I was sick the other week. And everyone knew it.
Not because of my hacking cough or unrelenting nose-blowing, although I admit those things were pretty noisy. But because when I'm sick I persist in telling anyone who will listen how bad I feel.
The clerk at Save-Mart who rang up my arsenal of cold medicines was sympathetic. My 3-year-old daughter, not so much. Somehow kids always manage to demand that you do something labor- intensive -- like whip up cupcakes to serve at a tea party with their favorite doll -- when you're about to cough up a lung.
"But, honey, Mommy really needs to lie down, just for a minute," I'd mutter.
(I know, I'm not winning mother-of-the-year here.)
"Nooooo, we make cupcakes NOW," she'd yell, dragging a chair to the pantry in hopes of reaching a can of frosting on the top shelf.
(Yes, the food columnist uses frosting from a can.)
I confess, cupcakes weren't an unwelcome suggestion. When I'm sick, I eat. And eat. I always think that if I consume just the right food, in large quantities, I'll feel better.
That's how I chose garlic soup. I was craving something steaming hot, something sinus-clearing, something extra-flavorful.
I found this version online, although it was originally published in a landmark cookbook, "The Way to Cook," by Julia Child.
I picked it because it seemed robust, and because it didn't require a trip to the grocery store. (Turned out my husband had to run to the store for eggs at the last minute, after I discovered there were only two left in the carton, but presumably most people have eggs on hand and won't have this problem.)
Preparation was easy but perplexing. One of our testers picked up on this, too. Why leave the skin on the garlic? For more flavor? Why use two heads of garlic, plus two cloves?
Cooking was a breeze. While the garlic-parsley mixture was simmering, I made what the recipe calls the garnish. This turned out to be something I make at home about once a week. The kids call it toasty bread.
I cut Ciabatta bread thinly, brush olive oil on top of the slices, then sprinkle the bread with salt and pepper and run it under the broiler. If we're feeling decadent, I top each slice with grated cheese before broiling.
I used Parmesan this time, and the bread turned out to be the best part of the meal. The soup, while sinus-clearing, was OK. Just OK.
My husband said it was too oily and didn't finish his bowl. The kids took one whiff and wouldn't even taste the stuff.
Me, I'll take cupcakes over garlic soup any day.
Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at email@example.com.
The soup was easy enough to make, even with all the separating, smashing and straining of the garlic, but it just didn't have the flavor or body of garlic soups I've made or eaten in the past. The "mayonnaise" didn't thicken it as hoped and the flavor was nondescript. In fact, my kids thought it might be something you'd get in jail. The best part was spreading some of the cooked garlic on french bread — THAT was good!
As I tasted the finished soup, I kept asking, "How can such a baffling recipe produce such a delicious soup?" No one would question that this was garlic soup, but the garlic flavor was robust without being harsh. The egg-yolk thickener added some thickening and a bit of flavor, but overall it didn't justify the time and effort required to include it. The baffling parts of the recipe are these: Why are two garlic cloves added to two whole heads of garlic? How much difference could they possibly make, especially when there is no instruction for how to process them? Why does the stock specify four tablespoons (¼ cup) of olive oil whereas the thickener specifies ¼ cup of it? Why is a distinction made between kosher salt and good medium-grind sea salt? As long as the salt is uniodized, dissolved in water, and unspecific in quantity, why does the coarseness of grind matter at all? Is that garnish meant for each serving or for the whole bowl? And why wouldn't one put the garnished soup under the broiler for a minute or two to melt the cheese? For all these reasons, a conscientious chef should feel at liberty to adjust the recipe to her personal preference, as I shall do when I make this soup again.