Sunday, December 11, 2011

A satisfying, simple supper

December 11, 2011
Farmhouse vegetable and barley soup
Almost no-knead whole wheat bread
Vella Delicious White wine
Cranberry-apple crisp

Simple meals are often the best. A few hearty courses prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients is all you need for a satisfying supper. Iron Chef meals are entertaining but far from simple involving multiple techniques, tools, ingredients, and a sophisticated palate to really appreciate. They don't work well at home. On occasion it is worth having a sophisticated meal, but for most meals, keep it simple.

Soup is good on cold days, I often have it for lunch on the weekends at this time of year. When I was a kid my favorite canned soup was Campbell's Condensed Bean with Bacon, and it still is. I've made soups from scratch before and the one I made for this dinner may be one of the best. It is hearty and full of flavor and like most home-made soups it gets better every time you reheat some. Preparation was straightforward; as with stir-fry most of the work was cutting up the vegetables. The recipe called for ground dried porcini mushrooms which the store did not have; the produce man said they normally had it but none had come in this week. (My wife let me use her coffee bean grinder to make the powder.) I substituted dried chanterelles; though I found some hard pieces that did not grind up it was easy to pick them out of the powder. I chose to use vegetable broth instead of chicken, partly because our vegetarian daughter is coming home from college. The recipe says you can use either.

When I bake bread it is most often one of the Almost no-knead breads, either white or wheat. They're good to eat and easy to make. Bread is flour, yeast, salt, and water (compare that to the ingredient list of your store bought bread) and these recipes are pretty close to this simple set of ingredients.  They include just a few additional ingredients to provide some added flavor. To make the bread you whisk the dry ingredients together then stir in the wet. The dough sits overnight for 12-18 hours. The next day it's kneaded 10-12 times, shaped into a ball, and baked in a dutch oven which provides a humid environment and a very crisp crust.

Cranberry-apple crisp is a dessert we've enjoyed before. I had never eaten cranberries other than as a relish on Thanksgiving until a few years ago. Now we always buy some extras when they're available in the stores to use for desserts like this one.

An interesting side note about this menu: all three courses used the dutch oven: the soup was prepared in it, the bread was baked in it, and the cranberries and apples were cooked in it prior to baking.


Almost no-knead whole wheat breadCook's Illustrated, January 2008.
Cranberry-apple crispCook's Country, October 2006
Farmhouse vegetable and barley soupCook's Illustrated, November 2011


  1. What kind of dutch oven do you have, and size? Remember the orange one Mom had? Wish that was still around! I think it was a Le Creuset too!

  2. Oh and I'm using my Google account now so it shows my name so you can delete the Debbie from your followers if you want.

  3. It's a 6.5 qt Tramontina that I got at Target. Cook's Illustrated did a testing a few years ago. While the Le Creuset was their favorite it is very expensive. The Tramontina performed very well and costs much less. I bought it for no-knead bread but use it all the time. I replaced the handle on the top with a metal Le Creuset handle because of the the high temperatures used for baking bread.

  4. I went to Target yesterday and bought a Lodge 6 qt dutch oven! It even came with a handle that is good to 500 degrees.

    1. Nice! Is it enameled or raw cast iron?