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…and the flu clouds my brain, in between the coughs that want to rip my lungs out, I try to get the best out of my involuntary lock down.

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I love, love, love the rain, but it’s been dark here for days. While I sure hope the sun shines and warms hearts some place on the Earth right now, I drink lots of fluids and soothe myself with this CREAM OF RED BEET SOUP WITH MASCARPONE.

Cheers to good health!

Midnight’s around the corner and I’m buzzing like a hummingbird in the midst of its mating ritual. I walked into our house not long ago after a full day at Da Vinci’s kitchen, where I was on my feet hour after hour after hour. There’s no way around it—I’m pooped. However, the thrill and satisfaction that fill every cell of my body are irreplaceable.

Since I must rise with the sun tomorrow in order to make it to my yoga class before I race back to the restaurant, I will only share with you a few quick notes from another day of my apprenticeship.

I was announced “The Queen of Soup” by the chef, which was accompanied by an imaginary drum-roll and crowning. I didn’t do a good job with imagining the crown though, as it’s kind of tight and makes my head itch. I took the title nonetheless and made SPICED BEET SOUP finished with fresh parsley flakes.

Also, it seems I’m in charge of the Family Meal every time I’m there. No problem; let me do my magic. Today I was given three whole chickens to run with anyway I desired.

My vegetarian friends, now comes the part where you should close your eyes; or better, think of it as a commercial break and go make yourself tea, or run to the bathroom, or go feed the fish, or clip your nails, or… you know. You may not like the next paragraph.

I decided to cut the chickens into separate parts, and bake them in the oven (at 375°) seasoned with spices, a bunch of fresh thyme, bay leaves, garlic, and white wine. Thirty minutes later I pulled out a hot tray of tenderness hard to describe. I used the drippings from the tray to flavor spaghetti that completed the meal, and tossed it with a handful of freshly chopped parsley. Was it a light meal? Hell, no. Did I want to bath myself in that tray? God, yes!

Among a dozen of other tasks, I was also entrusted with making so called ONE BITE of my own design. One Bite is literally a 1-bite dish that is served as a gift from the chef in many high-end restaurants, or between courses, when guests choose a full tasting menu. (The tasting menu requires a whole new entry, which I will surely get to in the near future. That’s so much fun!)

Let me have drum-roll again tonight, as if I don’t toot my own horn, who will? Here comes my ONE BITE, Ladies and Gents:

 

One Bite

 

This is PICTACHIO-MASCARPONE CREAM OVER A CUCUMBER DISC FINISHED WITH LIME ZEST AND A CROSTINI thank you very much. This little thing could serve as an appetizer at your next house party, so feel free to take the idea and make it your own. I’ll tell you what I did, and you may get inspired.

Into a food processor I tossed a handful of toasted pistachios, one clove of garlic, about a teaspoon of coarse sea salt, and a few cracks of black pepper. The machine did the work for me and turned the nuts into a coarse meal. Next, I added softened mascarpone cheese (maybe 1-2 tbsp), a big handful of fresh cilantro and let the blade spin again until everybody merged into a coherent mass. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Small circles I cut out of my cucumber slices; then I topped them with the cream, lemon zest and the cracker. Voila! ONE BITE for ONE MORE BITE.

I take just a tiny bite of credit for it though. Chef Jason Fullilove is such an inspiration. Not only does he experiment and finds new flavor connections every day, but also he encourages us all to dig deep and find our own ingenious voice. He challenges us, but never leaves unsupported. He’s available at all times, and finds sheer enjoyment in sharing all his knowledge with anyone interested. I think I’ve found my hen that lays golden eggs (no offense, Chef). I will follow him as far as I can before he files for a restraining order.

I have every reason to believe that the BEET SOUP I’m making will bring my culinary machismo to a new level.

I just couldn’t resist. My smart and utterly eloquent screen saver suggested a word of the day: machismo. I had to smuggle it into this post. I had to!

I digress.

The Beet Soup is one of those Polish adaptations I have introduced into our home. Jason, being the white boy from Texas that he is, had barely even encountered a beet before Agi came along. When I insinuated making the soup for his parents while they were visiting, they only looked at me with eyes wide and said: “We love you, Agi. You are so cute!” That was the end of the Beet Soup conversation.

Half of a garden went into making the soup du jour, beets including. All you vegetarians out there don’t get too excited, as I “ruined” it for you with a handful of diced pancetta. Once again, my resistance mechanism didn’t kick in… but it was so worth it!

As the aromatic whiff of the Beet Soup tickled my nostrils, I was forced to pause this soup tirade. My nose disengaged from my body and mindlessly led me to the kitchen. I had to take a taste. GOD! It was slightly sweet but with a lemony bite to it. All vegetables perfectly cooked and soft. Each bite just melted in my mouth. Then I heard the angels’ choir burst forth in song: Alleluia!

Toast

I know it’s very douche-baggy of me, but today I will only BRAG about the soup, and not so much share it with you. That’s only because there are other important things that deserve my attention. Trust me, it is for a cause. Good or bad… we’ll see.

A few days ago I wrote about our grocery shopping routine, that heavily involved the local Trader Joe’s. The truth is, our pantry and the refrigerator are predominantly supplied with TJ’s goods. The $100 that we usually drop at the register is exchanged for 4 (four) bulging bags of food sundries (many, and I mean many of which are organic). Our love for the store is unquestionable and apparent.

We’re not alone. There’s a fan club and a huge following of Trader Joe’s groupies out there. We met them. We heard them. They even made films with their phones. You must SEE it for yourself to understand.

TJ Store

However, as in life, once you get to know someone, the veil of awe and perfection slowly fades, and you begin to notice the wrinkles, grey hairs, and even that crooked tooth. Over the course of the last year, we’ve come to know a substantial number of TJ products. Some of them we fell in love with. Others led to addiction. Every weekend we would head to the store, our hearts filled with hope. We would park and walk into the chambers of our local Hawaiian themed Trader Joe’s drooling in anticipation of the flavors we’ve come to cherish.

And then, one sunny Saturday, disaster struck.

As we circled across the isles, loading stuff into our cart, we at last arrived at the booze section. A quick scan of the shelves, followed by a thorough search between six-packs resulted in an anxious interrogation of the nearest store employee who confirmed what we already suspected – the Blueberry Beer that we had discovered just weeks earlier and enjoyed so deeply was gone… forever! It was DISCONTINUED.

We mourned the loss of the perfect, not too sweet, not too bitter Blueberry Beer, and moved on with our lives. Several months have gone by, when one day we found ourselves startled again. As we stood in front of the shelf where the Red Pepper Spread used to sit and wait for us week after week, there was nothing. A black hole of emptiness. We stayed cool and decided to give Trader Joe’s the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they’re out?” – we thought. Oh, naivety! It took us three subsequent visits to bring ourselves to realize the inevitable – the spread that we used on most of our sandwiches, the spread we ate by the spoonfuls with cheese and crackers, the spread we sent to Jason’s parents in Texas (!) was… DISCONTINUED.

Around the same time, we started hearing similar stories from friends, coworkers, neighbors, and whole communities. There were laments and loud protests. There was sadness and anger. I heard birds chirping the gossip that some people had even left Trader Joe’s for another discount organic food giant in the hood called Fresh & Easy.

One day I decided to take action and get to the bottom of this misfortune. I asked around to gain a better understanding of how serious the problem had become. And the people have spoken:

Jen said: “Blueberry beer sounds awesome! My favorite thing they discontinued was a spice-rubbed tamarind in the dried fruits section. Soooo tasty, sweet, almost like candy, and yet still good for you!

Heidi: “I love their artichokes in glass jar & lavender body scrub – but don’t think those products are still on the market.

Cate: “I really miss the butternut squash ravioli and the hot/sweet mustard they used to have. Both great, both now gone. Sniff.

DonnaAnn: “OMG yes! Trader Joseph’s Granola bagels. Three layer dip: cream, sun dried tomato, pesto. Goji Berry Trail Mix. The list goes on and on.

Andre: “I would have to say that I miss the Organic Ginger Snaps the most. I was shopping there the other day and I was craving the sweet snappy ginger taste with some cold milk. Alas, the ginger snaps were no longer. I asked the Manager and he said they had been discontinued. Other ginger snaps just don’t have the same “bite”. :(

Jason: “I miss those little peanut butter cluster desert thingies. They tasted like a nestle crunch bar that tripped and fell head first into a jar of peanut butter…. yum.

Melissa: “The rice flour to make pancakes! It was sweet and made crispy thin little flapjacks!!

Karen: “YES!!! I miss the rice flour too Missy!!!!!!!

Chantel: “Ok… I know it’s so un-trainer of me, (again… got my fingers in the cookie jar), but the Chocolate Covered Toggee Squares… just like See’s molasses chips, but so much cheaper! Yes, the Blueberry beer was the bomb too!

Leanne: “It’s not vegan & it’s not organic but the egg sandwiches I used to love are gone! So is the raw goat feta.

Jeffrey: “Loved their chopped ginger which came and went. Was so useful in many dishes.

I’m getting short of space to let all the voices be heard. I hope these few are loud enough to echo all the way to the Trader Joe’s headquarters causing them to take pause. I understand the whole national preference thing, but it is so unfair!

Oh, Beloved Trader Joe’s, you are ALL about customer service. The courtesy and smile that you so graciously provide in every corner of the store makes our shopping chore so un-chore-like. And yet, Trader Joe’s, you keep taking FOOD away from us. You pull the goodies out of our mouth! That is so NOT cool.

The funny part is that Trader Joe’s is now following me on Twitter. That’s right! I even got a direct message from them just yesterday.

TJ Twit

I’m so happy they LOVE my blog. I love them right back. But I also want my Red Pepper Spread right back… Pretty please?

Dear Trader Joe’s, please feel the love, and hear our cries each time you pull an item from your shelves.  You giveth but you also taketh away.  Not cool.  Can’t something be done?

Sincerely,

The People

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