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Soup Experiments: Project Outline, Ex 1 and Ex. 2

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Soup Experiments: Project Outline, Ex 1 and Ex. 2

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I feel a need to work more diligently on increasing my cooking skills. I want to have greater faith in my own ability to take on something new and make it come out right the first time.

I refer to myself as "a passable kitchen technician." I understand the basics, and I know how to follow a recipe. I realize that that puts me squarely mid-range, and I don't feel bad about that, but I also favor a skills increase. I've frequently found myself reluctant to try a new recipe without having had it before, so that I can know how it's supposed to come out - mostly with dishes from cultures I don't know well (I don't feel that way about Italian cuisine, for example). That is largely because I don't have a chef's sense of what ingredients will do what when combined in different ways; it comes naturally to some, but others can learn it. The same goes for proportion - I have a terrible memory for the ratios and in a lot of cases I don't feel confident that I can estimate them properly or guess what will result from changing them.

I've wanted to further develop this skill set for a long time, and I've poked at it periodically with some success, but right now life really feels to be flowing this way, so this seems a good time to hop to. I thought about taking classes... but that's not what I want to do. Maybe I will later, but it's not like this is an esoteric subject or like I'm trying to become a gourmet chef. The materials and resources I need are easily accessible - everybody eats, eh? - and for now I'd like to see what I can do on my own. I've read many many recipes over the years (comes of collecting cookbooks), far more than I've ever made or ever could, and I'm going to include more reading about the science of food as part of this ongoing project. At the same time, though, I feel that the only way to really learn these things viscerally is to get hands on with it.

This isn't experimental cooking, per se - I'm not trying to create any recipes at this point. What I'm doing is going with recipes I've never tried or eaten that sound like they might be good, to see whether my guesses about how they will be are right. I've been doing that dilletante style since I moved to Lincoln, but I'm going to try bringing more focus to bear on the process.

The basic rule to trying new recipes is, "Make it as written the first time." I will follow that rule for the most part, but one thing I think I do have is a fair sense of which kinds of substitutions or omissions won't change the underlying character of a recipe. My purpose is not really to test the recipe but myself (the former is just a happy byproduct), so I will do that when I feel the need and make note of it as well as of the results.

I've decided to start with soups.

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Experiment 1.) Red Potato Soup

I had bought a bag of red potatoes, and I no longer remembered why. I thought I'd start by looking for a way to use them up rather than letting them rot in the bag.

Red Potato Soup

8 red potatoes, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 (49.5 fluid ounce) can chicken broth
1/2 cup margarine
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
8 cups milk

In a large saucepan over high heat combine the potatoes, onion, broth, butter or margarine, celery seed, garlic powder, ground black pepper, onion powder and seasoning salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add the milk, heat through and serve.


I've had good luck with AllRecipes.com in the past. I think this one was rather dud-like, though.

Mods, Errors and Variations

-- used vegetable broth instead of chicken so that my pescetarian test eater could eat it
-- used 1/4 stick of butter instead of 1/2
-- omitted celery seed (didn't have any and don't really care for it)
-- used fresh garlic instead of garlic powder
-- used extra onion instead of onion powder
-- used 6 cups of milk instead of 8

I made this AFTER dinner, not FOR dinner, and ate it for the first time for lunch the next day. I dunno if that works for a method or not - I was stuffed and didn't really do any tasting along the way, and I think that was detrimental to the end result, because I could have tried some save tactics earlier on.

Then again, maybe not, because the milk was a huge contributing factor to that effect and the very last thing added. I saw how thin it was getting as I poured it in, and agreed with loh's judgement that adding the full amount would make it ridiculous, so I stopped at 6. I should have stopped even sooner. This is an instance of me not properly guessing the effect of ratio ahead of time.

End Result

The recipe came out edible, but not really palatable. The use of butter in this recipe is downright dumb. Even after reducing it by half, when I opened my container for lunch, I found soup with a layer of butter gunk floating on top. Fortunately a lot of it stuck to the lid and I was able to wipe it off.

This recipe needs mad amounts of adaptation before I or anyone else will like it, which is a learning thing on its own. I have done all right at choosing recipes recently, but this one was not one of my better calls - which is not great news for lunch but is rather useful for self-education.

I did like some aspects of it. I liked the way the potatoes came out, and I liked the use of the seasoned salt, though it needs more. That's why I'll adapt rather than finding a new one.

I'll try it again with changes after I've done two or three more for the first time.

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Experiment 2.) Lentil-Mushroom Stew

Not an internet recipe - this is from the Whole Earth Cook Book (1972) with a few formatting changes.

Lentil-Mushroom Stew

6 c stock or water
2 c lentils, washed
1/3 c oil
1 onion, sliced and chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried basil
2 stalks celery and tops, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vinegar

Bring stock/water to a boil and slowly add lentils. Reduce to a simmer and cook 1 hour. Meanwhile, sauté onion, mushrooms and basil in oil. Set aside. Combine all ingredients, except vinegar, and cook at least one more hour, or until lentils are tender. Add vinegar before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 well.


I liked this cookbook when I first read it, but this is the first thing I made out of it. It's a How To Run Your Kitchen kind of approach, and I like it. I am going to be trying more of these recipes.

Mods, Errors and Variations

-- used 2 cups of vegetable stock
-- let it boil over while bringing it to a boil the first time
-- let it boil over two more times once I'd added the lentils
-- used less oil for the sautéeing, maybe 1 or 1.5 tablespoons
-- had celery hearts so no tops
-- used diced tomatoes instead of stewed
-- completely forgot the vinegar

The lentils cooked way faster than the recipe called for, probably because of their boiling over when they were supposed to be simmering. Also, I did use red dal lentils, and according to The Cook's Thesaurus, those are among the quicker-cooking of varieties. My time fritterage was in line with the timing called for in the recipe, and that made me rush a little more than I thought I'd have to with the other preparations.

End Result

This is great. It is really excellent while calling for only simple techniques. I wanted to eat it before it was even done cooking - and I did a bit, since why not, I could safely eat all the ingredients raw anyway (an advantage of vegetarian cooking!). It also doesn't need extra salt because it has a very rich flavor - and for me to say that is something, I have strong feelings for Salt: An Epicurean's Delight.
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