Soup’s On

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By Kerri Conan

There’s a reason they call them pot lucks: You take your chances at these shindigs. But last weekend I went to the best bring-your-own-food party ever, where the mandate was soup.

It started a couple weeks ago, when 30 or so folks were summoned to the old William Burroughs—yes, that William Burroughs—residence in Lawrence, Kansas. My friend Tom King, a chef-now-writer from California who has been taking good care of the place and its guests for the last few years, had gotten the idea for a soup potluck from his pal Heather Hall’s family Christmas tradition.  Immediately after Tom sent out the sign-up email, the soups started pouring in: Muligatawny; Potato, Kale, Bacon; Chicken Tortilla with Lime; Gypsy Soup (a hearty mix of chickpeas, vegetables, and sweet potatoes); Hot Chili Soup (with several kinds of fresh and dried chiles); Cannellini; Chuck Wagon Beef Yee Haw; Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Spinach; Creamy Potato Leek; Mushroom-Beef with Oat Groats; Chicken Soup with Black-Eyed Peas and Turnip Greens; and Thai Chicken with Lemongrass and Chiles. Twelve in all, each more delicious than the last (I can say with confidence having tried eleven).

The set-up was simple: On the sunny porch, a large table was set with Tom’s seedling starters (that’s where they live so why move them?) a power strip for the slow cookers, and a bread spread. Desserts, slurping vessels, and utensils were handy on a side table. In the kitchen, four pots of soup simmered on the stove, a counter was transformed into a cheese board, and one stray Crock Pot found a free outlet, its garnish of crisp tortillas in a bowl nearby. Beer and wine in the fridge and a fire burning out back ensured the flow between soups was constant and convivial. Afterwards, Tom provided containers for everyone to take home the leftovers. What a perfect way to transition from winter to spring.

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Basted Potato Halves

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By Kerri Conan

Perfect for Yukon golds: Turn the oven to 400dg, using the convection roast setting if you’ve got one. Pour a thin film of olive oil into a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Trim about 1 pound of potatoes, remove any icky spots, and cut them in half crosswise. Once the potatoes are in the pan, rub them all over in the oil, and put them cut side down. Roast, brushing with the salted oil every 15 minutes or so, until they release easily, 30 to 60 minutes, depending on their size.

 

Prosciutto and Melon, Like a Virgin

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By Kerri Conan 

Umpteen years ago my girlfriends and I ran with a bunch of guys in San Francisco we called “The O’s.” Nando. Carlo. Enzo. Veniero. Claudio. Paulo. Antonio. You get the drift. 

The O’s weren’t Italian-Americans; they were fellows who visited from Italy and stayed for a while. We met them while waiting tables, and we shared the common language of food and fun. On our days off we rode up to Napa on their motorcycles to taste wine or eat oysters at Tomales Bay. We’d pack a picnic and rent boats at San Pablo reservoir to swim and sunbathe. On foggy days we gathered at one of their flats and they would cook for us. The O’s turned me on to proscuitto and melon. 

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Crazy Cukes

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By Kerri Conan 

These are the best field cucumbers ever. Fighting words to be sure. But after growing lemon, Armenian, bush champion, sweet marketmore, and Mideast prolific Sean and I know what we like. And this summer we’re high on Poona Kheera

The pulp-to-flesh ratio is not too important to us, since we remove the seeds before eating anyway. Overall crispness is way more valuable. And any cuke that keeps cranking all summer long—despite the heat, the beetles, and the threat of disease—will be our BCF. The Poona (which comes from India) fires on all cylinders: You can eat them when they’re pickler-size or when they grow to over a pound. The flavor is clean and slightly sweet (like limestone spring water) and the texture is super crunchy. So they’re a lot like eating melons. 

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No More Foreign Oil!

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By Kerri Conan 

This time of year, Kansas is usually lousy with sunflowers. Precisely what you’d expect from “the sunflower state.” Several small-headed varieties grow from ditches and cracks in the pavement, while fields of commodity plants—with their massive faces and sturdy stalks—bow in the wind like a battalion of chorus lines. Here in the eastern part of the state, where the weather has been strange even for tornado alley, we’re not getting many blooms this year. Fortunately, our co-op in Lawrence started carrying local sunflower oil this summer: So everything is coming up golden in the kitchen. 

Bainter is the producer, from the small town of Hoxie. Maybe I’m stretching the standard “local” radius a bit. But in this case—since single-source cooking oil is a rare foodstuff in America—I’m counting 333 miles across my beloved state as nearby. Bainter oil isn’t cold pressed, but claims to be refined without chemical solvents. I believe it. The slightly cloudy color is the shade of melted butter, with a moderately assertive balance of grassy, floral, and nutty flavors. The viscosity doesn’t turn your mouth furry. And to my pleasant surprise the oil doesn’t smoke, burn, or go bitter when super-heated. If you have to ask about the price, you can afford it. This is the Midwest after all. Check out the company website. (And while you’re there, feel free to add a piece of Bainter’s patented hydraulic farm equipment to your shopping cart.) 

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Fridge Pickles, Your Way

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By Kerri Conan 

Not to be confused with my shortcut brined-in-the-skillet version that ran on this page a couple weeks back. These are two quick refrigerated pickles backed by bona fides. The first comes from the book mentioned in that piece, my precious Quick Pickles. And then after the jump are Mark’s favorite kosher pickles, lifted verbatim from both the old and the new editions of How to Cook Everything. Another—totally different—winner. 

As long as you don’t mess with the proportions in the brine, the flavors and ingredients are totally customizable. 

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The Last Blackberry

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By Kerri Conan 

The garden has been behaving so strangely this year that we actually ate the last blackberry before the first tomato. Let me tell you: plucking that final berry was a big bummer. 

I usually roll with the ebb and flow of the seasons and never get too attached to any one crop. But without tomatoes to pick up the slack a juiciness vacuum suddenly loomed large. I looked down at the handful of motley berries in my colander and made one last pass through the patch, lifting branches, looking for one more that might have eluded my glance. Funny how wacky weather makes you pay more attention to every bite. 

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