On New Year’s Day, I didn’t eat a salad, I didn’t hop on a treadmill, I didn’t write the annual letter to myself that I’ve been writing since I read about doing that in some magazine half a decade ago. This year, I grabbed the giant stock pot that sits on top of my oven and put it on the stove. Out of the freezer I pulled a bag of chicken backs that I cut off of chickens in 2015 and dumped them into the humongous vessel along with a whole onion, a whole carrot, a head of garlic cut in half, some bay leaves, peppercorns, and a handful of parsley leaves. I filled it all the way up with water (at least two gallons), turned the heat up to medium, waited for it all to come to a simmer, then turned it to low. Every so often, I’d skim, but for the next eight hours, I just let the chicken stock perk away.
My friend Toby grew up in Berkeley and whenever we see each other, we talk about all of the things we might cook together one day. It’s one of those conversations that happens over and over again but the plans never materialize, so at a certain point somebody has to say, “OK, are we doing this or not?” Which is exactly what I said last time that I saw him, pulling out my calendar (or, more accurately, my iPhone with the iCal app), forcing Toby to nail down a date. That date was last Saturday and Toby, showing off his Berkeley roots, promised to make sourdough bread from scratch. To which I replied: “Well, I guess then I’ll make cioppino!”
Let us all acknowledge the truth about roast chicken: it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the vegetables. That truth dawned on me long ago when I used to line a roasting pan with red potatoes sliced in half, all surrounding a well-seasoned chicken; the rendered chicken fat would coat the potatoes, they’d get all crispy, and when it was time to eat, the actual roast chicken was an afterthought. It only got better when I discovered Thomas Keller’s roast chicken: in with the potatoes went leeks, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and suddenly next to that pretty little bird would be vegetables as beautiful as the crown jewels. Now imagine turning those salty, schmaltzy vegetables into soup, a soup that takes about 5 minutes.
Something that annoys me about the food world is the notion of a dish or an ingredient being dated. “Sun-dried tomatoes are so 1986,” some pretentious food person might say. Really? Well I really love them, especially in Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes which doesn’t taste like 1986 to me, it just tastes good. And I suppose there’s a similar notion that garnishes–big gestural ones–are passé. It’s a shame, though, because–as I’ve discovered recently–garnishes can be a lot of fun, especially when they enhance whatever dish you’re serving. Let me show you what I mean.
We got a tree, a Christmas tree, and it’s my first one–Rabbi Schlomo, plug your ears–and it’s making our apartment seem so festive. Somehow I thought getting a tree would be a big ordeal: with the lights and the stand and the balls and the baubles. But, actually, it was a totally easy process. On the advice of my friend John, we went to the Target in Eagle Rock where we stocked up on all the tree necessities (a tree skirt, to attract male trees; lights, balls, etc.) and then we bought a tree right outside at a pop-up tree farm. The tree came on a stand so we just carried it through the door, stood it up, and started wiring the lights. Voila. Now all we had to do was to have people over to enjoy the tree, which is why I spent some time figuring out the perfect December menu.
Ina Garten is one smart cookie. On a recent episode of her show, I watched her amp up the flavor of a potato leek soup by roasting the potatoes and leeks on a cookie sheet–getting them nice and golden brown–before pureeing them with chicken stock and topping the soup with crispy shallots. So when Vitamix asked me to make an autumnal soup recipe using their S30 model–a model ideal for making an individual portion–I knew what I had to do. Off to the store I went to pick up a butternut squash, an apple, an onion, some ginger, and some chicken stock, and then I went full Ina.
There’s a corn soup that you need to know about before the corn goes away and, sadly, the corn’s going away pretty soon. Grab some, OK? The sweet stuff. You’re about to make a corn soup that’s so good even people who hate corn soup–CRAIG’S PARENTS–will declare it wonderful. (I didn’t know Craig’s parents hated corn soup when I made this for them…more on that in a bit.) Confession: I took beautiful pictures of this recipe and the process of making it and then lost them, somehow, on the journey from my camera to my computer. So you’re stuck with these ones from my phone, but bear with me. It’s worth it.
Imagine this. You get a terrible cold, you’re sick as a dog, your boyfriend gets you juice, soup (Pho from down the street), the works. Then you get better, fly to Florida for your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and while there, your boyfriend breaks the news: he has your cold. You’re not there to help, though, so when you return on Sunday–and he’s at the peak of his illness–you know you have to spring into action. You’ve gotta make up for all the TLC you weren’t there to give him during the first two days of his illness. Upon landing at the airport, you rush to the grocery store and stock up on everything you need to make the ultimate cold cure, Jewish penicillin: chicken soup. Only, you want to make it fast.