How do you decide what to cook?
This is a question that I hear a lot. I used to shrug; recipes would just jump out at me, I would try them, then I would write about them.
To a certain extent, this process still works for me. I browse online collections of recipes in search of something interesting. In doing so, I make myself available to whatever recipe wants to jump out at me. My criteria for those "jumpers outer" aren't special and vary with my mood. My eye may be caught by an unexpected combination of ingredients, an exotic-sounding dish, or just something that sounds like it will photograph well and taste wonderful.
Sometimes, though, I want something specific. That kind of search is easy: I just need to narrow down a million "lamb ragu" recipes to the one that suits me best.
And then there are the days when I feel like I want something particular, but can't put a name to the desire. Is it a baked good? A vegetable dish? Does it include cinnamon? Those days are tough. My patience gets tested over and over as I click past dozens, sometimes hundreds, of recipes in a random search for that one I know I will want, if only I could find it.
Last Thursday was just such a day. Around lunchtime, I started sifting through recipes. No, not this one; I'm tired of pork. No, that one does not grab me. Maybe I want something green and leafy? No...
This went on for a while. By late afternoon, I was grumpy and still had no ideas for that night's dinner.
Then, I found it: Caramelized leek soup.
The leeks are cooked in a bit of butter until they caramelize, then the pan gets deglazed with vermouth. Chicken stock rounds out the edges. At once rich and nuanced, this soup might be best served from a warm coffee mug, the big ceramic kind whose handle is large enough to be grasped by four of your fingers. If you spill a little on your sweater as you spoon mouthfuls of buttery, nutty leeks, you'll just shrug and continue eating until the last little bit is gone.
Caramelized Leek Soup
From this January 1998 Gourmet recipe, available on Epicurious
2 pounds leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 2 bunches)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup vermouth
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
Halve leeks lengthwise and thinly slice crosswise. In a large bowl of cold water wash leeks well and lift from water into a large sieve to drain. In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook leeks in butter over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until some begin to turn golden, about 40 minutes. Stir in sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Stir in vermouth and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is evaporated and most leeks are golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Deglaze kettle with 1/2 cup broth and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes more, until liquid is evaporated and leeks are deep golden. Add remaining 3 cups broth and bring soup just to a boil. Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve soup, garnished with chives.