Ribollita

When I was meal planning for Italian week I knew I wanted to make a soup because we were expecting a cold front that week. I’m weird in that I prefer to eat soup when it’s cold outside. Eating soup when it’s warm or hot outdoors makes me feel really gross because I feel like it heats my insides to match my outside and yes, I know it’s crazy, but that’s how I feel. And don’t even get me started on cold soups. I don’t care how many great cold soups there are out there and how you think I’m missing out, I don’t buy it. Soup should be hot. End of story. Well, my story, at least. If you want to incorporate cold soup into your story, go for it, you’re the author. I’ll just skip that chapter when I’m reading your book.

So anyway, we were expecting a cold front that would lower the temps into the thirties so I knew it was perfect soup weather! Googling “Italian soup” brought up a lot of what I’ve seen at Olive Garden or soups with sausage but I was craving something veggie so when I found the recipe for ribollita, I was really happy! Ribollita, which roughly translates to “reboiled,” is another peasant dish that originated in Tuscany. It’s main ingredients are leftover bread, cannellini beans, and kale; preferably you would use Tuscan bread and kale but, yeah, use what you can! It’s also best eaten after it’s been sitting out for a couple of days but I obviously didn’t go that route. I had some the next day for lunch and I don’t think it was any better than the night before. Probs because I didn’t use Tuscan anything…

Since I knew I’d need days old bread, it gave me an excuse to bake my favorite loaf of bread, an Italian crusty bread. I first made this bread about four years ago and I found the recipe on some survivalist website. Don’t ask why I was on that website…Anyway, I bookmarked the recipe on my phone and always meant to print it out but never did. Then I got a new phone and lost it! I searched and searched and couldn’t ever find the exact recipe I used before but I did find one that was pretty close and have used it since. I love this bread mostly because I don’t have to knead it. I HATE kneading bread because I have zero upper body strength and I’m impatient. Kneading bread requires both strength and patience. So yeah, no kneading but you do need time because it has to sit and proof for twelve to eighteen hours before you can bake it. The recipe I now use is a little tougher than the first one but it makes the bread perfect for soups. So I baked my bread about two days in advance and then got to soup making!

It doesn’t get any easier than this recipe but it is time consuming. Thankfully it doesn’t require much attention so much of the time spent is just letting the soup boil but if you’re looking for a quick fix, this is not the recipe for you. I didn’t include chard like the recipe suggested but I doubt it made a difference. I also added cheese to my soup because I read “This soup is traditionally served without Parmigiano-Reggiano” as PUT ALL THE CHEESE ON YOUR SOUP.

This soup was perfection! It was so very cold that day and this soup warmed up the house and us and we were all so happy after eating it! Yeah, the girls even ate this! The four year old pulled out every piece of kale and mostly ate the beans, bread, and carrots but she ate it and that’s what counts! It was a little creamy and I think that was due to the pureed beans and the soft potatoes. It had a slight buttery flavor which, again, I’m putting on the beans and maybe even the kale. The kale really softened up and lost all of its tough texture, which was nice. I will definitely make this again and if I am on a time crunch, I’m gonna buck tradition and use canned beans. I’m sorry but, c’mon, how often do I have four and a half hours to make dinner???

Recipe, Recipe

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Moules Frites

This was our last Belgian meal and oh man! Before I get into how it turned out, let me share with you all the great information I learned about this dish.

1. It’s considered one of the national dishes of Belgium. It shares this title with Carbonnade Flamande. I am very jealous of the Belgian people because they get to choose from two fantastic dishes as their national dishes. As an American, my options are hot dogs and, I dunno, coke? Say what, coke isn’t a dish? Say that to the Fried Coke vendors at the Texas State Fair!

2. There are different versions of moules frites; I made the moules natures. There are six common variations and I would eat all.of.them.

3. There was something else I learned but I’ve forgotten it. It probably wasn’t all that interesting.

There were a couple of hiccups when making this meal. The first was that I couldn’t find fresh mussels. I made this on Sunday and thought about getting the mussels at the end of the week but I got lazy and then I also worried about them sitting in my fridge for a couple of days. Old shellfish is never a good idea. So I waited until Sunday to head out to Quality Seafood to buy the mussels, only to get there and find out they aren’t open on Sundays! Hellur? Did they not get my telepathic message that I was stopping by? Jerks. We weren’t too far from my favorite Asian supermarket, MT Supermarket, so we ended up going there because their website said they also had fresh mussels.

Their website lied!

They had fresh catfish, some other weird fish that I forgot the name of but that the girls enjoyed watching swim all over its tank, red tilapia, octopus, shrimp, you get the idea, but no mussels. I ended up going the frozen route and I wasn’t too excited about that because I’d gone the frozen route during Thai week and the results were not good. So I sucked it up and hoped for the best.

The second hiccup was making the mayonnaise. For whatever reason, the mustard and egg yolk refused to emulsify and I think that threw the whole thing off. Regardless of how much warm water or whatever other suggestions the internet offered, it would not solidify. I was annoyed. I only had one lemon so making another batch wasn’t an option. I ended up using store bought mayo and sprucing it up with a tablespoon of mustard and a lot of pepper. It ended up tasting as close to homemade mayo as possible so I was pretty content with that and hoped that it wouldn’t affect the meal too much.

So after holding my breath while adding the mussels and literally watching the timer to make sure I didn’t go over the recommended four minutes, I announced that dinner was ready. The baby set the table (She literally sets the table at two years old. What did I do to get such a wonderful child?!) and the oldest informed me that she didn’t want to eat dinner (Oh, that’s what I did. I had a temperamental, opinionated first child and the universe showed me some compassion and made up for it with the second kid). I served dinner and hoped we wouldn’t be taking a trip to Taco Cabana.

We didn’t go to Taco Cabana.

This meal was EVERYTHING. The mussels were not chewy or tough like during Thai week. Instead they were buttery, chewy, and slightly fatty. The leeks and celery completely dissolved in my mouth into rich, gooeyness and the fries, er, frites, were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft at the bite.

The oldest held true to her statement that she didn’t want to eat so she ran off and did what she does best, hide in her room and tell her imaginary friend how annoying I am*. I am not exaggerating about this. I’ve literally overheard her talking shit about me. Usually it’s after I haven’t let her do something like watch tv for six hours or because I’ve told her she needs to put clothes on. The teen years are going to be amazing with this one. The baby, however, ate TEN MUSSELS. She just couldn’t stop, she loved those little suckers. She also loved the mayo because at one point she just kept spooning it directly into her mouth. She is a treasure.**

This was a fantastic way to end Belgian week. The onion soup wasn’t my favorite but three out of four meals is not bad. And my two year old ate mussels. I mean, if that’s not a victory, I don’t know what is!

*She later told me she loved me and that I’m the best mommy. She might cause my blood pressure to skyrocket but within hours, she’s turning my cold, black heart a nice shade of gray and warming it up to just above freezing.

**She later kicked me in the stomach when I picked her up to put her in the bath. I had a tall glass of Frambois to calm down.

Recipe

Chicken Waterzooi

About ten years ago I bought a book titled 501 Must Read Books. Reading all 501 books is on my bucket list; I’ve read about 30 so I have a ways to go. Anyway, at some point I was browsing for books at Goodwill. This was before the bedbug epidemic and before all the transplants from bedbug infested cities moved to Austin and brought their creepy crawlies with them and you could buy secondhand books without worrying about bringing them into your home. Ruining secondhand book purchases for Austinites is something that is often forgotten when we complain about how transplants have ruined this city but honestly, I think it’s far more important than what they’ve done to traffic. Think of the books!

Back to my story. I was at Goodwill. One book I came across was Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. I remember feeling it looked familiar and the story on the jacket was interesting (“the story of a man’s search for the answer to his life’s central riddle”) so I bought it for a whopping $1. I got home and put it with all the other books I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading and forgot about it. A bit later, when updating my reading list in the 501 book, I saw that Austerlitz was on the list. The “Woah!” and “Wow!” feelings were full blown kismet. I was meant to read this book!

I started reading the book last week and I’m on page thirteen. What does this have to do with this blog? Well, the first thirteen pages are set in Belgium and reading those thirteen pages inspired me to do Belgian food this week. So here we are. It’s all connected.

Also, before I move on, those first two paragraphs would not have been possible had I been reading an ebook. Physical books have more stories than just what’s written on the pages and let’s try to remember that. No doubt, there’s a place for ebooks, but they will never replace the real thing.

Last night I made Chicken Waterzooi. Traditionally it’s made with fish but I wasn’t in a fish mode so I chose the chicken option. Also, it’s traditionally eaten during the winter because it’s a hot, creamy soup. Hot, creamy soup and I made it in Texas summer. All glorious 95 degree Texas summer with 1000% humidity. It was not the smartest decision but it was a DELICIOUS one. It was very rich, probably due to the large amount of chicken broth and egg yolk, but the veggies made it lighter. The use of leeks, celery, and onions (some of the lightest vegetables you can eat) really helped offset the creaminess. I think it would have been a different story had I used a starch like potatoes so I’m grateful for the lightness.

The oldest didn’t eat it. Her exact words were “Mommy’s soup is yucky!” but oh well, more for us! The baby loved it because she’s an amazing child who appreciates what her mother does for her. And also she likes to eat but in order to shame the oldest one into submission, I’m focusing on the love the baby has for me.

I really am the best mother around.

Recipe

 

 

Ginger Stewed Chicken, Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Celery and Rice

Even though I’ve been doing this for almost seven months and have made over seventy meals, I still expect every one to be amazing and the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I know that’s a tall, HUGE, order but it’s true. I guess on some level I just feel that if I’m putting this much effort into it, not just cooking but the researching and shopping, that it should pay off very well. The reality is that not every meal can meet my ridiculously high standards and I need to settle down with that way of thinking.

I’ll take “Duh Melissa” for $200, Alex.

This meal was on the lower end of my satisfaction meter. It was a decent meal and it was something that could be prepared any day of the week. On that alone, it’s very family friendly and I probably will save it for future use and it might even turn into a “Go to” meal but I wasn’t super impressed. I thought the ginger would make the chicken more exciting but not really. I think my sauce should have been thicker but I don’t know if that would have really made a difference. The potatoes tasted like something I’ve had for Thanksgiving but I will say the orange extract did give it a slightly more interesting flavor.

Surprisingly, I liked the celery and rice the most. I was really worried about the celery because it is such an overpowering flavor but the ginger brought a down a notch. Also helping it was the pepper. Scotch bonnet peppers are used A LOT in Jamaican cooking but I wasn’t able to find them. I even went to a Afro-Caribbean market but they didn’t have them. Scotch bonnets are a cousin of the habanero and rocoto pepper. You might remember the rocoto pepper from Peruvian week. Also, a little tidbit, in Mexico, the rocoto pepper is called a manzano pepper because of its apple like shape. Anyway, Scotch bonnets are fiery like habanero and tangy like rocoto/manzano. I don’t like fiery but I like tangy so I used the latter. That might have also helped the celery and rice, having little big of tang, but I think the biggest factor was the ginger.

So, you know, this meal was good. It was fine. I’d eat it again. The girls liked the rice and potatoes but were pretty uninterested in the chicken. I think the oldest even ate the potatoes for lunch the next day. Double duty meals are always great!

Recipe, recipe, recipe

Kohlrabi Baked with Ham, Bavarian Potato Dumplings, and Poached Celery

So this was an unexpectedly tasty meal. Poached celery? Kohlrabi? Potato dumplings? On their own, they sound pretty bland but they all worked well together. It also helped that a good amount of butter was involved. Butter is good.

I’d never eaten kohlrabi before so I read up on it beforehand. Everything I read implied that it was similar to a turnip and I agree that it was in texture but the flavor was so much sweeter. It reminded me of something else but I still can’t put my finger on it (update: it’s broccoli!). This dish would have probably benefited from larger ham pieces but for a quick substitution, the sandwich slices worked. The little one picked out all the ham so next time I make this, I need to use larger chunks.

The dumplings were surprisingly light and flavorful; I think this was due to using whole wheat flour and the bit of nutmeg. I’m not a big fan of dumplings but I do love potatoes. Like, I loooove potatoes. My dream wedding cake was tiered mashed potatoes with florets made from cheese. For some reason everyone was against this idea. You know why? Because people hate dreamers! Where was I? Dumplings. Dumplings are basically balls of dough but these balls of dough had mashed potatoes and, I mean, I just explained my adoration of mashed potatoes. So I obviously loved these.

The biggest surprise was the celery because, c’mon! It’s celery! Celery is never interesting and it’s the poster child for negative calories. Can’t you see it? Celery and lettuce, back to back, with the caption “We’re a waste of space!” Literally. But this dish wasn’t! I mean, yes, it was covered in cheese and bacon grease but still, bet you never thought celery could be this good!

So on a scale of, to quote my daughter “Yuck!” and “Lawd, just rip my stomach out right now cause ain’t no way I’m ever eating this good again!” this meal was right in the middle. Right at “This meal was delicious!” which isn’t a bad place to be. I’m looking at you, Live Casserole!

Recipe