Saturday, November 29, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper and Root Vegetable Soup

This being Fall, now is the time to be busting out soups. This one is basically a combination of a couple soups I've done in the past, one about a year ago, based on a recipe for butternut squash and apple soup from The Inn at Little Washington, the other one a roasted red pepper soup I made last week.


3 or 4 red bell peppers
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1 carrot, diced
1 parsnip, diced
Half of 1 celery root, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream or half & half
Fresh thyme, tarragon and chives
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter and olive oil

We start by roasting up the peppers:

Roasting peppers is pretty easy. Pre-heat your oven to 425F, place the peppers in a baking dish or otherwise oven proof container, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and in they go. You'll want to turn them every fifteen minutes or so, until they're evenly charred on all sides. Once they're done, place them in a paper bag and seal tightly. The steam produced will loosen the charred skins and make the peppers much easier to peel. I used two peppers this time around, which ultimately didn't give the soup a very peppery flavor, so I'd suggest roasting three, if not four, of them. Once the peppers have steamed in their bag for fifteen or twenty minutes, peel off the skins, remove the seeds under cold running water and set aside. Next, spread the potato, carrot, parsnip and celery root out on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil:

Roast these at 400F until they've just begun to caramelize (they'll also shrink a bit):

While the vegetables are roasting, heat 1 Tbsp each of oilve oil and butter in a large saute pan over high heat. Once the oil and butter are almost to the point of smoking, add the onion and back the heat down to medium. Saute until the onions are translucent, then transfer to a large sauce pan or stock pot, and add the chicken stock (if you don't have chicken stock on hand, low sodium chicken broth will work; Trader Joe's and Pacific brands are good choices).

Add the root vegetables, along with the peeled and seeded peppers, to the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. In the last five minutes, add the paprika, cayenne and herbs (I used about ten sprigs of thyme and four of tarragon, minus the stems, and an equivalent amount of chives, chopped; reserve some of the chives for garnish):

Puree this in a food processor or blender, or puree it right in the pan with a stick blender (Don't have a stick blender? Get one!). Add the cream - or half & half, if your waistline, like mine, is running away from you - along with the salt and pepper and continue to puree. Serve with some crusty bread, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hey, Ann... Why the Long Face?

It would seem that the horsey, skeletal right wing bile factory (and probable Andy Kaufmann alter-ego) called Ann Coulter has had its jaw broken and wired shut... Dreams do come true, after all! No comment from either Bob Zmuda or Tony Clifton at this time...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Mighty Vic Chesnutt at the Doug Fir

It's hard to imagine a better pairing of artist and venue than Vic Chesnutt and the Doug Fir...

First up were Portland's own Hush Records (I knew that was Podington Bear - aka Chad Crouch - I spotted at the merch booth; my friend Jenni and I had dinner with the guy and his wife once at clarklewis... very cool cat) recording artists Run On Sentence:

Run On Sentence is the project of Dustin Hamman. Dustin's a very dynamic singer, and has worked with a number of musicians in the Portland scene, most notably Nick Jaina's band. Last night he surrounded himself with the bassist you see in the photo, a drummer and two trumpeters, top-notch players, the all of them. The trumpeters also sang back up, and at one point one of them broke out a nifty little device that looked like a laptop, but once opened, turned into a mini-xylophone! Anybody know where I can get my hands on one of these? Anyway, Run On Sentence's set was an odd mixed bag. Rootsy, folksy, a little bit old-timey, they evoked artists as varied as Leon Redbone, the Violent Femmes and Neutral Milk Hotel. Sound like a weird description? Well, they're a weird band! But in a good way. The Neutral Milk Hotel comparison, incidentally, has some significance here; Neutral Milk Hotel were part of the Elephant Six collective, as were the next band up, Elf Power:

Elf Power were astounding. My only complaint with this band is that singer Andrew Rieger's voice is just a little too thin to stand up to his own guitar work, as well as the firepower around him. It's a minor complaint, though. Elf Power have moved beyond their psych-pop roots, and were quite a bit noisier last night than their name would suggest. It should also be said that they've got the best rhythm section I've seen in years. Their bassist, in particular, was just crazy good. In addition to playing their own music, Elf Power are serving as Vic Chesnutt's backing band on this tour.

So yes, on to Vic: The last time I saw Vic Chesnutt was about ten years ago, when he was opening for Wilco on their Summerteeth tour, in a relatively large auditorium in Grand Rapids, MI filled with people who clearly did not understand what they were seeing. While I was in awe, much of the rest of the crowd actually booed Vic that night, believe it or not. Now if you're not familiar with Vic Chesnutt, one thing you need to know is that he was in a horrible car accident back in 1983, in which his neck was broken and he was rendered a paraplegic. He gets around in a wheelchair, and has basically no use of his right hand, and not much use of his left hand either. He strums with a pick strapped to his right thumb, and can only barely form chords. So from a technical standpoint, Eddie Van Halen he's not. But as a songwriter, he's unbelievable. Chesnutt's writing is characterized by his ability to build narrative around metaphor, spinning seemingly innocuous pairings of words like "Independence Day" or "Sewing Machine" into tales of loss and regret so raw and honest, so powerful and enigmatic, that they won't just make you cry, they'll make your dog cry. Vic's songs would do George Jones proud. Fortunately, in a live setting he tempers this with self-effacing humor. He prefaced the song "Little Fucker" by mentioning that "it's a song about me."

Vic and Elf Power made their way through a set of songs from their recent collaborative album "Dark Developments" (Vic has a long history of collaboration, having worked over the years with REM, Victoria Williams, Widespread Panic and Lambchop), then he treated us to a bit of his solo work, including "Isadora Duncan" and the aforementioned "Independence Day" (unfortunately, no "Sewing Machine" despite my repeated shouts for it). This was a fantastic show. I hope it won't be ten years before I see him again...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wishing You All a Happy Corduroy Day!

We all know that it's inappropriate to wear white shoes after Labor Day, but did you know that today is the beginning of corduroy season? So just what makes today Corduroy Day, you ask? It's 11/11, of course! Read all about it at the Corduroy Appreciation Club, put on your favorite corduroy jacket, or pants, or what have you (I'm wearing a corduroy hat at the moment) and ponder some fascinating trivia about this most distinguished of casual fabrics:

Corduroy was invented in Manchester, the world's first industrial city.

The ridges on corduroy are called "wales." The size of the wales is indicated by number. The higher the number, the narrower the wales.

The word "corduroy" is supposedly derived from the french "corde du roi," which translates roughly as cloth of the king. There is some controversy surrounding this etymological theory however, among both corduroy afficianados and those who speak french.

Corduroy was the preferred fabric of actor, philanthropist and spaghetti sauce magnate Paul Newman.

Spread the word, my friends, and be parallel!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bring On the Rain... I've Got Jambalaya!

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest it's November. While it hasn't started raining on a daily basis yet, the clouds are moving in and the temperature is dropping, which means it's time for soups, stews and other forms of substantial sustenance that can be made in one big ol' pot. I've decided to ring in the rainy season with a batch of jambalaya.

Now many of you not familiar with the culinary traditions of the south may assume that jambalaya is a cajun dish, but this is not the case. Cajun cuisine was developed largely in rural Louisiana by Acadian settlers (later to be known as "cajuns") from Canada, themselves descended from settlers from rural France, and is rooted in a provincial style of French cooking. Gumbo is cajun. Jambalaya, on the other hand, belongs to creole cuisine, which is more heavily influenced by classical European technique, particularly French, Spanish and Italian, and evolved in New Orleans, as well as on the surrounding plantations. Think of it this way: Jambalaya, which incorporates rice, is basically an urban Louisiana version of paella or risotto, while gumbo, typically served over rice, can be seen as a rural Louisiana version of bouillabaise. Having said all that, it's worth pointing out that these two styles of cooking grew in parallel and share a number of characteristics, not the least of which is the "holy trinity," a combination of sauteed onion, green pepper and celery. So that's where I start when I do jambalaya.

Chopping onions can be a little hard on the eyes, of course. My cousin Barry up in Seattle, who in addition to being a food genius knows a little something about beer, gave me a tip a while back that's come in pretty handy:

That's right... ski goggles! The sulphenic acids released when onions are chopped will still make their way to your eyes via your sinuses, but at least it's not a direct attack. But before I go any further, let's get to the ingredients:

1 lb smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 C rice
4 C chicken stock
2 C water
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can of tomatoes, diced or pureed (reserve liquid)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like it really spicy)
1 Tbsp dried thyme
5 or 6 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
oil and butter for sauteeing

Behold the mise en place:

First, you'll want to brown the sausage in a large sautee pan over high heat with about a Tbsp of oil. Once it's got some color, add the shrimp and continue to cook until the shrimp has just started to turn pink. Remove these from the pan, and add about three Tbsp of oil and butter. Saute the onion over medium heat until just translucent. Add the pepper, celery and garlic, and continue to cook until all the vegetables have softened:

Now at this point, I decided to throw a roux into the mix. This is a little bit of a departure, as roux isn't typically used in making jambalaya. I like to add a little extra liquid later on and let the roux thicken things up a bit. If you go this route, melt 3 Tbsp of butter. Add 3 Tbsp of flour and whisk constantly over medium-low to medium heat. This mixture can be added to the vegetables once it's just begun to turn light brown:

Put your vegetables, and roux if you're using it, into a large stock pot or dutch oven. Add the rice, tomatoes and their liquid, stock and water, and bring to a boil. Back the heat down to low, add the cayenne, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally:

If you're using white rice, it shouldn't take much more than a half hour before it's cooked through. I used long grain brown rice, because it's a lot more nutritious; it took a little more than an hour. Either way, keep an eye on things, and add some water if it looks like too much of the liquid has evaporated (you want to end up with a less than soupy consistency, but you also want to keep things from drying out, which will cause the rice to burn on the bottom of the pot). Oh, and once it's done, fish out the bay leaves. You really don't want to chomp down on one of these things by mistake.

This recipe should yield just over a gallon of jambalaya; my suggestion would be to get some empty pint containers from your local deli or grocery store and freeze whatever you don't eat right away. And, of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ass-Kicker and Name-Taker in Chief...

At this point, it looks like it's pretty close to official, so let's cue George Clinton: "Somebody told me we just got Pennsylvania... Ohio...Virginia... Colorado... CAN YA HEAR ME, CC!"

Hey Ohio, welcome back to the United States of America. We've missed you! Oh, and Texas: kick and scream all you want, but you're comin' with us!

All Right, Which One of You Did This?

Those of you who know me personally, most of you anyway, are aware that I collect snow globes. This dorky hobby began about six years ago when a co-worker of mine at REI brought one back for me from the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (as an expression of ironic humor, mind you - sadly, that globe was long ago lost in a move). Since then I've accumulated about thirty of them, with only one rule, which is that I'm not allowed to purchase the snow globes myself. They must be given to me by any of my frequently traveling friends.

This afternoon, the fine specimen from San Diego which you can see in the photo showed up in my mailbox, with no indication as to who left it. Who are you, mysterious Southern California traveler? I must know...

In unrelated news, this just in: Obama's got Pennsylvania, according to CNN and MSNBC (no word so far from 538 or NYT). This is important, people, Pennsylvania's critical. Now give us Virginia and Ohio... I think we're in for a landslide here!

Monday, November 3, 2008

When Pundits Fight, Who Loses?

As you can see from the video, a discussion on today's Democracy Now! veered into O'Reilly Factor territory, when drug legalization advocate and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Network Ethan Nadelmann squared off with California attorney general and former governor Jerry Brown over California ballot initiative Proposition 5. Prop 5, like our own Measure 57 here in Oregon, calls for treatment for certain drug offenders, and for that reason alone, I would vote for it, were I a Californian. Unfortunately, Nadelmann, who is clearly a smart guy (he's a recipient of both a JD and PhD from Harvard, as well as a masters in International Relations from the London School of Economics), couldn't keep his cool, and early in the debate actually attempted to shout Jerry down, employing that classic O'Reillian rhetorical device, "Shut Up!" Despite host Amy Goodman's attempts to restore some civility to the discussion, Nadelmann's demeanor didn't improve much from there.

While I agree with nearly all of Nadelmann's positions regarding drug policy, I'm terribly disappointed in his utter failure to express his ideas in anything resembling a diplomatic and rational discourse. The "war on drugs" has, of course, been a disaster, filling our prison system with non-violent offenders while denying addicts the treatment they so desperatley need (to say nothing of the state of dysfunction in our education system which creates this problem in the first place), but for Nadelmann to behave in this manner can only serve to discredit all the rest of us who demand of our leaders a sane and rational approach to drug policy. It also discredits those in the alternative media who offer a venue for these views. I can only hope that this will be the last time Goodman invites Nadelmann onto her show.