The Soup Bar, El Segundo, CA (http://www.soupbar.com/index.html)
Not very often does such a unique opportunity present itself. My cousin Peter (and his new wife) have opened an eating establishment that features homemade soups and artisan breads. I have this blog that highlights comfort foods. I think a post would be appropriate…
Sadly, mostly due to the years and the miles, I only get to see Pete about once a decade. I recently had the wonderful opportunity, through Pete’s maternal network of aunts, one of whom is my Mom, to see a few pictures that had resulted from Pete’s wedding. In and amongst this forwarded material was a print-out of some pages from The Soup Bar web site. Knowing how I do, the truly intrinsic values of foods that give us either physical or emotional comfort, I was immediately drawn to the concept of The Soup Bar. As they say on their site:
“Soup evokes an experience that, all at once, can be nostalgic, comforting, healthy, therapeutic, communal, even virtuous. It’s simple… soup just makes us feel good. At The Soup Bar we ensure that all our soups are prepared with care, patience and fresh, wholesome ingredients.”
Virtuous? I love it. Who hasn’t found comfort in wrapping their hands around a warm, steaming, cup or bowl of soup? Who hasn’t found comfort in the consumption of such warm and wonderful concoctions as:
- Tomato Basil Bisque
- Turkey Chili
- Tuscan Vegetable Bean Soup, or
- Chicken & Wild Rice Soup?
Who hasn’t found some comfort in pairing some warm and wonderful soup with some artisan breads, such as:
- Malted Brown, or
The “comfort” piece around soups is so eloquently captured within Pete and Michelle’s story about The Soup Bar:
“Food historians tell us that the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and traveling cultures, rich and poor, young and old, the healthy and the sick. Soup really is the original comfort food.
Thoughts of soup conjure different emotions for each of us. Childhood memories of the soup Mom brought when you were sick in bed… hot soup with your brother after a snowball fight… romantic rainy day memories of soup in front of a fire with someone special.
The Soup Bar brings you 8 hand-crafted gourmet soups daily. Each comes with your choice of fresh baked artisan bread. You will also find an assortment of side salads, fresh cookies, healthy snacks, fine chocolate, beverages, and unique gift items for the soup lover. All of this brought to you by friendly “Souparistas” in an upbeat, inviting, cozy-casual atmosphere…”
A wonderful concept, a timeless combination, an intelligent approach…The Soup Bar also features live music and participates regularly in community related events. And, apparently, El Segundo is forward-thinking enough to provide restaurant shuttle service to the working and shopping constituency of the community. Another great idea! When in El Segundo, please make a point to stop in and see Pete and Michelle and have some soup…
Good job, Cuz! I cannot wait to have the opportunity to come out to your side of the world, to meet your new wife, and to sample some of your wares. Keep up the the good work!
With all our love and support, Dave
My Mom has been making these for at least thirty years that I know of. This wonderful (and flexible) recipe was given to her by a colleague when she was still teaching. Most often spotted during the holidays, these little critters disappear fast; they can be quite addictive. They make wonderful gifts, all nestled in little tins, or baskets, and, you can take this recipe anywhere you would like to go with it, be adventurous! You really have to work hard at screwing these up, honestly, when they are baking, keep an eye on them so that they don’t get too dark. But, experiment with the “done-ness” thing, because you can take them from an almost soft white to a deep caramel in color, as they bake. Remember that from deep caramel to black and burned is not too distant and the rest is like falling off a log…have fun!
1 stick of salted butter
2 egg whites
1 cup of sugar
1 pound pecan halves
Salt, to taste, after baking
Preheat the oven to 300° (oven temperatures vary, these should just be turning a light golden brown after about 20 minutes), melt the stick of butter in a jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides on it, or else the butter will get all over your oven), spread the melted butter evenly over the pan, beat the egg whites until foamy (about ½ way in between egg whites and meringue) and add the granulated sugar. Mix in the pecan halves and spread in the jelly-roll pan. As said above, bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Levels of being done at this point vary greatly with each cook who makes these; some like them dark, and some like them light. Just be careful not to burn them and don’t be afraid to experiment. (See below) Salt lightly to taste after they come out of the oven, cool them in the pan and then break them up into bite-sized pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. These freeze well, only needing a little time to thaw before serving and they make great gifts, too!
I’ve seen these made with all kinds of different nuts; this recipe works well with almonds, walnuts, or peanuts (stick to dry roasted varieties and stay away from “skins” (like redskin peanuts for example)), and don’t be afraid to combine two or three different kinds of nuts in one batch. Shoot for a combined weight of about a pound of nut meats
- Go savory with this by omitting all but a couple of tablespoons of sugar and mixing into the egg foam some savory spices, vinegars, and maybe some stuff to provide some heat: Tabasco, cayenne, hot sauces, pepper flakes…just beware that all of your guests may not like stuff as spicy as you do.
- I have made a “tropical” version of this by substituting turbinado sugar (granulated unrefined light brown sugar) for the granulated white sugar and adding an 1/8 tsp each of nutmeg, allspice, ground clove, and cinnamon to the egg foam before I added the nuts.
- Bacon and Maple syrup…oh, my!
- You can basically add just about anything that will hold up to the slow bake…have fun with these and enjoy!
This is a great salad! It has been around for years, and if memory serves, originally came from Michele’s sister. It is extremely flexible, with many options. This is one of those that begs for some creativity. You really should have some fun with it. At the very least, try to keep in the sugared almonds (absolutely delicious) and the Mandarin Orange sections…
2 heads, tender Romaine lettuce, cleaned and chopped (bi-laterally, to avoid long stringy pieces)
1-2 cups chopped/sliced celery hearts
6-8 green onions (scallions), cleaned and chopped, using an inch or two of the green part as well
½ pint of cherry/grape tomatoes, cleaned, drained, and cut in half
2 small cans Mandarin Orange sections, drained
Dressing (see below)
Prepared, cooled, and broken apart almond slices (see below)
Combine the first five ingredients in a salad, or serving bowl, and mix to combine well. The dressing can be applied now and the salad served, tossed and already dressed, or, the dressing can be served with the salad and applied by your guests, individually. Top salad with the almond pieces before serving.
½ tsp salt
½ tsp of fresh ground black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP of finely chopped fresh parsley (½ TBSP if dried)
1 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce
2 TBSPS apple cider vinegar
Combine all of the ingredients into a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. If low-sodium soy sauce isn’t available, use the regular stuff, but omit the ½ tsp salt. Whisk well to emulsify and taste to adjust. If dressing the salad in the bowl and tossing before serving, start slowly and add a little dressing at a time, so as to not “drown” your salad.
¾ cup sliced almonds
3 TBSPS granulated sugar
(2 TBSPS butter, in not using a non-stick pan)
In a small non-stick skillet, over low to medium heat, add the almonds and sugar together and stir to combine. Paying careful attention not to burn the sugar to the almonds, slowly work the sugar and almonds in the pan until the sugar melts, coats the almonds and just begins to caramelize and turn brown. The difference in time between the almonds being perfect and the almonds being burned is not real great. It’s nothing to stress over; just don’t go make a long-distance phone call after you put your ingredients in the pan. Remove from the heat and immediately turn them out onto parchment paper or aluminum foil and “un-clumped” as much as possible. After they cool, they can be broken apart into little pieces and clusters, just right for sprinkling on your Chopped Salad. (Don’t stop there: ice cream sundaes with these sprinkled on them, or warm cinnamon rolls, or granola, on top of muffins, seriously…the imagination runs just a little bit wild…make them, taste them, trust me…)
Other stuff to do to/with this salad:
- Just about any greenery will work for this salad; chop up some iceberg lettuce; I have made it with cabbages, if you’re not too freaked out about allowable fecal matter particles per million, I suppose you could use some of that artificial tasting bagged stuff (please be careful)…Boston, Bibb, Endive, Radicchio, you really can’t go wrong.
- Additions: again, just about anything goes; dried fruit(s), sunflower seeds, goat/feta cheese, Bok-choy, radishes, red onion, chopped hard-boiled egg, grated cheddar cheese, olives, peppers…the more the merrier!
- Proteins: make a meal and add protein; beef tips and bleu cheese, sliced sirloin and mushrooms, shredded chicken and cheddar, chopped cooked fish…
- Chopped basil, fresh or roasted garlic, thyme, oregano…
- Go Asian!: Add water chestnuts and baby corn to the salad. Add some garlic, ginger, and sesame oil to the dressing. Add crunched up chow mein noodles on top with the sugared almonds…
- Go Latin!: Add taco seasoned ground hamburger (cooked just like you would for making tacos), about a ½ pound, rinse and drain a can of black-eyed peas, or your favorite bean, and about ¼ to ½ pound of good sharp cheddar, grated. Stir in a little taco seasoning mix into the dressing. Jalapenos, either in the salad, or dressing, are optional. Top with crumbled corn chips and the sugared almonds…
These are a lot of fun! I used to make these for the boys when they were growing up and the variations are as plentiful as the number of flavor combinations you have in your pantries, cupboards, and refrigerators. These are light and “custardy” and, quite honestly, really hard to screw up. What is the comfort food part? If you have never taken the time to cook a fun and tasty Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast for yourself or your loved ones, and then sat down to enjoy the moment for all that it is worth, including simply being able to take a deep breath and be thankful for the gift of the day, then you really should do so at your first opportunity. And, may you find some comfort…
German Oven Pancakes
½ cup all-purpose flour (sifting is optional, if it makes you happy, please feel free to sift)
3 lightly beaten eggs
½ cup milk
2 TBSPS melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ tsp salt (a pinch will do)
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium to large sized mixing bowl. Stir in the milk, the melted butter, the salt, and the sugar. Add the flour, slowly, to the mixture, a spoonful at a time, incorporating the flour completely into the mixture. It’s a little bit tricky, in that the more you mix, the “tougher” the pancake will become (less light). But, you want to not have very many lumps either. They just won’t work in the final product. So, don’t stress about it, have fun, and just make the batter as lump free as you can with a minimum of mixing. Again, you really can’t go wrong.
Now you need a pan, ovenproof, and roughly 9” in square or diameter. I like to use a 9” or 10” glass pie pan, but have been known to use an 8”x 8” square metal pan and a 9”x 9” glass pan. Spray it well with baking or cooking spray. You can also wipe some butter on the inside of the pan if you don’t have any spray.
If you were going to make plain German Oven Pancakes now, you could pour the batter into the pan and bake it…but, no, please let me tell you where the real fun comes in. My favorite version of these is a kind of “Bananas Foster” kind of oven pancake. Before I pour the batter in, I sprinkle about ½ cup of brown sugar into the bottom of the pan, slice a banana over the brown sugar, and then dot the bananas and brown sugar with a little more butter. Then I pour the batter over and bake it. What takes place is almost miraculous as the sugar semi-caramelizes and the bananas bake into the caramel and become integral with the bottom crust of the oven pancake. There’s a whole school of thought for what can bake in the bottom of these and the variations are only limited by your imagination. How about some brown sugar, cinnamon, a small handful of raisins, and some apple slices? Any number of jams or jellies, fruits, sugars, honeys, cereals, etc. can be combined to bake into the bottom of these beauties. And, we haven’t even talked about what you can do with the top of them!
Pour your batter into your prepared pan. Bake for 12-18 minutes, checking at the 12 minute mark, until the edges are turning golden brown. Because of the eggs in the batter, these puff up nicely around the edges and make a nice well in the middle that can serve as a receptacle for just about anything that tickles your fancy: raspberries, blueberries, any ripe fruit will do…sprinkle with powdered sugar, drizzle with maple syrup or honey. This batter can be easily split to make two smaller pancakes. Experiment and have fun!
-top with granola
-top with yogurt
-sprinkle with toasted almonds
-dot with fruit butters
-garnish with fresh mint
-drizzle with chocolate syrup or caramel