Soup and Bread: Delicious Community

Tofu Matzo Ball Soup
Tofu Matzo Ball Soup

Our process of choosing which posts to write and when sometimes makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.  Writing a post about the Good Food Festival within a week or two of going to the Good Food Festival makes sense, but writing a post about a weekly "winter" event as spring is (finally) dawning does not make a whole heap of sense.  However, Kristl and I were finally able to make it to Soup & Bread last night and were inspired to share it with you ASAP, even though there's only one week left for you to try it out this year.

Rather than recreate the wheel, I'll let Soup & Bread's website explain what they are and how it got started:

 

Soup & Bread is a free weekly community meal based at the Hideout, a bar and music venue in Chicago.

Each week we round up a handful of chefs, caterers, musicians, writers, artists, and home cooks of every persuasion to donate pots of soup. We serve them up to all comers — along with fresh bread donated by Publican Quality Meats — until the pots run dry or the late-night jazz guys kick us out. It was designed to be an easy, low-key way to get folks out of the house and socializing in the dead of a dark Chicago winter — not to mention, when we started this up in 2009 our friends were losing their jobs left and right. At times these past few years it’s seemed the entire city could use a nice hot bowl of soup.

Toward that end, while the meal is free, we solicit pay-what-you-can donations each week that are donated in turn to a wide range of neighborhood food pantries and hunger relief agencies. Over the last five years, through events at the Hideout and out of town in Madison, New York City, Seattle, and beyond, we have raised more than $40,000 for Chicago-area food pantries as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository (the central food bank serving the Chicago region), the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and Western Washington’s Food Lifeline.

 
Vegan Thom Kha Soup
Vegan Thom Kha Soup

So, basically, you show up between 5:30 and 8pm on a Wednesday in the winter, grab a bowl, give a cash donation if you're able, and get in line. There are usually 4-6 different soup offerings loosely grouped under a theme.  The cooks are stationed behind their soups and serve you, plus they are usually excited to talk about their soup and offer additions.  There are tables and chairs set up throughout the bar and the tables have giant baskets filled with hunks of crusty, donated sourdough bread.  People are encouraged to try multiple soups and mingle with the other folks in the room.  There are a few buckets sitting around for donations, and usually the charity or non-profit benefiting from the event will have their literature out to peruse or take home.

I think we've been 3-4 times total, and the soup has been consistently delicious.  There is always a good variety, and I think the organizers try to have a solid mix of professional chefs and home chefs, and meat, veggie, and vegan options. This week was a good example of that.  The theme was "Tastes Like Chicken" and there was a vegetarian tofu matzo ball, vegan tom khai, rabbit and pork pozole, spicy sicilian chicken, vegan cream of chicken, and ramen with hard-boiled eggs and pork belly.  Lots of different flavors, but I think our favorite of the evening was the pozole, with the ramen as the close second.  The cooks had clearly put a lot of care into their creations and the atmosphere was jovial. Drinks were available at the bar and we even saw people we know! What's not to love?

Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)
Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)

All this is to say that you have ONE MORE WEEK to try it out for this season. The theme is "The Fields", and there will be pie... Check out Soup & Bread on April 16, and you might just see us there.

Here are some basic tips we've come up with if you're planning on going to Soup & Bread:

  • Bring your own bowl and spoon. This way you're helping the environment AND making the stash of disposable bowls and spoons go a little further.
  • This is probably obvious, but bring cash. There are a few donation jars throughout the space and you can put in as much or as little as you like.
  • You can go up to the soup bar multiple times - we tend to go about three times per person, to try different soups and get a good meal in.
  • Talk to the people at your table. This event is about community, so at the very least, smile and say hi to those with whom you're sitting.
  • This may be our own rule, but we don't go back for seconds of a soup we liked. The quantities are limited and we want them to last so that as many people as possible can enjoy them.
  • We also tend to steer away from the soups that cater to dietary restrictions because we do eat meat, gluten, and dairy, so we want people who don't eat those things to be able to enjoy their experience at Soup & Bread and have as many options as possible.
  • Get there early! They've run out of at least some soup every time we've gone, so if you want to have the most variety, get there early.

Avgolemono: Fast, Delicious, Dinner

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

If you are in a hurry and you have eggs, broth, and chicken kickin' around your kitchen, you are a pretty good candidate for Avgolemeno. Avgolemeno is a Greek soup made of lemon, egg, broth, pasta/rice, chicken, and sometimes dill. It is so easy I can't even handle it. We have made it 3 or 4 times and every time it is creamy (without cream!), tangy, and filling. We snagged the recipe from Dinner A Love Story and for the most part didn't mess with it. We did, however, make it more sustainable.

The recipe calls for 4 cups chicken broth. We used our homemade broth, which we mentioned in the Earth Day post. Usually, we have stock on hand. If not, we use Better Than Bullion Organics for our instant broth needs. Better Than Bullion has organic versions of most of its bases, and it is a very tasty stock replacement. In a pinch, you can use water in any recipe that calls for stock.

The other change we made was to substitute sushi rice for orzo. The cooking time is very similar, but we never really have pasta on hand. We do always have rice around. This change also makes this simple soup entirely gluten free. (Do you hear, gluten free friends, this soup is for you!) They call for a 1/4 orzo, but tonight I used 1/2 cup rice to make the soup a little thicker.

Tonight was the first time we used our pastured, organic egg share eggs for this soup. They are smaller eggs because the chickens are still young, so to get proportions right, we ended up adding five eggs instead of three. If you use store bought eggs, or buy local eggs from older chickens, definitely use three. Dill is abundant in the summer and pretty cheap (due to the fact that it is often considered a weed.) We usually think to make this when we have a bit of leftover chicken from an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods. The only thing you probably would not be able to get locally sourced for this soup is the lemon, assuming you're in the Midwest like we are.

The best part, aside from how lovely it tastes, is that it really only takes about 15 minutes. 15 minutes! We are basically lapping Rachel Ray in the race to dinner. Sustainable dinner in less than 20 minutes. Now this would add about a day and a half to cooking time, but I wholeheartedly recommend this with a fresh slice of homemade sourdough (gluten-free friends, you should obviously skip this). Kristl has been whipping up a loaf of bread every other week or so from her homemade sourdough starter, and I know she will be regaling you soon enough with her successes and failures thereof. For now, I will leave you with a picture of her most recent loaf, a part of which nicely accompanied our avgolemeno soup tonight. (Original soup recipe below the gratuitous bread picture.)

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Avgolemono (From Dinner A Love Story)

4 cups chicken broth (or stock)

1/4 cup uncooked orzo (rice)

salt and pepper

3 eggs

3 tablespoons

lemon juice

handful fresh dill (chopped)

shredded rotisserie chicken (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.

Add the orzo and cook until tender but still al dente, about 7 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and reduce heat to low; let simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice until smooth. Ladle about 1 cup of the hot broth into the egg-and-lemon mixture, whisking to combine.

Add the mixture back to the simmering saucepan. Stir just until the soup becomes opaque and thickens as the eggs cook, 1 to 2 minutes. Add dill, salt and pepper (to taste) and chicken, if you so desire, and serve.

Earth Day Equals Beef Stock

Happy Earth Day! I think it's a rule somewhere that if you have a blog about sustainability and green living you HAVE to post on Earth Day. Oh, it's not? Well, it should be. We went back and forth about what to post today - recipes? An in-depth look at sustainable shampoo options? An entire entry about how excited we were that our community garden opened today only to find out that the plot they assigned us doesn't exist? (Don't fret, they're working on a fix!) And then, it hit us... A couple of weeks ago we were in Madison visiting some friends and we went to Tornado Steakhouse for dinner. They have local, grass fed beef and all sorts of seasonal fruits and vegetables. We were excited! We ordered the 18oz. prime rib special to share, but somewhere along the line there was a mix-up, so while we did split the salad, we each got our own prime rib entree. That's 18oz. of prime rib PER PERSON. We both did our best, but definitely ended up taking a lot home. We ate what we could, but were left with some really fatty ends that we didn't want to throw away or give to the pets, so we decided to make beef stock.

A quart of homemade beef stock.
A quart of homemade beef stock.

Listen up, y'all, this is the part that may change some of your lives (I mean, it certainly changed ours once we figured it out). We try our best not to waste any of the food we bring into our home. That means eating what's edible and then making use of what is often seen as inedible. We keep three gallon-size freezer bags in our freezer at all times. One is for meat/bones, one is for veggie scraps, and one is for worm food (which we'll get into in a later post). Whenever we get a rotisserie chicken or some sort of meat, we put the skin, bones, and a little meat in the meat/bones bag. All of our veggie scraps go into the veggie scrap bag. We also save the rinds from hard cheeses and throw those into our stocks as well. When the veggie bag is full, we make stock. If we happen to have meat/bones, we'll make meat stock, but we eat way more veggies than meat, so sometimes we'll just make veggie stock. If you don't make stock at home, you should try. It's incredibly easy and is always SO MUCH BETTER than store-bought stock.

So, back to our beef stock. We didn't have any bones, so the stock wasn't quite as flavorful as it normally is, but it was delicious. Unfortunately, once we made it it sat in our fridge for a bit because we don't normally cook with beef broth. I was at the market trying to figure out what food to make for the week when I remembered the beef broth. I knew we had onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and rice in the pantry, so I decided to make a soup. I picked up some ground beef (I wanted to do chunks, but the ground was the most humane available - grass fed, pastured - so I went with that option) and headed home. A little browned ground beef, sauteed mire poix, and chopped potatoes went into the crock pot, was covered with beef stock, and cooked on low for about six hours. Then we stirred some rice in and let it sit on warm overnight. YOU GUYS. THIS SOUP. I CAN'T. It was perfect for that weird snowstorm we had on Friday. Gotta love spring snowstorms.

Check out our recipes after the jump! Also, we still have 1.5 quarts of stock left. What are your favorite recipes that use beef stock? Let us know in the comments!

Basic Stock

We usually use a 5-quart crock pot for this, but have made it in a stock pot on the stove as well. We don't usually measure what we put in, we just eyeball it and let 'er go.

Veggie scraps

Chicken carcass or other meat/bone combo (optional)

Hard cheese rind (optional)

Water to cover

Vinegar (if using bones)

Put the scraps, meat/bones, and cheese rind into the crock pot. The crock pot should be about 3/4 full, loosely packed.

Fill with water until it's about 0.5-1 inches below the rim of the crock pot.

If you're using bones, add a couple glugs (2-4 Tbsp) of vinegar (we use apple cider vinegar) and let it sit for about an hour. This helps draw out the minerals and will help the stock to gel.

Turn the crockpot on low and let it cook overnight. Your stock should simmer, but never boil, so make sure you keep an eye on it, especially if you're cooking it on the stove.

Strain out the solids and pour into jars.

Let cool before storing in the fridge or freezer.

We usually end up with 3.5-4 quarts.

Beef and Vegetable Stew

1 lb grass-fed, pastured ground beef

6 red potatoes, cubed

3 carrots, chopped

1 onion, large diced

6-8 celery ribs, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 quarts beef stock

1 cup rice

dash Sage

dash Rosemary

Salt

Pepper

2 pats Butter

Melt 1 pat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and sauté until translucent. Add the ground beef, sage, rosemary, and a pinch of salt and cook through, stirring every once in a while.

When the beef is cooked, transfer the beef and onion mixture to the crock pot. Put the pan back on the stove, melt the other pat of butter, add the celery and carrots and cook until slightly softened.

Add these to the crock pot as well. Add the potatoes to the crock pot and cover everything with the 2 quarts of beef stock.

Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Add 1 cup of rice, switch the crock pot to warm, and let sit for another few hours (or overnight).

The rice will absorb a lot of the cooking liquid and it will turn from a soup into more of a stew.

If you want more of a soupy consistency, feel free to leave out the rice. Sprinkle with sea salt (we like Sel Gris) before serving.