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From the Dept. of Sick Days: Shrimp & Fennel Stew

Merf. Today I am feeling unaccountably barfy and, since the snow day that was foretold did not, helas, materialize, I stayed home and slept most of the day. I did, however, manage to sklathe myself out of bed just long enough to accomplish one thing; I took a few snaps of this shrimp stew while the sun tried to shine. Why? Because this simple dish is so ridiculously good I couldn’t wait any longer to share it.

Seriously, this is shockingly tasty, particularly for something that involves little more than a quick chop and simmer. I was quite blown away by its robust and warming deliciousity. Mr. T, too, was unusually effusive in his praise.

The depth of flavor is remarkable; everything–from the pungent onion and anise-y fennel to the acid tomato and briny shrimp–seems to stack together into a greater whole rather than cancelling each other out. In thinking about it now, it may be the backbone of subtle sweetness that those primary ingredients all share that brings it all together.

Oh, and if you’re worried about the fennel and it’s licorice-y taste, two things: one, you’re wrong, it is delicious; and two, it’s very mild and background-y by the time the dish is complete. Try it anyway. It’s a perfect gateway for the delights of fennel.

I would be happy to serve this for company with some good bread and a salad of soft lettuces. It’s perfectly cockle-warming, a good thing now that it seems winter has finally decided to arrive.

And now, back to bed with me.

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Chilled Gingery Beet Soup with Cucumber

Ok, yes, I know. You have to turn the oven on to make this soup… Wait, wait, wait, though.  Even if you don’t normally like borsht (I don’t) or even beets, this is cool and invigorating. Culled from Amanda Hesser’s authoritative and engaging 2010 NYTimes cookbook, this soup is simple and simply delicious.

The beets proffer their sweet earthiness and body, lemon juice contributes its bright acid, and the cucumber garnish punctuates it all with crunchy freshness. I elected to serve it on the cool side of room temperature, and added diced shrimp. Like the cucumber, they provide a textural counterpoint to the smooth soup and make it a bit more substantial without weighing it down. A good thing, as I really don’t feel like cooking any more than I have to right now.

Either red or yellow beets work well–I’ve used both in different batches this week. The former produces a glorious magenta soup, the latter a brilliant Big Bird yellow. They are equally delicious. Obviously, for vegetarians, omit the shrimp, but do not be tempted to leave out the cucumber. Its sprightly crunch adds a great deal.

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Menu Monday: Ribollita & Gingerbread, a Souper Fall Supper

Ok, so this isn’t so much a menu as it is me telling you to make this ribollita for dinner, like, STAT. It’s easy, healthy, makes a ton, and is SO delicious you won’t mind eating it for a a few days. I certainly didn’t, and neither did Mr. T, who is kind of too good for leftovers most of the time… and he doesn’t even pick the carrots of of it and leave them in a sad little heap like he usually does. High praise indeed for a simple peasant soup.

Since this is really one of those chop-dump-simmer, meal-in-a-bowl type soups, there’s really not much else one needs to round it out. But, since it’s so easy, I’mma tell you to whip up a little batch of gingerbread too, while you’re at it.

Menu Monday: Ribollita & Gingerbread for a Chilly Fall Night

Ribollita
Ok, so I’ve already extolled the virtues of this extensively. It is a great soup. Key players: pork, kale, beans, stale bread. Other than that, whatever. Change up the veggies, mess with the herbs. It’ll come out great. Do also, however, hold onto your parmesan rinds. They DO make a big difference, particularly over a few days of reheating. Which brings me to my final note… this is delicious right when it’s done, but even better on day two. So, if you can bring yourself to start your Menu Monday cooking on Sunday afternoon, you’ll be amply rewarded.

Moosehead Gingerbread
And if you’re soup is already made on Monday, WELL THEN, it’s time to whip up a bit of cake. This is a dusky, spicy, pungent gingerbread. Very adult, and so, so tingly-good. This is the only reason I have EVER purchased coffee at Starbucks–not to go with, but in. The flavors develop over time, so it will be spicier on day two. Great eaten out of hand as a snack, with a little whipped cream or ice cream it’s absolutely the last word on late autumn desserts.

Soup for the Sickie: Lemony Stracciatella

Last weekend, we trotted out to the Eastern Shore with some friends in lieu of our usual summer camping trip. We swapped sleeping beds for the relative luxury of beds as one of us is about 7 months pregnant (with twins “Ricky” and “Lucy”… at least till actual names are confirmed) and the saner among us managed to convince the mother-to-be that she really shouldn’t be sleeping on the ground whilst this far along.

And, despite mice, flies, roaches, and the (well-behaved, just creepy) nuclear plant just down the bay, we had a lovely time. We grilled things, did some fierce water’s edge Pilates, savored the seaside sunrises, saw a bunch of non-verminous animals (skates, minnows, heron, fireflies), had soft-serv, and played what is alleged to be the funnest board game ever. I remain open-minded if unconvinced on that latter bit.

Aside from the actual flies in the tzatziki, the only fly in the ointment is that Mr. T got some sort of death flu halfway through the weekend and retired to bed for the remainder of the trip. Being a total champ, he rallied for dinner and–fortified with lamb, Robitussin, and scotch–made it through the most huckterish game of Catan ever.

Unfortunately, he’s was still sick when I came home tonight, so I swung into action, making a lemony egg-drop soup of indeterminately Mediterranean origins. I’m using the Italian name, though it occurs to me that this is may have more in common with the Greek version, avgolemono. Oh well.

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Taking Stock of Making Stock

Even though I don’t make stock very often–it is a bit of a palaver, really–I found myself doing it twice this weekend. First up was vegetable stock for a mushroom risotto. Easy. Simmer down a bunch of veggie trimmings, a quick strain and I was good to go. Now, on the chicken side of things, I’m normally fine using a decent prepared low-sodium stock. The recesses of my pantry are usually stacked with tetrapaks. But we went out to the wilds of Virginia for Peking duck on Friday night and I won custody of three denuded duck carcasses. (For the record, we only had TWO, but our waiter liked us and gave us an extra one–eeee! I am convinced it’s because I managed to ask for chopsticks in Chinese. Expensive education FTW!) Aaanyway, when confronted with such a pile of lovely bones, how could I NOT make stock? I even rummaged the remaining goose bits from the freezer, where they’d been languishing since Thanksgiving. I mean, if that won’t make a good stock, I have no idea what will. 

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Taste of Late Fall: Pumpkin Pear Soup

Here’s another hit from my visit to the wilds of Pennsylvania.  I had something very much like this soup as a starter at Harvest, one of the Hotel Hershey’s restaurants. It was very good, and like most vegetable puree-type soups, I figured it had to be pretty easy… and it was. Hooray! It’s mild and sweet and earthy; one has to go for that sort of thing, though, particularly since adding more salt won’t make it less sweet, just icky. So, own the mellow sweetness and go to town.

The restaurant’s version was surprisingly creamy, so much so that I wondered what the hell dairy they’d snuck into it. But, to my surprise, my decidedly not “mit schlag” version was similarly voluptuous. Yay for squashy starches in addition to squashy sugars, then. Cool! (In a very NOT hot wings and line dancing sort of way…)

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FMC Kale: When Joe Gives You Kale, Make Ribollita

Knowing that Lacinato kale is one of Joe’s very favorite green things ever–having heard him bang on about it incessantly and having been served it in several lovely meals at his table–I kind of thought he’d go and do something unexpected with it. Turns out I was right.

How fortunate, then, that I also cooked against type, embracing kale’s humble Tuscan roots and making that cornerstone of Italy’s cucina povera, ribollita. I’d recently been served a version of it at a local Italian restaurant that shall remain nameless, primarily because the soup was thin, wan, and the beans were crunchy. CRUNCHY. Also,  tragic. Ribollita is SUPPOSED to be a lush, thick mix of beans, old bread, kale, etc.

Getting into the spirit of the thing, I pretty much winged it based on what was at hand–i.e., at home or at the market on the way home–rather than finding an ur-recipe from some scion of Italian cuisine… Marcella, Lidia, and all those other grande dames (or the Italian equivalent) will have to wait for another day.

In any event! According to Wikipedia, that inscrutable arbiter of all internet knowledge, the only things a ribollita HAS to have are: beans, kale, and old bread. No problem! Thus, for my first batch I went with a mild bacon rather than pancetta but I did manage to unearth a Parmesan rind from the bowels of the refrigerator, because I am nothing if not a thrifty European housewife. I mean, REALLY.

In subsequent forays, however, I’ve swapped in nubbins of spicy Spanish chorizo (cured, not fresh–that’d be Mexican chorizo…) and I’ve not looked back. With more flavor, (slightly) less grease, and a much more appealing texture when cooked, the chorizo wins hands down.

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One if By Land, Two if By Sea, Three if BA: The In-Laws Are Coming! (Also, Curried Broccoli Soup)

And they’re even British! That’s right, Mr. T’s mom–whoops, I mean mum–Mrs. T and his sister, Dr. T, are coming to visit. They get in this evening, and when I have house guest incoming after a long flight, I often turn to soup. It’s tasty and nourishing, but easy to deal with when a full-on meal might be too much. A nice restorative bowl and a bit of good bread or biscuit (U.S. spec.) is, I think, the perfect thing having sat in a plane for hours and done battle with THE AIRPORT, which is always a nightmare, no matter where THE AIRPORT happens to be. The last time Mrs. T came to visit, I think I made the medieval squash soup. That, of course, means that I need something else for tonight. I don’t like to repeat recipes for guests, least of all for the mother-in-law (who, for the record, is super-lovely and delightful and is DEFINITELY not tracking my soup service…).

curriedbroccolisoup1

So, what soup to make? Curried Broccoli! Yes. Another perennial favorite, this simple puree seems far more than the sum of its parts. A little onion, a little curry, a little broccoli, and you’re there. The curry (and a stealthy potato) adds welcome warmth and substance without making it overbearing or heavy. Spice to your heart’s content, but I like a sweet, mild curry for this. Now is not the time for eye-bursting vindaloo. So that’s the plan at least: curried broccoli soup for the English guests. Curry! Come on! That’s practically like serving Heinz Baked Beans on toast… except, you know, for the whole “ewww” thing. After eight years with Mr. T, it seems that I’m still American at least.

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