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.


OS said...

Despite several attempts my brain is unable to visualize(?) what a Carrot and Peanut butter soup would taste like.

Don't the peanuts dominate and drown out the carrot flavor ?

anya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anya said...

Dear OS,

the best way to understand the workings of flavours in this damn soup is to make it! The carrot flavour will be subtle, that's true. But then again, if you want to hear the carrots, just shut up the peanut flavor -- or to put it mildly, use less peanut butter. :)

Anyway, try it!

Alix said...

Congratulations on your apprentice-hood! Exciting. I went to eat at Gebroeders Niemeijer with a friend last weekend, we had some of the breads and then a piece of tarte tatin - both delicious! With the breads, my friend said something like 'every single ingredient is good/adds something', it really was like that.

I just had carrot and orange soup (at Cafe T, on Roetersstraat, if you don't know it your really should go!), which was really good, it makes me want to try yours. I guess peanut would be stronger, more like a thick winter blanket. It sounds like it would be good spicy too, did the Cayenne pepper make it spicy?

J said...

Hiya, I made one of your wine cakes (had to adjust the recipe), and I pigged right out on it. Nice one!

anya said...

Dear Alix, thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed your lunch in the bakery!

You wouldn't believe it but I was toying with a possibility to make an attempt at home-made carrot and orange soup the other day. Somehow carrots and oranges seem right together (must be the colour thing). But first I'm certainly going to check Cafe T out -- now that you recommended it!

And yes, cayenne lends an honest bite to this carrot and peanut butter soup. You can also up the ginger amount to make things "spice and sparkle" more, as it were. :)

Dear J, thanks for trying out the recipe (how did you adjust it?)! It's to be taken seriously, that white wine cake, no? :) I mean, it's THAT addictive!

OS said...


Last week I suddenly developed a craving for mustard. I went out and bought a bottle. The week thereafter consisted of me finding excuses to smother my meals with obscene amounts of the spicy goodness.

After a week of such unholy self inflicted culinary disasters my stomach is registering protest but my taste buds have decided otherwise.

Is there some antidote for mustard ? This is the only food blog I know of - I call on the food intelligencia to help me out !

J said...

Well, the amount of flour didn't seem right, it looked like a typo.
Err... I can't remember how I fixed it but it turned out ok.
I'm afraid I have to disagree, personally I only find chocolate cake to be addictive, but the wine one was good. I may try again, with walnuts or almonds.

anya said...

Dear OS,

Sorry, it took me THAT long to answer and there is no excuse for my trying to find any excuses to explain why. :) Are you still in the mustard mode? If so, may I suggest you try this salad?

anya said...

Dear J, the fact that chocolate cake is addictive is undisputable indeed! But the WWC (white wine cake), I dare say, is addictive, or rather loveable, in its own humble way, no?

Anonymous said...

Is it loveable? I guess so, but I don't think it is humble, I think as wine is involved it is quite fancy - but that may depend on the wine.

When making it it didn't seem like there was enough flour to make it solid, I may be wrong, so I added more.

anya said...

Dear J, the batter for the cake should not be solid; it is supposed to be thick-ish, but runny.

J said...

Ah, I see, runny - OK. Perhaps also humble, unless Baron Rothschild takes me under his wing and donates me something from his cellar, which doesn't look likely.

J said...

But what about these cakes, Anya, these are definitely not humble cakes. These cakes definitely demand your attention and adulation.


OS said...

Experience has taught me that it's impossible to quit an addiction. The only way is to substitute it for another one.

In this case, I quit after I realized I'd gone so low that I'd started bypassing the delivery vehicles and going straight to the mustard.

Now I'm stuck with an insatiable desire for pickled food. So far I've downed a jar of pickled cucumbers, and am now crunching through gherkins.