Saturday, December 5, 2009

The cycle of soup

The soups section in the supermarket seems to take up more and more of the aisle each year. Chefs have often, and often loudly, decried the American habit of thinking soup comes out of a can to the tune of "Umm, umm, good!" Some such as Wolfgang Puck have decided to add their soups to the mix. The varieties now are more numerous, but something about canning still doesn't do much for soups.

More cooks could become better soup makers if they just set aside their cookbooks once in a while and think about the cycle of soup.

First, you make a broth or stock. Take those trimmings that you would have thrown out, skin and tendons of meat, or the carrots, celery, tomatoes and onions slightly past their prime, and cover them with water and a little salt, add a bay leaf and a few peppercorns, and simmer for several hours. Strain and then you can toss the cooked remains into the garbage or compost. For meat liquids, put in the fridge or freezer until the fat congeals at the top, then throw that out, too.

If you're not ready to use it, put it in a container marked with the date and contents.

When you're ready, you can get creative. Use leftovers in your fridge if you can. If your broth is strong enough, a little vinegar on a cup or less of leftover pasta salad will be absorbed and add to the flavor of your soup. Or maybe you have a cup of leftover rice; add it to 2 cups of chicken broth, bring to a boil with the rice, then stir a little of it into a cup containing a beaten egg and the juice of a lemon. Turn the soup down to a simmer. Gentle stir the contents of the cup into the hot soup.

Experiment. If you like a combination of spices in a dish, chances are you will like it in a soup with similar ingredients. Just be aware that as a soup cooks, water evaporates, so the spices will intensify, and not all at the same rate. Chilies can be a lot hotter in soups, as can pepper. Basil may disappear (that's why it's good to add fresh basil just before serving). Lemon can brighten a bean soup; sherry can make it richer.

If you're lucky and you like soup, you may never have to throw out any leftovers again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eating locally gains support

The Nation's Restaurant News polled a number of chefs on what they thought were trends in the industry, and the good news is that many of them cited the increased use of local produce, meats and seafood as the top two trends. The other 18 top trends:

3. Sustainability
4. Bite-size/mini desserts
5. Locally produced wine and beer
6. Nutritionally balanced children's dishes
7. Half-portions/smaller portion for a smaller price
8. Farm/estate-branded ingredients
9. Gluten-free/food allergy conscious
10. Sustainable seafood
11. Superfruits (e.g. acai, goji berry, mangosteen, purslane)
12. Organic produce
13. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients)
14. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
15. Nutrition/health
16. Simplicity/back to basics
17. Regional ethnic cuisine
18. Non-traditional fish (e.g. branzino, Arctic char, barramundi)
19. Newly fabricated cuts of meat (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, Petite Tender)
20. Fruit/vegetable children's side items
Source: The National Restaurant Association's What's Hot in 2010 chef survey

I'm not too wild about the newly fabricated cuts of meat - I like to know what part of the animal I'm eating, not some marketer's idea of what will sell me on eating it - but bring on more Arctic char! It's delicious.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to toss?

Photograph by Adam Woolfitt

My, how time flies when you're preparing four turkeys to feed a crowd, and dealing with the leftovers. If you've been wondering how long to keep said leftovers, or anything else in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry, check out Their database and tips are super.

Here's their advice for post-Thanksgiving storage:

Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 2-3 months
Cut whole bird into smaller pieces before refrigerating.
Fridge: 1-2 days
Freezer: 2-3 months
Bring leftover gravy to a boil before using.
Fridge: 10-14 days
Freezer: 1-2 months
Store leftovers in covered plastic or glass container.
Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 1 month
Remove stuffing from turkey before refrigerating.
Fridge: 3-5 days
Freezer: 10-12 months
Mashed potatoes freeze well; whole baked potatoes don’t.
Fridge: 3-4 days
Freezer: 1-2 months
Keep refrigerated; texture may change after freezing.