Homemade soups can provide a special treat for lunch or supper. Shown here is Mark Bittman’s Tuscan farro soup. (Sharon Salyer/ The Herald)

Homemade soups can provide a special treat for lunch or supper. Shown here is Mark Bittman’s Tuscan farro soup. (Sharon Salyer/ The Herald)

Love letters to soup, tarragon, pressure cookers and microwaves

Maybe our kitchen odes will inspire some heartfelt prose for your favorite eats and appliances.

Since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, we decided to share some love in the Food pages.

Here are some odes to our favorite things involving food from those of us in Features — from tasty herbs and soup recipes, to pressure cookers and, yes, the trusty microwave. We didn’t write poetry, but you’ll get the point.

Maybe our kitchen odes will inspire some heartfelt prose for your favorite eats and appliances.

Soup surprises

A big kitchen love for me is soup. Which kind, of course, depends on the season. Hot for winter, chilled for summer.

For years, I’ve made soup for work lunches. To me it’s such a nice little surprise to open your lunch box to homemade soup — and a morale boost for the second half of the workday. It’s a lot nicer than restaurant leftovers.

Not bragging, but truth be told, fellow co-workers passing me near the microwave when I’m warming a winter soup often say: “Ohhh, what’s that? It looks so good.”

What you see in the photo with this story is Mark Bittman’s Tuscan farro soup published in the New York Times. It received well-deserved raves online. And it’s relatively easy to make.

It’s a kind of minestrone made with farro, a type of hulled wheat, as well as onion, celery, carrots, garlic, white beans, tomatoes, parsley, basil and topped with grated Parmesan. I’m “mostly vegetarian,” so this one is a favorite.

A hint about this recipe. Although it says you may substitute barley for farro, my advice is don’t. I also would use dried white cannellini-style beans. All you have to do is soak them overnight.

This also keeps the cooking time uniform and allows (if you like it) for the farro to retain a little crunch. (It also has protein.)

Bittman is among my favorite soup recipe designers. His farrow soup is but one example of his cooking style: Yes, you can have a nice result, but it doesn’t have to be an hours-long fuss and muss.

For summer soups, check out his variations on gazpacho recipes, published in the New York Times magazine.

— Sharon Salyer

Grace under pressure

The Instant Pot craze made me love cooking under pressure — except I don’t have an Instant Pot.

My brother- and sister-in-law do, so they gave me their Fagor stovetop pressure cooker.

Like all baby boomers, when I hear “pressure cooker,” I think of those sinister hissing pots whose propensity for exploding frightened our mothers. Ours never caused death or dismemberment — although Mom did cook vegetables to death in the thing.

Modern pressure cookers, even stovetop ones that cost about $50, are perfectly safe.

And boy, are they great for weeknight cooks. Anything that requires a long braise can be done in about a hour in a pressure cooker.

But I love mine the most for making chicken stock that’s orders of magnitude better than the bland store-bought stuff.

Whenever I cut up a chicken, I toss the backs into a bag and stick it in the freezer. When I accumulate three or four backs, they go in the pressure cooker with a roughly chopped onion, a couple of chopped carrots, a bay leaf, a healthy pinch of salt and a dozen or so peppercorns. If I have some thyme, I throw a handful of that in. Then I pour in six cups of water, bring everything to pressure over high heat, and pressure-cook for 15 minutes on low heat.

After the pressure releases, I strain the stock, let it cool, then skim off the fat. Even easier is letting it cool and refrigerating overnight. The top layer of congealed fat is a snap to remove.

The result is 1½ quarts of flavorful broth that’s much clearer than the stock I used to make by simmering on the stovetop for three hours. It’s the base for delicious soups, stews, risotto and much more.

Thanks for buying that Instant Pot, John and Connie.

— Mark Carlson

Tenderness for tarragon

I fell in love with tarragon at a tea party.

I was the party host. I invited some friends — my fellow concierges of the University Book Store — from before I became a journalist. This was my first time playing tea-party hostess, so I found recipes online for tea sandwiches to enjoy with our steaming cups.

One of those recipes was for tiny chicken salad sandwiches with an herb I knew about but, surprisingly, had never tasted: tarragon.

Wow! With one tarragon-filled bite of my mini sandwich, it was like: “Where have you been all my life?”

What’s funny is, it’s hard to describe the taste of tarragon. It’s an aromatic herb with a slightly bittersweet flavor. Some say it tastes similar to anise, fennel or licorice — but at the same time is distinctively its own. All I can say with certainty is that goes well with chicken, fish, tomato and egg dishes.

Make the chicken salad sandwiches with a loaf of dark rye or sweet dark bread. Stir together a diced cooked chicken breast, mayonnaise, chopped celery and fresh minced tarragon, plus salt and pepper to taste. Spread the filling on a slice of bread and top with another.

Tips: The recipe I found didn’t have exact measurements, so just eyeball it and taste as you go. Save time by picking up some rotisserie chicken at the deli instead of cooking your own. Err on the side of caution with the tarragon: If you add too much, it will be overpowering.

Now I make these sandwiches whenever the mood for tarragon strikes — tea party or no.

Want a tea party for one? Slice a full-sized sandwich into thirds or fourths to make them tea-sized. Serve with a cup of tea.

You get to decide whether to keep the crust.

— Sara Bruestle

Microwave heaven

I brought a Hot Pocket with me over to a friend’s house because I was running too late to have breakfast.

Imagine my surprise, my shock even, upon finding out that his kitchen didn’t have a microwave.

I had so many questions. What does he do to heat up leftovers? Does he not make popcorn? Doesn’t he tire of cooking in the oven or on the stove?

What about the Hot Pocket I brought for breakfast?

My friend just shrugged. For him, and many others, microwaves aren’t a must in the kitchen.

But it is in mine — and I’m thankful for it.

The microwave makes meals quick and easy for a busy reporter like myself.

My go-to microwaveable meals? Those would be Healthy Choice’s Power Bowls and Cafe Streamers, plus most Lean Cuisine offerings. They have fewer calories than your average TV dinner. I’ve also made quiche in a coffee cup and cheesecake in a bowl.

I also love microwaving popcorn for an evening in front of the television. There’s just something so satisfying about figuring out your microwave’s wattage so you can perfectly pop every last kernel.

Don’t knock the microwave. There’s a reason mug brownies are a thing right now. They’re both easy and delicious.

— Evan Thompson

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