From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mom's Stone Soup for Dan

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

"You're hungry?"

"Yup.  I'm a starvin' Marvin!!"

"Okay, what do you want for dinner?"

"I want something DELICIOUS!!"

"Umm... okay, and who is going to make this 'something delicious?'"

"Umm...duh, you are!!"

So on Friday night, after Eleyna's basketball game, Kim and I were in search of sustenance.  I had just driven to the other side of town and did not want to drive too much farther to eat, or I, in my own irascible way, would have started to get grumpy, and then NO ONE would have wanted to dine with me.  It was also too late to drive all the way back home and make something there, as I am not a fan of dining late at night.

So we settled on a local spot, called Carino's Italian Restaurant.   After tasting the meal, and upon further review, I am not sure that what we ate could really qualify as Italian food.  The bottomless hot bread basket, served with roasted garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping was good.  The Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, with its peppery bite was excellent.  The bottomless soup and salad? Ehh... and the entrees? Not so much.

Against our better judgment, we both ordered off the promotional menu, with Kim selecting their Ravioli dish, and I selecting the Steak Florentine dish.  (Most restaurants, when promoting a new dish or menu, mass produce tons of portions of ingredients for that menu item, and this prep format results in a loss of freshness for ingredients.)

I also chose the bottomless minestrone soup, and Kim chose the bottomless Caesar Salad.  I kind of wish I had also chosen the salad, as the minestrone soup was not hot, and lacked depth of flavor.  More of a watery tomato soup with everything but the kitchen sink tossed in, but without seasoning.  Have you ever heard the story of "Stone Soup?"

The salad was the most popular dish around the table, as Madison felt no qualms about grabbing her fork and stabbing away at Kim's salad.  It was pretty funny to see, considering that she had picked off all of the croutons as well and was content to munch away on those. 

When the entrees arrived, the first thing I said was that it looked better in the picture. 

What was I thinking?!?!? Of COURSE it didn't look as good as the picture.  It NEVER does.  I, of all people,  should have known better. 

The cream sauce for the Steak Florentine had a bit of a kick, which made for an interesting combination, as the spinach and steak paired well with it.  Kim's ravioli dish had a bizarre, unidentifiable flavor to it.  It was almost as if the hodgepodge of flavors was an inadvertent result of combining leftover seasonings and ingredients and no one could decide whether it was good or not.  Sadly, it was not. 

I think that our overall dissatisfaction was due in large part to the fact that we can get the real thing often, when Kim's family makes it...

The expectation was higher than the level of satisfaction, which, sadly, resulted in... *sigh* yup, you're right...

So I was wondering what I could have done to make the meal better.  First off, I would DEFINITELY improve the soup recipe.  It desperately called out for more substance, more depth, more flavor.  It is supposed to be filling, healthy, savory and made with the freshest of vegetables.  (Hmph)  Then, I would not have ordered that same entree.  It was sadly the only way I could think of making the visit better. 

Ironically, later that same evening, I got an e-mail from Dan, one of my readers and a dear family friend, asking if I had any experience with minestrone soup.  My best recipe is one of my Mom's, that sadly, I have not been able to replicate to my satisfaction.  (That is quite possibly due to the fact that I never wrote the recipe down, and was always going off of memory, as well as the fact that no one else in the family likes it, so I refuse to make it for myself.)  I will never resort to buying the canned stuff, and maybe one day I will be able to make a batch of it for more than just myself.  So, Dan, here is my Mom's recipe, culled from the depths of my memory, and finally put on paper.  (The beauty of this recipe is that it can be modified in virtually any way conceivable, through the addition of more vegetables, or even beef stew meat or shredded chicken.)

Until I find someone who is willing to enjoy Mom's recipe with me,  Good Eating, Friends...

Mom's Lentil Minestrone Soup
(measurements are approximate, due to the recipe not being written down.)

• 2 Tablespoon olive oil

• 1 Tablespoon butter

• 2 Cups finely chopped shallots
(A regular white onion can be used if you don't want the strong flavor of the shallot)

• 4 Tablespoons tomato paste

• 1/4 Cup chopped parsley

• 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

• 6 carrots, diced

• 1 Cup diced celery

• 1 Cup diced tomatoes

• salt & pepper
(seasoning to taste)

• 1 Cup green lentils,  rinsed

• 2 bay leaves

• 6 thyme branches

• 2 quarts water or vegetable stock
• 1 tablespoon Soy sauce

• 1 bunch spinach
• 2 Cups cooked small pasta, such as shells or ditalini

• fresh Parmesan cheese to taste

Directions: Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide soup pot.  Saute the shallot over high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Toss in the garlic, carrots, celery and salt, saute until celery is evenly softened.  Stir in water or vegetable stock, diced tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a boil.  Add lentils, bay leaves, parsley branches, thyme branches.  After allowing herbs to cook in the soup for about 5 minutes,  lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add soy sauce.   (For additional depth a splash of Worcestershire Sauce can be added.)  Remove the parsley and thyme branches. Blanch the spinach in salted water until tender then cut into smaller pieces. Add to soup just before serving.  Top with fresh parmesan cheese.

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  1. Colin, I've been down the Road of Tasteless, What is it? Food...blah-humbug. So, you went to a restaurant with a picture menu--ah-ha!
    Gordon Ramsey would have fun with the menu, I'm sure! There's no excuse for unheated soup, which Jen and I also had at our Panera Bread.
    Heat snd Taste is big with me--a recipe can't wuss out on flavor. I shake on the herbs and cracked pepper, along with kosher salt, with abandon. The palate is alive and well in my kitchen.
    This recipe sounds delicious,and most enjoyable on these chilly days.

  2. I must admit that I too, am a huge fan of seasoning. (It is almost to the point of seasoning with a palsy.) While I do believe that some dishes should be mild to allow the diner to season to taste, c'mon!! If a restaurant advertises its "bold, bountiful flavors" then for crying out loud, bring it!!

  3. Unfortunately their soup is bagged frozen. It is inadequately warmed up in the bag and not even in boiling water. Afterwards 16 cups of water is added to what is poured out. There's your lack of seasoning and temperature simply explained.