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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Category Archives: Soup

I finally made the gazpacho and quesadillas which is a good thing, the vegetables were doing their best to hold out for me, but they were straining.

I made the gazpacho during the day which is my favorite time to make dinner. I would have made a great European. I loved living in Italy during my junior year of college where, from 12 to 4 pm, school closed, shops closed everyone went home, ate a proper meal, slept and then went on with their day. I think those four hour blocks of time 8 – 12, 12 – 4, 4 – 8 made for a nice life. You gave the thing you were doing its due. The way we run things around here, run being the operative word, days are like marathons: if you stop you might not make it to the end. I like the Italian way better. Enjoy work for work and school for school and family for family and food for food; one thing at a time.

I try to make life as Florentine as possible here in Brooklyn. Appreciating the thing I’m doing or the people I’m with while I’m doing it or while I’m with them. I think, if, at the end of this year, I can enjoy making dinner as much at 6:00 as I do at 2:00 I will have accomplished something.

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The freezer is almost empty of everything except ice cream and waffles. In the summer my mother would sometimes serve fruit salad and coffee ice cream for I think it’s time to do the same with my own kids.

I managed to cobble together a meal of arancini, onion soup and, because one kid doesn’t like onion soup, ravioli. It was obviously heavy on the starch, but no one complained. My husband hit on the genius idea of popping some of the ravioli in the oil that was frying and making some fried ravioli too. I will try to focus on the veggies when I make a meal plan on Sunday.

I’m happy I made it through the week relying totally on the freezer but I’m already starting to worry about how I’ll manage next fall when I have school and a TA job. I think things might fall apart – I’m going to have to become that person who “whips things up” in thirty minutes.  No idea how that will happen.

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Meal Plan day; I delegated to the children. They came up with an all-mexican plan and I obliged because I am a firm believer that when you delegate you must also abdicate some fair measure of control or you’re not really delegating at all. So that explains why tonight’s Tortilla Soup will be followed later in the week by Chili Pizza (their idea), Chilaquiles and Burritos.

But the real beauty came when I brought them along for the shopping. They decided that they would come up with the “surprise” meal and went off in search of ingredients together. That gave me enough time to invent a salad to go with tonight’s soup: mixed greens, radishes, corn, cherry tomato, grilled red onion and avocado. It was a good combination (and I got the pleasure of using the mandolin successfully on the radishes) but I didn’t like the dressing I made. I’m not sure if it’s because I mixed lime and vinegar or because I shouldn’t have used lime at all. But I quibble; it was deeply satisfying to watch the kids (who didn’t eat any salad when I started the blog) eat a salad which contained that many vegetables.

Every time I begin to question whether or not the blog is a worthwhile endeavor, something always pushes me to continue. Today it was the kids; I can’t help thinking that if I wasn’t paying quite so much attention to how I cook and what I cook, they wouldn’t be quite so interested themselves.

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Last night was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve ever spent in the kitchen because both kids helped me cook! Finn cut the bread & heated up the onion soup. Clementine cut & washed the broccoli, peeled & sliced the garlic, and cooked her pasta. All I had to do was cook the garlic broccoli. I was tired and didn’t want to cook and not having to do it alone made it all worthwhile.

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Making the Tortilla Soup tonight I followed the same technique I did last night: I read the recipe in advance to get the idea of the big picture and then only referred to it when I needed specific instructions. I noticed something interesting: the procedure for making the soup was very similar to the procedure for making the chicken indienne – brown the meat, sauté the vegetables, add the spices, add the liquid & seasonings, simmer. I’ve been cooking these dishes for years without ever noticing this.

I understand this is not an earth shattering observation. But it does confirm that the process of paying close attention while I cook in order to learn how to cook, is exactly the same thing that I’m doing at school by learning to “close read.” The close read theory is that by making simple observations of a text, a reader can learn to see how writers create prose. Close reading turns any book, essay, short story or poem into a teacher. The blog has become my “close read” of what’s in the pot. My kitchen is now a character in an ongoing dialogue about creativity.

I can already see, for example, how the discovery about the soup/indeinne will be helpful on the days I challenge myself to make up a recipe from ingredients I find at the store. With the technique in mind, I can experiment with vegetables, seasonings and flavorings and create my own dish. Thai coconut curry anyone? I can see it now: chicken, red peppers, green peppers, string beans, eggplant, cocoanut milk. Seasonings? I have no idea; I’ll have to look that up. But I do know how to make it: brown the chicken, sauté the vegetables, add the cocoanut milk, simmer. Nothing Unnatural about that, baby.

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So it’s official, I’m going to try to change my ways. A tiny bit. I’ve been undermined by my own blog.

When I started the blog I was sure that the easiest way to get the cooking done was not to think about it. I thought I had mastered a brilliant strategy for how to serve dinner every night even though I didn’t like to cook. Meal planning and following recipes were my battle tactics. Then, in the act of writing about it I discovered that, in fact, my way was not the easiest way – even for me. I learned that on the nights I didn’t need to follow a recipe, I was more relaxed.

At first this was a source of great concern because I am not comfortable with change. (Is anyone?) But in the end it seemed ridiculous to avoid being more relaxed. There’s just no justification for that. So  I am going to see if I can nudge myself to learn more about cooking without recipes. Here’s the plan (because there always has to be a plan, I haven’t changed that much….)

I’m going to leave one night a week open on the meal plan. When I do the shopping, I’m going to allow myself to be inspired by some ingredient in the store and create a meal around it (Which I will then put on the plan. Again, I haven’t changed that much). It’s sort of like my daughter’s challenge for me to make dinner from what was in the house, only, I’ll have a much better “pantry” to choose from. The crazy thing is, this actually sounds fun to me.

I realized while I was shopping today that my plan keeps me from paying attention to anything other than finding what’s on the list. It’s really a silly sort of way to go through life. As an homage to my former self I am going to post in the sidebar my Meal Plan 101. I’ve had it written for ages but for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to adding it. It will be a record, of how the unnatural cook got her start. I’m not going to stop meal planning, but maybe, over time, I can adapt it so that I’ll grow as cook. One day, far in the future, I may even attain natural cook status.

Tonight we had leftover tomato soup with garlic broccoli and french bread. I finally doctored the soup to my satisfaction! I did it poorly a couple of weeks ago – too tangy, no flavor – so I tried to correct that with what I had around. I added sugar, fresh basil, marjoram, hot pepper and extra cream. Being willing to do it wrong and keep trying is the secret to all success in life, why I thought cooking was different I have no idea.

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A new twist on leftover White Bean Soup. To stretch it I added chicken stock, then it seemed too thin so I added an extra can of white beans. It was a great way to make a small portion of soup feed four people. Served it with parmesan & hot sauce. John made salad & his famous garlic bread while I did the dishes which had breached the sink, overrun the counters and were suffocating the stove top.

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