A Bowl of Nostalgia

“Only the pure of heart can make good soup.” – Beethoven

A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend a summer studying in France.  I like to think of this as the summer I ate my way around Europe.  And like most adventures in eating, I stumbled across something I loved and will forever associate with that summer: soupe de poisson.

It’s basically a French fish soup very similar to bouillabaisse.     It’s thick and garlicky, with a fish flavor that’s hearty but not heavy. There are dozens if not hundreds of versions, but I was hoping to find one close to what I remembered.  But first I had to track down a recipe…

Handsome Husband bought me a vintage copy of Larousse’s Gastronomique (first English version!) which had about 25 versions of fish stew/bouillabaisse in it.  Then I found this recipe from good ol’ Martha.  And this guide from, of all places, Country Living.

The methods and main ingredients were the same in all three of these sources.  So I figured I could follow that and tweak the ingredients to get the flavor I was looking for.   Annnnd, we’re off:

 

Tomatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, and bay leaf

 

The first round of ingredients go into the pot: tomatoes, leeks, onions, garlic, fennel, pepper, and saffron.  Let them soften and sweat for about 5 minutes.  Next add the fish, wine, and water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer and make your kitchen smell delicious.

While the soup is simmering and reducing, slice up some thin slices of baguette and toast just slightly.  Prepare the rouille.  Rouille is a mixture of mayo, garlic, red pepper, and saffron.   Can I just mention that I LOVE that the French have multiple versions of “fancy mayonnaise”?  Genius.

The next step involves straining all the solids out of the soup.   You have to really push the soup through a sieve to get all the liquid out:

 

Straining out all the solids

 

I then did a quick mix with an immersion blender, to ensure it was really smooth.

 

Immersion blender....Best. Tool. Ever.

 

Now we’re ready to serve!   Ladle the soup into bowls, smear a little of the rouille on a slice of baguette, and float it on the soup.  Sprinkle a little Parmesan and VOILA!

 

Ahhhhhh! Just how the French intended!

 

A little chilled white from the Loire Valley and you’re all set. The soup is filling, without being heavy and it does have a fish flavor, but its not “fishy”.  I think for most of us in flyover country, its a really unexpected “seafood” dish and not what most poeple think of when they imagine French food.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: The recipes seemed much more surmountable that than making bouillabaisse!  Which, most aficionados will tell you takes hours if not days to make properly.    And you get to eat rouille (aka fancy mayonnaise)…which is DELICIOUS.

The best compliment

Plus, during dinner, you can regale your fellow diners with the tale. of the night in Nice when you got ketchup on your post-bar kebab and began a tradition called “The Throwing of the Kebab”.

I’m pretty sure they still celebrate it in France.

xoxo Flyover Foodie

More Flyover Love

“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy

So a couple months ago I posted about how pleased I was that the show “No Reservations” was featuring both a French bistro in Des Moines, as well as a tiny, remarkable meat locker in Jewel, Iowa.

But it was not to be. To the cutting room floor.

Anthony Bourdain, I think you’re great.  But seriously, editing out Iowa and keeping Texas in your “Heartland” episode.  That I cannot overlook.  Everyone knows Texas is not the Midwest; Texas is Texas.  (shakes head)

BUT- like so many things in life, food television karma is cyclical.

TONITE: Man vs. Food airs an episode set smack in the middle of Flyover Country.  And something tells me that Adam Richman will have an appreciation for local flavor that Bourdain obviously did not. Tune in tonight on the Travel Channel. Check out the full article here: Man vs. Food

Back tomorrow with reviews and a nostalgic French recipe.  Until then…

xoxo Flyover Foodie

Another #FAIL

“Give me yesterday’s bread, this day’s flesh, and last year’s cider.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

My Uncle came for a weekend visit this summer with my Dad.  They are great house guests because they like to have drinks, and eat, and watch The Masters.

While on their visit, my Uncle mentioned that my aunt bakes her own bread and has several “levains” she has begun and uses to make sourdough bread.   One of those involving grapes from a Napa Valley vineyard.  I know…awesome.

So, to my Uncle and Aunt….I apologize.  You have a gift I do not.

Using this guide as well as this guide and the advice contained in The Joy of Cooking I attempted my own sourdough levain.  More commonly called a “starter”.  I’m no Alton Brown, but the process involves letting yeast, water, and flour ferment while “feeding” it with additional flour and water.  When the levain develops the proper flavors, its ready to be used as a base for bread.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

Attempt #1:

Okay...let's try this again

And yes, I do own a trout shaped spoon rest.

Attempt #2:

Good so far....

Then….

Annnnd...nothing is happening.

Nothing.  Attempt #2 did not change.  Nothing happened.  No bubbling, so frothing, no expanding.  Huh. (scratches head)

Attempt #3:

Attempt #3 started well.  On day 2 it had a little bit of a yeasty smell….and then another day or two, it started to smell sour…sort of like booze (which according to my Facebook friends,  is what you’re going for).  Then….

It turned black.  No seriously.  The “hooch” portion (the liquidy stuff) turned a dark bluish black.  It. Was. Nasty.  I think that a freakishly hot day made it too hot in our kitchen….

…or something like that.  It was too gross for a photo.  Trust me.

So,  after three valiant tries, I felt entitled to cross “Sourdough Bread” off the list.  A girl can only endure so much.

But I’m still curious as to what I was missing.  Part of me thinks that I simply lack the patience to give the starter the attention it needs.   Any tricks I missed?  Anyone out there had trouble with this?

In the meantime, I will stick to the lovely sourdough at my local bakery.  They  have the process down pat.  Well, the bakery and my Aunt.

xoxo Flyover Foodie

p.s. Only 3 items left on the list!! Get ready to make suggestions…we have a new list to form!

Prepare to walk the plank!!

“Salmon are like men; too soft a life is not good for them.” –  writer James de Coquet

So me hearties, we have run aground at the next item on our list: salmon on a plank.   And it’s easy and beautiful…smooth seas ahead.  Arrgghh!!

Annnnnnd that’s probably enough pirate speak.

The main prep for this dish involves acquiring a plank.  I’ve seen planks for sale at cooking stores, but got a tip from a friend that you can just get a scrap of cedar cut at your local lumberyard.  I tried to do this, but was ignored by men working (but that’s a rant for another time)  I actually found pre-cut planks in the grilling section at that lumber store (insert rant here).

Of course after this ordeal, I realized they actually sell planks AT the seafood counter of my local flyover grocery.  Which is impressive.  See them stacked on top of the case?

Planks....no lumberyard required.

Your plank gets soaked in water for at least 30 minutes before use.  This keeps it from charring too much on the grill.

Walking, er, soaking the plank

Now onto the salmon.  I went with a sustainably caught wild salmon, which most agree has better flavor and is better for you than farm raised salmon.    Also, I think it was the single most beautiful thing I have ever bought at the grocery store.  I mean, look at this:

Check out this watery maiden!

GorgeousContinue reading

Easy Peasy- Ad Hoc Soup

“Soup is cuisine’s kindest course.” – Waldorf Astoria Chef, Louis P. De Gouy, in ‘The Soup Book’

Today is officially the first day of fall (yesterday having been the autumnal equinox-nerd alert!) and I think our taste buds are ready for the transition. So, it finally seems seasonally appropriate to blog about soup.  As opposed to when I MADE the soup and it was 80° out.  Lesson learned.

Repeat after me: “Seasonally appropriate”.

Split pea soup is one of the things I hated when I was young and have grown to appreciate.  Great split pea is creamy, but thick and with a touch of smokiness from the ham.  I found this recipe from Bon Appetit on Epicurious.com that seemed straightforward and classic.  And we’re off….

The basic ingredients are pretty friendly: onions, carrots, celery, and butter.  But you also need pork hocks and split peas.  Um, ok…two new ones for me.  I found split peas with the rice at my grocery store.  They come in a bag and honestly cost like $1. They are dried peas that have been, well split.  Check and check.

I had noticed pork hocks on the top shelf of the meat case before.  They look like a big, tapered bones with a opening at one end.  Mine came two in a pack.  A little scary…but so delicious.  Sidenote: “hock” just sounds hearty, don’ t you think?  When I say it out loud I think my voice even gets a little lower.  Like a woodsman or something.

I don’t really know what a woodsman is.

Ingredients...check out that pork hock!

Back to the soup.  Melt your butter and toss in the chopped veggies.  Once they are soft, in goes the marjoram and then add the pork hocks.

Veggies and pork hock

So, you could say that last step was ad hocYES– my first lawyer/food pun!   So, after a minute add the water (I used 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 water) and bring it all to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook, cook, cook.

After an hour cooking

The peas and other veggies will be falling apart by this point.  Remove the hock and set aside.  The recipe calls for pureeing the soup in a blender, but I like to use an immersion blender, which blends right in the pot.  Anything that keeps me from having to move around batches of hot liquid is a good thing.  Trust me.

Blend the soup to desired consistency.  I only partially blended it, because i like my soup to have a little more texture.  Totally personal preference:

Partially blended soup

Next the pork gets cut off the hock (woodsman voice) and goes back into the soup.

Delicious salty, smoked pork!

And we’re ready to serve.  TA-DA!!

Mmmmm..perfect for August weather! (shakes head)

The soup was fan-tastic.  Cooking with the bone adds a richness and a little smokey flavor.  And the pureed peas are a nice smooth texture with the ham.  And it was pleasantly salty, but it seems creamy from the blending of the veggies.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: I made “real” soup.  I mean…this is as hearty and homemade tasting as it gets.  Cooking with the “leftover” bones imparts a richness that you just can’t get otherwise.  Save the leftovers next time you make a ham….trust me on this one.

Oh, and we have a quart of split pea soup in the freezer becuase the day after I made this it was 91°.

xoxo Flyover Foodie