Soup for a Winter’s Night

mushroom and onion soup veg close-upCrazy December. Crazy time of year to start writing here again. But it bothered me that 2015 would go by, and there would have been no entry made the whole length of the year.

I began a great new job a year and a half ago, but it changed everything, because it changed how much and when I work. Ah, time!

My husband, who works from home, cooked more. I cooked less. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I cooked less regularly, not the habit of it so much that I’d had. But I missed it…the cooking, and the habit of cooking, and the writing, too, which had been part of the process.

So in this crazy December, I decided to blog again. I thought, “Will I do this differently, now that I’ve been gone from it for a while?” But, no, I’ll do it the same. I like focusing on one ingredient three weeks in a row. The use and repetition of things grounds me, slows me down. It focuses me.

wine...mushroom and onion soupIt can be an ingredient as simple as wine. Used to deepen the flavor of a mushroom and onion soup, which is what I made the other night.

I steeped one ounce of dried porcini mushrooms with three cups of tea-kettle hot water to rehydrate them, and also to turn that water into a mushroom broth.

Into a dry pan over medium heat, I added thinly cut strips of sage from a few sprigs I had pulled from the garden recently and kept in a shot glass of water by the kitchen sink. It was a small handful’s worth, about a tablespoon if compressed.

As that began to cook and give off its piney outdoor scent, I tossed in, as I sliced them, eight ounces each of white button and cremini mushrooms, and four ounces of shiitake mushrooms (stalks removed and added to a bag of broccolini stems in the freezer…with the hope of actually making a vegetable stock from them at some future date!).

With the mushrooms all in the pan, I turned the heat up to medium-high, stirred them, and allowed them to cook and create their own juices while I sliced two red onions. I cut the onions in half, and then those halves into thin slices, and added to the mushrooms.

Didn’t want everything to steam, and did want some browning, so I turned the heat up to high. I also added some chopped parsley stems. Just to use them, since I had some fresh parsley I was going to use to garnish the top when all done.

The mushrooms and onions became beautifully limp and browned. I squeezed excess liquid from the now-rehydrated porcini, cut into thin slices and added to the pan.

Now that things were nicely cooked down, I seasoned with salt and pepper.

I lowered the heat some, and poured in a lovely half-cup of a dry and mellow merlot. As I stirred it through, it lifted off the dry bits from the bottom of the pan and seeped into the mushrooms and onions, deepening the color and flavor.

The whole thing, right at this point, would have been delicious  poured over a bowl of buttery fettuccine, but I had that porcini broth. About two cups remained, the rest having been absorbed into the porcini.

So I added that broth to the mushrooms and onions, along with another cup of water, brought it all to a boil, tasted for seasoning.

The porcini broth and wine were all the stock this soup needed. A very light, but deep flavor, along with the texture of several mushrooms…the smooth white and cremini, and the softer and spongier texture of porcini and shiitake.

mushroom and onion soup in bowl

A couple ladlefuls into a bowl, and a sprinkle of parsley on top.

A deep and quiet soup for a deep and quiet winter night.


Happy New Year.


Lemon-Almond Tofu

lemons 4 5.3.14Last year I made a lemon-almond cake for a friend’s birthday.

And cooking with lemons reminded me of it. Remembering didn’t lead me to remaking the cake, but I did like the idea of using lemons and almonds again. Almond meal, actually.

What a nice coating the two could make for slices of tofu. I had organic sprouted tofu in the fridge. Where regular tofu is made from cooked soybeans, sprouted tofu is made from sprouted soybeans and is more easily digested, is higher in protein, calcium, and iron. Those are nice reasons to have it. And I often do, but mostly I rotate through different brands and types of tofu, because they’re all a little different texture. And it makes for variety. My one real criteria for tofu is that it be organic to avoid GMOs, and then I usually buy firm or extra-firm, because that holds up well with frying and sautéing.

So…lemon-almond tofu. With zucchini and brown rice to go with it.

To start:

  • 16 ounces organic sprouted tofu
  • 2 lemons

I turned the oven on to 400°.

I wrapped the tofu in a towel to absorb the excess moisture.

I used a hydroplane to zest the two lemons, which I then cut in half and juiced.

lemons 1 5.3Then:

  • 1/4 cup tamari (a soy sauce, but less salty, and smoother flavor)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • a few grinds of pepper

I added these, along with the lemon juice, to a flat baking dish (because it was the right size to hold eight slices of tofu in one layer), and stirred together. Just to taste the lemon juice and tamari combo, I dipped in a little bread…loved it. (I saved the leftover lemon juice-tamari marinade in the fridge as an impromptu dipping sauce for the week!) Then I sliced the tofu into those eight slices, lengthwise, like planks, and set them in the marinade.

Zucchini next:

I sliced three smallish-medium zucchini into planks also, laid them on a baking sheet that I had drizzled extra-virgin olive oil over, turned them front and back in the oil, added salt and pepper. Set them aside while the oven heated up.

And turned the tofu slices over in the marinade to get the other side absorbing the lemony tamari.

The coating:

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • the zest from the 2 lemons
  • pepper and salt

I mixed this together in a dish, and dipped my finger in to have a taste. So good…lemony almond meal and a little kick from the black pepper.

I heated a pan over medium-high heat with a mix of grapeseed oil and extra-virgin olive oil, mostly to have a little richness from the olive oil, but not too much of the olive taste, and allow the lemon zest and almond meal to have their space.

While that heated up, I slid the zucchini slices into the oven, and then proceeded to coat the tofu planks with the lemon zest-almond meal mix and set in the pan to brown, turning carefully (so as not to lose too much of the coating) to brown the other side. When the first batch was done, I put it on a pan and slid that into the oven as well, to keep warm. And cooked up the other half of the tofu. Then added that to the pan in the oven also.

By then the zucchini was done, having roasted for about 15 minutes on one side, then 5 minutes more on the other side. So I turned the oven off, and and left the tofu and zucchini there to stay warm while I made a quick rice.

For the rice:

  • 1 package frozen microwavable organic brown rice
  • 1 thinly sliced scallion
  • 1/2 of a long chile pepper, seeded and minced

First, I tossed the remaining lemon zest-almond meal mix into the pan to brown and become a toasted crumble. While that browned, I cooked the rice according to directions (in its package for 3 minutes on high). I emptied the rice into a bowl, stirred in the minced chile pepper, and put that in the microwave on high for 30 seconds, just to wilt it in there a little. To that I added the scallion, salt and pepper…and stirred in the browned lemon zest-almond meal mix. Nice!

lemons 6 5.3.14Dinner was ready: lemon-almond tofu slices, roasted zucchini slices, and the quickie lemon-almond-chile rice.

Lots of frying, browning, roasting, and yet all kept fresh and light because of the brightness of the lemon coming through in each bite. And a mix of textures, too: the nutty coating on the soft tofu, the tenderness of the roasted zucchini, the rice with the slight crunch of scallion and almond. Variations in flavor: light lemoniness, tamari, nuttiness, some bite from back pepper and chile pepper.

What a delicious dinner!

Lemon-Olive Tapenade

lemons 3 4.27.14I made this little tapenade one evening a couple of weeks ago, and it’s amazing to me that this small list of ingredients took til now to show up in a post! But, sometimes, that’s the way it goes.

Traditionally, a tapenade includes olives, capers and anchovies. This tapenade includes the olives part.

I had what turned out to be about three-quarters of a cup of Luques olives (a very nice green olive that I used here most recently) left in a jar, and I decided to use them up.

I pulled out my food processor, and processed each of these ingredients separately (because I wasn’t sure how much I would need):

  • the 3/4 cup of olives, pitted first!
  • 1/4 of a small red onion (I got about 2 tablespoons from this, and used 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • handful of cilantro

I didn’t purée them, just got them to a small mince.

lemons 1 4.27.14Scooped each of the ingredients into a bowl as they were ready. Then to them I added the zest of 1 medium lemon, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and some freshly ground pepper.

I enjoyed this on crackers…along with cocktails and the company of my husband and sister!

Lemony Light Pots de Crème

lemons 1 4.8.14I had gone to Longwood Gardens to buy orchids…not because I needed another orchid, or, for that matter, any other additional plant in my sunroom! Longwood, one of the great public gardens in the Philadelphia area, is just a few miles away from me, and a few late-winter weeks ago my husband and I spent part of my birthday there. We walked the outdoor paths, breathed in cold, crisp air, took in the snowy landscape. Beautiful.

Then we went indoors to the conservatory, and were overtaken with breathtaking color and lushness…and orchids everywhere. It was their Orchids Extravaganza. Orchids were tucked in among other plants, hung from rafters, grouped together into orchid trees.

So when the display was dismantled, and the orchids offered at discounted prices, off I went to pick up a little piece of that day. Of the remaining orchids I was drawn to the oncidiums, and bought two. It was the yellow, I think. One had yellow flowers with touches of purple and ivory, and the other was ivory with purple and bits of yellow.

Spring seems to finally be declaring itself around here, and, yellow…well, yellow is a sunny color, and seemed right in step with incoming spring.

And sunny yellow made me think of lemons, for which I happen to have several clipped recipes gathered over several years…and never made.

So I pulled one out.

Lemon pots de crème. Lemon pots of custard.

Meant to make six individual servings, it was perfect, because I happened to have six individual-sized, ovenproof custard cups, having bought them to make the mushroom tarts I wrote about last year.

Here’s the recipe for lemony, sunshiny pots de crème.

  • 2 medium lemons (or whatever amount of lemons it takes to get 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of zest. I happened to have little ones, and it took 6!)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks (I froze the whites to thaw out another time and make meringues.)
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • powdered sugar (to dust on top of cooked and cooled custards)

Heat the oven to 325°. Grate 1 teaspoon of lemon zest. Squeeze that 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Whisk in sugar, egg, and yolks, then whisk in cream until sugar dissolves. Pass mixture through a strainer; stir in zest.

Put six 1/2-cup, ovenproof custard cups in a deep baking dish. Divide the lemon mixture evenly between them. Slide the whole thing into the oven and fill the baking dish with hot tap water to come within 1/2 inch of the top of the custard cups. Bake, uncovered, until custards are just set in the centers, 35 to 40 minutes. Carefully remove from water and set aside to cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar.

lemons 4 4.8.14What a burst of flavor that first bite is! Lemony tart! You know that it’s rich, because you realize, as you’re eating, that one serving is plenty…yet light and bright at the same time.

Pots de crèmes of sunshine.