How does dinner happen?
It happens in many ways. We ask the person we’re with, “What are you in the mood for?” or we just pick up the phone and dial the Thai place down the street or the pizza place around the corner. Or, if we have the ingredients, we make a quick bowl of pasta and if we’re even more inspired we head to the store and buy ingredients for that recipe we’ve been meaning to try.
The best, though, is when dinner happens organically. When one event leads to another event and by the end of the chain you have a tasty, unexpected meal before you. That’s what happened Sunday night when I made the dinner you see above: a very strange pairing of cauliflower soup and braised lobster mushrooms. How did that happen? Well it all started with stock…
…you see, on the advice of Nigella Lawson, I save chicken carcasses. Every time I roast a chicken (using my tried and true technique) I take the leftover carcass, put it into a freezer bag and throw it in the freezer. After several months, I had this many carcasses:
I put them all in a big stock pot, filled the pot with cold water (just to the level of the carcasses) and put on a simmer for three hours. In the last hour, I threw in a whole onion and some peppercorns and some salt. By the time it was done, the broth was golden and beautiful:
And because I had this beautiful golden broth sitting on the counter, I headed to the store–no recipe in hand–eager to come up with a dinner plan that’d incorporate this fresh stock.
At the store, the first thing I grabbed was cauliflower. I could make an easy cauliflower soup with the stock, an onion, some garlic and some spices. Blend it all together, and a creamy soup would be ours for the souping.
But would soup be enough? No it wouldn’t. I thought of making a salad, but all the salad ingredients at Union Market looked limp and depressing. Then I saw the weirdest looking mushrooms–lobster mushrooms–which I’d never seen before, but they called to me: “Adam,” they whispered. “Take me home with you. Make me yours.”
I caved into their call and brought them home, unsure of what I would do. Luckily, Tom Collichio has a recipe for braised lobster mushrooms in the Craft cookbook. I didn’t have all the ingredients but I could improvise. And would you believe it? One of the ingredients in the recipe was chicken stock. How’s that for synchronicity?
Ok, so here’s how it all came together.
I did the mushrooms first. I heated a pan on medium heat until I couldn’t hold my hand over it, added a layer of olive oil and threw the lobster mushrooms in whole (though later I realized I was supposed to cut them into big slices, though it really didn’t matter):
I let them get brown on the first side, salted and peppered the second side, and then flipped it over to brown on all the other sides. Once browned, I added chopped garlic, stirred that around a bit until softened and then–here’s the key part–added a bunch of white wine vinegar (about 3 Tbs) which sizzled and spattered and then I added a ladleful or two of fresh stock. I added coriander seeds (a Collichio touch), more salt and pepper, and parsley and let simmer for a few minutes:
When the mushrooms were pretty cooked (I cut in and tasted, just to be sure) I turned off the heat and let them marinate. Collichio says put them in the fridge for two hours, but I didn’t do that. And they were damn tasty.
Now for the soup. This couldn’t be easier:
Chop an onion. Cut up some garlic. Melt 4 Tbs of butter (or however much butter) in a pot, add the onion and cook until softened for a few minutes. Add the garlic. Cook some more. Then add the chopped up head of a whole cauliflower. Or as much as will fit or as much as you want. It’s all very loosey goosey, baby. Stir it around in the fat and then add some spices. I added smoked paprika (which is awesome and adds a great smokiness), regular paprika, cayenne pepper. Salt and pepper, of course, and then add the stock to cover.
Simmer until tender (a knife will go right through it) and then blend with an immersion blender. But before you do, you can do what Heidi Swanson does (see here) and add blue cheese. I added some leftover blue cheese from the fridge, melted it into the soup, and then blended the whole thing.
That’s it. When I served, I sprinkled some more smoked paprika on top and added some parsley. A strange and beguiling dinner that happened orgnically after making stock in the afternoon.
Such is the way that dinners happen.