Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Dried Porcini Mushrooms
It's soup weather in Southern California. I don’t know what took so long, but it’s finally here. Even before the weather finally turned fall-like, I could wait no longer....I was craving mushrooms. It was my husband who suggested I make Cream of Mushroom Soup.

While using just regular white mushrooms will certainly work, it’s the exotic ‘shrooms like portobellos, crimini, porcinis and shiitakes that add loads of flavor and give this soup some depth. Wild mushrooms are easily found in just about any market. Dried porcinis are sometimes a little more difficult to find, but search online or go to a specialty food store. A small bag of those will be all you need.

I like an assortment of mushrooms to round out the earthy flavor of mushroom soup, so I’ll usually grab a little of this and a little of that.

Dried wild mushrooms will usually consist of a combination of morels, shiitakes, and chanterelles. I would then also buy a fresh portobello, and 1/2 pound of fresh crimini (Italian brown mushrooms) and 1/2 pound of the common white mushrooms. Now you’ve got yourself a good assortment and enough to make a killer soup!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

1 oz. dried mushrooms
1 Tbsp each butter or olive oil
1 leek, split down the middle and rinsed well to remove any lingering sand
2 stalks celery
1-1/2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, white and brown
32 oz. Broth, either vegetable, mushroom, chicken or beef
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. or more fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 - 1/2 cup (or more) heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Morel Mushrooms
Soak the dried mushrooms in some warm water for 30 minutes while you prepare everything else. Wash the fresh mushrooms, trim off or remove the caps, and slice. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot. When warmed, add the leek, which you will have sliced. As that’s cooking, dice the celery and add to the pot. Saute this for about 8-10 minutes.

Drain the soaked mushrooms and rinse them off under cool running water to remove any lingering sand or dirt. Add all the various mushrooms to your soup pot and cook for another 8-10 minutes. Add the broth, minced garlic, and thyme, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the wine and stir. Add the cream, salt and pepper at the very end, adding as much of each as you like. (Start conservatively and taste the soup, adding more if needed.) Simmer soup for a couple of minutes until heated through.

Using an immersion blender, puree your soup in the pot. Alternatively, allow the soup to cool a bit, and before adding the cream, salt and pepper, put in to a blender and whirl until smooth. Return to the soup pot to reheat. Then add the cream and seasonings.

Sprinkle a little chopped fresh parsley on top, or a slice of mushroom.

If you don’t care for cream, leave it out. The soup will still be good. But do puree it anyway.

If you like the soup a little thicker, add flour before adding the broth, stirring a couple of minutes to distribute it. Instead of flour, you could use corn starch. Just make sure to add the starch to a little liquid before adding to the soup, or you’ll get clumps.

This is a delicious, hearty and nourishing soup, either eaten as a light lunch with maybe a sandwich, or as a first course to dinner. Serve alongside the red wine you added to it.

Bon app├ętit!

Monday, November 21, 2016

What to drink on Thanksgiving

Image result for thanksgiving dinner tableThe big day is rapidly approaching. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday! A day to gather to give thanks for all the special people in our lives and for all that we have. I like having a day where we celebrate all that. And the food isn’t bad either!

The food is of course the star, but what you serve to drink is equally important.  We take the time to carefully select how we’ll prepare the bird, what side dishes we’ll make, what hors d’oeuvres we’ll put out and what kinds of pies we’ll bake, so should we take care what we serve to drink.

Now, I’m going to make a number of assumptions. First, I’m going to assume we’re talking about wine, not mixed drinks or non-alcoholic beverages. Next, I’m going to assume you’re serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal, which usually means turkey.  Now you may serve ham, or goose, or cornish game hens, or Turducken or whatever that wacky thing is, or God-forbid some vegetarian fake “turkey” tofu roll thing (which, by the way, I’ve tried and is the most disgusting thing ever!) so I realize that turkey isnt the only thing people eat at Thanksgiving, but it’s what most people eat, so that’s what we’re going with here.

A special meal deserves a special wine, but that doesn’t mean expensive, necessarily. It just means good. While expensive usually does mean good, it doesn't always. Taste is subjective, after all. Naturally you can do whatever you like, and heed the advice of any of the “experts” online or in wine shops, but since this is my blog, I’m going to tell you what I like, and why.

Image result for pinot noir grapesIn my opinion the best wine to serve alongside a roasted turkey is Pinot Noir. Not just because it’s my favorite varietal, but because it’s so very well suited to roasted bird. Roasting results in a heavier flavor profile than other preparation methods, so an aromatic, fruit-forward white like Riesling or Gewuertztraminer, or a juicy red like Zinfandel would also work. Chardonnay is perhaps the last wine most experts would recommend because dry wines can die in the presence of all the fruit, sugar, and salt that is part of the typical Thanksgiving meal. A touch of sweetness, ergo the Riesling and Gewuertztraminer, makes a much better choice than Chard. If you absolutely cannot stand the thought of a red or a slightly sweet white, were you to prepare your bird a bit differently, let’s say with a citrusy note, an acidic, slightly nutty Italian white or Chenin Blanc could be a good choice. If your gravy is deep and dark in color or contains red wine, then I would recommend a Zinfandel. However, if you’re simply preparing the bird without much hoo-ha and doing a lighter gravy, even with the addition of white wine, Pinot Noir is the ticket.

With flavors ranging from cranberries to black cherries, this grape is ideal for Thanksgiving because of its fruit-forward nature. The lush fruit component pairs well with many of the typical side dishes of the holiday.

The Pinot Noir grape is delicate, and requires a careful hand to coax out its potential. It requires a winemaker who really understands the complexity of the grape. To better understand what I mean, here’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, Sideways, where Maya asks Miles why he’s “so into Pinot Noir."

And then, of course, there’s Maya’s reason for why she loves wine!

Clearly this is the moment Miles falls in love with Maya!

Given the tradition of the day, it seems fitting that we pick an American wine, since it would seem sacrilegious to do otherwise. I am particularly fond of La Crema Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) or just about anything from the Russian River Valley in California.  The best Pinots come from regions with chalky soil and cooler night time temperatures. Some of the most notable regions for Pinot Noir are the Sonoma coast, Russian River Valley, Central Coast, Monterey County, Santa Cruz Mountains and the Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma. That’s just California! In Oregon, the Willamette Valley produces some excellent pinots. Naturally there are many outstanding pinot noirs from Italy, Germany, France, of course, and New Zealand, but this holiday we are sticking to US wines.

If you’re looking for a wine that will work well this holiday, you can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir. Just another thing I am thankful for this Thanksgiving: Pinot!

A votre sante, to your health! And Happy Thanksgiving!

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