The Best Soup I’ve Ever Tasted

I love soup, and when the weather starts turning cool I try to eat soup as often as possible. A lot of people will choose the salad when given the choice, but I often go with the soup as a first course, especially if it’s all made from scratch.

My three favorite soups:

3) Cream of Artichoke soup at  The Messina Hof Vintage House in Bryan, Texas. The restaurant there is hit or miss, but the cream of artichoke will change your life.

2) Red Chicken Curry at Samui Thai in Plano, Texas. I judge thai food joints based on their curry, and Samui always is rock solid.  The bamboo shoots and aubergine are incredible.  I’m not sure if you can really count this as a soup, but it’s my list so I make the rules.

1) Chicken and Mushroom soup. Right here, right now. Buckle up.

Here is the ingredient list (for the most part):

Make a classic mirepoix, which is diced onion, celery, and carrot. I cut these in random sizes for texture. Melt 3tblsn unsalted butter and then throw in the mirepoix and salt. Caution: you are going to add a lot of salt to this dish, but you want to do a little as you go. The salt will help reduce the vege.

Once the carrots start getting soft, add a bunch of garlic. I did four cloves here, but you could go with more if you are a garlic geek. Keep it moving so it doesn’t burn. We are going to use three types of mushrooms here: shitake, oyster, and plain ol’ white button mushrooms, all sliced in a rough chop. Clean the mushrooms WITHOUT water (rub them down w/a towel to remove the dirt). Once you get them sliced, toss them in. Shitake:

Oyster:

Button:

And into the pot with more salt. The shitake have this great beefy taste, the oyster a buttery chewy taste, and the buttons are just a great all around mushroom. If the vege start to look dry, add a little bit of olive oil. It should look like this:

When the mushrooms all start looking soft, add a tspn of red curry paste.

This is what I use. Now, it’s not a thai dish, but we do want a bit of the thai spice that it’s hard to combine with anything other than the paste.

Add the curry paste and toss the mixture to make sure it’s good and mixed in. Let it cook down for a few minutes, then add some white wine. How much? Hell, I don’t know. About that much:

Let that simmer for about five minutes and then add ½ chicken, chopped up. I just used one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. I think the flavor was Garlic Herb. By “1/2 chicken”, I mean ½ breast, a leg, thigh, and then all the dark meat from the back. That’s some of the tastiest meat on the bird.

Then add 6oz of tomato sauce.

And about 6oz of chicken broth.

Simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. We are looking for the liquid to reduce down quite a bit. Once you get it so that you can see the moisture but it’s not standing in broth, add 1c of heavy cream:

And 1c of half and half:

Of course, you’ll need to add more salt. Go ahead and grind some pepper in this as well. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so, add chicken broth to keep the liquid at a soupy consistency. It should look like this:

Get some parmesan cheese (not the cheap powdered crap…get grated parm), and add a cup or so. How much? Hell, I don’t know. About this much:

Cut the heat down to low, and let it simmer for yet another 10 minutes.

The cheese should finish off the flavor. Toast up some French bread and sprinkle on some fresh parsley, and you have one of the most delicious things you’ve ever tasted.

That’s it. The best soup I’ve ever tasted.

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Scotch Eggs,Texas-style

“I had some Scotch Eggs this morning. Man, they were incredible, ” J-Skip said to me. What the hell is a Scotch Egg? “It’s a boiled egg wrapped in sausage and then deep fried. It’s so good.”

This was the actual conversation I had with a friend of mine. I’d never heard of such a thing, but anytime you mix egg and sausage together you have a winning combo. So, out I go to the internet. Apparently, J-Skip was absolutely right. The Brits eat these things like we eat burritos here in America. They sell them in supermarkets and gas stations, and are a preferred snack for scores of limey bastards all over the UK.

I thought about this a bit, and came up with a bit of a different take on this and it worked out INCREDIBLY. What I did was mix one of my favorite sausage treats (sausage balls) with this idea of Scotch Eggs. Check it, yo:

To make sausage balls, you mix a pound of sausage with 2c of baking mix and 1/2lbs of shredded cheese.

Mix these together and kneed so that you have all the baking mix “wet”. It should give you something that looks a-like so.

Now, normally you’d roll these into 2″ balls and bake at 350deg for 15-20 minutes until they are golden and delicious. Instead, I’m going to make a patty and push in a little concave spot the size of a boiled egg:

I take a little bit of extra baking mix in a bowl, and then roll a peeled boiled egg in it just to dust it a bit:

Then, let’s fold the patty around the dusted egg:

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want to make sure the sausage is a nice even layer around the outside and you have sealed off the holes. You’ll want it oblong in the shape of an egg so you know how the egg is laid out when you cut it open.

In another bowl, I put some panko bread crumbs and rolled the ball around a bit. You don’t have to have too much or any at all. It’s just for a little bit of extra crunch.

The extra I rolled into sausage balls, just because they are bite-sized and awesome. Onto a rack so the sausage can drain while they are cooking, then into the oven at 350deg until they are golden, probably about 40 minutes or so.

When they are finished, it should look something a-like so:

To plate this thing up, I’m going to cut it in half:

I made some quick gravy and sliced some fresh tomatoes

Toast up some bread and top with some preserves and pour yourself a big ass glass of grapefruit juice:

And then you have an instant classic here in Arcadia, the Scotch Egg.

Bob the Cook’s Pit

One of my favorite things to do in life is to cozy up with a beer on a Texas afternoon and do some outdoor cooking. It’s what Arcadia is all about…sharing what you know and do well with your friends and neighbors. In my case, I love seeing the creations that my fellow Arcadians come up with and the crazy things we make different cookers out of. My buddy down in Madisonville made a smoker out of a barrel; my dad’s fish cooker is made from an old gas water heater; and one of my favorite outdoor cookers is my plowdisc wok. I can do fajitas and breakfast tacos on that thing to feed a small army and/or a group of tailgating Aggies.

Across the country, you’ll find cooking competitions of all sorts: chili, BBQ, steaks, or even full chuck wagon competitions where you have multiple dishes as part of the submission. One of the most well-known of the outdoor cooks in our neck of the woods is Bob the Cook out at Wildcatter Ranch. Bob is an incredible gastronomist. He knows his food and knows his wine. If you ever get a chance to make your way to Young County, Texas, make sure you stop by Wildcatter Ranch and let Bob pair up a bottle of his favorite wine from his extensive wine list with a slab of medium-rare Texas beef and then top it off with his banana pudding in a Mason jar.

Bob the Cook (or “BtC” as we like to refer to him) recently catered in ribeyes to a function in downtown Arcadia. Never passing up an opportunity to sidle up to a genuine Texas cooking rig built and used by someone I regard so highly, I got a chance to snap a few pics and talk to BtC a bit about how he goes about making ribeyes for so many people at once.

It starts with his pit. He made this out of a U-shaped pipe that he had bent to a box. Now, this thing has been used time and time again and had to sit out in the Texas weather, so some of the original features aren’t quite as functional as they once were, but the design is still awesome. BtC used a design idea from the great Joe Allen in Abilene, but put some proper modifications on it to increase efficiency for an outdoor unit.

Here this bad boy is with the lid up:

You’ll notice that the grill grates are on a slant. That’s key for a steak cooking pit so you can adjust the amount of heat on the meat. Steaks with less marbled fat are going to cook much faster than the ones that have tons of flavorful fat, so you want to put them in a cooler spot on the grill or pull them earlier. Also, notice the lip that folds over in the front. That has two functions: first of all, it allows for easy access to the cooking surface as well as for moving the grills to an angle. See the bar on the inside of the lip? You can put the grates on that for an even cooking surface when you are doing things like sausage. The other function it has is that it can be propped up from underneath so you can use it as a flat working surface for your tools or bins holding the meat you are putting on the grill.

The firebox has two entrances in for proper flow, and you can adjust the flow in on both sides. There is a chimney on the back side of the lid, but BtC admits that the design is somewhat flawed. Moreover, the chimney just acts as a stop for the lid so it doesn’t flop all the way back.

You can see how easy it is to get to the working surface from here. BtC puts the beef onto the grates before he seasons them so that the meat warms up and absorbs the seasoning all at once. Also, he keeps the meat that will cook faster on one side so he can properly tell how well done the meat is. The fire is well enough away from the meat so you don’t have crispy char on the steaks.

You can see from the backside that there was a pulley system at one time to raise and lower the fireplate, but years of use and weather rusted out the bottom. BtC had to have an additional plate welding in recently for repair, so the pulley system is non-functional now.

This is BtC’s trailer, specifically built for the cooker. He can haul and move this all by himself, which is remarkable because the cooker itself weighs hundreds of pounds. He took an old axle from a junk pile and made a long tongue on it for counterweight. Then, he welded a stinger that pins onto the cooker itself.

Right by the door on the side cooker, you’ll see a halfpipe. Also, on the trailer you’ll see bars that go across. BtC engineered this so the bars on the trailer go into the halfpipes on the cooker as a latch. With the trailer tongue up in the air, he latches the pin in place on the stinger and can pull the tongue down and attach it to his truck. The tongue is counterweighted perfectly so you have a zero balance right on the axle.

Using rebar and pipe, he engineered a hinge system as well as a poking bar all in one. You can see the bar there…he’ll use that to close the doors on the fire box as well as to reach up with the hook to pull the lid down during the cooking.

Secure pins are chained to the side so you don’t lose them. This is a great shot of that lip in the front.

There you have it…a Texas steak pit, fully mobile and as efficient as you can get for outdoor cooking.