Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jazz and soup

I've often heard that there are two types of people in the kitchen: bakers and cooks.

Bakers are not necessarily limited to people who make things out of flour and put them in the oven; a baker is anyone who who cook in precise, meticulous way. A baker knows what they want to do in the kitchen and does it exactly, and often spectacularly. They are the classical musicians of the kitchen. They can read sheet music.

A cook is a jazz musician. Cooks take the same old material and try to do something new with it. Cooks often have no plan when they enter the kitchen; they just start opening cabinets and checking out what they have to work with. Cooks are not always the best at following recipes. They want to substitute and improvise.

A baker will make you a flawless souffl├ęs: light, firm and filled with flavor. A cook will make you the best hangover scrambled eggs you've ever tasted.

I'm a cook. Yesterday, I cleaned the refrigerator and made soup. For a baker, those are two tasks. For a cook, it's one task.

I had a leftover roast chicken with garlic and rosemary that I didn't want to go bad so I took it out and put it on the stove. I always keep leftover roasted entrees in the roasting pan so I have all the drippings for future use. In this case I put a little water in the roaster, turned the chicken carcase so that the side with the most meat was in the water, and put the heat on medium. Then I returned to the refrigerator. We also had a few scraps from a store-bought rotisserie chicken so I shoved them into the roaster around the bigger chicken.

Behind the chickens I found a half of a carton of chicken broth that I used to make rice a few days back. There's nothing wrong with using chicken broth to make more chicken broth, so I poured it into the roaster and turned up the heat.

Next I found a third of a bottle of white whine leftover from dinner last Friday. This presented a real choice. I could add the wine to the broth, which is very tasty, or I could save it for the cook to use when tasting the soup later on. Actually, I did neither. I decided to save my rum ration for the day to toast my dad in the evening (see previous post).

Now I turned to the vegetable crisper. I found a limp heart of bunch of celery and some carrots (real garden carrots, not "sweet baby" carrots or giant masses of orange fiber). No problem there, both got diced and thrown into the pot. At this point I have to transfer the whole mess to a stock pot.

When I was a kid, we believed that celery leaves were poisonous. Big kids told little kids never to eat them and we didn't. It never occurred to me to ask why the stores sold them to us if they were so deadly. If I thought about it at all, I probably chalked it up to grown-up cluelessness. Today, I always use celery leaves as a seasoning in soup. Did anyone else grow up with that myth?

At this point I was almost done. I rounded up a big yellow onion, diced it, and threw it in the pot. I pulled the chicken carcases out, let them cool, and stripped off the meat which went back to the pot. I added a few more seasonings, salt, pepper, and oregano. I took the garlics from the roast chicken, smashed and diced them and returned them to the pot. Finally, I added a bit more water, turned the temperature all the way down and took a nap.

When I woke up, we had soup.

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