02/19/11 Episode #4: Soup’s on

8 Mar

From NinaG via email:

“Having spent my formative years in the ‘70s (ages 5 to 14), this challenge started with almost too many choices. After all, for elderly sorts like me, ‘70s cuisine ain’t a theory you learn about on Google; it’s a sense memory of everything your parents ever put in front of your brother and yourself during the decade. Plus a bunch of false memories the movies have drilled into us.

Fun, but daunting. I rejected a ka-billion ideas in the days before our Bite Me™ Collective dinner:

  • The baked ziti my mom cooked by the gallon and froze in individual tinfoil portions, so she and dad could eat “good food” like liver and onions or squid (rendered cartilage-free in the kitchen sink) without worrying that my brother and I would starve to death? Too hard to improve on
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? A treat I only learned about in the very late part of the decade, at a friend’s house, so more of an 80s delight to me
  • Jello salad? Not really one of our staples
  • Filipine chicken adobo, which we had almost as often as the baked ziti? Not likely one of the Collective’s staples

A couple of days before the meal, I hit on it: that classic quick-to-“cook” delight: Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese. Relatively ubiquitous. Yummy delicious. Instantly recognizable by fellow 70s survivors.

NOT Warhol

+

Not Warhol either

At first, I thought I would combine the “grilled” portion of the game with the tomato one, so I did a little research on grilled tomato soup.  (Who knew how often beef broth is used in tomato soup?) I thought I’d pair my soup with a celery and pepper-infused vodka, so Friday night I chopped up a bunch of celery, crushed some black peppercorns, and sloshed a ton of Grey Goose over it. Kind of disgusting thing to taste first thing Saturday morning, but subtle and delicious. I loved the idea of a deconstructed Bloody Mary, and thought to spice the soup with a touch of Tabasco to bring that out a bit more. But the lackluster tomatoes at the local Whole Foods put me off the whole project. And making little cayenne pepper cheese toasts seemed pedestrian.

11:00 AM. Need to be at Rocc’s by 6:00. Back to the drawing board.

When I suggested this theme for the Collective, I’d written, “Haute versions of seventies’ staples (which is to say, how can you take a jello salad into 2011, and onto a Harold Dieterle menu?)” As we used to say in the ‘70s: Adoy! I quickly remembered: when I went to Dieterle’s <http://kinshopnyc.com/menus.php> a few weeks earlier, I loved his incredible Garam Masala & Tomato soup.

More research. Better goal. And thanks to my well-worn Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, I adapted what I think was a delicious Indian-spiced tomato soup, sans beef anything, easily made with organic canned grilled tomatoes, a whole lot more cayenne pepper, and a lot of fresh lime at the end. Instead of serving it with grilled cheese, I cheated bought Aloo Paratha at my local Indian joint: <http://www.indusvalleyus.com/> With its crispy outside and mushy/creamy spiced potato inside, a tip of the hat to grilled cheese, indeed.

A few hours later, I served it to my newfound compatriots with small glasses of icy cold beer, and earned my right to stay at that table and keep on eating. Perfection.

—Nina”

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