The era of skinny wallets is demanding many of us cook alone at home. I do, and because of that thin wallet and my fat middle, I stir up slimming stews and soups. My style of cooking is sort of … ummm…creative. The end product depends upon what is, and is not, in the refrigerator or cupboard.
Soup was my latest failure, and success. I cannot name this creation because I don’t know exactly what it became. Here’s the recipe, as I recall.
I had a hankering for potato and leek soup, a vichyssoise, you know, and I was well stocked with leeks, onions and potatoes. I boiled a pot of not too much water and into it I plopped some Ox Bow chicken bouillon cubes and added quartered Yukon gold potatoes which had their skins hacked off with my old Opinel (French folding knife with a wooden handle. They are made with a metal that rusts easily but can also be sharpened to the quick. I bought it in Chamonix 25 years ago). Also I dumped in a quartered yellow onion and two fat leeks, which, after I cut them up, reminded me of toy white wheels. I shook in Costco’s multiple seasoning, something like Dash, too much Oregano and the last of dried basil. Ground pepper of course. The soup looked so bland in the pot, just before it bubbled, that, rashly, I threw in the last of the Portobello mushrooms that were on sale for $2.99. Maybe I should raise mushrooms for surely there is more return in that endeavor than photography.
After the leeks and potatoes were soft and mushy, I poured them into the blender, flailed the bejimmies out of it, and dumped it back in the pot.
Tasted it. Awful. It looked awful too. So back into the fridge I went and pulled out a green bell pepper, cut it to smithereens and put that in the pot. Taste and color was still flat. I had a packet of achiote and cilantro that is a very good seasoning and distributed by Goya, the Spanish company. I tore open two packets and emptied them into the soup and stirred. The soup was now the color of powdered ferricyanide, or spring thaw road mud tinctured by a vein of leaking iron deposits. More oregano and salt, which I try to use sparingly.
The taste improved but it was still on the blah side. I added spring onions, some smashed garlic, sliced wilted celery which had been in a large glass in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. The soup was up a step in taste but thin and watery. I added cornstarch. Geezus! I thought it was cornmeal! It turned the soup into sludge. Now what? I was a little desperate; on the counter where I massacred the vegetables was a jumble of macerated skins that had the look of the detritus from a autopsy performed by an absent minded scalpel wielder.
The soup was a failure? Where oh where did the vichyoisse disappear? So I added a can of Goya Canelloni beans, to give it some heft, poured in a half cup of water and watched it almost boil. It still had a lackluster taste and sheen. I had one lemon. I reamed out the liquid with a wooden bore that looked like a small version of what Lisbeth Salander used to get back at her rapist in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I messed with it using a wooden spoon I bought a few weeks before and tasted it. Better but it still looked like it was crying for help as it contemplated suicide.
I found in the cupboard a large can of plum tomatoes that I bought at Shaw’s, the supermarket I love to hate for its sneaky pricing. I dumped the tomatoes and sauce into a larger pot, let it boil shaking mad and then put it on simmer and used a potato masher to flatten it out. I was squirted in the face with hot tomato sauce. No matter. It was a desperate time.
I dumped the original concoction into the pot with the tomatoes (there wasn’t enough space in the first pot). The color improved to a light burgundy color and the taste? Hmm, passable, as one of A J. Liebling’s girl friends once described the sexual activity of a partner.
I turned off the stove. I threw in some fresh oregano and rosemary that I stripped from the two pots I moved off the deck this past fall, just before the first freeze.
My kitchen is very cold at night as I turn off the heat; propane went up from $1.38 last year to $2.56 a gallon. Those bastards in New York and Texas are still manipulating the futures. So for economy sake, my kitchen, during the night, serves as a cool root cellar and I left the soup on the stove and went to bed. The kitchen looked like a battlefield.
The next morning I checked the outside temperature, which was hovering at 2 degrees. The kitchen was at 50 degrees. I turned up the propane heater and tasted the cold soup. To my surprise, it was not bad.
My assistant Kyle, who is always broke and undernourished, came up and tasted a wooden spoonful. Then he ladled out a bowl, put it in the nuker for a quick zap and slurped it down.
“Peter,” he said, “I think that is the best soup you have ever made!” He calls me a gonzo cook.
“It’s a tomato soup?”
Don’t write for the secret ingredients or what portions to use. I didn’t mention the unmentionables hidden under the surface and what do you mean by portions?