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Cheese Gives This Cauliflower Soup a Silky Texture


CauliflowerCauliflower Cheese Soup

Cauliflower is ideal for warm soups on cooler evenings. This Irish concoction comes together simply, feeds four and is meat-free. Butter up some brown bread, toss a small salad and you have a full meal.

1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 quart vegetable stock
1 large cauliflower, divided into small florets
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
4 ounces freshly grated mature cheddar cheese (see note)
1 cup whole milk
4 teaspoons heavy cream, for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Gently sauté the onion and potato in the butter over a very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Add the stock and cauliflower, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through. Purée in a blender or food processor, then return the soup to the pan and bring back to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and milk. Reheat gently, adjust the seasoning and serve, topped with a spoonful of cream and some chopped chives.

Note: Already shredded cheese is likely to be treated with potato starch or corn starch to prevent caking. If you use this in this soup recipe, it will likely make it thicker and gummier.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

(photo: Monika Szczygieł)

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Griffin to Go: Time to Get Back into the Kitchen


Zucchini makes a great soup that can be served hot or cold.

It’s been a busy few weeks. First, Restaurant Week came and offered too many good meals to pass up. Then a combination of work and meetings made cooking impossible. Besides, who really wanted to cook when the temperature was in the triple digits?

The closest I got to cooking something in earnest was throwing a few hot dogs on the grill — and then running for the air conditioner while they cooked.

But the more time I spend away from the kitchen, the more it seems to call me.

Everywhere I look, there are recipes galore that just begged to be tried. The New York Times offered the idea of grilled peaches with dukkah, an Egyptian nut and spice blend. Yahoo wrote about avocados. The Los Angeles Times offered a refreshing take on icy granitas, a perfect antidote to the heat.

Even a collection of essays from Leo Tolstoy that I picked up at the Borders going-out-of-business sale included a lengthy piece on vegetarianism that made me want to eat every vegetable in sight.

So, this holiday weekend has been a good time to get back to where I feel best.

I started out by making a Zucchini and Fresh Ginger Velouté from Patricia Wells’ great new cookbook, “Salad as a Meal” (William Morrow, $34.99). This soup went together in minutes and is just as good cold as it is warm, so I can have it both ways.

Something easy is exactly what I need when stepping back into the kitchen after an absence, even if it’s only several weeks. There’s no need to have to think about anything tricky. There’s also no need to have to think about whether certain flavors go together. That’s why I always try a new cookbook or pull an old favorite from the shelf and select something I’ve never tried before.

My other two get-back-to-work dishes are also from new cookbooks. Next up is a plate of Caramelized Onion Tarts with Apples on puff pastry from “Real Simple — Dinner Tonight: Done!” (Real Simple, $24.95).  There’s nothing too extravagant here. Nothing requires a special trip to the store, except maybe the puff pastry, if you don’t have that handy in the freezer. That’s the point of the book, and it’s what helps make it a welcome find.

That will be followed on Monday by cake, which I will write about in a day or two. This recipe is slightly trickier, so I won’t write about it until after I’ve given it a try and can hopefully offer you a tip or two. This one will exercise a few culinary muscles that have atrophied. I haven’t baked anything in more than four months and I can’t remember how to cream sugar and butter properly.

What’s the longest time you’ve taken off from cooking or baking? What are you cooking in this heat? Post your answers below.

 

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Zucchini and Fresh Ginger Velouté


Zucchini and Fresh Ginger Veloute

“This magical five-ingredient soup is delicious hot or cold , and can be assembled in a matter of minutes,” Patricia Wells writes in “Salad as a Meal” (William Morrow, $34.99). “When fresh zucchini is is in season, I always have a batch of this in my refrigerator, ready for welcoming sips to accompany a meal, or a quick and healthy snack. … Even though the soup is called a velouté — because of its creamy, velvety smoothness — the only cream is an optional dollop anointed at serving time.”

Zucchini and Fresh Ginger Velouté

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
Fine sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 pounds firm zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into small pieces (do not peel)
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or vegetable stock
Crème fraîche, for garnish (optional)

Zucchini cooking into soup.

In a stockpot, combine the oil, spring onions and salt, and sweat — cook, covered over low heat utnil soft and translucent — for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook briefly. Add the zucchini and stock and bring to a low boil. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and purée to a smooth liquid in a food processor or blender or with an immersion blender. Taste for seasoning. Serve, hot or chilled, in soup bowls, and garnish with crème fraîche , if using. (Store without hte garnish in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reblend at serving time.

Makes 8 servings.

From “Salad as a Meal” by Patricia Wells

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Potato Onion Soup, Irish Style


Potato Onion Soup, Irish Style

“During the great potato famine of 1845, many Irish immigrants came to this country with the hope that they could continue to make this wonderful soup,” writes Jeff Smith in “The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors.”

Potato Onion Soup, Irish Style

4 tablespoons butter
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 cups milk
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, whole
1 cup half-and-half
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Roux:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour

Garnishes:
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
6 slices lean bacon, crisply fried and chopped

Heat a 6- to 8-quart stockpot, add the butter and onion, and cook gently. Do not let the onion brown. Add the peeled and sliced potatoes, milk and stock. Add the herbs. Cover and cook gently for about an hour. Prepare a roux: Melt the butter in a small saucepan and whisk in the flour. Let the flour and butter mixture (roux) bubble for 2 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Thicken the soup with the roux, whisking carefully to avoid lumps. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes and then purée the soup in a food processor or blender, if desired. (You could also purée half of the mixture, so you have a variety of textures in the soup.) Add the half-and-half and gently reheat, but do not boil. Season with the salt and pepper. Serve with chopped fresh chives and the crisply fried bacon as garnishes.

This soup can be made with the chopped white part of 5 or 6 large leeks instead of onions. Additional garnishes you can use instead of bacon are chopped prawns or  a small dice of lobster.

To make a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock and leave out the bacon.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Adapted from “The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors” by Jeff Smith

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Oyster Artichoke Soup


On my first adult visit to New Orleans, I started things off with lunch at Galatoire’s, which remains among the city’s finest restaurants. I can still remember my first taste of Oyster Artichoke Soup, with its intoxicating mix of oyster brine, tangy artichoke and butter. You could make this recipe with unshucked oysters and fresh artichokes, as Galatoire’s does. I find myself to be lazier and prefer the ease of this version from “La Bouche Creole,” a souvenir I picked up on that trip.

Oyster Artichoke Soup

2 dozen oysters and their water
2 bunches shallots, chopped (about 6 large or 8 medium shallots)
1/2 pound butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts
2 bay leaves
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste

Poach the oysters in their own water. Strain, reserving water, and set aside.

Sauté the shallots in melted butter. When they are transparent, add the flour. Mix well, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. add oyster water and the juice from the artichoke hearts. Pour in additional water to make enough for eight to 10 diners. Add 2 bay leaves, and salt and white pepper, to taste. Slowly bring to a boil. Chop the oysters and artichoke hearts and add to the soup. Cook for a few more minutes and serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From “La Bouche Creole” by Leon E. Soniat Jr.

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It’s Time to Party!


Mardi Gras is just around the corner. Are you ready to party?

Fat Tuesday is a time to celebrate the bounteous flavors we have before some of us embark on 40 days of self-sacrifice. So, before you exorcise your demons, exercise them in a bacchanalia worthy of the Big Easy.

It is in that spirit that we offer three recipes. One is for a traditional Creole soup filled with oysters, artichokes, butter and more wonderful things.

Second is a gumbo chock full of ham, shrimp and crabmeat, as well as the traditional okra. (Gumbo is an African word for okra, so the dish was created with the vegetable in mind. If you don’t like the slime, follow the recipe closely.)

Finally, what’s a party without a great cocktail or two? To make sure you imbibe something wonderful, we offer a recipe for a Big Easy tradition, the Cocktail à la Louisiane, an irresistible blend of whiskey, Benedictine, Peychaud bitters and other wonders. (I found the Peychaud Bitters at Spec’s.)

From our files are a few more recipes and ideas to make your Mardi Gras even more flavorful:

Sandy White’s Crazy Good Gumbo

A Genuine Sazarac

Last-Minute Mardi Gras

Callaloo

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Ina Garten Jazzes Up Onion Soup


Cut your onions in half, then sliced them 1/4-inch thick.

“I love to take a recipe and ‘turn up the volume,’” Ina Garten writes in “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?” (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $35). “Who doesn’t love French onion soup gratinée with its topping of onion-soaked bread and gooey melted cheese? I add some fresh fennel to give it more depth of flavor and the results are delicious.”

On these recent cold days, this soup is pure comfort.

Onion and Fennel Soup Gratin

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 good olive oil
3 pounds Spanish onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 pounds fennel, top and cores removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 cup good dry sherry
1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
1 1/2 cups good dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
8 cups canned beef broth
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 small sourdough or white French boule, crusts removed, sliced 1/2-inch thick, and toasted
4 to 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel, and cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a golden brown. If the onions aren’t browning, turn the heat up. Add the sherry and Cognac, scraping up the brown bits in the pan, and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes. Add the beef broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning.

[amazon-product]0307238768[/amazon-product]Preheat the boiler and position a rack 5 inches below the heat source. Ladle the soup into heat-proof serving bowls, top with the toasted bread, sprinkle generously with grated Gruyère, and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?” by Ina Garten

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Enjoy Cauliflower Two New Ways


Cauliflower

During the winter, I’m always looking for fresh new ways of preparing vegetables, and cauliflower is an old favorite, whether it’s served raw or cooked. The following two recipes are from a recent hunt.

One is a soup from Dean Fearing’s 1987 “The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook,” which I felt fortunate enough to find on a clearance rack. It draws a little kick from Creole mustard as well as some Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces added near the end of cooking. Fearing also offers a make-ahead tip in case you want to serve this at a dinner party.

The second is a salad recipe that comes from the recent “Eating Well: 500 Calorie Dinners” cookbook. It goes together quickly and gains a pleasant sweet-tart flavor, not to mention color, from the addition of chopped red apple.

Cauliflower Creole Mustard Soup with Green Onions

[amazon-product]B000VYVXC4[/amazon-product]1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 cups raw cauliflower florets, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup white port wine
1/2 cup sherry
1 quart chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 sachet of 1 bay leaf, 5 sprigs fresh time and 1 tablespoon white peppercorns tied in a cheesecloth bag
1/4 cup Creole mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté onion, celery, garlic, shallots and cauliflower in oil for about 5 minutes or until onion is transparent.

Stir in port and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Add sherry and cook for about 3 minutes or until liquor bouquet dissipates.

Add stock and sachet, bring to a boil, then simmer fro about 30 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Remove sahet.

Pour soup into a blender and bend until very smooth. Strain through a fine sieve and return to heat. Stir in mustard. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, pepper and Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces.

Whisk in cream and heat through, but do not allow to boil. Pour equal portions into warm serving bowls. Garnish with chopped green onions and serve immediately.

Tip: Without the final addition of heavy cream, soup may be made up to 2 days in advance, tightly covered and refrigerated. Reheat and stir in heavy cream just before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Adapted from “The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook” by Dean Fearing

Creamy Chopped Cauliflower Salad

[amazon-product]0881508462[/amazon-product]5 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups chopped cauliflower forets (about 1/2 large head)
2 cups chopped hearts of romaine
1 tart-sweet red apple, chopped

Whisk mayonnaise, vinegar, shallots, caraway seeds and pepper in a large bowl until smooth. Add cauliflower, romaine and apple. toss to coat.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Eating Well: 500 Calorie Dinners”

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Chefs’ Corner: Chilled California Avocado Soup from Biga on the Banks


Chilled California Avocado Soup with Orange-Shrimp Pico de Gallo

The lure of smooth avocado purée mixed with the lively crunch of shrimp and pico de gallo is the foundation of this recipe, which comes from Martin Stembera, chef de cuisine at Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s St. But the secret doesn’t stop there. Flavors of orange, lime and honey as well as garlic and shallots all combine to make a rich treat that is cool and refreshing on a hot Texas day.

Chilled California Avocado Soup with Orange-Shrimp Pico de Gallo

2 teaspoons canola oil
4 medium shallots, sliced
5 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup plus 2 ounces fresh orange juice, divided use
16 ounces chicken stock (2 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 to 3 ripe California avocados
Salt, to taste
Orange-Shrimp Pico de Gallo, for garnish (recipe follows)

Orange Shrimp Pico de Gallo:
4-6 shrimp
1 teaspoon canola oil
Pinch of chopped garlic
Pinch of shallot
Orange juice
Diced onion, to taste
Diced serrano or jalapeño, to taste
Diced and seeded tomato, to taste
Chopped cilantro, to taste (optional)
Orange oil (optional)

For the soup: In soup pot, turn heat on medium low to warm up oil. Then, add shallots with garlic and let them cook slowly until they have released some liquid and are transparent. Add 1/4 cup orange juice and reduce by half. Then add chicken stock and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Chill this mixture and then blend it until smooth.

Add lime juice, honey and 2 avocados and blend until smooth. If soup is too runny add remaining avocado; if it’s too thick add additional orange juice. Season with salt to taste.

Serve chilled with Orange-Shrimp Pico de Gallo.

For the pico: Cut 4-6 large cleaned shrimp into bite size pieces and sauté in a little oil with shallot and garlic until shrimp turn pink.

Remove shrimp from pan and put orange juice in the pan, reducing it until it becomes thick.

Add shrimp back to pan, toss with the orange juice reduction and chill. After shrimp mixture is chilled, add 4-6 tablespoons of your favorite pico de gallo recipe or a mixture of chopped onion, serrano, tomato and cilantro, if using. Add a few drops of pure orange oil for an extra orange punch, if desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From Martin Stembera of Biga on the Banks

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Mushrooms Add Earthy Richness to Soup


A food processor is a big help with chopping the onions and mushrooms to the fine point you want for this soup.

Mixed Mushroom Soup

1 ounce butter
1 pound onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 pounds mixed mushrooms, finely chopped (see note)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
3 ounces flour
2 pints vegetable or mushroom stock
1 pint whole milk or fat-free half-and-half
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In a large stockpot, melt the butter over a very low heat, add the onions and cook gently for 10 minutes or until translucent. Raise the heat, add the mushrooms and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes or until the juices start to run, then stir in the flour. Lower the heat and cook, stirring continuously, for about 8 minutes. Combine the stock and milk in a separate pan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Gradually add the stock and milk to the mushroom mixture, whisking to avoid lumps. Heat the soup at just below simmering point for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme, check the seasoning and serve.

[amazon-product]095381520X[/amazon-product]Note: This recipe was tested with a mixture of button caps, brown mushrooms and portobellos. I stirred porcini powder, available at specialty supermarkets like Central Market, to enhance the place. I used thin slices of button cap as a garnish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Adapted from “Avoca Café Cookbook” by Hugo Arnold with Leylie Hayes

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