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Cream of Porcini Mushroom Soup

Don’t make this if you’re worried about cholesterol. I use a half stick of butter and a half-pint of cream for this recipe. But it’s not the kind of soup you’ll make everyday. It’s a special occasion soup. I ate it at a very special occasion — the wedding of my nephew Greg and his bride Shea — in a lovely setting in Montreal, Canada. The ceremony took place at Chateau Ramezay, a structure built in 1705 that served as the residence of Montreal’s governor at that time but is now a museum. The reception was held at Duel, a Montreal restaurant whose two chefs maintain a friendly rivalry between Asian and modern French cuisine. I tried to duplicate one of the courses we ate (since the chefs never responded to my request for their recipe) and if my attempt is not exactly the same as theirs, it’s pretty darn close — and pretty darn good. I really wouldn’t be too concerned about the calories and cholesterol either. The recipe makes enough to feed eight people. So if I calculate the damage spread throughout that many servings, I think I feel better already.

Here’s the beaming couple:

Cream of Porcini Soup

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 stick butter
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (white part only)
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, but you can use button mushrooms if you like)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (you can use white potato if you prefer)
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
4 cups chicken broth
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 pint heavy cream

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups tepid water for at least 1/2 hour. In the meantime, melt the butter and saute the leeks, onions and garlic until transparent. Drain the mushrooms, which have been soaking, and save the soaking liquid. Chop the dried mushrooms and add to the pot with the leeks, onions and garlic. Add the fresh mushrooms, except for about 1/2 cup that you reserve for the end garnish. Continue to saute everything until the mushrooms are cooked through. Strain the water where the porcini were soaking and add to the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the heavy cream. Simmer for at least 1/2 hour or until the potato is cooked through. Put everything into a blender and blend until totally smooth. You’ll have to puree everything in about three separate batches. Pour the puree into a clean pan and add the cream, stirring until everything is blended and heated through. Serve with the mushroom garnish floating on top. To make the mushroom garnish: Chop up the remaining 1/2 cup of mushrooms and saute in a couple more tablespoons of butter.

Squash Soup

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m sending you a photo of the jack o’lantern all lit up in front of our house. Last weekend our daughter Christina was home and helped design and cut out our annual Halloween pumpkin. There were those slippery pumpkin seeds to deal with, which we salted and roasted and ate in a flash. There were also substantial bits of flesh that were left from cutting out the design. I hated to throw them out, so I incorporated them into a squash soup I was planning for dinner. I already had some butternut squash in the fridge, so I just peeled the pumpkin remains and added them too. There are tons of recipes for squash soup, and some even spice it up with curry. My favorite way is to let the sweetness of the squash take over, with a little boost from the addition of an apple and a pear. You don’t have to add the cream if you want to keep it healthier, but a little bit goes a long way in creating a silken texture. I have even been known to add skim milk when I lacked for cream, or didn’t want to add the calories. I also cubed some bread and toasted it to make croutons. No butter needed – just toss the cubed bread in a heavy bottomed pan, such as a cast-iron skillet, and watch carefully so the croutons don’t burn. Enjoy a warm bowl as you wait for the trick or treaters to arrive. It’s really delicious — and ghoulishly easy to make.

Squash Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 cup of this was my pumpkin leftovers)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 large apple, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large pear, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large potato, cut into chunks
5 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 tsps. salt
1/2 cup cream

Heat the olive oil and add the onions. Cook until softened and slightly browned. Add the squash (and pumpkin leftovers if you have any) and saute for a few minutes. Toss in the apple, pear, and potato. Add the chicken broth and salt. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the vegetables and fruit are soft and cooked through. Put into a blender, or use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup. Add cream and top with croutons.

Cauliflower Soup with Caramelized Onions

I’ve stared at that head of cauliflower in the fridge too long. It’s not that I don’t like cauliflower. It’s just that when I bought the monstrous thing two weeks ago at a farmer’s market, it was enough to serve the whole neighborhood. We just can’t eat it fast enough. I’ve made side dishes with it several times, but since it was as large as a soccer ball to begin with, I still had half of it begging me to come up with some other ideas. And a few brown spots were starting to appear, so the time had come to get serious. What to do, what to do? A soup came to mind, especially since the weather had taken a turn to remind us that fall is around the corner.
This is not a pretty soup to look at. It’s a rather dull-looking monochromatic exercise in brown and beige. I could have made it a white soup, had I not browned the cauliflower in olive oil first. But that step gives the soup more taste. And the taste, especially those caramelized onions resting on top, makes up for the homely appearance of this soup. DO NOT scrimp on the time needed to cook the onions. They really need the full 20 to 30 minutes to achieve that sweet and crunchy flavor. And if you’re like me, you’ll probably be wishing you had a secret stash of those caramelized onions for an extra serving.

Cauliflower Soup With Caramelized Onions

Start by peeling one large onion, slicing it, and cooking it in 1/4 cup of olive oil in a saute pan. Keep cooking and stirring for at least 20 minutes while the soup is simmering.

For the Soup:

1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
one head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups chicken stock
salt, white pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking the florets for about 10 minutes, or until they are partially browned. Add the potato, chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste. The first time I made this, I under-salted and over-peppered. My husband loved the piquancy, but I drank an entire large bottle of San Pellegrino before the heat in my mouth was tempered. To be on the safe side, try making it with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Finish by pureeing in a blender or with an immersion stick blender.
Ladle into bowls and add the caramelized onions on top.