Monday, December 3, 2007

About this Soup Blog!

This blog is brand new. I'm hoping the content steadily increases, and that eventually a team of soupers gathers to keep the content fresh and the excitement rich. For the start of the blog, building content with recipes will be my main focus. Recipes are important, and I feel strongly about how the printed recipe is structured. I often take issue with the standard format in today's books: ingredient lists in order of use, usually with prep instructions imbedded in the list. Instructions follow, but while cooking, the chef is reading back and forth from the top and bottom, gathering and prepping while managing the cooking. A bit of a visual juggle!, and one that puts the energy emphasis on cooking as a series of sequential operations, instead of giving us the time to sharpen our sensory skills so we can actually improve our dishes.

Every once in a while, a cookbook author will exhort the users to first read the whole recipe through to pre-master the cooking event, and lots of magazine articles around the holidays attempt to comfort the daunted hostess with minute by minute stepped programs. But the typical sequence still doesn't allow time to test and sample ingredient choices along the way, and most often the endproduct is artless.

A case in point: the instuctions say, 'saute vegetables 5 to 8 minutes then add broth'. If broth is frozen (like so many of the homemade stocks we love to use), the 5 to 8 minutes doesn't give enough time to thaw, heat and sample, deciding whether, say, to add a little chicken stock or water to the beef!

So, I like to see a printed recipe as a tool to help the chef manage the quality of the finished dish, not necessarily just steps to completing the dish. Preparing a dish successfully is managing the ingredient selection and prep, then devoting all energy to the actual cooking. The printed recipe should clarify and assist this process.

With soups, it's particularly apt to adopt this approach. Soups are made of solids, liquids and garnishes. I always like to start with the liquids. Choose your broths or water, then heat, season and taste so they are ready when you need to add them. Recipes calling for water often benefit from a studded clove and bayleaf, or a bit of celery, onion, peppercorns and bayleaf poached in the water for flavor and fragrance, but then removed before using the water. A few sprigs of parsley and a small sliver of lemon zest can also really sparkle the water for other fish and dellicate vegetable soups, where a stronger vegetable broth just wouldn't do. Vegetables are easy to prep as a group, using separate small bowls to gather different ingredients to be added at the same time. Once done, all the messy skins and shavings can be shoveled together into the pre-compost tin, and the workspace remains clean and orderly. Garnishes, too, have their own process. Beginning early will give you the time to lavish on decorative or time-intensive special touches. Even meats and beans will benefit from separate preparation, and the final combining of flavors is more controlled.

Hope you can look at the recipes here with these ideas in mind. I'd love to hear some feedback from chefs or home cooks who have thoughts or advice on how to structure recipe.

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