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

Ramen

At the beginning of this project, my goal was to cook five times a week. That didn’t last very long because I quickly realized I don’t like cooking that much. I enjoy making food and putting meals together but I’m also a little lazy and often times (always) that laziness overpowers my joy. Well, it’s not so much I’m lazy as it is I don’t like working hard. That doesn’t make me sound any better…so anyway, depending on the difficulty of the cuisine, I make between two and four meals a week. There have been a few times I’ve made five, like Chinese and Indian weeks, but for the most part, I take the easy route. Technically Japanese week was an easy week with only two meals, however, this ramen took three days to make so I wouldn’t say it was super easy.

Okay, I’m kind of stretching the truth. It was pretty easy; at least the first two days were. The first day involved placing sheets of seaweed in water (kombu dashi) and making a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and sake (tare). The seaweed used wasn’t your typical paper-thin nori seaweed, instead I used kombu seaweed, which is thicker. I would like to say it’s like bark but not exactly that thick. These two items form the basis of the stock, which was made the second day.

Again, this part wasn’t too hard because all I did was boil pork shoulder and some veggies. Oh, and chicken necks. I can’t forget the necks. The recipe said to also use spareribs but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. I think my stock came out just fine without it. What was interesting about making the stock was using bonito flakes, which is just dried, fermented fish. This, along with the kombu dashi and tare, give the stock the umami flavor that is coveted in Japanese cuisine. Umami has become a big deal in the culinary world the past few years, so much so that it is now considered one of the basic tastes, along with sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. The short answer is that it is the taste of savory, the long answer can be found in this great podcast by Stuff You Should Know.

The third day shouldn’t have been that difficult because all it involved was boiling eggs, reheating the stock, slicing the pork shoulder, and boiling the ramen noodles. The recipe said to use prepared ramen noodles but that was way too easy and as much as I enjoy taking shortcuts, every once in a while I get a hankering for the long, winding road. *sings “The long and winding road, the leads to insanity”* Those aren’t the correct lyrics but that’s where this long and winding road lead me because instead of taking the Insta-Noodles Road, I decided to take the Make Your Own Ramen Noodles Freeway. Unfortunately it’s a freeway and filled with all kinds of fast and crazy drivers. Drivers like Making Dough is Dumb and I’m Pretty Sure I’m Going to Get My Hair Stuck in this Noodle Maker and OMFG I Will Never Get All of This Flour Out of My Kitchen. Oh, and who could forget the best driver of them all, The Complete Fucking Fail of Ramen Noodle Making? I’m not bitter.

So yeah, noodle making was not fun. It’s really time consuming, it’s messy, and stressful. I’m just going to show you a picture. (Sorry for the big picture, Squarespace is being difficult)

Thankfully when I bought groceries for this meal, I bought some packets of instant ramen noodles just in case my noodle making didn’t work out. The top bowl are the instant noodles, the bottom is what I made. This was what came out of the colander when I tried to drain my noodles. They came out of the pot of boiling water as individual noodles but sometime between pouring them into the colander and then flipping the colander over, they turned in a big ball of mush. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know anything about noodle making and I haven’t bothered looking up what went wrong but my initial guess is that I didn’t let the noodles dry out enough before boiling them. I was supposed to let them dry for at least ten minutes but our guests were already on their way and I didn’t think it would make too big of a deal. Clearly it did.

So whatever, my noodle making was a disaster BUT if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this project it’s to have a back up plan so thankfully I bought those instant noodles!

And the ramen turned out great! The pork shoulder I bought was in pieces, not one big piece, so instead of nice round slices, we got bits and pieces but it was still good. It was delicious and I think everyone had more than one bowl so that’s always good. The kids ate cheese sticks, some noodles, and I think a fruit snack pack. You know, something very nutritious.

And that was Japanese week. I’ll make ramen again and I might even try making noodles but not any time soon. No, for now I’ll stay on North Lamar Boulevard, which takes me straight to Chinatown and all the easy ramen I can eat.

Recipe, Recipe

Onion Soup

This will be a short post because this meal was neither amazing nor terrible. It was right smack in the middle: good. I think there was a few factors contributing to it’s mediocrity but the biggest was the heat. I made this last Wednesday and even though we were experiencing a “cool” front of 85, it still made me feel very warm. This is precisely why I have issues eating hot soup during the summer. It’s too dang hot! It’s the same reason why I won’t eat tamales during the summer. it’s too hot!

Have I mentioned it’s too hot?

There’s a meme floating around on Hispanic websites that pairs “When your mom makes caldo on a 100 degree weather” with a picture of a celebrity crying (the most popular is Michael Jordan) and that basically sums up my feelings of eating soup during the summer. You’re already sweating because the Sun has decided to lay down on your part of the Earth and then you pour almost boiling liquid into your body so your insides can be just as hot as your outsides? Que pendejada.

I clearly have strong feelings about this.

So after I got over boiling my insides, I was able to focus on the flavor of the soup. It was okay. The truth is, I don’t like French Onion Soup and this was basically the same thing but with veggie broth instead of animal stock. This wasn’t as rich or tart as its French version but I actually liked that. A lot of the reviews complained about its sweetness but that’s what I liked about this soup. I think I put in more sourdough than I should have but I feel that helped with the saltiness.

I didn’t even bother giving this to the kids because 1. onions and 2. toddlers eating soup is messy as hell. No thank you.

I have one more Belgian meal to post about and then I need to figure out what I’m making this week. I want something with lots of veggies and that doesn’t require me turning on the oven. Any suggestions are much appreciated!

Recipe

Mushroom Solyanka

This was the last Russian meal I prepared last week. I had also planned on making blini and pirozhki but I ran out of time and sanity. Even though I only made three meals, I was pleased with all three. Like I mentioned in the last post, I might revisit Russia later in the year and at least try to make the pirozhki. Who doesn’t like bread stuffed with meat?!

Solyanka, along with borshch, is one of the most popular soups in Russian. It can be made three ways: with meat, fish, or mushroom. The common factor in all three is the incorporation of pickles. Pickles in soup. So good, right? I mean, why wouldn’t you want a fermented cucumber in your soup? Clearly I was not jazzed about this. What did get me jazzed was the short prep and cooking time. From beginning to end, this took me about forty five minutes. I made this the evening the older one stayed home from school so I really needed something that was fast and didn’t require too much attention.

This was a very light meal, which wasn’t all that surprising since we basically ate boiled mushrooms. The tomato and pickle did offset the strong mushroom flavor, which I was worried about. I love mushrooms but they can be a little overpowering. They also absorb liquid so I was concerned about the bloat afterwards but there wasn’t any. I only ate one bowl so that probably had more to do with it than the ingredients. It was sour, just like the name suggests, but it wasn’t too bad. It didn’t make me tick or anything afterwards so that was nice. I liked that the crunchiness of the pickle contrasted the softness of the mushroom so I guess its inclusion wasn’t ALL that bad. 

Will I make this again? Probably not. And if I do, I will make it as a side because this was kind of boring on its own. It comes down to boiled mushrooms. Boiled mushrooms are never exciting. Maybe the meat or fish version is more interesting…

And no, neither girl touched this meal. Even the little one spit out the mushroom. Kids have issues with texture. And life. 

Recipe

German Lentil Soup and Sausage with Onions

I proposed to my wife that I make one dish every week and do some research ahead of time, but we sort of ran out of time last week (now several weeks! – sorry about the late post) and she suggested this dish because it is “easy”. My cooking skills fall somewhere between horrible and non-existent with the exception of spaghetti (it’s damn good!) so this was not “easy”.  Also, I’m neurotic and get stressed out easily so I ending up pacing around the kitchen muttering a bunch of expletives to myself.  Honestly, I probably looked and sounded like a crazy person half way through the preparation.  In the future, my focus will be on quick meals – about a half hour or less- since honestly I don’t like spending this much time preparing dinner.

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By the way that’s not me above- way too calm.

The second part of my dish was Sausage with Onions.  However, due to anxiety with all the ingredients in the above dish, I somehow mixed up hot dogs which were supposed to be used for the German Lentil Soup for sausage and ending up frying them out of order.  Not a big deal to fix, but the wife was not happy because she said she told me this but I wasn’t paying attention – story of our lives.  This was actually super easy if the selective listening hadn’t kicked in.  

Eventually, the lentils finished steaming and the sausage with onions baked and we had a happy household dinner – minus the 3 year old who doesn’t eat anything but 4th of July food.  My wife even said it was “pretty good.”  Personally, I thought it was a pretty solid meal too!

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Recipe

Summer Vegetable Soup

This week we are in Finland.

Kun menee sutta pakoon, tulee karhu vastaan. 

That means “When you flee from a wolf, you run into a bear” This has nothing to do with this post. I just Googled “Popular Finnish proverbs” and I liked this one. It’s supposed to be mean to not give up on one situation for another. I don’t get it either. 

FINLAND. The biggest deciding factor in choosing Finland was, and this was backed by some super scientific thought, that it’s cold in Finland. It’s currently cold in Texas. So I figured the food would be agreeable with the climate. Granted I’m currently wearing shorts in January so maybe I didn’t think this one through. I rarely do.

Choosing a cookbook for Finland was pretty easy. My three choices at Half Price were a $40 book that wasn’t going to happen in any world, a $30 book that focused on Finnish country cooking which involved a lot of wild game like reindeer, and the $10 book I ended up buying. The price was right! Also, the book I ended up buying uses American measurements (in yo face metric system!) and is actually a book on Scandinavian cooking. It’s titled

“The Art of Scandinavian Cooking” by Nika Standen Hazelton

. It was written in the mid-sixties but the recipes seem to hold up pretty well so far. There’s an intro to each country, with a little synopsis of their dietary customs and traditions. It’s a fun read.

<img src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56ca481801dbae727e4f992a/t/56e1a89d74e8d64aef8a4f64/1457629733781//img.jpg else would I make this recipe in January, hippies?!

<img src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56ca481801dbae727e4f992a/t/56e1a89d74e8d64aef8a4f68/1457629732996//img.jpg.the.spot. I was a little worried about it being bland but the butter and sweetness of the peas and carrots added some great flavor. It was very filling but wasn't too heavy. It probably would have turned out different had I used the full amount of milk but I feel this worked perfectly.

The three year old wouldn’t touch it but the nineteen month old asked for seconds. Seriously, she has the best taste.

Recipe