Friday, September 7, 2012

It's almost Fall, but not without soup!

We get one cold morning here in Minnesota and I'm running around like a crazy woman opening the windows, grabbing blankets, and making soup.  Tunisian soup (and practically every other Tunisian dish) is tomato based so when I want to make soup just for me, I try to stay away from tomatoes.  Yesterday, I was looking for something to make with a napa cabbage that my husband had brought home.  I knew I didn't want a salad or slaw and found this soup.  It sounded too good to be true because it has so few ingredients, but I am learning that sometimes simplicity really is the key to cooking.  I found the recipe for this Rustic Cabbage Soup on 101 Cookbooks

Rustic Cabbage Soup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a big pinch of salt
1/2 pound potatoes, skin on, cut 1/4-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cups stock (see head notes)
1 1/2 cups white beans, precooked or canned (drained & rinsed well)
1/2 medium cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch ribbons
more good-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Warm the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the salt and potatoes. Cover and cook until they are a bit tender and starting to brown a bit, about 5 minutes - it's o.k. to uncover to stir a couple times. Stir in the garlic and onion and cook for another minute or two. Add the stock and the beans and bring the pot to a simmer. Stir in the cabbage and cook for a couple more minutes, until the cabbage softens up a bit. Now adjust the seasoning - getting the seasoning right is important or your soup will taste flat and uninteresting. Taste and add more salt if needed, the amount of salt you will need to add will depend on how salty your stock is (varying widely between brands, homemade, etc)...
Serve drizzled with a bit of olive oil and a generous dusting of cheese.
Serves 4.

Notes for next time:
*I would saute the onion and garlic together, then add the broth and potatoes.  I found that the potatoes just stuck to the bottom of my pan.  I used homemade broth because I had made a quick one for another recipe and had leftovers. 

*I added two small parmesan rinds when simmering which gives the soup this heady richness.  Yum.
*I also simmered it for about 20 minutes to soften the cabbage.
*I used napa cabbage because that is what I had.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Memories: Bruges, Belgium

Yesterday in Friday's Fun post, I reminisced a little about my trip to Bruges, Belgium.  My boyfriend, Rick Steves, led me to Bruges through his European travel guide.  He encouraged me to stay in bed and breakfasts throughout Europe which enabled me to meet some really cool people and have a homey place to come home to at the end of the night rather than a very industrial hotel.  I stayed in a corporate (American owned actually) hotel in Vienna and hated every minute of it (especially because I had to take a subway and a bus to get there from the city) so I was happy to stay in a bed and breakfast with a comfy bed and a homey room.  Seriously, if you're going to travel anywhere that Rick Steves has written a guide about, please buy it.  Fodor's and Frommer's have nothing on my boyfriend Rick.  Bed and Breakfasts come with perks such as adorable spiral staircases and fantastic views from your window.

Bruges is a beautiful and peaceful city in the Flemish part of Belgium with amazing character.  It really is like being inside a fairy tale.  It's a pinch yourself every few minutes kind of experience.

As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you cross over and come across canals that really give the true character of the city.  Can you imagine sitting in that little turret with a cup of tea and a book relaxing the day away?  Yes?  Me too.

I traveled to Bruges during my holiday break (in January) which is not a common time to travel in Europe.  Many of the tourist attractions (such as chocolate shops) were closed because their just isn't enough tourists to stay open.  This has its advantages and disadvantages in that the city isn't crazy and you almost get a feeling of living in the city because you aren't walking around with thousands of Americans (and other tourists), but some things are closed and because it was January it was a little chilly.  You can also get mistaken for a local by locals because they aren't used to having tourists around.

One of the times I was mistaken for a local is one of the most memorable experiences I had in my travels.  I was shopping in a Belgian department store and an employee came up to me and asked me a question in Flemish.  I was so surprised that she mistook me for a local that I looked at her and exclaimed, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English!"  Everyone in the store within ear shot immediately started laughing and I high tailed it right out of the store with a red face.

While wandering through the city, I wanted to visit the Begijnhofs, through a recommendation from my boyfriend, of course.  The Begijnhofs were built to house women of the lay order called beguines who spent their lives in piety and service without the vows of nuns.  It is now inhabited by Benedictine nuns.

One day I came across a group of school children mailing letters. In my mind, they were letters to pen pals far away, maybe even the United States.

This little guy just couldn't quite reach!

Markt Square in the center of the city and includes the 12th century belfry and the Provincial Court.  Such a great place to sit and people watch.  And eat a snack, like a crepe!

The architecture of the city is so interesting.  The United States is so boring compared to so many European countries.  In Bruges, everywhere you turned, you could see something beautiful.  It's a challenge for me to look around in my day to day life now and do the same thing, but it's an exercise worth doing because it makes you grateful for the things that surround you wherever you are.  A tree.  A lake.  A little bird.  Even the highways and cars.  There really can be beauty everywhere.

Belgium, especially Brussels, but also Bruges is known for its' mussels.  Delicious, sweet mussels.  I ordered mussels with tomatoes and garlic but apparently the restaurant wanted me to eat more vegetables.  They were still amazing.

As I reflect on my time traveling around Europe, I still can't believe that I was there.  That I did it.  I moved, by myself, to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language and then traveled by myself to numerous countries where I also didn't speak the language.  It was truly an amazing experience and I'm so proud of myself for doing it and so incredibly happy that I did it.  I learned so much about the world, life and myself.  It changed my life permanently for the better.