Soups The Book

112. Portugese Kale Soup with Chorizo (Caldo Verde) p.109

The recipe on epicurious calls this Tuscan kale soup. Tuscany and Portugal aren’t next door to one another, and their food traditions aren’t all that similar, but I’m willing to forgive The Book. In exchange I’ll ask you to forgive me for not using kale at all. Normally my grocery store is overflowing with kale to be bought up by chic urban moms, who only wear clothes by designers who don’t go past size four. This season’s infatuation with the skinny jean must have caused a run on kale, and left none for me. I had my heart set on this soup, and decided I didn’t feel bad at all about subbing in rapini. They’re not particularly close cousins in the plant world, but they’re both bitter greens, and both great in soup.

I still can’t get over how delicious this soup was. There’s absolutely nothing to it, you start by softening some onions in olive oil, then add sliced potatoes and cook for a few minutes. Water is added, and the potatoes are left to cook. Meanwhile the chorizo is browned up in a pan. When the potatoes are done they’re mashed a bit, and the chorizo and “kale” are added in. It’s left to cook for a few more minutes, and that’s it. A huge amount of the flavour comes from the chorizo, so make sure to buy the good stuff.

Montreal has a thriving Portuguese community, and the chouriço sausage that is traditionally used in this dish is practically easier to find than the Spanish chorizo. I had to go out of my way to get the non-traditional ingredient, which The Book called for in an attempt to make my life easier. Sometimes this project is weird.

The flavours here were just perfect, with the rapini and sausage dominating. The spiciness and richness of the chorizo contrasted with the clean bitter flavours of the rapini. The potatoes thickened the soup and added a lovely earthy undertone. It was a very restrained dish, with clean individual flavours that just worked. I ate a gigantic bowl without stopping to breathe, and went back for seconds. I’m not normally a huge soup person, but I can’t wait to make this one again.

The Book Vegetables

50. Winter Vegetables With Horseradish Dill Butter p.526

This version of the recipe makes three times as much as The Book’s, and recommends steaming the veggies for two thirds of the time.

Parsnips, turnips, and Brussels sprouts, horseradish, and dill all in one recipe? My goodness gracious, it’s almost too good to be true. The parsnips, turnips and Brussels sprouts are steamed together, while potatoes and carrots are steamed in another pot. Then everything is tossed with a horseradish dill butter augmented with a hit of cider vinegar.

I admit I cheated a bit and cooked the veggies wrapped in tin foil on the grill, but steaming is steaming right? The biggest trick with the recipe is to get all the veggies to be done at the same moment. For example, by the time my potatoes were finished, the carrots were overdone, and while the Brussels sprouts were still crisp, the turnip was a bit mushy. This is probably my fault, I don’t think I followed the recipe very precisely when it came to cutting the veggies. For example, the carrots are to be cut diagonally into 1 inch long pieces, but the parsnips were supposed to be 2 by 1 inch sticks. They’re pretty much the same shape, so I cut them into pretty much the same size chunks. The nice people at Gourmet spent quite some time experimenting with different vegetable geometries to get this right, I’d recommend taking their advice and not going it alone.

This recipe stars often overlooked and under appreciated winter vegetables, presents them beautifully, and plays up their fundamental bitter nature. I love that the recipe resists the temptation to sweeten, or add cream. The carrots and potatoes keep this from being too bitter, all the while celebrating the joys of roots. The horseradish boldly adds a tangy punch of heat, in fact I could have happily added more. The use of dill makes me think of the dish as Eastern European, and brings romantic notions of hearty Ukrainian farm families fending off the winter’s chill to my mind.

I really enjoyed the flavours and concepts here, but the execution was a bit trickier than the recipe led me to believe.

The Book Vegetables

30. Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots p.559

the recipe

These were nice potatoes, not spectacular, but good. These were part of the same meal as the pork chops, so I I was scaling this recipe up too. I’m not always a fan of stuff in mashed potatoes, I do like a little roasted garlic, but people can go too far with cheese, bacon, chives and who knows what else. I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find a recipe that will tell you to put hot dogs in your mashers. In this case the additions were very restrained, just some caramelized shallots. They added a nicely sweet edge, and brought the goodness of the Maillard reaction to this dish.

The sweet shallots were a nice compliment to the sour bite of the buttermilk. I think buttermilk was the real star of this dish actually. It helped to take them from straight ahead starchy goodness to a more nuanced place. Sour cream has an undeniable affinity for baked potatoes, and the same magic is happening here. The recipe calls for very little butter (1/2 tablespoon for 3/4 lb potatoes), this is both the recipe’s virtue and it’s vice. They were very flavourful, and the thickness of the buttermilk helped them take on a bit of a creamy texture without too much added fat, but I can’t deny that I missed the butter. I was serving this to a room full of ravenous 20 something boys, so they wouldn’t have cared if I’d added butter by the pound.

My take on the lack of butter might have been quite different if it was making this for just my dining companion and I. She eats most of these meals with me, and often asks if I can look for something a bit less rich to make from The Book. I’m already running out of heart-healthy options. This is one of the few recipes that fits the bill, and I wasted it on The Boys.

There were a lot of good ideas going on in this recipe: Limited additions, not much butter, building texture and flavour with buttermilk. But, somehow it just didn’t gel into the ne plus ultra of mashed potato recipes.

Poultry The Book

7. Colombian Chicken, Corn, and Potato Stew p. 370

the recipe

This is a stew is thick and rich. I made it in the middle of July. What was I thinking? It may have gone something like:

me: I feel like chicken.
ME: But it’s hot out, and your apartment is already 35 degrees.
me: Don’t people in hot countries eat chicken?
ME: You’re right, it’s hot in Columbia… make this stew.
me: Stew? it’s hot I don’t want stew!
ME: What do you know about hot weather eating? If it’s good enough for Columbians it’s good enough for you.
me: OK, let’s do it.

By the time I finished cooking my apartment was up to about 40 degrees, and I was ready to pass out. I ate a few obligatory spoonfuls and decided that the rest should be frozen ’till the fall. Unfortunately I didn’t retrieve it ’till a couple of weeks ago, and the freezer burn didn’t do anything to improve it.

Despite my foolish timing for this dish, it was actually fairly good. It had great chicken flavour, and grating half the potatoes left the sauce nicely thickened with some potato chunks to bite into. The stew itself is bland, so I’d top it with a healthy dose of the capers and cilantro. The flavour in the stew mostly comes from the chicken, so don’t skimp on browning it.

The Book Vegetables

5. Roasted French Fries p. 568

Epicurious doesn’t have a recipe to link to for this one. But since this is hardly a recipe at all we won’t worry too much. I cut three large baking potatoes (skins on) into wedges about 1/3 of an inch wide, tossed with vegetable oil, salt, and pepper and transfered them to a baking sheet. I baked at 500 for 25 minutes flipping once.

These were nearly as good as their fried cousins, and I didn’t have liters of hot oil on my stove. The last time I tried frying at home I used a cheap fry thermometer and let the oil temp get away from me. When the fries went in, the oil boiled over the sides of my pot and half of my kitchen turned into a fireball. Hours spent cleaning a slurry of extinguisher powder and oil out of my stove has given me a healthy sense of respect for home frying. Worse, even when done successfully in as well ventilated an area as an apartment kitchen can be, you and all your clothes still end up smelling like french fries.

The results of this baked version were different, the potato skins not quite as crispy, but not as oily either. The cleanup was a snap, and there wasn’t even a chance the fire department would need to show up. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of oil, I used less and found that even with a non stick baking sheet they did stick a bit.

I had these as a side to fish en papillote with tomatoes and olives. They really saved that supper.