Hanging out at the Dairy

Hanging out at the Dairy
Darci(far left) & the Wrights at the Creamery

Monday, March 21, 2011

Soups on!

Soups on! The recent weather has been rather "wet" shall we say here in Sequim! I've been lucky enough to get a bad cold twice in the last 3 months and so it is DEFINITELY time for some soups to kick me over into the realm of feeling healthy-er again! I lost my voice, so I might as well cook!  Lucky are the Ulin men...they don't have to listen to me AND they get some nice meals!   Double bonus!

 I like to make my own stock when time allows. After watching lots of Food Channel, helping chefs with their classes at Sur La Table kitchen store in Kirkland and consulting various cooking magazines(see "I'm inspired by..." section in my blog), I now season and roast my meats prior to making a stock.I try to get these from Sunny Farms Natural or Organic Meats, ask the knowledgeable butchers there or at your local meat purveyor. Add sea or kosher salt, pepper, bay leaves, herbs, chopped garlic and onion and the like. This process adds a richer and deeper taste to the stock...if you are going to the process of making your own stock, go big or go home!  It's literally taking a large baking pan, adding the meats, add seasoning and pop into a 400 degree pre-heated oven and baking for about 15 minutes.
The second tip/trick I pickup up along the culinary trail is saving the ends, peals and bits of veggies and freezing them in a gallon Ziploc in my freezer. The "regulars" in the bag are carrot ends/peals, onion ends/skins, celery stalk ends and middles. Any veggies will do as will an occasional squeezed lemon or lime. This soon to be loveliness gets created in a large 5 gallon, heavy bottomed stock pot. In go my frozen veggie bit, a few more bay leaves, at least 4 large garlic cloves, a dozen or so whole peppercorns, a tablespoon of ground or whole cumin, a slice of fresh ginger if you have it, and a little over a teaspoon of salt.   The roasted meats are added and water is added to cover if possible but leaving about 2+ inches at the top for the rolling boil.  Place your pot on medium on medium high (uncovered) and about 1-2 hours later, we strain. I do occasionally add more water along the way if I the stock gets below half-way.

I have started making 3 soups today; Split pea with Smoked Ham Hock, Vegetable Beef and French Onion.  I'm starting with a roasted chick and pork carcass stock and then will add the roasted beef to the stock to finish the French Onion component.
To the left are the chopped leeks, celery, cabbage, Anaheim chilies, and carrots for the Vegetable beef soup. I sauteed these for 10 or so minutes. This is a crock pot soup, into my crock pot goes 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes and a 16 oz can of mild Enchilada sauce. The stock is strained and the stew meat sauteed briefly in a skillet on high heat with salt, pepper, and a dash of olive oil. Everyone into the pot! 2-3 hours later...you can dollop with some sour cream and some fresh chives from the garden. My guys also like some sort of "hot sauce" to give it a kick! One down, two to go...
Now for the Split Pea with Smoked Ham Hock! Butchers often sell Smoked Ham Hocks in the frozen or fresh displays. The "Smoked" adds another layer of flavor I find particularly pleasing. I am using my 5 qt. pressure cooker for this soup but that's because I've forgotten to soak the dried split peas ahead of time  and I'm craving this soup for tonight if not sooner. Into the hot stock pot I put a few slices of fresh ginger, 3 or so garlic toes (apparently hiding under the ham in this pic), a dash of olive oil and the star--the Smoked Ham Hock! Sear on all sides of the ham and turn the garlic and ginger too. This takes about 8 minutes.

While the ham is searing, I chopped more celery, carrots, smoked bacon, fresh fennel and leeks. Those were sauteed with some olive oil as well on high heat for about 5 minutes and added to the ham hock in the pressure cooker. To this base, 3 cups of dried spilt peas, approx 4 cups of stock and 2 cups water were added to cover ingredients but leaving a 4 inch buffer for steam. The deal with the pressure cookers is they need room for the steam to work their magic, significantly reduce cooking time and are energy efficient. Once the lid is securely in place, the steam is captured and the pressure builds. **IMPORTANT NOTE** The burner heat then needs to be reduced to medium low as to not burn the contents! A lesson sadly learned the hard way if not headed.  This soup takes about 20 minutes to finish if the beans have a little "tooth" or density to them or 30 if a creamier consistency is desired. The ham hock is removed from the stock pot and the ham bits added back to the soup. I like to top my soup with a spoon of sour cream, a crack or two of fresh ground pepper and some lemon zest for a burst of freshness.

Now for the finale, the French Onion Soup!  The beef bones have been roasted with garlic, salt, pepper, fennel and onion (reference top right photo leading this post) are added to the strained chicken/pork stock and another quart of water added to the uncovered stock pot. This is on medium high heat for approximately an hour with 5 garlic cloves, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a chunk of fennel (also used in the split pea soup) and a tablespoon of dried rosemary or 2 stalks of fresh if available, then strained. 
While the beef stock is cooking away, I cut in half, then finely sliced 5 yellow onions and caramelized them on medium-low heat in a skillet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. The point of caramelizing is to soften the onion's bite and replace it with it's natural sugars brought out by this cooking process. We want to cook slow enough not to brown but to become translucent, then caramelize. The caramelized onions are placed in a bowl, the skillet they were caramelizing in is now deglazed with some beef stock. The deglazing process gets all the lovely bits, or "fond", off the bottom of the skillet  and adds flavorful bits into the deglazing liquid.  Dump this back into to stockpot, add the onions and simmer for 20 minutes or so to marry the flavors, overnight is even better. The traditional topping is a toasted slice of bread with some grated Gruyere cheese and hit with the broiler for a oozy, gooey mess of melted cheese. At Chez Ulin, we often just shave some Parmesan cheese on top or my hubby puts his favorite"Tiger" hot sauce in it for a spike of vinegary, sweet medium heat.  

Soup is good for the soul, can be as easy or simple as you want to make it. Skip the homemade stock if you want and open a box of the stocks now readily available at Costco or other grocers. I like to make it when I have time as it fills my house with the smell of comfort food. This time of year, especially when you're under the weather, soup hits the spot! Here's to the 1st day of Spring and a votre' sante'...to your health!

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