I heart film. - A little over a year ago I bought a Canon Ae-1 and last week I found the first roll of film I shot on it and finally had it processed (Its been a crazy year ...
Sunday, August 29, 2010
I LOVE this time of year - late summer, as the temperatures drop and autumn fast approaches. Everything is beautifully green in Berlin, there are breezy, sunny days mixed in with gray rainy ones - and the farmers market is still brimming with all that summer harvest. Its the best of both worlds. Its also a great time to make soup.
I am a big fan of soup for a lot of reasons - its usually inexpensive, it freezes well, makes great lunches later on (either for yourself or to put in a thermos for kiddos), and it (usually) doesn't dirty a lot of dishes or require hours and hours of slaving away (in others words, its easy). Its also the most comforting, soothing thing I can think of - no matter what the season.
For almost my entire life, my only exposure to Minestrone soup, however, had been from those infamous red and white cans. No disrespect, but that stuff is just plain awful - and as a result I had gone most of my life thinking I hated Minestrone soup. Oh how wrong I was. Minestrone, it turns out, its probably one of my favoritist things ever. It combines some my favorite things (veggies, beans, pasta) into one of my favorite dishes (soup). Its easily adapted for any season and it makes a hearty, filling and super healthy meal. This particular Minestrone has skyrocketed to the top of my all-time-favorite soups list - the broth is intensely flavored, earthy from the beans (and their cooking liquid), but also a bit sweet from the leeks and zucchini. Its a perfect meal for a rainy late August or early September day.
Summer Minestrone Soup
(adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)
225g dried beans (like Borlotti or Cannellini - I used a kind that were labeled Marmor beans and that I had honestly never seen before. They worked wonderfully) - this yields around 675g (3 cups) cooked beans.
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 5 stalks fresh)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp salt
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 small leek, diced
2 medium Zucchini, diced (roughly 3 cups diced)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup frozen chopped spinach (or of course fresh if you have it - I keep frozen on hand all the time so I prefer not to buy something new)
225ml (1 cup) bean cooking liquid (or more if necessary)
1 or 2 cups cooked pasta (I used an artisan over-sized macaroni to provide a contrast to all the small veggies - I loved it. However, anything from vermicelli to penne to regular macaroni would taste great).
First, prepare your beans (this is something I have usually done days before and keep on hand in the fridge or freezer). It is an important step in this soup however, because much of the amazing, unique flavor from this soup comes from using the bean cooking liquid.
Soak the beans overnight and drain. Put in a large stockpot or dutch oven with plenty of water (at least a few inches over the level of the beans). Add a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 1 to 4 hours depending on your beans (I usually find I need at least 3 hours). Just taste the beans to know when they are done. Add salt at the very end and let cook for a few minutes more. Make sure to let beans cool in their liquid or their skins will peel off (if you are storing them, also store them in their cooking liquid). Be sure to reserve a few cups of the cooking liquid for use in the soup (though I found the amount I stored the 3 cups of beans in to be just about the right amount).
In a heavy bottomed stock pot or french cast iron pot (my preference for making soup) heat a few Tbs olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook for 15 minutes or until tender.
Add the minced garlic, thyme, bay leaf and salt. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat back to medium, then add the leek and let cook, covered, for another 5 minutes or so.
Add the zucchini, tomatoes and spinach and cook (again, covered or I found I lost too much of the broth) for 15 minutes. Add the cooked beans and bean cooking liquid. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Cover again and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. If the soup is seeming a bit crowded/thick, add more water or bean cooking liquid to your taste (if its the opposite uncover and let simmer for a few minutes to boil-off some of the liquid). Add the cooked pasta, let cook for just another minute or two and ladle into bowls to serve. You could garnish with Parmesan cheese or croutons but I found it to be filling and perfect just on its own as well.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
In the category of simple cheap food, I think the roasted chicken reigns supreme. You can use the meat from the roasted chicken for one nice (and healthy and inexpensive) Sunday supper (maybe with mashed potatoes and a flavorful gravy from the drippings) - or you can use the meat over a weeks worth (or more!) of meals (like soups, enchiladas/burritos, salads, sandwiches etc). Then, of course, you can make chicken stock with the carcass.
If you are a person who really likes soup - you realize how important good stock or broth is (as well as to add flavor to any number of dishes - like rice pilaf). While I often use vegetable stock, I do like to use chicken stock as well - especially since I have been pregnant and have been looking for ways to get more protein into my diet (and when making things like Chicken Noodle Soup, well...its kinda required). I personally think the best chicken stock ever comes from the carcass of a roasted chicken - it gives it a deep rich flavor that I find to be delicious.
Roasting a chicken is one of those things I think everyone should know how to do. Its so simple- and even fairly quick compared to a lot of other meats. You can eat the whole chicken for a nice meal, or once the chicken is done cooking and resting, pull all the meat off the bone and freeze it in individual portions to be used in recipes later on. After the meat is off the bone, I place everything in a stock pot with just a few veggies (preferring to give a strong pure chicken flavor) and make broth. Then, whenever I need a single chicken breast for a recipe, or a cup of chicken broth - I have it on hand. This one chicken cost me 6 euros - but it gave give me 5 cups meat and 9 cups broth. That is what I would call a good deal.
(this fantastically awesome method came from Zuni's Cafe via Smitten Kitchen)
1 whole chicken (normal sized - not bigger than like 4 lbs or 1.8kgs), rinsed and patted dry (make sure its very dry)
Salt and Pepper
Take your very dry chicken and season liberally allover with salt and pepper, including a bit in the cavity (I would add - if you are using the chicken right away as a whole meal, you could add additional seasoning as well - like honey butter or herbs - if you felt like it, but even keeping it very simple it ends up being very flavorful).
Allow seasoned chicken to rest for at least a couple hours or up to 2 days in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 475 F / 246 C
Use a shallow roasting pan that is just barely larger than the chicken (I used a round cake pan - you could also use a skillet or something similar). Preheat the pan with the oven.
Place chicken breast-side up in the pan (it will sizzle). Place in center of oven and watch until it begins to brown (around 20 minutes). Adjust temperature if necessary (if it takes too long to brown increase or if it starts charring or smoking, decrease).
After 30 minutes or so, flip the bird over. If the pan is nice and hot, the bird is browning on top and is dry, it shouldn't stick. Roast for another 20 minutes or so, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast for about 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your chicken.
Remove from oven and turn off heat. Place chicken on a large plate or platter (unless I am using the chicken whole right now, I actually use the stock pot I will make my stock in). Remove any clear fat from pan drippings, leaving the rest. Slice the skin between the body and legs of bird, then tilt to drain juices into the pan. Add a tbs or 2 of water to the pan and swirl with the hot drippings (I only do this step if I am using the drippings for a gravy instead of the stock).
Break chicken into pieces after it has cooled for about 10 minutes, and allow to cool to a temperature where you can safely handle the chicken with your hands. Remove skin from bird, then slice or pull meat off the bone (which is easy to do since its virtually falling off the bone already). I remove both legs and wings first, and set aside. Then I slice both breast halves off the bone - I either leave them whole or shred them depending on how I plan to use them later. Then I work my way around the rest of the bird, carefully removing the meat with my fingers, separating out any bone, cartilage and fat as I go. I place the meat in labeled freezer bags (ex: "1 cup pulled chicken"and the date) to store.
Homemade Chicken Stock
1 whole chicken carcass, including skin and any remnants of meat on the bone and drippings from roasting pan.
1 large onion, peeled and cut into fourths
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into large pieces
1 whole garlic clove
Couple pinches whole mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
12 cups water
Add everything to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low simmer and cook for one to two hours (I check on it every 30 minutes or so, tasting as it goes to see how much longer it needs).
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer (then strain again through a cheesecloth for a really clean stock). I freeze in 1 to 3 cups increments in glass jars or tupperware containers (don't forget to label with a date!). I just skim the fat off the top when I defrost - when its about half way defrosted (so still partially frozen and quite cold) its pretty easy to just scrape/skim any congealed fat off the top.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Normally I am not such a wimp about the heat - I grew up in Houston, Texas for crying out loud and survived two years of life in Phoenix, Arizona and four months in India with the heat generally not making me want to kill myself. In fact, I used to kinda like the heat. It was different this time though, cause I'm pregnant. Which is another reason I didn't cook a damn thing all month. Because really, with blinding nausea and an aversion to seemingly all food, all I wanted to eat was cold cereal and peaches with plain yogurt.
However, sanity has been restored to the universe. The beautiful Berlin summer is here - blue skies with the occasional rain and temps more around 78 - and my pregnancy symptoms are starting to fade. So now I can actually enjoy some of the beautiful summer food I have been seeing all over the place - like Corn. I re-entered the kitchen with a super quick and easy soup (take that heat! soup!) which I had been craving like nobody's business. Decent fresh corn is not as readily available in Berlin as it is in the States (you can find it, but I couldn't on the day that I decided I must have this soup)...so I had to use canned. But no matter - you should use fresh sweet corn from the cob and your soup will be all the better for it - but in the meantime know that this is a great recipe that can be made year round with canned or frozen corn as well. Its cheap and quick and filling and makes a great late summer meal.
Simple Corn Chowder
1 small onion, minced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
2 medium stalks celery, diced
about 4 cups corn kernels - either fresh, frozen, or canned
2 1/2 cups 1% milk
2 slices bacon (or more if you really feel like it - you could do a slice per serving. this recipe probably makes 4 to 6 servings depending on how big you make them)
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
In a blend, blend half of the corn and 1 cup of the milk until smooth. Set aside.
In the bottom of a large dutch oven, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove and set aside.
Add the diced onion, pepper and celery. Add a bit of salt. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent and the veggies are all soft. Add the rest of the corn and cook for another couple of minutes.
Add the blended corn mixture and the rest of the milk. Slowly stir in the shredded cheese until all combined. Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste.
You can either serve it as is - thick and chunky or you can blend it to your preferred consistency with an immersion blender. I blended it just a tad once it was all done, but still left it fairly chunky and thought that combined all the flavors really well (especially the celery).
Crumble the cooked bacon over each bowl and enjoy :)