Transitions and ugly soups

I apologize for my lack of presence lately, but I’m going through one of those big transition periods. You know, trying to find a real job (because let’s face it, the customer isn’t always right), trying to find an apartment in Washington, DC when the market is horrible and no one wants to approve three college graduates who have some sort of job and have money saved up and could totally pay for rent, trying to pay off student loans and not liking the thought of asking for help, and trying not to get too frustrated with the entire country and its stupid, silly inhabitants. Hmph.

Things get ugly sometimes, but a girl’s still gotta eat. I made some soup the other day, and it wasn’t my prettiest work but the taste, oh the taste. It was a mish-mash soup with a sort of strange list of ingredients, brought on by the suggestion of a previous recipe for red wine-braised bacon from the Chez Panisse cookbook – to save the braising liquid to use in soups or sauces. Red wine and chicken broth flavored with bacon drippings? In a soup? Twist my arm, why don’t you.

I don’t want to suggest that you braise some bacon in wine just to make this soup, but I hope to give you inspiration to use every little bit of food that you can, and to not waste something that has potential to be delicious. Think of this soup as the gateway soup – once you start making soups like this, you’ll inevitably go on to experiment more. And it will be delicious.

So, here’s the bacon braised in a bath of red wine, courtesy of the Chez Panisse Cookbook:

Red wine-braised bacon

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced thick
  • 1/2 pound smoked bacon, sliced 1/2 inch thick (or, well, whatever bacon you have, I imagine. Our bacon was from the farmer’s market and delicious, but wasn’t 1/2 inch thick)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups (dry) red wine

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place the onion and bay leaves in a glass rectangular baking dish (like one of those 9×13 Pyrex ones). Arrange the bacon slices on top and pour enough wine and chicken stock (in equal amounts) to just cover the bacon. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until bacon is tender when probed with a fork.
The Chez Panisse recipe would have you fry the bacon in a skillet to crisp it up before serving, but we were too hungry and just ate it straight from the braising liquid. Both ways are delicious.

And then, don’t you dare throw away that cooking liquid with its braised onions. Discard the bay leaves, then put the liquid in an airtight container in the fridge for future use, such as in a soup or a sauce.

Ugly potato soup

  • 2 or 3 large potatoes, such as Russet (or, substitute one potato with a sweet potato – I did, and it was good but probably contributed to the ugliness)
  • some onion (to taste), chopped
  • salt, pepper, other herbs of choice
  • the braising liquid from above
  • extra water or chicken broth
  • olive oil
  • other possible additions, if you like: a few carrots, other root vegetables or squash

This soup is simple. First, cook the vegetables. I chose to bake my potatoes (skin on, pierced with a fork several times) in a 400 F oven for about an hour, until cooked through. I then took the skin off and roughly chopped the potatoes for the next step. If using other vegetables, I would also roast them with the potatoes but for less time, depending on the vegetable. Or, you could dice and boil the potatoes until soft. You could even microwave them. I won’t judge.

Next, over medium-high heat cook the chopped onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes, until soft. Or, if you have a few extra minutes, cook the onion over low heat for about 20 minutes, until they are deeply golden and caramelized. Add the prepared potatoes and other vegetables and the braising liquid and bring to a boil. At this point it is up to you to decide if you want or need to add extra water or broth. I decided to add a bit more water, then I used an immersion blender to make a pureed soup.  Add salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste.

Serve warm, drizzled with olive oil or an herb such as parsley,  if you like.

Until next time (hopefully from a new apartment in DC?!),

Kara

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