Saturday, January 08, 2011
Let's start of the first post of 2011 at Life is Great with something different. My other half wrote this piece about the best mushroom soup I've ever had in my life. He first cooked this for me on my birthday last year and I can't get enough of it ever since. Happy New Year!
Remember how difficult it was back in the old days to get a car started in the morning, let alone a cold rainy morning and I can only presume how bad it must get in winter. Some of you may have experienced that first hand, some of you may have saw your parent struggle to get the car cranked up while you waited to get to school. Perhaps some of you have no idea what I’m talking about as we don’t get that much these days with modern engine oils in modern cars. Whichever the case, there was once a time that getting a car started in the morning could be quite a task. It wasn’t because the engines were bad or anything of that sort. If you could ask the engines themselves, they would have, in all their sincerity told you that they loved to run. It was just hard to get them started, but once going ran they did performing well even. So what’s all this gibberish about cranking cars up in the morning anyway? Well, let me confess to you that I was just trying to describe my writing habit. This whole paragraph was in effect me getting cranked up to write. In case you had not noticed, this post is not your regular blog post and I am not Pick Yin, the usual yours truly.
That’s right. Those of you who have been following this blog would have seen some of my work in the food photos that I have taken or you may have read something in the blog about the ‘aspiring chef’ or about me trying to stay out of the kitchen and the occasional being called upon dutifully to do the washing. I’m Vijay and after many cranks, heaving and pushing for the purpose of jump-starting, my engine has finally started and I’m doing a guest blog in this post.
And now on to second gear.
Last August, I decided that I shall helm the kitchen and steer ingredients into the pot (or other utensils) and bring to port a dinner that would befit a birthday girl. (In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m referring to Pick Yin). It was not the first time I’ve done this, as you would well remember (for those of you who loyally followed) from an earlier blog post back in 2007.
I scoured through our rich resource of recipes from Jamie Oliver’s books to Smitten Kitchen and other websites that Pick Yin frequents as well as videos on You Tube of Nigella Lawson in action. After short-listing workable ideas that played into my strength and weaknesses in the kitchen, I allowed my ambitious and adventurous side to kick in and finally decided on three dinner dishes. They were Chicken Pot Pie, Balthazar’s Mushroom Soup, and Potato Gratin. In the end I didn’t make the Potato Gratin for the birthday girl as we collectively decided it would be too heavy, too late. I did make it for a different occasion but that will be a different story to be told on another day once someone cranks my engine again. The Chicken Pot Pie was a success but that too is story for another time.
Well then, that leaves nothing to talk about other than the Balthazar’s Mushroom Soup. I like my soup creamy. I still remember the days of yesteryear when I used to have Campbell’s which I believe grew on me but it definitely was the mushroom soup that I had at Jerry’s Jalan Kayu (when it was still owned by Jerry before he moved to set up the Sunset Grill & Pub at the old Youth Flying Club in Seletar now famous for its 1-10 and more hotness level Buffalo Chicken Wing) that totally set my standard for the ultimate in how a mushroom soup should taste. I’ve yet to find anything similarly rich and memorable so when I came across this recipe and compared it with other mushroom soup recipes that I had rummaged through on the Internet, my gut instinct told me I had a winner at hand.
Third gear now.
With ingredients on the kitchen counter, iPhone with my Safari page pointing to Balthazar’s cream of mushroom soup on Smitten Kitchen, and a piece of exercise book paper that had my scribbling to summarize some of the different elements from other recipes into this one, I put on my Chef’s hat (not the tall physical one but think along Edward De Bono and his Six Thinking Hats) and set off to work with the aim of serving the birthday girl her dinner by 9 PM the latest. Pick Yin would fondly remember the last time I tried on an endeavor such as this for her birthday and that only involved one dish. This time I had three (which ended with just two) but I had with me an additional element that gave me the confidence that I could pull this feat off by 9 PM instead of the 10 PM or so the last time. And that element was an additional three years of occasional kitchen experience and I cannot stress enough on the word occasional.
Fourth and cruising on the fast lane.
All in all, with adaptations in progress, incessant reference to paper and iPhone screen, chopping on the way and both hobs flaming away at command, I managed to serve dinner to the very hungry birthday girl by just slightly after 9 PM. I loved the mushroom soup and she loved it too. It had all the richness and flavor that I had longed for and I knew this would be something that I would repeat more often than not. And that I did, two more times in fact in the two months that followed August. Once was for a large group of seven friends and my brother who had come down from Kuala Lumpur for the Avalon at Large event in Singapore.
If you enjoy your occasional kitchen dabble especially to whip up something for a special occasion, then you know the joy of having what you planned come out exactly or better than you intended. That’s exactly how I felt and I wish you all the best when doing the same.
I love driving and this long and windy drive (hint, hint nudge, nudge, people say I am long winded in my story telling) has reached its destination as I have reached the end of my entry. Here’s to the next crank up and wishing all a great year ahead.
Balthazar Cream of Mushroom Soup
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Balthazar Cream of Mushroom Soup
Serves 4 to 6
Note: I made some minor changes. The recipe calls for 1 ounce dried mushrooms (porcini, morels, or shitakes), to be soaked in 1 cup of warm water for 20 to 30 minutes, until plump and this is later added in together with the chicken stock, soaking water and all. I omitted this and replaced it with ½ pound of swiss brown mushrooms, which was not dried and didn’t need to be soaked. I decided on this because I thought there would be enough rich and natural flavors from our homemade chicken stock (which was pretty potent) but I still wanted the added depth which is why I replaced it with the swiss brown. I was, however, on whole, 1 cup short of liquid. I didn’t realize this when I was busy in the kitchen but it inadvertently added to the thickness of the soup the way I like it but you can make your own call depending on how you prefer your soup to be.
Homemade chicken stock is always the best and we always keep a sizeable volume in frozen form in our freezer from the chicken broth that Pick Yin makes. If you have some but not sufficient, you can always mix yours with off-the-shelf stock. And I’ve been told, for off the supermarket shelf stocks, concentrates are better than powdered types or those packed into solid cubes.
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 4 sprigs of sage
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- ½ pound swiss brown mushrooms
- 1 pound white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
- 1 pound shitake mushrooms stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Bundle the rosemary and sage together and tie with kitchen twine. When the oil is hot, add the herb bundle and sizzle for a few minutes on both sides to infuse the oil.
Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown.
Turn the flame to high and add the swiss brown, white mushrooms and shitakes.
Cook for 10 minutes, during which the mushrooms will give off their liquid (which should evaporate quickly due to the high heat) and deflate significantly. Stir occasionally.
Add the chicken stock.
Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, then add the cream and butter. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Return to the pot and keep at a very low simmer until ready to serve.
As with most food, soups are best served hot. Always remember that although you’ve turned to the stove down to low or completely turned off the flame, a dish that is primarily liquid will continue to evaporate and thicken while it is warms. So if you’ve decided on a little more salt, bear in mind a soup that’s cooling off is going to get saltier as the liquid evaporates.
Like Nigella, I tend to put in what is stated and then a little more for certain ingredients. I did this for the butter, garlic and pepper. There’s no exact science for this, it all depends on your taste but the recipe is a good guide.
In her recipe, Deb of Smitten Kitchen makes certain adjustments that call for less olive oil, replacing chicken stock with beef, less cream, and using thyme instead of rosemary due to her personal preference. I, however, did not use these adjustments for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t eat beef and we don’t have that stock at home. Secondly, I do prefer my soup to be creamier so I used as much as she originally put forward. And finally, I haven’t reached a level of being able to differentiate the effect of thyme versus rosemary on my palate so I stuck with rosemary for now. Perhaps I will try it another time.
Life Is Great explores the incredible world of food and cooking. We hope to share with you our most delicious moments and inspirations.
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Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
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