I have become a good cook. My specialty is soup. I recall very vividly making my first pot of soup. It was about seventy-five years ago when I was ten years old, but the event is still firmly in my memory. My mother was ill and had taken to her bed. I thought it would be helpful if I made dinner. Soup, I thought, would be a good choice. I got out my mother’s largest pot, put it on the new electric stove and thought about what kind of soup to have. I was familiar with vegetable soup, but we had no vegetable soup. That was not a problem. I would just make it from scratch.
I looked in the cupboard and there was a fine selection of canned vegetables. What could be simpler? I took cans of green beans, corn, peas, kidney beans, navy beans, spinach and carrots. I opened each can and dumped the contents in the pot. Then I turned the hot plate to low, put a lid on the pot and let the contents simmer. After about an hour I decided to add some more water and stir things a bit. Another hour passed.
About this time my mother, who realized that I had not been seen for a while, rose from her sick bed and came into the kitchen. It must have been quite a shock. There on the stove, simmering merrily away was about a gallon of vegetable mush and a very proud of himself young son. “Mom, I hope you’re feeling better. I made some vegetable soup for supper, but I think I might have cooked it too long.”
She dealt with me first. “Oh, thank you. That was so thoughtful. Next time, though, let me know what you plan to cook. I’m afraid you’re right; the vegetable soup is a little overdone. I’m fine now and I can make supper.” With that I went out, hopped on my bike and was gone. We didn’t have the soup for supper. I have no idea about what happened to that soup, most likely it became garden mulch.
We shall skip over the many intervening years during which I learned my trade and come to the near present. One of my recent efforts was creamed cauliflower-potato soup. It was very good, but how can a man take pride in a dish that results from merely following someone else’s recipe? No real man ever looks at maps or asks for directions, that includes directions for making soup!
My next original recipe involved cans again. This is an instant, or nearly so, stove-top soup. It is delicious and named in honor of civil rights legislation. It is Miscegenation Bean Soup. It is in honor of the courts striking down the anti-miscegenation laws fifty some years ago. My grandchildren call it grandpa’s messy bean soup. The recipe is simple: Get three cans of black beans, three of white beans, one can of red beans, one can of diced tomatoes, two small cans of tuna fish, two cans of low salt chicken broth. Open the cans of beans pour them into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. (The rinse is important because excessive flatulence can result from eating beans not thoroughly rinsed. Good table conversation cannot occur when everyone is constantly saying excuse me.) Once the beans have been rinsed, pour them into a large cooking pot. Now add the diced tomatoes, the tuna fish and two cans of chicken broth. Stir gently, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Turn the heat to medium and set the timer for twenty minutes. Do not overcook! The contents have already been cooked and more than briefly simmering your oeuvre will produce bean mush. I learned that when I was ten.
Once the result is bubbling away, the exotic flavors melding turn off the stove. Lunch is done — indeed many lunches are done. This will make a substantial amount of food. Fortunately it freezes well and can be kept frozen for a long time. This is a very healthy lunch; it has a high level of fiber, B vitamins, and can be used to instruct children in civil rights history.
My turkey rice soup is another dish that requires about the same amount of work. It is also an original recipe, Buy two large turkey thighs. Remove the skin and the backbone if attached. Place turkey thighs in a crock pot and cover with two cans of chicken stock, one cup of water and two chicken bouillon cubes. Turn pot to high. Come back six hours later. Pour out two cups of brown rice. Wash rice thoroughly in a sieve. Dump rice into crock pot. Wait forty-five minutes. Remove turkey thighs. Slice up turkey meat and return to crock pot. Stir and serve. This is excellent and it also freezes well. Of course it is a great deal of work, as I remind my wife every time I make it. (No one may watch the chef de cuisine at work.)
My most recent effort was a root soup. This soup is composed entirely of roots, the kind of thing our cave-person ancestors probably had to eat after an unsuccessful hunt. It is not vegan because it is also cooked in chicken broth. I use three-quarters of a pound each of the following: carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips and potatoes. These are peeled, cut into smallish chunks and then put in a chopper which reduces them to very small pieces. They are then dumped into a crock pot with three cans of chicken broth, a generous splash of Marsala cooking wine, a tablespoon of garlic powder, and assorted spices. This will fill the pot right up to the brim, but if it doesn’t, add some crushed tomatoes. They aren’t strictly speaking a root vegetable but neither is the Marsala cooking wine. No need to be a purist.
Turn the crock pot to high and leave it there for at least six hours. It is done when you say so. (Chefs de cuisines have enormous power.) Remove the lid and fire up your submersible puree mixer. At medium speed, puree the entire contents. Serve with a salad, and garlic toast. We had this for supper night before last. I can see why cave men, after an unsuccessful hunt, preferred to stay up late and play poker, rather than go home for a dinner of root soup. Oh well, even famous chefs occasionally goof.