Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

...sounds so inviting. However Jack Frost is not likely to be nipping at my nose this Christmas. Twill be a green Christmas around these parts. Which is really bumming out the kids. The adults, not so much. Kids don't have to worry about long commutes or rising heat costs. Where was I? Chestnuts roasting...right.

It might be my own reaction to a green Christmas, my recent obsession with roasting chestnuts. I bought a huge bag of chestnuts a couple of weeks ago and decided I was going to make chestnut soup. I found a recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook that sounded quick and easy, so I filed away 'make chestnut soup' on my to-do list for Christmas Eve day. As it turns out, I got to make chestnut soup the day before Christmas Eve. We all decided to take Friday off - from work, from school - from the hustle and bustle of the mall and the grocery store. And we all did whatever we wanted Friday. Wore our pajamas until 2:00 in the afternoon. Read every word of the newspaper. Made a huge mess of the kitchen making chestnut soup.

To make chestnut soup you need chestnuts, obviously. Apparently you can buy jarred roasted chestnuts. I would recommend doing that if you are ever struck by a need to make chestnut soup. Because roasting chestnuts sounds romantic but it isn't. It sounds like a quaint and fun way to spend a Friday afternoon. It isn't. It sounds simple - make a small 'x' on the rounded end of your chestnut(s), place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.

I will always remember making chestnut soup not because it is the best soup I have ever tasted, but because I nearly lost a finger in the process making said soup. I had my little accident while trying to score x's into the round ends of my chestnuts, apparently to help make them easier to shell after roasting. I still have five fingers on my right hand, thankfully, but I've lost a good chunk of a finger, a chunk I doubt will grow back. Because as far as I know, fingers don't grow back if you cut them off or, as in my case, cut out a chunk. It's not a surface wound, not an abrasion. It's a chunk, gone, from my finger. You'd think that losing a chunk of my finger would have dampened my enthusiasm for chestnut soup but apparently I am nothing if not determined. After sustaining this injury I simply taped up my finger (lest I bleed into the soup) and continued the thankless task of scoring my chestnuts on the ends with happy little x's. Then I nearly chopped off my finger. Same finger now missing a chunk. I got a little smarter after inflicting that wound. I wrapped it up with about five band-aids (it was on the cusp of 'this needs stitches' but I figured if my dad could tape up my brother after he got stepped on by a hockey skate when he was 14 so he could take his next shift I could tape up my finger and keep making soup) and changed my technique. So you heard it here first - chestnuts will roast and peel fine if you just cut off a small slice of the (rounded) end of the chestnut before roasting. Don't waste your life (and risk your fingers) scoring little x's into the ends. No good can come of it.

So hours later, because I couldn't figure out how many chestnuts to roast to yield two cups (turns out a lot) I finally got to the soup making part of the program. I boiled my 2 cups of chestnuts with 8 cups of chicken broth and about three strips of thick-cut bacon (cut into three sections) plus some sprigs of fennel. Forty minutes later I pureed the chestnuts along with 2 cups of the chicken broth (removing the bacon). Next I put the puree into a new saucepan and added a couple more cups of the remaining chicken broth plus 3/4 cup of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt, stirring to blend.  Then hours, perhaps days after starting the soup (it felt like days) I tasted the soup. And it was...okay. Not awful. Not amazing. It tasted like nuts. (Which shouldn't have surprised me.) I'm not sure what I was expecting. I re-heated it for dinner and found the flavour had improved (again, not that it was bad to begin with). It will be a festive touch Christmas Day, when I don't plan on making lunch but will have lots of things set out to nibble on - cheese ball, crackers, veggies, hummus, amazing California mandarins, peanut brittle and coffee cake. And we'll have chestnut soup. I will be sitting back in a comfy chair, snuggled into some festive pillows reading a good book which I am sure to get from Santa. After all, I've been good this year. Merry Christmas!

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