Sunday, January 23, 2011

Soup and Sandwiches for grown-ups

I love making soup. It's just so... easy. (Thanks to the availability of good pre-made broth at the store. I plan to tackle making broth sometime this year, but one thing at a time.)

The basics are simple. Cook the veggies, add the broth, and whatever grains. If you're going to use spices, put them in a tea ball so you can get keep them separate. This last one is pretty important, especially if you plan on storing the leftovers. Things like black pepper can continue to add flavor to the soup, and while it's not necessarily going to taste bad after stewing in the fridge for a day or two, it's not necessarily going to taste good, either, so being able to take the flavoring spices out as part of the process is key.

In this case, I thin sliced a few stalks of celery, sliced some leeks lengthwise and then chopped 1/4" pieces from there, and cut up an onion. Sizzle sizzle sizzle for about 8 minues on medium heat in some oil, and we're ready to go. I poured in a quart and a half of chicken broth, 1/2 cup of wild rice, 1/2 cup of a brown rice medley from Trader Joes, and 1/3 of a cup of barley. No salt, no seasoning, just the veggies, grains and broth. For the vegetarian crowd, you can use veggie broth instead... the rest of this improv dish is veggie friendly, and it's basic enough to be easy.

Bring to a simmer, and keep it there for 35-40 minutes.

I was using an oval roasting pot that my little sister bought me a few years ago, and one of the interesting things about the shape is that you can rotate the lid to vent off as little or as much of the steam as you want, unlike a regular circular pot. I don't think it's really a precise adjustment for maintaining a slow simmer, but it's nice to be able to vent just enough steam that the whole thing doesn't start boiling over.

Other trivia about this particular pot, Ariel loves teasing me about it. Why? Because it's Rachel Ray branded cookware. Why is that funny? Well... once upon a time, I'd put Rachel Ray on my list of 5. Ariel just couldn't wrap her mind around that one, and laughed at me about it for days. Shortly thereafter, I received this pot. So, to this day, it still puts a smirk on A's face.

Another benefit of making soup... there's time to stop, clean up a bit, and diminish the pile of after dinner dishes. (note the finished meal sitting on a CLEAN butcher block...) Once I was done with the cleaning, I still had time to get going on the sandwiches part. The general idea is an open-face grilled cheese... or maybe it's just over-grown crostini. Either way, it was mighty fine, and the salty savory crunchy cheese and toast thing went very well with the soup.

I grated some gouda and some other cheese, (gruyere is also wonderful for this) and packed it onto the top of some store-bought 'tuscan' bread. (Basically, fancy white bread with rubbery gluten and bog holes for the cheese to melt through.) I put that on the top rack in the oven with the broiler on high. You have to pay attention while the broiler is on, though. The first couple of minutes are pretty uneventful: the cheese starts to melt and bubble, and the grease puddles on top. Yum. The next minute or so the grease soaks into the bread, the bubbling picks up a bit. After that, things start to settle down, and it's important to grab the tray just after the cheese begins to brown. It's possible to actually watch the brown parts form and start to spread... and if you're not watching, it's possible to miss all of this completely, and end up with burned cheese on burned bread.

By the way, if you look closely at the picture, you can see that the back left corner of the cookie sheet is warping upwards, and the whole thing is starting to look like a pringle. It's not a trick of the light, that's actually what was happening. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you... there's something about being that close to the heating element that makes for some interesting thermal expansion issues. Once it cooled off it settles back down.

I still had time after this to clean up the stuff I used to make the grilled cheese before serving dinner. So all we had left to wash were two bowls, two plates, and the soup pot. Not too bad.

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