Fix You by Coldplay
Soup. Warm, nurturing, comforting soup. Am I the only one whose thoughts turn to soup when a cold comes to call? Or when spirits are low? Or it's just plain gloomy outside and you need some inner warmth? It's soup today - using up some of that leftover holiday ham. I've paired it with Coldplay's deliciously comforting song - Fix You. This song kind of chokes me up in the way that it stirs our basic human need to care and be cared for. We all soar higher when we know there's someone holding that safety net for us - that proverbial "got your back" person. Or that "got you soup" person. Whether you're a "soup-er" or "soup-ee," you'll love this song and soup - to be enjoyed together, naturally!
I received an extraordinary book for Christmas this year from my good friend Lara. A book that could have saved me a few thousand dollars in tuition for culinary school!
Well, maybe not quite. How could I ever put a price on such an amazing experience and the acquaintance of so many wonderful people? I guess what I'm trying to say is that, if I had read that book a long time ago, maybe I wouldn't have had such a nightmare of a time in the kitchen for so, so long. Maybe my confidence would have been much higher because I would have known the basics. The fundamental building blocks of how to create food!
For those of you looking for a good launchpad to basic cooking knowledge and technique - and looking for a way to be more efficient in your cooking - I recommend "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks" by Kathleen Flinn. I cannot find a better word to describe what I wanted to be, culinarily speaking, than FEARLESS!
She talks about how cooking has become a lost art in our society and you follow her as she takes nine individuals from various backgrounds and proceeds to teach them the basics. And as you follow them, she teaches you as well!
I love that she saves soup for the very last lesson and chapter. Soup, while one of the most humble of meals, has mystified me. Being able to make good soup has eluded me most of my adult life. I was spoiled as a child for I grew up with amazing soup and I took it for granted - tossing it down my gullet with a casual air. My father made the absolute best soup on the planet. There is no room for argument here. It's fact. We called it Sunday Super Soup.
We would get home from church Sunday evenings and we'd all go and get on our pajamas. Dad would go straight to the refrigerator and start pulling out containers of leftovers from the week. Soon savory aromas would come floating up to us upstairs in our bedrooms, letting us know dinner was on it's way.
It was always a surprise. It was never the same. It was always delicious.
I came away naively thinking that all you had to do is open containers of leftovers and chuck them all together in the pot. Sadly - no. There is a process to making good soup. It's not difficult. It boils down to basic knowledge. The things that my father knew and did "behind the scenes" that it took me three decades to figure out.
My father always made stock and bottled it so it would be on hand when he needed it - like on Sunday nights. Stock is a must for any pantry. All sorts of stock - vegetable, beef, chicken, seafood. So many things get off to the best of beginnings with stock. It takes little effort to make but maybe a little time as it simmers. But, hey, I went and saw Les Miserables - for the second time - while mine was cooking away!
Dad knew the beginning of soup usually involved a saute of some carrots, celery, and onions - known in the culinary world as "mirepoix." This forms the flavor base and you can build from there.
Mostly, my father had an instinct for flavor profiles - an innate ability to know just what would go with what. I am developing that as I practice and experiment. I consult "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg in the meantime to help me out.
So - after reading Kathleen Flinn's book and making some resolutions to be more efficient in my own kitchen and reduce waste - I made my own ham stock (insert applause and great hurrah's here) and composed this tasty White Bean and Ham Soup. I didn't have fresh thyme on hand so I used some dried herbs de provence and it was a lovely substitution! I encourage you all to give it a try!
But, before you begin cooking, I have a brief bit of blog business to take care of. While making my New Year's Resolutions, it became clear to me that I needed to spend more time on some personal goals. To do this, sadly, I will need to cut back on how often I post, thereby freeing up some much needed time. This was a difficult decision to make as I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blogging about food and music venture and visiting with you all! It is so fulfilling and has become such a big part of my life. But I must be smart about things, right? Moderation in all things - having a balance in life - and all such common sense talk. So, for a little while, I will only be posting once a week - on Thursdays. Promise you'll keep stopping by!
Now - go make some soup - - - please!
White Bean and Ham Soup
1 lb. white beans, such as Great Northern
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 T. herbs de provence or fresh thyme
1 qt. *ham stock (or vegetable or chicken stock)
1 qt. water
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cups ham, chopped
Place the beans in a bowl and cover with 6 quarts of water and let soak over night and then drain. OR (if you forgot) - place the beans in a large stock pot with the water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and let soak for an hour. Drain then proceed.
In a pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions and celery until translucent - about 3 - 5 minutes. Add the herbs de provence or fresh thyme and saute a minute more to bloom the herbs. Do NOT add salt yet as it will hinder the ability of the beans to become tender. Add the drained beans and the stock and fresh water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Add the ham and carrots and simmer another half hour until the carrots are just fork tender. Season with salt to taste and serve.
*To make ham stock, I simply carved all the meat off my Christmas ham and saved the bone. To a large stock pot I added the bone, some celery stalks, some onion chunks, and some carrots. I also added some parsley stems and juniper berries. I added enough cold water to cover it all by an inch or two. I brought it to a boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer. I simmered it, uncovered, for about 5 - 6 hours. I put it through a strainer to remove the used up solids, which I discarded as all flavor had been coaxed out into the liquid. The liquid was now known as stock! I used half of it to make this soup and froze the other quart for another time. You can also do this using a ham hock from the meat case at the grocery store. Try it! You'll feel like such a culinary genius!