7 – Cream of Mushroom Soup

Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup…God it’s disgusting…

My mother is from Arkansas and my father is from Kansas; and while you could say that’s the South, I would classify it more as the Midwest. Which means: I grew up on casseroles. Damn near every casserole we ate had Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup as the base. And I did not like it. Beyond that growing up in the 80’s and the 90’s in Texas, fresh mushrooms weren’t something that was served at our dinner table…ever…so my parents ate a lot of canned mushroom (I know, it’s gross…I love you mom and dad, but canned mushrooms and Cream of Mushroom Soup were poor parenting choices, you’ve pretty much ruined mushrooms for Meg for life…I blame y’all…). So I hated mushroom, for a long time.  Until one day in my 20’s I had a fresh mushrooms seared and braised in a pinot noir sauce, and it was a revelation. I didn’t know mushrooms could taste so good!  Since then I’ve been a mushroom fanatic.

So when I stared this blog, I knew one of the soups I wanted to make was a cream of mushroom soup that actually tasted, a) like mushrooms; and b) good!

I was going to teach you how to make a roux, but I’ll let the expert, Michael Ruhman do that for you….

http://ruhlman.com/2011/11/turkey-gravy-recipe/

The great thing about a roux is you can make a bunch ahead of time and freeze it (I roll it in plastic wrap, freeze it, and then cut it into about tablespoon-sized slices, then put it in zip bags in the freezer…it’ll last a while since there’s a good amount of fat in there).


Serves 6-8, Difficulty: Easy to Medium

  • Mushrooms – about 1.5 lbs from the store, a mix: I used about a half-a-pound of shiitakes, a half-a-pound of portobello, and a half-a-pound of brown cremini, stems removed from the portobellos and the shiitakes (shoot for about 2 lbs. if the portobello and the shiitakes have the stems attached), dirt brushed off with a paper towel – Portobellos sliced into thin strips, creminis halved or quartered, depending on their size – plus extra shiitakes or portobellos for garnish.
  • Carrot – 1, peeled, small diced
  • Shallot – 1, small dice
  • Garlic – 3-4 cloves, minced
  • White wine – about a cup, preferably a chardonnay
  • Mushroom stock – 1 quart (see “Stock” link)
  • Roux – about 3-4 tablespoons
  • Heavy whipping cream – 1 cup
  • Thyme – about 4 sprigs
  • Bay leaf – 1-2
  • Vinegar – to taste (I used chardonnay vinegar, but again, any white wine based vinegar will do)

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First you want to deal with the mushrooms. I seared both the shiitakes and the portobellos, and sautéed the creminis to develop a good flavor before pureeing.  To sauté, you need a nice pan (cast-iron or stainless steel), high heat, and a good amount of oil. Begin with the shiitakes – with a pan, smoking hot over high heat, add a good amount of oil to the pan and when it’s almost smoking, with good ripples in the oil, add a small amount of mushrooms, cap side down. Immediately press them down with a large spatula and sear for a good minute. Flip and repeat with the bottom side. Remove from the pan to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Repeat with any more shiitakes you have. If there are any burned parts on the pan, pour out the oil (not down the sink…you know that right?…), wipe the pan down with a paper towel, and start with fresh oil. Repeat with the portobellos.

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For the creminis, get the pan over high heat again and sauté for about 4-5 minutes until they are soft, but still hold a bite. Remove, again, to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with Kosher salt.  Return the pan to a medium-high heat and sauté the carrot and shallot, with a pinch of salt, for about two minutes (with fresh oil if you need it…if the pan isn’t burned from the mushrooms, pour out some of the oil until you have about a tablespoon or so in the pan). Then add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaf(ves), and all the mushrooms and sauté for a couple of minutes more. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce, on high heat, until almost dry.

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Place everything into a bowl, with a cup of the mushroom stock, and puree…as you can see, it doesn’t look too nice right now…it’s okay, give it some time… Wipe down the pan.

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If the mushroom stock is warm…

Pour the rest of the mushroom stock into the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Begin whisking the cold roux into the stock until there are pretty much no more visible chunks of roux. Bring it to a simmer/boil (a roux will not reach it’s full thickening strength until it boils) and check for thickness. You check the thickness by the back of a spoon.  Place the back side of the spoon into the sauce, remove it, and swipe your finger across it. If it leaves a line in the spoon for a few seconds before the sauce begins to work its way down the spoon, you’re set. If not you may need to whisk in some more roux or a bit of flour.

If the mushroom stock is cold…

Place the roux in the clean pan and begin to warm it until it just begins to bubble. Begin pouring the cold stock into the pan, a little bit at a time, whisking until there are no lumps. Check the consistency, again, by the spoon test.

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Congrats…you just made a gravy!

Scrape all of the sauce into the bowl and pour in a cup of heavy whipping cream. Puree just until smooth. Check the salt levels (I actually added a lot of salt to this dish, I just kept tasting and realized that mushrooms can actually take a good amount of salt before it tastes just perfect) and splash in a bit of vinegar. I know I always say I like my soups to be bright, but don’t add too much vinegar here. This is an earthy, umami-packed, soup – I want that to come through, I actually don’t want this soup to be bright! If you want to get super fancy, you could then pass the puree through a fine mesh strainer or a tamis to get a super smooth consistency.

Pour into bowls and top with sliced sautéed mushrooms.

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This soup is absolutely wonderful and has saved the Cream of Mushroom Soup name. I love the fact that this is an all mushroom soup – fresh mushrooms and mushroom stock really takes this soup to a new level.

All ingredients from Trader Joe’s and Lazy Acres, Long Beach

Music recommendation for cooking: The Frames, Fitzcarraldo.  This sophomore release from The Frames (all the way back in 1996) is one of my favorite albums and The Frames are probably my favorite band. Glen Hansard is the lead singer and has toured with the band, solo, and with Marketa Irglova – who he is probably best know with for winning an Oscar with for their song “Falling Slowly” for the movie Once. I have never seen anyone who can captivate an audience like Glen Hansard. If he, The Frames, or Swell Season (he, Marketa, and most of the rest of The Frames) ever come to your town, stop what you are doing, get tickets, and go have your life changed!

Drink choice for cooking: Deschutes Foray IPA. A great beer from a great brewery in Oregon. They continually make great beers (like the Black Butte Porter, Fresh Squeezed IPA – maybe my favorite from them – to name a few).

Drink pairing recommendation: You need a nice wine to pair with this and any good chardonnay (either Californian or Burgundy) will pair nicely with this.

6 – Carrot Soup

So apparently, I have blog where I said I would do a soup a week…well again, I’m a little late on the process here – but I’m in water polo season so things are a little crazy at the current moment. So I still cooked this soup last week (Saturday…just barely made it…) which means I have one more to do this week…and I’m still a week behind somehow…so I have some catching up to do. I’m not sure when this is all going to get done, since I still have 5 games to coach this week…but I think I can make it happen…

But this weekend, I was able to get out of Long Beach and head to Palm Springs for a weekend away with some of my closest friends. I do most of the cooking for this guys weekend – which included making 5 different types of bacon, eggs Benedict from scratch (including the English muffins) and two quiches for breakfast, a tri-tip dinner, and a whole roasted Korean style pork shoulder…let’s just say, we ate well… But amidst all the cooking I knew I wanted to make a soup for the blog, and I knew with all of the other cooking I was doing I wanted to do something easy that wouldn’t add an enormous amount of work in the kitchen. So I thought about a simple carrot soup I had at Little Bird Bistro in Portland. The soup was simple and tasty so I knew I could recreate it. I don’t think they added the honey to the soup at the restaurant, but I thought it would be nice touch to bring out extra sweetness in the carrots. This soup is a breeze to make and is wonderfully tasty.

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(Our view of the mountains west of Palm Springs from the house…no filter, by the way…)


Serves 4-6 – Difficulty: As Easy As It Gets

  • Carrots – two bunches, organic, peeled and “oblique” cut
  • Honey – about two tablespoons
  • Thyme – about 6-8 sprigs, whole
  • White Wine – about a cup or so
  • Cream or Half-and-Half – about a cup
  • Vegetable Stock – about a quart and a half
  • Champagne Vinegar – to taste

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Yup, that’s it. (So I ended up not using the shallot, even though I put it in the pic. I wanted to keep this pretty close to a pure carrot soup)

Oven to 400.

Begin by cutting the carrots. Carrots, for the most part, are tapered and, thus, make it difficult to roast evenly if you were to leave them whole or cut into rounds. So the alternative is to cut them into an oblique cut to get the sizes nearly similar so they cook evenly.  Begin by placing the carrot parallel with the cutting board and hold your knife at a 45-degree angle. Cut a chunk off the carrot and then rotated the carrot 90 degrees. Now you cut side is facing you, cut off another chunk at a 45-degree angle in about the same size as the previous chunk. Continue this action all the way up the carrot. It leaves uniform sizes but not uniform shapes. It’s not a pretty cut, but for roasting, simmering, or steaming, there’s no better way to ensure all of your carrots will be cooked evenly. There’s a great video on how to make this cut in the “links” page.  (And yes, that is a new Shun Premier 10″ Chefs knife…a Christmas gift from my dad…thanks for noticing my new beautiful piece of cutlery!).

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Toss the carrots in oil (a good neutral oil like canola or grape seed) and place on a roasting pan. Place the thyme sprigs over the carrots and place in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes take them out of the oven and give a couple of good four-finger pinches of kosher salt and a few good turns of pepper over the carrots and give a good stir. After another 5 minutes or so, take them out and pour the honey and wine all over the carrots and give another good stir (it’s best to add the honey late in the cooking process as it can burn if left in for the whole 20-25 minutes. They will need to cook for another 5-10 minutes until they are nice and soft all the way through. You don’t want them to be cooked to mush, just until they are nice and soft and have no raw flavor left.

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Take the carrots out of the oven and peel the thyme off the sprigs, sprinkling the thyme over the carrots. Place the carrots, with the juices, in a Vita-Mix (one of the benefits of staying at this house in Palm Springs) with about a cup or so of the half-and-half, just to get the puree going (remember to remove the plug and cover with a kitchen towel so you don’t have carrot puree all over you and the kitchen). If the puree still isn’t going, add a bit of the vegetable stock. Let the puree go for a couple of minutes until it’s nice and smooth. Remove from the blender and place in a large bowl and add the vegetable stock until it’s a nice consistency. Then of course, taste – add salt if it needs it and sprinkle over a bit of the vinegar (really any good white-wine based vinegar would work with this soup) just to brighten it up a bit.

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That’s it. And this soup is mighty tasty! The natural sweetness of the carrots is accented nicely by the honey and the bit of cream adds perfect touch of fat to the soup. I garnished it with some creme fraiche and served it in a small mug so I could get nine servings for all of us guys. You could also sprinkle on a few extra thyme leaves to get a bit more of that flavor into the soup. My friend Andy was so impressed he immediately named it as one of his top three soups of all time, then thought about it for a minute and said it was the best soup he had ever tasted! So thanks Andy! So I would say the soup is a winner, and for the amount of effort you have to put in, this could easily be a go-to soup for anyone!

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All ingredients from Von’s Palm Springs

Music recommendation for cooking: I cooked this soup on Saturday…so no music recommendation, just the sounds of playoff football on the TV

Drink choice for cooking: My buddy Dan makes a killer Old Fashion, so I had 1 while I cooked…okay, 2…thanks Dan!

Drink pairing recommendation: A Sauvignon Blanc would pair really well with this soup. While I am normally a fan of white Bordeaux’s, I’d stick to New Zealand Sauvs for their unoaked acidic profile and grassy notes to counter balance the sweetness of the soup.

5 – Soupe a L’oignon

French Onion Soup…I have a love/hate relationship with this soup–it’s so hard not to order it whenever I see it on a menu. But the problem is, it’s usually never done right. It’s usually barely caramelized onions, a crappy-flavorless boxed beef broth, and American-Swiss not Gruyere cheese. But putting together a stellar French Onion Soup is really easy; but it will test your patience. And when you have a lazy day during winter there is no better soup to do!

This is barely a recipe beyond caramelizing the onions, which is great because you can do as little or as much onions as you’d like.

Some key points in making French Onion Soup:

  1. Use the largest enameled cast-iron Dutch oven you have (or borrow one from a friend if you don’t have one, or buy a new one with all of those Amazon gift cards you just got for Christmas….).
  2. Slice the onions thin (see the picture below).
  3. Slowly caramelize the onions (for about 6 hours…yes, you read that right…6 hours).
  4. Add water, not broth or stock (yes, you read that right…water).
  5. Add some wine and vinegar for seasoning.
  6. Make your crouton with a sliced baguette and actual Swiss cheese – You know, cheese from Switzerland like GRUYERE CHEESE!!!!! GRUYERE PEOPLE! Or EMMANTHALER!! NOT American “Swiss” (was that subtle enough?).
  7. Serve with a glass of wine.
  8. Enjoy on a cold winter night!

Now you may be thinking, “water? Did he say water?” Yes, I said water. Nearly every restaurant uses beef broth/stock as the liquid. But think about where soupe a l’oignon originated: French Bistros. These are small, relatively cheap, and local places. Meat (and thus, bones) would have been expensive and those products would not have yielded a huge profit for these small restaurants. Most small bistros wouldn’t have had the amount of stock to uses for such a cheap soup that will be ordered probably more than any other dish. Beyond that, if they had the stock, they wouldn’t have used it all for soup, but rather for braises and sauces. So, many people believe that water is not only acceptable to use, but actually more authentic. My guess is this soup will blow you away with the simple use of water. I first encountered this soup made perfectly from Thomas Keller in the Bouchon Cookbook, but it was Michael Ruhlman in Ruhlman’s 20 cookbook that gave the basis for doing this soup with water. If you choose to use stock–beef stock, chicken stock, vegetable stock, DO NOT USE BOXED STOCK and ruin this soup that takes a long time to make.


Serves 4-6 (Difficulty Level: Moderate), adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s, Ruhlman’s 20 http://ruhlman.com/2011/10/french-onion-soup-recipe/

This soup is only ‘moderately’ difficult because it will really test your patience. This is a soup to make when you have an open day around the house during the winter when you have things like laundry or cleaning to do; it’s not a soup to make if you need to get something on the table in a couple of hours.

  • Onions – 5 lbs or so of sweet onions like Maui, or Vidalia…or more or less (I usually use about 7-8 lbs., but I have a 9 quart Dutch oven so I have the space for that)
  • Butter – 1 Tablespoon to 1 stick (I add more than Ruhlman…I like butter…but it does add more grease to the finished soup)
  • Sherry – 1/3 cup
  • Red Wine – A splash or two, or three (and the rest of the bottle for you to drink)
  • Red Wine Vinegar – To taste, if needed
  • Gruyere or Emmanthaler Cheese – ½ lb. sliced thin or shredded
  • Baguette – a couple of thick slices per person
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper

Pour about a ½-¾ cup of wine in a prep cup, cover with plastic wrap and set aside. The rest of the bottle is for you to finish while you cook….

Okay, cut the onions–this is going to take some time to do it right. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions and slice in half on the longitudinal–and peel the outer layer. If you have any of the root end still in the onion, cut it out from the onion.

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Lay one half on the cutting board and notice the natural ridges of the onions: they provide the perfect guide to slice the onions (also this will allow the onions to hold their shape for the long cooking time.

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Angle your blade down about 10-15ish degrees and slice through to the middle. Keep following the onion lines around, slicing in about ¼ inch slices. Once you get to only having half of the onion left, it’s usually better to roll it down towards your blade and keep cutting so your hands aren’t in an awkward position. When you get to the end of the onion, be VERY careful, especially if your knife isn’t that sharp…one false move and you could be in the ER for stitches. If you aren’t feeling confident/comfortable, just leave the last inch or two of onion to the side, put them in a zip bag and freeze them, and use them for stock later – your fingers will appreciate this decision. (So yeah, this takes a while, so often I’ll cut them the night before and put them in zip bags for the next day).

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Okay, now the onions are sliced, pour your first glass of wine, you deserve it.

Put the Dutch oven over medium-low heat over the burner that has the lowest setting on your stove (if your stove has different ranges of heat for each burner), and melt the butter. Add the onions and a large 4-finger pinch of salt and a few turns of finely ground pepper.

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Put the lid on and stand there and watch it while you sip your glass of wine. Once you start seeing steam come out of the pot (usually 20-30 minutes), take the lid off and drop the heat to as low as it goes (give a couple of turns of pepper at this point too). You’ll notice the onions have given up a lot of their liquid. The next couple to three hours you will be slowly reducing the liquid off (give the liquid and the onions a taste as it reduces, to see the change it goes through over 6 hours). At this point you can go sit down, watch a season of whatever TV show you’re behind on. Just get up every 15-20 minutes to give them a stir to keep them from sticking to the bottom.

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Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the baguette slices in the oven to dry out (they can stay there all day since the temp is too low for them to burn)

Once you see the liquid almost gone (like I said, a couple to three hours), pour yourself that second glass of wine, because now you have a little more work to do (but not that much). Now that the liquid is all gone, this is where the caramelization process will begin (that’s a word, right? Caramelization?). The sugars from the onions will slowly begin to brown and the onions will turn into a deep rich amber color. After about the three or four hour mark, you will probably have to start stirring every 10 minutes with a flat wooden soon and really scrape up the bottom of the pan, if not the onions will stick and start to burn…and that can pretty much ruin the whole pot because everything will be too bitter.

Hour 1 and 2…

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Hour 3 and 4

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Hour 5

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Stir, stir, stir for another hour or two until the onions are a deep brown/amber color. (And, yup, that is all that’s left from 8 Onions)

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Once they are the color you want, add the sherry, the red wine, and cook down a bit to kill the alcohol; then add about a quart-and-a-half of water (4-6 cups).

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Taste, what does it need? Salt? Red wine vinegar? A splash more wine? More pepper?

Keep the soup at a low-simmer and take the bread out of the oven and turn on the broiler.

1 – Do you have oven safe bowls? Ladle the soup into the bowls and top with the baguette croutons, top with the cheese, and melt the cheese under the broiler.

2- Don’t have oven safe bowls? Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and pair up the baguette croutons on the sheet. Top with the cheese and melt under the broiler, remove, and use a spatula to place on top of the soup in a deep bowl.

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Pour your last glass of wine and serve!

Nice work. See, it’s not that hard, it just takes a while…but sooooo worth it!

Some points about caramelizing the onions.

You can caramelize the onions a couple of days early and store in the fridge…or freeze them for about a couple of months or so in a zip bag.

I would also make a huge batch of onions if I were you (like I said, I usually use about 7 or more lbs. of onions), it takes just as long for 5 onions to caramelize as it does 7, 8, or 9. If you place the sliced onions in the pot and you have too much, just keep the others off to the side, and after the liquid releases from the onions, they will have dropped lower in the pot, so you can add the rest to the top and stir in.

You can speed up the process a bit by turning up the heat to medium while you reduce the water from the onions; just know you will need to stir much more often than every 15-20 minutes to keep them from sticking to the bottom and burning.

Caramelized onion are not only good for Soupe a L’ oignon. The onions can be added to nearly anything to add a complex layer of flavors to the dish.

 

All ingredients from Randall’s in League City, TX

Music recommendation for cooking: I cooked this soup Christmas Day, so random Christmas music was on…

Drink choice for cooking: Well it was a holiday, so I had a Bloody Mary when I started cooking the onions, and a gin and tonic as they cooked down over the next few hours (okay, I’m on vacation…so it was more like 2 gin and tonics….)

Drink pairing recommendation: A fresh Beaujolais would be great; either a red or white Bourguignon (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, but if you use the white I would use white wine rather than red in the soup); and of course a nice dry sherry would be nearly perfect.

4 – Butternut Squash Soup

So there are multiple reasons this post is late. First and foremost, it was the last week before winter break, so I had grading to do, 140 essays on WWI were just turned in this week, coaching, yada, yada, yada. So the soup didn’t get done until Saturday (so technically still week 4). Now then, the posting this recipe was a whole other matter. I flew back to visit the fam for Christmas, so the rest of the weekend was a little tight time wise. So now I’m back in the great state of Texas and my two beautiful nieces are taking up my time today. So between getting to play Uncle Steve, and the post, the girls are winning, hands down, for my time and attention.

This is a soup I have done many times. This is an absolute fall staple; I cook it every fall, multiple times during the season. The first time I cooked Butternut Squash soup, it was straight out of the Bouchon Cookbook, by Thomas Keller. Now to be honest, I’ve done this so many times without the recipe I usually don’t even have to think about it. So I wouldn’t say this is Thomas Keller’s Butternut Squash Soup, but rather Stephen’s take on Keller’s soup. The soup is easy and doesn’t require a lot of work or time; and is a simple structure. Roast the base of the Squash, simmer the neck with mirepoix (there’s that word again, you should know it now, I’ve said it a couple of times…if you don’t…google it…) and veg stock, add some wine and honey, a splash of vinegar, and puree the heck out of it. The big difference between this and following the Bouchon recipe is Keller emulsifies brown butter as it’s pureed – which really brings this soup up a level or two in my book – but I didn’t have any butter so I left it out.


Butternut Squash Soup (Difficulty: Easy)

  • Butternut Squash – 2 medium
  • Onion – 1 large, small dice
  • Shallot – 2-3, minced
  • Carrot – 2, peeled and small dice
  • Leek – 1 large, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
  • Garlic – 4-5 cloves, minced
  • Honey – 2 tablespoons (a good pure honey, not that crap out of a bear…come on, y’all are adults now, you can move beyond the honey bear…)
  • White wine – ½ cup or so
  • Vegetable Stock – 1 ½ – 2 quarts
  • Thyme – 4-5 sprigs
  • Bay Leaf – 1
  • Sage – two sprigs, plus more for roasting the squash
  • Vinegar – to taste (I used champagne, but red wine, white wine, or sherry would all be great)

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Turn the oven to 350

Take the squash and slice them in half right where the body and the neck of the squash meet. Take the body of the squash and slice it lengthwise in half, exposing the seeds. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and slimy flesh (I’m sure there’s a technical term…but whatever…) – save the seeds, roasted, they make a great garnish!

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Brush the flesh with canola or grapeseed oil and give a healthy sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper. Take anywhere between a couple of leaves to a whole sprig of sage and place it in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the squash cut side down and roast for about an hour.

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Now deal with the necks: peel them and cut them into a large dice.

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In a large pot or dutch oven, add some oil to the pot over medium-high heat and sauté the onions, shallots, carrots, and leeks, with a good four-finger pinch of kosher salt. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. After five minutes or so, add the honey and stir in. Continue to sauté for a couple of more minutes, but not too long so it begins to caramelize. Add the wine, thyme, bay leaf, and sage, and turn the heat up to high and reduce the wine to almost dry. Add the diced squash to the pot and cover with the veg stock (about a quart or so), bring to a simmer and cook until soft (about 15-20 minutes). If the simmered squash is soft before the roasted squash is cooked, turn the heat off and just leave it in the pot.

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Once the squash has roasted, remove it from the pan and let it cool on the cutting board. Once it’s cool enough to handle, use a spoon and remove the flesh from the skin. Add the roasted squash to the pot, bring it back up to heat and simmer for another 15 minutes or so.

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Remove all of the herbs from pot, puree, garnish and serve.

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Notes on garnish:

  • Remove the seeds from the squash and place in a bowl with some water and swish around a bit. Any flesh stuck to the seeds will fall to the bottom and the seeds will float. Remove them from the water, dry them well, and place on a clean roasting pan and place in a 350 degree oven until roasted and crispy, with a good sprinkling of kosher salt (10-20 minutes…just don’t burn them). These are great to add on top of the soup.
  • As I said above, Keller adds browned butter to the soup to give it a real nutty flavor. Just take about 4-6 tablespoons of butter and place over medium-low heat. As soon as it turns a nice amber color and smells wonderful, pour it directly into the soup and puree to blend. Just be careful, the butter can go from amber/brown to burned really quickly!
  • Crème Fraiche – Maybe the best cream to add to the soup. Keller, in Bouchon, mixes in nutmeg into the crème, which is a great. But Spike Mendlesohn in Season 4 of Top Chef whisked in fresh scraped vanilla beans to the crème Fraiche, which I think is better than the nutmeg.
  • I also think a touch of creamy-acidic goat cheese would be great as well.

All ingredients from Lazy Acres, Long Beach

Music choice for cooking – Ryan Adams new self-titled album. For a man who is known for pumping out hit after hit, he may have put together his best albums yet.

Drink choice for cooking – Stone Brewery’s Enjoy By 12.26.14 – Just made it!

Drink pairing recommendation – This is Butternut Squash Soup, so a nice buttery, oaky, Chardonnay would be great. But a dry to off-dry Riesling or Gewürztraminer would also pair really well.

3 – Sunchoke Soup, 2 Ways

Honestly, I’ve never had sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes…who knows why in the heck they are called Jerusalem artichokes, they are neither Jewish, nor artichokes…but I see them at the store all the time, and this time I got curious. Sunchokes are a tuber…think potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.… and honestly all I can think of when I hear ‘tuber’ is Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “It’s not a tuber! It’s not a tuber!”

Never having used them before, I want the flavor of the sunchokes to shine over anything else. So no cream or no other combination of vegetables (making it a Sunchoke And Something Else Soup)…nothing more than good vegetable stock, mirepoix (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about…it’s essential to cooking…), a touch of wine, salt, white pepper, vinegar, and some good garnish. Searching the trusty inferweb for some ideas, there’s two ways of cooking that most recipes give: simmer and roast. So I’m going to do both of them and figure out which one I think is best. There is also a division in the recipes in relation to the skins: peel, or not to peel. So I’m going to try both: I’ll peel the sunchokes for the simmered soup and I’m going to leave the skins on for the roasted soup. As always, removing the skin takes out a lot of nutritional value–but I’m interested more in flavor than nutrition for the time being.

So really this is one soup, cooked two ways as a test run. Who knows, maybe early next fall I’ll take this soup in another direction. But for now, let’s see what sunchokes taste like.


The ingredients list is for a whole batch of soup…but as you can see from the pics, I just cut the recipe in half to do the two types of soup.

Sunchoke Soup – Two Ways (Difficulty – Easy)

  • Sunchokes – 3 lbs. – For the simmered soup, peeled and cut in half for small, quarters for larger…held in acidulated water* so they don’t brown; for the roasted, simply cut in half.
  • Onion – 2 medium sweet, diced
  • Carrots – 2 Medium, Diced
  • Leeks – 1 medium or ½ of one large (white and light green parts only), diced
  • Garlic – 6 cloves, minced
  • Vegetable stock – 2 Quarts, warmed on the stove
  • White Wine – ½ cup
  • Champagne Vinegar – to taste
  • White pepper – to taste (or regular pepper if you don’t have white pepper)_MG_6278

Simmered –

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In a medium pot bring the peeled sunchokes to a simmer with the vegetable stock. Drop the heat to a low simmer, add the thyme leaves, a good four-finger pinch of kosher salt, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sunchokes are just reaching the soft point; don’t simmer the hell out of them until their mushy…

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Meanwhile, sauté the mirepoix, with a good pinch of salt, in some oil or butter for about 5-7 minutes; add the garlic after a couple of minutes. After the mirepoix is cooked, put in a ½ cup white wine and reduce to nearly dry over high heat–remove from the stove and set aside.

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Once the sunchokes are cooked remove them from the pot, reserving the vegetable stock to the side, and place in a large bowl. Remove the thyme sprigs from the sunchokes and pull the leaves off and add to the bowl. Puree the sunchokes with an immersion blender, or in a blender, with the mirepoix and enough strained stock to get the puree going (you’ll probably want to strain the stock…maybe through a kitchen cloth or a coffee filter…after you cook the sunchokes–any skin you may have missed from peeling will now be at the bottom of the pot). Add enough stock to get the consistency you like–adding salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste, then stir to incorporate. Check your seasonings, check your seasonings, check your seasonings–until it’s just right.

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Serve the soup with a garnish of fried shallots for crunch, some cheese for fat (I used the left over blue cheese from the first week’s soup, but I’m sure something like a nice sharp cheddar or crème fraiche would be great), and some fresh thyme leaves.

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*Acidulated Water is simple water with lemon juice in it. Same thing you would use after you trim artichokes to keep them from turning brown.

 

Roasted –

(I thought about roasting all the veg along with the sunchokes, but I figured that would add more layers of flavor to the dish…which is a good thing…but I don’t want it to add to the pure sunchoke flavor. Feel free to roast the veg if you’d like)

Preheat the oven to 425 and place a roasting pan in the oven to preheat; and keep 2 quarts of vegetable stock warm on the stove.  Get a good sauté pan heated over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add a tablespoon or so of canola or grapeseed oil to the pan and sear the cut sides of the sunchokes until nice and browned (3 minutes or so). Once browned, place the sunchokes on the roasting pan (you are probably going to have to do this in a couple of different batches) and roast for 15-20 minutes until the sunchokes are soft. After about 10 minutes of roasting, take the pan out of the oven and give the sunchokes a good four finger pinch of kosher salt, stir, place the sunchokes back down on the cut side, and return to the oven.

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If nothing on the bottom of the pan is burned from searing the sunchokes, pour off almost all of the oil and sauté the mirepoix (with a nice pinch of salt ) for 5-7 minutes, adding the garlic and thyme after a couple of minutes, add the wine and simmer almost dry, as above. If there are any burned areas of your pan, clean the pan out first before you sauté the mirepoix; if you don’t, the burned sunchokes would cause the soup to be extremely bitter.

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Once the sunchokes are cooked through, add them to a bowl with the mirepoix mix, and blend with the warm stock.

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The verdict:

Okay, if you look at the poorly taken photos, you can (maybe) see that the roasted soup with the skin on was much more gritty, what I would almost describe as dirty; while the simmered soup was very clean. The other difference was the flavor. These were two completely different flavored soups, although the ingredients were exactly the same. The simmered soup was very sweet, almost buttery (although I used no butter), while the roasted soup was layered and very complex. Of the few people who taste-tested, all but one said they liked the roasted soups flavor over the simmered. And I kind of agree, the complexity that pan-roasting the sunchokes does bring more flavor to the soup. That is not to say that the simmered soup was not good…in fact, it was great. Either way you cook them, the soups will turn out amazing, so I would challenge you to cook them both and see for yourself! If I were to do this again, I think I would peel the sunchokes and pan-roast them without the skin for a much “cleaner” soup–and the if you roasted all the sides of the sunchokes, it would add even more flavor to the dish. So the verdict for me was the roasted, I’ll just clean it up a bit next time I cook it.

Something else to note: I’ll just leave you with this quote from English planter John Goodyer about sunchokes from 1621, “…which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be painted and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.” I don’t know that I’d go as far as to say sunchokes aren’t good for human consumption, just know they did create a “mighty-wind” within me after I ate the soup…just a warning…

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All ingredients from Lazy Acres in Long Beach

Music choice for cooking – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1976 Self-Titled Release. I think I could listen to this album once a day and never tire of it.

Drink choice for cooking – Les Terrasses, 2013, Rhone Valley, Grenache-Sauvignon Blanc Blend

Drink pairing recommendations – This one was difficult. Sunchokes don’t show up in my wine pairing book (see the How to Make Food Tasty page for my go-to wine pairing book), so I had to do some inferweb research. What I found was this would pair well with a nice French Chinon Blanc or French Aligoté from Burgundy (if you can find it). Aligoté, the Burgundy white grape is the redheaded step-child of the chardonnay grape, although is a tasty wine. But I drank this with a Grenache-Sauvignon Blanc mix from the Rhone Valley with some nice citrus flavors and a decent mineral finish…same wine I used for the soup.

2 – Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Soup

Today was my first water polo game of the season, and it was raining, which the players love (they’re wet anyway), but isn’t so fun for the coach.  Not only did we lose, but I came home completely soaked.  So I needed something both hot and a bit spicy to warm my soul.

This soup started as a tomatillo salsa that I make every summer.  It was one quick step to realize this could make a great soup by adding some vegetable stock!  So this seemed like a great soup to try…some familiarity, but taken in a whole new direction!


 

Serves 6-8 – (Difficulty – Simple)

  • Tomatillos – about 2.5 lbs. husked, rinsed and scrubbed, and dried
  • Onion – 1 large, peeled, ½ minced, ½ sliced into large chunks
  • Jalapeños – 3 whole – less if you don’t like it too spicy
  • Garlic Cloves – 1 medium to large head, unpeeled but broken from the head
  • Mezcal – ¼-½ c. (or tequila)
  • Avocado – 2 large peeled and cored
  • Cilantro – Leaves from about a half a bunch – more or less depending on how much you like Cilantro
  • Lime – 1 juiced
  • Vegetable Stock – 1 quart, warmed on the stove

Turn the oven to 450-475 (as high as your oven will go without smoking).

While the oven is coming up to temperature, take the garlic cloves and put them on top of two squares of foil. Fold the foil around the cloves and sprinkle in a pinch of salt and a couple of turns of pepper. Pour in about a tablespoon of canola oil and crimp the foil up around the garlic making a flat pouch. Roast for about 20-30 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and let continue to steam inside the pouch.

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While the garlic is roasting, this is a great time to husk and scrub the tomatillos, and slice/mince the onions.

Place a jellyroll pan in the oven and let it preheat for about 10 minutes.

Toss the tomatillos, onion chunks, and whole jalapeños in canola oil and place on the jellyroll pan. Roast for about 30 minutes until all are browning through (some of the tomatillos will blister and the juice will start to run on the pan…don’t worry, that’s okay…and that’s why it’s important to have a pan with sides, so you catch all the juices).

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After 10 minutes of roasting, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle a good four finger pinch of kosher salt over everything and return to the oven. After about 15 minutes of roasting, pull them out of the oven and give everything a turn to roast all the sides.

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While these are roasting, place a small pan over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Once it’s hot add about a tablespoon of butter or oil to the pan and begin to sauté the minced onions in the butter for a few minutes until translucent (about 4-5 minutes). Take the pan off the flame (this is incredibly important!!!!) and pour in the ¼ cup (well let’s be real…I used more like a half a cup) of Mezcal. And let’s all say it together: “A shot for the soup…a shot for me…” – to sip of course–this is Mezcal people, no lime, no salt, just sip it!” Place the pan back on the stove and back up…it’s going to flame up! Allow the flames to die down naturally and toss the onions in the liquid and remove from the stove. If it doesn’t flame up immediately, tilt the pan a bit towards the flame and it’ll light right up. (If this frightens you a bit, I understand, you can always just slice the whole onion and roast it all, and pour the Mezcal over the tomatillos, onions, and jalapeños while they’re roasting…but the point is to burn off all the alcohol that would mute the other flavors of the soup…And you wouldn’t get to play with fire!).

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Once everything is good and roasted, remove the jalapeños to a cutting board and slice off the tops, slice open one side, and remove the seeds. See, I use gloves to slice the jalapeños so I don’t have burning jalapeño residue on my hands.  It is also a good idea to taste the jalapeños to see how spicy they are. some times they’re really spicy and you may only want to add one or two…and sometimes they aren’t spicy at all, in which case you could add a dash of cayenne to add some spice.

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Remove the garlic from their paper. See the one there at the bottom? That one roasted a bit too much; you don’t want to add that because it’s really bitter.

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Place the tomatillos (with their juices), the onions, jalapeños, garlic, avocado, cilantro, and half of the lime juice to a large bowl and blend with an immersion blender (or pour it all into your blender, just make sure you take the plug out of the top and cover it lightly with a kitchen towel), and puree. At this point, it’s a great salsa for chips or to put on a taco!

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Check your seasoning to see if you need to add more salt or lime juice. At this point I want it over salted a bit, since the vegetable stock will tame the salt levels a bit.

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Add the hot vegetable stock and stir. Check your seasonings again and add salt and lime juice if needed.

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with a dollop of sour cream (what I used…but I’m thinking now crumbled cotija cheese would have been a much better choice…the acidic sour cream was a bit too much for the already acidic soup), fried tortilla strips (or crumbled tortilla chips if you’re lazy), and a few more cilantro leaves.

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The soup is great. It has a wonderful roasted flavor, just a nice touch of heat from the jalapeños, and creaminess from the avocado.

Enjoy!

 

All ingredients from Lazy Acres, Long Beach…except the Mezcal…that’s straight from Mexico, thanks to my friend Marcos!

Music choice for cooking – Damien Rice’s new album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy…and then of course had to have a blast from the past and listen to two songs, both titled, It Never Rains in Southern California…from Albert Hammond and Tony Toni Tone.

Drink choice for cooking – Russian River’s, Pliney the Elder…because they had it at Lazy Acres, and I thought I’d brag a bit!

Drink pairing recommendations – a nice crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or a Pinot Grigio; or of course a chilled Pacifico with a lime!

 

1 – Celery Root and Mushroom Soup

And so it begins: a soup a week for a year. Thanks for following me in my journey, I hope we can all learn to cook a little better through the process. Also, check out the Soup page to get an idea of what this process is going to look like. Alright, let’s get to it…


 

This is the soup that started it all…a trip to the Willamette Valley to go wine tasting and a picnic spread to enjoy in the beautiful countryside… I made this soup and it was so good, so tasty, that I knew I wanted to make soup more!


 

It’s Thanksgiving today and I was asked to bring something to dinner, so I though this soup would be a great beginning to the feast.

Serves 8-10 – (Difficulty – Easy)

  • Celery Root – 2 large or 4 medium, tops cut off, peeled, and diced into about 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
  • Shallot – about 4 or 5, diced (a cup or so)
  • Celery – 1-2 stalks, tops peeled to remove the stringy ‘skin,’ diced
  • Carrot – 1 large carrot, peeled (do I really need to say that??, yes of course you peel your carrots…I know there’s two in the picture, but I ended up only using one)
  • Garlic – 5 or 6 cloves, smashed with the back of a knife, peeled and left whole
  • Sherry – about a 1/2 cup or so
  • Milk – 1 quart/liter (or water, or vegetable, or mushroom stock)
  • Thyme – 2 large sprigs
  • Parsley – 5 sprigs
  • Bay leaf – 1
  • Mushroom Stock – 1 quart/liter – kept warm on the stove
  • Sherry Vinegar – to taste
  • White Pepper – to taste

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First, dice all of your vegetables before you tackle the Celery Roots…they are a hassle!… As said above, cut the tops off the celery root and peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. You’ll notice that the bottoms of the roots have some hairy sections, so I just go back with a knife and cut those parts out. Dice the roots and place in a bowl covered with the milk to keep them from browning.

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Place a medium to large pot (at least 4 quarts) over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes to get hot. Once hot, add about a tablespoon of canola oil to the pan and add the shallots, carrots, celery, and a good pinch of kosher salt to the pan and begin to sauté. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf and continue to sauté for a couple of more minutes.

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Take the pan off the stove and add the sherry, place back on the flame and reduce over high heat until almost dry.

Add the celery root and the milk, and a big pinch of kosher salt (a big pinch) and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and lightly simmer the roots for 15-20 minutes until they are soft (check it by taking a piece out, cooling it off, and eating it…does it taste cooked or still firm…if it’s still firm, simmer a bit longer.

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Once cooked strain the pot, removing the thyme and parsley sprigs and bay leaf, and reserve about a cup or so of the milk. Place everything in a big bowl (or about half of everything in a blender) and add the milk (the milk will just help the puree get going). Puree with a immersion blender to a nice puree (or do this in a couple of batches in the blender).

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Taste the puree and see if it needs some more salt…at this point, it’s okay to have it a bit over salted since the stock will tame the salt levels. Add to a bowl or back into the pot (if it’s big enough…which mine wasn’t) and pour in the mushroom stock. Taste again for salt levels, and at this point add a splash or two of some sherry vinegar for brightness and some white pepper for a bit of spice. Taste, taste, taste! What does it need? More salt – do it! You want this soup to POP with flavor. Not bright enough? Add more sherry vinegar. Do this until it tastes just right (come on, trust your palate!).

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Serve in a bowl with some wonderful seared oyster mushrooms, crumbled blue cheese (which I will say really made the dish!), toasted pine nuts, and some minced parsley for color (which, you will see I left out because I forgot to bring the parsley with me to Thanksgiving dinner).

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you had a wonderful day with family and/or friends!

Check in next week for soup number two! In the mean time, read the Soup and Stock pages to get a better sense of what the next year is going to look like. I’m excited to take this endeavor, and hope you are too (if anyone actually reads this blog…)!

 

All ingredients from Lazy Acres and Whole foods in Long Beach

Music choice for cooking – It’s Thanksgiving morning so the Macy’s Day Parade was on, so I watched that for a bit…then ended with John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme…never bad to start off your day with some jazz!

Drink choice for cooking – Ink Street.  1 part Rye Whiskey (Bulleit), 1 part, fresh squeezed Orange Juice, 1 part fresh squeezed Lemon Juice – don’t judge me because it’s 11 a.m., I’m on vacation…and come on – it’s basically a morning cup of juice!

Drink pairing recommendations – A dry Riesling