Friday, October 30, 2009

Nitty-Gritty Cooking

Have I mentioned how much I love our homeschooling group? It's pretty impressive. A carefully balanced blend of the academic, enrichment, practical, and social. In years past, I'll admit that we were more attracted to the social aspect of it. As the Hobbits have aged, I'm appreciating the academic and enrichment. Dog is in a format writing class that assists me with another pair of eyes to critique his burgeoning writing skills. And as a child who has always loved an audience, Drama is quite acceptable to him. Bug is exploring his creative bents under the tutelage of a local professional artist. It's rather exciting to watch this part of him unfurl and his self-confidence blossom. His struggling reading skills have been rocketed ahead by the patient assistance of Party Planner's phonics class. Princess has similarly benefited from this class, even though it was a couple of years ahead of her age level when she first began last year. With a bit of scaffolding, she participated and is now an independent reader. At six. The other day, she looked at a brown bottle on the table and asked me what a "supplement fact" was. See why I love these people?

Geeks of a feather. One of the moms decided that Home Ec classes teaching "a box of this and a can of that" just weren't cutting it. Not good nutrition and not good economics. When our class planning session met, she announced that, pending interest, she planned on teaching a "Nitty-Gritty Cooking Class" with the idea that the students would learn basic recipes that a home manager would be able to produce from memory as a staple dish in the diet. Her syllabus was logical, comprehensive, formed a good foundation for these young men and women in the class. Dog mourned his inability to participate in the class, since, of course, it would be rife with wheat flour and other contact reactives.

Over the weeks, we've watched simple and delicious--if the damp, curling aromas that drifted past our noses were any indication--recipes roll out of the kitchen. She even organized this to such a degree that the products of the class each week will, at the end of the afternoon and after the completion of the organized activities, go on a communal table where we loosely congregate to socialize. See? We do manage to socialize our children...and ourselves, as well. Each serving is $1 and almost nothing has been left over.

This past week, I twitted her that I "had aught against her." As buying club coordinator, upon request, I purchase organic junk food for a snack box from which people can purchase such healthy things as zbars and Barb's cheese puffs, washed down with Spritzers. Since the advent of her class, the disappearance of these tepid offerings have come to a screeching halt. Heh. We homeschoolers are raising no fools.

With the entrance of cold weather--cha', it's already snowed here in the Shire--soups, stews, and casseroules are more on our minds. Last week's Nitty Gritty Cooking class was potato soup. That was my mother-in-love's favorite. I happened to be free that hour and watched as the teenagers peeled and chopped potatoes, onions, et al while the Hostess discoursed on the advantages of scratch food--such as the flexibility to make it your way each time--the importance of tasting as you go, and how changing the timing of adding ingredients will change the nuances of the dish. I whipped out a napkin--the only piece of paper I had to hand--and began jotting down all of the ingredients the class was tossing in. They listened as she and I discussed between us the merits, advantages, and disadvantages of various fats and flours that could be juggled to create the roux. My napkin became quite a crowded scribble of ideas.

At the end of the afternoon, the five quart brimming pot hit the table with the stack of bowls and spoons beside the contribution basket. In less than five minutes the pot was empty. I kid you not. Eat your heart out, Barb.

The next day was shopping day and I came home with forty pounds of potatoes. When I cleared a path through the kitchen to start chopping, Dog pulled up a knife and cutting board and began assisting. The Klondikes were buttery soft. We chatted while chopping, discussing flour options for the roux. I was leaning toward millet, but gf flours tend toward grainy textures. Tapioca makes pretty good sauces, but tends toward too much viscosity. My eyes landed on my potato starch container. Potato soup. Potato starch. Score.

This is what Dog and I came up with. More or less.

Everything Free Potato Soup

6 medium sized potatoes, diced
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
1 quart bone broth
1 bay leaf (opt)
1 sheet of kombu (opt...I'm always looking for ways to guerrilla in seaweed!)
4 T ghee or favorite oil
1/2 cup potato starch flour
1/2 cup coconut milk

In soup pot, simmer onions, bay leaf, and kombu while chopping potatoes and making roux. To make the roux, melt ghee or pour oil into cast iron skillet on medium low heat. Add potato starch flour and stir. This is going to be a "blonde roux," so cook it for about 12 minutes or so, stirring continually. Dog particularly enjoyed this part, which was fine with me, since making roux isn't my favorite kitchen project. After the bay and kombu has been well hydrated and has shared their goodness with the broth, cook potatoes until almost done. Add roux and coconut milk to soup and stir until fully incorporated, but not so much that the potatoes lose their integrity. Turn off heat and allow ambient temperature to finish cooking potatoes.

All of the Hobbits agreed that this was one spectacular batch of soup. Tool Guy pronounced it better than the chicken soup. And better than his mom's potato soup. High praise, indeed! Bug was a bit cool in his evaluation, but politely ate it. We're working on the "eat what's in front of you without complaint" thing. He's getting there. Princess couldn't eat enough, though, coming back for thirds and fourths. She told me later, "You never have to ask if I want potato soup." That works.

Dog is now particularly partial to this soup, having had a large hand in not only cooking it, but in creating it. When we were finished, I looked at him and announced, "Well. You just had your Nitty-Gritty Cooking Class!" He grinned. After we did the taste test, he said to me, "I think this one is better than Mrs. Hostess' soup." Lowering his voice conspiratorially, he assured me that he wouldn't repeat that within her hearing. Heh. It is fortunate that he feels this way about the soup, since this is, perforce, our road.

I repeated his ingenuous comment to her, knowing it would make her laugh. It did.


Rosie_Kate said...

Mmmm... I love the idea of adding kombu and coconut milk! I'll have to try that.

Also, in lieu of potato starch, you can just scoop out some of the potatoes after they cooked and put them in the blender with a little broth. Blend it up, add it back in and the soup thickens nicely. Although, I suppose you would miss out on the "toasty" flavor of the roux..

Loztnausten said...

Great idea for when I'm running low on potato starch flour! My supplier is not as reliable as I would wish, unfortunately. Yeah, the roux adds a nice layer to the flavors. :)

Anonymous said...

The soup sounds fabulous! Making roux is my least favorite thing. It must be an inherited trait.