Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Home Cooking

I like to cook. That doesn’t mean I like to cook every single night or that every meal I prepare brings me great joy.

No, there are nights when cooking infuriates me. There are meals that miss the mark – sometimes broadly and sometimes narrowly. There are times when I fall into a cooking rut and prepare the same five or six dishes over and over until I can’t stand the thought of any of them.

There are also times when cooking gives me immense satisfaction, and I walk away from the table feeling satisfied in body and soul. Last night was such a night.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a particularly skilled cook. I’m in the vast middle ground talent-wise, and my repertoire is pretty limited. But, I enjoy the act of cooking, and E boosts my confidence with her (wisely considered) praise.

Something I take small pride in is the ability to improvise. When you hit the kitchen after a long day at work, it’s useful to be able to look at what’s in the fridge and forge the contents into something tasty.

I had soup on my mind, but my failure to locate a ham bone derailed my dreams of bean soup. This is where the improvisation starts.

A roadmap to soup:


What better way to get started than bacon? I had two lonely strips of thick-cut bacon in need of a home. I diced them and dropped them into a medium soup pot over medium heat. When they were brown and crispy I removed the bits with a slotted spoon.

Quite a few soup recipes start with a foundation of sautéed vegetables to form a base of flavor. The French call it a mirepoix. Latinos or Italians might call it a soffritto. I call it whatever I have in the fridge: a couple stalks of celery, two small carrots, half a red onion, part of a red pepper and a couple cloves of garlic. I diced everything (the garlic very finely) and sautéed the mix in the bacon drippings.


I would have loved to use chicken broth, but I had none. I’ve sworn off canned broth, so that leaves water. I warmed up four cups in the microwave. When the vegetables were softened and aromatic, I added the water along with a couple bay leaves.


Now it was time to give my soup some body. I still had beans on my mind, so I added a can of white beans, drained and rinsed. I needed something to thicken things up, and I had some potatoes that were also in need of using. I peeled and diced the potatoes into half-inch pieces.

I simmered the soup for about 20 minutes, partly covered. While it was simmering, I gave some thought to the seasoning. Since I used water instead of broth, I was concerned it wouldn’t have the deep flavor I wanted (and I cursed not being about to find a ham bone again).

What I did have was some country ham trimmings from Four Oaks Farm. I pan fried and chopped the trimmings so I had about a quarter cup. Into the pot they went.

Once the potato was nice and soft, I removed the pot from the stove and gave the contents a thrashing with a potato masher. I wanted to thicken the soup while still leaving some small bits of potato. It needed a dash of salt and some ground pepper.


To add a little more depth of flavor, I added a handful (1/3 cup?) of grated parmesan cheese. The final touch was a dash of hot sauce.

Perfection in a bowl.

This is hardly a recipe. I may have left out a step or an ingredient, because as usual I wasn't taking notes.

The moral of the story is that you can follow some basic guidelines and create some really good food from whatever you have at hand.

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