Friday, January 27, 2017

Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

So. These are strange days—trying to balance outrage and action and also the joy in resistance, in daily life, without which what even is the point? 

We marched in DC, and it was magic. I can hardly even talk about it. It's like a beloved's photograph in the locket of my heart.

Our congresspeople’s numbers are all in my phone, and I am calling their DC and local offices to express concern about whatever feels most pressing on any given day. I am following the alternative Twitter accounts of our country’s custodians of science. Less nobly, I am hoping that this half an onion in a bag gets more Twitter followers than Trump.

I have never loved Michael more.
Also, we are laughing at every opportunity. We are sleeping with cats. I am putting down my phone to greet the children when they get home from school. We are eating warmly and well. Like this soup, which is extremely delicious. If butterfat troubles you, don’t make it, okay? I mean, if you’re vegan, feel free to swap in alternative products—you could definitely do something great with cashew cream at the end here. But if the fat itself is a worry, make something else, because the fat is necessary. We need to store up fat for the long winter of our coming discontents. This is the plan.

Birdy and I recently ate this soup at Duckfat in Portland, ME, and it blew us away. You can be confident that Duckfat is a wonderful place because, despite the fact that there is almost nothing on the menu our vegetarian girl can eat—there is duck fat in the French fries, in the doughnuts, in the caramel that goes into most of the milkshakes—Birdy always wants to go there. This soup would be reason enough. When we got home, I Googled around, and found the recipe online! I scaled it down a little, but it still makes a lot.

Prettier garnishes. But go with the grilled-cheese croutons, if you can.
Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled-Cheese Croutons
This recipe is adapted from Rob Evans, the chef of Duckfat in Portland, ME. The truth is that I’ve made it with his recommended amount of cream—which, in the scaled-down recipe below, is a full quart—and it’s fantastic that way, if a tad rich. Half that amount of cream is good too, but then the acidity of the tomatoes breaks through a little more, and I’ve found you need to add significantly more sugar to balance it—up to a tablespoon or two or more. Three cups of cream is pretty much the happy medium here. This is not a light soup. But oh, it is so comforting and good. (There are some process shots of soup-making, including quartered and cored fennel, below.)

1 large fennel bulb
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
½ cup white wine
2 (28-ounce cans) peeled whole or crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano whenever I can)
1 teaspoon (plus) sugar
2-4 cups heavy cream (Try 3 cups. See headnote)
Kosher salt and black pepper
A grilled cheese sandwich, cut into small squares, for garnish

1. Deal with the fennel: trim off the green tops (save some of the feathery fronds for garnish, if you like), then cut the fennel in quarters lengthwise and trim out the core. Now slice the fennel thin (crosswise or lengthwise—it’s all going in the blender later so it doesn’t really matter) by hand, mandolin, or food processor.

2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup pot and add the fennel, onion, salt, and fennel seeds. Sauté for a minute our two, then cover the pot and “sweat” the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they have given up a lot of liquid and that liquid has largely cooked off—about 10 minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook, uncovered, until the wine is mostly gone (another few minutes), then stir in the tomatoes and the sugar, bring to a simmer, turn the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the cream, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender. Add a big grinding of pepper.

5. Now puree the soup in a blender, in batches. You know how to do this safely, right? Fill the blender jar only half full, remove the center of the lid and use a dish towel over the hole (this prevents steam building up and blowing the lid off).

6. Strain the soup if you like. This is kind of a fussy step, and it’s not strictly necessary, but it’s quite lovely to have a perfectly smooth puree without little fennely strings and bits of fennel-seed husk.

7. Return the soup to the pot, reheat gently, and taste. You are going to need to add more salt, maybe more sugar, and maybe more cream. You want the soup to taste balanced and delicious. Keep adding and stirring and tasting, even if it feels like it’s taking a long time to get it exactly right.

8. Serve the soup with the grilled-cheese croutons or with a drizzle of cream (or sour cream) and a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Raspberry-Cardamom Smoothie! Yay clean eating! Sigh.

I would post fewer dull, earnestclean recipes in January and more luscious, yummy recipes in December, except the December recipes are really just “Put out some wonderful cheese and open a bottle of red wine” or “Get the leftover ham out of the fridge and let everyone saw at it with steak knives” or “Get your son to make you a maple-bourbon old-fashioned, then order a pizza.” Sigh. Those were the days!
Michael is very funny with his leftovers labeling. Thanks, hon! Michael is actually cooking some for himself and the kids, which is another terrific silver lining.
Now it’s all very almond milk and kale and soaked cashews. We went to our favorite taqueria last night, and I heroically ate not one single tortilla chip, even though they were hot and I could see the salt glittering on them, could hear and smell their corny wonderfulness as my family crunched around me. I made everyone congratulate me on my discipline and stoicism. “Tortilla chips!” I said. “My second favorite food after cheese!” They were sympathetic, but also, I think, a little bit like, “So eat some.” Fair enough.

More from the annals of my personal heroism: I made pecan sticky buns for a houseful of teenagers and guess how many I ate? You guessed it. I made everyone describe how good they were, though. It was like a bad creative writing exercise. (This is Smitten's recipe, and it seemed like they came out really great! Sigh.)
But I am eating well, too—I mean, deliciously—and I was just realizing that it’s because, while the content of the meals is abstemious (no alcohol, caffeine, dairy, gluten, meat, sugar), the form is incredibly decadent: I am cooking for myself, my own tastes. And I kind of love the freedom. So I can make my little dish of curried vegetables, and put tons of weird-tasting turmeric in it, which I love, and worry not at all about anyone else’s preferences and pet peeves and general dietary feelings. It’s kind of great.

This style of curry, shown here with Dominion cards and medium-boiled egg, is my new favorite thing to eat: celery, mushrooms (not in the this one), kale, and chickpeas (or other veggies), sauteed in coconut oil, with spices, including curry powder and extra turmeric, coriander, garlic powder, and cumin, added at the end, then a few spoonfuls coconut cream, a dab of tomato paste, and salt. A little hot sauce over the egg. So delicious.
Another favorite thing: I ask the fish folks at Whole Foods to sell me a $3 piece of center-cut salmon (it's about an inch of fish), with the skin cut off. Then I eat it raw, with avocado. Given that you'd pay $15 for this meal at a sushi place, and given that it's my favorite, it feels like an outrageous steal.
This smoothie is a new one for me this year, and I love it’s bright berry flavor backed by the deep and almost incense-y aromatic cardamom. It’s a variation on the Strawberry, Coconut, and Cardamom Smoothie in AnnaJones’s lovely book A Modern Way to Cook, which, if you live here and are waiting for it at the library, I’m sorry about having for so long. She uses strawberries and agave. I use raspberries and dates. I also add vanilla, and I skip her addition of dried coconut because I feel like it adds more grit than flavor. You can do whatever you like! It’s just a smoothie!

Fancy smoothie mise-en-scene
Note: I’ve stopped putting greens in my smoothie because I really like salad and I really like fruit smoothies, so why not just go ahead and keep them separate? Just my thought for the day, given that I’m not, like, in outer space with only the one smoothie to get all my nutrients from. Although I will say that on the very first morning of 2017, I made my first clean meal by opening the fridge, spying a week-old dressed salad in a Tupperware, and putting it in the blender. Thereby setting the bar so low that every meal since has felt like a small triumph.

Real-life smoothie mise-en-scene
I hope your back-to-everything week went okay, and that you are gearing up for the revolution and feeling great about all the money we donated. "Another year that we're not building a mudroom?" Ben asked, watching over my shoulder as I happily donated all the money. Exactly! No peace, no mudroom! I should paint it on the protest sign. That I'm bringing to the MARCH IN WASHINGTON D.C. Join me there if you can! xo

This happened to us! His name is Snapper. More soon.
Raspberry-Cardamom Smoothie
If you’re not trying to make a meal of this, please feel free to skip the almonds.

1 – 1 ½ cups coconut milk (the put-on-your-cereal kind) or another milk of your choosing, such as actual milk
2 tablespoons whole almonds, soaked overnight
½ cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 teaspoon vanilla
The seeds from 1 green cardamom pod (or a large pinch ground cardamom)
2 small dates or 1 large dates or 1 cup of white sugar (Kidding! Not about the dates!)

Whir everything together until smooth and frothy, adding an ice cube or two if you want it slushier, or if your berries aren’t frozen. Enjoy your own blooming health and energy.