Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Soup Night and Chicken Stock

We have a fall tradition around here that has been going on for 9 years now. Every fall, we open our kitchen for Soup Night. It started nine years ago, a weekly gathering, as a way to stay connected to our friends and family. Not much has changed over the years except last year we went from weekly gatherings to monthly gatherings. People get busy and it seemed once a month was enough for everyone.

I always make two kinds of gluten-free soup, a vegan or vegetarian friendly soup and usually a meat or fish based soup. We invite anyone who wants to join us for an open house style evening, the first Tuesday of each month. Friends, friends of friends, family and strangers, all are welcome. Generally about 20 people show up to enjoy soup, bread and chocolate chip cookies. It is simple, nothing fancy, plastic spoons, paper plates and napkins.

I have collected soup recipes over the years, even putting together a self published collection of my soups to celebrate our fifth year, souvenirs for our followers. Of course I enjoy trying new recipes but it seems everyone has their favorites and I get the same requests over and over, Spinach Curry, Black Bean, Cheddar Corn Chowder are among the most popular. I cut some corners, usually using a base for broth but recently I have been hoarding chicken carcasses and vegetable peelings and cuttings from celery, onions, carrots and parsley. Today I had enough to make homemade stock. I can't actually say I appreciate the difference in quality, I am not sure my palate is discerning enough for that but I am thrifty and I do like using every morsel of food possible. So the idea of saving bones and bits and pieces of what would otherwise be wasted vegetables really appeals to me! I am so enamored by this that ideally I would like to save 6 months worth of waste, make stock and then can it. It is time consuming however, at least three quarters of day to put up stock.

I started with bones from three chickens that I had frozen and a large bag of large chopped pieces of carrots, celery, onions and parsley. No specific measurements here. I put all of this into a large roasting pan and roasted everything at 400 degrees for two hours. I transfered the roasted bones and vegetables to a large stock pot and added enough cold water to cover and heated the stock to just below a boil, about 190 -200 degrees and let is simmer for 6 hours. I did not stir, I did not add salt or pepper and I did not let it boil! I waited and I waited, watching the stock reduce and turn a rich rich golden color. After straining the stock it went into the fridge where it will sit overnight and in the morning I will skim the solidified fat off the stock and then freeze it. This is my third time making chicken stock and I am hoping for a very thick, gelatinous stock full of cartilage-building proteins! If all goes well, and I expect it will, I will have a wonderful stock for my famous Cheddar Corn Chowder which I am making for the season opener of soup night next Tuesday. Cheddar Corn Chowder is also Tina's favorite soup! It is a great early fall classic when sweet corn is at its peak!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrating Sukkot

We have been invited to celebrate Sukkot! Twice over! I didn’t come by the invitations honestly, I bribed, on facebook, with gifts. I am sure the invitations had nothing to do with my bribe, but I wanted to be sure we would have a place in a Sukkah. Tina and I are lucky; wonderful friends surround us! We are blessed with a culturally diverse group of friends that bring tremendous ritual into our lives. Our friends Mara and Miryam have taken us into their circle of feisty, smart, observant lesbian Jews, sharing one Jewish holiday after another with us. Sukkot is one of the more festive holidays! If you know me, you know I love fall, I love the season of harvesting, and putting food by, canning and preserving the season, the cooler weather, and bonfires . . . the list is endless. So the idea of a holiday that celebrates the fall, that has its roots in agriculture, a thanksgiving of sorts, pleases me to no end.

I am riveted by the Jewish faith, especially the rituals that surround the holidays. We were invited to our first Passover this past year. I studied for days before hand so I could follow the prayers and understand the symbols and even offer some ideas of my own about the Seder plate. I found a kosher wine expert in Illinois and arrived with two really nice bottles of kosher for Passover wine for our hosts and a bottle of kosher grape juice for myself. I didn’t want to be left out of any part of the evening. So of course I am preparing for my first Sukkot during which I will be invited to spend an evening in a sukkah.

During the seven days of Sukkot, Jewish households leave their solid dwellings and spend time in porous, fragile huts, a physical reminder of their vulnerability and dependence on God for gifts of shelter, food, warmth and protections. The sukkah’s religious function is to commemorate the temporary structures that the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt, but it is also about the universal ideas of transience and permanence as expressed in archatecture. The sukkah is a means of ceremonially practicing homelessness, while at the same time remaining deeply rooted. It calls on us to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, to reconnect with an agricultural past and to take a moment to dwell on and dwell in impermanence. Most Jews, who put up a Sukkah, will spend as much time as possible in the temporary dwelling, taking their meals and even sleeping in the Sukkah if they choose.

In celebration of the holiday, in keeping with the spirit of harvesting and thanksgiving I have put together gifts of my own harvest for my hosts, tomatoes that I have canned, roasted and stewed, fire roasted red peppers, homemade applesauce, fig chutney and Tina’s famous caramel sauce. I am looking forward to spending Thursday morning at a local synagogue, participating in the prayers and service of the first day of Sukkot and then spending the second evening with our friends Mara and Miryam having dinner in their sukkah. Later next week, toward the end of the seven-day holiday we will spend another evening celebrating with our friends Sam and Darla. It is pure joy for me to participate in these intimate, spiritual and family gatherings and celebrations.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lemongrass Paste, Tempeh and Tofu

There is something oh so comforting about a life long friend, they fit like a favorite pair of old shoes and you never want to give them up. That's how I feel about my friend Helen, one of my oldest and most treasured friends. She and her partner moved away about four years ago and while I don't like the physical distance one bit, our friendship has more than sustained the distance. We have know each other since grade school, struggled with some of life's most difficult challenges together, like the death of our mother's which occurred within 6 months of each other, coming out and a few other remarkable events. When Helen and her partner come into town I pull out all the stops, no matter how busy. Helen is a vegan, Sarah does not eat sugar, I am gluten free and Tina, well Tina is a meat and potato kind of gal. Needless to say, I have my hands full to meet all of our needs but I love the planning, the challenge and most of all visiting over a great meal.

My foray into tofu continues and this time I experimented with some tempeh. The menu included kabobs marinated in lemongrass paste, including tofu, tempeh and beef, grilled bok Choy with a peanut sauce, grilled polenta with sweet red pepper and onion wedges and Tina made Apple Crisp that we all could enjoy! It was festive, colorful and tasty.

Lemongrass paste is a wonderful paste for grilling, adding an asian flair to meats, tofu or tempeh. It works on just about anything lamb, shrimp, pork, beef and of course tofu or tempeh. I smeared the lemongrass paste over everything that was going on my kabob skewers, vegetables included, the night before grilling. I especially wanted the tofu to have a chance to absorb the paste.

Lemongrass Paste

2 stalks lemongrass (I use 4)
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Cut off and discard the dried grasslike top half of the lemongrass. Trim the base of the bulb and then remove and discard the tough outer leaves. Using only the white and light green parts, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut crosswise to mince finely.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients. I use an emulsion blender. Use immediately, or transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for three days or freeze for 2 months. Smear paste on what ever you want to grill, let it sit for a few hours or overnight and then grill.