Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I know your gastro sights on set on Christmas by now. Indeed, Thanksgiving is so last month.

But here's the thing: I have one serving left of Thanksgiving soup in my freezer. It is a coveted entree, and it's been sitting pretty in the front row of my frozen real estate.

Thanksgiving soup isn't new. A lot of people add chunks of leftover turkey to broth, maybe with some veg. People relish that kind of repurposing. Some more ambitious types might even make that broth from the bird bones, for added richness. As they should. Waste not, want not, right?

I challenge you to examine the cornucopia in the accompanying picture. What do you detect? The poetic onion peel almost looks like foliage. The red apple peel resembles peppy sprigs of cranberry.

It looks pretty, but basically, it's garbage juice.

I don't say this to repulse you, but merely to point out how people are forever throwing away perfectly flavorful and useful scraps. I'm talking carrot peel, apple peel, cabbage stubs, onion paper, poultry bones.

If you toss these scraps into a dutch oven with some bay leaves and peppercorns, fill it with water, bring it to a boil and let it reduce to half, then add more water, then reduce to half, then add more water, then maybe splash in some leftover white wine, drain and discard the scraps (they've now reached their trashy potential)...you'll eventually get a stock that tastes like Thanksgiving.

Round out the soup with some tender veggies and leftover turkey, and every spoonful will prolong those Thanksgiving memories. It will be the best rubbish water you've ever tasted.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


"The pantry items to have on a deserted island."
These are the items that make almost all food tasty.
Salt. It’s all about control. And we gluttons are the ones with the reins. For pasta water, you’ve got to have a heavy hand. Literally, I want you to greedily dig your hand in that sea salt like it’s the proverbial jar of jelly beans, and pour a good palmful in the dutch-oven ocean.

Speaking of, picture the foamy, bubbly, salty ocean for a moment. That’s what will happen in a colander when you rinse out the mountainous sodium in a can of vegetables. I’m telling you, rinse the beans. Rinse the out-of-control salt away. Bye-bye bubbles, and be back in control of the salt level of your food. (A tip from a friend, Dawn Jackson-Blatner, RD, LDN, author ofThe Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life,” McGraw-Hill, 2010, http://www.http//dawnjacksonblatner.com/).

Salt is also the backbone of a lot of desserts. I made a golden oatmeal apple crisp for a dinner party once, and someone kept gobbling up the treat, bite after bite, until he asked, “What is that subtle tart flavor?” Salt, mon ami. "But it's..." Dessert. Yes, I know.
Pepper. Controversial perhaps, cracked pepper does pack much more flavor than regularly-ground pepper. A good grinder is worth the investment, but make sure it doesn’t drop chunky grounds on your plate. A defective grinder slipped one of those marbled, peppery kernels on my food once, and I swallowed the fire. It lived inside me for days. Still, the smell of cracked pepper gives me a shiver down my spine. But I’ve overcome the fear and recognized pepper’s savory potential.
Lemon. So sweet for something so sour. It brightens soups and bolsters salads. It’s the “oooh” in aioli. Not only that, what about the aesthetic value? My mother says there should be a pop of yellow color in every kitchen. A bowl of lemon sunshine does the decorative trick. And those bags of lemons at the market are so obliging to this objective.
Olive oil. It’s the ultimate flavorful fat that pleases all food palates. The vegan dream to gloss up soy products or the caramelizing helper of grass-fed steaks. By itself. On a plate. With a little (see aforementioned ingredients). I don’t care whether it’s virginal or extra virginal. I’ve read all the arguments about the pressing and the purification. But when the regular stuff is a little cheaper, I just pretend I don’t know about its dirty past.
So bring it on, Swiss Family Robinson, Gilligan’s Island. As long as I have my ingredient foursome (and the professor stoking a handy fire), take me to that deserted island. I’ll tumble into slumber soundly under the stars, belly and heart full, warm. 
Oh, dear God…what about garlic? It’s the fragrant bouquet I treat myself to every time I grocery shop. Gasp! I hope it grows indigenously on that island.