25 February 2010

I behave accordingly

Dear Reader, I have a bit of news to share!

Those of you who’ve been hanging around here for quite a while (oh lovelies!) must know that since last August
I’ve been working at Gebroeders Niemeijer as a dishwasher, assisting occasionally in tasks like the tartlets-forming or the tartlet dough-making.

I don’t think I told you but for the last few months of 2009, I even used to start my working Sundays in the bakery at 6:30 in the morning. I was meant to help a young French baker Arnaud with early-morning routines until the service in the adjacent breakfast/lunch room would start, after which I’d proceed with the dishes until 6 in the evening. It was a magnificent experience to be in the warmth of the bakery under the veil of pre-dawn winter darkness creating something yeasty and buttery while the rest of the world was still sound asleep. It is indeed a fulfilling feeling to see the results of your labour, almost always backbreaking, on people’s plates.

So the news is that since early February I am known not only as a dishwasher who helps the bakers, but also as a baker’s apprentice. Issa, our master baker, is teaching me the art of pastry making.

At this point I’m in the process of mastering crème au citron (lemon curd), among a few other things. In particular, I’m learning the ways how to feverishly whisk it ten minutes straight and NOT to scream from the numb pain in my right arm.

Let me just repeat: I am a baker’s apprentice. Respect.

That said, were I now writing about another dessert, I’m sure you’d consider a smack in my face. Who am I kidding, another story – what, sixth in a row? -- about something sweet and I, too, would happily slap myself. To avoid any self-abuse, I was thus going to tell you about kale gratin today. I thought it would make for a juicy story. Namely, about how an American guy named Anthony (thirty of age) knew zilch about a vegetable called kale until I invited myself to his kitchen the other day bringing along a pound of stemmed and chopped curly kale to make an eponymous gratin dish. Three out of the four eaters at the table loved it, except myself. Which made me infuriated to the eleventh power. To make me like the stuff, the idea emerged to sub kale for spinach and cut down somewhat on cream and butter. Anthony did as he was told, except that he charred the lot. What exited the oven were the kale ashes. And so the story of kale gratin was buried. Aw shucks! My gumption plummeted, I went back home starving.

In my makeshift pantry (originally, a cupboard) that can barely accommodate three cans of Kusmi Tea, two bags of flour, six small glass jars with various grains and a few more other items, there is always a room for a jumbo jar of creamy peanut butter. (Dutch are ardent peanut butter eaters. I joined the ranks.) Starving, I was tempted to have mouthfuls of the stuff for dinner. But I’m almost twenty-six, so I expect from myself to behave accordingly. I chopped up and browned some onions and garlic, along with fresh ginger; added diced carrots and vegetable stock; brought it all to a boil and then simmered all that until the carrots were soft; and finally stirred in some peanut butter before pureeing the pot's contents.

Yes, I made carrot and peanut butter soup.

Did you know how lovable these two are together?? L.O.V.E.A.B.L.E.

Broad shoulders of peanut butter and a wasp-like waistline of carrots…This velvety bright soup has its own yin and yang of flavours – assertive and delicate, savoury and sweet, earthy and warm. It’s soothing. It’s relaxing. It’s a perfect fare to even out, say, sugar level imbalances that might still be ailing you after I so blatantly subjected you to one dessert after another for months in a row. But there is more to come, you know. So never shall it be said I am stuffing you with sweets without offering you something nourishing in between!

Carrot and Peanut Butter Soup
Serves 4
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
Cayenne pepper
6 cups vegetable stock or water
4 cups diced carrots
2 laurel leaves
5 sprigs fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley (for cooking you will only need finely chopped stems; save the leaves for garnishing)
1/4 cup peanut butter

1. In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium fire. Add the onions and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger. Throw in a pinch of salt and cayenne each. Cook for another minute.

2. Dump in the carrots and pour in the stock or water. Add the laurel leaves and the cilantro stems. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until the carrots are soft, about 20 mins. Remove from the heat. Discard the laurel leaves.

3. Stir in the peanut butter. Mix well.

4. Using a blender, puree the soup. Hot liquids expand in volume, so work in batches, 2 or 3 cups at a time. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with more veg stock or water (start with 1/4 cup).

5. Taste and add more cayenne or salt, if needed.

6. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley leaves. Serve hot.