Been a frantic few weeks here since we moved and while it’s been a half excuse not to sit down and blog, it has not been an excuse to stop me from eating well while getting the new studio space ready to roll.
First shoot in the new space started with the lovely and awesome Gina Homolka from Skinnytaste for her second cookbook. Had to pinch myself when I was first approached by her agent to do the photography for this NY Times best seller author but had to pinch myself even harder when I was able to create my own dream team to work on it with me. Prop stylist Kim Phillips and food stylist Tami Hardeman, along with Tami’s assistant Abby, joined me on this dream of a week. We have a bit more to shoot in March and April and I can’t wait!
What’s that got to do with eating well amidst busy days? Gina’s recipes were all delicious for one, so we did eat very well on our shoot. I have a ton of leftovers from that week in my freezer for two. And third, I’ve been on a high soup making kick with all the leftover produce in the fridge.
And when I was pretty through with those, I turned to a recipe I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. Taiwanese Beef Soup. The thoughts of soy sauce, chilies, star anise, ginger and beef simmering on the stove for hours was perfect the cold I was starting to develop.
After perusing several recipes online, I turned to a friend on Facebook who directed me to one my favorite authors, Andrea Nguyen and her recipe, itself adapted from another one. I followed his advice and used beef shanks with bone marrow and oxtails. I had to adjust the spiciness for my mother in law a little and added in some sliced red chilies separately into our bowls. Everybody was happy and everybody had seconds!
We had an unexpected snow day yesterday and since our offices at Oxmoor House were closed, my husband and I decided to enjoy it to the fullest. Took the dogs for walks in the snow and around the neighborhoods to check if we can help anyone. Tidied up the house floor to ceiling, caught up on our reading and watched a couple of movies. Oh, and had a couple of cocktails in front of the fireplace.
Things are slowly going back to normal today and we’ll have to catch up on our photo schedule the best we can. I secretly wished the roads were still undrivable just so that I could watch the pup frolic in the snow. Bailey is like a kid with a new toy everytime he steps outside (5 year old lab-pit mix), while Tippy (17 year-old collie-sheltie) enjoys the freezing temperatures on his old bones.
It’s been a fun day also spent in the kitchen making soups to keep us warm and cozy. Lunch was an old Food&Wine recipe I had clipped a while back (Bon Appetit also has a version of it in this month’s issue that I have not tried yet), Spicy Pork And Kale Soup With Harissa. It’s an interesting blend of Asian flavors (soy sauce, galangal,..) and Moroccan ones (harissa). It works really well together and we polished off a couple of bowls with joy. The original recipe called for ground chicken but without the possibility to go the store, I used what I had in the fridge. Dinner was super aromatic Root Vegetable Soup, thick and creamy, that I served with Croque Monsieur.
When my husband drove into town this past weekend, I don’t think he expected to find his wife coughing, well hacking away would be more appropriate, and bent over from the pain felt in every rib and back muscle everytime a coughing fit would come about. It was not a lovely sight. But, I selfishly admit that I was so happy to finally unload onto him all duties and responsibilities for 48 hours.
See, we have been living apart and in different states since October that I moved to Birmingham. Since then, I have been holding the fort here by myself. I have fixed, nailed, caulked, hammered, glued, and pretty much everything else that he used to do when we were both in Charleston. It’s telling how much you stretch your strength, both mental and physical when alone. I had lived by myself before. But not by myself after 15 years with "Mr-Handy-Dandy-I-Can-Fix-Anything-Oh-Look-Honey!-I-Just-Built-Us-A-House" – kind of man. Because he did. Built us a house. The house that was now reduced to a U-Haul in my driveway.
This was the first time we really felt like things were moving forward in a "together" kind of way. Until then, I had brought things from Charleston to start making the rental house into more of a home but this was the big push. Our stuff. Fifteen years of living in South Carolina together and six plus years in our house on the creek. There had been a few little "well this is it! We are indeed relocating to Alabama" moments in the last few months but this was more poignant to me than getting my first water bill in my new city.
I am quite grateful that neither of us are materialists folks so the amount of stuff we bring with us easily fits in a small storage unit until we found a more permanent home here. I was happy to see that what we both considered "must pack" items were family things we could not replace; pictures, albums, family heirlooms, etc… And here I was, sick as could be the one weekend I needed to muster up all my energy to unload our belonging into a storage unit for a few months.
My dear husband ordered me back to the couch for a few hours. He wanted to take care of me and I completely let him do that. And it felt incredibly good just to lay quiet and rest under a couple of blankets. I could not stay still more than an hour though and quietly headed off to the kitchen to make soup. He was weary of the drive. I was craving something clean, flavorful and warm to make my limbs and throat feel better.
I started gathering ingredients for a makeshift Tom Yum soup. Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, and went off on a tangent of the most delicious kinds. My original idea for a soup quickly evolved into a Thai inspired butternut squash and coconut soup with a little kick and lots of fragrant and healing ingredients.
The end result was a super satisfying bowl of soup that took no longer to make than a cozy nap on the couch…
This combined with a good day and a half of rest and I was almost back on my feet. Enough to help him out a little on Sunday and make us another scrumptious meal on Sunday. I chose a completely different flavor palette this time with a Pozole. A pork and hominy stew garnished with fresh avocado, radish and cilantro. Clean and filling. Perfect for a cold weekend night.
Making every moment count now when we see each other is a given. We don’t get to see each other every weekend and when we can make the drive either way, the visits are really short. So, things as simple as sitting down to a nice meal and watching a good flick afterwards are what we crave. Then I know the dinner parties, visits with friends, game nights, etc… will resume or be created anew just as they were in Charleston.
It’s kind of like dating again. But as much as I like having my boyfriend visit, I am ready to have my husband back so we can really get to live this new town together!
I hope and trust everyone to have enjoyed their Thanksgiving holidays and little time off here in the States. We sure have. Bill and the pups came to Birmingham for Thanksgiving and the older pup, Tippy is staying with me while Bill and Bailey (The Inseparables) have gone back to Charleston.
While we were busy bees around the house, hanging paintings, fixing odds and ends around the place and getting the last bit of furniture we needed, we also enjoyed being together and doing things for the two of us, as a team. We had not spent any quality time together for a long long time (September or so) and these four days felt like the ultimate luxury.
We do have a blast together. One would hope so after fifteen years together, right?! We are quick to recognize our "adjusting" period and give the other some breathing room. After operating apart for most of the summer and Fall, it is imperative that we do not waste any seconds of those precious moments. And I enjoy pampering him with good home cooked meal whenever I can and these past four days were no exceptions.
We had a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with friends eating turkey, yes, drinking Champagne cocktails and making S’Mores huddled around an outdoor fireplace. We also hosted our first dinner in the house we are renting this year. I am pretty happy with how the decor/furniture situation is shaping up. Nothing like having a blank canvas to take your time to find the appropriate pieces.
It was in that cozy spot that I came up with this new soup. A complete "open the fridge and throw a few things together" kind of moment when I find myself with way more vegetables than days available to eat them. A mix of Swiss chard, kale, zucchini, turnips and avocado. I topped each bowl of soup with a few grilled shrimp, well seasoned with smoked paprika to make it a bit heartier since the days got wintry cold almost over night here.
I am liking the feeling of a comfy sweater, warm high socks and a big bowl of soup by the fire these days.
One more thing before I go: Congratulations to Jacqui of Good Things Grow for winning Julie Le Clerc’s cookbook Made By Hand. Please send your mailing address to mytartelette AT gmail DOT com so I can send the book your way!
Speaking of that workshop in Northern Ireland, we are finalizing the schedule of lessons, shoots, cooking and fun and I am getting so excited I can’t stop smiling all day! Really can’t wait to be there and meet everyone. I am also still pinching myself that I can do this with Bill and we are taking a few days before to explore both Scotland and Northern Ireland where is ancestors are from.
We travel well together. We have a way of dividing planning tasks without even saying it. From the first time we crossed the English Channel on a super long, chaotic and loud ferry route, we knew we could travel together without wanting to throttle each other. He’s really the best companion.
I am realizing this post is turning into a public Thank You note to my husband….but he deserves it. For everytime I have been able to spend an hour geeking out on the photos for a post or taken another more time to write and edit recipes and words – he’s been behind me, supportive of this blog, intended at first to be nothing more than a fun creative outlet.
That fun creative outlet turned out into a fun and amazingly rewarding life, creating stories through images. And he’s been my rock throughout the process. While my mom was complaining I was "still on the internet", he would gently tell her "give it a bit more time, she’s got a plan."
Did I? Have a plan? No, not really. My guts were telling me there was something there. My creative self was telling me not to let go. So I pushed through. With Bill by my side, never complaining. Many times a day I feel the urge to tell him thank you for this gift. I pick up the phone and send a text. A smiley face, a one liner. An extra hug. Something. Anything that shows him that I am mindful of what he’s doing.
To tell my husband "thank you" for his awesomeness, I know that the simple act of putting a nice lunch together will say just that. We never eat lunch together so when Summer rolls around, it’s a bit of a treat. Taking a few extra minutes to pack up a nice picnic and a bottle of cold lemonade to head out to the dock or the bench in the backyard is one way for me to say "I notice what you do".
From the first years that I moved to the US, I have always loved the idea of the "Sandwich and Soup" lunch combo one can find at restaurant. I’ve loved seeing how different years bring different favorites, from the elaborate "Salmon BLT and Vichyssoise" combo to the classic "Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup" one. Each chef, restaurant, region and era putting its own spin on it.
One of my favorite salade is Salade Nicoise, one of my favorite sandwiches is a Pan Bagnat and one of my favorite soup is gazpacho. I finally combined them all in one of our favorite picnic fares to date: Tuna Nicoise Sandwiches and Portuguese White Gazpacho.
The sandwiches are pretty straightforward, combining all the ingredients of a Salade Nicoise; tuna, oilves, green beans, eggs, tomatoes into a sandwich that needs to be made the night before, such as the Pan Bagnat, so that the bread can get all soft inside and the flavors meld together inside.
The gazpacho has been made three times since I made it first thing last week when I came back from New Hampshire. We just can’t get enough. A creamy blend of almonds, cucumber, fennel, oregano and garlic. If a soup ought to be called "sensual", it would be it. It made my toes curl. Which is always a pretty good indication I am happy… Thank you David Leite, author of The New Portuguese Table, for the recipe!
For dessert, the first cherries from our neighbors tree. A nice picnic indeed…
Sorry for the so-so polaroid, was in a hurry to eat them!
Tuna Nicoise Sandwiches:
Makes 4 large sandwiches
1 cup French green beans
4 large eggs
2 cans tuna in oil, drained, coarsely flaked
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup small black olives, pitted
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup torn and loosely packed basil leaves (no need to chop fine, just use your fingers)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 anchovy fillets, finely crushed with back of fork
1 garlic clove, minced
1 baguette (regular or gluten free)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and blanch the green beans in it for about 3 minutes. Drain them in a colander and place them in a bowl full of ice until they are completely cold. Drain again well and reserve. The goal is to cook the green beans just enough to remove the raw taste of their uncooked selves but still keep the vibrant color and nice crunch of their barely cooked selves.
Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Add the eggs to the boiling water, cook for 6 minutes (soft yolks). Remove them from the water and run them under cold water until they are cooled enough to peel. Once peeled, coarsely chop them up and add them to the green beans.
Add the tuna, tomatoes, olives, shallot and basil. Toss well to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, anchovy and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pour this vinaigrette over the green bean and eggs. Toss well until everything is nicely seasoned with the vinaigrette.
Cut the baguette in half horizontally and spread the Salade Nicoise all along its bottom part. Wrap with a layer of parchment paper and then a layer of foil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. The next day, cut the baguette into 4 pieces and serve.
Portuguese White Gazpacho:
I am not reposting the recipe here since I made it ad verbatim from David’s site, Leite’s Culinaria.
I skipped the crab salad included in the recipe but I have no doubt it was as good as the gazpacho.
I used gluten free leftover bread that was going a bit stale but feel free to use regular bread.
A little update before I talk Salmon Bisque and Rhubarb Tarte Tatin…The workshop in Ireland sold out so fast that we decided to exceptionally open up four more spots.There are three remaining. So, if you missed registration and would love to be able to join us for an amazing three day- four night food photography workshop on the grounds of Belle Isle Castle and Belle Isle Cookery School (all details here), here is your chance! Follow this link to the registration page. Hope to see you there!
Back to today’s recipes…
Let’s back track to a couple of weeks ago when I had tooth issues. Bear with me, something incredibly tasty came out of one little inconvenience. Well, it did not feel "little" at the time but in the grand scheme of things and with two more family members in bad shape, you won’t hear me complain of anything. It was just a tooth and one minor setback not the end of the world…
I could not eat more than two or three spoonfuls of soup at at time. I started dropping weight. If you know me, you know this is the last thing I need. I was starting to lack energy while my gigs were getting more intense. Not a good combination. I knew I could easily fix this by making meals that packed a punch in nutrients. I could eat soups. I devised a plan to make a big batch of a super nutritious soup and to keep a bowl by my side at all time during the day. A few spoonfuls there, another couple here and within the course of the morning, I would finally have eaten a normal lunch. Same thing for dinner.
What soup did it? A Salmon Bisque, full of good-for-you wholesome ingredients such as wild pacific salmon, potatoes, Vidalia onions, zucchini, garlic, fish stock and herbs. I could make it thin, chunky. I could change the vegetables with whatever was in the fridge such as subbing carrots for the zucchini, lefover rice instead of potatoes, etc… As long as I had a good combo of protein, carbs, fat and veggies, I was good to go. Getting all my nutrients helped heal at a normal pace. I did that for five days and it worked. Hooray!
Not going to lie, but the first thing I sank my teeth into after that episode was a big plate of crunchy radishes, a plump kebab of local shrimp and a big slice of tarte tatin. Rhubarb tarte tatin. With plenty of buttery goodness from the puff pastry crust and long pieces of caramelized rhubarb that just melted in your mouth. The latest edition of Donna Hay magazine was just chock full of tatin recipes with puff pastry. And well, those two words tend to make weak in the knees as soon as I see them..
Since I can occasionally eat gluten (once or twice a week without showing signs of Meniere’s) I figured a Tarte Tatin would be a darn good way to go for it. And it was. And I have one in the oven as we speak. I wish I were kidding. But this one is for my in-laws. Because they can’t ever have too much tarte tatins. Or rhubarb.
After a nice bowl of soup. This tarte is definitely melt in your mouth decadence of the best kind.
Creamy Salmon Bisque:
Makes enough for 6 to 8 large portions.
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 small baby Vidalia onions (sweet onion) or 1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 zucchini, sliced
1/2 pound small potatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound wild salmon, boned, skinned and cut into large cubes
4 to 6 cups seafood stock
salt and pepper to taste
In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sautee the onions and rosemary for 2 to 3 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the zucchini and potatoes and sautee another 2 minutes. Add the garlic and salmon and saute for a couple of minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic. Add about 4 cups of seafood stock and pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool for about another 10 minutes and puree in a food processor or blender (immersion blender works great too) until completely smooth. Add more stock to adjust the consistency to your liking. For example, we like thick soups but some don’t – adjust accordingly. Salt and pepper to taste if needed. Serve warm.
Rhubarb Tarte Tatin, very slightly adapted from Donna Hay magazine:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 10cm long pieces (4 inches long)
Preheat oven to 375F. Roll the puff pastry to 1/8-inch thick. Cut out a 22cmx32cm (8.5 inch x 12.5inch) rectangle from the pastry and set aside.
Place the sugar and the water in a small saucepan over medium low hear and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium high and cook for 8 minutes, until the sugar turns to a caramel color Add the butter and cardamom and stir until the butter is completely melted and combined with the caramel.
Pour the caramel into a 20cmx30cm (8×12-inch) baking pan and arrange the rhubarb pieces over it.
Top with the puff pastry and tuck the edges under a little. Place on a larger baking sheet and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. or until the puff pastry is cooked through. Allow to cool for five minutes or so. Loosen the edges with a knife. Invert the tart onto a serving tray.
It looks like the bout of bronchitis going around town has find a way to sneak into our house and beat me to pulp. Or at least it feels like it. I can’t complain though. We each get sick about once a year and thankfully not at the same time. That would be miserable for everyone around us…and we would drive each other crazy.
While B. tends to crave fruits and juice when he is sick, I tune in to hot, energizing, shock-full-of-good-for-you ingredients soups. As soon as I feel I am about to get sick, and it always settles on my throat and chest, I make a huge pot of chicken broth and creates a couple of soups to have on hand. I may feel like a lion is coughing up a storm in my bronchi but at least, I have hot and nutritious liquids to navigate through it.
And it’s good for the soul too. Which always makes one heal faster.
Taking the next couple of days off and staying under the cover to get better.
Lemon, Chicken & Orzo Soup:
Serves 4 to 6
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks (or diced)
1 small celery stalk, diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh spinach
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 cup gluten free orzo
salt and pepper
8 cups chicken broth (or water if you prefer)
Zest and juice of a lemon
In a large pot (4 quart or more), heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the carrot, celery and onion pieces. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken breast, the spinach, oregano, orzo, broth and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, half covered for about 30 minutes or until the orzo is al dented.
Remove the chicken breast from the soup. Let cool enough to handle and shred it into pieces. Return the shredded meat to the pot. Add the lemon juice and zest, stir and serve.
To say that it has not really been good "soup weather" around here this winter would be an understatement. We have spent more days in short sleeves and sandals than in sweaters and boots. Granted South Carolina has a sub tropical weather year round and we do joke that we have two seasons, Hot and Hotter also called Humid and More Humid. Yet, February is a month we all look forward to as it usually offers a bit of a chill, a couple of weeks of fireplaces burning, of hoodies and gloves.
Not this year. I can count on both hands the days I wore a sweater and on one those when I put my coat on. And boy do I love Winter. I grew up in an area of Provence where the Mistral wind often blew stronger in the Winter time, giving way to clear and chilly skies. Here the winds unmistakably bring thunderstorms or clear warm days. If I want a Winter mood, it is up to me to create it.
Soup will put me in an instant winter cozy mood. But here obviously, soups cannot be only for cold grey days. I grew up with my mom serving soup every dinner before the rest of the meal but I did not really continue that habit once I moved away on my own. Instead, soups of all kinds became standard lunch fare at the house. Piping hot a few times but mostly warm or room temperature to be able to taste every bit of subtleties in the marriage of the vegetables used and their dance on my palate.
This soup is no exception to my rushing to lunch time every day. I am not much of a breakfast eater and I usually work straight through lunch but comes 2pm and my stomach wants to jump hoops and make loud cavernous noises until I settle it down with a little something. I find the most satisfying lunch to be a big cup of soup and a tartine these days.
I can sit down, catch up on the news around, satisfy my hunger and recharge my internal batteries with the minimum fuss and the most gratifying bowl of goodness. I usually start a big pot of soup while I cook other things for dinner or as soon as I get up and start production on my shoots for the day. The smells wrapping up or kicking off a day at work are tantalizing enough to make me wish for that first spoonful with great anticipation.
This soup has been made three times in the last ten days. We just can’t get enough of it. My friend John who is a chef at my favorite restaurant downtown, reminded me that most of the vegetables I used for it were what we call back home "les légumes oubliés" or heirloom vegetables. Vegetables that are finely and firmly coming back on menus and dinner tables all around.
Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes (topinambours), parsnips, turnips. I added Vidalia onions, cauliflower and a bit of rosemary to round up the flavors. Served with a slice of grilled bread smeared a bit or goat cheese mixed with plenty of herbs and topped with a few slices of radishes and it was the perfect lunch.
I am thinking of adding a poached egg to my tartine next time and makes this dinner…
1 small head of cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
3 to 4 small Vidalia onions
1 pound sunchokes (peeled and quartered)
4 turnips (peeled and quartered)
3 parsnips (peeled and cut into 1-inch thick rounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 rosemary sprigs
1/2 to 1 cup water, or veggie or chicken stock
Preheat oven to 375F and position a rack in the middle.
Trim the outer leaves from the cauliflower head. Cut in quarters, remove the core, and cut the cauliflower into medium size florets. Place on a large baking sheet.
Peel the garlic and place on the baking sheet with the cauliflower.
Trim the white part from the green stalk of the Vidalia onions. Keep the white part and cut into medium sized chunks. Wash well under water and place also on the baking sheet.
Finely add the sunchokes, turnips and parsnips to the same baking sheet.
Drizzle with the oil, salt and pepper. Place the rosemary on top and roast for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the rosemary.
Let cool slightly. Place in a food processor, start running the machine and add enough water to have a creamy soup. Re-season if necessary with salt and pepper. Serve with the herbed goat cheese tartines.
Herb Goat Cheese & Radish Tartines:
Makes 2 tartines per person
8 slices of your favorite bread
8 oz plain goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped
1 small bunch radishes (about 6 to 8) cut into thin slices
Grill or toast the bread and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the goat cheese and herbs until well blended.
Spread some of the goat cheese mixture on the tartines, top with some radish slices.
I hope you all had a fantastic holiday weekend. We kept it low key having dinner with a good friend on Christmas Eve and with family on Sunday. Yesterday was spent with friends again over a light lunch and a relaxing afternoon.
Thank you everyone for the sweet and kind words of condolences about my grandfather’s passing. It made this weekend a little easier to navigate. Oh there were tears, trust me…but they were immediately followed with a feeling of peace. My heart was full of all the goodness one can give and receive in a lifetime. Thank you again for your patience and care.
Let me play Santa a little bit longer and announce the winners of the Christmas giveaway. I asked my dear and only to give me three numbers at random among all the valid entries. Yes, he’s my random number generator.
The two winners of Plate To Pixel are Jenny Mendes and Adrienne from A Big Mouthful.
The winner of Girl Hunter is Wen from Journal Through Lens. Congrats! Please send me your snail mail addresses at mytartelette AT gmail DOT com.
Now on to the recipes…
Every year at Christmas, smoked salmon has to be part of the appetizer offerings at my parents'. It’s tradition. Salmon, blinis and foie gras with brioche toasts. Since we started last week without any firm plans for Christmas Eve, I was making my own plans to prepare a nice dinner for two and relax on the back deck watching all the docks decorated with Christmas lights. A sight to be seen…for sure.
On the menu was a Salmon Bisque, followed by crab cakes and finished off with a Pistachio and Pear Gratin. As the soup was simmering, my inbox started buzzing and within minutes our plans had changed for the 24th. Not a problem. From the scents wafting through the kitchen, we would not be disappointed to have it for lunch the next day. The soup was a cinch to put together, light and tasty. Everything one can ask for during busy times and especially in between a few copious meals.
The gratin was a unexpected hit with Bill and one I will repeat soon and with other fruits too. I had a surplus of tiny cute Forelle pears from a couple of projects and was trying to find other ways than tarts and tartlets to use them. Nothing wrong with those…trust me. I am the first one to slow down for a slice of pear tart!
This dessert is the perfect results of many kitchen happenings all coming together at once. Too many pears, red currants finally being available now that the temperatures had dropped, a pound cake made on a whim one night I could not find sleep and there you have it. A light, fragrant, cozy and comforting vanilla custard blanketing thin slices of cake with tart little pops of red currants every other bites.
From the look of immense delight at the dinner table the other day, I can safely say these two recipes were a huge hit. Making another batch of soup today!
Salmon Bisque, adapted from Saveurs France:
Serves 4 to 6
Notes: do not worry about how fine a dice, cube or chop, the ingredients are since they are all going to be pureed. Croutons are somewhat of a tradition in my family with soups and I simply toss some cubed day-old bread with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and toast that over the stove. Crème fraiche is a perfect topping for the soup but sour cream is a fine substitute.
Salmon can be expensive, so I usually ask my fish guy at the store to give me the good scraps they cut off when filleting whole fish. They are most happy to find a taker and usually give me half price on those.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, well cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups vegetable stock
1 pound skinless salmon fillets, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
croutons, crème fraiche and chives to garnish
In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the leeks, garlic, carrots and potatoes and sautee for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine, stock and salmon. Season with a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool and puree until smooth (see notes). Check the seasoning and serve. Top each bowl with some croutons, crème fraiche and chives if desired.
Earlier this year, the nice folks at Blendtec gifted me with one of their mixers and this is what I now use all the time to puree and blend soups. Takes less than a minute for super smooth bisques and soups. A immersion blender or any good capacity and sharp bladed food processor will also do great here.
Pistachio and Pear Gratins, adapted from Saveurs France.
Notes: I love my friend Jeanne’s recipe for pound cake. I had the pleasure this summer to work with my friend Clare on Jeanne’s gluten free baking cookbook and had to make about 75% of the recipes for photography. I got to tell you, Jeanne is about the only person I now trust for gluten free baking anything. Everything is always tasty, correct and of great texture. The recipe she came up with years ago for her gluten free all purpose flour blend is super easy and substitute cup for cup with regular all purpose flour so feel free to go gluten free or not without fear.
Once the pound cake is made and cooled (feel free to prepare it a day in advance), the assembly comes together in no time.
6 small Forelle pears (or 2-3 medium pears)
12 thin slices of Jeanne’s pound cake (minus the glaze)
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
½ cup red currants or other berries
2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios
Butter a 9×13 gratin dish or individual ones and preheat the oven to 350F. Position a rack in the center.
Peel, core and thinly slice the pears. Set aside (don’t worry about oxidization too much since the dessert assembly is fast but you can always sprinkle them with a bit of lemon juice if you wish).
Cut the pound cake slices in triangles. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, eggs and sugar until smooth.
Layer the pear and pound cake slices in your gratin dish(es). Slowly pour the custard batter on top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with some red currants and ground pistachios scattered over the top.
If I had to pick my two most favorite months of the year in Charleston it would be October and February. The humidity finally drops some in October, giving us the ability to enjoy being out without suffocating. I sneak in any moment I can feeling the tall grass under my feet. I also spend more time than usual at the dock watching the porpoises huddle and play now that less boats are out now that summer is over.
February is just magical here. The light is crisp and electric. The cold finally reaches us for a few days and we gather friends around the fireplace. I love the cold nippy winds that we get for a few days. A barely there couple of weeks of wintry weather.
Lately, while the temperatures are still hot enough to have us in short sleeves and flip flops, the numerous rain showers and stronger winds put me in a definite Fall-ish mood. One that calls for hot soups and warm apple crisps.
This Acorn Squash and Sweet Potato Soup is one of those I want to have on repeat this Fall and Winter. It’s been decided by both Bill and myself after the first couple of spoons. Not only was it tasty, it was also the kind that does not need much else but a nice piece of country bread smeared with a dab of butter and sprinkle of grey salt.
The table setting was fun and the company engaging. In our proper form, Bill and I made fast friends with the couple next to us, visiting Charleston on their anniversary. They had just stepped into the bookstore a few hours prior to the event, completely on a whim and purchased a couple of tickets for that dinner. They did not know the book or Virginia but they "got" the spontaneity that defines Charleston.
Why celebrating Virginia in person in Charleston? Because the book was photographed here. In my studio to be exact and also on our dock where we had Virginia hold a very fiesty crab at sunset. The crew gathered in my home for 10 days and we got to work on some pretty delicious recipes. Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce. Endive and Roquefort Slaw. Louisiana Duck Gumbo. Meringue Pillows with Strawberries and Cream.
Sunday’s dinner showcased some of my favorites such as the Roasted Tomato Soup and the Chocolate Monkey Bread and new ones like the Garlic and Sausage Stuffed Pork Loin. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to congratulate Virginia on her hard work and dedication to develop and write recipes so that people like me, get the chance to convey emotions and visions one level deeper.
I have been blessed to work with pretty special cookbook authors and their publishers these last few years and each time. This project where a whole team came together, fierce with dedication and love and pride of their work, made me grow as an artist and as a person. I walked away with a greater love of my profession as photographer. A greater dedication also. And let’s face it, hundreds of new favorite recipes…!
Virginia’s recipes are no different. They completely speak to me. Virginia has the perfect ability to balance her formal French training as a chef with her Southern roots. A little irreverence against ennui thrown in for good measure and you have the perfect blend: a cookbook compiling easy and intermediate recipes, interesting and fun and with a Brilliant twist that is worth exploring each time.
Take her Sweet Potato Soup for example. The basic recipe is pretty darn tasty as it is if you ask me. A blend of sweet potatoes, Vidalia onions, thyme and curry. The "brilliant" possibility? A dollop of rum spiked whipped cream. Yep. And that my friends, is indeed brilliant. It absolutely makes you smile… I did vary mine a bit by adding acorn squash and sprinkling a bit of thyme and cracked black pepper on ours too. Recipes are canvas for you to enjoy your time in the kitchen and Virginia’s are perfect for that.
When I was growing up, each meal would start with a bowl of soup. Nothing fancy. My mom would make the tastiest soups from the simplest vegetable combinations. Zucchini, onion, pumpkin, carrots, turnips. The quantity for each varied every single time which made the soup slightly different every time also. She learned that from her mother. She passed it on to me.
I carried that tradition a little further by making soups that my grandmother would surely dubbed as "fancy" if she were still alive. I never grew up with single ingredient soups beside Soupe a l’Oignon. Always a mix. Even our family trademark, Soupe Au Pistou is a medley of Provencal fragrances.
Nowadays, I am usually drawn to soups where one ingredients really shines. Mushroom soup, roasted tomato soup, pumpkin soup, smoked corn soup, this crazy good lima bean bisque from my pal Tami. The multi ingredient ones I now stir are some we never made when I was a kid, such as Pho, Tom Yum, Avgolemono.
And this fragrant and silky Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup. I could not let go of my DNA apparently and had to throw in another ingredient! Acutally, I picked up gorgeous mini acorn squash at the farmers market as well as a myriad of other vegetable and I have to cook the majority before my upcoming trips to Kansas City and Seattle this week.
This soup is good company. A warm bowl of soul and a whole lot of comfort.
Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup, adapted from Virginia Willis' Sweet Potato Soup in "Basic To Brilliant Ya’ll"
Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients: 2 mini acorn squash, peeled and cubes (about 3 cups)1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
9 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Cut the acorn squash in halves. Place them in a baking dish, drizzle with one teaspoon olive oil and roast for about 20-30 minutes. Let cool. Peel the skin off and reserve the flesh.
Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large heavy soup pot set over medium high heat. Add the onion and curry powder and cook until the onion is almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, stock, maple syrup, thyme and nutmeg and the flesh from the acorn squash.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Let the soup cool a little.
Puree the soup until smooth with an immersion blender or a blender/food processor.
Reheat the soup before serving and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme
freshly ground pepper
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add the rum and lemon zest and continue whipping until firm. Use a dollop on top of the soup and sprinkle with fresh thyme and chopped thyme.