Asparagus Soup

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I enjoy a lot of food in its purest form. Like a ripe peach. A just-boiled potato with cheese. Radishes with butter and salt. A raw oyster immersed in its salty liqueur.

I love to cook, but I also respect beautiful, seasonal produce, like springtime asparagus and strawberries. I’d rather eat just-picked strawberries than put them in a batch of blondies, for example.

Likewise, with asparagus, preparing them simply steamed with a little olive oil and lemon is perfection to me.

However, I feel that creating a soup with fresh asparagus isn’t disrespectful. As long as you allow the asparagus to shine.

So here’s my version of asparagus soup. There’s an extra step making asparagus broth with the ends, then completing the soup. Thanks to my girlfriend Gabriella for teaching me this!

Springtime Asparagus Soup
printable recipe below

2 bunches of fresh asparagus, about 2 pounds total
1 small onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
A sprig of parsley
1 bay leaf
Pinch of salt
Chicken stock, about 32 ounces
2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
White pepper, optional

Rinse the asparagus gently in cool water. Remove the tough ends by breaking them off where they tell you to.


Set aside the asparagus for later, wrapped in a damp cloth.

Place all of the ends in a medium stock pot. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, a pinch of salt, and cover with the chicken stock.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, let the mixture cool, then pour through a colander, collecting the asparagus stock in another pot.

Add the asparagus and the butter to the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, until the asparagus has softened.

Let the soup cool, then pour everything into a large blender.


Purée the soup, adjusting the amount of liquid, depending on the consistency you prefer.

Taste for salt. Season with white pepper if desired

Serve hot or warm.

Add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche if desired. Or flower petals.

This is a very thick soup. I you prefer, substitute some cream for some of the broth.

 

 

Dried Fruit Sauce

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In yesterday’s post on fruited duck breasts, I mentioned that I served them with a “fruited” sauce. After completing the duck breasts and the sauce, there was just too much information and too many photos for a single post. So here is the sauce I made for the duck breasts, using dried fruit.

This sauce would be just as good with poultry, pork, or lamb. Plus, you can really mix and match the ingredients to suit your tastes. This is your sauce, make it yours!

Fruit Sauce

1/4 cup dried pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
Chambord
1 cup chicken broth or other
1 tablespoon veal or chicken demi-glace
Oil left in a skillet after searing meat
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon ancho chile paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sherry vinegar

First, place the pomegranate and raisins in a small bowl. Cover them with the chambord and set aside.
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Pour the stock into a measuring cup and add the tablespoon of demi-glace. Heat the stock in the microwave until you can dissolve the demi-glace in it.
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If there’s a lot of oil in the skillet you’re going to use, pour some off. You will have quite a bit if you’ve just cooked duck breasts with the skin. Keep about one tablespoon in the skillet.

Heat the fat over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 4-5 minutes, then stir in the garlic.
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As soon as you can smell the garlic, add the stock with the demi-glace, plus the wine.
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Then add all of the juices that have run off from the duck or whatever meat you seared and cooked.
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Heat the liquid gently and let it reduce. If you’re unsure about reducing liquid, read my post on it here.

Meanwhile, strain the raisins and pomegranates over a bowl. Keep the Chambord, but not for this recipe. I didn’t want the sauce too sweet. You can always use it in another reduction or marinade.

When the liquid has reduced by at least half, add the ancho chile paste and salt. Stir well.
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Then stir in the fruits and keep cooking over low heat.
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When there’s barely any liquid in the skillet, pour in the vinegar. This will brighten the sauce a bit, and offset the sweetness from the fruit. Continue to cook until there’s barely any liquid in the skillet again. Then it’s ready to serve.

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Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and pass around with the duck breasts or lamb chops.
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note: If you’re limited on time, reduce all of the liquids except the vinegar first, until just 1/4 or so remains in the saucepan. Then the sauce-making time will be cut back significantly.

another note: The ingredients that you can make your own include:
1. your choice of dried fruits (try apples and apricots instead of pomegranates and raisins)
2. your choice of liqueur (try port instead of Chambord)
3. your choice of liquids (try home-made stock, red wine, port, vermouth, madera, marsala, whatever you like and have on hand)
4. your choice of seasoning (try a little thyme or even a little curry powder instead of the ancho chile paste)

Red Wine Reduction

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A reduction is just that – a volume of liquid that is reduced by evaporation. The wonderful thing is that when a liquid, like wine, is reduced, it almost becomes like a syrup. So when you choose to make a reduction, you don’t need any flour like when you make a gravy. Reductions are velvety smooth.

I wanted to make a reduction to serve with the beef Wellington I made for a special dinner. With a reduction, there are so many choices, but I’ll share what I chose to do, plus mention some alternatives as well.

Red Wine Reduction

Skillet in which the 2 beef filets were seared, with leftover olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 purple onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Beef broth, about 2 cups
Red wine, about 1 cup
1 teaspoon beef demi-glace

Heat up the skillet over medium heat. Add the butter to the oil in the skillet. Begin by sautéing the onions until they’re soft, about 4 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook them while stirring for almost a minute.

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Pour in the broth and wine. Let the liquid come to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the liquid just barely boils. I recommend that you keep a close eye on this process because you don’t want to lose the goodness that’s in the skillet by accident.
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After about 45 minutes or so, this is what’s left in the skillet. Magic!
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Add the demi-glace and stir it into the warm reduction. Remove the skillet from the stove and pour the reduction into a small serving bowl. The reduction can be reheated later in the microwave if you need to wait to use it.

There are a few options, like I mentioned. First, I had to choose between serving the reduction as is, or puréeing it. It would be a little thicker puréed, but still silky smooth, but I decided to leave it as is; I didn’t mind the texture.

Taste the reduction before you serve it, to make sure it’s to your liking. If you ever want a reduction made with red wine seasoned beyond salt and pepper, some dried thyme is lovely in it.

There are other options with the liquids used in reductions. Regarding the broth, home-made is best, but I unfortunately had none on hand. I thought about reducing the purchased broth by itself first, since they’re terribly watery, but I decided it would be fine added along with the wine. And it turned out fine since I probably lost about 3 cups of liquid during the reduction process.

Regarding alcohol, you can also use Madeira or dry sherry or Marsala in reductions. Even a little cognac adds some zing. You won’t get that explosive alcoholic flavor after the liquid reduces, so don’t worry about that. And if you don’t want a dark-colored reduction like I did for the beef, you could also choose a lighter-colored chicken stock and white wine instead. It will still make a richly flavored reduction.

Like I mentioned, I served this reduction along with the beef Wellington. I didn’t want to drizzle the sauce on the top of the pretty pastry, so I just placed some directly on the dinner plate. As the plate is also brown, it’s a bit hard to see! The reduction almost looks watery in the photograph, but it was fairly thick, actually.

reduction

Other ingredients can be used for the aromatics as well. Shallots, for one thing, and garlic is always optional. You could also add celery and carrot dice to this sauce as well. I’ve sometimes included a sun-dried tomato as well, one that’s stored in oil, not the dry kind, to add some flavor and texture to a reduction that is puréed.

note: When I first started making the reduction, I had it in my mind that I would be blending it up at the end, but I changed my mind. I would have preferred to have more finely chopped both the onions and garlic beforehand. But in the recipe I’ve listed finely-chopped onions, and diced garlic, which is what I should have done. That’s probably why the onion and garlic pieces look bigger – they are!

Pho

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I’m positive that most all of you food lovers out there in the blogosphere have enjoyed pho, that quintessentially Vietnamese soup that’s equally messy and delicious. Especially those of you who live in larger cities, where there tend to be a delicious variety of ethnic restaurants.

Myself, I never indulged in pho until just recently, when my daughter took me to a well known Vietnamese restaurant that she and her husband frequent in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I was thoroughly satisfied after my very long and patient wait.

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The soup is a flavorful broth with noodles, beef slices, and bean sprouts, although there are other versions, including a vegetarian pho, available at this restaurant as well. But then here comes the fun part. You get to add Sriracha, hoisin sauce, cilantro, basil, lime juice and sliced jalapenos.

It would be so fun to have a pho party some time, just set up a bar of fun pho ingredients. But the only negative is how messy it is to eat. So maybe I won’t do it. Scratch that idea.

However, I did want to make pho at home from scratch, since I can’t go to any restaurant where I live and order it. I based my recipe that I’m posting here on one I found online from Food and Wine.

Pho Broth

Beef short ribs* and pork neck bones, about 6 pounds total
Oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
4 allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
Rock sugar – I used a few brown sugar cubes

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First place all of the meat and bones in a large pot. Add water to cover by at least 1″.
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Bring the meat and bones to a boil.

Meanwhile, add a little oil to a skillet, and sauté the onion and ginger until there’s a little color on them.
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Place the cloves, allspice, cinnamon, fennel seeds and bay leaves in a muslin bag, or a piece of tied up cheesecloth and set aside.

After the meat and bones have reached a boil, pour the water off. You may have to wait until things cool down a bit so you don’t get a meat and bone facial over your sink. They will look like this.
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Then cover the meat and bones with water again, add the onion and ginger, the bag of spices, and the sugar cubes.
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Bring the pot to a boil again, then cover and simmer for at least 2 1/2 hours. Let cool.

Place a colander over a large bowl and pour the whole thing into the colander. Place the bowl of broth in the refrigerator overnight.
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You will be left with a lot of bones.
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Remove any good meat from the beef short ribs, place the meat in a sealable plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.

The next thing to do is make a spicy oil to add to the pho:

Heat 1/4 cup of plain, tasteless oil in a small pan on the stove over low heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and a pinch of salt. Just let the ingredients “warm” in the oil for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and store the pan in the refrigerator.

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The next day, remove the fat from the broth, and then pour it back into a pot to heat on the stove. Taste the broth and add salt if you think it needs it.

Get the spicy sesame oil out of the refrigerator and strain it into a small bowl. Save the goodies to throw into a stir fry.

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Meanwhile, get out your other ingredients:

Limes
Cilantro
Bean sprouts
Cooked noodles
Sriracha
Hoisin sauce
Meat from short ribs
Jalapeno slices

To serve the pho, start by ladling the hot broth into a large bowl. Add some noodles and bean sprouts. Add some beef, and then sprinkle on the jalapenos, cilantro, and basil. Squeeze some lime into the pho as well. And then season everything by adding Sriracha and hoisin sauce, to taste. But you’re not done. Then add some of the spicy sesame oil on the top.
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Pho is typically eaten with a porcelain spoon in combination with chop sticks, but I don’t own one of those spoons.

pho

verdict: I’m glad I made this once. This pho was really remarkable. The broth was fabulous and flavorful. But I think the spicy sesame oil was the biggest hit of all. Making pho from scratch isn’t much work – it’s just time consuming. And then I found this:

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* The recipe called for oxtails, which I can’t get here.

Beef Stock

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Do you ever end up with a lot of beef bones? Maybe after de-boning a large roast? If you hate to waste food like I do, try this simple way to make beef stock using bones! It’s so simple, and yet a smart way to take advantage of leftover bones.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Start by putting all of your trimmed bones in a large roasting pan. Globs of trimmed fat are fine as well. Some people believe in salting and peppering the bones and bits, but I just leave mine plain. After you’ve collected the stock, you can taste and season. That way, you also don’t end up with too salty of a stock.

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Roast the bones for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375 degrees and continue roasting for another hour.

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Remove the pan from the oven and place it over 1 or two burners on the stove. Let the pan cool for a while, then add some filtered water to it.

Turn on the heat until the broth just boils, then turn it down to a low simmer. You could add other ingredients at this point, and seasonings like bay leaves, but I like to just leave it alone and keep it simple. Bones and water. And some fat.

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After about two hours, and occasionally turning the bones, you’re left with a beautiful broth like this.

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Let the mixture cool somewhat, then place everything through a colander over a large bowl and drain well. And there you have it.

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Refrigerate the broth overnight, then remove the fat layer before proceeding with a recipe.

I happened to use this broth when I made chili, and it was delicious!

note: This could be called either a stock or a broth. There are more involved home-made stocks, like those that also include vegetables, but personally I like just using the bones. Then I get the meaty beef flavor into my soup or stew via the stock/broth, and then add the aromatics at that time I’m preparing the soup or stew recipe. It’s just a personal choice.