I really love making soup. LOVE it. It is easy, makes your whole house smell like a good place to be, and it is pretty hard to screw it up. Winter is one of my favorite times of the year to make soup because there are so many tasty root and bulb vegetables in season. Also, there is the cold. So, since our local grocery had some pretty sexy looking cauliflower and parsnips, I decided to make Cream of Cauliflower and Parsnip soup.

I don’t really use recipes when I make soups so much as a suggested ingredient list. First, when I make cream-based soups with pureed vegetables, I find that you really don’t need that much cream at all. Basically, I used a stick of butter, 3 small bulbs of shallots, one medium onion, three leeks, a good-sized head of cauliflower, about a pound of parsnips, 4 cups of chicken stock, fresh bay leaves, fresh thyme, about a cup of cream, some grated parm/reg, a pinch of powdered dried chipotle (because the parsnips are pretty sweet) and salt and pepper to taste. I use both ground black and white pepper when making soups.

Chop all your veg.

Mis - soup

Make sure to soak the chopped leeks in water rather than just rinse them. They are dirty, dirty veg.

Dirty, Sexy Leeks

Sweat the onion and shallots in a dutch over or big pot over med-low heat in the butter. Yes the whole stick. Don’t be such a pansy. Add the fresh herbs and S&P. Add the leek, re-season, put the lid on and let the veg soften completely. Add the stock, bring it up to boiling, add the cauli and parsnips, re-season, turn the heat down to low, put the lid on, and go do something else for a while. I folded laundry and drank some wine. Okay, and ate some chocolate.

Almost Soup

When the veg are COMPLETELY soft, turn off the heat. Puree in blender or food pro in small batches and put pureed portions in a separate bowl. Now PAY ATTENTION here unless you want to burn the living shit out of yourself and spend 47 minutes cleaning crap off of your ceiling. When you put hot substances into a blender, DO NOT PUSH THE LID ON. Catch that? Because the heat plus the motion of the blades will blow the top off of your blender unless you have it vented somehow. And no, it is NOT a good idea to just remove the oil cap. Instead, carefully place the lid on the top of the blender without smooshing it down and hold it in place. You can even drape a dish cloth over the top – just make sure to hold the lid in place because it WILL push up. Also, do not ever fill the blender vessel more than 1/3-ish.

When you are done with this and/or have tended to all your burns, return the whole pureed lot back to the original pot. Add your cream SLOWLY. Then your powdered chile and cheese, taste and re-season as needed. I sometimes add a couple of slices of crumbled bacon. Keep over low ’til you are ready to eat it.

Cream of Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup. And Maybe Some Bacon.

We had this with some totally old-school BLTs.


Can You Spare Some Barm?

Hola people.  The leaves are beginning to change color, the temperatures are starting to drop, and I think it is safe to say that autumn has made her way down here.  Well, as much as we get that favored season down here. I don’t know about you, but as soon as our heater kicks on for the first time, I inevitably start thinking about bread.  Warm fresh bread and the whole house smelling of homey yeasty goodness.  Last year, I embarked on a sourdough journey, and cultivated a seed starter, which sadly did not make it through the summer.  

For those even newer to the world of sourdough than I, here is a quick and dirty primer on sourdough home-baking.  First, sourdough, unlike most other yeast breads, uses what is called a starter.  The starter is essentially a living creature – a baby made of flour and water (and sometimes other things, depending on your inclinations as a parent), that feeds, ferments, and grows.  Some people will jumpstart a starter by adding commercial yeast.  However, most sourdough folks prefer the wild yeast method, whereby you put out some flour mixed with water (and perhaps some honey, or molasses) and this mess will attract wild yeast spores.  Yes, believe it or not, there is wild yeast floating around in the air.  And it differs from location to location.  One of the reasons San Francisco sourdough is so prized is that San Fran is viewed as having “special” local wild yeast.  

So, your flour and water mess will collect wild yeast.  The starch in your flour will also attract lactobacilli, a good bacteria. Just a note, a starter won’t typically attract undesirable bacteria due to the fact that the starch in flour is a little hard for most bacteria to handle.  Over the course of a few days or weeks (depending on the method you use), will “grow” as you feed it additional flour and water, and will produce carbon dioxide, in addition to alcohols and lactic acid that will ward off “bad” bacteria.  When you feed your starter, you will also divide it and toss some.  Eventually, however, you have something that is ready to be used to make actual bread.

There are all sorts of crazy feeding schedules and rules out there, so you can get as mystic or as simple as you want in your quest to birth the perfect starter.  Some methods in involve a seed, then barm, then starter method, that I think of as a 3-step method, which is the method I have been working with.  Trust me when I say I could have chosen far more complicated methods.  Basically, you mix the flour and water and wait for the yeast to come – at this point, you have your “seed.”  You feed and reduce on schedule for the next few days, checking to see how much the seed rises in between.  When your seed triples in under 12 hours (again, this is according to just one of countless methods), then you have achieved “barm” state.  Barm is what hangs out in your fridge, scary off visitors and family alike. You can feed your barm or not; it basically “sleeps” while in the fridge.   When you want to make bread, you scoop out some barm (much harder than it sounds, since barm basically has the consistency of a 3 year old’s snot), let it get to room temp and away you go.  Barm can last for years – many many years – as long as it doesn’t get contaminated.  Like mine did. So…     

Are there any other sourdough bakers out there?  Anyone local who might have a cup of barm to spare?


Sourdough Baguettes

Sourdough Baguettes