9 min read

Year In Review: Stone Soup

Lots of recipes, some of them good

During the first few months of the pandemic, everyone I know freaked the fuck out about food. I freaked out about food, and I’ve always been an adventurous* and resourceful* home cook (*I never remember to plan ahead for meals so I have to use whatever happens to be lying around). We were all weathering a brand-new flavor of stress, and planning and executing meals in those conditions feels impossible. That stress also made everyone feel a renewed sense of dedication to Not Wasting Food. Going to the store was out of the question for a little while. Dinner felt newly insurmountable, and to many people I knew, meals had become joyless.

Enter Stone Soup. As part of my ongoing futile efforts to feel like I’m Doing Something To Help, I set up an email account and opened it up to queries:

As we shelter in place and stay safer at home and lock our doors and avoid the hell that is the grocery store, many of us are exhausting our recipe boxes and our pantries. We’re staring at the can of pears, the half-used bag of coconut shreds, the novelty hot sauce, the dried lentils — and we’re asking ourselves, how the fuck am I going to make these ingredients into food?

Let’s see if we can figure it out together.

The emails poured right on in, and I started writing recipes. At first I ran this as a daily feature — please note that this is yet another example of me diving headfirst into work as a coping mechanism. I quickly realized that (a) this would result in my demise and (b) nobody probably wants that many recipes, so I slowed it down to a more sustainable pace.

The feature petered out after five months as folks found their sea-legs in the pandemic. The emails went from “how the fuck do I survive all these beans” to “here’s a fun challenge” to “there are no emails here, this inbox is empty, go do your job and write a book already.” We learned, more or less, to cope.

In the end, from March all the way through July, I wrote thirty-seven recipes. Some of them are kind of bonkers, because they’re designed to use a particular tricky ingredient. Some of them are pretty straightforward. All of them were written with the express intention of helping people weather a really fucked-up time in their lives, and for that, I’m proud of them.

Here’s the full list:

#1 - Comfort Broccoli
Recipe: Flavorful Roasted Broccoli
What do you do with the vegetables you’d normally cook as a Virtuous Side Dish, when all you want to eat is a really shitty burger? I don’t care how much you love fresh produce: when the thing you want is some garbage-food that’s designed in a lab to please your monkey-brain, broccoli feels like a thing to be endured. That ends today.

#2 - Farro
Recipe: Farro Lasagna Bake
You’re out of noodles. You’ve been through the cupboards 400 times. There’s no more pasta in the house. It’s time to pivot. A satisfying, nourishing bake that hits the Lasagna Button without putting a cinderblock in your belly.

#3 - The Magical Fruit
Recipes: A Fuckton of Delicious Beans and Salade de Haricots
We have to eat the thing, it is right and responsible to eat the thing, the thing is all we have… but the thing is not delicious. Making beans and lentils delicious is a magic trick, and if you don’t know how to pull that magic trick off, eating them can feel like a responsibility. It doesn’t have to be that way.

#4 - Leek Bastard-Gratin
Recipe: Leek Bastard-Gratin
I fucking love leeks. They’re sweet and delicate and they look like cartoon vegetables. The latter is a big selling point for me. And Bastard Dishes are my favorite, because they demand no respect: they don’t have to be perfect, just delicious . A flavorful, creamy potato mess with caramelly leeks and sharp cheeses abounding.

#5 - Easy Bean Sweets
Recipe: Red Bean Paste
If, instead of filling the hollow center of the earth with cool dinosaurs, someone had filled it with dried beans from the dawn of time, you could probably rehydrate them and they’d cook up nice. This recipe will turn pretty much anything into a dessert.

#6 - Cartoonishly Easy Risotto
Recipe: Risotto
It’s easy to think of rice as the foundational starch of a meal, like bread or potatoes or a whole yellow cake. I usually think of it as something that supports the hero of the meal. Or at least, I used to think that way... until I found out how fucking easy it is to make risotto.

#7 - Cranberry Cocktails
Recipe: Cranberry Syrup and assorted cocktail recommendations
The idea of transforming canned cranberry sauce completely stumped me — but then a very smart person I know suggested a way to highlight the cranberry instead, and just like that, we’re in business. Crack open a can of cranberry sauce and let’s get Thanksgiving-drunk.

#8 - Pseudonuts
Recipe: Oven-Baked Nutella Donuts
If you’re me, you don’t have a donut pan or a fryer at home, and the idea of trying to make your own donuts feels as impossible as… I don’t know. Building your own airplane and flying it to Mars. Fuck it. Let’s fly to Mars.

#9 - W-elk-ome To Braising
Recipe: Rainy-Day Braise (for Elk, or Beef, Or Pork, Or Whatever)
When it comes to elk steaks, the leanness of the meat can make it easy to wind up with dry meat if you’re not careful. A braise is a great approach for a lot of different kinds of meat, especially cheaper cuts of beef and pork.

#10 - Caramel? Let’s Goat For It
Recipe: Goat’s Milk Caramel
One of my research sources says that goat milk is similar in structure to human milk, which is now a thing that you also have to think about!

#11: Waffle-Batter Funnel Cake
Recipe: Waffle Batter Funnel Cake with Coconut Flour
I’d like it noted that “Waffle-Batter Funnel Cake” scans perfectly onto “Alexander Hamilton”. You’re singing it in your head, aren’t you? Me too. Welcome to hell.

#12: Chickpeas and Chestnuts
Recipe: Chickpea Mont Blanc
There are only three major chestnut-producing regions left in France: Corsica, Ardeche, and Limousin. Did you know: it’s only a limousine if it comes from the Limousin region of France, otherwise it’s just a sparkling van. If you’re wondering if I only brought up the major chestnut-producing regions of France so that I could make that joke? Well. I’m very offended, and you’re absolutely right.

#13: A Fuckton of Corn
Recipes: Plain Old Corn, Toasted Corn, Creamed Corn, Esquites. Also Mayonnaise and Queso Fresco
Because of the high sugar and starch content of corn, it’s really stellar for keeping in all kinds of forms — canned corn, frozen corn, and dried corn all hold up about as well as fresh corn for most cooking purposes. I’m guessing lots of people have corn in the freezer or cupboard, so here’s a lightning round of corn options.

#14: Caramelized Brassicas
Recipe: Caramelized Bok Choy (or Brussels Sprouts, Or Napa Cabbage, Or Whatever)
And when it comes to brassicas that we eat as tightly-packed bundles of sharp-flavored, tough, leafy greens — like brussels sprouts, baby bok choy, and even napa cabbage — you can introduce a lot of flavor, texture, and tenderness just by applying a little heat.

#15 was a call for aid with a lot of peppers; there are several good suggestions in the comments section, but no actual recipe.

#16: Tofast, tofurious
Recipe: Easy Pan-Fried Tofu
Tofu is rad as hell. It’s delicious, packed with protein, and super-versatile to cook with. The media I consumed as a kid told me that tofu was gross and weird. But hey, great news, that’s horseshit!

#17: I Scream, You Scream
Recipes: Ice Cream, Avocado Ice Cream, Sorbet, Slushies
I’m going to assume that nobody owns an ice-cream maker. If you own an ice-cream maker, you don’t need me! You have a robot that’ll do the job for you! But the rest of us peasants deserve some unrestrained summer fun, too.  

#18: In a Jam
Recipe: Tomato Jam
Stop, don’t go, hear me out!! I promise tomato jam is a thing, and I promise that if you like tomatoes, you’ll fucking love it. No, it doesn’t taste like ketchup or pasta sauce. It’s kind of its own thing. You can make it more sweet or more savory, but no matter what you do, you’re going to wind up with an intense tomato-flavor you’ll love.

#19: Puff Puff Pass (the spelt)
Recipe: Puffed Spelt
I need you all to know Spelt is also called DINKEL WHEAT. This is important because it makes me laugh every time I say it out loud.

#20: Dip It Good
Recipes: Smashed Garlic Dip, Cheese-free Cheesy Dip, French Onion Dip
I love dip because it acknowledges that the best part of a meal is the condiments. Dip knows what’s good. We usually treat dip as an appetizer, because we’re afraid to realize our full potential. No more of that. We’re in the end-times; this is the moment to let your id run riot.

#21: Who You Calling a Tart
Recipe: Varenne Tart because fuck the Marquis d'Uxelles
Duxelles makes me happy, because duxelles is delicious. It’s simple as fuck and makes a stellar tart or pie filling. We’re going to work some cheese in there to make it more fridge-stable, and also because cheese is a good time. Also fuck the Marquis d'Uxelles.

#22: Haven't You Curd?
Recipe: Rhubarb Curd (or Whatever Curd You Want)
I’ve written about curd before, in an essay that people get weirdly horny about. Hopefully no boners result from this recipe, which will be a little less prose-y and a little more direct? But hey, whatever pumps your bumps, I guess.

#23: Pump Up the Yams
Recipe: Sweet Potato Soup
I’ve been getting highly invested in soups because of how comforting they are. They sate something other than hunger — something deep and animal that longs for a belly full of warmth. Sweet Potato Soup is perfect for this, because it also sates my longing for a belly full of sweet potato. Two longings, one stone!

#24: Mending Sauce
Recipe: Smoked Herring Pasta Sauce
All of that will get the smoked herring out of the cupboard and onto the plate — but this isn’t just about eating. I’ve written before about the way cooking can draw grief up out of a person. Every step of a recipe can be significant. If you let it, the transformative process of creating a meal can begin the process of mending your heart.

#25: Bisque-y Business
Recipe: Bisque
Bisques are creamy and smooth and heavily-seasoned, making them the best kind of soup. Other soups are mortified to be seen in the same room as bisques, and they’re right to feel that way. We’re going to make a tomato bisque, but you can use these methods on a wide variety of vegetables. I promise you’ll be happy.

#26: Hashing It Out
Recipe: Sweet Potato Hash (or Regular Potato Hash)
When you’re making a hashbrown, you want a good dry potato with enough starch to stick together and crisp up. That makes the Okinawan sweet potato an ideal candidate! You can also apply this method to orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and unsweet potatoes like russets. Wow, it sure feels awkward to try to describe the distinctions between types of potatoes!

Interlude: A Chip Off The Ol’ Chard
Recipe: Chard Chips
I forgot to number this one when I wrote it, oh well. You’ve heard of seaweed snacks and you’ve heard of kale chips, right? Well, step aside, gramps, there’s a new leafy green in town. Chard behaves very similarly to kale in a lot of contexts, and this is one of them. No dehydrator required. Let’s get snackin’.

#27: Make What You Can
Recipe: No-Bake Protein Bites
Just because you don’t feel ready to make madeleines, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something significant with what you’ve got. The thing I love about this shape and size of tin is that it’s perfect for shaping small, nutrient-dense foods.

#28: Semolina
Recipe: Semolina Pudding
You can also use semolina to make an easy, comforting dish that opens itself to tons of variations. It can take the place of oatmeal at the breakfast table, or it can sweeten up to become a dessert, or you can top it the same way you would top congee for a deeply satisfying meal.

#29: Cookies and Milk
Recipes: Oat Milk and Oatmeal Cookies
Oatmeal cookies have an unearned bad reputation. People get all upset at them because they’re not chocolate chip cookies, to which I say: bullshit. You can enjoy multiple types of cookies. There’s no need to get all hetero about it. Oatmeal cookies are tasty and good and you should let yourself enjoy something for once in your goddamned life.

#30: He's a Real Fungi
Recipe: Sauteed Mushrooms in Cream Sauce
This recipe is simple, versatile, and unspeakably delicious. And, as a bonus, it will make people think you’re fancy, especially when they ask you for the recipe and you give them a coy smile and say “I’m sure I have it written down somewhere” even though you have no intention of ever sharing it with them.

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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.