Saturday, 21 April 2012
Cooking a nice delicious dinner is so much fun, especially if you have a recipe you want to try out. And following a recipe is a lot of fun and you can have a glass of wine and listen to your favourite tunes and really relax and enjoy yourself. But if you want to learn how to cook for day to day and you don't always have the time to make a special meal, then there are some basics you can follow that aren't hard at all, but people will think you have magical powers! Let's take homemade soup for instance. The minute you tell people the soup is homemade, they will bowl over at once and think you're a goddess of the kitchen. For myself, I wouldn't eat canned soup any more than I would eat a can of dog food. And most likely, the dog food is more nutritional. I always use homemade stock and go from there.
Homemade stock is a no brainer. If you find fryer chickens on sale on the cheap, buy a few of them. Freeze a couple of them and take one and throw it in a big huge pot. Fill up the pot to just cover the chicken and add half a palm full of salt (always pour every seasoning into the palm of your hand and then sprinkle it on the food or into the pot because if you pour it directly into your recipe and screw it up, you can't take it back out) and add half a palm full of peppercorns and 3 bay leaves. Bring it up to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer it for about 3 hours. The stock will taste really bland and boring but don't worry about it because you now have a base (just like a blank canvas for an artist) that you can build and mold and shape into anything you need it for down the road. And you can freeze what you don't use.
The base of pretty much any soup on the planet is a sauteed onion (sauteed means chopped into small pieces and stirred around in butter). And most soups also have a chopped carrot and chopped celery in the base. And once you saute your base veg, you add your stock and simmer until the veggies are soft (about 25 minutes). At this point, you can puree and add some cream to make it a creamed soup. Or don't puree and keep it to a chunky style soup. This all sounds way more complicated than it is.
So let's make a basic chicken noodle soup.
You already have your stock. Now add whatever veg you like. I add sliced carrot and celery and boil that for about 10 minutes in the stock. Next you can add your starch. I use mini bow tie noodles, but you can use potato or rice or what have you. Boil for another 10 or 15 minutes and now you taste it. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Then when you like the taste of that, add your chicken. And your soup is good to go.
It takes no time at all and tastes so much more delicious than canned soup.
But let's think that you want to make an impressive "boss is coming to dinner" type of menu. Then why not make a vichysoisse? It's French. It's impressive and you serve it cold. How easy is that?
It's the exact same basic recipe except now we're going to start with a base. So you saute in butter a chopped onion and also 2 stalks of thinly sliced leeks. (Be bloody sure to rinse those leeks well first or you're going to be sipping on sand at dinner time!) If you must have precise amounts, then let's call it a half a cup of butter. Stir all that around in a pot big enough to make soup on no more than medium heat until they all soften up and don't smell like raw onions anymore. Now add about 2 cups of your chicken stock and 2 potatoes peeled and thinly sliced. Turn down your heat to let it boil in a soft and gentle manner and certainly not a roaring, agitating, uproarious situation! Let that happen for about twenty minutes. Stick a fork in the potatoes and if they easily split apart, turn off the heat and let's puree.
Here is where you need an emulsion hand held blender or a cocktail making blender. Whatever purees solids is your buddy here. But if you use the cocktail blender, for God sakes be careful not to burn yourself. Slow and careful is the rule of thumb. But make that concoction smooth and report back here when it is.
So we have a nice smooth puree going on now. It should be pretty thick too. So back to the heat we go and we're going to whisk our puree and as we're whisking, add about 1 1/2 cups of cream or half and half and bringing it up to not boiling, but just a starting to bubble from the bottom of the pot situation. Now taste it and add FRESHLY ground pepper. Don't bother with the already ground stuff in your pepper shaker. And enough salt that it tastes nice. But remember, this soup is going to chill and relax in the fridge all day so the seasoning will invest itself as the time goes by, so less is more at this point. Chill it in the fridge and when you're ready to serve it, whisk in another 1/2 cup or so (add more cream if the soup is too thick or if somebody else shows up for dinner and you need an extra bowl) and now really taste it as though you're going to eat it and add more salt or pepper if needed. Pour it into the bowls for the people and sprinkle a garnish on top of whatever you're in the mood for. You can use sliced green onions or croutons or chives or even a swirl of sour cream or olive oil. Whatev works! BUT brace yourself for the accolades and know that people will fall all over you and swoon and beg for this recipe. It tastes that good. And you can make it the day before. Hello!
I have dozens of soup recipes up my sleeve, all just as delicious as the next, but the same rule of thumb always applies. Good stock and a base of fresh vegetables. Served with a smile!