Monday, October 28, 2013

To clear my head

I was hoping to dazzle you here today. I've been in the kitchen quite a bit lately, and I'm eager to get some of my new fall favorites into this space. I wanted to relive a cider-braised pork roast last Sunday and capture it for the blog - and oh, that will happen soon. (Did I mention the caramelized onion and apple confit? Oh. You just wait.) But instead of cooking and taking photos, I found myself mostly under blankets. A cold snuck up on me over the weekend and left me with what feels like an anvil on top of my nose. 

It's not a horrible cold, but is enough to slow me down and leave me a bit fuzzy in the brain. Today at work, for instance, I sent out a meeting invite with a conference dial in number. When I typed in the passcodes, I wrote:
Participant passcode: xxxx
Hoar passcode: xxxx

Seriously. I sent it out to seven or eight people like that, and didn't notice until six hours later when I was heading to the meeting. I think I was going for host, not hoar; but really, who knows.

Yes, a bit fuzzy in the brain.

So the cider-braised pork roast will have to wait, but it's high on my list of life to-dos. For now, I'm after something simple and hot to soothe my throat and clear my head. I'm not much of a chicken noodle soup fan, so when I'm looking for brothy soup with healing powers, I choose this simple cabbage soup.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this recipe here, because it's so simple and homey. Not really a dazzler. But the truth is, we make this probably once a month in the winter. A few pieces of smokey, sweet bacon flavor a rich base of chicken stock, with a spoonful of caraway seeds to add a depth of flavor that reaches to your bones. Shreds of cabbage and onion, a bit sweet from cooking with the bacon, round out the dish. With a slice of buttery wheat toast and a pint of dark beer, it's one of our classic cold-weather meals.

Another bonus - it's cheap! (So cheap. Poor Man Soup, we've called it since the beginning; cabbage and potatoes, stuff of peasant food), and decidedly German - I like to think my Grandma Laura had something like this in her repertoire for cold Minnesota nights.

I hope you're feeling well. And if not, feed a cold, eh?

Poor Man Soup (Cabbage and Potato Soup with Bacon and Caraway)
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Notes: There's not much to this one, so make sure to pick high-quality, flavorful ingredients. For bacon, I've had good results with Trader Joe's apple smoked bacon and Whole Foods black forest bacon. For chicken stock, choose a darker brown stock (rather than a lighter yellow stock); I like Kitchen Essentials in the yellow carton.

4 pieces thick-cut, very flavorful bacon, diced (1/3 pound or so)
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
1/2 a medium head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (crushed in a mortar and pestle if you have one)
8 cups good-quality chicken stock
4-5 small red or yellow potatoes, diced
Salt, to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and bacon is almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cabbage to the pot; stir into the bacon pieces and fat, and cook until the veggies have softened a bit, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the caraway seeds, then add the stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Season with salt, to taste, and additional caraway seeds if desired.

Serve with buttery wheat toast and, preferably, a pint of good porter or stout. Tastes even better the next day.

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