“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”
-Frederic Chopin

You know, sometimes it’s all about going back to the basics. As much as I love trying new recipes and looking for creative ways to cook the food that I often randomly buy, there are other times when I just want to say, ok, enough is enough, I have no time for this nonsense and buy packaged cookies. Maybe even Oreos. Or cupcakes from a bakery. Or soup from the cute hole-in-the-wall restaurant around the block. And, naturally, I sometimes give into these urges. Cooking is fun and relaxing, but I’m only human. And a grad student at that, which does mean that some days I’m going to want to read about erotic representations of femininity in the East instead of making my own brown sugar out of molasses and several cups of white sugar (because both of those activities are super normal, right?).

You may think I’m speaking in the abstract, but, just last week, after walking at least 4-5 miles (unplanned, but necessary given the transportation cuts and the need to be on time), getting a hair cut (3 inches gone! And, amazingly, it’s still long-ish), tutoring in the city, and doing four loads of laundry, I was faced with such a decision when baking cookies for my students. To celebrate our last class together, the question on my mind was: should I make for them the delicious chewy molasses cookies with sea salt or should I go with something simpler, but equally tasty? Time was of the essence and so, when I picked up the bag of chocolate chips (Nestle semi-sweet), I decided to go with a tried and true classic–i.e. the first cookie recipe I had ever baked. As I taste-tested one when it came out of the oven, all gooey and soft, I can safely say that they’re still as good as I remember. 🙂

This need for simplicity, for the minimalism and simple flavors of good home cooking, followed me into Saturday, when, on the laziest day I’ve had in some time (which I am now making up for and then some) I decided to use the leftover pumpkin from Thanksgiving to make these Pumpkin Pots de Crème that I saw on this lovely blog not too long ago (but mine were without apples, although I did add some pistachios). What can be easier than whisking eggs and sugar, heating up some milk/cream with spices, adding pumpkin and then whisking it into the egg and sugar combination? The trickiest thing for me with this recipe was figuring out how to make my own water bath. But despite that minor difficulty, it was worth the effort, considering how much I love a thick custard. Plus, on the rainy day that was to follow, its rich spiciness was much appreciated. Custard may just be the truest comfort food there is.

Speaking of comfort food, I promised you all a soup recipe in my last post and I’m nothing if not a woman of her word. The good news about this recipe is that it’s both versatile and hearty. In addition to these winning characteristics, it also embodies what I suppose this post is all about: simple cooking. I first made this recipe during Thanksgiving weekend when, after being rained on (i.e. drenched) at a Cal football game, I was desperately craving something warm, but also in need of a hot shower to take away the chill. The charm of soup is that, while it slowly simmers, you can go about your business and end up with a quality meal after at least forty minutes or so of what, in most situations, would be considered downright neglectful.

In short, it was pure win-win, which was a nice change after the disappointing loss of Cal with two seconds on the clock. Boo to bad football, but a mushroom risotto soup should be able to save the day….(N.B. As much as I’d like to take credit for the mushroom art, I can’t. A more creative soul than I took mushroom chopping to the next level). 🙂

Mushroom Risotto Soup
Yields 5-6 plentiful bowls

1 cup arborio rice
1-2 stalks of chopped celery
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
6 ounces Portobella mushrooms, chopped
1 cup stock from mushrooms, celery and onions (N.B. Making this recipe after the mushroom bread pudding is highly recommended because the pudding ingredients can be used in this, but a store-bought vegetable or chicken broth will also do)
4 cups vegetable broth (homemade or bought; I did a mix of homemade + store-bought)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 Tbsps. olive oil

-Chop all of the vegetables.
-Heat the 2 Tbsps. of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large soup pot.
-Stir in the celery and onions, cooking them until tender (3-4 minutes); **be careful that the onions don’t start to brown.
-Add the mushrooms, stirring them in, and add both pepper and salt.
-Once the mushrooms have released some of their liquid (about 5-6 minutes in), add your stock (homemade or store-bought; whichever you have on hand)
-Once the soup comes to a boil, add the cup of arborio rice.
-Reduce the heat, keeping things at a slight simmer. Cook the soup for about 30-40 minutes or once the risotto has begun to absorb some of the broth and has become soft, yet still slightly chewy.

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