Posts tagged “Soup

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Carrot and parsnip soup with garnishes of dill oil, smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts, and a Greek yogurt-sour cream-lemon condiment. The bread is homemade rye, following the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Carrot and parsnip soup with garnishes of dill oil, smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts, and a Greek yogurt-sour cream-lemon condiment. The bread is homemade rye, following the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve been wanting to expand my repertoire of homemade breads, and the recent experiments in smørrebrød had me thinking of rye. I found a helpful recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, and the results were great. Needing something to eat with the bread, and with the first days approximating fall weather here in Houston, I decided to make soup. This carrot and parsnip soup proved to be a great dish for the rye bread to accompany.

Ingredients:

Soup:

1 tbsp  canola oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Granny Smith apple; peeled, cored, and diced

1 lb carrots; peeled and diced

1 lb parsnips; peeled and diced

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

8 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied

2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

Condiment:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

juice from half of a lemon

1 tbsp heavy whipping cream

1/2 tsp honey

sea salt, to taste

Additional Garnishes:

fresh dill oil

smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts

Methods:

For the soup, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and then add the diced onion. Sauté for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the diced carrots and parsnips. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the apple and garlic. Once the garlic becomes fragrant (not burnt), add the cider vinegar and reduce. Add the seasonings and herbs. Mix. Add the stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until the vegetables become tender (about 30 minutes). When the vegetables are soft, remove the tied bunch of thyme stems and blend the soup thoroughly. As I do when making soup, I prefer to use a hand blender.

For the condiment, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. For the dill oil, chop the dill leaves, combine with enough of a 50/50 mix of grape seed oil and olive oil to cover the herbs, and season with sea salt to taste. For the pine nuts, toast 2 tbsp of pine nuts and cool. Once cool, crush the pine nuts with 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika. I use a mortar and pestle.


Red Bell Pepper and Butternut Squash Soup with Fresh Ginger

This puréed soup has red bell peppers, butternut squash, yellow onion, fresh ginger, a Granny Smith apple, garlic, and vegetable stock. It is seasoned with fresh thyme, dried oregano, cumin, chili powder, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. The garnish is a sour cream, Greek yogurt, and fresh lime juice condiment, along with pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture).

This puréed soup has red bell peppers, butternut squash, yellow onion, fresh ginger, tomatoes, a Granny Smith apple, garlic, and vegetable stock. It is seasoned with fresh thyme, oregano, cumin, chili powder, white and cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. The garnish is a sour cream, Greek yogurt, and fresh lime juice condiment, along with pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture).

It was just a coincidence that on Monday I made a meatless meal. I have reached a non-critical but still punishing level of pork-fatigue, and this happens to be coinciding with the exhaustion from thinking up ways to utilize the weekly share of vegetables as we enter the waning dog days of our summer CSA program. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been receiving butternut squash, red bell peppers, and eggplant in our box, which recently led to roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured Guanciale served over a Lebanese dish of green lentils, the recipe for which I found in Saveur. This week, however, I wanted something a little easier, a one-pot kind of a meal. Although I traditionally reserve making butternut squash soup for the fall (since it tends to be a heartier dish), the addition of Granny Smith apple, fresh ginger, and red bell peppers lightened up a version of a Moroccan influenced soup I’ve been making for years. Typically, this soup has russet potatoes, acorn squash, and chickpeas. Also, it is usually only partially blended. This summery incarnation was further brightened by a condiment of sour cream, Greek yogurt, fresh lime juice, and whole whipping cream, seasoned with fresh thyme and kosher salt. To add texture and more depth to the pepper flavors of the soup, I used pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi as additional garnishes. The bread is Marc Vetri’s recipe for Rustic Italian loaf.

Ingredients:

Soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Granny Smith apple; peeled, cored, and diced

1 butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

16 oz can of diced tomatoes

6 cups vegetable stock

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 tbsp dried oregano

8 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied

2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

Condiment:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

juice from half of a lime

1 tbsp heavy whipping cream

1/2 tsp honey

kosher salt, to taste

fresh thyme leaves, to taste

Additional Garnishes:

pepitas

shichimi tōgarashi

Methods:

For the soup, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and then add the diced onion. Sauté for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the diced bell peppers. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes and then add the apple, ginger, and garlic. Once the garlic becomes fragrant (not burnt), add the can of tomatoes and the spices and herbs. Mix. Add the butternut squash and stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until the squash becomes tender (about 30 minutes). When the squash is cooked, remove the tied bunch of thyme stems and blend the soup thoroughly. I prefer to use a hand blender.

For the condiment, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.

Below is a picture of the lentil dish mentioned earlier.

The recipe for these Lebanese lentils comes from Saveur, Issue #132, and it was submitted to them by the poet Carolyn Forché. It can be found here. I adapted the recipe a bit, using a mix of Italian and purple basil instead of mint and substituting roasted for sautéed garlic. I used the lentils as a base for roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured shortcut Guanciale à la Marc Vetri. The glaze is reduced red wine and honey in the Guanciale roasting pan, along with dried oregano and crushed garlic.

The recipe for these Lebanese lentils comes from Saveur, Issue #132, and it was submitted to them by the poet Carolyn Forché. It can be found here. I adapted the recipe a bit, using a mix of Italian and purple basil instead of mint and substituting roasted for  sautéed garlic. I used the lentils as a base for roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured shortcut Guanciale à la Marc Vetri. The glaze is reduced red wine and honey in the Guanciale roasting pan, along with dried oregano and crushed garlic.


Vocabularies of Obsession/Vocabularies of Habit

When I was over halfway through writing the poems for my first book, I had the opportunity to participate in a reading, and I chose a selection of what I considered at the time to be my best—or at least favorite—work. A mentor of mine was in the crowd, and afterwards when everyone was hanging out and complimenting the readers, as happens at those things, he had some nice words to say to me, and then mischievously added, “a very avian reading.” Um, so it turns out I wrote a lot about birds.

Obsession can be a form of concentration, a way to find possibilities for what you already have at hand. The leftover rhubarb from the Valentine's Day salad and some strawberries I had bought for the occasion but never used taunted me to make a dessert. I'm not ready for pie, but a free-form, rustic, and forgiving tart that is the crostata was a great place to begin. Googling landed me on this super easy and tasty eggless crostata recipe from  the blog EGGS ON SUNDAY.

Obsession can be a form of concentration, a way to find possibilities for what you already have at hand. The leftover rhubarb from the Valentine’s Day salad and some strawberries I had bought for the occasion but never used provoked me to make a dessert. I’m not ready for pie, but a free-form, rustic, and forgiving tart that is the crostata was a great place to begin. Googling landed me on this super easy and tasty eggless crostata recipe from the blog EGGS ON SUNDAY

I’m sure on some level I was aware of it, but I wasn’t painfully aware of it until that moment. I didn’t—and don’t—regret the flocks, the bevies, the congresses and murders and murmurations of birds populating those poems. I needed them at the time. Which is another way of saying they were an obsession. They had become for me a way of talking about some of the themes of that book. Birds were a vocabulary I adopted (and, yes, perhaps a rather conventional or at least traditional one) to express the transactions between an interior life and the external world, for the challenge of trying to capture a present tense that is always winging into the next present moment, for the anxiety over this here mortal coil, and the nostalgia for something transcendent. And in my aesthetics at the time—a kind of meditative poem that makes excursions into a representational report of the world around its lyric speakers—those birds made perfect sense. Yet, once I was aware of that reliance, I had to make the decision to keep trying to perfect and rejuvenate that vocabulary or to move on if I felt it was merely habit at that point. I moved on.

To put things into perspective, here’s a little obsessive inventory. In The Currency, the word “bird” or bird-related terms, including species names and words like “feather” and “wing,” appear twenty-eight times. In my new manuscript, which is nearing its final stages before publication, such words only appear fifteen times, and eight of those occur in a single poem, the most recent one I’ve written for the book. The words “bird” and “birds” were used thirteen times in writing The Currency, but in the five years since I finished it, I’ve called on those words only four times for Pax Americana. Part of this shift was a conscious reaction against complacency, but it’s more complicated than that. With new obsessions, I needed to find new symbols in order to communicate.

This another take on a watercress salad, but unlike the Valentine's Day version, this one has peeled baby heirloom tomatoes, with edamame, avocado, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds, and a pumpkin oil and sherry vinaigrette. It is served over fried firm tofu. The technique for peeling the tomatoes comes from the Momofuku cookbook. It's really easy. Cut an X in the tomato skin on the non-steam end. Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Drop the tomatoes in batches into the boiling water for ten seconds and then transfer them to the ice bath. The peels will slip right off. David Chang has a recipe for serving these tomatoes with fresh tofu that partly inspired this dish.

Repetition is the mother of obsession. This is another take on a watercress salad, but unlike the Valentine’s Day version, this one has peeled baby heirloom tomatoes, with edamame, avocado, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds, and a pumpkin oil and sherry vinaigrette. It is served over fried firm tofu. The technique for peeling the tomatoes comes from the Momofuku cookbook. It’s really easy. Cut an X in the tomato skins on the non-stem ends. Prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Drop the tomatoes in batches into the boiling water for ten seconds and then transfer them to the ice bath. The peels will slip right off. David Chang has a recipe for serving these tomatoes with fresh tofu that partly inspired this dish.

Here’s some additional counting: in The Currency, there are eighteen references to visual art. In Pax Americana, there are four. The Currency alludes to three films (and I mean “films” with all its pretentious baggage). Pax Americana alludes to or directly names seven “movies,” seven television shows (with multiple nods to Joss Whedon, Alias, and HBO series), news casts, and a YouTube video. Writing (in the form of poems, letters, philosophical and biographical texts, etc.) comes up sixteen times in The Currency, but there are forty-four references in Pax Americana (including a Wikipedia entry). It appears that I’m still using poetry as an interpretive act, but I seem more interested in how we organize our lives into language than I am in finding those meanings in the tableaux of paintings. I also find I’m reaching towards a larger range of experience.

Obsessions are often the working out of an idea, and they last until the vitality of that search settles into habit. An obsession in a poem can also be the way a poem is made. Every poem is an expression of what a poem can be. Eventually, you might just be writing a poem because, well, that is how you know a poem is made. If you’re honest with yourself as a poet, you’ll ask why you’re making a poem the way you are. When you stop being able to answer that question compellingly, it is probably time to look elsewhere for a new set of images, symbols, and structures, so a new vocabulary.

Peeling Tomatoes

Peeling Tomatoes

Peeling Cherub tomatoes for a ragout.

Peeling Tomatoes

 

I’ve been thinking about cooking lately in these same terms. It’s as if the dishes I’m cooking and the ingredients and methods I’m using are a vocabulary for me to express what a dish can and should be.  The notion of “should be” is an ever-evolving one. What seems necessary today won’t necessarily be so tomorrow. Sometimes I land on a preparation or flavor that I enjoy so much or that has a potential that has eluded me, and so I obsessively use it. Experimenting. Tweaking. Until it becomes a routine. Just a tired iteration. There was a time when what signified a side dish was a pile of roasted carrots and parsnips. Then, there was the age of the Brussels sprouts. For a while, purées of English peas cropped up regularly. For the past three weeks, I can’t stop making ginger scallion noodles. Besides, it would be a shame to let these leftover ingredients in the fridge go to waste.

Obsessions in cooking, along with their leftovers, can attract new discoveries, like a planet accruing satellites. The vegetables remaining from Valentine’s dinner sent me off to Nippan Daido Japanese Market in west Houston. They also encouraged me to try my hand at making a dessert. Thanks to the Eggs on Sunday blog, that dessert attempt was a success, and I now have something in my repertoire to complete an entire meal, from first course to last.

My trip to Nippan Daido to explore further the Japanese ingredients I've been using resulted in this dish. After using the fried tofu for the watercress salad, which was my first time frying tofu, I tried it again. I made a version of the citrus-soy-ginger glaze I used on the pork belly, but added sesame oil and seeds. The broth here is bacon dashi with dried shiitakes and red miso I've been steadily depleting.

My trip to Nippan Daido to explore further the Japanese ingredients I’ve been using resulted in this dish. After making the fried tofu for the watercress salad, which was my first time frying tofu, I tried it again. I contrived a version of the citrus-soy-ginger glaze I used on the pork belly, but added sesame oil and seeds and used fresh ginger. The broth here is bacon dashi with dried shiitakes and the red miso I’ve been steadily depleting.

At Nippan Daido, I purchased some enoki and beech mushrooms that I planned to use in a batch of ginger scallion noodles. I also got some sake, which I decided to use in a braising liquid for some beef short ribs. The marinade for the short ribs I got from the JUST ONE COOKBOOK blog, which seemed appealing because it calls for gochujang, and I just happened to have some of that tasty, spicy Korean chili paste in the fridge. I marinated the ribs for over a day, then browned them off in a dutch over with some pork belly fat. (I'm going to be so sad when this liquid gold is gone.) I made a braising liquid of sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, and sliced yellow onion. I cooked the ribs at 315 °F for two and a half hours, basting with the braising liquid every half hour. When the ribs were done, I removed the bone, tough membrane, and most of the excess fat, and then glazed them with a mixture of gochujang, brown sugar, and kosher salt in a 475 °F oven.

At Nippan Daido, I purchased some enoki and beech mushrooms that I planned to use in a batch of ginger scallion noodles. I also got some sake, which I decided to use in a braising liquid for some beef short ribs. The marinade for the short ribs I got from the JUST ONE COOKBOOK blog, which seemed appealing because it calls for gochujang, and I just happened to have some of that tasty, spicy Korean chili paste in the fridge. I marinated the ribs for over a day, then browned them off in a dutch oven with some pork belly fat. (I’m going to be so sad when this liquid gold is gone.) I made a braising liquid of sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, and sliced yellow onion. I cooked the ribs at 315 °F for two and a half hours, basting with the braising liquid every half hour. When the ribs were done, I removed the bone, tough membrane, and most of the excess fat, and then glazed them with a mixture of gochujang, brown sugar, and kosher salt in a 475 °F oven.

Because I just can't leave things alone, I transformed the leftover short ribs into this dish the next night. I already had everything I needed except a few vegetables, and these ready-to-used fresh purple hull peas caught my eye at the grocery store. I immediately thought of a ragout, so I picked up some mustard greens and the above pictured Cherub tomatoes. The ragout is composed of one bunched of sliced scallions sautéed in some of that pork belly fat, the purple hull peas, the peeled Cherub tomatoes, a cup of chicken stock, two tbsp tomato paste, and some leftover pan juices I separated from the fat after cooking the short ribs. Once the peas began to soften up, I added the chopped mustard greens with their thick ribs removed. I seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Because I just can’t leave things alone, I transformed the leftover short ribs into this dish the next night. I already had everything I needed except a few vegetables, and these ready-to-use, fresh purple hull peas caught my eye at the grocery store. I immediately thought of a ragout, so I picked up some mustard greens and the above pictured Cherub tomatoes. The ragout is composed of one bunch of sliced scallions sautéed in some of that pork belly fat, the purple hull peas, the peeled Cherub tomatoes, a cup of chicken stock, two tbsp tomato paste, and some leftover pan juices that I had separated from the fat after cooking the short ribs. Once the peas began to soften up, I added the chopped mustard greens with their thick ribs removed. I seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. While the ragout was cooking, and before I reheated the short ribs in the oven, I decided to do the ribs two ways. I envisioned a kind of deconstructed ragout with shredded short rib on the side and then a whole rib next to that. I needed something to accompany the whole rib, and I was lucky enough to have a large white potato in the fridge and a can of chickpeas in the pantry. I took up the challenge to be resourceful. I cooked the potatoes in water, a tbsp of butter, a hunk of fresh ginger cut into three pieces, and a sliced garlic clove. When the potatoes were nearly done, I added the drained chickpeas. I strained once finished, removed two of the three ginger bits, and then blended the mixture with a little milk and butter. The result was a little too much of a gluttonous paste, so I added a dollop of sour cream and a spoon of chèvre to give it something it was lacking. The plate was a little bland looking, and I brightened it up with a julienne of pickled beets and some kimchi I bought at Nippan Daido.

So I had all of this leftover ragout and potato-chickpea purée, but no more short ribs, and the Oscars were on, and we had to eat something, so I cooked off some bacon, sautéed some chopped yellow onion in the bacon fat along with halved Brussels sprouts, and then added the leftover ragout. I served this concoction over the reheated potato-chickpea purée, along with the bacon and some chopped snow peas.

So I had all of this leftover ragout and potato-chickpea purée, but no more short ribs, and the Oscars were on, and we had to eat something, so I cooked off some bacon, sautéed some chopped yellow onion in the bacon fat along with halved Brussels sprouts, and then added the leftover ragout. I served this concoction over the reheated potato-chickpea purée, which was surprisingly better the next day, along with the bacon and some chopped snow peas.


Cooking with David Chang’s Momofuku Cookbook, or Exercises in Innovation and Convention

For Christmas, I received David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. It’s a beautiful object in its own right, with its clean cover and nice heft, its great photos, and the book’s packed with incredible and inventive recipes and cooking tips. It also contains a compelling narrative, a memoir-ish, manifesto-esque meditation on craft and ambition, on tradition and innovation, and David Chang projects an ethos of unpretentious dedication to making relentlessly tasty food. What he says about his take on ramen could be a mantra for the book: “the most important thing is that you make it delicious, not that you make it exact.”

As David Chang suggests, I used the shiitakes from the ramen broth to make pickled shiitakes. Following the advice to be resourceful.

As David Chang suggests, I used the shiitakes from the ramen broth to make pickled shiitakes. Following the advice to be resourceful.

Super easy. Super tasty.

Super easy. Super tasty. Quick-Pickled Cucumbers. Use a 3:1 ratio of sugar to kosher salt and enough to lightly coat the cucumber slices.

I could transpose William Carlos Williams’s dictum—“If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem”—into the question: “If it ain’t delicious, why are you making it?” What connects the best crepe I ever ate, the savory Cuban at the Flip Happy Crepes Airstream trailer in Austin, and the best meal I ever ate, one at Grant Achatz’s Alinea? They were both ridiculously delicious. I rarely visit New York, but last year on a brief trip (like 36-hours brief), I ate at David Chang’s Má Pêche, and the food didn’t have to sacrifice tastiness to be inventive. I’ve spent the last month hoping I’ll be infused with some of that inspired cooking by experimenting with the Momofuku cookbook.

I can’t claim to have the attention span to work from cookbooks or to strictly follow recipes. Usually, I just use them for hints about technique and handling ingredients or for flavor combinations, but I don’t go off script because I think I’m exercising my right to be creative, à la Billy Madison drawing a blue duck because he’s never seen a blue duck. There are the more practical impediments of not having all of the necessary equipment or ingredients that come with the amateur home-cook’s kitchen and pantry. To get anything done, you’ve got to adjust. You’ve got to react to what you have. Or as David Chang reminds us, “Be resourceful.”

There’s a challenge in that, and that challenge is actually the source of innovation and creativity for me. This is much the same for poems as it is for cooking. The challenge can be local to the circumstances of preparing a specific meal or working with a particular bit of language; however, it may be more global, such as the tension between the new and the old, innovation and tradition.

In this iteration of Chang's bacon dashi with clams, I had to be resourceful and use mixed baby potatoes. I liked the purple and red color.

In this iteration of Chang’s bacon dashi with littleneck clams, I had to be resourceful and use mixed baby potatoes. I liked the purple and red color.

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Here, I combined two items in the cookbook: the ginger scallion noodles and the pork belly. I added daikon, radishes, quick-pickled cucumbers, and snow peas that I quickly blanched in the noodle water after the noodles were done cooking. For the pork belly, I made a citrus-soy glaze: the juice of 1 lime and half of an orange, 1/2 cup of light soy sauce, 1/3 cup of amber agave nectar, 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, 2 tbsp. mirin, a few pieces of dried ginger, and two Tien Tsin chili peppers. I removed the last two ingredients about halfway through reducing the glaze. I reduced it down to between a 1/2 and a 1/3 cup. After the pork belly had cooled, I brushed on the glaze and cooked it in the oven at 400 for about 8 minutes. I did this as I was assembling the noodles. The flavors went to eleven.

Of course, a very immediate reason for innovation is novelty. We hate being bored. Surprise and whimsy are valuable for enjoyment, for being reawakened to the substance, the fact of something, whether it’s food or language. Roman Jakobson said of literary language that it is “organized violence committed on ordinary speech,” which is not because poets are sadists. Rather, literary uses of language can rejuvenate language’s meaning-making potential. To arrive at that requires that you challenge your and your readers’ assumptions.

This variation of David Chang's ramen has a broth of chicken stock, pork, bacon dashi, and shiitakes. It uses Chang's recipe for shredded pork shoulder and the wickedly inventive slow poached eggs. It has mustard greens and radishes as well.

This variation of David Chang’s ramen has a broth of chicken stock, pork, bacon dashi, light soy sauce, mirin, and shiitakes. It uses Chang’s recipe for shredded pork shoulder and the wickedly inventive slow poached eggs. It has mustard greens and radishes as well.

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Day-after ginger scallion noodles and citrus-soy glazed pork belly? Yeah, even the leftovers are awesome and tasty.

David Chang is not afraid to question his assumptions. I love what he says about his transformation of traditional dashi—a broth infused with katsuo-bushi (dried fish flakes) and konbu (kelp)—into bacon dashi, which substitutes smokey bacon for the smokey fish flakes. Chang writes, “We respect tradition and we revere many traditional flavor profiles, but we do not subscribe to the idea that there’s one set of blueprints and everyone should follow. I think that in the questioning of basic assumptions—about how we cook and why we cook with what we do—is when a lot of the coolest cooking happens.” He didn’t have to completely reinvent the notion of dashi, but he did question the purpose and composition of it. The result of that willingness to question himself is this versatile and flavorful iteration of dashi. According to Chang’s narrative, it was a lack of available katsuo-bushi that led him to his innovation, but the solution is one that makes sense not only for him but for the American kitchen where bacon holds a consistent if not fanatical place. Bacon dashi seems so spontaneous but inevitable.

This kind of innovation holds sympathies with my thinking about the creative process in general. The appearance of something new and exciting in poetry doesn’t appear from nothing and doesn’t have to be completely unrecognizable when it arrives. I wouldn’t question my assumptions about what makes a poem a poem by presenting you with a toaster. The following Kenneth Burke quote has been helpful to me in thinking about innovation. He had this to say about John Dewey’s ideas on novelty in art and philosophical pragmatism: “The artist says, in substance: ‘I make the exhortation in the terms of what has already been accepted. Once these terms are accepted, I can go a little beyond them. But I shall argue only for my addition, and assume the rest. If people believe eight, I can recommend nine; I can do so by the manipulation of their eightish assumptions; I need not justify my nine by arguing for one.’” David Chang’s bacon dashi seems to me like a good example of manipulating some eightish assumptions.

Yet, when innovating, food still needs to be delicious, and a poem still needs to move you.


Moroccan Spiced Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seed Oil

Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seed Oil

I like the challenge of letting a meal develop around a few random ingredients or even a single one. Call it the Chopped compulsion. Most times, though, it’s not about competitiveness, which is really just a competitiveness with myself, as much as it is about economics and circumstances: I don’t want to waste what I have in the fridge or I don’t have time for the grocery store. Other times it is the joy of novelty. Perhaps someone has given me an ingredient, or I walk the aisles of the grocery store waiting to be drawn in by what looks good or interesting. These ingredients are generative constraints; the places from which to leap towards innovation and surprise. As with the composition of a poem, I love discovering what I wasn’t looking for but what seems so inevitable and right when it arrives. In teaching poetry, I regularly tell my students, and remind myself, that you don’t need an idea to write a poem; you just need a little language or a little bit of structure to work against. An ingredient can work the same way.

This time it started with a gift. Holly brought me a beautiful pumpkin seed oil purchased at Zingerman’s on a recent trip to Michigan. Richly viscous and nutty, this oil has a color that appears to go from tar to amber to a corona of chartreuse. I wanted to use it in a way where it wouldn’t be completely lost in the background or as an undercurrent (like in a dressing), both visually and in its taste. I decided to keep the oil’s autonomy by using it in a soup, one that would let the oil shine on its own while still giving it the chance to be incorporated into the whole. photoIn my carnivore-dominant culinary repertoire, I have few vegetarian recipes, but in the fall and winter, I have one for a Moroccan spiced squash soup that is a welcomed regular. When making the soup, I usually blend it partially, leaving chunks of squash and potato before I finish the soup with chickpeas. For this recent meal, I wanted the soup thicker to let the oil rest on top, so it was going to be completely blended. The chickpeas didn’t seem right, but to maintain texture, I purchased some toasted, salted pumpkin seeds. For further texture and earthy flavor, I crisped sage leaves in the oven for a garnish (first coating them in olive oil, then baking them at 325 degrees for about 16 minutes). I also wanted to balance out the oil by increasing the brightness of the soup, so I chose to add cider vinegar.

For the soup, I started with mirepoix, then added garlic, the cider vinegar, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a spice mixture of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt, white pepper, ginger, paprika, cayenne pepper, and oregano. Then I added butternut and acorn squash, russet potatoes, and vegetable stock. When finished, the soup was blended, and I stirred in heavy cream and a little whole milk. I served the soup with a drizzle of the pumpkin seed oil, the pumpkin seeds, and the crispy sage.


New Year’s Eve Dinner 2012

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For the past few years, cooking an elaborate and decadent New Year’s meal has become a tradition in our house. The rituals of the preparation and the consumption seem appropriate for the reflective mood of the holiday. Cooking, like writing, has its personal pleasures and significances for me. A meal, like a poem, can have private associations and satisfactions that don’t get communicated in the completed creation, but those things are part of what make the work fun and meaningful. When I was making this menu, I wanted it to incorporate and acknowledge as many people and experiences that have been important to me from the year that was now folding over into the next. This year’s menu started with a bottle of Vintage Dom Pérignon, which Holly and I received as a wedding present. I wanted the first courses to center on that, before we transitioned to the meat of it and a bottle of Premier Cru Aloxe-Corton. Following clockwise from the bottle, we have foie gras with a Calvados and agave nectar syrup with brioche toast points. (But I can’t take credit for the foie gras or the brioche.)

2012 was the year of the avocado. Or the year Holly learned she liked avocado, and I started bringing it into meals. The year before was the year of the mushroom and the year we travelled to Nova Scotia and stayed at Trout Point Lodge, partly with the intention to learn to like cooked fish, which is still a work in progress. Raw wins out for now. This dinner was going to pay homage to our evolving eating traditions. So for the second course, we had yellowfin tuna and avocado three-ways: tuna and avocado sashimi with radishes; crudo of tuna rolled around avocado cream with sesame seeds, radishes, and brûléed red grapefruit (a nod to an excellent brûléed red grapefruit we ate at The Inn at Dos Brisas) to accompany a citrus-dressed frisée and heirloom tomato salad; and finally, a tuna, avocado, and heirloom tomato tartare.

For the third course, I initiated a birthday present: the sausage grinder attachment Holly bought me for the KitchenAid. The sausage meatballs are duck meat (breast and leg) ground with smoked bacon. (I saved the removed duck skins and rendered the fat from them to cook the meatballs.) I incorporated the zest of a satsuma orange and a microplaned Oregon white truffle that was rather underachieving. Since I had the foie gras, and decadence is the theme of New Year’s, I stuffed the meatballs with bits of that too. The broth is mushroom based (chanterelles, criminis, and more of those Oregon white truffles), with vegetable stock, soy sauce, mirin, and the juice of the satsuma. Onions, popcorn, and green cabbage (strained out before serving) provided some depth. Rice noodles were also incorporated, along with a shock of frisée. I owe thanks to my brother Matt for the thoughtful gift of those soup spoons.

The fourth course was a New York strip with a port, espresso, chocolate demi-glace; micro arugula; caramelized pearl onions; and a celery root purée. The steak and the port and chocolate covered espresso beans I used for the sauce were all gifts from friends and family. Using those ingredients was an excuse to have them present to me during the meal.

I bought dessert (crème brûlée with a chocolate sauce), so it doesn’t appear photographed here. Desserts, I’m thinking, are on the list of things to learn this year.