Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Mushroom Soups

This is a tale of two mushroom soups. My brother René invented one of them, using the fresh, wild, morel mushrooms he picked a few weeks ago in the woods near his mountain home (for more about morels, see my blog of May 9, 2011). The day he concocted this soup was memorable: It was the same day a black bear ambled through his front garden and a moose meandered through the back. Take that, international readers!
In the particular region of the time zone where I live, there are no fresh morels, so I read my brother’s recipe and salivated. At a gazillion dollars an ounce, dried morels are out of my budget, because René’s soup takes quite a few (Oh, gee ... I'm supposed to sound authoritative on such matters. OK, I'll give it a whirl: I recently spotted a 22-gram package of four or five dried morels in the supermarket for $5. If a kilogram is 1000 grams, or 2.2 pounds, and 22 grams cost $5, how much does a pound cost?  Anyone?  Anyone? ANYONE? Oh, never mind! I'll get a calculator ... Wait a sec... 1,000 divided by 22 = 45.45.  45.45 x $5.00 = roughly $227.50 a kilogram, divided by 2.2 = 103.40 kilometers. As I was saying, that's out of my budget!). 

Pumped and primed, I really wanted mushroom soup after reading about René’s, so created my own soup with what was in the cupboard, loosely basing it on his recipe. 
Should you be fortunate enough to have access to fresh morels, try this delicious soup during the brief picking season of a future year. Should you be wise enough to have dried your own morels - or rich enough to afford them any old time you like - take some chicken or turkey broth, green onion (“spring” onion), butter, morels, sour cream, whipping cream, seasonings, and set to work! Don’t be horrified by the fat in these recipes! It’s certainly present and adds flavor, but there isn’t a huge quantity of it. Fat is an essential nutrient. We often have too much of it, so have a splurge now and then while making daily choices that use it in moderation. Both recipes follow:
René’s Morel Mushroom Soup:
2 dozen morel mushrooms, fresh or dried (see Note)
3 tbsp. butter (that’s the quantity René used; I’d be tempted to try 2 tbsp.)
4 c. (32 oz. or 1 L pkg) chicken or turkey broth (commercial or homemade)
2 c. “mushroom water,” if using dried morels
1 medium green onion (“spring” onion), finely minced
⅓ c. dairy sour cream
¼ c. light cream (10-to-12% fat content)
Salt and pepper, to taste
If using fresh morels, rinse and blot them dry to remove any last grains of sand and soil that may cling to them. If using dried morels, rehydrate them by soaking in one or two cups of cold water for 20 minutes. Save this “mushroom water” to add to the soup, straining it through a coffee filter to ensure it’s free of detritus. Give the morels a final rinse under cold running water, blotting them with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture. Dice the mushrooms into 1/4" or smaller pieces. Melt butter on medium-low in medium skillet, frying mushrooms until light golden and tender.  
Pour stock and reserved mushroom water into a medium saucepan, bringing to a simmer. Add the fried morels, stirring occasionally. Toss in the chopped green onion. Reduce heat to low, gradually whisking in sour cream and light cream. Do not allow to boil. Simmer 15-to-20 min., allowing flavors to blend and deepen. Season to taste. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This is René’s recipe, just as he gave it to me. He reports that the mushroom’s folds sometimes make them hard to clean, so resist the temptation to eat right to the bottom of your soup bowl! Experienced cooks will recognize that René’s method departs from the usual way to make soup, which involves the gradual heating of the sour cream and light cream with the mushrooms, the likely incorporation of a thickening agent such as flour, and the slow addition of stock. René is more of a “wing it” cook - I had to drag the quantities from him - but his soup was nonetheless a huge hit. Different cooks use different methods, so I’ll respect his. My Shitaki Mushroom Soup uses a more conventional method. I like to keep a modest quantity of commercially dried mushrooms on hand for those times when I have no fresh or canned ones.

Part of Rene's morel mushroom harvest

Nicole’s Shitaki Mushroom Soup:

3 c. dried, sliced shitake mushrooms, divided (or any type of fresh or dried mushrooms you prefer)
4 c. (32 oz. or 1 L pkg) chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
3/4 c. heavy cream (unsweetened “whipping” cream)
1 medium green onion (“spring” onion), finely minced
2 tbsp. beef bouillon concentrate (see Note) 
½ c. instant mashed potato flakes (see Note)
2 tbsp. red wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley, finely chopped, as garnish
Rehydrate dried mushrooms in chicken or turkey broth for 20 min. Drain mushrooms, reserving broth. Finely chop 1 c. of the mushrooms, leaving the rest sliced. Melt butter on medium-low heat in medium saucepan, frying sliced and diced mushrooms until light golden and tender. Reduce heat to simmer, gradually stirring in heavy cream. Add green onion just at the last few seconds. Gradually add stock, beef bouillon concentrate, and instant mashed potato flakes, stirring well until slightly thickened. Do not allow to boil. Simmer 15-to-20 min., allowing flavors to blend and deepen. Add wine or sherry, seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley. Serves 4.

Note: Professional chefs often use an excellent jelled bouillon concentrate, available in fine supermarkets and high-end gourmet meat shops. That aside, making your own concentrate is very simple. When I slow-cooked lamb shanks the night before I made this soup, Ron was clever enough to save and chill the seasoned stock that resulted. All I had to do was skim off the hardened fat. You can also use powdered or liquid bouillon concentrates in this recipe, but nothing is as good as the jelled concentrate, in my opinion.
Note: Perhaps, like me, instant mashed potato flakes aren’t an ingredient you’d normally have in your cupboard. They do make a great soup thickener, are a great convenience when you’re cooking in a boat or camp-site. They're also an essential ingredient in my Potato-Crusted Chicken (see my blog post of April 27, 2011).
Start with the basics ...

Reap the rewards! 

Monday, May 30, 2011


Some people make soup. My Austrian grandmother made zoop. It cured everything. It was fragrant and delicious. And it filled us up when we were hungry. And now I make zoop, too (For specifics, see my Jan. 19, 2012 blog on How to Make Stock).
Sometimes I start from scratch, throwing bones, vegetables and seasonings into a large pot to produce chicken, vegetable, or beef stock. I bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to let it simmer, chill it overnight, skim off the fat, and theres the start of a fine zoop! My grandmother, or Mutti, would have been proud.
I grew up as the earth was cooling. European households were big on European morality tales - and my Austrian grandmother told some dandies! Enter Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann, who as any good child raised in early post-war Europe knows, was the Morality Tale to End All Morality Tales. Struwwelpeter - literally, “Shaggy Peter” - was a naughty, naughty boy who let his hair and fingernails grow too long. As a consequence, he was shunned by his friends. Today, the kid would be a rock star.
In these morality tales, naughty children always met dire consequences. A thumb sucker has his thumbs snipped off; a girl who plays with matches burns to death; a boy who ventures outside during a storm is blown away - presumably to his doom! What does this have to do with soup? Everything.
I was raised with the story of Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar (The Story of the Soup-Kaspar). You can imagine where this is going! Kaspar, a robust young boy, refuses to eat his soup. Over the next five days, he wastes away and dies. Surprise, surprise! While I remember Soup-Kaspar, I also remember a lad named Augustus - same story, same demise. It reads:
The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup
Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had;
And everybody saw with joy,
The plump and hearty healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold Winters day,
He screamed out - Take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today!

How lank and lean Augustus grows!
Next day he scarcely fills his clothes,
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill,
The naughty fellow cries out still -
Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today!

The third day comes; oh, what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup is put on table,
He screams as loud as he is able,
Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today!

Look at him now, the fourth days come!
He scarcely weighs a sugar-plum;
Hes like a little bit of thread,
And on the fifth day he was - dead!
On that cheery note, Ill bid you auf weidersehen! 
My advancing years and a lack of freezer space have changed the way I do things, so that I often buy stock ready-made and prepackaged. I’d like to pretend that mine’s better, but the commercial product is actually very good, so give yourself a break and buy some, if you don’t already do that. Once you have the stock, making homemade soup is - pardon the adjective - dead simple.
I’ll give you my favorite Shitaki Mushroom Soup recipe in tomorrow’s blog posting. I’m pleased to say that I invented it, but that’s what homemade soup is - one part stock, and two parts inspiration! 

Until then, Dollinks - xox  Nicole

Friday, May 27, 2011

I’m Still Sweating at the Gym ...

Another satisfied customer of
Nicole Parton's Favorite Recipes!

Hi, everyone! I remain AWOL, but am still thinking about cooking! On my return next week, I’ll have a trio of easy Crème Brûlées for you! And a great Streusel Coffee Cake! And two amazing Mushroom Soup recipes!
As you may remember, a few dogs also follow this cooking blog! I may just include a new recipe for them, too!
 xox   Nicole

Getting his licks in: Nicole Parton’s 
Favorite Recipes gave me a new leash on life!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


OK, I’ll be frank. Something has gone terribly, tragically wrong. All I wanted to do was blog about cooking …  Is that so much to ask? But then things started spiraling out of control. Warm Chevre ... Oven FriesCrab and Asparagus SupremeSeafood Pesto PizzaFood, food, food!
I couldn’t stop cooking. Ron couldn’t stop eating. All day and all night, we ate. We began to feel a strange kinship with the force-fed geese of France. Asked to sign his name on a credit card receipt, Ron accidentally wrote “Foie Gras.” Ron says we’ve gained weight since I began blogging. No, no, a thousand times no! As you can see, we look exactly the same as we did last month!

Ron, May 2011
Nicole, May 2011

Ron and Nicole, April 2011

Our daughter-in-law Patty, who reads this blog, inexplicably claimed she was going on The Seafood Diet. What we didn’t realize that that she meant the See Food Diet. Patty sees food. And eats it. We discovered the awful truth when she put a cooked lobster on her head. We didn’t mind that so much, but the butter sauce ruined the sofa. She promised to lick it off.

My sister Louise, having eaten 26 of my blogged dishes over a period of 2½ days, collapsed and had to be hauled home in a semi.

So that’s the real reason why I’ve stopped blogging for awhile. On my return, I plan to give you my recipe for A Hot Bowl of SteamA bientôt, Dollinks! 



Don’t Touch that Dial!

I’m busy on a writing project, and will be AWOL for the next little while as I fuss with some edits and additions. At the moment, Ron is doing all the cooking but I have no time to pinch-hit as his photographer. I will miss you, but - as Arnold once said: “I'll be baack!”   xox   Nicole

Monday, May 23, 2011

Scallop, Shrimp, or Crab Omelet

There are times when nothing will do but an omelet. I want it! I need it! I crave it! Whoops! That’s something else, but an omelet would be nice, all the same. My friend Lynn has been striving to make the perfect omelet, and recently asked how I make mine. By Lynn’s definition, the perfect omelet is fluffy, fluffy, fluffy! I’m not sure mine are fluffy enough for Lynn’s taste, but what I do is throw a few eggs and a little milk into the blender, whirling them at the highest speed with generous grindings of coarse salt and pepper and some dried parsley flakes or dried chives (use freshly snipped chives, if you have them). But let’s back up a wee bit! 

The following YouTube video will (sort of) show you how to make an omelet. I did not make this film clip, and some of you may find the language offensive. It is, to say the least, an unusual approach to cooking:

Now let’s return to our omelet! Assembling and preparing the ingredients takes about 15 min., and cooking it takes about 5 min., so plan accordingly to coordinate both dishes. In the Time Zone and at the Latitude where I live, I have easy access to fresh and frozen seafood, so my pick of the day was a scallop filling for our omelet. You can use shrimp, chopped chicken, chopped ham, or slices of onion, mushrooms, and grated cheese, but the more ingredients you pile onto the filling, the less fluffy your omelet will be. 
Scallop, Shrimp, or Crab Omelet:
2 tsp. cooking oil
5 whole eggs 
2 tbsp. milk
Generous grindings of coarse salt and pepper 
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes or dried chives (see Note)
2 large raw scallops, cut into eighths (or use 12-to-16 small scallops or ½ c. baby shrimp or 1 c. flaked crabmeat)
½ c. grated cheddar (see Note)
1 green onion, finely chopped
Assemble and prepare all ingredients. If using frozen scallops or shrimp, thaw and blot dry before use. Heat oil in non-stick skillet at medium-high setting. Place all ingredients except parsley or chives, scallops, cheddar, and green onion into the blender. Whirl at highest setting. Pour all at once into hot fat, immediately reducing heat to medium. After 20 or 30 seconds, lift egg mixture around the edges, allowing raw egg to run to edges of pan. 

Spread raw scallops or shrimp, grated cheese, and most of the green onion over egg in skillet. Using a “wiggle” motion, continue lifting egg mixture around edges of pan. When egg mixture is puffed and solid around edges, but still slightly soft at the center, fold omelet in half, over itself. Sprinkle with remaining green onion. Cut omelet crosswise, serving immediately. Serves 2.

Grate cheese and set aside
Chop scallops and green onion
Lift egg mixture at edges of skillet

Note: Use fresh parsley or chives, if available. As a bride, I didn’t know “less is more,” and so piled on numerous seasonings for the first scrambled eggs I ever made - so many that my eggs actually turned gray. Caution! Don’t overdo the herbs and spices for any egg dish. Also as a bride, I thought the best way to make stuffed pork chops was to fill and tie two chops using rubber bands. Yes! Rubber bands! You should have seen how they looked when they emerged from a hot oven! 

As it turned out, I was one step ahead of technology. Today, we have the miracle of silicone bands that withstand temperatures of -67 deg. F (-55 deg. C) to more than 572 deg. F. (300 deg. C). Chances are, you’ve already replaced your cooking spoons, spatulas, and “bristle”-style pastry brushes with soft, flexible ones made of silicone. They’re non-reactive, wash beautifully, withstand extreme heat and cold, and don’t discolor. Silicone gets my vote as one of todays most useful kitchen tools!
Further Note: Check out the rotary cheese grater in the first omelet preparation photo. This restaurant-style grater is excellent for any hard cheese - and stylish at the table for grating fresh Parmesan over pasta. It cost approximately $12; I’ve had mine for years and years. It’s made by Zyliss, and no, Dollinks, I’m not being paid to promote anyone’s products! I also use a standard box grater, but want to caution you against buying one particular type of grater that I personally find a waste of money.

Just before serving, fold omelet in half

In the medieval Italian village of San Gimignano, I once fell in love with - sorry to disappoint you - a cheese grater shaped like a half-barrel, the edges of which slid into a small wooden box intended to catch the grated cheese. Thinking how attractive box and grater would look at the table, I simply had to own this! The duo did look good at the table - but proved useless. I’d failed to consider that the grater’s half-barrel design allowed more cheese to fall outside the box than inside. Remembering the old lesson that form follows (rather than precedes) function, I eventually gave away both grater and box. So if I say a brand-name kitchen product is good, please know my recommendation comes from experience.

Oven-Baked Fries

Today’s blog touts Oven-Baked Fries. There are many great ways to make these. You can use parsnips; you can use yams; you can use sweet potatoes. For today’s lunch for the two of us, I used two  medium russet or “baking” potatoes. So let’s go! Click once on each photo to expand it and watch me at work!
Oven-Baked Fries:
Peel and slice each potato lengthwise into quarters, and then halve each quarter lengthwise. How many is that? If you guessed “eighths,” you’re well on your way to winning today’s math prize! Plunge the potato slices into ice water, chilling them 15-to-20 min. 
Preheat oven to 475 deg. F. Drain potato slices well, blotting with a paper towel. In a medium mixing bowl, combine 2 tbsp. cooking oil, generous grindings of coarse salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and ¼ tsp. dried, crumbled rosemary (or any dried herb of your choice) for each large potato. Set aside. 
Add potato slices to seasoned oil, mixing to coat well (I find that clean hands work better than a spoon for this job). Lay potatoes in a single layer on a parchment-covered baking sheet. With oven rack in center setting, bake potatoes 35 min. or until golden and crisp, turning over with a lifter midway through baking. These fries are delicious! 

Chill potato slices in ice-water bath.

Blot dry; lightly coat with seasoned oil.

Bake until golden and crisp.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Marinated Cucumber Salad

There are many versions of this excellent make-ahead salad. This one’s my favorite!

Marinated Cucumber Salad:

1 large long “English” (seedless) cucumber, unpeeled
2-to-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1-to-1-½ tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. dried dill weed
Dash of finely ground pepper
Thinly slice cucumber. Place one layer of cucumber slices into ceramic or glass pie plate. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat layering and salting until all cucumber slices have been used. Place cello wrap directly over cucumbers. Cover with a second, smaller pie pan, adding pie weights, marbles, or water to weight the pan down. Place in refrigerator for several hours. Remove weight and drain liquid from cucumbers, rinsing away excess salt with cold water. Drain well. Shake remaining ingredients together in small jar. Pour over cucumbers. Chill 30 min. Serves 2.

Slice cukes finely; salt well

Weight top pan over first

Rinse cucumbers of salt, draining well
And now to enjoy one of my very favorite salads!