Collard Greens

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The original title of this post was going to be: “How To Turn Leftover Collard Greens Into Soup.” It was going to be a joke–you’ll see why in a moment–with only two words in the body of the post itself. But then I realized that many of you don’t have leftover collard greens sitting around in your refrigerator because many of you don’t know how to cook them. Which is a shame because collard greens aren’t only strangely delicious–deep, dark, almost musky–but they’re good for you too. They’re also prevalent, cheap, and versatile. Which is why you should be cooking collard greens more often!

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French Onion Soup

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The idea of a secret ingredient is a funny one. I think it’s based on a modern American notion of shortcuts; the idea that instead of working hard to be successful, you can win the lottery or appear on a reality show or read the Cliff’s Notes and still pass your A.P. English exam (I did that actually: sorry, Hester Prynne). This American obsession with getting everywhere as quickly as possible, to FastPass your way to accomplishment, doesn’t translate well to cooking. Which is why, I think, so many Americans don’t cook. They’d rather fast food it, or frozen dinner it, than stand over a stove. And when they do stand over the stove, they want “quick tips” and “30 minute meals” and the magical, secret ingredient that’ll propel their dinner to greatness. But the truth is no one ingredient can propel your dinner to greatness; greatness comes with patience and practice, over time.

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Made-Up Minestrone

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My proudest culinary achievements aren’t the ones where I followed a recipe really well or repeated a specific technique demonstrated by a chef, they’re the ones where on a freezing cold night, instead of ordering a pizza or Thai food (side-note: we still haven’t found good take-out in the West Village; anyone?) I whip up something delicious with what I have on hand.

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The Great Soup Battle of 2010 (Pasta Fagioli, Cabbage Soup & Szechwan Carrot Soup)

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Hear those distant drums? A great battle is about to begin: the Great Soup Battle of 2010.

As readers may remember, last week I announced a big contest on my blog. Submit your favorite soup recipe–it didn’t have to be original, just a soup recipe that you love–and the best one would win a $450 VitaMix blender. Then 325 of you, that’s right 325 of you, submitted recipes. And little old me had to wade through them to pick the best. It was hard work, not for the faint of heart, but I wound up choosing the three most intriguing; recipes that, for whatever reason, grabbed my attention and made me hungry to try them. Then I invited my friends Diana Fithian (an enthusiastic home cook) and Leland Scruby (who works at the French Culinary Institute) over to help me make them. The three of us, plus Craig, would sample these soups and carefully choose the winner.

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Spectacular Sweet Potato Soup (PLUS: Win a $450 VitaMix Blender)

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A splash of this, a pinch of that: that’s the kind of cooking I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never been very good at it. Sure, I’ll sprinkle some cinnamon into my oatmeal and, yes, I’ll sex up a plate of pasta with some red chile flakes, but the ability to cook impulsively, to grab ingredients out of the fridge and make something scrumptious, has always eluded me. That is until I discovered soup.

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Michael Symon’s Spicy Tomato & Blue Cheese Soup

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At the end of yesterday’s video podcast with Michael Symon, you may have heard me sheepishly express doubt about adding blue cheese to tomato soup. For some reason, I thought the result would be grainy and gloppy and just kind of gross. Instead, this tomato soup was absolutely the best tomato soup I’ve ever had–and the best part about it is you’d never know that blue cheese was what was making it taste so good. It adds depth and creaminess but it doesn’t taste funky and you don’t notice the texture.

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Chicken Stock, 1 2 3

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It’s cheap and easy to have homemade chicken stock on hand: all you really need is time. And thyme. But mostly time.

Sure, it can be expensive–I still can’t get over The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe which calls for not one, not two, but THREE whole chickens that you boil for three hours and discard. That seems extraordinarily wasteful, don’t you think?

I’ve played around with lots of stock recipes, but my latest foray into stock making was a pretty happy one. The recipe comes from Molly Stevens and it’s simple and straightforward and cheap, cheap, cheap.

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Heidi’s Lentil Soup

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Hillary Clinton says “it takes a village,” but I think it takes a recipe.

What I mean is sometimes you think you don’t like a certain dish because you’ve had so many bad versions of that dish, but then suddenly you encounter a recipe for that dish that takes you by surprise and you find yourself–against your best instincts–loving that dish. And that’s exactly what happened last week, on a frigid, freezing day, when I made Heidi’s lentil soup.

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