With Summer shortly drawing to an end, the Fall has me thinking about some hearty and simple meals such as soup, cassoulet, and boeuf bourguignon to mention a few.
On my grocery list for today’s East York Civic Centre’s Farmers’ Market are leeks, carrots, celery, beets, green beans, corn and cherry tomatoes. I will be using only the first three items for today’s soup.
The base for any great soup is stock. I don’t have any vegetable stock (note to self: start a bag of veggie scraps to have in the freezer to make stock) but I have 6 – 1 litre containers of chicken stock. Each time I order my 20 pounds of chicken from the West Side Beef Company — yes, they sell chicken as well, they include 2 containers of chicken stock. The stock has zero salt added to it which is perfect since I can now control how salty it should be.
If you don’t have stock and need to buy it, I caution you about the salt content of most commercial broths in your local grocery store. Loblaws has under their Blue Menu two excellent broths. Both their Chicken Broth and Beef Broth have no salt added and are fat free. These can be used as the basis for any soup and I suggest cooking rice in the chicken broth for extra flavour.
But seeing as I had real stock I took two containers out of the freezer and dumped them into a large soup pot. I wondered about the stock being too “chickeny” in taste so I reached out to my friend Lisa Kates who really knows a thing or two about soup.
Lisa suggested I dilute the stock with some water to reduce the strong chicken flavour. She also suggested to sauté the veggies first to bring out additional flavour before adding them to the soup pot.
I added the sautéed veggies to the soup pot along with some canned lentils we had left over plus some pearl barley. Salt and pepper were added to taste along with some fresh thyme, a bouquet garni and some shiitake mushroom stems that I had in the freezer. You normally don’t eat shiitake mushroom stems as they tend to be woody. But they are packed with nutrients so I bundled up the stems into a cheesecloth packet so I could fish them out of the soup once they had given up their goodness.
Earlier in the day I started to make a batch of Michael Ruhlman’s Dutch Oven Bread. We have made this bread several times and the interesting thing is that it bakes in a dutch oven inside your regular oven. 450°F with the lid on for the first half hour, then down to 375°F with the lid off for the last half hour.
I didn’t want to turn the oven on so I thought about using my outdoor oven — The Big Green Egg. Anyone that knows me, understands my love for The Big Green Egg. It is a smoker, a grill, and an oven. It’s thick ceramic walls retain the heat and moisture of anything that you cook on it. So I thought it would be perfect to try baking bread in The Egg. We fanatics of The Big Green Egg are called Eggheads:
Michael Ruhlman has written many books but one of my favourites is his book called Twenty which contains the Dutch Oven Bread recipe:
An interesting thing I have learned from reading Michael’s books is about measurements. Michael measures everything by weight, not volume. He recently posted in interesting example of how two different kosher salts yielded an almost 20% difference in weight when compared to measurement by volume. That could lead to a serious salt tragedy in a dish.
The nice thing about Michael’s recipes is the fact that there are two versions: one by volume and one by weight. I bought a really inexpensive Starfrit digital scale online from Cayne’s when they were clearing out one model for $15!
All the ingredients including the flour, water, yeast and salt were all measured on the digital scale. The scale allows you to zero out the weight of the container you place on it which is a real nice feature.
Everything goes into my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook attached. Set to medium speed for 8-10 minutes and that’s it. Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl and let it rise for about 4 hours. You then punch it down to knead out any gas bubbles and let it rise a second time for about another hour.
Slash the top with a knife, rub some olive oil on the outside and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Normally you place it in the Dutch Oven, but I put the dough on a peel covered with some flour and corn meal so I could transport it to The Big Green Egg:
I closed the lid and after half an hour, turned The Egg down to 375°C. I also used a technique the French do when making crusty bread or baguettes: I had a spritzer with water in it and gave the bread a nice spritz water bath. It helps form a nice crust.
The Big Green Egg is one of the best culinary tools that I have ever owned. And yes, it’s old school because it uses lump charcoal. No briquettes or lighter fluid ever. She lights up easily using an electric starter for 10 minutes. You can be cooking on it within 15 minutes so it’s not much more work than heating up your gas grill.
The best barbecue supply store on the planet is Ontario Gas Barbecue:
They also sell my second best culinary tool, the Thermapen. It’s not just any ordinary digital thermometer, this is a calibrated scientific piece of equipment. You will see it used by chefs on television quite often. No more guessing if something is done, no poking to see how squishy it is. If you want a steak medium-rare trust the Thermapen to read 135°F and it’s guaranteed to be medium-rare:
So there you have it. A pretty simple and inexpensive meal not counting the cost of The Big Green Egg, the Thermapen, the KitchenAid, the digital scale… you get my point!