My 5 year old got mad at me tonight because I made her stop doing math homework and go to bed. We like studying a tad too much in my family. I hear there is therapy for people like us, but we haven't tried it yet. Although formal studying has been my preoccupation for more than half of my life, the question of where I studied cooking never fails to stump me. You see, cooking is the only thing in my life that I never felt like I studied. I was just playing really. Even when I was interning at a restaurant, I didn't feel like I was studying or working. I'd get home sweaty and achy at midnight, fall asleep, and dream about cooking. These dreams involved textures, flavors, menus, and sharp knives. Oh how I love those deliciously sharp knives! The problem was that there was a huge omission in my obsession with food. While I was spending the last few years closely studying the texture of beans, and optimizing the juiciness of meat, the smart food bloggers have been making their beans and meat look good. They have been buying good lenses, reflectors, dishes, forks, spoons, boards, and napkins.
It was time to stop waiting for inspiration to strike my visually challenged brain, get off my lazy ass, and start putting some effort into my pictures. Just like calculus homework. Once you get into it, it's not that bad. I felt a bit out of my element at stores like Home Depot, Home Goods, and Michael's. But for less than I usually spend on one of my meat experiment, I was able to equip myself with the basics. After the first few frustrating days of painting, plating, styling, and shooting, I was actually starting to have fun. Maybe the Tiger Mom was right -- nothing is fun until you get good, and to get good you need to practice. Of course, food blogging is probably not on her list of approved hobbies. But who knows? I can see her saying something like, "No piano practice for you, young lady, until food gawker accepts your roast chicken!"
I won't give you details on styling or photography. RecipeGirl.com explains it way better than I could, but I'd be happy to share a Bean Kale Soup recipe.
Bean Kale Soup
If you are starting with dry beans, plan at least 2 days ahead. The beans will need to be soaked overnight, then cooked and cooled overnight before you use them in the soup. The liquid from home cooked beans is an excellent base for the soup, so save every drop of it. To end up with 6 cups of cooked beans, start with 2 cups dry or about 1 lb. If you are using canned beans, 365 brand from Whole Foods is good. Make sure to drain and rinse canned beans since the liquid in a can tends to be starchy. Instead of using bean cooking liquid from the can, use water or chicken stock.
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale (about 1 Lb), stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen or Hunt)
4-6 cups cooked cannellini beans with their liquid (or 4 cans drained plus 8 cups water or stock)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper (or chili powder)
Put olive oil, onions, carrot, and celery in a large heavy pot (at least 4 quarts). Set the pot over medium-low heat, season with salt, and cook stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, but not colored, about 15 minutes.
Add the garlic, season it with salt, and stir to incorporate. Cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
Add the kale to the pot*. Season with a pinch of salt (go easy here since the kale will shrink tremendously) and a pinch of mild chili powder (or black pepper). Add the wine. Cover and cook on moderate heat stirring occasionally until kale is wilted, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook uncovered until all the tomato juice evaporates, about 10 minutes.
Add the beans with 8 cups cooking liquid. If you don't have enough cooking liquid, add water. If using canned beans, don't use the liquid from the jar -- use water or chicken stock. Measuring the cooking liquid is really not necessary. Keep adding water until you reach your desired ratio of liquid to solid. Add the bay leaf. Turn up the heat and bring to a simmer. Return the heat back to low. Season to taste with salt. Simmer very gently for an hour. If the soup is too thick, add some water. Taste and add salt as needed.
The soup can be served immediately, but will taste even better the next day. Keeps in the fridge for up to 1 week. Serve with bread fried in olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove.
* Did you notice anything? Yes, I changed pots. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. I was cooking 2 different soups at the same time, and decided to start with all of my mirepoix (aromatic veggies) in one pot and then split it into 2 separate pots for 2 soups. You'll just continue with the same pot you started with.