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.
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.
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.)
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.