feed a fever

Dinner: January 6, 2013

I’ve always been pretty proud of my ability to think on my feet. It’s a skill that has served me well at my day job, but it has proven to be invaluable since I became a mom. You just never know what the day will bring.

We’ve been lucky – Julian has been extremely healthy and robust, but yesterday he just wasn’t feeling like himself. He had had some immunizations at his 15-month checkup late last month, and his doctor warned us he might show some delayed symptoms about a week after; right on schedule, he was cranky and fussy and spiked his very first fever Sunday morning. We tried time and again to put him down for a nap in his crib, but he wasn’t having it, so I nestled him close to me in the big bed, and read while he drifted off, staying with him for nearly three hours.

112

He slept deeply and well, his fever broke, and he woke with a smile on his face, but I had to shelve my original plan for dinner. Something brothy and comforting seemed like just what we all needed, so I put a small pot of beans on the stove and got to chopping while Mike took over tending to our boy.

foundation

I was inspired by a beautiful pot of minestrone I saw on Pinterest, so I cobbled together my own version, rich with alliums and fennel, carrots and parsnips, cabbage and kale, good canned tomatoes, fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay. I added a dash of Worcestershire for savoriness and a splash of Sherry vinegar for brightness, the cooked beans and their broth for heft, and a parmesan rind for the wonderful richness it imparts. I didn’t have any soup pasta around, but I did have a bag of par-cooked whole wheat spirals in the freezer left over from a previous meal, so I thawed them and stirred them gently into the soup until they were just warmed through.

celery leaves and garlic

I also had a bunch of leafy celery in the crisper, so I pulled off a big handful of the leaves to make a quick gremolata of sorts, chopping them fine and combining them with garlic and lemon zest and coarse pink salt, plus a little bit of olive oil to make a chunky paste, which I swirled on top of our soup bowls.

last-minute minestrone

We settled in at the table, passing a tray of cheese-dusted, garlicky toasts for dunking, and even Julian ate with gusto. I guess a good pot of soup really is the cure for what’s ailing you.

In The Soup

speckled

I won’t go into the multitude of things that have been keeping me away from this blog, but I did want to stop in and let you know that despite the lack of posts here and my nearly four day twitter blackout (what on earth did we do before twitter? thank goodness my account came back last night), I haven’t actually dropped off the face of the planet. However, life has gotten even crazier than it was a week ago, and it likely won’t slow down any time soon.

Dinner: October 25, 2010

On top of all that, we have a dear friend coming to visit for a few days and we’re looking forward to eating and drinking our way around town, but with my usual great timing, I seem to be coming down with a cold. I made this soup a few nights ago, and Mike packed some for my lunch today. I used fresh cranberry beans instead of cooked dried beans, and since we were fresh out of potatoes I added a little extra pasta to the mix. I’m hoping the one-two punch of the leeks and garlic confit will chase any bugs away.

You can get my recipe at food52.

From Nuts to Soup

When things get quiet around here, it’s a pretty safe bet that things have been crazy at my day job. I’ve been doing what I do for a long time, and I learned early on how to juggle, but these last few weeks I feel like the minute I turn my attention to one task, three more things pop up that require my immediate attention. Couple that with the usual change-of-seasons sluggishness I tend to experience, and you have one tired dame who has struggled to find suppertime inspiration when I get home in the evening.

I had a gorgeous head of otherworldly-looking romanesco cauliflower that I turned into soup last night, starting with a base of chopped leeks softened in butter, then adding romanesco florets and some homemade stock, but when the florets had softened and I pureed the soup, I was less than thrilled with the texture. It was just too thin, and my fiddling with it to achieve something close to the result I wanted meant the soup cooked too long, going from a lovely pale green to an unappetizing greyish hue. I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo. The flavors, however, were there, the delicate soup getting a nice burst of freshness from a celery leaf and preserved lemon gremolata stirred in at the end, so I think I’ll give this soup another go-round soon.

Shoulder Season Soup

Dinner: September 28, 2010

I’m in commuter hell this week – I’ve had a succession of early or late buses in the morning, consistently late trains, and unplanned cab rides home from the train station which, in addition to being annoyingly expensive and sometimes terrifying, have put me in a big ole cranky mood in the evening, and craving exactly what we’ve been trying to get away from – comfort food.

I sat on the train in my work clothes drenched to the bone after a rain-soaked spin through the Boston Public Market on Tuesday, with tomatoes and fennel and green beans and squash globes and all sorts of other goodies in my totes, and decided a big veg-laden soup was in order. After I got home, I peeled off my damp clothes and changed into something warm and dry, and then I got to chopping: slender leeks, carrots, fresh celery, beautifully ripe plum tomatoes, sweet red peppers, globe zucchini, fresh thyme branches and green beans all went into my pot at various stages, sprinkled with salt and bathed in dribbles of olive oil and a judicious amount of red wine as they cooked down. I added a little bit of orzo to the mix, and when it was tender, added a good amount of freshly grated parm to the soup off the heat. I blitzed up a fresh parsley and fennel frond pistou in the mini chopper to spoon on top, and served up our soup with a few thick slices of Olga’s Pane Francese and some gooey, runny cheese from Farmstead.

As antidotes go, this was just about perfect.

Garbage Soup

Dinner: February 26, 2010

The doldrums drag on. Work has been busy, the weather in New England has been damp and grey, and I’ve been struggling with a nasty bug that kept me home and in bed on Thursday under a pile of blankets and slumbering kitties. I made it to work on Friday, hacking and coughing through the day, and when I came home all I could think about was soup. Small problem: we were fresh out of stock, and I absolutely didn’t have it in me to make more. I could have made that old standby Potage Parmentier, but we were also out of potatoes, so I took a page from my dear Grandma’s playbook and made a version of a little thing we like to call “Garbage Soup.” It’s a clean-out-the-fridge-freezer-and-cupboards kind of soup, endlessly adaptable, and better than it has any right to be.

This batch was built on the last three links of Hill Farm sweet Italian sausage I had in the fridge, crumbled and cooked until deeply browned, then lots of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, a can of San Marzanos with their juice, a parmesan rind, and plenty of thyme and parsley. I added some cooked red beans to the mix, as well as corn, peas, and green beans from the freezer, and several big handfuls of torn kale. With a hunk of bread from Olga’s and some sea salted butter, this soup made for a humble but totally satisfying meal.

Get the Balance Right

Dinner:  February 1, 2010

Juggling the duties of my new position and old position is still a major challenge, but I’m trying hard not to get overwhelmed. I really do find comfort in the kitchen, and while my time and energy have been limited, it is important to me that I still make time to cook for us at least a few nights a week. I’ve given up on getting creative for the time being, instead choosing to turn out some old favorites, uncomplicated meals I can put together almost without thinking about them – like Monday’s onion soup. Onion soup was the very first thing I taught myself to cook, more years ago than I care to admit, and I still get a little thrill every time I dip my spoon through a layer of molten cheese into the rich broth beneath.

Dinner:  February 2, 2010

Tuesday night’s dinner was even easier, thanks to the full day I spent cooking on Sunday. I had cooked up another pot of my new favorite lamb ragu, setting half of it aside to reheat last night, and stashing the rest in the freezer for another time. When I got home from work, I put the ragu in a pan with a glug of red wine, got a pot of water boiling, and caught up with Mike over a cocktail while the sauce simmered. I really love this sauce, and while I’ll never give up the pleasures of a long-simmered beef and pork Bolognese, I think this simple lamb ragu is going to be my go-to meat sauce for pasta. It’s all about options, and balance, right?

Lamb Ragu, Take Two

½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1-2 T olive oil
Kosher salt
1 T double-concentrated tomato paste
1 lb. ground lamb
1-2 fresh bay leaves (or one small dried)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ cup dry red wine
1 28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar

Place the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until they’re very finely chopped. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan until shimmering, then add the ground up veggies and a big pinch of salt. Stir the veggies through to coat them with oil, and cook for a few minutes until they’re softened. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to toast for a few minutes before stirring it through.

Add the ground lamb, breaking it up with your spoon and stirring until the softened veggies are mixed through. Cook until the lamb has lost its raw, red color, then add the bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, and wine. Bring to just to a boil, then add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking the tomatoes up with your spoon. Add another big pinch of salt, then bring to a boil once again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and reduced, about an hour or so.

Stir in the Sherry vinegar right at the end, taste and adjust the salt if needed, then serve right away or cool and store in the fridge or freezer.

Note: This makes about 4-5 cups, or enough to sauce 2 lbs. of hot cooked pasta. To reheat, add a couple of cups of the sauce to a hot pan with a half cup or so of wine or water, then cook over medium heat until it cooks down and gets a little caramelized. If you’re going to toss it with pasta, let the sauce get really dry, and then add some of the starchy water to the pan along with the al dente pasta; leave it a little more moist if you’re going to serve it another way (like, for example, over soft polenta).

Brown Plate Specials

My week so far has been hectic, both at home and at the office, and our last couple of dinners have reflected that. The weekend’s snowfall has led to bus snafus and train delays, making my long days even longer, and by the time I have gotten home at night, I’ve found myself in a mad rush to both get dinner on the table at a decent hour, and to finish cranking out edible holiday treats.

'shrooms

As most of our fresh food is earmarked for holiday meals, I’ve relied heavily on pantry staples for these last two dinners, and since we’ve been dialing back on meat in anticipation of the rich dishes we’ll be indulging in over the extended holiday weekend, I turned to mushrooms to lend a hearty bite.

Dinner:  December 21, 2009

On Monday, my latest incarnation of lentil soup got extra heft with a topping of roasted criminis, and brightness from a crumble of tangy fresh goat cheese.

Dinner:  December 22, 2009

The goat cheese came into play again last night, to both brighten and add a bit of creaminess to bowls of spaghetti tossed with one of my favorite old standbys, a rich mushroom ragu.

While these two meals made for a couple of very brown plates, they made for two very satisfying dinners, and this time of year, that’s good enough for me.