One Last Wintry Soup

21 03 2013

Lately, I’ve been working on clearing out the stockpile of root vegetables from the CSA in my refrigerator.  I turned a backlog of potatoes, turnips, black radishes, parsnips, and leeks into a lovely vegetarian tartiflette (or veggiflette, as it was dubbed around here).  I’ve got plans for the approximately five kilos of carrots – I’m going to make this lentil hummus and serve it with a mountain of carrot sticks for a party this weekend.  I’d been meaning to make this Jerusalem artichoke soup for a while – I remembered that I had once made one with a little miso and that it was delightful – and then I got a box of shiitake mushrooms and their fate was sealed with the topinambours.

I glanced at Robuchon’s recipe for topinambour soup, and he suggested caramelizing a bit of honey with them before adding the liquid.  I thought a touch of sweetness sounded right, but I only have really strong, unique-flavored honeys at the moment, and I didn’t want to muddle the flavor too much.  A flash of inspiration hit me, surely by way of my dear friend Hannah: maple syrup!  I think it hit just the right note.

topinambour-shiitakesoup

It is probably one of the healthiest things I’ve made all winter – with so much flavor from the topinambours and the shiitakes, and a velvety texture from the potatoes (yeah, I snuck some potatoes in there, too… and some leeks) it didn’t even need a drop of cream to finish it off, just a sprinkling of wonderful meaty mushrooms.

In slightly related news, I am pleased as punch to announce my participation in Ann Mah’s fun and helpful Tuesday Dinner series on her blog.  I shared one of my favorite clean-out-the-vegetable-drawer recipes, a mouthwatering spicy Indian dal.

Now here’s to warmer days and spring vegetables!

Sunchoke Soup with Miso and Shiitake

Earthy, hearty, and oh-so-healthy, this soup warms chilly nights. If you wanted to serve it with poached eggs or grilled tofu to up the protein content, well, I think that would be a lovely idea. Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes or, in France, topinambours.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
1½ lbs. / 700 g Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and cut into chunks
3 small potatoes, scrubbed and roughly diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. miso
2 tsp. maple syrup
1½ quarts / 1½ liters water

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
9 oz. / 250 g shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
splash of sherry
splash of soy sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, season again, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown. Add the miso and maple syrup and stir to coat the vegetables evenly. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms release their water, the water evaporates, and the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with a splash each of sherry and soy sauce, and continue cooking until the liquid has once more evaporated. Scrape half the mushrooms into the soup pot and save the rest for garnish. For the most mushroom flavor, pour about ½ cup / 120 ml water into the skillet and scrape up all the brown fond from the bottom of the pan. Tip this into the soup pot as well.
  3. When the vegetables are soft, purée the soup, either in batches in a traditional blender or directly in the pot with an immersion blender. (You know which way I go.) If it’s thicker than you want, thin it out with a little water. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve piping hot with a few of the reserved mushrooms spooned on top.

Serves 4-6.

On this day in 2008: Baking Extravaganza, Act III (in which I make molten chocolate cakes in a toaster oven)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Easy Cheesy

27 02 2013

Like we did last year, Nick and I have again given up cooking meat at home for Lent.  Since all Catholics know that fish isn’t meat, our omega-3 levels are rising as we incorporate more fish into our diet.  But what is a meatless couple supposed to do with a jar of homemade olive salad, leftover from a Mardi Gras party?  In a flash of brilliance it hit me.

before the oozing mess

Olive salad tuna melts!  I ran to the shop downstairs for supplies, picking up cans of tuna, two kinds of cheese (emmenthal and mozzarella) and Poilâne bread.  The beauty of using olive salad in your tuna is that you don’t even need to chop an onion, and you can use a lot less mayonnaise than usual.  I made these twice last week, and I expect to see them on the regular weeknight rotation for a while.  But truly, I would eat this no matter the dietary restriction, because a hot, crunchy, melty sandwich with tangy, savory bits of olive inside appeals year-round.

On this day in 2008: Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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Vegetable and Grain Salad

14 07 2011

You can try to plan it out.  You can try to make sure you have holiday-appropriate recipes all ready in advance.  You can spend hours taking that perfect photo.  You can read, and re-read, and edit.  You can post regularly, multiple times per week, or day.  There are lots of you who do, and that’s why your blogs are better than mine.  Me, I’m in a phase with my blog right now where I am just letting it come to me.  If I don’t have inspiration to write about something, I’m not going to force you to read my pained output.  I’ve got a couple of books I’ve been trying to write about for weeks now.  But I’m afraid the truth is I don’t have much to say about them.  What I am excited about right now, and what I want to share with you, is this:

Don't judge a book by its cover.

I know.  It kind of looks like barf.  But this is just one in a parade of such grain-and-vegetable salads I’ve made over the last few weeks.  I wouldn’t keep making if they weren’t tasty.  It started with a box of blé, which translates literally to “wheat” but often refers in French to a particular product that resembles wheat berries in the way that Uncle Ben’s resembles rice.  I acquired this box of blé when a friend was moving away, and Nick and I both actually like the stuff – it’s a nice change from rice or pasta – so using hasn’t really been a problem.  But one day it occurred to me, perhaps following a party at a friend’s where she served a couple of delicious grain-based salads, that I could use the blé as more than just a side dish.  Combine that epiphany with a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables and an uncommonly delicious salad dressing, and you’ve got what’s been a very popular dinner in my house of late.

So far I’ve done it with asparagus, broccoli, and zucchini, but I suspect it’s also good with green beans, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, winter squash… you get the idea.  When I finally ran out of blé, I bought and used petit épeautre* which was equally successful.  I originally wanted to type this up as a nice recipe (see above re: planning), but the more I think about it, the more I think this is something you should be able to play around with.

Here’s how it goes.  Cook your grains in a pot of boiling water.  (If they require it, as my spelt did, soak them ahead of time.)  While the grains are cooking, make the dressing** and prepare and cook your vegetables.  Roasting and sautéeing are my preferred methods, for the flavorful browned bits they produce, but if you’d rather just steam yours over the already boiling pot of water, that’s fine, too, and saves energy to boot.  When the grains are tender, drain them and gently stir in the vegetables and dressing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  A little crisped bacon, chunks of ham, or shredded cooked chicken would be good additions, too, but I assure you it’s just fine without the meat.  Some toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds add a nice crunch.  Fresh herbs like parsley or basil could add a fresh note.  See what I mean?  This “recipe” is so infinitely adaptable I see no reason to commit to just one version.

Have fun with it, and happy Bastille Day!

*Anyone who knows the difference between spelt and farro, and their respective names in French, is implored to comment here and enlighten me and my readers.

** I linked to the dressing recipe above, but here’s my paraphrased version: take a small pot of plain yogurt (about 125 grams or 4 ounces), add 4 big spoonfuls of tahini, a big pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves.  Blend them together.  The flavor of this dressing can vary according to the juiciness of the lemon and the pungency of the garlic, but it is always delicious.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Cooking Colonial in Paris (Project Food Blog Challenge #2)

26 09 2010

There’s a downside to cooking a lot and experimenting with all types of international cooking: when Foodbuzz challenges you to make a classic dish from a cuisine with which you’re unfamiliar, the pickings can be slim.  French is out, for obvious reasons (e.g. I live there).  As is American (e.g. I am one).  Mexican, Chinese, and Indian all get a fair share of play on my table.  I have been known to cook Japanese, Russian, and Italian.  And I’ve cooked Bulgarian, English, Thai, North African, Vietnamese, and German, too.

I thought about cooking feijoada, the Portuguese/Brazilian bean and meat stew.  I even asked one of the Portuguese women at work for her recipe.  But somehow it wasn’t wacky enough.  (I mean, I’ve done pig’s ears and feet before.)  I asked my sister-in-law, who is Filipina, if she had any classic family recipes.  She sent me a very tasty-sounding recipe for chicken adobo.  The same day, Nick came home from work with a recipe from one of his colleagues.  A Frenchman who used to live in West Africa, notably Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, had given him a recipe for mafé, a type of groundnut stew.  It varies widely from country to country, but is popular throughout the region.  At its heart it is a basic braised chicken (or lamb, or beef, but never pork) dish, but the spicy tomato and peanut-based sauce combines familiar-to-me ingredients in a very unfamiliar way.  The recipe also came with specific instructions as to an appropriate beverage – jus de bissap, a chilled, sweetened tea made from hibiscus flowers.  I was seduced.


1. Athithane, 2. Sweet potatoes & Manioc, 3. Bissap bags, 4. “Produits Exotiques”

Living in France can have its disadvantages, too, especially when it comes to cooking something not French.  (The challenge is reduced somewhat if the country in question is a former colony of France, which Senegal was until 1960.)  Fortunately, I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Paris, and there are a handful of “exotic product” shops selling products from places as far apart as Africa, India, and China.  I found this tiny one on my way to the bank Saturday morning, and they had everything I was looking for: sweet potatoes, bissap (the aforementioned hibiscus flowers), and ginger.  I love poking around in the foreign food stores here, because I never know what I’m going to find.  In this case, I succeeded in keeping focused, so after picking up the necessities, and a quick stop at the butcher for a chicken, I headed home to get cooking.


1. Boning Knife, 2. Scissors, 3. Cleaver

Aside from being in French, all the recipes I found for mafé called for whole chickens, cut up.  In the spirit of authenticity, I channeled my inner butcher and cut the bird into ten pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts, halved.  I saved the backbone to make stock at a later date.  The vegetable components in the recipes varied wildly, but onions, carrots and sweet potatoes featured in several, so I figured they would make a fairly classic stew.  Like any good French-trained cook, I got all my mise en place together before starting to cook.

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A Sourdough Attempt, and Why I Cook

23 02 2010

Michael Ruhlman recently posed the question, “Why do you cook?”  I believe I touched on a bit of the answer in my post about his rolls, and I definitely remember having to write an essay in the topic towards the end of my tenure as a culinary student.  I’d like to go back and read that now, seven years later – I’d be interested to see how my answers have changed, and in what ways they remain the same.

Why do I cook?  Well, that’s actually a complicated question, as cooking is both my job and my hobby.  But it was a hobby first, one I developed a passion for to the point of making it my career.  I guess the most interesting question, to me anyway, is “Why do I still cook at home when I do it all day at work?”

I know plenty of chefs, cooks, and bakers who don’t do any cooking at home, which is perfectly understandable.  Me, I come home and cook because it relaxes me, believe it or not.  After a day filled with deadlines and production goals, it’s nice to come home and cook what I want to cook, not what the schedule or the orders or the inventory say I need to cook.  I like being able to make all the decisions, and making last-minute changes when the mood strikes.  I cook because it’s relaxing and fun.

Another thing I enjoy about cooking, that I don’t always get to enjoy at work, is the creativity.  Being able to cook at home keeps those creative muscles in shape.  From coming up with dinner every night, to the challenges posed by the CSA grab-bag, to the wacky ideas that I simply must give shape because they won’t leave me alone, cooking at home prevents me from getting bored with food.  I cook to stretch my imagination.

In any given cooking job, there are always tasks you do more often, and ones you don’t do at all, and these change from job to job.  When I cook at home, I practice those techniques that I am not using at work, because you never know when you’re going to need to butcher a chicken, bake bread, or chiffonnade some basil in a future job.  I cook to hone my skills.

Finally, I love to eat, and I love to eat well.  I certainly can’t afford to dine out every night, and cooking at home is a much cheaper option.  (The downside to this is that after a certain price point, I get irritated if the food is nothing better than I could cook myself.)  I also like knowing where my food came from and what’s in it, and I feel good serving lovingly made food to my family and friends.  I cook because I care what goes into my body.

All of which ties in nicely with my attempt to bake sourdough bread last weekend.  I got it in my head Saturday night that Sunday would be a good day for bread baking.  I asked Nick what kind of bread he wanted (“You can have ANYTHING you want!”) and he asked for sourdough.  My starter was healthy, so I fed it to bulk it up and while it waited on the counter, I looked into some recipes.

I ended up winging it, using Ruhlman’s ratio (5: 3 flour to water), assuming that my starter was 1:1.  I didn’t use any commercial yeast, only the starter, and it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would.  (Must finally be getting warmer out!)  But here’s the thing: I had no idea if this recipe I had slapped together would work the way I wanted it to, but I did it anyway.  I paid close attention to the development of the dough – I didn’t let it get too excited because I wanted a fairly dense crumb, something good for sandwiches.  And you know what?  It worked.  It didn’t taste very sour, but the texture was just what I was looking for.  In fact, it tastes a lot like French pain au levain, which I guess it technically is.

fresh-baked bread

But there you have it: I experimented, I learned something, and I was rewarded with tasty homemade bread.  Plus the immense sense of satisfaction I get from turning ingredients as simple as flour, water, yeast, and salt into something as wonderful as a loaf of bread.

On this day in 2009: When in Alsace…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





How To Make A Cream Soup

3 11 2009

When I was in culinary school, we had to memorize three different methods for making cream soups.  I couldn’t tell you now how, specifically, any of them went, but I do know how to whip up a cream soup when I want one, so something must have sunk in.  I got a couple of heads of broccoli in my CSA panier last week, and on a recent cold, rainy (i.e. par for the course) evening, cream of broccoli soup sounded like just the ticket.  Cream soup is a great way to get kids to eat vegetables they don’t ordinarily like (just ask my mom – this was the only way I would eat broccoli or asparagus as a child) and may even cause a change of heart towards those very vegetables.  I can actually pinpoint the day I started liking asparagus, and a cream soup was responsible.  But enough about me.

Cream of Broccoli Soup - no cream necessary!

A cream soup is essentially made in four steps:

1. The Velouté

Velouté is a classic French sauce made from stock and blonde roux.  Blonde roux is made by cooking equal parts butter and flour until they begin to smell slightly toasty.  The ratio, according to Ruhlman, is 10 parts liquid to one part roux.  (In school we learned 8:1, but I trust Ruhlman and I figured the puréed broccoli would eventually help to thicken the soup if necessary.)  So I had about 800 ml/29 oz. of stock.  It was so close to a nice, round quart that I decided to go ahead and top it up with 100 ml/3 oz. of milk, thus creating a sort of velouté/béchamel hybrid.  Going from the ratio, I would need 3 oz. of roux.  I melted 1.5 oz. of butter and when it stopped foaming, I added 1.5 oz. of flour.  I stirred it with a wooden spoon until it started to smell like parbaked pie dough.  Then, bit by bit, I whisked in the stock/milk mixture.  Once it was all incorporated, I seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

2. The Garnish

What? Garnish?  Now?  Yes.  While the velouté is simmering is the perfect time to prep the vegetables for the soup.  In this case, I washed and trimmed the broccoli and cut it, stems and all, into small pieces.  I set aside a small bowlful of the prettiest florets for garnish, then put them in a strainer, which I then placed over the simmering soup base.  I slapped a lid on top for a few minutes, and voilà!  Pretty steamed broccoli florets for later garnishing purposes!

Yay for mulititasking!

3. The Flavor

When the velouté is ready – taste it, it should feel silky smooth on your palate – throw in the chopped vegetables that will become the main flavor of the soup.  Simmer until very tender.  The actual amount of time will depend on how small you cut your vegetable; this time, the broccoli took about 15 minutes.

4. Purée and Finish

Almost there!  Purée the soup – I used my trusty immersion blender, but you can also do it in batches in a traditional one, just be careful not to overfill the jar.  Strain it, if you’re so inclined (I wasn’t) and finish with a swirl of cream if you’re feeling decadent (not necessary but adds a touch of luxury).  Reheat the garnish in the soup and serve.

The fresh green color and great broccoli flavor spell healthy to me!

Piece of cake.  Or should I say bowl of soup?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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