Potiron-Piquillo Soup

20 10 2008

Well, Fall is officially upon us.  The guys with the makeshift grills who sell corn on the cob all summer have switched over to chestnuts.  Winter squash are starting to show up in the market, and despite the gorgeous sunshine, there is a distinct nip in the air.  Soup is definitely in order these days.

A light Fall supper

Hope over at Hopie’s Kitchen has been regaling her readers with tales of her awesome organic farm share basket.  If there’s a best time of year to belong to one of these, I think Fall is it.  Anyway, she posted a delicious-looking Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup a little while ago, and I wanted to make it, despite the fact that I am not, in general, a fan of bell peppers.  Upon reflection, I thought, wouldn’t it be good with the sweet smokiness of charred piquillo peppers?

Charring piquillo peppers - it's the fire that makes it good.

Never being one to leave recipes alone, I also decided to use a hunk of potiron (a type of pumpkin with very thick flesh and much more flavor than the kind used to make Jack O’ Lanterns) instead of the butternut squash.  I roasted it in the oven until it was soft, then scooped out the flesh and added it to my already-simmering pot of onions, piquillos, and chicken stock.  I seasoned the soup with salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and the tiniest hint of cinnamon – just enough to bring out the warm sweetness of the potiron.  After simmering it all for about 10 minutes, I busted out the hand blender.

Ah, the hand blender.  Is there anything it can't do?

Wearing my new favorite T-shirt, I fearlessly buzzed the soup, knowing that the pot was deep enough to contain any splatters that might occur.

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Dong Huong

11 08 2008

I know you’re all chomping at the bit to see what I ate on my trip to Bulgaria, but that mountain of pictures is going to take some work before I can form some cohesive blog posts.  In the meantime, I’m happy to announce that Nick and I have found a very decent Vietnamese place just up the street.

Dong Huong

We’ve actually been meaning to try it for a while - the giant neon arrow proclaiming “Pho” attracted our attention a couple of months ago.  The problem is that this place is surrounded by about a dozen other Vietnamese and/or Chinese and/or Thai restaurants, and the choice can be a little overwhelming.  One evening we’re seduced by the lacquered ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant, another we get distracted by roast chickens and don’t even make it up to the mini Asiantown surrounding the Belleville Métro stop.  Even the night we made up our minds to finally go get some Pho, we had to choose between the three Pho joints on the same corner!  But the big flashing arrow did its job and we ended up at Dong Huong.

The moment we walked in the door, we knew we wouldn’t regret our decision.  The place was packed, and about 90% of the diners had huge bowls of steaming hot Pho in front of them.  Upon being seated in the second of three dining rooms, we ordered a couple of Vietnamese beers and began to peruse the menu.  We decided to start with some pork imperial rolls (or nems, as they’re often called in France).  They came out accompanied by a large pile of lettuce leaves, mint, bean sprouts, and sliced carrots.  Two dipping sauces were served alongside: a sweet, hoisin-based sauce and a delicious vinegary lemongrass sauce.

We ate two rolls before taking a picture...

Only after we had greedily wolfed down the crisp, hot rolls did we look around and notice that other diners were using the lettuce to wrap them up with the other garnishes before tucking in.  Oops.  Feeling ignorant and brutish, we sheepishly waited for our soup to arrive.

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The Great Duo of Avocado and Shrimp

23 07 2008

It’s time again for the Leftover Queen’s Royal Foodie Joust!  This month the ingredients are Cilantro, Sesame, and Seafood.  For some reason I thought immediately of tahini, the delicious Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sesame paste.  Then I was stumped for a while, because I wasn’t quite sure how to work the cilantro in, or which seafood to choose (it’s a pretty broad category).  But one afternoon, over lunch with Hope, she mentioned that she had been playing around with gazpacho lately, and it struck me as the perfect vehicle.  Somehow avocados came up, and by the time lunch was over I had a recipe jumping around in my brain, just waiting to be made a reality.

We picked up some avocados and cilantro at the market the next day.  I had decided on seared scallops for the seafood quotient, but was unable to find any at the market.  I briefly considered going the crispy-skin seabass route, but an overly long line at the fishmonger on my lunch hour made that decision for me.  Ultimately, I settled on shrimp for their ability to pair awesomely with avocado.

When I finally cut into the avocados, I was pleased to find some of the most gorgeous, buttery-green specimens I’ve seen in France.

I have a painting very similar to this at home, painted by a friend of mine.

The gazpacho was really easy to put together:  I just threw all the ingredients (avocados, cilantro, lime juice, tahini, garlic, fish stock, salt, cayenne) in a bowl, like so:

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A Soup Fit for Bugs

19 05 2008

Bunny, that is.

Carrots simmering in chicken stock

Inspired by Mark Bittman’s blog entry from a couple of weeks ago, and the lovely Spring carrots in the fridge, and the spanking-new immersion blender on my shelf, I decided to make some carrot-ginger soup.  Something bright, fresh, and tasty to celebrate the glorious Spring weather we’d been having.  (Although lately it’s been a little temperamental.)

I kept it simple in order to let the flavor of the carrots shine through.  I started with a sliced shallot, which I sautéed in a little butter.  To this I added a sliced clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of diced ginger.  Next came salt, pepper, and chicken stock.  Then I chopped 8 carrots and added them to the pot.  I let the whole thing simmer about 15 minutes until the carrots were tender.  Finally, I puréed the whole mess right in the pot with the immersion blender.  (I know I have waxed rhapsodic about this gadget before, but it makes things like this ridiculously easy to do.)  I stirred in a little milk to round out the flavors and tasted for seasoning.  Soup’s on!

Carrot-Ginger Soup

A little cilantro would have made a nice garnish and cool contrast to the warmth of the ginger, but, alas, the cilantro in my fridge was well past its prime.  Next time, I’ll plan ahead.

Chicken Noodle Soup, Thai Style

7 05 2008

I have always been a big fan of internationally-inspired cooking.  The various cuisines of Asia, aside from being exotically delicious, lend themselves particularly well to quick weeknight meals.  Fortunately, it is not at all difficult to find Asian specialty ingredients in Paris, making these some of the easier non-French cuisines for me to replicate at home.  Last night, despite the lovely mint tea respite, I still didn’t feel like cooking up a storm.  Considering what I had in the fridge (Thai red curry paste, lemongrass, chicken stock) and the pantry (Thai rice noodles, coconut milk, shallots), I decided a Thai-style chicken soup was in order.  Cilantro, broccoli and chicken breasts were procured on the way home, and Nick even did the necessary chopping and peeling for me.

 I started by sautéeing chopped lemongrass, shallots, and cilantro in peanut oil.  I seasoned the mixture with a little fish sauce and dumped in a block of frozen chicken stock and a can of coconut milk.

Building the flavor for my Thai Chicken Soup

But wait, there’s more…

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Taking Advantage of France

28 03 2008

We’ve had kind of a busy week this week, in preparation for our upcoming move.  I’ve been taking measurements of the new place, shopping around for household items, trying to find the right balance between quality and price, and researching phone/internet/tv deals.  Nick has been, well, working.  On days when we don’t have time to cook, or don’t feel like it, we take advantage of the bounty that France’s boulangeries, charcuteries, and fromageries have to offer. 

Nothing makes a better (or easier) dinner than a wedge of cheese, a slice of pâté, a bowl of soup, some great bread, and a bottle of wine.  Sometimes the soup comes from a box, (My favorite is Knorr’s Douceur de 8 Légumes – eight vegetable soup.  You can’t believe how happy I was to discover that it hasn’t changed in the seven years since I was last living in France.) but last week the stars converged in a fortuitous manner.  Just as an inordinately large bag of frozen peas found its way into my kitchen, so did a recipe for cream of pea soup – calling for frozen peas!  Seeing as I almost always have cream on hand, I didn’t have to do any shopping at all.

And the soup was so easy, it practically made itself.  All I had to do was dice an onion and sauté it in butter, add some broth, bring it to a boil, add peas and cook until tender.  Then I puréed the whole thing using a hand blender (if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up).  I finished the soup with a few ounces of cream and adjusted the seasoning.  What could be easier?  We ate it with the ostrich pâté we got at the salon, a bit of sausage, Roquefort, Gouda, and Morbier cheeses, a tradi, and a bottle of Bordeaux.

Pâté and cheese and bread, oh, my!

While this particular meal was more in a clean-out-the-fridge vein, sometimes we plan these things out a little better.  In the week following the salon, we put together a nice appetizer for ourselves, consisting of bread, that awesome perfectly ripe cheese, and a bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne.  Since both the cheese and the wine were from Burgundy, I figured that they would work well together.  And you know what?  They did.

What grows together goes together…

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Easter Dinner

27 03 2008

You would think that after such a rich brunch, we would want something light for dinner.  And you would be wrong.  Like I said, the lack of Wii significantly increased the amount of time spent cooking this Easter.  So we planned a fabulous dinner for ourselves.  I asked Nick to try to recreate the celeriac-Roquefort soup he made for Thanksgiving, since both ingredients are cheap and plentiful here.  I found a recipe for a roasted beet and carrot salad on the Cook’s Illustrated website that I wanted to try, given that, as Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini pointed out, beets are on their way out of season.  I have never been a big fan of beets, but I continue to try them in different forms, hoping to find one that I enjoy.  Nick put it quite well when he said, “I keep thinking that I’m going to grow up and like beets all of a sudden.”  For the main dish, lamb seemed to be an obvious choice.  But how to cook it?  Given the recent influx of spring vegetables at the market, I decided on a navarin, a traditional French lamb stew with spring vegetables.  I perused a few recipes, but in the end, just made it up as I went along.

Unfortunately, because the camera was on the fritz for most of the day, few pictures were taken.  However, I did manage to get one good shot of each dish.  So without further ado, I present to you the soup.

Celeriac-Roquefort Soup

As you can see, it’s a puréed soup.  What you can’t see is how magically the piquancy of the Roquefort complements the mellow, vegetal, nuttiness of the celeriac.  Hazelnuts were a natural choice for garnish, both enhancing the flavor of the soup and providing a nice crunch for contrast.  The watercress I threw on there because it looked pretty and I had some out anyway, for the salad.  But the fresh, peppery bite of the greens added another dimension to the soup, highlighting the contribution of the Roquefort.  Speaking of the salad…

Salad of Roasted Beets and Carrots with Watercress

It was a beautiful sight to behold.  The deep reddish-purple of the beets next to the nearly burnt orange (for all you Texas fans out there) of the carrots and the vibrant green of the watercress made for a truly stunning tableau.  And really easy to make.  I simply cut the vegetables into batons, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stuck them in the oven for half an hour or so.  They could have gone even longer, but we were getting hungry.  While they roasted, I made a fairly strong vinaigrette with cider vinegar, shallots, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  When the beets and carrots were cooked through, I dumped them into a large bowl, tossed them with the vinaigrette, and added the watercress.  Easy-peasy.

On to the pièce de résistance: spring lamb stew (or, as they call it here, navarin d’agneau).

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Market Fresh Leftovers

20 02 2008

Today being rather gray and dreary, it seems a good day for some leftover soup.  I realize this doesn’t make for very exciting reading, so I’ll write about when it was originally made, on Sunday.

I was sick and bedridden most of the weekend, and feeling downright awful.  Nick, wonderful husband that he is, decided to make me some chicken soup.  As I had previously lamented the lack of canned or boxed chicken broth in this country (seriously, all they have is bouillon powder!), Nick set out to make it all from scratch.  So he went down to the market, which is in full swing on Sunday mornings, and picked up a chicken, mirepoix vegetables, and fresh herbs.

Less than 3 euro worth of veggies!

This picture was actually taken after the stock had already been started.  That is to say, all this (and then some) cost less than 3 euro!  And yes, those are fresh bay leaves.  And yes, the thyme does still have roots on it.

Anyway, Nick got a stock simmering with all you see above, plus a whole chicken, minus feet and head.  (He regrets not photographing it before throwing it in the pot, as it was quite lovely and air-dried.)  He seasoned it with a little salt, whole peppercorns, and whole cloves, then sat down to watch a movie with me while it cooked. 

Chicken stock on the stove

After a few hours, Nick strained the stock into a new pot.  He then diced up a fresh set of vegetables, shredded the chicken meat, and added them back to the soup along with some pasta.  A little more simmering and adjustment of the seasoning, and we were good to go!

Chicken Soup

Monday morning I felt much better.


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