Thursday, February 18, 2016

Life-Changing Cheesy Potato Soup: Ashley Stimpson Guest Post!

Meet Ashley:

This is Ashley trying to feed cabbage to Marcel. Marcel was having none of it. Stupid Marcel. (JK Marcel luh you boo (yes, he can read).) 

Ashley is the kind of person you meet and realize she will very quickly know all of your secrets and you'll feel better because of it. You can go from zero to thick-as-thieves in 60 seconds, and it feels like the most natural of things. Ashley listen, talk, offer advice, or interpretive dance with you to Bright Eyes all night. She'll also use her deck of spirit animal cards to tell you you're apparently a BOAR (pig). Uhhhhgeethanks, buddy.

Ashley made this wonderful dinner for me (which you should definitely make), and then wrote the most beautiful post about it. Do yourself a favor and read on - you've never seen a post like this on this silly blog. Earnest and heartfelt and still funny - she'll have you wanting to make this soup and make some positive changes. Basically, somebody get this babe a book deal because we all need her to self-help the heck out of us. 

Without further ado, a story of love, loss, life and soup from the delightful Ms. Ashley Stimpson: 


When Corrie asked me to write a guest blog about soup, she must have known I was going to produce an over-long, overly personal treatise on love, loss, and letting go. I mean, we’ve hung out a few times. Wordy and uncomfortably intimate are kind of my trademarks. But! If you hang real tight, there is some seriously delicious and simple soup at the end! I promise!

Okay. So.

‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood—

Just kidding.

It only feels like another lifetime. This story (I mean soup?) actually begins about a decade ago in Columbia, South Carolina, a place that shaped my life in so many strange ways. It was in this lush Southern city that I went to college, honed a violent liberalism (naturally), met my husband, and learned a ton about food. As a USC alumna, I often joke that I majored in shrimp and grits with a minor in biscuits and gravy (I really double-majored in scowling and listening to Radiohead, duh), but my culinary education actually began with my in-laws.

I got married at the too-young (seriously, kids, slow down) age of 23, but I met my betrothed when I was 21. His family lived an hour away, and right off the rip it seemed that every other week meant some arbitrary reason to get together and eat A LOT of food (but not drink any beer. Never any beer. Baptists, amiright?). I’m sure at the time I was a Mega Brat about another family event (ah, hindsight), but now I look back fondly on those moments, and especially on those meals.

It was under the tutelage of this family that I first tasted brown rice casserole, asparagus casserole, and squash casserole. Barbecue was a frequent treat, so I learned a lot about that other kind of hash. Fried okra played its role, of course. Chocolate butter is a (very cool) thing. Potted meat not so much. I found out that some people put hard-boiled eggs in sautéed spinach and sardines on saltines. And—all joking aside—I did figure out how to make phenomenal grits.

Fast-forward a few years. I am no longer married (it’s okay). I am no longer living in the south (it’s way more than okay). And recently, it seems my life has been a study in the Buddhist concept of impermanence. And thus, I’ve been practicing the art letting things—and people—go, even though my natural inclination is to cling. You know the way a baby sloth clings onto its mother? With those impossibly tiny but fierce hands? That was me. Just a clingy baby sloth who was scared that anything would change or anyone would leave or anything bad would happen. But now I’m more of an easy-come, easy-do-you-really-have-to-PLEASE-DON’T-are-you-SURE-okay-you-can-go kinda gal. So laid back, y’all.

You've never had paper towel-toaster-High Life soup?

Seriously though, letting go of things is good. Especially the past. I’ve learned that you really do have to let that go if you’re going to make a respectable attempt at happiness. And so—to get to the point—I’ve been avoiding this soup. Thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it, but not making it. Sure that it must go the way of pictures and jewelry and music that reminds me of days long gone. See, this soup is special. First of all, it’s so good. Second, it was one of the only dishes my mother-in-law taught me to make step by step, standing next to me in my old Kansas kitchen (you might imagine, she being a graceful southern lady and me being, well, me, we had very little in common. But this dish was our touchstone). And for years, it was my ex’s and my go-to: for guests, football games, the first chilly nights of autumn, and basically any time either of us felt half of a sad feeling.

Obviously, I knew that if I made this soup, I would certainly have some pathetic thirty-something emotional breakdown. Mascara-stained tissues, camel lights in the living room, the whole tired routine.

But then I spent a bunch of money on vacation and needed a cheap, hardy meal to get me through a week of work lunches in a stupidly-cold warehouse. Breakdown be damned.

Allow me to recount the conversation I had with myself in the produce section.

“Hey, Loser?”

“Hey, Sweetheart.”

(I contain multitudes.)

“Listen, you’re broke. You need to toughen up and stop letting everything make you cry. Buy the potatoes, do the damn thing.”

I was being so stern with myself that I kind of wanted to cry. Don’t worry, I didn’t.

I made my purchases and nervously drove home and started chopping potatoes and caramelizing onions and grating cheese. I kept patting my face to check for tears, kept inspecting my heart for any twinge of painful nostalgia. The dog and cat hovered nearby, watching me, holding their adorable breaths.

And then the funniest thing happened. Or didn’t happen, rather.

I didn’t get sad. I actually felt…fine. The smell, the taste, the very act of making a dish that was so associated with my twenties and all its weird twists and turns made me feel glad, happy even. Made me feel like even though those times are gone and those relationships over, that holding onto pieces of my past isn’t weak at all. I realized that all these endings don’t—and shouldn’t—nullify the very real and very rich and very sweet experiences I’ve been lucky enough to collect. Letting go IS good, but avoiding every memory—or recipe!—would deny the importance and the poignancy of having those experiences in the first place (sorry, Buddha).

After all and after everything, I am the girl in those memories, the girl laboring over that soup again and again. Those memories are mine, and I can do whatever the hell I want to with them. I can even celebrate them. The good, the terrible, and the delicious.

Either I’m getting tougher, or this soup is just that amazing. Pretty sure it’s both.

Life-Changing* Cheesy Potato Soup

What you need:

4-5 big ol’ russet potatoes
1 giant yellow onion or two medium-sized ones
1 8oz block of sharp cheddar, grated
A little less than a half-gallon of (at least) 2% milk
As much butter as you’re comfortable with
One head of cabbage (optional but not really)
2 tbsp. sugar

What you’ll do:

Peel and chop the potatoes into uniform pieces. Bring to a boil in heavily salted water.

Meanwhile, dice the onions. Put a bunch of butter in a sauté pan. Caramelize those babies. Get them nice and golden.

Drain potatoes. Put them back in the soup pot. Pour in onions AND all that glorious butter. Do not neglect the butter. IMPORTANT: do not put your onion pan in the dishwasher yet. You’re going to use all that oniony goodness to flavor your cabbage.

Pour a decent amount of milk into the potato and onion mixture. Keep adding milk as you use an immersion blender (or just a regular blender) to bring the soup to the consistency you desire.

Dump in the shredded cheese and put the soup on simmer to let everything come together. Salt and pepper liberally. Add milk if it’s too thick.

Put more butter in your onion pan. As it melts, scrape up any of that nice onion char from the bottom of the pan. Core the cabbage and chop into 1-inch shreds. Place the cabbage into the pan and use your hand or tongs to try to coat as much of it as possible with the butter.

Sprinkle in 2 tbsps. of sugar (or more), a lot of salt (or more), a lot of pepper (or more), and about half of a drinking glass of water. Place lid on pan and steam the cabbage at high heat. Stirring occasionally until your cabbage has the bite (or lack thereof) that you prefer.

Serve potato soup with cabbage on the top of it!

Think about your life and have some pretty profound realizations as you enjoy the best soup ever.

*Results may vary.


Thanks, Ashley, for a memorable night full of comfort food and comfort in general! As is our tradition, we ended the evening in the best way possible: with one of the worst most classic videos of all time. Go ahead and try to figure this one out, if you dare. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Curry Ginger Freekeh Soup

She's super freekeh!

Ready for a shocking, never-before-revealed, uhhhh…revelation? I love my neighborhood. I’ve been in Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood for seven years now, and in that time it’s gone from something of a food desert to a veritable smorgasbord, to quote Templeton the Rat. Within a few blocks I can get basically any food I want; and if I can’t, I can get it delivered. As the food part of life (which, let’s face it, is most of the important stuff) has become easier and easier, I’ve become busier and busier, leading me to rely on these delicious and convenient options more often than I’d care to admit. I love cooking, I love trying new things, and I’ve let other priorities take up the time required to cook.

Enter the recent trend of shipped-to-your-door ready-to-cook ingredients. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve tried several of these meal-in-a-box services here and there over the past year, with varying results. It’s not the cheapest, and it’s not the most eco-friendly (recycling instructions aside), but at least it forces me to cook more often? I’m sure the me of a few years ago would be pretty disgusted with this confession, but I’m trying really hard to be nice to myself about it.

All this to say that this is how much I was not planning on doing Soupruary this year: I didn’t cancel my Blue Apron box for last week. But when I was looking at the recipe form Meyer lemon glazed catfish with collard greens and cracked freekeh salad, I decided I may as well color outside the lines. All I needed for this alchemy was a bit of broth, shallots and curry powder, and voila! Bippity-boppity-SOUP.

The catfish turned out alright-ish, although a bit too aggressively lemoned. The soup, on the other hand, if I had these ingredients on hand I'd make again in a heartbeat. (Well, if hearts took about 25 minutes to beat.) Even better, if the coffee shop in my building would put this in their soup rotation, I'd wait in that stupidly long line at least fortnightly.

Curry powder is a bit of a slippery slope ingredient for me. Once I put it in something I want to keep putting it in everything. Everything?, you ask, Like, pffft, what about ice cream? First of all: watch your tone; second of all: been there/done that/got the cellulite. But really, with the ginger that was included in what I was basically treating as a Chopped mystery basket, the curry powder was a natural choice here. Maybe it’s a bit of a cheat, but who couldn’t use one of those on a busy weeknight. There’s something about the aroma of curry that is instantly warming – just thinking about it I’m getting those lovely little tingles through my veins.

But the real soul of this soup wasn’t the curry powder. This soup is freekeh to the core. Freekeh is like a sweet find at an antique mall; it may be ancient but it’s new to me! (I’m fired.) This was only the second time that I’ve cooked it, and it’s really shocking how much flavor the grain itself has in it. If you haven’t had it: it’s wheat, so expect a texture somewhere between bulgur and wheatberry (kinda chewy), and it’s roasted to impart a flavor that’s a little smoky and nutty. Other bonuses: it’s impressive in both the fiber and protein departments, and it has a name that’s next to impossible not to pronounce in a goofy voice.

The moral of the story is as simple as that classic saying: When life gives you cracked freekeh salad, make cracked freekeh soup.

Pro tip: If you cut your greens into nice long ribbons, you can pretend they're noodles. 

Curry Ginger Freekeh Soup
Serves 4 (and the leftovers were delicious)

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1-2 shallots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1" piece of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 cup cracked freekeh
4 cups vegetable broth
5 collard leaves, ribs removed and leaves sliced into 1/4" to 3/8" wide ribbons

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and ginger and season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. 

Add red pepper flakes and curry powder and stir for about one minute, then add in freekeh and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes or until freekeh is tender. Add collard greens and let them wilt - should just take a minute or two - then add salt and pepper to taste and eat it on your couch while watching last night's episode of The X-Files (optional but encouraged).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup

Let's begin with a dramatic reading, shall we?

Soupy, I don't care what your daddy do. 'Cause you know, Soupy girl, I'm in love with you. Hang on, Soupy. Soupy, hang on. 

First ingredient to be prepped: vino.

My beautiful and talented friend Emily let me invade her kitchen for a night to make her dinner. I feel okay about the invasion, because Emily said this meal had all the flavors she loves, and I'd say the same. Neither of us could stop eating it, but as for me and my bowl, I lost count on return trips to the kitchen. 

I served this soup alongside a cucumber/tomato/parsley/lemon/cumin/cayenne salad, which I mention only because it was a pretty dang perf accompaniment. Crisp, refreshing, spicy - and comes together in like 22 seconds. 

Back to the main event, though: The base of the soup is totally serviceable. I mean, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, when I tried it I had an instant crush. Heavily spiced and heartily textured - and vegan to boot - this is the kind of soup that makes me question why I bother eating non-soup foods. The harissa, a delightfully pungent roasted red pepper paste, does the bulk of the work here. In other words: 

Why yes, I am a photoshop expert. How did  you know?

I went to Dean's at Findlay Market on my lunch break and had some choices to make. Spicy or mild? Fancy jar or convenient squeeze tube? Whole-Foods-looking $10 brand or $3.50 authentic-looking "DEA" brand? 

Pro tip: Use pages from the Bonobos catalog you were going to throw away as bookmarks in your cookbooks. Instant hot dinner date!

Come on, how am I not going to pick DEA brand? I'm not trying to cheap out or anything, it just seemed way more real and way more like it had a hilariously inappropriate name. Hey, if harissa is a drug, I would like to (en)force it on all y'all, because my first reaction to this soup all by its lonesome: WINNER WINNER CHICKPEA DINNER!

But once you've stirred in a bit of this salty, green-flecked feta cream, you know that serving the soup on its own would be tantamount to slapping your dinnermate in the face while delivering a devastating yo momma joke, something like "yo momma so stupid she thinks this soup is better without feta cream." By which I mean it would be insulting. And yeah, I realize I should have just said that. 

Although there's twice as much cilantro as mint in the cream, mint is definitely the dominant flavor - and it's ggggood. If you aren't a cilantro person, you could absolutely switch it out for parsley, just don't tell me about it (I know you think it tastes like soap but f'real when did you last eat soap, honey?).

Back to slightly off the beaten track brands to be found at Dean's, these chickpeas...I've never had better canned chickpeas. I want to buy them only there from now on. As soon as I popped that can, I knew I had something special. The color was not even close to anemic, and I squished one between my finders and it was just so squishable. They were so tender, none of that undercooked starchiness you sometimes get. And they didn't fall apart when I cooked them longer. YOU GUYS DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD DANCE ABOUT CHICKPEAS? I was so happy to learn that fact.

Waiting patiently for to become part of something greater.

Now on to the final element: the bulgur. Not the most pleasant sounding word, right? WRONG. For me this word tastes like memories of my gramma making her perfect pilaf that she refused to tell anyone else how to make ("Oh, you just make it, I don't know."). Any time I hear the word bulgur, I'm instantly back on a stool in her fantastic-smelling, no-microwave-having kitchen, and that thought is one of my happiest. Lesson being: Don't judge a food by its gross name.

But really the final element of this soup was a perfect night with a beautiful friend. We talked and laughed and got angry for one another and at least nearly cried a few times. We watched videos on YouTube and listened to Smashing Pumpkins. Her super cute dog gave me snuggles and high fives. It was a great night, and a great soup. FIVE STARS.

High tens, even!

Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup
Serves 4
Barely adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, 1/2" diced
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and 1/2" diced (about 2 cups)
3 stalks celery, peeled and 1/2" diced (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons harissa paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 29-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 cups vegetable broth (broken record if you read this blog, but I used Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base)
3/4 cup coarse bulgur
1/2 cup feta
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat - double medium! Add the onions, season with some salt and pepper, and cook until transparent (five minutes). Add garlic, carrots and celery and cook for another eight minutes. Stir in harissa, cumin, coriander and caraway seeds and cook for two more minutes. 

Stir in chickpeas and some more salt and pepper, then add the broth and turn up heat to bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes (or until you're done with the rest of the steps - it'll be fine).

While the soup is simmering, prepare the bulgur. Place it in a small saucepan and cover with cold water, adding a generous pinch of salt. Put it over high heat and bring to a boil, then drain it in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water. 

Now make the garnish: Put the feta, crème fraîche, cilantro and mint in a food processor and pulse it until it's pretty smooth.

To serve, spoon some bulgur into each bowl and cover with soup, adding a generous helping of the feta cream to each bowl because you love yourself and your life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Dark Chocolate Orange Soup

The first of the lost soupisodes is here: Last Valentine's Day I had a lovely dinner with my friend Kelly, and she wrote most of what's below. Through a sad series of events that I'm even sadder than usual about today, I never ended up posting this blog at the time, but it's nice to reminisce on times full of fun and mouths full of chocolate. I can't find the recipe I used, so there's none included. I know I used really good chocolate, and fresh orange juice, and Grand Marnier, and cream-- can't really go wrong, I must say! Hope you've all had a happy Valentine's Day. Much, much love.


Dark Chocolate Orange Soup. Listen, this isn't the most flattering photo I've ever put up here. But it's DARK CHOCOLATE ORANGE SOUP with adorable little English muffin mascarpone and honey grilled cheese.

 What else is there to say?

JK there's totally plenty more to say. But for once, I'm gonna shut up and let my dinner date tell you about it! Change of pace! Trying new things! USA!

My Valentine's Day date was my dear friend Kelly, and we really did it up right. We danced, we talked, we laughed, we ate so much, and somehow neither of us cried!

Here's our evening, in Kelly's words (love you, Kelly! Thanks for writing!):


When someone you’ve only met a few months prior comes up to you at a New Year’s Eve party and declares that she thinks the two of you should become best friends, then marches you over to the bar to buy you a glass of bourbon, you become best friends with that person.

And many years later, when you know that person is in the midst of her annual month-long soup-a-thon, you have no qualms about texting her to let her know that, should she decide to make a dessert soup, you’d be happy to enjoy a bowl. And when that sly self invite turns into an actual invite for a Valentine’s Day lady date, aka a GALentine’s Day date, in which a bowl of “alcoholic chocolate soup” will be served, you reply to that invitation in all caps with multiple exclamation points, even if you believe the use of multiple exclamation points is a horrible disease that has overtaken the planetary population.

Of course, she is Corrie, the Soupruary blogatrix. And you are me. And I am Kelly. And we are all made of stars.

Once we had decided to celebrate our friend-love on the day I traditionally spend alone on my couch watching terrible romantic comedies while eating an entire box of Russell Stover’s chocolates, telling myself that Valentine’s day is stupid while simultaneously wishing a handsome man would send me flowers, we set about planning our menu. As much as I would’ve enjoyed a meal solely comprised of chocolate soup and alcohol, Corrie thought we should have a “healthy” dinner first. This is where I inform you that Corrie’s refrigerator is usually full of fresh vegetables and delicious organic foods and mine is usually stocked with wine, cottage cheese, lunchmeat and about 150 bottles of nail polish.

Because we both love a good themed meal, especially if it’s the same theme as a Top Chef challenge, we decided our Galentine’s menu should have a “Saints and Sinners” theme. I declared I would contribute a cocktail (because of course I did) and a veggie-based appetizer. And Corrie said that, in addition to the already settled upon soup of chocolate, she would create a main dish of fish. And we would enjoy it in a house with a mouse while watching kittens try to put on mittens.

I set about deciding what my cocktail and appetizer should be and, after reading several recipes, I found two that required very few ingredients, all of which were not hard to find at my local Kroger, and were easy to assemble.

My contributions to the menu were:

The cocktail: The Queen of Hearts
The appetizer: Feta and Radish Toasts

The first thing I did upon arriving at Corrie’s, after taking off my coat and hugging the hostess, was to get the booze going. After delighting Corrie with a dramatic reading of the brilliant copywriting on the side of the tiny bottle of St. George Botanivore gin I brought (there were a lot of metaphors about a symphony orchestra), I got things shaking. The cocktail turned out to be quite delicious: It was a little bit sweet, a little bit floral, a little bit dry (just like us! HEYOOOO.) Now that I’ve discovered the joy of wine-infused simple syrup (you make it like you would a regular simple syrup, just swap out the water for wine, Jesus-style), I have decided to have it on hand at all times, maybe even to add to my iced tea in the summer.

Cocktails prepared, it was time to get the food show on the road. Corrie began preparation of the main course, which was halibut with Brussels sprouts and celery root purée. I’m not going to even try to pretend to explain anything about how she prepped that dish because I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy trying to prepare my appetizer whilst already being a little drunk after one cocktail (I swear it was because I hadn’t eaten all day.).

So, this appetizer: I chose it because I remembered Corrie once mentioning she had a fondness for radishes. Also, the recipe has only one instruction, which is basically to toast the bread then put all the things on top of it, and that seemed like something I could handle after two cocktails. Because I’m lazy, I bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread from the grocery store bakery. I just slathered several slices with olive oil, put them on a cookie sheet and bunged them in the oven (“Bung” and its variations are commonly used by Nigella Lawson and I like to sometimes pretend I’m her when I’m cooking. Often, I even speak in a British accent.). The recipe tells you to grill the bread using a cast-iron grill pan, but we decided that was a pain in the ass and toasting in the oven requires only that we don’t forget about it and burn it to croutons.

While the bread was toasting, I sliced up the radishes with one of Corrie’s fancy knives (and by “fancy,” I mean “sharp”) and we continued drinking and telling each other how glad we were to be spending the evening together (I do believe I declared us “sisters from another mother” multiple times). Oh, and there was dancing. I introduced Corrie to my new favorite artist, Lizzo, a Minneapolis-based rapper whom I saw at First Ave & 7th Street Entry last fall during a vacation to the Twin Cities. I highly recommend you check her out. Here’s a great place to start.

Once the bread was ready, the rest was easy: Layer of crumbled feta, layer of arugula (the supermarket didn’t have watercress, so I subbed and it was perfectly fine), layer of radishes, sprinkle of salt and pepper, drizzle of olive oil. And it was delightful. Simple but full of bright, fresh flavor. The saltiness of the feta matched perfectly with the bitter radishes and the peppery arugula. I made eight servings and we devoured all of them (not at once, though, because we are ladies).

Then it was time for the main course. And let me tell you, Corrie can prepare a meal of solid food just as well as she can a bowl of soup. The fish was perfectly cooked, the Brussels sprouts had just the right amount of seasoning and bite and the purée was a little bit of heaven. While we ate, we watched a couple of episodes of one of our favorite shows, the brilliantly funny Broad City (if you haven’t started watching that show yet, you need to re-evaluate your life choices) and admired each other’s footwear choices for the evening. It was probably one of the most enjoyable dinners I’ve had in a long time.

(Our footwear game was seriously on point. En pointe? Whatever.)

After cleaning up our plates and finishing off our cocktails, we determined it was time for dessert soup. We opened a bottle of red wine (we ran out of gin and champagne, so no more fancy cocktails) and I proceeded to talk and distract Corrie the entire time she was trying to make the chocolate booze soup. Sorry, not sorry.

Despite having a chatterbox in her kitchen, Corrie managed to finish the soup (which was absolutely divine--chocolate, Grand Marnier, sliced oranges. I wanted to go take a bath in it, but I figured that might get me disinvited from future Soupruary high jinks) and we settled back on the couch with it, our wine and a movie. Because we had decided to extend the “Saints and Sinners” theme to what we watched while we ate, we watched one horror movie (I am trying to ease Corrie into the world of horror, a genre of which she’s not the biggest fan) and one romantic comedy (a genre of which Corrie is a huge fan). Our horror choice was the holiday-appropriate My Bloody Valentine (the O.G. ‘80s version, not the crappy remake from a few years ago). This is one of my favorite ‘80s slasher movies and it was super fun to watch with someone who’s never seen it before, discovering new ridiculous elements of which to make fun. Mostly, though, our commentary focused on the amazing early-’80s fashion, hair and make-up.

(We both decided we would absolutely wear the entire outfit of the girl on the far left.)

Soup and horror movie eventually both ended, so then we had a crucial decision to make: Stay in and watch our chosen romantic comedy (Music & Lyrics, starring our boyfriend, Hugh Grant) or go out to the bar up the street. Corrie was tired and thought going out might wake her up. I was not in the mood to deal with a crowded bar and other people, so I voted we stay in. I won. Corrie did, however, eventually fall asleep. Hugh Grant is still mad at her. I, however, am not.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mushroom Bisque: Casey Arnold Guest Post!

Meet Casey:

Casey wears some hats, y'all: confidant, style icon, podcaster, One Direction sherpa, adorable car driver, realtor, Tig Notaro enthusiast, dance partner, expert texter, all-around hilarious and beautiful human/babe, etc. If I were casting the role of Casey in her biopic, I'd cast Casey - she's just that good. If you aren't a person who already knows/loves her, get ready to! When she sent me this guest post and I read, like, the first two paragraphs, I declared myself retired and begged her to take over full-time.

Without further ado, mushroom bisque a la America's Test Kitchen, as prepared and reviewed by the inimitable Casey Arnold, with photos by Brian Cross:

I'm really not the type to make a home cooked meal for myself very often. I admit it. I'm usually just cooking for myself, it takes a lot of time and patience and it's just easier to snack my way through dinner than to make a real meal. Oh, also, I'm lazy.

I like to think I know stuff about cooking, though. I watch cooking shows most nights in bed. When I do I make something, it's usually somewhat complex or at least time consuming because I want to really get in there and MAKE food. Put my little baby hands in a bowl of something and get to know it, ya' know? I'll bake pies from scratch around the holidays or bake and decorate cookies for hours. Bake cakes for birthdays. Baking is science. It's precise. If you follow the directions, you'll be aight.

And so it seems that whenever I want to make something that isn't a baked good, I turn to my favorite midnight cooking lullaby, America's Test Kitchen, for the recipe. They test stuff. Almost like baking
science. Plus, I'm stubborn, I don't like to be told what to do any time ever. And cooking gives choices.

No, I will not add white pepper. I want to add black pepper. Eff you, recipe. Let me live my life. And that freedom cannot be trusted in my occasionally incapable hands. Despite your white cisgendered male-hood, Christopher Kimball, I trust you. (only kidding, hi white cis males!) I will follow yourmrecipe to the t. I will follow your tiny red bow tie into the depths of your quaint country home in Vermont, or whatever.

When it's cold as hell outside and my car is covered in salt and I'm seasonally affected as hell, I might be inclined to make a soup. Today I felt like making a good mushroom soup because I refuse to eat canned literal garbage.

I was an obnoxiously picky (see: stubborn) kid growing up. I lived on chicken nuggets and cheese and bagels and pizza and didn't like to try new things. Dad was real into mushrooms, though. His favorite thing that my mom cooked was beef stroganoff with lots of mushrooms from a jar. Hi mom. Use real mushrooms. Love you. When we ate out, it was Philly cheesesteaks with mushrooms or Mushrooms Chicken and Mushrooms from TGI Friday's. A dish no longer on the menu and I still don't know what it is. A chicken so nice they 'shroomed it twice, I guess. But I refused. Hold the mushrooms for me. Weird slimy little things.

When I grew up and had a choice, I snuck one from the jar beside Mom's pan of simmering beef goo. And then maybe another. Tried one of Dad's stuffed mushrooms. They weren't so bad. I started to want them on everything. With everything. Times came where I would just saute a bunch of mushrooms and eat them as if it were a viable meal. I'm on board now. I went over board. I'm not sure where or what this board is or what is going on but I like mushrooms now, guys.

So now, when I want mushroom soup, I don't want some weak ass gritty cream of mushroom. I don't want a clear broth with a flavor vaguely reminiscent of the fungus I so love. I want it to be mushroomy as hell.

I consulted my dude, Kimball, who came through with what looked to be a dope-ass mushroom bisque. A pretty simple and straight-forward recipe that promised maximum mushroom flavor.

I made this recipe basically exactly as suggested. I had to microwave the mushrooms a little longer because of my Orange Microwave of Broken Dreams. I bought it when I was 18ish because a friend
and I were going to get an apartment together. That fell through and I ended up moving in with my now ex-husband and that cool looking square microwave sat in my parents basement for many many years until I broke free and so did it.  It is terrible at doing its one job, which is microwaving. But I digress. I had to microwave the mushrooms a little longer, guys. Other than that, I used vegetarian chicken broth because dead animals make me sad and I substituted a white onion for a regular ole yellow one. They're less sweet and it's just my preference. Don't tell me what onions to use. Also, I sure as hell used black pepper. It didn't even call for white, but I know they were thinking it.

It took me about 2 hours to make it. Which seemed like 2 hours too long. I followed the directions exactly, mostly did not spray hot soup out of the blender, and I did not sever any digits. It turned out to be a pretty perfect soup. XTREME mushroom flavor, velvety, it hit the spot. It wasn't trying to be anything it wasn't. Straight-forward good soup with just a hint of thyme and onion flavor. The one
regret I have is that I didn't save a handful of chopped cooked mushrooms for garnish at the end for that satisfying mushroom bite. Next time.


Thanks, Casey! You're the best (insert emoji with heart eyes)!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Turmeric Ginger Potato Soup

Inspired by the recent halftime show whirling dervish, I called this Coldplay Soup – and it was all yellow (with little bits of green and red but let’s just ignore that).

Look at the peas, look how they shine for you.

My mom texted me a picture Monday night of the quick, easy, lovely soup she had just made, so obviously I demanded the recipe, and like the wonderful mom she is, she obliged. My fridge and pantry already had everything I’d need to make this, so I was sold! I even wore a dress she made while making her soup, and am convinced that added a little extra mama-love to make these mostly monochrome ingredients shine.

I’ve been thinking recently about how my noodlecentric ways lead me to not utilize potatoes as much as I could. See, I went to Las Vegas with some beautiful girlfriends  a few weekends ago, and, among the many important philosophical issues we tackled there, we got in a knockdown drag-out fight over potatoes v. bread. Specifically, if you had to choose between either bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, what would you do?

Three of us (plus Oprah, in spirit) were on Team Bread, and one was staunchly in the potato camp. She blamed it on being Irish. Also, GREAT, now I can’t stop thinking about Potato Camp and how badly I want to be a counselor there this summer. Most of the kids go crazy on Tots Tuesdays, but I’m more of a Mashed Mondays kind of girl…

While I’m sticking to Team Bread for now, I didn’t miss it even a bit while feasting on ahem two servings of this last night. Yukon Golds are my go-to potato. The texture is more silky than starchy, and your teeth just sink through them like butter. With the taters being dyed yellow from the spices, it was even more like biting into butter (but, you know, vegan). Oh, that’s probably a good note to add: Turmeric will dye anything it touches yellow. Skin, lips, countertops – you’re all on notice. Also, is it weird that I'm using "biting into butter" as a selling point? No? Good.

Suffice to say, I'm a big fan of this total panacea of a soup. The spices are warming and calming and give the broth a luxurious body, the potatoes are filling and good for the soul, and peas are basically my spirit vegetable. 

...then came the bonkers bad dreams. I woke up in a tizzy at 3am trying to figure out what was real, and my first thought was not “oh man, this is probably a manifestation of all the stress and anxiety you’re currently experiencing,” it was, “oh man, I gotta google ‘turmeric dreams.’” (Side note: Turmeric Dreams is the name of my new 90s hip-hop dance crew.) But guess what! There’s totally stuff online about turmeric and vivid dreams! And if it’s on the Internet it’s true. Therefore, take stock of your current state of mind before taking turmeric to your stock – or, you know, roll the dice and see if you wake up screaming, too! Nothing like a good subconscious hellscape to make you grateful for your actual life, right?

Whatever dubious dream-bonkerizing effects turmeric may have, it’s also supposed to be an anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxidant and a mood elevator – among other benefits. I woke up this morning feeling like I was coming down with something for the trillionth time this winter, and I was like NOPE too busy for this. So I decided I’d take the soup mom made last night, crank up the yellow and add some ginger and mucho garlic to fight back whatever was trying to make me feel grody. Bad dreams aside, I woke up feeling clean as a whistle this morning – clearly, I’m crediting the soup.

Turmeric Ginger Potato Soup
Adapted from my momma's recipe
Serves four

Note: I went all in on the turmeric/ginger/garlic front because I wanted a magically medicinal experience, but if that ain’t your thing you can dial back the quantities to your taste. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, from about a 1" knob, peeled
3/4 cup small diced red onion, from about 1/2 of a medium red onion, peeled
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots (I used yellow ones for fun)
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons turmeric
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used my fave Better than Bouillon No Chicken base again)
2 cups large diced Yukon Gold potatoes (I used 4 smallish potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled)
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, quartered

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, onion and carrots, and season with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened but not browning - about 5 minutes.

Add turmeric and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and potatoes, turn heat up, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low to simmer until the potatoes are tender - I left mine going for about 20 minutes but it'll depend on how you cut your potatoes.

Add peas and parsley - the peas will cook really quickly, particularly if you've had them sitting out on the counter since you measured them. Taste broth and adjust seasoning if necessary, then ladle into bowls. Squeeze a lemon quarter into each bowl before serving for a bright acid pop.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Potato Tortilla Soup

Oh, baby. 

Casey made a video and that pretty much covers it, I'd say. No writing for me today.

Kidding, of course. I could hardly claim to have squeaked in under the wire on the whole being-a-millennial thing if I didn't have at least 500 words to say about soup on a daily basis. (I'm young! I swear!)

Young or not, nothing makes me feel quite so alive as a spicy, filling bowl of vegetable-laden soup. That's a lot of ingredients in that pic right there! Even considering that, they still add up to more than the sum of their parts. Lots of what you see is just there to build a sturdy, satisfying base - and you know what they say: it's all about that base. (groan, facepalm, etc.)

Look at all those pretty spices! The spice mixture is what distinguishes this broth from other tortilla soups I've made or had - coriander, cinnamon, paprika, cumin and cayenne pack not just heat, but warmth. Get rid of the cayenne if you're worried about terrifying your tongue or the tongues of your loved ones, or go nuts with it if you're up for some XTREME souping, bro. 

Such a smart ingredient in this recipe: Sweet potatoes. I can call it smart because it wasn't my idea - trying to stay humble even though this soup was uhhhhgood. They really balanced out the heat in the broth, as did the corn (my addition, so I guess maybe I'm bragging a little) and the lovely little roasted tomatoes. The tomato bites - bursting with that caramelized, acidic goodness - were totally the best bites, if there's a contest going. I think of all my soups as my children, but that doesn't mean I love all my bites the same. (Gosh, I hope they don't read this.)

Also balancing out the spice you've got that creamy avocado, nature's fire extinguisher, plus some sour cream to really cool things down if you need it. Side note: Leave out the sour cream or use a dairy-free sub, and you've got a great vegan meal straight from the heart of Flavorville (not to be confused with Flavortown, obvs). 

They liked it too! Or they lied to me to protect my feelings! Either way, great friends.

To sum up: I started getting full about halfway through this bowl, and there was no way I was gonna stop. Which is pretty fine because it's quite healthy and makes you feel good even when full! What I'm trying to say is, every time I hear the song "Wild Horses" from now on, I'm going to think of this soup.

Bonus if you're a gluten-free type: oh, um...guess I spoiled it before the colon.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Potato Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat
Serves 4 plus leftovers to send home to Brian

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and small diced
10 grape tomatoes, halved
10 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for added heat)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup canned diced fire roasted green chiles
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth (I used Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base - my vegetarian go-to)
1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 a medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4" thick (about 3/4 cup)
6 corn tortillas (or more if you're like us and couldn't stop munching on those crispies), sliced into 1/4" strips
1/2 an avocado, diced
Sour cream
A handful of fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Take a baking sheet and place sweet potatoes on one side and grape/cherry tomatoes on the other side. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 - 25 minutes or until tomatoes get some little charred spots on them. Remove from oven and set aside, leaving oven on.

While sweet potato and tomatoes are roasting, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat in your favorite soup pot. It doesn't have to be your favorite, but I love this soup so much that I feel like it deserves it. Add green onions, red onion, and garlic, sprinkle on a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened (4 or 5 minutes). Add all the spices and stir until fragrant and a little toasted, about 1 minute.

Dump in canned tomatoes (including juice), green chiles, and broth, turn heat up to high and bring just to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low to simmer for a while to let the flavors combine. I let mine go for about 10 minutes while I puttered around and did other things.

Remove soup from heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the broth until you get your desired consistency -- I went for a pretty smooth texture because I knew there would be plenty of other things to chew on, but it would probably be good left chunky, too.

Taste broth for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Return broth to medium heat and add roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, corn and zucchini. Adjust heat to keep soup at a simmer while you make the crispy tortilla strips.

Place tortilla strips on a baking sheet, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and place in oven for 4 or 5 minutes, until crispy. Set a timer so you don't have to throw a batch straight into the trash can like I did!

To serve, divide soup among bowls and top each bowl with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cilantro leaves, some roasted tomatoes and a nice handful of crispy tortilla strips. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze into the broth if desired (I forgot to until about halfway through and it was pretty exciting when I remembered - like the finding a three bucks in an old coat pocket kind of exciting.