Curried Squash & White Bean Soup

Happy New Year!

I have a good new year’s resolution but it comes with a story so I hope you will read through it (if you don’t want to, the recipe’s at the bottom, highlighted in yellow as usual!)

Have you ever met someone and felt instantly affected by their presence and inexplicable connection with you?  I don’t mean this in a romantic or sexual way, because that’s a different feeling and story altogether.  Sometimes people come into our lives and it feels as though without any effort they have looked into your soul and understand the very depths of you.  Different cultures have names for these kinds of meetings, and I believe that during these moments we need to keep our eyes open because the universe is trying to tell us something important.

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>Celeriac and Potato Soup with Garlic, Ginger, and Thyme

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I’ve been kicking myself into high gear when it comes to making meals and dishes that feature foods that are local and seasonal.  The value of doing so is obvious not only for health reasons but for sustainability purposes – let’s all save some gas and money by eating foods that haven’t travelled very far to reach us, and to boot let’s make food that’s the freshest we can get our hands on.
It was with this mentality that my soup featuring celeriac, otherwise known as celery root and belonging to the celery family, came to fruition. I have no qualms in admitting that until this week celeriac intimidated me, mainly importantly because celeriac resembles what I imagine the inside of a brain to look like.  I picked one up a few days ago at the Marché Saxe-Breteuil, which was covered in dirt and whose numerous folds and canks made me nervous, anxious, and uneasy about what was contained inside.  Below is a photo of celeriac after its porous and wrinkly skin had been sliced off.
As soon as I came home, I began to play around with the celeriac – I smelled it, touched it, tapped it, tossed it in the air, all to gain a better sense of its weight, texture, and overall composition.  This root vegetable which grows abundantly during the winter months and which bears a strong resemblance to celery holds itself beautifully in soups, gratins, mashes (with potatoes or without), and as bases for stews.  Something in its smell made me think it would go beautifully with ginger, and of course ginger and garlic always make a lovely pair.  Toss in some fresh thyme and thicken it all up with two little potatoes, and you have yourself a deliciously easy, tasty, and hearty soup which can be sopped up with some bread. 
Please enjoy not only this soup but all the pleasures that eating can bring you.
Celeriac and Potato Soup with Garlic, Ginger, and Thyme - serves 1
This soup only calls for 1/2 of a head of celeriac, making enough soup for one meal.  If you’d like to make extra and store it in the fridge for up to a week, use the whole head of celeriac and double the other ingredients.
Also, if you have soy sauce on hand, add 1 tablespoon of it at the same time as the celeriac, potatoes, and water to add an extra dimension of flavor.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 shallot, chopped, or one small onion, chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
about 2 cups water
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2-head of celeriac (I’ll tell you how to cut and peel it)
2 small yellow potatoes, such as yukon gold or charlotte, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
about 2 cups water
1.  Cut off the root and stem of the celeriac.  Using a chef’s knife or a cleaver, cut the celeriac into 2 pieces cross-wise.  Use a sharp knife to peel off the skin and any large dark spots or holes.  Cut one of the halves into 1-inch pieces;  store the other half in the fridge for another use.
2.  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
3.  Add the garlic, ginger, and shallot (or onion) to the saucepan and cook, stirring, until garlic and gigner become fragrant and shallot softens, 4-5 minutes.
4.  Add the potatoes, celeriac, and thyme leaves.  Sprinkle liberally with salt (about 1 tsp) and a pinch of pepper.  Pour in enough water so that everything is covered by half of an inch, about 2 cups.  Bring to a boil, and simmer until celeriac is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. 
5.  Working in batches, puree soup in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Return to the saucepan and heat until hot, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

>Wild Mushroom Soup

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I’m not sure when it started, but I’ve been harboring a love for wild mushrooms, and I’m happy to play around with new ways to prepare them. I decided to make a soup with mushrooms last night because it’s starting to get frigid in Paris and I find that the best thing on a winter evening is a hot bowl of home-made soup.  Fortunately, this dish is extremely simple to make (as I find most soups are). 

Next time I make it, I will probably play around with the types of mushrooms I use, and I definitely think I will try making this with several different kinds of mushrooms (button, wild, oyster, etc.).  I hope this will at least provide a good starting off point for you, if not the final destination!  Eat while hot and please enjoy it tremendously.

Wild Mushroom Soup – serves 1

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup wild mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/4-cup beef broth
2 tablespoons milk (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
2.  Add onions, and sautee until onion softens slightly, about 5 minutes.
3.  Add the mushrooms, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and sautee until mushrooms have softened and just begin to crisp, about 10 minutes.
4.  Put in the garlic and thyme, and sautee one minute.
5.  Pour in the beef broth, and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low, and cook gently for about 20 minutes more.
6.  Transfer soup to a blender or food processor, and blend for about 10 seconds.
7.  Return to the saucepan and heat gently; add milk if using.  Cook until hot, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

>Creamy Broccoli Soup

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Ingredients: Broccoli, Onion, Chicken Broth, Heavy Cream, Gruyere Cheese
I originally started this blog because, after living in New York last year and eating take-out a little too often, and after getting much more interested in cooking and excited about the amazing food available in Paris, I realized how rewarding it is to be able to make meals for myself.  I moved to Paris with the hope of showing others how simple it is to cook good food.
So I created this blog because I want people like me, who are maybe intimidated by cooking or think it’s easier to just order in, to try their hand at some simple yet delicious recipes.  I really believe cooking for yourself is one of the best things you can do for your health, and I would be thrilled to find that people are starting to cook based on the recipes I provide here!
With that said, I’m starting a series of recipes which will each include only five ingredients or less.  They will still be yummy, but also cost- and time-efficient.  Cooking is not difficult and can be really rewarding when you find out what delicous food you can make!
I’m starting this journey with broccoli and gruyere soup, which I was happily dreaming about during my trip from Boston back to Paris.  Broccoli soup brings back memories of curling up with a big bowl, a good hunk of bread, and enjoying a perfect winter meal.  The earthy, tangy flavor of broccoli becomes milder and pairs so well with cream and cheese, which is why this soup doesn’t need a lot to make it fantastic.  So enjoy, and if you have any suggestions or ideas, please feel free to share them with me – I’m always looking for new inspiration!!
Creamy Broccoli Soup – serves 1
10 oz broccoli, cut into small florets
1/4 onion, chopped (you can save the rest for another use in the fridge)
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
1.  Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a small saucepan; add the broccoli and onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
2.  Let the vegetables cool for a moment, then puree in a blender.
3.  Return the puree back to the saucepan, put the heat on medium-low, and add the cream. 
4.  Once it’s hot, whisk the cheese in slowly, until fully combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Enjoy!! So tomorrow I’m thinking of making bacon-wrapped monkfish (again with 5 ingredients or less) – thoughts?  Any suggestions?
Additionally, I’d like to try my hand at recipes that take 10 minutes or less to make (once this series is over) - please let me know if there are other recipe guidelines you think are worth trying!

>French Lentil Soup

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Being home provides several comforts and pleasures for me, the most obvious of which is being with my family.  It is only with my mom, dad, and beautiful sister that I feel a sense of completeness which reminds me that life is short and meant to be enjoyed; this is something I do best with them.

However, there is another pleasure I feel while being home, and that is the thrill of having the best cooking equipment at my disposal.  Two convection ovens, four gas burners (better than the two hot plates I’m working with in France), granite countertops, and cookbooks.  Oh, what marvelous cookbooks!  Upon my arrival home I may have hugged The New Best Recipe, a splendid cookbook I recevied at the end of my internship at ATK. In short, I am living in the lap of luxury here; with a kitchen about 5 times the size of my 2 meter-squared box in Paris, I will be sad to part ways with it.

Today’s lunch consisted of french lentil soup, the directions for which I derived from the cookbook cited above.  I have been in the market for a good lentil soup recipe, and I have to admit that initially I was wary of this one.  About halfway through cooking it looked pretty watery and I wasn’t sure how it would end up tasting like the lentil soup I had hoped for – rich, thick, with a creamy component that warms your belly and leaves you satisfied.  However, this soup exceeded my expectations; I never knew that lentil soup could have so much flavor.  Cooking the vegetables in bacon, adding white wine and a touch of balsamic vinegar create a complex soup which is filling but light at the same time.

French Lentil Soup – makes 2 servings
I made 2 servings of this soup because leftovers can be stored for several days in the fridge; I highly recommend making more than you can eat in one sitting and saving the rest for later.

1 slice of bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
7 oz.-can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2-cup french green lentils, or lentilles de puy
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/4-cup chicken broth
1 1/4-cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1.  Fry the bacon in a stockpot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crispy, about 5 minutes.
2.  Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes
3.  Pour in the tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme; cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
4. Stir in the lentils, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes.
5.  Increase the heat to high, uncover, add the wine, and bring to a simmer.  Add the chicken broth and water; bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer for about 35 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
6.  Working in 2 or 3 batches, puree the soup in a blender.  Return to the pot, add the balsamic vinegar, and cook over low heat until hot.
7.  Pour the soup in two bowls; sprinkle with chopped parsley, and enjoy while warm.

Merci, bonne dégustation!

>Shrimp and Pumpkin Bisque

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As adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfield, copyright 2000
Nothing represents fall better than soup.  And for me, bisque immediately conjures up images of turleneck sweaters, stuffed turkeys, fireplaces, and warmth.  I love the creamy, almost nutty flavors of bisques, and the hearty energy they provide on a cold and rainy day.
This bisque is fantastic.  I mean, wow.  Everything from the roast pumpkin to the shrimp sauteed with sage provides so much depth and flavor.  I feel like the rat from ratatouille who can’t help but lose himself in the moment when describing to his less gastronomically-inclined rat friend the joy of combining multiple flavors: pumpkin! shrimp! white wine! butter! sage! cayenne! saffron! Mixed altogether into a soup creates a rat-friendly, perfect fall evening.
Shrimp and Pumpkin Bisque – serves 1
If you use fresh pumpkin (which I highly recommend doing, it makes such a difference with the flavor!), before starting this recipe, cut the pumpkin into 1-inch cubes, roast for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours, and purée. 
4 large shrimp, uncooked and unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoon dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Pinch saffron threads (about 4 or 5)
1 celery rib, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons heavy cream
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1.  Peel and devein shrimp; reserve the shells, and place the shrimp in a bag or container and store in the fridge.  Heat half of the olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Once the oil is smoking, add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring constantly, until they are just beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes. 
2.Add the wine to the pan (be careful that it doesn’t ignite – you may want to lift it off the heat for a moment), then boil it over medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated.
3.  Add the chicken stock, saffron, celery, onion, bay leaves, and sage.  Bring to a boil, then simmer gently, partially covered, for about 30 minutes.  Strain the stock through a fine sieve, pushing down on the solids to extract any extra liquid.  Pour the stock back into the saucepan.
4.  Whisk the pumpkin, cream, and cayenne into the stock.  Gently simmer for about 10 more minutes. (This can be made up to 1 day ahead – store, covered in the refigerator; keep the peeled shrimp in a resealable bag in a bowl of ice in the fridge).
5.  Heat the remaining olive oil in a smal skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp and sage, and cook until the shrimp are cooked through and slightly crispy, about 3-4 minutes. 
6.  Remove the shrimp from heat, and cut into very small pieces.  Pour the soup into a bowl; lay the shrimp over it.
Voila!! Bon appetit!