Monday, March 22, 2010

The Soup Trail

I think it's obvious by now to anyone that knows me (or just reads my blog regularly) that I enjoy food projects that require an investment of time. The range is wide from fermentation to fruitcakes.

My crock pot has been the absolute best thing to ever happen to my slow cooking fetish. I took the whole process to new personal heights this past week by making a soup that, from start to finish, took about a week to prepare.

It's common knowledge that you can boil scraps and make stock. I usually fall back on the premade stuff because there are some excellent options out there. The Better Than Bouillon brand is a pantry staple. One of my Tuesday knitters at work (Ilene) told me that I was really losing out on a great opportunity to make my own by not saving veggie scraps. She told me she saves everything from onion skins to apple cores in a small container in the freezer and cooks it down in her crock pot. I have a small canvas bag that has been designated for the job of holding scraps in the freezer now. I chop but I don't chop that much stuff so it took me about 2 weeks or so to fill it up. Maybe it was overkill but I was pretty excited when I finally had what I thought was enough to make into stock.

I had a little bit of everything in here from half of a lime to eggplant remains. Ileane had instructed me to fill the pot up with water but not enough to completely cover the scraps. I added some peppercorns and a few bay leaves and set it to simmer overnight.

My house smelled great the next morning so I was pleased! I filled the crock pot up with some more water and allowed it to simmer and reduce for the rest of the day. I strained the liquid that evening and tossed the scraps. I figured that it had cost me very little to attempt to make this stock so I would try my best not to be let down if it didn't work out. I tasted some of the stock and it was quite flavorful! Unfortunately, it also had a level of bitterness that was not going to work out in my favor if I were to serve it to someone. I thought about it for a while and decided to let it cook a bit longer. I added the only potato I had in large chunks (to hopefully absorb some of the bitterness), a good sprinkling of sugar and some more peppercorns and bay leaves. I decided to try to steer the flavor towards the southwest so I added two small cans of tomato sauce the following morning and hoped that this would be a solid foundation on which to build a tortilla soup.

When I got home that afternoon, the soup had a lovely color and along with texture more velvety than Barry White. I added some smoked paprika, a bit of barbeque sauce, cumin and sea salt and I gave it another day.

I knew it was going to need some sort of a meaty texture. I weighed the option of tofu but I decided to use the pack of oyster shrooms I had in the fridge. They have the nice big packs of them at the Asian Market for cheap and I can never resist them. I knew they wouldn't give off too much of a mushroom flavor and they've cooked up fabulously in everything I've tossed them into so far.

Some fresh cilantro plus a yellow onion and it was ready to cook on high for the next four hours. After the time I'd put into the soup already, that felt a bit rushed but I planned to take it over to someone's house for dinner that night so I had no choice. I made do with a giant glass jar but I've decided to enter the market for a big thermos.

I dragged along some soup accessories and added a can of pinto and black beans to the mix before packing it up.

The soup served up beautifully. I was really proud to put it down on the table. I'd tasted it already and thought it was just how I wanted it to be. Flavorful without anything being too dominant.

Our hosts for the night fried up some tostones that turned out to be great dippers.

Tostones are twice fried plantains that are peeled, fried, smashed, fried again and sprinkled with salt.


We're having some leftovers tonight. It won't be as pretty but I am eager to see if the flavor has changed at all.

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