Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Something from Nothing | Refrigerator Soup

Way back when, a college friend was bragging to me about his mother's cooking and how much he missed it. (This is while we're wolfing down pizza and beer.) So I asked him what his mother made best, what did he miss the most. 

I was expecting him to get teary eyed over his mother's lasagna or her chocolate chip cookies or maybe her roast chicken or French silk pie. He thought for a long time before he finally answered and said, "Nothing in particular, really. She was just able to whip up something from nothing in no time at all. And it was always good.

"She'd just go into the fridge, gather a few things up, and -- Bingo! -- half an hour later, there'd be something delicious on the table."

Guess Rachel Ray had nothing on Mrs. Schwartz.

One of my favorite blogs to read (and cook from) is The Savoury Table by +Karen Harris. Something she does regularly is write a post about "something from nothing" -- those times when you just pull something together from what's on hand between the pantry and the fridge. That's where creativity happens, backed up perhaps by a bit of experience.

So, taking a lesson from Karen, I made this soup. It has a whole bunch of leftovers: leftover macaroni and cheese, some bacon left over from breakfast (imagine!) that went into the mac 'n cheese, and roasted broccoli from dinner the night before. Some chicken broth and a couple dollops of Greek yogurt pulled it all together in a soup that probably won't be repeated. 

Every couple weeks, a neighbor boy comes over for a cooking lesson. We've been doing this for about two years now. We've made all kinds of things, sweet and savory.  Meatballs, breaded chicken, cookie dough cupcakes, hand pies, beer bread, potato salad, pretzels. You name it, we've probably made it. He's learned how to measure correctly, to wash hands repeatedly, to chop, to saute, to make a roux. 

But every once in a while, when I run out of good ideas, lessons that can be taught in about an hour and a half, I'll wonder aloud, "What shall we cook this week?"

More than once, Mr Rosemary has said, "Why don't you teach him to make soup?"

"We've made soup," I've said. "We made wedding soup, white chicken chili, chicken tortilla soup."

"Not like that," he said. "You know, like you do. Something from nothing."

I'll have to think on that. 

In the meantime, my "refrigerator soup" was a great warmer upper on a snowy day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Christmas Feasting | Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Salad

When a beautiful piece of tenderloin is the focal point of your Christmas feast, little else is needed. But we did anyway. It was Christmas, after all.  Before sitting down to this scrumptious feast, we had a wonderful variety of cheeses and spreads . . . and plenty of wine.

Then, in addition to the perfectly cooked beef, we had roasted broccoli, new potatoes, corn casserole and a Brussels sprouts and arugula salad. I forgot to take a picture of the oh-so-perfectly rich triple chocolate cheesecake.

My sister's annual fete for the five siblings in our family, appropriately dubbed "Sibling Christmas," was just a perfect blend of foods  -- color, texture, variety. Casually elegant. It's become a favorite new tradition among us.

Lynn is a most gracious hostess, the kind that can not only create a great meal but makes you feel both comfortable and special at the same time. She carefully plans menus and just may be the only person I know who keeps as many, and as much a variety of, cooking resources as I do. Many of the recipes I write about here have come from her testing; and I trust her instincts implicitly.

I was surprised, then, to learn that she doesn't really care for Brussels sprouts. Kale? Yes. Broccoli? Definitely. All kinds of vegetables. Just not Brussels sprouts.

So when I volunteered to bring a Brussels sprouts and arugula salad to our family dinner, she was elated. She was going to roast some sprouts herself because she knew so many of us liked them, but grateful that someone else was taking over the "B" sprouts.

And she further surprised me by saying afterwards that she really liked the salad. I also learned that she doesn't really like raw tomatoes. No wonder she gets along well with Mr. Rosemary!

Lynn had asked me to bring a salad and I went through my files looking for just the right one. That meant magazines, cookbooks, clippings, hand copied index cards and the internet. After all that searching, nothing was quite right. So I pulled pieces together from Food 52Williams SonomaGiada DeLaurentis and Family Day. And the salad I came up with is below. It's a repeat.

Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Salad
with Dijon-Maple Vinaigrette
Food 52Williams SonomaGiada DeLaurentis and Family Day
Serves about 6-8

For the dressing:
  • 2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 almond oil
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
For the salad:
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced fine
  • 3 cups of arugula
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Mix the mustard, maple syrup and vinegar.  Slowly add the oil, whisking until it emulsifies. Season with freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt as you like.