Best doorway ever. Photo by Pat Monaco
“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
One solid week into 2011, and everything seems to be holding together. It's been an emotional roller coaster of a week, as we deal with getting the new building dried out and put back together, deal with the impact of the tragic shootings in Arizona, and get ready for the search for the new director while missing the old one.
The problems that caused this particular little incident in the building have been fixed, and hopefully we will hear nothing more from the sprinkler system until and unless it has an actual job to do, which Heaven forfend. Classes start next week, and we need to be ready to rumble.
We also started the Nostalgia Night series of vintage films shown in the big-screen vintage movie theatre downtown for the next 10 weekends. This is a fundraiser for the campus library: Best. Idea. Ever. Cheapest date night ever, too. Nostalgia Night is a treasure; there just aren't that many big screens any more, and the older films look wrong in any other format. More on that later.
On the home front, we are bracing for some seriously cold weather. No high winds or heavy snows are in the forecast--just bitter cold. The forecast keeps changing, too. By Tuesday, the low will be -9* F. That kind of weather sets off some genetic switch in my brain to drag out the stockpots and get some serious soups going.
I like to have stock on hand in the refrigerator or freezer at all times, usually chicken or vegetable, to act as a base for creative (aka "good grief, clean out the refrigerator") soup-making. My grandmother would have called these broths and would have had them on hand at all times, too. My dad's grandmother never took the simmering stock pot off the back of the wood stove in east Texas, and legend has it that she added a newly killed and cleaned chicken to it every morning. You are supposed to keep the stock pot going. I usually drag it out every week or two and put the stock in the refrigerator (especially chicken, so that it nicely defats itself) and then the freezer. We like having soup on weekend nights or when we need to thaw out.
For stocks and soups, I use the low temperature-long time (LT2) approach. You can use a slow cooker to get the same results, in fact. Simmer, don't boil. Boiling too fast cheats you of deep flavor and texture, kind of like real life.
Quick and easy vegetable stock
½ lb. carrots
2 medium onions
4 green onions
½ lb. leeks
2 ribs celery
3 T butter or oil
10 cups cold water
Small bouquet garni (2 sprigs parsley, small bay leaf, and 1/8 tsp thyme tied up in cheesecloth)
Peel and slice all vegetables. Sauté vegetables in stockpot in butter until soft. Cover with the water, bring slowly to a boil, skim well with a fine-mesh skimmer and add the bouquet garni. Simmer for 2 hours or until liquid is reduced to 8 cups. Strain stock through chinois or strainer lined with cheesecloth. Store in refrigerator or freeze. Makes about 2 quarts.
Basic chicken soup
1 5 to 6-lb. fowl, or 7 to 8 lb. of broilers, with neck and all giblets except liver10-12 cups of water, as needed
2 medium carrots, scraped and quartered
2 or 3 celery stalks with leaves, whole or cut in half
1 medium yellow onion, whole or cut in half
2 to 3 tsp coarse salt
8 to 10 black peppercorns
Clean and trim chicken; quarter if necessary. Place in a 5-quart soup pot. Add 10 cups of water for broilers, 12 for a fowl. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a slow simmer and skim the foam as it rises to the surface. When the foam subsides, add all the remaining ingredients with only 1 tsp salt. Cook chicken until it loosens from the bone (~1¼ hours for quartered broilers, 1 ½ for whole broilers, 2 ½ to 3 hours for a quartered fowl and an extra 30 minutes for a whole fowl). Add more water during cooking if chicken is not 7/8ths covered. Turn chicken 2 or 3 times during cooking. Add more salt to taste gradually. Remove chicken, giblets, and bones. Pour soup through a sieve, rinse the pot and return soup to the pot. Skim the fat. The chicken can be trimmed, cut into smaller pieces, and reheated with the soup.
With good stocks on hand, you can do just about anything. I substitute stock for plain water in a lot of entrée and vegetable recipes for better nutrition and flavor. We know what went into our stocks and what didn't, so these are much better for Gene, without the added salt and starch of commercial products. They also make the whole place smell good for hours.
Here is a cold-night favorite. I would and do substitute chicken stock for the water called for.
Hot and sour soup
6 dried Chinese mushrooms8 cups stock or water
4 cubes vegetable bouillon
6 sliced green onions, green and white separated
2 cakes tofu, silvered (1/2 lb.)
2 T dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
¼ cup cider vinegar or Chinese rice wine vinegar
2 T tamari
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot
¼ cup cold water
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup carrot cut in 2” matchsticks
¼ cup bok choy or celery, cut in 2” sticks
¼-½ tsp ground black pepper
Before preparing vegetables, place mushrooms in a small bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to boil and pour over mushrooms. Let stand 15 minutes and prepare other vegetables. Place 6 cups water and bouillon cubes in a large saucepan, Drain mushrooms and add liquid to pan. Simmer. Cut mushrooms in slivers and add to stock with white part of green onions. Simmer 5 minutes and add tofu. Simmer 5 minutes and add wine, vinegar and tamari. Dissolve cornstarch in cold water. Stir into soup and bring to gentle boil, stirring. Drizzle beaten eggs into boiling soup, stirring so that egg forms shreds. When soup becomes clear and thickened, remove from heat. Stir in pepper and adjust vinegar and tamari. Distribute carrots, bok choy and green onion tops among bowls. Ladle in soup and serve at once, passing additional pepper and vinegar. Yield: 4 servings.
(This will cure any cold on the planet. And you can still make it without a prescription.)
Happy Monday. Let's make this a year of inclusiveness and not polarization, k?