January 2, 2015: Soup for Dayz, Day 2

Happy official New Year, my angels! Hope you rang it in exactly as you wanted (I was in bed at 10pm, per my usual NYE routine: rockstar) and here’s to 2015 being a year which brings you strength, joy, clarity and continued health. Always be grateful for what you have and who you are.

And of course, I broke my resolution to blog every day right exactly on New Year’s Day itself, but it was worth it. I finished a job application last evening after spending the day hanging out with my awesome neighbors; the latter being an especially delightful event from which I still feel energized today. There is nothing better than connecting with other people and having a good time and great conversation, nothing better at all (not even those three long, mentholated cigarettes we smoked, as a rare treat, frontin’ like bad kids!).

Back to the magnificent Soup fah Dayzzzz!

Now we’re on Day 2. This may even be a workday for you so you can do this second day of cooking after you get home from your job. The most time-consuming part has already been completed now that the base has been attacked; the next steps are building on that base and letting the flavors steep and develop.

Take the casserole out of the fridge and put it back under that really low flame, at a bare simmer. You’re not working for heat here: you are working for time and building cohesion. The soup will be in the form of a very concentrated stew, not taking up much room in the casserole; there may even be a coagulation of oil at the top, which is fine. Give another good round of spanking with some fresh ground pepper and cut up another lemon into 8 pieces, carefully removing seeds, and squeeze by hand into the soup. Add another half cup or so of water so to maintain the liquid content: those veggies need to stay nice and saturated. Use a wooden spoon to scrape down any errant pieces off the side of the casserole pot: get all the bits back into the mixture. Cover and let simmer at the lowest heat possible to ease it out of refrigerator mode.

Now we can start to add more ingredients, some which will be repeats. I prefer not to use carrots to the soup base because of the lovely sweetness they bring to cooking (you may want to, however, for that exact reason) but I will certainly add in those fab orange puppies now at this stage of the game. I use one large carrot, pared and then sliced into discs about ¼ inch think. I then cut each disc into tiny pie-shaped pieces. The smaller discs I just cut into halves or quarters, but the larger slices I will cut into eighths, sometimes even more: again, my theory is, the smaller the pieces, the greater the melody when it’s finished. The soup even looks nicer with all these tiny pieces, especially the carrots which add that pop of color. If you want, throw in more than one carrot, just make sure you chop it all down to size.

Also at this point, after I have added the carrot, I like to add in another onion flavor layer, perhaps maybe a bunch of gorgeous scallions: cut the white bulbs into thin slices and then separate all the little round rings (again, as always: tiny pieces are this soup’s best friend); chop the leaf greens finely, discarding any yucky bits but feel free to use as much of the leaves as you want, just make sure you chop them to oblivion. That’s one of the great things about this concoction, and any other homemade soup for that matter, you can use as much of your vegetables as possible.

Another option for this second round of onion-ation is to add any stinky bulb(s) you may have hanging around, even the proverbial half red onion wrapped in tinfoil that seems to live in all of our refrigerators. Yes, even if it is kinda old and sorta dryish: this soup’ll wake it right up and benefit from what is always dependable onion-osity. Discard the papery ends and top layer, because those do not cook well; I’ve tried because I hate to waste food but they don’t absorb the moisture. One option with those pieces is to pop them in the oven until they get crispy, not burned, to eat as a chip of sorts, but that’s really stretching the whole no-waste routine; sometimes some things just have to go straight to composting. With the usable onion you have left (and you know what I am going to say), chop it down to itty bitty, teeny weeny bits and then chop those down even more.

To cement this second day, let’s toss in more garlic, shall we? No such thing ever as too much garlic for this Queens girl. We don’t need another whole head here (but you could do that, if you want: and if you do, when are you having me over for dinner?) so you could use as few as two or three cloves although I suggest using at least five for this stage, especially if they’re not that big.

Here’s my lesson on garlic dicing: slice a clove into thin lengthwise discs, by standing it on its side and carefully cutting from top to bottom. Stack the discs, as many as you can; I can usually stack two to three at a time, sometimes more, if they’ll stay in line. Julienne those discs lengthwise into little sticks. Line up the tiny julienned sticks and cut those down crosswise, millimeter by millimeter, making a nice pile of garlic mulch and making sure to cut down any overly large pieces. Since we’re not cooking these directly in oil, as we did on Day 1, you want to make sure you have finely chopped these garlic segments to death, honey. Like to a consistency of grainy paste.

Throw in that garlic mulch, spank the black pepper grinder anew, stir the soup, wipe down any errant pieces with a wooden spoon, cover the pot and let this simmer for at least an hour, preferably closer to two hours. Check every twenty minutes, making sure the heat is as low as possible. Your home will smell awesome. After two hours, turn off the heat, let cool for about an hour and then pop back in the fridge.

Day 2 over! The mingle-ation continues as this soup keeps being heated and cooled while the days pass: just like with any fabulous dame, it just gets better and better with time. Directions on Day 3 are forthcoming, kittens…

A sad note from my wonderful borough of Queens concerning this exact subject: the home cooking of soup. There was a horrific fire in the LeFrak City housing complex in Corona which claimed three lives on Wednesday night, New Year’s Eve. Homemade soup meant to celebrate the incoming year was left unattended on the stove and caused a blaze which killed a middle-aged couple and their niece. My heart goes out to this family: there but for the grace of the universe go I and all of us chefs. Here’s to every one of us always being mindful of our cooking and never, ever leaving the home with any kind of unsupervised fire going, be it a candle or a low simmering soup. Even if you are running out of the house for only a minute during the cooking of, say, this amazing Soup for Dayz or any other wonderful creation: turn the fire off, blow the candle out. It’s never worth it to take that chance. Always be aware of an open flame and always, always take care, for your sake and your neighbors’ sakes.

The number one rule in the kitchen, above all, is safety. It ain’t gonna taste like anything if you’re not alive to eat it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014: Soup For Dayz, Day 1

This is the recipe for what I basically live on: it’s a hearty, vegetarian, salt-free stock with which I create meals. It’s cheap and healthy (xactly: just like me) and no-fail (yup: not like me at all). Even though I am providing some sort of a concrete process for the base, it, as well as the other stuff you throw in, can be played around with and you can use whatever you have in the fridge or whatever’s good and/or on sale at the market.

The base is a variation of a mirepoix or holy trinity, with celery and onion: I then add garlic at the last minute, instead of bell peppers or carrots, which I may or may not throw in later. The magic ingredient of this handiwork is time which you sneak in over the course of a few days. Many times, I’ll have one batch of this soup in the “build” stage on the stove and then another, more finished batch in the fridge, ready for chowtime. This soup does not go bad, it just gets better and better with time (again true: just like me).

My suggestion is to start this process on a lazy weekend morning or afternoon; you’ll need to tend to this for about three hours at its start and I suggest using a large 5 to 6 quart casserole pot for the cookage process. You’ll cook this for dayz, bunny: it tastes so much better, just like love, if it isn’t brand new.

DAY 1 – here’s what you need for the base:

1 big yellow or white onion, or two smaller ones

½ bunch of celery, give or take a few stalks – you want to have about the same amount of celery and onion

Chop these up as finely as you can bear: the finer the chop, the more potential for flavor so take your time, turn up some music and chop away; get it all down to tiny pieces – you’ll have roughly two cups or so of each vegetable. There’s nothing wrong with doubling this recipe, too; just bear in mind it may take longer to cook it all down.

In the casserole pot, gently heat up some olive oil on low heat for about a minute: use enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot, a good long pour; you can always add in more, as you need, since you don’t want your vegetables to burn or get dried out.

After that minute of heating the oil, add in the finely chopped onion and celery: the oil should never get too hot; you don’t want to shock or scald the veggies. Coat the celery and onion mixture, making sure all of it gets good and oiled; even add more olive oil if you need. Make sure your heat stays at an extremely low simmer, then top the mixture off with a good spanking of freshly ground black pepper (be generous because you won’t be using salt, so this will help the flavor as well as the cooking) and let this simmer, very low and covered, until the onions and celery get really soft. This will take some time; I let this go for well over an hour, usually close to two hours (remember: you won’t be eating this tonight, you are just building your base). Check on the mixture and stir every 15 to 20 minutes or so: make sure the heat stays super low and add more oil, if you need, to keep the mixture soft, and definitely feel free to re-pepper.

During this time, chop a half a head of garlic, about 10 – 12 cloves or so. If you are like me and living in a world where no such thing as too much garlic, use the whole dang head. Chop every clove by hand as finely as you can, itty bitty pieces, to almost a paste. Yes, it takes time so catch up on some crappy TV on your DVR and not feel guilty about it. Pretend each clove is an absurd old problem that you are literally cutting down to size. The finer the chop, the more tasty the final product: chop, chop, chop, chop and chop away with love in your heart.

After 90 minutes to two hours, your celery and onion (the dynamic duo for the time being) should be nice, soft and translucent: add a little more oil, pepper it up and stir for minute or two so that the added oil gets some heat.

We’re now about to enter phase 2: where the dynamic duo meets the superhero garlic and the angels above your head sing to the newly formed trinity.

Add in the garlic, stir well and stay put by the mixture. It’s important that the garlic not get burned or fried, so this phase only takes about two minutes, tops. Once you start to really smell the garlic, once all the fabulousness has been released by the heat after about a minute, give it another thirty seconds or so, stirring and smearing it all around, getting the celery and onion good and saturated with the miracle that is garlic.

Phase 3: another nice, long sleepy phase – add a little bit of water, like a half a cup or so, to this mixture no more than two minutes after you have added the garlic. You could even add white wine, if you’d like, for some zing. If you are a total cheater (and I ain’t hatin, playa), you could actually add some other stock, but it’s healthier if you stick to H2O because this will allow what you have slaved over to actually come through once you are finished. Believe me, it’s worth the wait. The addition of this liquid will allow the ingredients to continue to soften and mix.

Cut up a lemon into 8 pieces, making sure to remove all seeds. Carefully squeeze out each piece into the mixture, checking for and removing any errant seeds; squeeze out every last drop you can. You could use a juicer but I think you get more juice if you do this by hand; as well, there is something about the ceremony of squeezing, and chopping by hand. It just tastes better, in my opinion.

Phase 4: let’s call this mixture “soup” – we’ve earned the name and it certainly has by now. With both the water and lemon juice, the soup should be a nice and chunky dense mix. Add some more freshly ground pepper and let it continue to simmer, over that low heat, for another hour. Then turn the heat off, keep it covered and let it sit to cool enough to go into the fridge, for about another hour or so (no worries if this is longer: it’s not going to turn into poison if it doesn’t go into the fridge immediately after an hour).

Whew: Day 1 is ovah! Instructions for Dayz 2 and on are forthcoming.

Happy New Year, by the way! My resolution is to blog every day. Let’s see if that happens. I am just glad I finally started this thing this year and I am very excited to see what the next year brings. 2014 was the end of some stupid stuff for me so I bet 2015 will be the start of some not-so-stupid stuff, just like this post depicts the start of some not-so-stupid soup: the elixir of the earthling! Soup for DAYZZZZZZ!!