Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Touski, or the secret to soup

I don’t really have a recipe today, but I’d like to tell you about a soup I made on Sunday. It’s my favorite kind of soup, the kind that can only happen when you’re interested in cleaning your fridge. In French, or at least in my family, it’s called a “touski” soup— on y met tout ce qu’il y a dans le frigo— an “everything-in-the-fringe” soup. A plethora of the weekend’s leftovers and of nearly forgotten bits and bobs. In other words, a heartfelt attempt to get to know your fridge.

You have to use your judgment, but these soups are often are beautiful, and strangely perfect. And I always feel rather independent making this kind of soup: Because I've marched ahead with no recipe, and because I’ve managed to salvage and recycle what might have gone to waste.

This particular soup is made of leftovers from a weekend with friends. We had a party on Friday, which became more of a potluck. We also had some friends, Tim, Michelle, and Julia, who stayed at our place for a glorious weekend of eating and drinking.

For our party on Friday night, Red brought a Portuguese roasted chicken. It was delicious. We had bones and meat left over. The bones eventually became broth, along with some onions, garlic and a few sprigs of oregano. And the chunks of meat adds to the soups heartiness.

On Saturday night, Michelle made tacos. She’s a fantastic cook, and had the wonderful idea of making mashed yams as one of the taco fillers. We were left with some of that, and with some chopped tomato. I added the yam in the pot, just after sauteeing some more onions and some diced potato. In went parboiled lentils, too. I found them at the pack of the cupboard, left over from a previous week long obsession with lentils.

In our fridge, we also had some near-goner spinach. That went into the soup at the last minute, just to wilt.

On Sunday night, in the wake of our wonderful weekend with friends, all these leftovers came together and became a warm oregano and chicken soup, heavy with vegetables and lentils. The mashed yam turned it into a thick and hearty soup.

Now, we are in our quiet apartment, our friends are gone, and it feels a little empty. But we’re still enjoying the leftovers, thinking of all the good times and good food we had.

This week

I’ve never told you about my favorite food blog, Orangette. Last Sunday, I made a batch of her butterscotch cookies. I made them again on Friday. And then I made them once more last night, with my good friend Caroline and a bottle of wine. You should try them too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cake and half-truths

The summer before last, when I lived on Braemar Street in Winnipeg, there was an apple cake that I made a lot. My parents’ crab apple trees were heavy with fruit, and I came home from the farm with loads of apples several times in late August.

I have to say, this story isn’t really about cake. It’s about those little secrets that are best kept to yourself. It’s about little accidents that should be left untold.

I had been invited to a supper with people I didn’t know very well. Keen on impressing, I made my cake the night before, so it would be well set and I wouldn’t have to scramble in the kitchen after work. It would be a hit, I knew it. It’s a beautiful cake, light, not too sweet, and packed with apples.

And apples, I had.

The problem, you ask? It wasn’t just the summer of crab apples. It was also the summer of ants. They were all over the kitchen that year, ransacking everything while I wasn’t looking, laughing at me when my back was turned.

On the dinner night, while waiting for the bus, I inspected my carefully saran wrapped cake. And then I saw it. An antenna sticking out of the icing, squashed against the plastic.

Shit. An ant in the cake. I got on the bus, sat down, and carefully unwrapped the cake. There were a dozen ants, smooched into the sweet icing. Diabetes kills, I thought. Bastards.

I picked all the bugs out before my stop.

Everyone enjoyed the cake, no one ever knew. Except me, of course. And you, now.

Insect-free apple cake
adapted from a recipe in the MCC Simply in Season

5 cups tart apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
1 1/3 cup sugar
½ cup oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt


2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cream
1 tbsp flour
1/3 powdered sugar

Combine the sugar and the apples and let stand while mixing other ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs and vanilla. Set aside. In a third bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Alternating between the egg mixture and the flour mixture, pour and stir into the apples. Pour into a greased cake pan (3.5 L). Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the icing, bring brown sugar, cream, and flour to a brief boil in a sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in the icing sugar, briskly. Pour onto slightly cooled cake immediately.