February 27, 2011

Quick Saturday Soups revisited

Actually, this soup is better if it is not too quick. Better if a chore or telephone call interrupts the momentum and gives it a chance to simmer a little longer before the cod is added at the end.

Yesterday was the second time I've made the soup. The first time I made it, I called it Yukon Cajun Cod Chowder based on (1) it was made with gold potatoes; (2) I used a generous dollop of Cajun spices (sans salt); it was cod soup; and the result looked as creamy as a chowder (though there were no milk products in it at all. And then, I kind of like the sound of the name: Yukon Cajun Cod Chowder.

I've given up on the name. Yesterday, busy beavers that we were, I completely forgot about the Cajun seasonings that I had been so proud of earlier (until we were sitting down to eat and A asked me about the ingredients...............).

I still think of it as a cod chowder though some will take issue with calling it a chowder since it contains no cream nor other milk product. However, I (and as it happens, Wikipedia) define chowder more broadly to include thickened seafood soups, etc.

How is it thickened? Two ways: (1) the first potatoes added are cooked until soft enough to easily blend (I used our hand held immersion blender); and (2) by the addition of about a 1/3 of a 2.75 oz packet of peppered gravy mix containing no lard or meat by products.

For two people, I used
generous splash of olive oil (I added a little more when I added the potatoes)
a little less than 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped small
1 medium carrot, chopped small
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 clove garlic, chopped small
4-5 medium gold potatoes, cubed, four at the outset reserving one for adding later
5 cups or so broth (I used some kale broth we had saved earlier as well as a cube of vegan veggie bouillon (no salt added)
double pinch of cayenne (or to taste)
lots of fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 of packet of dry peppered gravy mix (no meat by products)
cod fillet, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
serve with low sodium saltine crackers

Saute the onion, carrot, celery mixture until softened, add all the potatoes but one (and additional olive oil if the potatoes begin to stick) and saute briefly (minute or so) before adding the broth and let simmer for at least 20-30 minutes before adding the reserved potato and let cook about 10 minutes before adding the gravy mix (I mixed it with a bit of water before adding to avoid lumps). Once the soup has simmered a bit (I simmered it a good 15-20 minutes longer than I think necessary but it may have actually helped) add the fresh cod (or if earlier frozen, the thawed cod), bring to a boil, put a lid on and shut off the fire. Let set for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Goes well with a bottle of the last of the St. Arnold winter stout.

February 26, 2011

Maybe you do like sauerkraut

When I was a kid, I remember liking sauerkraut but I have no memory of where we bought it nor of the container. But as an adult, remembering, I had not been able to find a sauerkraut that seemed to match what I remembered from childhood. Too damn sour - to tart by half, but when I would buy some I would eat it. I finally decided that I just like things more sour when I was kid. Like the huge sour pickles, when I was in 5th grade, that were sold for a nickel at the little store just across the street from our school in Archer City.

Recently, reading online about food fermentation, I read an article on how to ferment cabbage. Cabbage and salt. That's all it takes. So next time I was in the store, I checked the ingredients in the name-brand sauerkraut I thought was the best of brands I had occasionally bought. Well, there were additional ingredients but one of the main ingredients was vinegar. So I was being sold cooked cabbage with added vinegar and told it was "all natural" sauerkraut. Baloney!

Okay, there is real sauerkraut available but not typically on the canned veggie shelf at the super market. Here in Houston, you can find "barrel sauerkraut" at Fiesta and Central Market (and probably other places) made from cabbage and salt. Cabbage and salt period - nothing else. The brand I bought, Gundelsheim, is a product of Germany. But I'm sure that are other brands from other countries. It is delicious. It is better than the sauerkraut I remember. When I was in the Army (USASA in Bad Aibling) stationed in Germany, I do not remember ever testing their sauerkraut. I remember their Christmas goose and dumplings (but that's another story).

Well, as I kid, when we had our occasional sauerkraut it was always with wieners (3 lbs for $1 or some price similar) but I wouldn't eat those wieners today. Since I haven't been a red meat eater for over 30 years (not that there was much real red meat in those childhood wieners), I use a veggie alternative. My favorite is the Veggie Patch veggie dog but there are lots of brands (Veggie Patch wieners are products of Israel).

If you are a meat eater, try real fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) with your sausage and it may turn out that you actually like sauerkraut!

I do.

February 22, 2011

Our cats were not given names from Shakespeare.

No one ever thought Ms. Emily's name was based on a Shakespearean character, but many (most) people assumed that Cassius and MacBeth were named for characters from the plays. Not so.

Cassius showed up as a homeless kitten (3-4 weeks old) at the Fellowship. He had all the markings of an orange tabby cat but less than 1% of the orange - his shadings were pure Siamese. And like many of his Siasmese forebears and cousins, he had some of the awkward gait that must be the result of so much early inbreeding. As Cassius got a little older he very much took the gait of a four-legged Hercule Poirot, especially when walking away (think of David Suchet and not of Peter Ustinov or others). Anyway, Cassius was given his name as a tribute to Muhammad Ali - who was no longer attached to that name (I don't know why Muhammad Ali was given the name Cassius - that could well have been from Shakespeare). When Ali said that he no longer wanted to be called Cassius Clay, I thought that was fine and accepted his name as Muhammad Ali. But still, Cassius got his name as a homage of sorts to the early swaggering but graceful young boxer. And Cassius never seemed to mind his name. He lived some 19 years. He could be a bit cantankerous but was at heart the sweetest of guys, a bit swaggery but graceful in his Poirot-ambling way.

MacBeth's name was originally shorter. As a kitten who showed up squalling outside our front door (a rounded black and white upset kitty) he was mistakenly judged a 'she' and our granddaughter Elizabeth who was of an age when she had decided she would rather be called Beth rather Elizabeth (though no one else seemed to adjust to her wishes) named the kitten Beth. When it became apparant (or rather was discovered) that she was 'he' we decided that Beth was not the most appropriate name.

Much earlier in our married life A & I had a similar experience when a tiny puppy showed up at our door asking for refuge - like the early Beth, we carried the puppy door-to-door to find where it belonged but no one claimed it. I was working nights and had just been in bed a short time when A woke me with the puppy in hand and informed me that it was homeless and wondered if we should adopt it (or perhaps take it to the SPCA). I could tell by the way the question was framed what answer was expected of me and so, of course, I said that we should adopt the homeless puppy. Before returning to my anticipated rest, I asked her if the hound was male or female and A (who is usually quite adept at deciphering such things, told me the pup was a male).

So, after a conversation of sorts, we christened the puppy Michael Valentine Smith (actually my influence is most apparent here since I had just been re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land. Anyway, Michael appeared satisfied with his new name. Later when it became apparent (or was discovered) that the supposed gender was in error, we stuck with the name Michael and she wore it with what appeared to be a continuing satisfaction (I had explained to her some of the background of her fictional namesake). And she was a perfect enough Michael - we mostly called her Michael and not Michael Valentine Smith. Anyway the name worked well enough.

Not so with 'Beth' or so it seemed to us - first of all, Beth never responded to our using the name but ignored us as though certain that we must have intended to address some other creature. I suggested we keep the name but make it a little 'manlier' by placing a Mac in front to show that we understood that he was he and not she. He seemed to accept the new name as readily as he had the earlier shorter version and was apparently not at all put out by the sudden change from a simple to a compound name. I earlier said that Cassius was graceful - and he was - at least to the extent possible in his on awkward kind of stumbling way - but MacBeth is really the most graceful of the entire family. He walks or runs up and down stairs and jumps on top of things with a natural and refined fluidity that moves beyond mere gracefulness. There's probably a word for grace in motion to the nth degree - the only word I know for it is MacBeth.

Cassius' grace was more an inner state of being (full of savoir-faire) and no less to the nth degree. We will miss him.

February 20, 2011

Quick Saturday Soups

We (A&I) make cod soup a lot on Saturdays because of our busy home schedule - try living in a 40-50 year old 2 story house and see if your Saturday schedule isn't busy. Anyway, we make a lot of cod soup because it is easy and fast and so far we're still enjoying it. Yesterday's cod soup (maybe call it 'cod noodle soup') was good! It's almost always what we happen to have on hand or didn't use for lunches during the week and may not make the next week. So I pulled out the frozen broths (about 2 cups) that we save when we blanch veggies for other meals or lunch; the aging cilantro (now mostly stems from being trimmed though the week), frozen leftover tomato sauce (not used in some texmex creation - about 1/2 cup), leftover onion (yellow and red but the red was beyond saving and went into the compost pail after failed efforts at trimming off the obviously flawed portions until nothing was left to trim - so really just less than half a yellow onion cut and not used in last Sunday's salad probably), a sliver of red pepper (maybe 1/6 of a red bell pepper), three baby carrots sliced into slivers, and, of course, olive oil to saute the onions, carrots slivers, and cilantro stems. Which I did (slowly and not too hot) while I loosened the frozen broth from their containers. When the onion, carrot, cilantro mix was slightly softened and releasing a pleasing whiff of things to come, I turned up the heat and dumped the frozen broths and tomato sauce into the mix with added water (2 cups or so) and brought it to a boil and added just 1/2 vegan veggie bouillon (no added salt - Rapunzel brand).

Meantime, I had boiling water on the back of the stove for the extra wide pasta noodles that we love and tried to time the whole thing together. Actually the pasta is critical because when it is ready it does not tolerate a lot of rest time like the soup will. Once my broth mixture came to a boil I dropped the cod (not a lot but enough for two people) into the boiling soup and allowed it to return to a boil before putting a lid on it and turning off the fire. It will set until the pasta is perfect. By the way the cod was fresh but because we had so much of it we had frozen some of it and I was using the last of the frozen fillets.

Okay, the spices. For me, if I don't use fresh garlic as I prefer to do, I add some powdered but otherwise the spices are about the same most of the time I make a variety of cod soups that we like (most of the time with brown rice rather than a pasta): unsalted cajun spices (the ingredients are basically dried bits of the holy trinity of onion, bell pepper, celery with a bit of parsley etc. - the brand we use is Benoit's Best and is readily available in Houston and is made in Maurice, Louisiana - any such seasoning will do), red pepper flakes, fresh ground black pepper (actually ours is a mix of black, white, etc.), a pinch of kosher salt, and plenty of cayenne pepper to taste.

A raved about it. She had a glass of Malbec (I was drinking St. Arnold's Winter Stout) but I don't think it was just the Malbec talking. It was pretty good.