, at my virtual table, even though I can’t feed you directly, I can pass these recipes on to you.

food processor, i love you

So how does this sop tie into all this? Well, I made it a few weeks back for a Sunday supper for some folks we had over for dinner: Andrew’s younger brother and an out-of-town friend. There we were, gathered around a table on a Sunday evening, ushering in a new week. And also eating this soup, among other things. And that’s what I love the most, a house full of people, eating and laughing together. I think this is the single reason I cook – to me it’s an expression of love, of family, of community. I started cooking in earnest when I felt uprooted and disconnected from home, and didn’t know where I belonged. A kitchen gave me a home.

what summer means to me

Now, about this soup, I can say nothing less than the following: Universe, this is my favorite summer soup hands down! It is summer in bowl in all its tomatoeness. It’s fresh, it’s cold, it has a bite of garlic and a brightness of vinegar. It is the also one of the easiest things to make and somehow manages to look really sophisticated and impressive. It got me thinking that these would be perfect served at party in tiny shot glasses. Easy to consume, delicious, and leave you wanting more. Everyone at the table wanted seconds, which made my heart sing. Needless to say, there was nothing left for the following day.

hang on, little tomatoes!

So this soup, and this is my long-winded way of telling you this, is for all of you. You who come to read for the stories. You who come just to look at the pictures. You who cook from this site and send me feedback. You who’ve stumbled here by accident and decided to stay. My favorite soup of the season – is for you. I hope you like it, and thank you for being here.

mile end delicatessen mile end delicatessen

Continue reading gazpacho.

Monday, August 9, 2010

cucumber yogurt soup

cucumber yogurt soup

Today, I have soup for you. Not hot soup, mind you, because we are in the midst of summer, nobody wants to eat piping hot soup. Not me, at least. This here today is cold soup – cold cucumber yogurt soup to be exact. It’s amazingly refreshing, I promise you. I even had it for breakfast the day after I made it – over one of those days the heat index broke 100. I realize it’s less than traditional to eat soup for breakfast, but then again, I am also a fan of cold lo mein the morning after a night of Chinese food. Go figure.

The way this summer’s been going, I’m looking forward to eating a lot of this soup. Full bowls of it with crusty hunks of bread, kohlrabi salad, and buttermilk granita. Anything to keep me from turning on the stove or the oven. I do break down sometimes, in an attempt to conquer fear, or bring the summer barbecue inside my tiny apartment, but if I can get away with not raising the apartment temperature I’m all for it.

cucumber yogurt soup

Speaking of hunks (I do know a way with burying the lede, don’t I), I’ve been keeping something from you. Or rather someone. And it’s partly been because I have been so protective of it (him), and partly because I wasn’t sure how to. You see, every time I wanted to tell you about this someone, words would fail me. Like, really fail me. Every time I tried, I would stare at the computer screen, not sure where to start and how to finish. What I want to say go so far beyond language that for now, I’ll say just this: he makes my heart and my life fuller and brighter like a great big song that you want to fill a space with – a song that is deep, clear, resonant. He’s the best “plus one” a girl can hope for, and an eager and enthusiastic eater – an inspiration and a support. And it’s nice to say things like “our dinner” and “we ate” because sharing a meal with him is always a joy and I’m grateful for each little moment like this – really grateful. That’s all I’ll say for now, but expect him to be an ever-growing presence here. I’m happy. Really, truly, ridiculously pinch-myself-I’m-not-dreaming happy.

cucumber yogurt soup

But – back to this soup, which, incidentally I had all to myself. The best part about this soup, besides the fact that it’s delicious, is that you don’t need to turn on your stove, which I already said, but let me stress it again – it is marvelous to make something so quickly and so easily, especially when there’s not enough iced water in the world to cool you off. This soup comes together in mere minutes. That’s right – minutes. The weeknight meals I tell you about that take under an hour to cook while you drink wine? Well, you can definitely have a glass of wine while prepping this, but I’d be surprised if you were able to finish it by the time this soup was done. Unless, of course, you just downed it (no judgment here!) There are no hard and fast rules here – use more or less of the herbs you want, and if dill isn’t to your liking, you can always swap it out for parsley or chives. I think the mint is critical here as it gives the soup its wings, if you will.

cucumber yogurt soup

I could almost hear my oven whimpering when I walked into the kitchen, pulled out my ingredients, and five minutes later sat down to eat this soup. I felt a little badly ignoring it so, but I more than made up for it the following weekend when we had some company over. I ate this soup with my larger-than-life old Russian spoons I inherited from our family friend’s mother after she passed away. I love those gigantic spoons – they mean business. And a perfect vehicle to transport delicious soup from bowl to mouth. I only wished that I could have shared it that evening, though I’m not too worried – we’ve got more sweltering days coming our way and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll reach for this recipe again and make a double batch, to share. See, I just wrote “we” and “our” and it made me all aflutter and smiley – isn’t love grand?

Continue reading cucumber yogurt soup.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

tomato soup

tomato soup

All right, all of you with canned tomato soup in the pantry. You know who I’m talking to and if it’s you, step forward. Don’t be afraid; we’re just going to have a little chat. I promise I won’t single you out, but I want to show you something that might just change your tomato-soup-eating ways. It’ll take just a few more minutes than reheating that sad, thinned-down, canned version, and instead, you will luxuriate in quite possibly the most tomatoey tomato soup ever. And I don’t throw such superlatives lightly.

tomato soup

I owe this soup to my friends Jane and Geoff, mainly Geoff, for the soup is his creation. I tried this soup first when Jane and I were getting ready for a girls’ movie night, and soup was a nice, warm meal to carry us into the chilly evening. We had just had our first snowfall of the season, and it left behind tall snow banks as well as a few icy patches here and there. Soup was the prudent, practical dinner choice before heading out into the cold. But, you know, tomato soup isn’t exactly a dish one loses his mind over. It’s well-loved and is comforting, but doesn’t exactly command a mad legion of obsessed fans, unlike, say a good New England clam chowder does. So I was happy to eat this soup, but I had no idea what was in store for me.

tomato soup

Let’s just say my taste buds did a serious double-take. The clean, intense, undiluted taste of tomato was not what I was expecting. With the first spoon, I was hooked. And by hooked, I mean obsessed. And when I say “obsessed”, I mean I’ve been craving this soup nearly daily for a few months now, but kept forgetting to ask for the recipe. It took getting sick last week and being miserable and grumpy to ask Jane and Geoff for the recipe – I had to have this soup, or else. Grumpiness would ensue for days. Because I don’t get sick often, I turn into a total baby when it actually happens. All I want to do is like on the couch with a blanket and reruns of Law & Order on the television, pout and eat tomato soup. In that order. Normally, I settle for take-out because when I’m sick, I don’t exactly miss cooking. But this time was different. This time, my craving was stronger than my laziness. Besides, this so easy to make, I had no excuses, even with my Rudolph-red nose.

tomato soup

I know – we are busy bunch, especially during the weekdays. Work, family, social events – our lives are planned weeks in advance; we are hungry, run-down, and desperate for more daylight. We want to be warm, we want to be comforted, and some of us (ahem) are still trying to whittle away that tart we indulged in not-so-long ago that has mysteriously glued itself to our thighs and just plain refuses to leave (the nerve!). This is, and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this because this is so not what this site is about, also quite healthy. And delicious. And simple. And comes together in a pinch (a half-hour pinch, to be exact!) with the ingredients that are most likely already stocked in your pantry. While the soup is simmering, you’ve plenty of time to change into your favorite fleece pants (what, no one else besides me has a love affair with those?), pour yourself a glass of wine and settle into your evening.

tomato soup

Once the soup cooks a bit, quick whir of the immersion blender (seriously folks, far be it for me to tell you what a must-have item is, but really, if there is such one thing in the kitchen, the immersion blender it the it-gadget to have, promise!) and you have a velvety smooth, hearty, filling soup, perfect on its own. But, since I’m a girl who loves her accessories, I like to dress mine up with some good ricotta and swirl (or as the picture shows, a lump) of pesto. It look so festive and wintry and pretty in your bowl – kind of like Christmas all over again. But in February. So much the better.

tomato soup

Continue reading tomato soup.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

thai-spiced tomato soup

spicy tomato soup

A few weeks ago, a funny thing happened: my wallet was stolen. It didn’t feel quite so funny at the time as calling and canceling your credit cards is a painstakingly long process, but in looking back, this incident wasn’t without a silver lining: it prompted me to make this tomato soup.

I could have made this soup any day, week or month. Nothing was preventing me from making it as soon as I dog-eared the recipe in my October Gourmet. But I’m often easily distracted and October was giving us such gloriously sunny days I dared not think soup. And in the following weeks, I kind of forgot about it. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my apartment, sans cash, credit cards or even a metro card to my name, and quite hungry, that I remembered this soup and, more importantly, realized I had all the ingredients on hand!

spicy tomato soup

This whole stolen-wallet-and-no-cash-at-home incident is one big cautionary tale. Don’t be like me and have an emergency cash and credit card stashed somewhere. Keep both of these on hand and you won’t find yourself under involuntary “house arrest”. The loss of my wallet not only rendered me cashless and credit-card less, but also landlocked in Brooklyn, unable to even take the subway into the city, since my metro card also lived in my wallet. Thank goodness it was Sunday and I didn’t have to go in to work. And thanks to lovely Jane who saved the day by showing up with cash and a metro card in tow. With such lovely friends, I’m one lucky girl.

spicy tomato soup

However, there are silver linings when you have nary a nickle to your name. There are fewer decisions to make and that can feel liberating. You can take yourself on a walk, accompanied by coffee you made at home. You can take your camera and your keys (no wallet since it’s gone!) and just wander around snapping pictures without a care in the world. No temptation to buy anything because can’t even have that budgetary dialogue in your head! And after the walk, you come home and rummage around in your pantry, find your needed ingredients and get to work.

Somehow, being in a sort of a lock-down mode makes life seem a bit simpler and the simple act of chopping an onion in your kitchen becomes more comforting than rudimentary. You become aware of every cut, every little morsel that falls onto the cutting board as I diced away. You then slowly sauté your onion until pale and translucent before adding cumin and curry paste. All this stirring and sautéing creates a lovely paste of softened onions and spices that smell, well, sublime. And when you add the remaining ingredients and let the whole thing cook for 15 minutes or so. In that time you are free to go about as you like. In my case, it was calling various credit card companies and asking for replacements, but I can think of time better spent like reading a book perhaps, or watching the news. Either of these things is exponentially more exciting than calling credit card companies. But such is life and sometimes we do what we must and not what we’d prefer.

spicy tomato soup

But mere 15 minutes later, after a quick whir of your immersion blender and a drizzle of fresh lime juice, you have your soup ready for you. And while your wallet is still at large and your friend is en route with some cash to carry you over, somehow this is a soup that makes you feel better. You taste it and think, it is all going to be okay. The power of one’s pantry can be measured in these moments – when you can rummage around, find a few ingredients and whip up not just any meal, but one that is truly outstanding. You not only have a winning recipe on your hands; you’ve just demonstrated to yourself that you can be resourceful with the ingredients you have on hand. Somehow resourcefulness in the face of desperation is more appreciated. When you have no other choice, but to cook only with what you have at home, this accomplishment seems so much grander.

spicy tomato soup

And so in looking back, I’m glad I hadn’t made the soup the second I saw it in the magazine; I don’t don’t think I would have appreciated it, or my well-stocked pantry, even half as much were I not hungry and without any cash to my name. The ingredients, coupled with the time it takes to make this soup, make for a simple and comforting weeknight meal, an impromptu lunch friends, or a soothing supper if you’re stuck at home with a cold. And while the amount of effort it takes to make this soup is minimal, the results are anything but. I would even dare say – they are glamorous. Plus, and this is a bonus, the ingredients can be easily found hanging out in your pantry. Which is perfect for those days when your wallet goes missing and you haven’t got a penny to your name and, inevitably, hunger strikes. And what’s a girl to do?

Continue reading thai-spiced tomato soup.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

chestnut-apple soup

chestnut apple soup

While winter is quickly receding and signs of spring are beginning to emerge (or so I hope), I still want you to go and make this soup. As soon as possible. Tonight even perhaps. I’m sure you had a nice dinner planned, but it’ll have to wait – this soup is worth it. I promise you, you’ll thank me later. After you lick the bowl clean.

chestnut apple soup

To say I build my entire dinner around it on Oscar night, would be an understatement. This soup alone made me want to throw a smallish dinner party for a few close friends and since I couldn’t invite people over just to serve them soup and call it a day, I had to come up with the rest of the menu. But this is the soup that started it all. Oh, and we ate this for dessert. It’s a tough existence, I know.

chestnut apple soup

Some people are huge fans of sweeter soups and if you are, you will love this. But I know those who like their soups savory, won’t be able to resist the earthiness of the chestnut perfectly complemented by the apple. A few thyme leaves add some color and contrast to the flavors. The soup comes together in little time and with a few whirrs of a hand blender, you are left with a smooth, velvety texture that sparkles on your palate with a dollop of crème fraîche. If you want to keep this soup vegan, you can omit the dairy.

chestnut apple soup

For nights when you have to entertain and come away looking like a fancy-pants chef, this soup is a must. Of course, you’ll be secretly pleased that instead of slaving for hours in the kitchen you spent a mere half an hour putting this together. Let this be our little secret then.

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Continue reading chestnut-apple soup.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

curried carrot ginger soup with pepitas, cilantro oil and a homemade spicy marshmallow

curried carrot ginger soup

One of the best things about eating at a great restaurant is that in addition to eating a well-prepared meal, you sort of become inspired. You go home with the flavors still lingering on your palate and you wonder for days on end how to recreated it in your kitchen. There’s the kabocha squash with leek ravioli with my name on it brewing in the depths of my mind. And I will make it before the season is out, mark my words. Not a day goes by that I haven’t thought about those ravioli with the fried ricotta and pine nuts in brown butter. [At this point, I slide of my office chair and fall to the floor. THUD.]

So where were we? Oh that’s right restaurants, inspiration, recreating the food at home. Of course. Let’s get back to the matter at hand, shall we?

curried carrot ginger soup

A few weeks ago a friend of mine and I went to check out this relatively new, well-reviewed restaurant in the East Village/Nolita area, whose focus was on Colonial influenced food. While our meal was nothing short of excellent, the highlight of the meal was this cardamom carrot soup we ordered as an appetizer. The carrot soup arrived, garnished with toasted pepitas (swoon), drizzled with cilantro oil (double swoon) and (takes deep breath) topped with a homemade chili marshmallow a little oozy and melty around its perimeter. [THUD] That’s me falling out of my chair again.

curried carrot ginger soup

Ok, so. The soup. By now, most of you reading this site, know that I possess a love for soup that runs so deep you’d be hard-pressed to find a comparison for it. I know soup is a little bit grandmotherly, like strained peas or oatmeal, but I love it unabashedly. Soup is warmth. Soup is comfort. Soup is a glorious thing that you spoon and taste and feel like you’ve a warm blanket on your lap. And since I so over winter at this point, soup makes me feel one day closer to spring.

curried carrot ginger soup

What can I say to you about this soup? Well, you must know I love it because I recreated it at home mere weeks after trying it at a restaurant. But I also added a few things – gave it a little bit more mystery and caché if you will, but adding ginger, orange juice and curry. The original soup was heavily focused on cardamom, which I loved, but I wanted a little more depth. I wanted cardamom and that secondary aftertaste you feel with a slight curry flavor. I liked it even better than the original soup and will definitely make it again before the season is out – it is unbelievably comforting and is a cinch to make. You can puree it in a blender, but I must tell you that my new immersion blender is a thing of beauty. That little gadget is SO powerful and easy to use, that you’d want to get this if only because you will be looking at fewer pots to clean afterwards. A sink that has fewer dirty dishes – to me, that’s the ultimate inspiration!

Continue reading curried carrot ginger soup with pepitas, cilantro oil and a homemade spicy marshmallow.