Tag Archives: recipe frustrations

Soup #10: Coconut Shrimp

Jess: This soup was an utter failure and a complete disappointment. It looked wonderful in the photo; I love Asian soups. I love shrimp, bok choy, ginger, lime, bean sprouts, and coconut milk.

But the first recipe frustration came right off the bat, when the description said “Furikake…is a Japanese seasoning made with sesame seeds and seaweed flakes. It’s a delicious alternative to sea salt, especically for East Asian dishes.” There’s no mention of furikake in either the ingredient list or the cooking directions. So did I need it? And what was I supposed to do with it?

I priced the three ingredients I couldn’t easily get at King Soopers on Amazon. It would be about $21 to buy white miso paste, mirin, and furikake (assuming I was supposed to sprinkle that on top). Then I remembered that there’s a big Asian market only a few minutes from work. On Monday I drove over there and bought my three ingredients, plus three sesame balls (one of my favorite treats), for $17. However, saying “I bought them” doesn’t really describe the experience. Almost everything in the shop is in an Asian language, though the isle signs are bilingual with English, which was very helpful. I know enough geography and the basic sounds of the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese languages to figure out which language I was reading. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find mirin. In the “cooking wine” isle everything was Chinese. I Googled a few of the brands, only to confirm they were Chinese. I couldn’t find miso or furikake either. I asked two different stockers, each of whom said “I can’t help you” and turned abruptly back to stocking the shelves. Finally, after wandering for 20 minutes, I asked one of the cashiers, an older Asian woman. She led me to the very last aisle, marked “Japanese.” Aha! I found everything I needed there. The whole time I walked around the store, I thought about how much harder it would be to study abroad somewhere like China; I spent a semester in Liverpool. Although I was terribly homesick, I loved England and could speak the language. I even started saying “ta” when I got off the bus!

Anyway, the recipe says “Despite the long ingredients list, this is basically a pantry soup that takes 10 minutes to make, and all in one pot too.” I quibble with that; it took half an hour to collect and chop everything, and the only reason it’s now a pantry soup is because I went and bought a bunch of stuff I’ll never use again, so it’ll all sit in my pantry (and fridge) for the next 10 years. Still, as I said, I had high hopes.

Bashing lemongrass, chopping green chili pepper, and weighing bok choy.

Bashing lemongrass, chopping green chili pepper, and weighing bok choy.

Miso paste (not white but yellow) and coconut milk.

Miso paste (not white but yellow) and coconut milk.

Mirin and fish sauce (should've made sure the flash was on!).

Mirin and fish sauce (should’ve made sure the flash was on!).

It was easy to pour in a few things, boil, simmer, and add a few more things. I doubled the recipe because I thought I was really going to like it. The udon noodles came in a 12-ounce package, but I was only supposed to use 8 ounces. I figured that was no big deal; we all like noodles. I dumped them all in, and everything went south. The noodles soaked up all the broth and stayed sticky and undercooked. I sloshed them around in the pot, but there was already no broth left and a big clump of udon. I ended up pouring water over the whole thing and cooking the noodles at least three times longer than the directions said I should. Was my udon somehow different? Should I have cooked and rinsed it separately and then added it to the soup for the final minute or so? The recipe didn’t say so, but if I ever try again (and maybe I should, since I have all the ingredients now!), I’ll do it that way. I used uncooked shelled shrimp because I figured no one would want to eat it with the shells, as it’s pictured. The shrimp cooked beautifully, pink and meaty and lightly sweet, but it turns out the kids only like shrimp scampi. The bok choy never really wilted. I didn’t use the chili pepper so the kids wouldn’t burn their mouths, but the spicy flavor would’ve helped. The whole thing was sticky, mild, and too sweet.

A sticky, gooey mess.

A sticky, gooey mess.

Naturally, Benjamin ate 3 helpings. Dave did his best. Phoebe whined and moaned and ended up eating only one bite of a piece of shrimp. I’d like to try again, but I’m not sure I’d be forgiven for that. Especially because we’re soon to leave “Quick Fixes” for the pleasures of “Roots and Tubers.”

p.s. Speaking of too sweet, the sesame balls I bought were a disappointment, too. The inside was mung bean instead of red bean paste! And while the dough was chewy and oily on the first day, the second ball was inedible on the second day. I should’ve shared instead of hording them in my snack drawer. Lesson learned.

p.p.s. Benjamin reached up to grab the cup on the counter and poured all my fresh-squeezed lime juice all over his head and onto the floor. Fortunately, he didn’t get any in his eyes: only in his mosquito bites.

Miso paste in hot water in the glass. The cup and strainer were for squeezing the lime.

Miso paste in hot water in the glass. The cup and strainer were for squeezing the lime.

p.p.p.s. In the end, I forgot to put the furikake out on the table. I guess I’d better start eating rice balls for lunch. Rice balls with salmon furikake.

Soup #7: Drop an Egg

Jess: Again, no photos. But you could almost make this again for the sole purpose of adding them. It’s the easiest one yet!

This time, the recipe frustration came right at the beginning. “Remove the tough stalks from the mushrooms, finely slice them, then mix them with the olive oil in a large bowl.” So…is that the mushroom caps or the stalks you’re supposed to slice? I opted for the caps, figuring it didn’t make much sense to buy a bunch of mushrooms and then use the parts called “tough” in the recipe. Language specificity, please!

Roast mushrooms. Make a stock, ginger, and tamari broth with mushrooms. Drop in scrambled eggs so they turn into threads. Serve over scallions.

This was fast, tasty, and worth eating again. Dave has been such a good sport about this project—he doesn’t eat mushrooms, but when I offered to make the weekly soup on the night he’s golfing, he said he wanted to remain part of the experiment. Phoebe threw a little fit about it on the way home from daycare, so she’d already decided not to like it. Benjamin asked for thirds!

I served this with bread and olive oil with dukkah for dipping. We’ve got most of a bag of dukkah on our hands! It’s quite good that way, as the Internet suggested it would be.

I just noticed there’s a section in the cookbook called “feasts,” so I’m going to keep enjoying preparing the “quick fixes.”

Soup #6: Cauliflower Soup with Dukkah

Jess: This soup looks suspicious in the photo. It’s white! Kind of like clam chowder, but smooth, and clearly thinner. There are hardly any ingredients, but one important one, dukkah, turned out to be a challenge. I bought a head of cauliflower and a box of almond milk—I already had sesame oil and a lemon. I looked up where to get dukkah, a spice mixture featuring hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, and paprika, and found it on Amazon, but it was $18 for 4 ounces. I tried a few local shops, including Trader Joe’s, because their website mentioned it. No luck. I eventually decided the cost had to be borne as part of this experiment.

Today’s Thursday; we didn’t have anything planned after work, so we all met at the coffee shop and played games before dinner. Benjamin is getting really good at matching Zingo tiles! When we got home, I chopped up the cauliflower, cooked it for a little while, added dukkah, and then turned it into soup by adding the unsweetened almond milk. It smelled good to me, but then, I like almost all vegetables. Dave and the kids husked and boiled the first corn of the season to eat with the soup. When we were almost ready to eat, I put half the soup into the blender, as instructed. Dave had walked by and suggested that we should eat it unblended, so I agreed to blend only half. And good thing! As the soup whizzed around, the plastic cork (for want of a better word) that allows you to put food into the blender through the lid fell into the soup. And got sucked into the blades, which made an awful sound chopping it up. I think the rubber lid had expanded because I’ve been blending hot soup.



That batch was inedible, so we ended up eating the soup the way Dave wanted to try it. Result? I think it would’ve been more delicious at the blended consistency. As it was, the almond milk was too wet. The cauliflower was tasty, and the dukkah was wonderful: salty, nutty, and full of spices. The recipe said to use a lemon, sesame oil, winter savory herb, and more dukkah to garnish. I set out bottled lemon juice, sesame oil, ground savory, and the bag of dukkah.


Recipe frustration? Or just Ugly Americanism? The recipe says “winter savory herb, to garnish (optional).” I would’ve liked to garnish, but I kept thinking “which herb? Is it my choice?” Only after I looked it up did I figure out that savory is the name of an herb. And that there are varieties. King Soopers doesn’t stock it, so I bought a bottle of ground savory and figured I was covered.

This is a very fast recipe, which is a point in its favor. No one else in the family will want to eat it again, but I love vegetables and would be happy to spend my retirement, long after the kids have moved out, cooking and eating like this.

Soup #4: Greens and Grains

phoebe it was disgusting because. the barley taste disgusting .the barley looks disgusting. the barley feels disgusting.

Jess: This soup looks nothing like soup; it’s more like a fancy salad. When I looked over the recipe ahead of making it on Thursday, I was pleased to discover that we already had almost all the ingredients. I’d need another bag of barley, since I was doubling the recipe (serves 2), and I’d get a few more “flaked” almonds in case ours were too old. We’re fortunate to be participating in the Sanchez community garden, where the spinach is bright green and bushy. We can take as much as we need, and you can’t even tell it’s been harvested.

Hot chicken stock and a cup of pearled barley.

Hot chicken stock and a cup of pearled barley.

Shredded spinach and tahini mixture.

Shredded spinach and tahini mixture.

This is a truly simple recipe to prepare, although we were all hard-pressed to call it soup. It didn’t have any broth! You toast the quinoa and cook it with the farro (alternatively pearl barley or freekeh) in stock and then use the rest of the ingredients for topping.

Simmering barley.

Simmering barley.

A few recipe frustrations:

1. The written recipe says that the farro will take about 10 minutes to cook if it’s semipearled. I chose barley instead of farro (as allowed in the recipe) because I already had some and because it was 4 times as cheap to buy a little bit more. However, when I looked at the package, I discovered it was going to take 45 minutes to cook. It would’ve been helpful to mention that in the recipe more specifically than “check the package directions, as cooking times vary.”

2. After the grains are cooked, the recipe says to “turn off the heat, add the kale and leave it to sit until wilted…. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the kale and tahini sauce…” I spent quite a while deciding if I was supposed to scoop the spinach (an approved substitute for kale, and free from the garden) off the top or do some magic to get the grains into the bowl with the spinach somehow on top. A quick “remove the wilted spinach to a bowl” would’ve helped.

3. It’s not the right season for pomegranates. However, while trying to figure out if I could get them anyway, I learned that the seeds are called arils. Cool.

I set out bowls of shaved almonds, the tahini paste, craisins (to substitute for pomegranate arils), and the wilted spinach. I didn’t bother trying to find/buy red amaranth or purple shiso, even though they look lovely in the photo. They were listed as optional.

The consistency of the barley was just wonderful, dense and toothy. I skipped the craisins (I don’t like to mix sweet and savory), but the nuts, spinach, and tahini were all delicious. The nuts added even more crunch, and the spinach added a fresh, vegetable-y taste. The tahini was surprisingly bitter, but a few grinds of sea salt helped immensely. Dave pronounced it our second-best recipe so far. Benjamin ate three bowls (he particularly loved the spinach). You can see Phoebe’s judicious and balanced take above. (I swear we’ll find one she likes!)


I listed this as both “soup with meat” and “vegan” because I used chicken stock instead of vegetable. That simple substitution will quickly make this vegan.

To write her comment, Phoebe learned to use the copy/paste function. Even if she never eats Greens and Grains again, she’ll be using copy/paste her whole life.

In related soup news, I had a scoop of leftover barley in the middle of leftover watercress soup for lunch today. It was, frankly, wonderful! The soup had matured from its previous watery, brothy flavor to the slightly peppery herbal flavor it’s clearly supposed to have. Adding the barley gave it some consistency. I’m glad I have one more serving of each left for tomorrow.

Soup #2: Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup with Salsa & Flatbreads

Phoebe: it was delicious. tmatow soup and solsa!

Jess: This recipe is accompanied by a photo of a tiny glass of yellowish-orange soup with a piece of bread or cracker balanced artistically on top of the glass. On top of the bread is piled a spoonful of fresh salsa. It looks fussy, like something you might be offered at a party or reception. I didn’t feel too confident about it, especially since I basically ignored the title in favor of looking suspiciously at the photo. I made the vegetable stock from scratch the night before; I do know that a good stock is the base of a good soup. It filled the house with a pungent aroma. I know we’re not that crazy about thyme, but I consistently use more than we’re really going to want. It never looks like enough!

This is another pretty quick recipe (presumably why it’s included in the “quick fixes” section. I guess I’d better gird up my loins for later on.). I was lucky to find a pint of heritage cherry tomatoes at King Soopers, but only one of the three available pints didn’t have goo in the bottom, so I bought that one and a pint of grape tomatoes. Even with a portion of a pint we already had, they didn’t equal the 1 lb 2 oz of tomatoes I was supposed to have, so I mixed in slightly less of the hot vegetable stock and tomato puree. It’s an inexact science. Once again, this recipe serves 2, so I mostly doubled it. The roasting tomatoes drizzled with balsalmic vinegar, olive oil, and lemon zest spilled into the oven, setting off the smoke detector, but they “soften[ed] in the residual heat” nicely.

Recipe frustration: Are flatbreads crackers? After looking it up, I realized that of course I’ve heard of flatbread pizza. I still couldn’t find anything like that in the grocery store.

I ended up buying Vinta 8 Grains and Seeds crackers to eat with the salsa, which turned out to be delicious. It was very simple: just chopped tomatoes, shallot, and capers. (It was supposed to be a scallion, but I didn’t buy one since I had some shallots lying around that needed to be used.)

I guess I shouldn’t admit that I was kind of surprised when, after going through the blender, this was actually just fancy tomato soup. The kids love tomato soup. Phoebe ate three servings. Benjamin was less enthusiastic (partly because it’s still hard for him to eat soup with a spoon, and I forgot to serve it in a little cup), so he mostly ate bread and jelly. Dave liked it, and I loved the summery tomato flavor. I didn’t mind the seeds, but I could’ve done without the little shreds of tomato skin. I ate almost all the salsa by myself. There were no leftovers!

Soup left in the blender after being portioned out for dinner.

Soup left in the blender after being portioned out for dinner.

Towel covering the smoke detector.

Towel covering the smoke detector.