As a kid, one of my favorite books was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” For some reason I didn’t own a copy but a friend of mine did, and every time I would visit her house I would spend a good portion of time pouring over the pages. The illustrations were the best part — the one image I remember most vividly was where people dining in a roofless restaurant ran around catching hot dogs as they “rained” down from the sky.
Another part that has been stuck in my head since childhood was the rolling in of a split pea fog. I don’t recall ever eating split pea soup until much later in life — maybe even after high school or college — but I was always curious about it after reading that book. When I did finally try it (hesitantly I might add because the color is not so visually appealing) I was surprised at how tasty it was. Those little chunks of smokey salty ham with creamy pureed peas made for a wholly satisfying bowl of soup.
Ever since that initial tasting, I occasionally get a craving for split pea soup and it seems like I cook up a pot each winter around this time. It could be because post-Christmas is the only time I happen to have a ham bone laying around, or it could just be the fact that it is usually freezing cold outside and I get an urge for something warming.
Both of those things were true last weekend. Thankfully there is still no snow here in Portland, but the viciously cold wind is making my bike commute pure torture. Getting to sit down to a piping hot bowl of this goodness for lunch almost makes up for it. At the very least, its warmth helps thaw me out — from my head to my toes.
A bone from a Nueskes spiral-sliced ham made this broth fantastically smokey
Even though it’s December, it’s still been fairly temperate in Portland. There was one day when I woke up to see a light dusting of snow, but for the most part it’s been a mellow winter. Which is pretty perfect as far as I’m concerned. As someone who bikes to work year-round, I am loving that when I go outside it still looks like autumn.
And while I haven’t been feeling the intense desire to hibernate, I still have had the usual cold-weather culinary urges — stews, soups and crockpots, oh my! I’m sure you all know the feeling, these are the things that get us through until spring. It seems so comforting to have a pot on the stove filled with chili or split pea soup.
So when I picked up a small chuck roast at the store, my first thought was beef stew. I usually make a pretty traditional version — mire poix, tomatoes and lots of woody herbs. However, I was feeling a little frisky and decided to try something different. Which is where this recipe for stout-braised beef comes in.
Now first let me assure you that I know cooking with alcohol is nothing innovative. I’ve been a dedicated believer in the power of beef and beer for quite some time. Perhaps it was the horseradish garnish that made this recipe so intriguing.
Which leads me on a slight tangent…As a kid, I thought horseradish sauce was the most disgusting thing ever. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the taste — I never got that far — it must have simply been the name. But my stepdad (a longtime horseradish lover) swore that some day I would discover its amazing and spicy deliciousness on my own. And, crazily enough, I did. I’m not certain of when it happened, but if you give me roast beef, my first instinct is to look for the “horsey sauce,” the hotter, the better.
If a bowl of crispy, cheesy French onion soup doesn’t say “autumn is here” I don’t know what does. And when you add a lovely, perfectly in season Pink Lady apple and a hefty splash of apple cider, it becomes downright magical.
My husband and I hit up the Montavilla Farmer’s Market (in SE Portland) a few weeks ago and came home with a beautiful selection of apples. There were so many varieties to choose from it was a little overwhelming. My new favorite is the Pink Pearl — which has bright rose-colored flesh and a tart flavor reminiscent of a Granny Smith.
I picked up a dozen or so apples and upon arriving at home, I set a Pink Lady aside because I had a plan in mind. This plan, to be specific: French Onion and Apple Soup.
It was a Cooking Light recipe that I had been staring at for quite a while and finally it was cold enough in Portland to justify making it. I admit, I was a little over excited. I’ve mentioned before that fall makes me nervous because it’s so close to winter, but here’s a secret — as soon as autumn is in full swing, I love it. The smell of cinnamon, the desire to bake cookies and toast pumpkin seeds. It’s like that feeling of being a kid when you realize you can finally start the counting down the days until Christmas.
And this soup definitely helped usher me into autumn! The cheesy topping and crunchy croutons were as comforting as always. And with its slight sweetness and rich beef broth, it brought about an immediate and serious craving for hot apple cider with Applejack.
The Menu:Turkey-and-Pinto Bean Chili*only adaptation was using lean ground beef instead of turkey. This is actually the opposite of my MO. I am constantly substituting turkey for other ground meats, but strangely this time I had fresh ground beef on hand.
The Background: It was 75 degrees outside — which seems crazy considering it’s October in Portland. But regardless, there were enough leaves on the ground and candy corn in the stores to make it seem like Chili Season!
You know fall is coming when you catch your first cold of the season. I spent a good amount of time last week in a daze of Sudafed and cough syrup, wishing that I felt good enough to enjoy the last of the summer sunshine. Instead I spent every night curled up on my couch watching Season 3 of Drop Dead Diva and eating soup.
I probably deserved to get sick since it seems as though I spent all of September running around with barely any time to rest. First came WAG, followed by a weekend in Tacoma and then the next weekend was FEAST. And FEAST brought with it parties, after parties and after-hours after parties, where I ingested entirely too much free champagne. I got a picture with Fergus Henderson while partying at the top of the Wieden+Kennedy building, shook hands with Sean Brock around 2 am at Nostrana and stalked the hell out of April Bloomfield (though I was too shy to approach her).
And then I caught a serious cold. Even though I’m a little sad about that, I have to say two things:
It was totally, absolutely worth it!
The soups I made to aid my recovery were rockin’!
My favorite one was actually a recipe for White Cheddar Corn Chowder that I pulled from a 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living. How I managed to wait five years before making this, I’ll never know but I can say I won’t be waiting another five before making it again!
It may seem weird posting about a soup in June but as my blogging friend (and fellow Portland dweller) Not Without Butternoted yesterday, our weather has been very temperamental this year. Instead of basking in the sun drinking a piña colada, I spent last week making soup. Sadly I’m not talking about a nice cold gazpacho or vichyssoise. Oh no, I’m talking about a thick, hearty and comforting black bean soup. Of course, even if it was hot outside I would still like this soup — after all spicy foods pair perfectly with cold beer and summer sun.
However, this dinner was certainly more on the warm-me-up-please scale of soups.