Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Cleo Songbook, Month Seven

The key to Cleo's taste in music is: quantity, not quality. She'll tolerate almost any length of car trip, even when she's fussy, as long as the singing flows without ceasing. This works out very well for me, since I'm not much of a singer, but boy do I have stamina. The best songs (besides the evil "Song That Never Ends") for singing forever are ones that combine a singable tune and a structure that lends itself to stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Some songs that have proved effective:

-She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain, since she'll also be doing any number of other things that have the right number of syllables, like:
She'll be driving to the market.
She'll be wearing her sunglasses.
She'll be flipping off the jerkwads.
She'll be hunting for some parking.
She'll be scaring off the pigeons.
She'll be turning off the engine.
(this is the grocery store version, as you may have gathered)

-The Wheels On The Bus, since there can be a lot more things on the bus than you might have thought...
The jocks on the bus go "Dude, that's sweet!"
The kids on the bus say "Yo, wassup?"
The grandmas on the bus say "What's that, sonny?"
The girls on the bus say "That's my phone!"

-And finally, the tune of My Country 'Tis Of Thee (Or God Save The Present Monarch), which for some reason lends itself beautifully to the singing out loud of random road signs (try it, it's fun):

My country 'tis of thee
sweet land of liberty
stop light ahead.
Providence twenty miles
Fall River Exit four
from ev'ry mountainside
Pete's Lube and Gas.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bulk Soup

Soup is usually an opportunity to improvise. It gets concocted out of a little of this, a little of that, and whatever odds and ends seem compatible and need using up. All in the pot, simmer til done, eat, and move on with a cleaner fridge and a fuller belly. My dad is an expert at this kind of soup improvisation. If asked what's in one of his creations, he'll just smile and say, "Have some first. Then I'll tell you." Secret ingredients of his that I can recall include jam, old salad, and ketchup. But the soup pot always manages to transform the mixture into a meal worthy of the family, if not reliably something you'd want to trot out in front of guests.

But the other day, faced with the prospect of a tablefull of wintertime lunch guests, I needed a more predictable soup. Far be it from me to follow someone else's recipe, I started from scratch. I was out of homemade broth (thanks to an intestinal bug that made the rounds), and I didn't have the patience to make a whole new batch that would be used up in one meal. And I wanted something easy. So I started with the tricks I knew worked: sausage (it's pre-seasoned, pre-cleaned, and contains enough fat to carry a soupsworth of flavors), dried garlic and onion (optional, of course), browning, long simmering, and the magic of the overnight wait.

About that overnight wait: soup and soup-like foods are always better the next day, after the flavors have had time to swim around each other for a while, so it only makes sense to harness the power of that phenomenon and serve day-old soup to guests. The problem arises when you have a lot of guests and not a lot of space in the fridge. So in the recipe below, only part of the soup sits overnight: the ingredients that have the most to give (sausage, onion, garlic, spices) and the most to gain (beans, potatoes,) by the wait.

Sausage and White Bean Soup
serves 8-10
cooking time: 2 days (mostly waiting and simmering)

2 pounds sweet Italian sausage links (or 2 pounds bulk sausage)
3 cans cannellini beans, drained
4 white potatoes, diced
one or two bunches of kale or collards (you could use frozen)
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons chopped dried garlic
3 boxes low-salt chicken broth (or 12 cups homemade)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
sherry or white wine, to taste

The day before you want to serve the soup, brown the sausage links well on all sides. Once they're cooked through, chop them up into small bite sized chunks. If you have time and the inclination, brown the chunks again. In a large pot, combine the beans, sausage, potatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper, and one box (or four cups) of the broth. Simmer for an hour or so. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, de-stem and steam the greens and chop them (do this neatly to avoid long stringy green bits trailing from people's soup spoons). Heat the bean/sausage mixture in a large pot and add the rest of the broth and the chopped greens. Let the soup simmer for at least two hours, if not four. There is nothing in this soup that can be over-cooked. You want the greens to go from bright green and springy to dull green and tired to dark greenish-gray and thoroughly limp. The potatoes and beans should fall into mush at the lightest touch. The sausage should be but a shadow of its former self, having given its all for the good of the broth.

Once the soup seems good and cooked, and you want to eat it soon, start tasting and adjusting. With all the simmering, it may have lost a good amount of liquid, and may benefit from the addition of water. Depending on how salty the broth and sausages were, the soup may need dilution even if it didn't get cooked down much. And it will likely need some acidity to perk it up a little. I tend to add wine or dry sherry, but vinegar would do it too. If you want it spicier, a little hot sauce would help.

And a word about volume... Thanks to our one-cup measure which works nicely as a ladle, I happen to know that this recipe, as made by me this week, made a little more than twenty cups of soup, and two cups make a nice serving size, with bread and salad and dessert.