Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Frankie & Benny's: Sunderland, UK

We were in Sunderland a couple of weeks ago for a course on brewery start-ups. For those who don't know, Sunderland is to Newcastle what Springfield is to Shelbyville (or what Springfield is to Eugene, take your pick). We went up on a bank holiday Monday, and the entire high street was closed and deserted, including most of the restaurants (specifically the one we were planning on eating at). It was rather post-apocalyptic feeling, which, it turns out, didn't go away for the rest of the week (though I presumed the shops did open up; we were just out before they did and back after they closed). Because our plan for supper on Monday was foiled, we decided to eat at Frankie & Benny's, which was very much open, perhaps because it's part of a chain.

To be honest, I don't really eat at chain restaurants. I can't say I never do; I dig the occasional Taco Bell (which doesn't exist in the UK) and Arby's (ditto), I like Red Robin, I really like Rock Pasta (or The Rock, I think it's now called), and I've eaten at my fair share of Shari's (random fact: the first Shari's was in Hermiston, Oregon). But if I'm going to go out for an evening meal, most of the time I want something a little more unique and a lot less corporate.

That said, Frankie and Benny's was on our list as a possible choice one night before we left for Sunderland. I'm (somewhat morbidly) intrigued by eateries that are "traditional _____" outside of their "native" culture. I'm always amused by "traditional Irish" (or British) pubs in the US, because they're often similar, but miss the mark in different, and sometimes amusing, ways.* Frankie & Benny's style themselves as a "New York Italian Restaurant and Bar." Since I've never been to New York, I can't speak as to the authenticity of that aspect, but I can say that they're a pretty good copycat of an American big-chain style of restaurant, similar in nature to TGI Friday's (I have issues with their punctuation, though it's probably not technically incorrect, just irritating to me.).

I'll be honest and say that the main reason I was interested in Frankie & Benny's (whose punctuation does not irritate me) is that, buried in their appropriately-large-for-the-style-they're-going-for menu, there's a pulled pork sandwich. I married a man who, upon his discovery of pulled pork, decided that the US was a perfectly acceptable place to live, provided he could eat pulled pork on a regular basis (ribs are also acceptable). Since I also have a bit of a thing for pulled pork, I mentioned it as a possibility. So it hit our "maybe" list, and got bumped up to "yes" when we found it was next door to our hotel, and just about the only thing open in the area (the Nando's next door was also open, probably because it's also a chain).

When we walked in, it was–again, for what it was trying to be–appropriately large. It really did feel like walking into an Applebee's or similar, and was oddly comforting (despite my general avoidance of such places). The clearest difference between it and a US chain was the service. It wasn't bad, rude, or anything else, just slightly different. In the states, they seat you, immediately bring you water (if they're still doing that, which some might not be), and come back fairly quickly to take your order. Everything was slower. Again, not bad, just slower. In a Red Robin, you aren't told to "take your time, stay as long as you'd like." Or if you are, they rarely mean it. But here, they meant it. That table was ours for the night if we wanted it (since they had free wi-fi, I might have, except I didn't have my laptop with me). The other clear indicator that we weren't in Kansas was how food was brought out and tables cleared. There's a skill to carrying trays, and while most waitstaff in the US are limited in their skill (let's face it, most places don't require one-handed, arm-locked-straight tray carrying these days), they can generally heft a full tray one-handed and carry it, either on their arm or shoulder, with seeming ease. The staff at Frankie & Benny's were using two hands, with the tray stand awkwardly tucked under an arm. It's a little thing, but it was a clear difference. There was also a lack of slightly manic smiles and false chipperness that's so prevalent in people who need tips so they can make rent (since most US restaurants pay so little that without tips, the waitstaff really might have to choose between rent and eating).

As for the food, there's not a lot to say. It was pretty good. It wasn't the best pulled pork I've ever had, nor was Adam's calzone the best ever, but both were tasty, and we got plenty of food. Shortly after ordering, a manager came over and told me they were out of BBQ sauce for the pulled pork sandwich and asked what I wanted to do about it. I asked how the pulled pork was made, and he implied it was made properly (low and slow), so I asked for an extra bit of coleslaw (which already came with it) in lieu of the sauce. It turned out that the pork was made correctly, and it really didn't need the sauce (I think if it had come with it, they would have put too much on). Adam's calzone was big, filled with cheese, mushrooms, and bacon, and, in a departure from the norm, really was just folded over on itself, instead of the dough being folded over the topping and then sealed to the other side. I got fries (they called them fries, not chips), but we paid a little extra to get the cheese and bacon fries. That cost an extra 90p, but netted us the regular fries on my plate, PLUS a side dish of fries topped with nacho cheese goo (seriously, think the creepy-but-tasty stuff that you pump over tortilla chips) and pieces of bacon. Definitely a steal, since ordering the bacon and cheese fries on the side would be £3.95.

As a review of food goes, I know this isn't the best ever, but I was pleasantly surprised at the authenticity that Frankie & Benny's achieved for an American chain restaurant. It actually felt right. The physical layout, look, and feel of the place was accurate, the menu was pretty spot-on, and the food tasted pretty good. It's not a classy joint, but I imagine their consistency is high. The price was a little higher than I would have liked, but I feel that way about most chain restaurants. I wouldn't say that you must eat at a Frankie & Benny's if you come across one, but I certainly wouldn't tell you to avoid it, either. You can certainly do far worse.

*I would argue that the biggest reason for the differences is the clientele. People say they want "authentic" _____, but don't know/understand many of the cultural differences that go along with something being completely authentic. Most people in the US want to give waitstaff their order at the table, they don't want to go up to the bar with their table number (usually a metal badge affixed to one end, but sometimes a large wooden spoon or similar with a number on it is handed to you). Many cultures don't want to eat with their hands, they would rather use utensils. Many people aren't comfortable with "family style" service (while others are). Others don't want to sit on the floor. So really, what people want is some level of authenticity to their food (American and British Chinese is NOT the stuff you'll eat in China, and a lot of Mexican is anglicized as well), with a comfortably local ambiance that has a touch of the exotic without being too far out of the comfort zone. There's nothing wrong with this, but it does tend to throw off (or amuse, or anger) people who are intimately familiar with that culture.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hot Chocky

I love hot chocolate. It's one of my favorite things in all the land, but finding a good hot chocolate mix is a nightmare. I've tried Swiss Miss, Cadbury, Ovaltine, and who knows how many other brands. In Eugene, my preferred choice was Euphoria, which is fantastic. Dump 2 tablespoons in hot milk, stir, and enjoy rich and tasty hot chocolate in under 5 minutes. Added bonus: Euphoria is a local Eugene chocolate company, and I like supporting local businesses.

Sadly, the only way to get Euphoria in the wilds of Yorkshire is via a suitcase (which I've done) or via USPS/Royal Mail and my folks (which will happen shortly). So after searching around here, The Boy and I discovered that we like Whittard of Chelsea's, but they're pretty expensive, and not sold anywhere close or convenient other than the Internet, which means shipping charges to drive the cost up further. The flat-rate international shipping box from USPS is expensive, but can have other things crammed in as well, making it a more economical option than Whittard's.

So while I wait for my care package of random crap from the States, I did what I always do, which is turn to cookbooks (or the Internet) to find an alternative. Betty Crocker, despite her other flaws (like eggs must be fried til the yolk is hard), has a good recipe. Which I proceeded to ignore/modify. The original recipe and it's "lighter" version are as follows:

Hot Chocolate (serves 6)

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (or 1/3 cup baking cocoa)
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
Dash of salt
4 1/2 cups milk

Heat chocolate and water in saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. (If using cocoa, mix cocoa, sugar, and salt in saucepan, stir in water. Then proceed as follows.)

Stir in sugar and salt. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in milk. Heat just until hot (do not boil because skin will form on top).

Beat with hand beater until foamy, or stir until smooth. Serve immediately.

I automatically halve the recipe because while I love hot chocolate, I also like living, and that much would probably kill me if I drank it on a nightly basis. It would also break the bank.

Beyond halving it, I also use a mix of baking chocolate and cocoa. And by a mix, I mean I use about 2 tablespoons of cocoa and an undetermined amount of baking chocolate. I don't weigh it out, I just add a couple of squares. If you use Baker's brand (not available in the UK that I've found), one square should be enough. Otherwise I follow the recipe above, but usually add either vanillin powder or vanilla extract. Sometimes I add cinnamon or nutmeg, and occasionally I'll replace the baking chocolate with Ibarra (also not available in the UK that I've seen) and cut the sugar down. Also, I whisk the hot chocolate; the neighbors don't need to hear the mixer at 10:30 at night.

I added a bit of instant coffee powder the other night, which I will not repeat, I've added Kahlua and Drambuie (not at the same time), and last night, I added peanut butter chips (we don't have smooth peanut butter in the house, which would have been my preference, but I didn't feel like fishing bits of nut out). The Boy was not impressed by the peanut butter flavor, but I really enjoyed it. It tasted a bit like melted Reese's Peanut Butter cups (they were Reese's peanut butter chips, also imported from the US), but not quite as heavy on the peanut butter flavor. Still pretty heavily flavored, but tasty tasty.

Regardless of how you choose to flavor it or not, making hot chocolate from scratch basically means making a ganache, then adding milk and heating it, or adding it to hot milk (which is what Dad does; his recipe involves folding a ganache into whipped cream, then adding all that into milk. Tasty, but more work than I want to put out. Also, his doesn't have the shelf life mine does, since he added cream). I'd say that I'll do more on ganaches later, but given that lately, posts here are 9 months apart, I wouldn't count on that.

*Meaning I'm still stuck with a jar of instant coffee, which we bought because of some vague notion of serving it to guests. Except we never have guests, and I would never serve it to someone I like. We did give some to a painter one time. He did a bad job, though I don't know if that was because of or in spite of the coffee.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Hamburgers

Hamburgers are perhaps the quintessential American food.  They are a staple of summer barbecues and fast food joints, they have restaurant chains devoted to them, and they can be found at “American” restaurants the world over.  Even high-end restaurants serve them.  Everyone knows what a hamburger is, but there are a million ways to make them, and everyone has their own preferences (the Husband prefers a 70%-30% mixture of ground beef and ground pork).  There's a lot to be said for the lowly hamburger: when made well, they're flavorful and moist (unless you subscribe to the theory that to be properly cooked something must be charred into shoe leather), and can carry a range of toppings and additions to create variety and excitement.  But a good hamburger can also stand on it's own.  I can't say I'm exactly a hamburger connoisseur, but I have had a few in my time.  All are different, but the following places all serve a mean hamburger and good sides.

Dick's is a small chain in Seattle, Washington.  It's been years since I've been to a Dick's, but they're open late (10:30am until 2am), they don't have indoor seating (a few tables in the parking lot; the entire building is the kitchen), and the food is always hot and fresh.  They're quite popular for post-clubbing (my visits) and post-prom/homecoming dances (encountered while there post-clubbing).  Apparently they're also quite popular during the day, when businessmen go there for lunch, at least according to those who frequent Dick's during more traditional hours (i.e. my parents).  The burgers are basic and not very big, and the bags of fries aren't either, but again, it's all hot, fresh, and tasty, and the price sure is right.  The chocolate shakes are also tasty.  Plus, if you're in Seattle for any amount of time, Dick's is one of those famous local places  you should visit.

Drive down the road a bit to Tacoma and you'll encounter Frugals, if you're crazy enough to stop in Parkland/Spanaway for some reason (or if you attend Pacific Lutheran University, which is about 5 minutes away when there's no traffic).  Apparently, Frugals is also a chain, which I just found out (three in Western Washington, one in Montana, and one in Minnesota). Frugals is even smaller than a Dick's, as it's a double drive-thru location.  As such, there's no inside area for customers, but Frugals doesn't even have it's own parking lot, and I believe the lone picnic table is for the employees when they're on break.  Frugals is a small, shiny metal hut with a drive up window on either side, and is located on Pacific Avenue and an entrance/exit ramp for Hwy 512 (convenient for road trips).  The staff is occasionally surly to each other, and the burgers can be plain or come with some nice toppings (swiss and mushroom), but nothing too outrageous.  All tasty, and their shakes are phenomenal.  I'm not sure what's in them or how they're made, but they're wonderful, and the über-sized one is great to keep you from being too bored on that 4 hour drive down to Eugene (it usually lasted to about Vancouver, which means it got me through the most boring bits of the drive, which is everything between Olympia and Vancouver).  Even melted, they're good.  Not too thick, they can be sucked through a straw immediately without too much effort, but they might even improve as they sit for a while.

The hamburger joint that truly inspired this post, however, is a place called Gott's, which has three locations, but I've only been to the one in Napa (the others are in St. Helena and San Francisco).  It's also the place that caused an $80 lunch for four people (worth it).  Napa is expensive, folks.  Located right next to the Oxbow Market, they get a line at lunch time.  It's worth your wait though, and the expense, if not every day.  I think they do basic hamburgers there, but I got suckered into one that had all my favorites on it: the Western Bacon Blue Ring.  Blue cheese, bacon, onion ring (though for me, onion straws will also suit), red onions, pickles, and barbecue sauce.  It was big, and it was hot, and it was tasty (it was also messy, which is what happens when all good and tasty things are crammed into a bun with meat).  They also serve to-die-for onion rings, great fries, and that Napa staple, sweet potato fries.  I say Napa staple because every place was serving them, but sweet potato fries are not a new thing, and not just in Napa.  If you've never had them, they're slightly healthier (just slightly) than regular french fries, and super tasty.  They make a nice change, and in my mind, might possibly be even better than regular fries.  And in a rarity—the Husband does not like ice cream (“it's cold”)—all four of us got milkshakes.  Mom got her vanilla shake, which was nice if bland in my mind (vanilla shakes always are even though I love vanilla), Dad got chocolate which was good, I got a Black and White (chocolate syrup with vanilla ice cream, which is how I make chocolate shakes anyway), and the Husband got an Espresso Bean shake.  Mine was tasty and a nice change from the usual chocolate shake, but the Espresso Bean shake was really well balanced.  Clearly coffee flavoured, but not overpowering, and still creamy and nicely, well, milkshakey.  Expensive, but all-in-all worth a stop.  They also sell fish tacos and breakfast.  And mint chip shakes, which I also wanted, but couldn't justify two milkshakes.

I also can recommend a hamburger place in Leicester, as well (no website that I can find anymore, but the menu is here).  The burgers are nice, and in typical English takeaway style, have interesting flavor combos (look at a British takeaway pizza menu sometime).  They're also far better than the average pub or takeaway burger you'll find in the UK, which usually give me heartburn (takeaway) or are as hard and dry as hockey pucks (pubs, particularly Wetherspoons).  I believe my favorite burger from New Walk was the Chipotle BBQ Smokey, but as it's been years, I'm guessing.

I also feel that I have to include two fairly large fast-food chains in this post.  Neither one is quite as good as any of the above, but both were quite acceptable and deserve mentions.  The first is Sonic, which I've only eaten at once, and that was the day we got married.  Needing food on the drive from SFO to Napa, I tried to stop at an In-n-Out Burger because the Husband wanted to try it.  Without getting into my panicked driving through downtown San Francisco or the fact that EVERY In-n-Out Burger we passed on the highway we saw after the exit for it, we finally found a Sonic in a stripmall parking lot, and it was open until about 10 minutes after we ordered.  The food was hot, seemed to be fresh, even at that time, and pretty tasty.  It wasn't exceptional, but it was certainly better than your average fast-food burger fare.  Plus, I give points to places that still have the old drive-up order stations and people who deliver your food on roller skates.  Major win for that.

The second chain is the aforementioned In-n-Out Burger.  We finally managed that stop last year—just shy of two years from our previous attempt—in San Francisco through creative begging and my parents.  Namely, we flew into SFO late enough that a proper meal wasn't going to happen for us, but, early enough (and on a crappy enough airline) that we needed some food or homicide might happen.  And there are quite a few In-n-Outs scattered throughout the bay area, including close to the airport and our hotel.  Added bonus: there was a game or something in Candlestick, so Dad was avoiding the freeway system to avoid the traffic.  Anyway, we ended up eating those burgers cold, but they still weren't bad.  They were served to us hot, but we then had to drive to the hotel, check the Husband and I into the hotel, and  get into the room with all our crap—and the food—before we could eat, so it was close to 45 minutes before devourage commenced.  The burgers were still pretty good (mine was animal style), though the fries were somewhat lacking for being cold, which wasn't unexpected.  My fries probably suffered less from that, since I got those animal style as well.  The shakes were also good.  I know other people rave about the greatness of In-n-Out, and they certainly were fine, but I think I have more respect for some of their policies than their food.  I'm not into the whole proclaiming the religion thing, but In-n-Out does apparently do at least one very nice thing: if you cannot afford to pay for food but are hungry, they will still feed you.  I don't know the exact terms and conditions of that, but I imagine being drunk and without your wallet doesn't count.  Still, I think it's a very nice policy.

There's a lot to be said for the hamburger.  Made right, it doesn't have to be unhealthy (though it's rarely going to be the healthiest choice around), and there's a nearly infinite number of ways it can be customized to suit the individual.  I wouldn't argue that any of the above are particularly healthy, but they are all tasty, and some have good, sustainable practices in place.

So be creative with your hamburger.  Explore meat ratios and different bun types.  Try new sauces or toppings.  Get a new type of milkshake, or try something like sweet potato fries or zucchini sticks instead of (or alongside) your regular french fries.  But most of all, remember than the hamburger can be more than the sum of it's parts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ZuZu: Napa, California

Although it's been over two months since we ate in Napa, I do still fondly remember some of the meals we enjoyed there.  I must admit that part of why I haven't posted reviews--besides being time-consuming to write when you're not getting paid to write them--is that I got food poisoning at the end of our time in Napa, as did my father.  And, it turns out, so did my mother, she was just lucky (?) enough to wait until we got to Eugene.  Dad and I spent 9 hours in the car trying not to be sick on the drive home.  Adam lucked out, and didn't get sick.  Though we're not 100% sure where we picked up food poisoning, I promise that I will not review either of the two possible restaurants where it might have been.  The saddest bit about our getting sick is that no meal we ate tasted bad or anything.  But something went wrong somewhere . . . still, I will not write a bad review, I just won't review a place.

ZuZu is a tapas restaurant in downtown Napa, on Main Street.  According to their website "The restaurant offers a modern, California version of tapas along with some traditional offerings based on the cuisines of Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean."  However they choose to describe it, ZuZu offers excellent small plates with a variety of options and a variety of styles.  And I thought it was fantastic.

ZuZu is currently undergoing a seismic retrofit and getting (I'm assuming) a general facelift, as they've been open for about 10 years now.  Simultaneously, the owner and the chefs are touring Spain, getting new ideas for the menu, though they've said they'll keep the core menu basically the same.  But when we were there, ZuZu was small--though there is an upstairs that I didn't go see--with wood floors, and tables crammed in interesting corners.  Our table, for example, was under the stairs.  But that's not to make it sound dark or grotty.  It was cosy and friendly, casual and unpretentious, but not cheap or dirty feeling.  It's hard to explain, but while you wouldn't find men in suits in there, you're a lot more likely to see that than a guy in a tracksuit.

Because ZuZu serves tapas, that means that everyone can order multiple things off the menu.  This is why I like tapas, as I've probably mentioned before.  You can be piggy without being a pig.  For some reason, Adam isn't so big a fan of tapas, but he can cope with my occasional need to order four different things off the menu and have that be perfectly acceptable.  Since we were with Mom and Dad, we were able to order a multitude of dishes, and the server brought the dishes out as they were ready, and as we were ready.  It is rather nice, if perhaps a bit gluttonous, to have people continually bring you food as you finish what's in front of you.  And, in that aspect, both the kitchen and the waitstaff shone; their timing was impeccable.  The food was hot and fresh, and we weren't overburdened with too many choices at once.  The service really was exceptional.

Though the sangria at ZuZu is supposed to be excellent (I believe Mom and Dad had it before), we decided on a couple of bottles of the house tempranillo.  I love a good tempranillo, and "house" wine notwithstanding, this was excellent, and much more reasonably priced because it was the house wine.  I have to admit that it depends on where I'm at as to whether or not I'll trust the house wines.  Some places sewage water would be preferable, and other places the house wine is both affordable and excellent.  Given than little in Napa is truly "affordable," their house wines are much more reasonably priced, and still usually excellent.

Though we all chose our "own" dishes to order, we shared everything, and consulted with each other so that we all got something different.  Maximizing our choice, if you will.  We got a dish of olives--a must, between my husband and my father, and Mom and I never object to olives--and a plate of boquerones as our first selections.  Boquerones, or anchovies, are one of my favorites (though not on pizza), and these came with boiled egg and a remoulade on grilled bread (yes, I'm copying from the menu here).  There were two pieces of bread, each with at least two anchovies, and they were easily large enough to share.  Think bruschetta with an attitude.  The bread was artisan, a lovely crunch from the grilling, yet still soft in the middle, and the anchovies were beautifully complemented by the egg, with a lovely remoulade.  I desperately wanted more, but given how much more we had to come, it was good we didn't get more.

One of Dad's (unsurprising) contributions to the evening was jamon ibérico.  If my father sees pig on the menu, there's a good chance he'll order it, and lord knows none of us will object.  There's really not much to say about it; pretty much any Spanish ham is amazing, and ZuZu's was top-notch.  Simply served, the jamon came with some bread and a bit of a spread (again, the menu has changed), and the only reason any of it lasted as long as it did is because some of us were saving it for a last bite.

Mom ordered a scallop ceviche, which saved me the trouble, and it was one of the specials for the evening.  It too was exceptional, light and fresh.  Sadly, I can't tell you more about it, because there were two different ceviche specials that night, and though we only ordered one, I can't remember the exact preparation of it.  Still, the execution tells me that anything "ceviche" at ZuZu will be excellent.

I ordered us a plate of queso frito, which is something that can rarely go wrong in my mind (though it can, and when it does, oh dear).  Fried cheese is an unholy treat in my world, and they did it beautifully, although looking at the current menu, it appears that the preparation has changed.  Still, it was warm and gooey and all those wonderful unhealthy things that good fried cheese is.  

Someone ordered the spaghetti squash, which is something I've never had before, and I've been actively looking for again.  I'm not a big squash fan, though I make a pretty rockin' stuffed butternut (it has lardons in it, so it can't be bad).  Spaghetti squash has two things going for it; first, it's tasty, and second, the texture is really unique.  It's called spaghetti squash because the flesh shreds out like pieces of spaghetti.  If you've ever cleaned a squash or pumpkin and found those threads around the seeds, this is similar, except that it's larger and not gross, and all the flesh does it, not just the seed area.  ZuZu's preparation of it treated it almost like a pasta, and served it with a fantastic tomato sauce.  For me, it was definitely the surprise treat of the evening.

Our last two tapas were in the form of dessert.  I thought the apple empanada sounded delicious, but I also thought the tres leches cake sounded fantastic.  Unsurprisingly (especially at this point), I was right.  The apple empanada was very nice, nothing fancy (though it had a lovely burnt caramel sauce with it), but the pastry was spot on, and the apples had texture and flavor, and were slightly tart.  The tres leches cake was fantastic, and hard to describe.  It was light--far lighter than any of us expected--and came with a mango-lime chutney, which helped to lighten it and cut through the sweetness.  A wonderful end to the meal.

All in all, I really loved ZuZu.  Not having to pay for it helped tremendously, I can't deny, but even if Adam and I had paid, it would not have been unreasonable.  The service was excellent, the food and wine superb, and I personally liked the atmosphere, though others have described it as noisy (I suppose it probably was, but we were sheltered a bit by the stairs).  ZuZu is a great place to go if you don't want a lot of food, or you want a variety of things to sample, or you want something not too expensive.  It also seems to be a place where a lot of locals go, which is always a good sign.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Soup

I mentioned quite a while back that I would write about soup.  If you know your way around a kitchen and how flavors can pair together, soup is a wonderfully organic, natural thing to cook.  Though I mean "organic" in the "naturally and harmoniously coming together" definition, it can also be organic in the "non-creepy stuff used in the growing process" definition.  Sadly, the second one didn't apply to me.

Soup is wonderful for fall and winter.  It's warm and soothing, and if it's a thick or rich soup, it can also be quite satisfying, especially if served with a warm, buttered crusty roll or something similar.  I need to make some more soup soon, but I don't have the freezer space to keep stock around all the time, so soup can't really be a spur of the moment thing for me, even though I have a selection of stock cubes (sigh).

The first soup I made was a broccoli-cheddar.  I was a bit leery about this; not that I don't love a good broccoli-cheddar--it's one of the few ways I truly enjoy broccoli--but I worried that if Adam and I couldn't eat it all quickly, it would start to smell.  Many different recipes and websites warned me of this, but I'm happy to report they were wrong, at least this time.  Admittedly, the soup didn't last more than 3-4 days, but I made it on a Friday, and Sunday it was absolutely fantastic, better than it had been late Friday or on Saturday.  It was also simple, though it could have been even more so.

Cheddar Broccoli Soup
1 head broccoli (medium to largish), cut into chunks, including stem
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil/butter/other oil
4 tablespoons flour
Dried mustard powder (a tablespoon?  I never measure)
Garlic powder (a shake or two)
4 cups of warm liquid--about 2 cups of the broccoli water and 2 cups of cream/milk
Wholegrain mustard (optional, but a scant teaspoon is really tasty)
Cheddar cheese (perhaps 250 grams?)
Boil the broccoli florets and stem until reasonably soft in some salted water.  In a large, deep saucepan, saute the onion in some olive oil/butter/both until soft (you'll be making the soup in this).  Add the flour, dried mustard, garlic powder, and any other seasonings to make a roux (you may need some additional oil/butter).  Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, then add the broccoli water/cream mix.  Stirring regularly, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer (you don't want it to boil again).  Add the broccoli and the wholegrain mustard.  If your pan is big enough and you have a stick blender, you can blitz the broccoli in the pan; otherwise, pour small amounts into the blender/food processor and blitz until smooth.  Add the grated cheddar.  Don't let it boil after the cheese goes in--it should still taste fine, but it'll screw with the texture.  Adjust any seasoning as needed.

Normally I hate sea-foam green, but this was pretty and tasty.

I served the soup with mustard croutons, the concept of which was tastier than the execution.  If I do them again, I think they'll work better, but I was quite lazy in my preparation, so they were heavily greasy, and not as crunchy as a crouton should be.

Another soup I made in my crazy soup-making spree was one I found out of the Morrison's Magazine.  I first made it back in the spring, once for the in-laws, and once for my parents, and everyone pronounced it delicious.

Parsnip Parmesan Soup (from Morrison's Magazine, with my notes/changes)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1.25 litres vegetable stock (Beef stock is tasty, but soup ceases to be white.  Chicken, lamb, or anything else should work.  If using cubes, the recipe says 2 cubes.)
1 red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (Optional, but adds a nice heat.)
50 grams grated Parmesan (Or more, I used about 65 with beef stock and it was nice.  Don't used fake-canned, but hit the cheese counter and get grated parm that way, or buy a block and grate it yourself.)
50 ml single cream (half and half, and I used closer to 100 ml.  or even more.  To taste, really.)
In large, deep saucepan, saute onion and parsnips in olive oil for 5 or so minutes, then add garlic and saute another minute or two, then add stock and bring to boil.  Turn down the heat and add the chili, and cook for a while longer, until parsnips are soft.  Remove from heat and blitz until smooth.  If the soup becomes too cool to melt the Parmesan, reheat (don't boil), then add the Parmesan, stir to smooth, and add the cream (to taste).  Season to taste.
I have no picture for this one, but it is so nice, and if you somehow have parsnips that are past their prime--they don't last long in any house I'm affiliated with, since everyone I know loves them unconditionally--this is a great way to use them up.

How can anyone be sad eating a bowl of bright orange soup with some lovely basil to complement it?

As winter comes steadily on, soup is always a warming, happy meal.  To me, homemade soup is a family meal, something that can be left on the stove, gently warming, for people to take a bowl as they please.  As a child this was mostly done with bean (num) or split-pea soup (ugh) during lazy holidays or important Duck football games, but stews and other soups are equally nice to be able to grab a bowl as one pleases during those cold winter days.  Soup can be so much more than just an appetizer.

EDIT:  Because I'm special, I forgot to even mention what that bright orange soup is.  It's curried carrot, and was quite tasty, and very pretty.  I didn't include a recipe because for the life of me I can't remember what I did.  It's not hard, though; I remember that much.