Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Soup du Jour

I love soup. It's my favorite comfort food in all seasons. And I love making soup as much as I like to eat it. What I find fascinating is that no two soups are ever alike. Mixing vegetables is very much like mixing colors, except that, contrary to paint, the soups' flavor combinations are as interesting and varied as their hues.

I'm starting a little series, called "soup du jour", where I'll tell you what vegetables went in my soup that day. I hope this will give you some ideas. The process is almost always the same: I sauté some onions (and sometimes leeks) in butter; add whatever other vegetables I happen to have handy; cover with water; add salt, pepper, bay leaves and thyme; and simmer for about 30 minutes (or cook in a pressure cooker, like this one, for about 10 minutes). I usually mix blend my soups (that's how my kids like them best), but some soups are excellent when left chunky. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf and thyme before mixing blending.

Today's soup:
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 1 bunch celery (stalks and leaves)
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Intangible Cultural Heritage

Interesting news from the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today. 46 elements were inscribed today on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Among them:
France - The gastronomic meal of the French - The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What to substitute for bouillon cube

Being away from my source of bouillon cube has been a curse for many years. I had to wait for my next trip to France to buy some, or I had to add the little package to my wish list when my parents visited. This was one of the last items I decided I could only get there. (As a new immigrant I used to load my luggage with all sorts of things, but little by little I found my way around my local store's aisles and discovered substitutes for all these goodies.)

A box would last me nearly a year, so I always had supplies for the few recipes in which bouillon cubes seemed irreplaceable, like this beef and carrot stew.
I would use them very sparingly. But one day... months away from any trip to/from my bouillon cube paradise, I used the last cube in the box. Oh, horror! What was I going to do!!! The safety net was gone.

Rather than despair, I read the list of ingredients on the side of the box, in hopes that I would be able to come up with an equivalent mix of spices. Here's what I read:

Maggi's Kub Or ingredients:

  • salt, flavor enhancers, hydrogenated palm oil, natural flavors (wheat, soy), sugar, onion, glucose syrup, citric acid, garlic, coriander seeds; pepper, cloves, celery, and bay leaf extracts, preservatives.
I started realizing that there really wasn't any need to wait for a trip half way around the world to flavor my stews and soups! Half of the ingredients didn't need to be part of any recipe (flavor enhancers? Palm oil? Preservatives?). The other half (the actual spices) was widely available in California. So here is what I tried in my next beef and carrot stew, plus a few other meat or vegetable-only dishes.

Replacement for 1 bouillon cube:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1/2 fresh yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, peeled, halved, stem removed
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tsp whole celery seeds, crushed
  • 2 whole cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
It turned out beautifully every time. I didn't need to rely on scarce supplies anymore, and my dishes had become 100% natural.

And this is how the curse became a blessing :-)

PS: I sill love Kub Ors and recommend them if you can find them!