Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
A Tale of Two Dinners - Apple-Onion Cream Soup
Hub: (spoken with air of feigned total innocence staring at computer screen) "So, Dub! What are we going to do for dinner tonight?".
Sproing! Out pop devil horns and tail which both ignore.
Dub: (pretending not to be annoyed) "Well, I was planning on fixing fill-in-name-of-perfectly-legitimate-idea-for-dinner".
Foot begins to tap, halo is slightly polished by not completely squelched sigh.
Hub: (still staring intently at computer screen) "Really?"
Dub: (tensing slightly) "You don't feel like PerfectlyLegitimateIdea tonight?". "I could fix fill-in-name-of-option-two instead".
more silence except for more pointing and clicking
Dub turns away from computer and faces Hub in his chair.
Dub: "Hub?" "You prefer not to have either of the two (perfectly legitimate!) dishes tonight?" "Did you have something else specific in mind?".
clicking, clicking, clicking....
Hub: "I could.......(interminable pause)....go get something".
clicking, clicking, more clicking
Dub: (fake lightness of tone) "Take out? What did you have in mind? Anything specific?".
Long pause while Dub first pictures herself beating her head on the desk then stands to go look in pantry and refrigerator on off chance food replacement elves have broken into the kitchen and brought miracle ingredient that will result in immediate availability of delicious and appealing dinner for Hub and Dub.
Fast forward 45 to 75 minutes when we find Hub and Dub eating Jack in the Box tacos behind locked doors with all shades drawn. And ENJOYING them, too.
This little scenario plays itself out in variations at least once a month. There is nothing wrong with it really, everybody gets bored with familiar home cooked meals from time to time and there are simply those evenings when nothing sounds good. I totally get that.
The trick is to avoid treating it like a big deal or a moral failing. I get testy because I have a tendency to take it personally when anybody does not like something I have cooked. This is not helpful on my part, we all like what we like. I am in a position of control over what we eat around here because I do the food shopping and the meal preparation for the most part. If I like it we tend to have lots of it on hand. If I do not, then guess what - probably not going to find that in our pantry or refrigerator.
The same can be said for most households. The shopper/chef controls the ingredient flow for the most part. And as I wouldn't want to have to rely on somebody else trying to guess what I'd like night to night for dinner so if they asked me what I wanted and I honestly told them what I did - or more importantly here - did not - want to eat, I would hope that could take place in a "no future recriminations" setting. And on a good day, that is how it works here.
Which is why I had to kick myself last night because when I finally did prepare two dishes I had offered up on nights previous that had been set aside due to a lack of enthusiasm on Hub's part which he turned out to like very much indeed, I could not resist a bit of "told ya so"ing. Just. Could. Not.
The centerpiece of our ToldYaSo dinner last night was an Apple-Onion Cream Soup. This recipe was a gift, shared online in an enewsletter by the friendly folks at Knopf publishing as a hook for Anne Mendelson's newest, "Milk". Quoting from the newsletter: "this month, Knopf celebrates the publication of Milk. Part cookbook—with more than 120 enticing recipes—part culinary history, part inquiry into the evolution of an industry, Milk is a one-of-a-kind book that will forever change the way we think about dairy products."
And maybe it did - change the way they think about dairy I mean - but in this house it changed forever the way my Hub thinks about Apple-Onion Cream Soup. If I offered it to him for dinner now he has had a bowl? I'd find him with napkin in one hand and spoon in the other, wanting only to know "how long until it's ready?".
I only made a half-batch as Hub's dubious initial response to the idea led me to believe it would be better to like it and have none of this rich soup left over than to have too much of it sitting around for me to devour for lunch for 3 days running.
Apple-Onion Cream Soup
Cream soups are best when they have something more than creaminess going for them. A good cold-weather example is this robust sweet-tart combination of apples—use a good local fall variety in season—and onions with some crisp bacon for counterpoint. It's best when made with a strong, full-flavored beef broth.
4 to 6 thick slices of bacon, coarsely diced
3 to 4 tart, juicy apples, pared, quartered, cored, and coarsely diced
4 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, coarsely diced
3 cups good beef broth, or as needed
6 to 8 whole allspice berries, lightly bruised
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
A dash of lemon juice (optional)
1 teaspoon carraway seeds, lightly bruised (optional)
1. Cook the bacon slowly in a heavy skillet to render out all the fat. When it is crisp, scoop it out of the fat and drain on paper towels.
2. Sauté the diced apples over medium heat in the same skillet,stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Scoop out a few spoonfuls of the apples for garnish and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. When it foams and sizzles, add the chopped onions and sauté very patiently over low heat,stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are well softened and starting to brown. Scoop out a few spoonfuls for garnish and set aside with the reserved apples.
4. Add the rest of the apples to the onions,pour in the broth, add the allspice, and simmer until everything is nearly dissolved, 10 to 15 minutes. Fish out and discard the allspice.
5. Pureé the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, making sure to leave the texture slightly coarse.
6. Return the soup to the pot, heat to a boil, and stir in the cream. Let it come to a boil again, add the salt and a grinding of pepper, and taste for seasoning; if it seems too bland, squeeze in a little lemon juice. If it is too thick for your taste, thin it with some hot water.
7. Serve garnished with the reserved bacon, apple, and onion. I like a scattering of carraway seed as well.
YIELD: 8 to 9 cups
This soup could be renamed "Fall in a Bowl". Rich, sweet and savory in good balance, warmly satisfying. It would certainly hold up to the addition of a nice bit of Italian sausage or Chorizo if you wanted to serve it as an entreé. I did add in a bit of lemon juice for an acidic note as suggested, and I am thinking a ploosh of basalmic vinegar or sherry vinegar either one would also serve.
Here is the recipe as run without photos in case you'd like a printable copy. I pretty much only divided everything in half with wonderful results. I did not reserve apple or onion for garnish as I was only making a half batch. I tossed my allspice berries in a little yellow bouquet garni thing-ama-jigger as you see in the photos because if I missed one you can guarantee Hub would get it and somehow that would mean Dub is a Big Loser. Even if he didn't care.
I used two Honeycrisp apples which wouldn't qualify as "tart", but the soup was delicious nonetheless. I believe this is a bit like cooking with wine. I always read you should not cook with a wine you would not drink. I felt the same about the apples here. I had organic honeycrisps on hand, I find them to epitomize for me what I like about apples, so I used them in this soup. You fix this and want to be a tarty purist, you go ahead. I pinky swear not to criticize.I also offered a bit of wild caught cod that I lightly coated with a fresh herb and pulverized stuffing crumb mixture and baked at 350 for around 25 minutes. Drizzled a bit of butter on top and hey presto - we had quite a feast for our dinner.
Were these the precise dishes I had offered as dinner options on the "Night Nothing Sounded Good"?. Yes, yes they were. Did the Hub enjoy them last night for dinner? Yes, yes he did. Do I feel at all smug about that? Really, no. If I had managed to avoid pointing out to him (ahem! twice!) that these were precisely the options he had shunted aside in favor of take-out I would feel smugly justified. As it is, I am trying to figure out how it is I can ask him what he wants for dinner and then be annoyed when he answers me honestly.
Onward! Do try this soup - either before or after engaging in your own version of a "what's for dinner" script. Apple-Onion Cream Soup is easy to fix, delicious, and a gentle reminder of everything there is to love about this time of year.