Friday, March 6, 2009

finding my footing

in school, i often doubted
myself, believing that i 
didn't belong,
that i shouldn't 
have ventured
too far from my
journalism degree.
i thought
that i was not meant
to work
the ambitious,
the ones who were 
so excited to
butcher a rabbit,
burn 3-inch scars
into their arms
to prove they were chefs
loved the prospect of
12 hour days, 
constantly cooking.

in the beginning,
i would stay in my assigned spot,
close to tears,
and muttering
to myself,
i'm a writer, 
i'm not meant to be here,
praying that i wouldn't cry
in front of the tattooed,
boy's club men who were able
to bone a leg of lamb in the
45 minutes allotted,
without having the instructor
suggest that they take
the piece of lamb,
plus an extra,
to finish and practice there.
they didn't have to lug several
pounds of meat into their car 
and drive down the fdr,
wondering if they would ever
dare quit. 
or worse, 
get thrown out.

they thought everyday was fun.

in the beginning, 
i didn't.
but i stayed. 
then we started the third
month with a new
instructor and a more
methodical style.
soon after,
he had us on repeat,
peeling 10 carrots
and then 10 potatoes
and then 10 turnips
all with a paring knife.

and i realized,
that i still wasn't especially
good at any of those things,
but i like what doesn't change.
i have the patience for dicing
30 onions for mirepoix,
frosting dozens of cupcakes,
drizzling in oil
drop by drop 
for pesto. 
i like the that i can figure it out,
then press replay
zone out,
perfecting as i go. 

a lot of that,
combined with the 
fact that i 
refused from
somewhere deep
down (so far down that was
admittedly often hard to find)
to let the bullies in 
my class or the ones in my head,
keep me from finishing,
kept me in the program.

and, it's often what drives 
me to think it's a good idea 
to cook
assembly line projects
after work. 
the prospect
makes me feel like
i'm a cook, home or otherwise,
who can handle anything
(even though i know that if 
today you handed me a leg 
of lamb, i'd have no idea where
to even start to remove the bone).

and, so, this week,
in spite of barely sleeping
and one of those
colds that makes you feel
like your head is rattling around,
hovering somewhere foggily above
your body,
i made a recipe that i clipped
years ago from bon appetit:
i've been thinking about it
for quite a long time now,
probably even more since it's so
cold lately.
but, i think i wanted to spend the time
preparing the two-part dish,
to make myself feel better,
to feel capable,
and in control.
to feel grounded.
the soup is simple,
if not slightly time consuming
in what it demands of you:
hanging around
for roasting,
to stir from time to time,
boil here for 10 minutes,
simmer for another 15,
but it is easy.
i'm all for easy, but maybe
that, combined with rather
ho-hum ingredients,
made the soup just ok.

i really love eggplant 
and i thought that the purple
veggie would be enough,
but even if you love eggplant,
a bowl-full is a lot to swallow.
in fairness, i did leave out the fennel,
and i used milk in place of heavy cream
for the final 1/2 cup of liquid. and
when we finally sat down to
eat, it wasn't as one-dimensional
as i feared. it was comforting,
with hints of white wine and leeks.

but the true star, the reason, 
i decided to write about this recipe,
was the dumplings. they were
really very good - 
a smashed
mixture of sauteed shallots,
vine-ripened chopped tomato,
basil and
tangy goat cheese, bundled up
in thin wonton wrappers.

we tried them 
gently boiled 
as the recipe suggested,
and very lightly pan-fried
for texture. 
we both prefered
them soft and supple,
but for a cocktail party
pass-around, i would recommend
the second method, drizzled 
with reduced balsamic vinegar
or dipped into a pesto-inspired
sauce. the boiled
ones would make delicious
ravioli on their own and,
as they were originally intended,
really did liven up the soup.

they're soothers to assemble.
the repetition of laying
out squares of dough,
dropping filling in the center,
lining the edge with water,
folding and pressing to seal
felt good.

and luckily, they tasted even better.

roasted eggplant soup
adapted from bon appetit magazine
i did leave the fennel out of this soup, for personal reasons (i don't like it. at all. i know, i know.), swap a yukon gold potato for a russet and use milk instead of cream. those were the only major differences (other little things were mostly increases for flavor) - maybe they would have transformed the soup into something spectacular. if you adore eggplant, this is for you - i just recommend cooking it a day ahead of time. while still mellow, i think it was much more flavorful the next evening. 

if you use a blender, be extremely careful when pureeing: place a dish towel over the covered container and press hard - hot liquids want to get out. if you have an immersion blender, chances are you would have used it already here, but this is the perfect time to take it out.

3 lbs. eggplant, trimmed and halved lengthwise
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium yukon gold potato
1 large onion, peeled and chopped 
1 leek, sliced, soaked and dried
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 cup white wine, divided
7 1/2 cups prepared chicken stock
1/2 cup milk

preheat oven to 375˚F. place eggplant halves cut side down on rimmed baking sheet coated with cooking spray. bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until very tender. cool.

peel and dice potato (do this last minute to prevent browning). melt butter in large heavy pot. add potato, onion, leek, garlic and oregano; season with salt and pepper. saute 10 minutes. add 1/2 cup wine. cook 2 minutes. add stock; bring mixture to a boil and reduce to low. simmer 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. using spoon, remove eggplant flesh from skins; add flesh to soup (discard skins). simmer 10 minutes. working in batches, puree soup in blender and return mixture to pot or use an immersion blender directly in the pot. stir in remaining 1/4 cup white wine and milk. season with salt and pepper.

goat cheese and tomato dumplings
adapted from bon appetit magazine
because i believed the filling was stable enough to stand some tinkering, i adjusted measurements from the original to what i had in the house - i subbed a vine-ripened tomato for plum among other things. i was able to make 28 dumplings - i froze over half for another time (i can't wait). to do: place assembled dumplings on a parchment-lined or foil-lined and flour coated baking sheet. place baking sheet in freezer 1 to 2 hours or until firm. transfer dumplings to a freezer-safe bag. when you're ready to cook, no need to defrost - just add an extra minute or two to the cooking time.

1 Tbs. olive oil
3 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped 
1 medium vine-ripened tomato, halved, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 log (4 oz.) goat cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 pkg. prepared wonton wrappers
small bowl of water

in skillet, heat oil over medium heat. add shallots and cook 5 minutes, or until tender, stirring often to prevent burning. let shallots cool. add tomato and basil. stir in goat cheese. season mixture with salt and pepper. 

place parchment paper on baking sheet or line baking sheet with foil and dust with flour.

place four wrappers on clean work surface; cover other wrappers to keep soft. using teaspoon measure, place goat cheese filling in center of wrappers. using your finger, wet the entire outside edge of the wonton wrapper. fold diagonally to make triangle, pressing firmly to seal. transfer to baking sheet.

bring saucepot of shallow water to a boil; season with salt. add half of the dumplings, a couple at a time, and cook 1 - 2 minutes, or until they rise to the top, the wrapper is cooked through and the filling is hot. if serving in the soup, place two in filled bowl.

to pan-fry: heat small amount of olive oil in skillet over medium heat. add dumplings and cook about 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown; remove and place on paper towel, before placing on serving plate or adding to the soup.


Elyse said...

Hi Brooke! Just reading through your blog and I love this recipe. I've enjoyed reading what you've written so far! I'm going to try to make this for Erin for dinner!!


brooke herman said...

elyse, thank you! erin's lucky to have you cooking for her - i'm curious what you guys think of the soup and if you loved the dumplings as much as we did.