One day a couple of weeks ago, I got a hankering for Thai food and convinced my wife that we should go downtown to have lunch at the aptly-named Thai Place restaurant. When we got there, though, it wasn’t open, even though the hours posted on their website and their door said they would be. Somewht frustrated, we walked into a bitterly cold breeze a couple of blocks to Koto. Koto bills itself as “Asian fusion”, which means its a mishmash of some Chinese and Japanese dishes plus sushi. Not at all Thai, but defnitely the closest substitute in walking distance.
The wind was so cold that by the time we made the very short walk from one place to the other, both of us were chilled to the bone and wanted nothing more than a big bowl of hot soup. Bridget got a noodle suop with kimchi and tofu, and I ordered nabeyaki udon. Classic nabeyaki udon is a dashi soup base with some chicken, a slice or two of kameboko fish cake (that swirly thing you get in your instant ramen sometimes), maybe some fried tofu, mushrooms, and a tempura fried shrimp. This was their own variation, using chicken broth, plain cooked shrimp instead of tempura, and baby bok choy alon with the customary chicken pieces and soft-boiled egg (which was utterly perfect, by the way). Though I was a little disappointed not to get the tempura shrimp, I did not mind the alterations in the slightest. I especially liked the inclusion of the baby bok choy, which is one ov my favorite vegetables. I also had a side order of fried spring rolls, which at least was a nod to the Thai food I had waned in the first place.
The weather last week was particularly dreay; snow and rain and rain and snow and gray and gray and gray. So a bowl of cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandiwch was waarming and comforting in the best way.
Because it’s the way my mother always made it, I use milk to make my Campbell’s Tomato soup into cream of tomato. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever had it made with water in my entire life. I always add a lot of freshly ground black pepper, and I also sometimes give it a shot of Worcestershire sauce to add a little depth to the flavor.
I made the grilled cheese with one slice each of white American cheese and yellow American cheese just because we happened to have both in the fridge. Fancy grilled cheese sandwiches are perfectly fine, but when I want comfort food I want plain white bread, American cheese, and real butter on the bread.
It hit the spot and also left me full enough that I didn’t eat dinner that night.
I was just thinking about Frech onion soup the other day, and this picture popped up in my Google Photos highlights from this week last year. It’s another one of those dishes that is very low-effort/high-reward.
I have a mandoline that I use to slice the onions for something like this. You get very uniform slices, and you can whiz through the half-dozen or so large onions you need in no time at all. I have learned the hard way that you should ALWAYS use the guard, even if you think you’ve got enough onion left not to cut yourself, because you WILL cut yourself (possibly quite badly) if you don’t.
Once you’ve sliced your half-dozen large onions (and hopefully nothing else), melt a stick of butter in a very large pot (my big LeCreuset is perfect for this) and add the onions to the pot. You can also add some finely chopped shallots and even a clove of garlic to make the flavor more complex. It takes quite a while for them to cook down and caramelize, but you don’t have to stand over the pot the whole time. Once they’re cooked down to your liking, add your beef stock, a good glug of wine (I’ve tried using port, brandy, and just red table wine and I think a dry-ish red wine is best) and season. I like a little fresh thyme, but just enough to know it’s there.
I don’t go overboard with the melted cheese on top, just enough to cover the top of the floated baguette slice, and always Gruyere or Emmenthal, not Mozzarella. It’s not a frickin’ pizza.
Ribollita is a traditional Italian soup or stew featuring white beans, kale, and other veg, usually served with a bit of bread floated in it and topped with cheese. This recipe also included some ham to add a little smoky flavor. I like the combo of cannellini beans and kale (or spinach), and make a couple of recipes that use them as the central ingredients. This particular recipe was an “easy” version that you could throw together, I think from the New York Times Cooking section. I feel like people think soup is one of those things that takes hours, but a lot of soups can be made quickly if you have the ingredients on hand. Most soups and stews DO benefit from having some time to let the flavors meld, so you can make them ahead, let them rest in the fridge, and then eat them later to enjoy that enhancement, but you can usually whip them up and serve them immediately, as we did with this.
After feasting on so many luze things over the New Year’s weekend, I needed a little simple comfort food, so I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a nice hot bowl of Campbell’s Tomato Soup (not shown). You’ll excuse the bite in the sandwich, but it was calling my name and I had to try it before I remembered to pull out my phone and snap a photo.
I always use milk in my Campbell’s Tomato Soup, since that’s how my mother always made it for me when I was growing up. In fact, I don’t thinl I ever had it made with water until long after I was an adult, and, I’m sorry, that’s just not the way it should be. I also love a pat of butter melting on the top, and lots of freshly ground black pepper in the soup. I’ve made my own creamy tomato soup a few times, but I don’t know if I like it any better than the Campbell’s.
American cheese is usually what I use in a homemade grilled cheese, but I like ’em with other cheeses as well. I like to watch Binging With Babish on YouTube, and he made some particularly interesting grilled cheese sandwiches that I have on my must-try list. For comfort food, though, it’s Kraft American Singles all the way. Also, real butter on the bread. I like to melt about a tablespooj of butter in the microwave and pour the melted butter on the bread slices before grilling. That lets the butter really soak into the bread a bit. Don’t even talk to me about using mayo on the outside of the bread.
Together, the creamy soup and the melty cheese toastie were a plain-and-wholesome antidote to the posh noshes I’d been eating all weekend. It snowed at the end of last week, and in retrospect I kind of wish I’d saved them until the snow day, but maybe there will be another opportunity for that trifecta before winter is over.
How could I possibly be hungry after all that food on New Year’s Eve?
Well, by lunchtime I was ready for something. I don’t know what the weather was like where you are, but our New Year’s Day was a dreary, rainy one, and when the weather is like that, I want soup. And if I want soup, I want pho.
We’ve only lived in Salem for a couple of years and are still learning all the many places to find good food (and there are MANY), but we did find a Vietnamese place in Beverly that we like enough to go occasionally. The place I like the best is actually a bit of a drive for us now, so we haven’t been for a while, but this place makes a decent bowl of pho, and my wife likes their egg and tofu banh mi.
My favorite beef pho combo has sirloin, brisket, tripe and tendon. I especially like the little nuggets of tendon, because they are soft and succulent in the hot broth. I can’t exactly say I love the tripe, but I have come to appreciate the…unique…texture enough to enjoy it when it’s there. This restaurant doesn’t offer either of those in their soup, unfortunately, but I get that they are trying to appeal to customers more than score points for authenticity. So this bowl was just sirloin and brisket. Good, not great, but perfectly acceptble on a rainy Saturday afternoon in January.
They say that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll be doing for the year. If I can eat a lot more pho in 2022, that would be very nice indeed.