Out with the old - sort of, maybe...

Have you noticed that many retailers seem to be displaying stockpiles of plastic storage bins? What do they know about our post-xmas needs or moods? They seem to be guessing (perhaps rightly) that we all want to tidy-up.

And then… Marie Kondo is back – can't get away from her - Spark Joy in the bookstores, and articles in newspapers, my magazines and email digests. Never heard of her? She’s the young woman who parlayed the Japanese minimalist aesthetic into a global following. Lately she seems to have softened her original strategy – namely, discard everything that does not give you joy. She admits to tossing away her hammer and now concedes that some practical things do bring joy – and that hammering nails with her fry pan was not joyful. Her newest publications on the "KonMari Method" include hand-drawn illustrations of techniques such as folding socks. I am gobsmacked that there is a market for such tips, but maybe I am just envious of her bank account.

We are officially past the mid-point of Winter which may explain the onset of "Spring Cleaning" twitches. As I write this, my office is in a state of upheaval linked to “tidying”, as I pull things off shelves and out of drawers. Order, it seems, is preceded by chaos.

 Props for food photos?

Props for food photos?

Are we genetically coded to do spring cleaning? Do other mammals spring clean? one of the few cultural links to this impulse that I can find is Passover rituals – and they seem to have more to do with “cleaning” than de-cluttering (DC). A major house cleaning is also a Chinese New Year tradition. I am just at the DC stage and am dismayed that it reveals the “need for clean”. Dust and fingerprints previously hidden under under/by piles of books and stuff see the light of day – eek! Speaking of the sun - while I notice welcome changes in the quality of this light (and prefer it to gloominess) there is no hiding from what it illuminates. Makes me prefer entertaining after dark with low lighting.

I used to say that I would spend the first year of retirement cleaning my house. Have not done that and now, several years later, I am even discovering things from my workplace office I have not yet discarded!! “Stuff” is linked to identity. At first, tossing out work stuff felt like tossing out part of "me". Loss of identity does not, however, account entirely for my failure to de-clutter. Each year the cull of any/all “stuff” has gone deeper – and needs to go deeper yet if I wish to spare my kids from the 'some day' burden of emptying this house. (For a great read on this theme, check out “They left us everything”, by Plum Johnson. I love that book! Spoiler - it takes her a year to empty her parents' home.)

By now you might be thinking “Hey… I thought this was supposed to be a food blog…” What’s the connection? Well for one thing, taking food photos seems to require some props. More than once in recent months I have had something in my hand ready for one or another discard pile and then I think… “A prop!” A yucky old cookie sheet? Just appeared in a photo spread in a food magazine, so maybe I could use this for an Instagram pic… A plate I will never use for eating or serving, but… maybe in a Twitter pic… Food Bloggers of Canada just shared tips on places to find props. One is “raid mom’s house” – good grief, I am the mom. In fairness, FBC suggests that food bloggers share props with others. Nonetheless, de-cluttering has just become more complicated.

How can I link all of this to a recipe? By concluding that “out with the old” does not always apply.

An “old country” recipe was recently resurrected in the KB Kitchen thanks to Saveur Hungarian Ham and Bean Soup (Csülkös Bableves). It was the first time in my life I bought a large smoked ham hock. I soaked pinto beans overnight, and the next day the kitchen was filled with wondrous “old country” aromas for hours. The soup was so good it brought tears to the eyes and rekindled great food memories. Here’s the link to the recipe.

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The Most Gratifying Dish...

"Almost every culture has its own variation on chicken soup, and rightly so - it's one of the most gratifying dishes on the face of the Earth." Yotam Ottolenghi (Source)

It’s fitting that it is Sunday as I write / post this. Growing up, the midday meal on Sunday was always, always chicken soup. The task of making the soup passed from my Grandmother to my Mother. Once I left home, chicken soup did not routinely appear on my own dining table until I had a family. The hosting of family events moved to my home and I inherited the giant soup pot needed to make enough for firsts, and seconds, and "take homes". Eventually, my brother became the maker of chicken soup for family events – and he still makes it regularly for his own family especially in the “brrrr” and “eey” months - September to February.

The recipe has never been written down. It begins with a soup pot and water to which were added full chicken legs (skin on - and sometimes chicken backs, necks if any were on hand). The water was slowly brought to a simmer and this was the absolute most important stage of the soup-making – the cook was not allowed to be distracted. As the water and the chicken warmed, a foamy scum would rise to the surface. Google “foamy scum on chicken soup” if interested in the science. I once heard Julia Child say it was not necessary to skim that off, but in my family we always did, using a little strainer. Once that stage ended, we added carrots in large chunks, celery, a bundle of parsley, salt and whole peppercorns. A whole onion with a layer of skin was added – this gave the soup a warm hue. Also added were thick slices of kohlrabi. (In time, we became privy to the "secret" that both grandmother and mother added some chicken broth powder. We never tracked down the product they used, and as far as I know it no longer exists.)

The soup was served as a broth with noodles – and for family occasions, the noodles were very special - handmade csiga (cheegaw) – the Hungarian word for snails - so-named because of the pasta's inexact resemblance to the creature inside the shell. This pasta was painstakingly made by my grandmother, and then my mother. I can recall helping a few times, but by and large it was a time consuming task my mother undertook as a family occasions approached. My father created a tool that sped up the cutting of the pasta into little one inch squares. He also made the grooved little boards that were used to turn /roll the wee pasta squares. The final step was to spread the “little snails” onto a floured sheet spread over an un-used bed – and there they stayed for several days until thoroughly dry. Now csiga can be purchased at local delicatessens, but they are clearly machine made and a pale imitation of home-made.

 Home-made tools

Home-made tools

It has been over three years since we ate the last of the handmade csiga, and while I know how to make it and have inherited every single tool, I admit I have not yet been motivated to take on that family tradition. The soup was eaten as clear broth with the csiga. A platter brought to the table served up the “soup chicken”, carrots and kohlrabi that everyone could add to their bowl as they wished.  Mind you, the soup chicken was often the second course – eaten with boiled potatoes and a paradicsom martas – a sauce made of sour cream, flour and a sort of tomato passata (which was home cooked in tomato season and bottled into old beer bottles for use year round).  Oddly, I used to find that sauce to be a bit tart and sprinkled sugar onto it!! Was that weird? I just Googled chicken and sugar – and shockingly there are quite a few recipes that enhance the chicken eating experience with sugar! Who knew!?

It’s a mystery why chicken soup can be so comforting. We make it very often, and for some time have favoured the LooneySpoons version. In this blog post, I am announcing that a new chicken soup recipe has taken the number one spot. It is much closer to the food memory of my childhood. The soup begins with schmaltz – which I could not find, but the internet claimed that goose fat was an acceptable substitute. I have now make this with both duck fat, and also (once I found some) with goose fat. Initially, I could not find matzo meal and so made griz gomboc (greeze gumbowtz) which are Cream of Wheat dumplings - common in Hungarian cuisine. 

Try this recipe for Chicken Soup with Herbed Matzo Balls (or griz gomboc) and if it doesn't leave you feeling comforted, satisfied and gratified, I’ll eat my… soup.

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Three Cheers for Broccoli - Three Ways!

It was soup day again, and we were still surrounded by white (snow) – wishing for green (Spring). There was broccoli in the fridge and so broccoli soup became the main item on the menu. My Dad used to like broccoli soup. It was years ago that I had tried to make some for him. Each attempt tasted fine, but the gorgeous green more often than not transformed into the less appetizing olive green colour. It was only in recent years (when he was no longer with us) that I settled on the Podleski Sisters’ version of broccoli soup. 

Broccoli is part of the cabbage family – wait until I have time to share cabbage recipes – yum. So far, every time I research something for this blog, I discover it is an ancient food – and broccoli has been around since the 6th century BC! Italians seem to get credit for cultivating and popularizing broccoli, which “was first introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants but did not become widely known there until the 1920s.” (Source)

As grown ups, many of us likely began reaching for broccoli more often when we discovered it was a great source of vitamin C and fibre, and had anti-cancer properties. It appears on (and tends to disappear from) every veggie tray, at every event / meeting. Yet, people of a certain age may have bad memories of poorly prepared and unappetizing cooked broccoli – often not a kiddie’s favourite. If you’ll pardon the old joke: “What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids don’t like to eat broccoli.” (badda boom!)

I am sharing the recipe for Looneyspoons reasonably low cal, yet flavourful broccoli soup. It uses the florets only. What to do with the stalks? If I was a clever girl, I’d add them to a freezer bag, saving up veggie scraps to make a homemade veggie stock – but I am not that clever. And yet, it seems wrong to toss the broccoli stalk. Here’s what to do – keep the stalks refrigerated until you accumulate 3-4 stalks and then make Jacques Pépin's Risotto with Broccoli Stalks and Mushrooms.

If suddenly it is the broccoli florets that are luxuriating in the refrigerator – they are great eaten raw with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing as a dip, or can in minutes be transformed into a tasty side with this Optimum Health recipe.

Three recipes, and three cheers for Broccoli!

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