Thu 24 Sep 2009
Here’s the way the week days go: LL has coffee for breakfast; I have tea and toast. Perhaps one or the other of us has a bowl of cereal. We sort of try to get through the day without eating much. LL seldom has lunch, unless she goes out with a colleague or to a meeting, and then it’s always something light. I, the stay-at-home guy, tend to snack through the day, a handful of nuts here, a slice or two of cheese toast there, whoa! where did those cookies come from? By evening, we’re ravenous, and to allay the hunger, we consume a large dinner.
To bring some common sense to our routine, last weekend LL announced a change. “I’m going to come home for lunch,” she said, “and we’ll have our biggest meal then, but not too much. At night we’ll eat something lighter. We’ll probably sleep better. We’ll probably be healthier. And we won’t feel as if we’re about to faint from starvation in the middle of the afternoon.”
One of the sources we turned to is a book called New Flavors for Soups, published this year by Oxmoor House for Williams-Sonoma ($22.95). Preparation levels range from simple to complicated; some of the soups are hearty and downhome-style, while other are more sophisticated. We chose three to start with: cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo; spicy turkey and jasmine rice soup with lemongrass; and lentil and Swiss chard soup with Serrano ham and smoked paprika. I went to the store Sunday and loaded up on the ingredients for these soups, and on Monday, I started cooking.
Here’s how it went:
Monday morning, I made a very intense broth from a package of turkey wings. LL came home for lunch and made a salad of beet greens, tomatoes, radishes and some other salady stuff, with fried eggs on top. That was very satisfying but not too filling. We went to the Y after LL came home from work, and when we got home, we made the rest of the turkey soup. This calls for lemongrass, of course, fresh ginger, Serrano chilies — one seeded and chopped, the other thinly sliced and used as a garnish — garlic, carrots, white wine and the jasmine rice. Boy, forget the turkey and rice soup of your childhood! This soup was extravagantly fragrant and layered with complex flavors. The only problem was the lemongrass. Even following the instructions — you know, discarding the outer layers, cutting off the tops where they begin to harden and so on — we kept getting unpleasant, little woody slivers in our mouths. If anyone knows how to deal with lemongrass, I would be grateful for your advice, because we would like to make this soup again.
To go with the soup, I opened the Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Western Australia. Made in stainless steel, this is exemplary for its style: clean and fresh and enlivened by lithe acidity and offering notes of peach, kiwi and mango with highlights of lime and grapefruit; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of dried herbs and new-mown grass and a scintillating mineral element, all ensconced in a crisp yet slightly lush texture. Very Good+. About $18.
Much as we enjoyed this wine, though, it didn’t have quite the intimate relationship with the soup that we desired — a kiss is always better than a handshake, n’est-ce pas? — so on a hunch, I opened a bottle of the non-vintage Sokol Blosser Evolution “Lucky Edition” — it’s the 13th release, get it? — thinking that the tinge of sweetness that characterizes the wine would be both a supporting and mitigating factor vis-a-vis the soup’s exotic, spicy heat. And I was right. Also fashioned entirely in stainless steel, Evolution makes a somewhat humorous fetish of its eclectic blend: muller-thurgau, riesling, semillon, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat canelli, chardonnay, pinot blanc and sylvaner. What, no chenin blanc or viognier? No viura or torrontes? Does the wine really require nine grapes? What if one, just one, were omitted?
Well, whatever, Evolution “Lucky Edition” is a charmer. The bouquet seems permeated by jasmine and honeysuckle, along with some astringent floral element and touches of pear, peach and lychee. Juicy flavors of roasted lemon and lemon oil dominate the flavors; the wine’s spicy and slightly herbal nature expands in the glass, with snappy acidity and a clean leafy sensation. The finish takes on some of gewurztraminer’s bracing bitterness. That, along with the wine’s sweetness, felt mainly on the entry, slid among the soup’s spicy elements and tamed them a bit, while the heat of the soup made the wine less sweet. A terrific pairing. Very Good+. About $17.
Evolution is designated “American White Wine.” The rare and extremely broad “American” appellation is generally used when grapes for a wine come from several states; as such, no vintage date is allowed.
So, Tuesday, before LL came home for lunch, I chopped fresh basil, thyme, flat-leaf parsely and a shallot, in anticipation of one of our favorite incredibly simple dishes, pasta with cold tomato sauce. Actually, the word “sauce” is a trifle misleading, since nothing here is cooked except the pasta. When that is finished, drained and placed in bowls, you take the chopped herbs and shallot and some chopped tomatoes, which LL did when she arrived, mix them together and spoon them onto the pasta, toss a bit with salt and pepper, and serve. The heat of the pasta gently warms the tomatoes so they’re not really cold. This is a wonderful dish, the essence of freshness, wholesomeness and spontaneity.
O.K., thought I cleverly, what we need is a glass — this was lunch, after all — a glass, I say, of a Beaujolais with some character. Fortunately, I had a bottle of the Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2007, from one of the 10 villages (crus) allowed to place their names on labels. Nicolas Potel is a meticulous producer, and his care reveals itself in this wine’s exuberant and layered nature. This Fleurie, which does indeed display hints of violets and roses, was made from gamay grapes taken from two vineyards, one 50 years old, the other 55 years old, and aged in small oak barrels, 25 percent new. It begins as an amazingly fresh and grapey example of a cru Beaujolais, but infused with red and black cherries and touches of smoke and black pepper. In the mouth, vibrant acidity buoys black currant and plum flavors with a spicy note of mulberry and dark chocolate-covered raspberries; a trace of minerals brings depth and density to a lovely, almost indulgent texture. This should age well to 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $22, Great Value for the Price.
We had shrimp broth in the freezer, so I didn’t have to make that, as the recipe for cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo calls for. That fact also meant that we could buy peeled and de-veined shrimp, since we wouldn’t need the shells for the broth. Saved two big steps there, but the prep work is intense: an onion, a stalk of celery and a red bell pepper, finely chopped, and four cloves of garlic, minced. You start the cooking by making a roux from flour and canola oil, keeping it going until it’s “the color of an old penny.” After that process, the dish is simple, just adding things to the pot, stirring, simmering for 20 minutes, more stuff goes in, and then another 20 minutes. The spices, by the way, include cumin and cayenne pepper; yes, this is an intense and spicy dish. The shrimp go in last, just to cook for about four minutes. This, Readers, is a world-class concoction. We loved this soup, with its luxurious pairing of mild shrimp and piquant meaty chorizo, its persistent heat, its complicated spiciness. I can’t imagine why I don’t have an image of this dish — I’ve gotten to be quite a bore about taking food shots — but, there it is; this time, I didn’t.
I took the easy way out for wine and opened the Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2008, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. You wouldn’t mistake this sauvignon blanc for having been made anywhere but New Zealand, yet the wine exhibits an admirable sense of restraint that many models from New Zealand can’t manage. Pure lime and grapefruit in the nose, then hints of kiwi and pea shoots; roasted lemon takes over in the mouth, with touches of pear and tangerine and a note of fresh grass. Spiffy acid keeps the package lively and vibrant, while a bit of limestone offers ballast. Oh, yes, this is also made in stainless steel. Not thrilling but well-made and enjoyable. Very Good+. About $15.
The ecologically-minded will appreciate that Wairau River is certified as a CarboNZero winery by the New Zealand government. This Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is the winery’s initial release under the program. Don’t we all feel better now!
So, two days do not a revolution make, and Wednesday we fell off the Wagon of Good Intentions and Reasonableness. It was a hideously hectic day — you’re thinking, “Um, FK, aren’t you unemployed?” — and in the midst of the chaos, LL came home and made sandwiches for lunch, sandwiches stacked with several kinds of Italian salamis, tomatoes, greens, er, other stuff, anyway they were fabulous and who cares? Then more centers not holding mid widening gyres and that evening we just said, “Oh, what the hell” and had a steak and roasted potatoes and sauteed Swiss chard (at least) and a fantastically indulgent and expensive bottle of cabernet, which I’ll get to in a subsequent post. (Oh all right, the Chimney Rock Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. $110. So sue me.) Oops, that chard was supposed to go in the lentil soup. Back to the store.
Today it was bowls of the leftover turkey soup for lunch, and in a few minutes we’re going to make a bread salad for dinner. Onward and upward.