Thursday, October 25, 2012

Very Mushroom Soup

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Soup
As I was experimenting and beginning to compose this recipe, all of the words I came up with were preceded by "very."  This soup is very vegan, very mushroom-y, very low fat, very creamy, very tasty...

In addition to being an avid gardener, my husband absolutely adores foraging for mushrooms and greatly looks forward to the first rains of the year, as they inevitably herald the start of chanterelle season.  In my dish tonight, I used 100% chanterelles since we have so many.  Really, any combination of flavorful mushrooms would work in their stead.  And, a splash of white wine or sherry just before you add the veg broth would be a welcome addition!

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Soup
about two quarts

olive oil, as needed
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
5 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and stems discarded
6 cups roughly chopped mixed mushrooms (plus 2 c set aside for garnish)
3 cups cooked soft white beans, drained (great northern, cannellini, navy, etc)
vegetable broth, as needed
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat a tablespoon of oil or so over a medium flame.  Add in the onions and garlic, and then turn the heat up to high.  Saute for a few moments until they are just starting to brown, and add the mushrooms.  Give them a good stir, and then let them sear on the hot pan, monitoring just enough so that the onions and garlic don't burn.  Every 90 seconds or so, mix the mushrooms to keep the bits from burning.  Stir in the thyme.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook until all of the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Deglaze the pan with about two cups of vegetable broth, add the white beans, and transfer the mixture to a blender.  Work in batches if you need to, and do proceed with caution, so that you don't cause the lid to blow off the blender, thus burning your self and dirtying the kitchen...  Spin until the mixture is completely smooth, adding broth as needed to keep everything moving.

In a clean pot, heat a bit more oil, and repeat the steps for searing the mushrooms that you set aside for garnish.  After the mushrooms are seared, add the puree back in, and heat through.  Season to taste, and serve with a drizzle of fabulous olive oil, a sprig of thyme, and a few flecks of fleur de sel.

**For those of you at home who are critiquing my presentation, that little squiggle in the olive oil is where the cat bit the back of my knee.  I think she's hungry.**

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ubiquitous Croque Monsieur

Really, when it comes down to it, what could be better than an ooey-gooey-melty sandwich made on exceptional bread, topped with good ham, and covered in fantastic cheese? If you take that, and then throw some béchamel in the mix to up the creaminess factor, I believe you may have found just a piece of French paradise on your plate. What I am referring to here is the croque monsieur sandwich - it's classic, it's delicious, and it makes the American tradition of white bread with a slice of Kraft look plain lazy. And, I honestly believe that once you go croque, you'll never go back...

The recipe below is adapted from Bar Boulud - esteemed chef Daniel Boulud's casual bistro across from Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I have adapted this slightly to suit my needs, and here is what I have done... First, I skipped the second slice of bread on top - usually this sandwich is of full dimension, I prefer to serve it open faced. It's a fork and knife affair anyway, and most of my clients are watching their carbs, so I don't see the need for a second piece of bread (though you could certainly do this if you were using this as a main dish). Secondly, I love to use Beecher's Flagship in this recipe; partly because I like to use local ingredients when I can, and partly because it's just plain delicious and melts just right! Now, on to the good part! 

Croque Monsieur (adapted from Daniel Boulud) 
serves: 4 

For the Béchamel Sauce: 
1.5 T unsalted butter 
2 T all-purpose flour 
1.5 c whole milk 
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg 
Salt and freshly ground white pepper 
For the sandwiches : 
4 slices high-quality bread, sliced 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick (a Pullman loaf or similarly fine grained bread) 
12 oz thickly sliced good ham (Jambon de Paris if you can, or good quality black forest ham if you can't) 
10 oz delicious melty white cheese, coarsely grated (Gruyère is traditional, I happen to enjoy Beecher's Flagship in this situation) 

1. For the béchamel: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and whisk in the flour until blended but not colored. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside. (May be made up to 24 hours ahead of time and stored, refrigerated, with a layer of plastic wrap placed directly on surface of sauce; gently reheat before serving.) 
2. For the sandwiches: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. On a work surface, place bread slices in a single layer and spread each one evenly to the edges with béchamel. Divide ham among four of the slices, trimming it if necessary so it is within 1/4 inch of edges. Top all eight slices with equal amounts of cheese, spreading it evenly to within 1/4 inch of edges. 

3. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until grated cheese topping is melted and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately. If serving as a Madame, top with a fried egg.