Cream of Roasted Fennel Soup

This is my first year growing Florence Fennel (the bulbing kind). Fennel grows wild around here so I figured it would do well in our yard. Boy has it! This will definitely be something we’ll continue to grow. In addition to the fennel we harvest some of our first potatoes from our potato bins! They are nice man-fist-sized new potatoes that Tom just reached into the soil and grabbed. Definitely the best looking taters we’ve ever harvested. I’m looking forward to see what our potato harvest comes to this year.

Ingredients:

  • 2 fennel bulbs, bottom trimmed and stalks cut off reserving leafy tops
  • 1 onion, coursely chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/4 lb bacon slices
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F.

2. Cut fennel bulbs in 1/2″ slices. Put fennel and chopped onion on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender and slightly browned.

3. Divide the bacon in half. Leave one half in slices and cut other half in 1/4″ chunks. In a dutch oven cook slices until crispy. Remove slices from heat and put on paper towel to cool. Cook bacon bits in a fry pan until crispy. Put slices on paper towel to cool.

4. In dutch oven with bacon grease from slices add cumin and caraway seeds. Cook until fragrant – about a minute.

5. Add chicken broth, potatoes, fennel and onions to dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook on medium high until potatoes are tender. Add bacon chunks, milk and half and half and use an immersion blender or food processor to make soup smooth.

6. Serve with a garnish of bacon slices and fennel leaves.

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Sunchoke Chowder

The recent nice weather has me dreaming big dreams of garden-overhaul: what plants to take out, what new plants to put in…how to put the greenhouse together, what seeds need to be started, whether or not it’s a good idea to get MORE chickens…

Spring Cleaning, it seems, is not restricted to the indoors this year. There have been some major changes taking place in the yard.
One of the goals for this year is to bring in more natives, more groundcover/mulching/nitrogen-fixing/soil amending plants, and try to plant only things that we will actually USE. Yes, there are many amazing, inspiring, and beautiful plants out there that I would love to grow, but some of them just aren’t right for this climate (hot peppers, pomegranates). Some are prohibitively high-maintenance (brussels sprouts, cabbages) and some I just never get around to eating (radishes).
I am also being more honest with myself about our limitations in this space: we are never going to be able to grow enough tomatoes to keep us in pasta sauce, salsa, and ketchup all year. Maybe those beds are better used for growing salad greens and root veggies and squash…especially since, in season, I can get organic heirlooms for $1/lb at the farmer’s market down the street.
Being more conscious with our garden plan will give us enough room to expand the crops we DO like, so that we can actually grow enough of them (garlic, onions, snap peas, beans, kabocha squash, mustard greens, beets, carrots, etc) to be completely self-sufficient and not have to buy them.

One plant that I have always been fascinated with is the sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke. These plants are common in our area (though technically not native to this side of the US), and are a relative of the sunflower. You’ve likely seen them on the side of the road with their yellow daisy-like heads bobbing in the breeze. They’re everywhere; filling ditches and empty lots with their green leaves and vibrant blossoms.
In the back area of the yard, we have a lot of space where the chickens and ducks run around. I’ve been looking for ways to fill that space with plants that don’t need a lot of coddling. Hearty plants that can withstand dry spells and months of neglect.

Enter the sunchoke.
I figured if I was going to plant it, I ought to know what it was all about. I’ve had my share of sunchoke puree, and have had them roasted in a medley of other tubers, but didn’t really know much more about them, and had NEVER cooked with them. So last week at the farmer’s market, we picked some up. A quick glance at the internet said there’s much more that you can do with a sunchoke than just mashing it up and calling it a day. Gratins and casseroles, crisp raw salads, and many different sorts of soups called out to me. But one recipe really caught my attention: a cheesy, creamy sunchoke chowder with a garnish of quickly blanched fresh veggies and some chervil leaves on top – divine.

We didn’t want to go out to the store, so we used what was on-hand. Mostly, this was pretty easy to do (one of the great things about having a garden is there’s pretty much always SOMETHING to cook with). We subbed out the milk for some half and half and veggie stock. and because the turkey stock was frozen, we made a roux to add to it after it had melted, instead of putting the flour directly into the pan with the veggies.
I’ll admit, Rick actually did all the cooking here, and my main contribution was getting-in-the-way-to-take-pictures, and stealing bits of grated cheese off the cutting board. But he graciously wrote out the recipe for me, and here it is: a soup guaranteed to be filling and sweet and creamy and decadent. A perfect starter for a salty roast and a crisp green salad or a perfect meal all on its own, this soup is guaranteed to satisfy.
…especially when the sunchokes we kept start to sprout, and we can plant them in the back yard. Soup, anyone?
Sunchoke Chowder
makes 12-14c soup; serves 6-10

4 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs sunchokes, cleaned thoroughly (but not peeled), and cut into pieces
3 large carrots, cut into rounds
2 c turkey stock
1 c vegetable stock
3/4 cups half + half
1 1/2 c shredded cheese (sharp cheddar and smoked gouda)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnish:
1 sunchoke, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, matchsticked
1/2 large leek (I used the green parts and kept the blanched heart for a quiche tomorrow), julienned
chervil leaves (or flat leaf parsley), chopped
Thoroughly clean the sunchokes to make sure there is no grit or dirt in the crevices. Cut out any bad buts, and slice them into rounds about 1/2 inch rounds. If you are not going to cook with them right away, keep them in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning.
Peel and dice the onion, and sweat it until translucent in 2 tbs of butter in a large stock pot or deep sautee pan (I used my paella pan). Add the carrots and sunchokes, and 2c of stock (any kind). Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are soft, but not disintegrating.

In a separate pan, make a roux with 5 Tbsp of flour and 2 Tbsp of butter. Cook until the flour is barely beginning to brown, and then whisk in the other cup of stock. Keep whisking until all of the lumps are dissolved. Mix this into the pan with the stock and veggies until combined, and bring to a low simmer to thicken.
In the meantime, julienne the garnish ingredients (leek, carrot, sunchoke – you should have about 2 c of mass all together when they’re chopped). Blanch these for about a minute in boiling water and then immediately transfer them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain, and set aside. Rinse and chop the chervil/parsley, and set that aside too.

In small batches, run the (now tender) veggies and stock through a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender. Process until the soup is completely smooth (you may see little flecks of skin from the sunchokes – that’s OK), and transfer it all back into the pan. Add the cream and cheese, and mustard powder, and stir to combine. Bring the soup back to heat, but do not let it boil. Once the cheese is fully melted, taste for salt/pepper, and serve hot.

Garnish each bowl with a small bunch of julienned veggies and a dusting of chopped chervil, and serve with a few toasty pieces of whole grain baguette.


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Get-Well Turkey and Vegetable Soup

It is turkey season again!

Rick’s already been out once, bringing home a gorgeous 27 lb tom (cleaned and plucked, it was about 17 lbs of edible bits). We cleaned and froze the breasts, wings, and drumsticks for later meals, and made Hank Shaw’s Wild Turkey Marsala with the scrap bits from the breaking-down process. The carcass and any wiggly-bits (fat, cartilage, etc) went into a stock pot and were simmered down to a rich, hearty broth that we condensed for future risottos, soups, and gravies (it’s sort of like boullion, but liquid – we freeze it in ice cube trays for easy use).
Aside from being turkey season, it is also very much SPRING here in the city. The garden is starting to thrive; sending out new shoots of green everywhere, and forming visions of salads, soups, and stir-fries in my mind every time I walk out the back door. Our winter-planted broccoli is heading, the carrots are finally bulking up, the fennel is producing lovely bulbs, and there are greens, greens, greens for days, days, days. Mustard and kale and beet and chard and collard, as well as spinach, lettuce, arugula, and cabbage.

I got an email the other day from my band mate and cooking buddy, Alanna, who said her boy was feeling under the weather. It’s hard enough to be sick when it’s grey and hazy outside, but feeling awful when it is finally sunny and beautiful out…well, that’s just not OK. I was heading over to their house later that evening for practice, so I thought I’d see what I could do about a get-well soup.
I started out with a basic recipe in mind: a spicy and sweet beet/garlic/veggie soup I used to make all the time when I was in high school. I was a singer then, too, and needed a good throat-soothing hot broth and LOTS of vitamins for the (inevitable) malaise that always seemed to strike the day before a big competition. And hey – I’m not a vegetarian anymore, so why not throw in some of that delicious wild turkey?
A trip out to the garden supplied some early green garlic, a bulb of fennel, some broccoli tips, a giant golden beet (with greens), a few carrots, some ribs of new celery, and a giant bouquet of kale. Sounds like soup to me!
In retrospect, I should have made about ten times as much, as it was well-received by both poor sick Jay AND all us healthy folks who were eating it proactively. Hey, who says you have to be sick to eat healthy soup? I will certainly be making this again soon!
(note: this is a very fast-and-loose recipe. You can make it with veggie broth if you’re not into the whole meat-thing. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. The only things I’d make SURE to include are the beets, garlic, soy sauce, and the spice: either hot pepper flakes or a sauce like Tiger Sauce…even Tapatio will do just fine in a pinch. If you’re not sure on how to make your own chicken/turkey stock, Michael Ruhlman’s method is simple and pretty fail-proof. You should also read his hilarious article on roasting a chicken, which is linked on that page.)

Get-Well Turkey and Garden Vegetable Soup
about 8-10 c broth (I used 1/2 wild turkey broth and 1/2 veggie broth that I’d made with kitchen scraps the week prior)
1 young (not headed yet) green garlic, cleaned and chopped
3 cloves (regular) garlic, sliced or crushed
1 bulb fennel, cleaned and sliced thin
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into thin half-rings or diced
1 large head broccoli, or about 1 1/2 c of florets, cut into manageable pieces
2 ribs of celery, cleaned and sliced
3 large carrots, sliced into rounds (about 3/4 to 1 c)
1 very large (or a few small) beets, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks. I like golden beets here, because they don’t turn the soup BRIGHT PINK. Save the greens to add in with the kale at the end.
1 c sliced mushrooms (I used buttons, but crimini are ideal, texturally)
1 bunch kale, cleaned and cut into pieces/strips. Something manageable.
3 Tbsp (ish) soy sauce, more if you like it salty
1 dash hot sauce (I like Tiger Sauce best for soups)
1/4 c white wine, if you have it on hand
1 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
If you’ve made your own stock, strain out any bones or cooked vegetables, and return any remaining meat on the bones to the pan with the broth. If you don’t have 10 cups, add some water. Again, this is an anything-goes kind of recipe. Make it to fit the size pot you want to cook in. Don’t sweat it. This soup is supposed to make people HEALTHY – not stressed out.
Bring the soup to heat, but do not boil it.
Prep all the vegetables, and add them into the mix according to cooking time, and how soft you like them to be: First, put in the beets, onions/clove garlic, and any other roots or tough/stringy ingredients. Let this cook for a bit, and then add the carrots, celery, and fennel. Finally, put in the broccoli and the green garlic. Also add in the sage and bay leaf, as well as the soy sauce/hot sauce/wine. Let this cook until the beets and carrots are cooked to your liking (about 45 minutes?), and then remove the soup from the heat.
Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaf!
Finally, shock the kale and beet greens into the soup. You want them soft and cooked through, but not falling apart – the residual heat from the soup is plenty to accomplish this, and will leave them a vibrant, healthy-looking green.
Give the soup a final taste, and adjust for acidity/salt/spice with more soy, hot pepper flakes, or a dash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice as you like.


Serve this on its own, or with a hunk of crusty bread (preferably smeared with some tasty brie).
Delicious.
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Cream of Watercress Soup

Someday, I would like to leave the city. Move out to a little house on some great land, settle down, and get a farm going. I’d like to end up somewhere with some life to it; some history and some wilderness and some magic.
Such a place is Preston Ranch.
Rick and I were invited up to Preston by some musician-friends of ours to have a May Day celebration last year, and I was struck by the beauty of the land and the simplicity of the lifestyle of the wonderful folks that live there.
Lisa and Edwin have lived on the property for decades. They can tell you all about the wildlife, the history of the circa-1800s church on the hill, and the name of every plant growing wild around the garden. They do all their cooking on a wood stove in the kitchen in the winter, but have a small range out on the porch for makin’ coffee and such when the weather’s nice or cooking when a running wood stove would make the house unbearably hot.
Their garden is covered with little blue-bellied fence lizards, which keep down the bugs and reduce the risk of lyme disease in the local tick population. They are also remarkably cute little things, scampering around in the rock formations Lisa and Edwin have made to keep them around.
There are many heirloom varieties of plants around, and Lisa can tell you all about them. I was given a cutting of a “walking onion” which self-plants every year with tiny bulbs growing right off the scape (I happily transplanted it to my back yard where it is on its second generation of bulbs). I also took home a glorious chocolate mint, a robust lovage, some summer savory, garlic chives, and some chervil.
One thing I have always wanted is a water-plant pond in the yard. Unfortunately, it has not happened yet. Up at Preston they’ve run a small fountain into a wine barrel which then slowly seeps out to water the lower parts of the garden. Inside and around the barrel in the wet parts? Watercress.
Oh boy do they have watercress.
I am so jealous. Now I want a barrel (in which I will also grow water chestnuts).
Rick was back up at Preston last weekend playing music and hanging out with Lisa and Edwin (she’s teaching him how to hunt and use a chain saw – she is SO COOL), and he came home with not only a GIANT bag of fresh watercress, but this gorgeous soup recipe, courtesy of Edwin.
This soup is equally hearty and refreshing. The peppery taste of the watercress blends gorgeously with the ginger and garlic, and is cooled down a bit with the cream. It would even stand to be bacon-ed, I’d imagine, and I may be trying it that way later today (after all, I still have a mound of watercress to use). I will be rendering the bacon down for the soup and garnishing with the cooked bacon pieces at the end.
Having not really had much family growing up, I feel so honored to be the recipient of all of this knowledge and to be a new care-taker of all these wonderful plants with such great history. One of these days I’ll get back up that way and repay the favor with a whole pile of canned goods and maybe even a recipe or two of my own.
And knowing Lisa and Edwin, I’m sure I won’t leave empty-handed.
Cream of Watercress Soup
3c watercress (packed – otherwise, enough to loosely fill your stock pot about half way)
1 large yellow/white onion (or an equal amount of shallots), peeled and chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ knob of fresh ginger (about 2 tsp) grated
2 Tbsp butter
3 c broth (chicken is ideal, but veg would be fine)
1 c white wine (not too sweet – I used a pinot grigio because it was already open)
1 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Pick through the watercress, and rinse thoroughly. Stems are OK, but our watercress had several other water plants growing near it (including a chocolate mint), so removing the non-watercress plants was essential.
Sweat the onions, garlic, and ginger in the butter until soft (but not browned) in the bottom of a large stock pot. Add the watercress and cook until limp. Adding about 1/2 c of chicken stock, process the watercress mixture until smooth with either a stick immersion blender or a stand blender/food processor.


Move the puree back to the pan, and add the white wine, simmering and deglazing the pan for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the stock, and season to taste with the cinnamon and paprika, as well as some salt and pepper.
About 5 minutes before serving, pour in the heavy cream and mix until the whole soup is a creamy consistency (this soup can be thickened with a cornstarch if you like, but certainly didn’t need it when we made it).
Alternately, it would be fabulous with some potatoes cooked down and pureed for texture and thickness.
Serve this soup with a few picked leaves of fresh watercress and a small swirl of creme fraiche or sour cream…or even some shavings of parmesan or asiago.


Enjoy!


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Cream of Chantarelle Soup

There’s just something about the rain that makes me want soup. Hot, thick, creamy, hearty soup that tastes like fall and comfort food and HOME.


…doesn’t hurt if it also tastes like the best part of the forests at this time of year: wild mushrooms!

I am NOT going to go into a long diatribe about wild mushrooms here. You know they can be dangerous if you are not careful. You know how to find information, take classes, or find field guides. You know the old adage about there being no old AND bold mushroom foragers, and you know the “when in doubt, throw it out” rule.

You DO know all that, right?

Look – just don’t be a moron. You don’t eat stuff when you don’t know what it is, and mushrooms can be hard to positively identify. So be careful. Learn from an expert. Or hey, buy them from any number of online and local retailers who will do the dirty work for you.

If you are an experienced forager of all things fungi, you will know that the recent torrential rainstorm means very good things for our little forest friends. My roommate brought home a lovely porcini that he found at work the other day, and Rick found a beautiful prince while out for a stroll in the city. Me, I’m holding out for chantarelles…I’m not likely to find them in the city, but I know where they’ll be not far from here, and I’m gonna be ready when they show themselves.

Last year, we managed quite the massive chantarelle haul, and I did quite a bit of research into how best to store different types of wild mushrooms for future use. Because of the different moisture levels and textures of the mushroom flesh, each one must be treated differently to best maintain its flavor, texture, and color.

Porcinis dry well. As do black chantarelles (also called black trumpets) and morels…though I like hang-drying morels better than using a dehydrator. Hedgehogs and chantarelles do NOT dry well. Or, I should say, they do not rehydrate well, leaving you with either a mushy goo, or a rubbery, flavorless lump. No, these delicate mushrooms are best frozen. But wait, there’s more to it than just stuffing them in a bag in the freezer – you must prepare them first:



Freezing wild mushrooms crash-course:
- brush or otherwise clean your mushrooms thoroughly (if they are sturdy, you can wash them. But ONLY if you are just about to cook with them).
-cut mushrooms into strips, dice, or mince
-mince some shallots or garlic, if you like
-dry sauté the mushrooms in a large pan until most of the liquid has been released and evaporated
-add the shallots and some butter, and simmer until the onions are just barely translucent.
- remove the mixture from the heat and transfer into ice cube trays, muffin tins, or ramekins.
-freeze until solid, then transfer the pucks into a freezer-safe zip-top bag for final storage. Label the bag, as they are hard to distinguish once frozen.

These pucks can be re-hydrated into dips, sauces, gravies, risottos, or used to make my favorite fall soup:

Cream of Chantarelle:

approximately 1 c prepared frozen chantarelles (or about 3 c fresh, cleaned and minced)
2 medium shallots (omit if there are shallots in the frozen mixture)
1 clove garlic (ditto)
4 Tbsp butter (1 Tbsp separated out)
2-3 Tbsp flour
1/2 c white wine or sherry
3 c vegetable or mushroom stock
1 c milk
1 c heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste


If starting with fresh chantarelles, follow the same steps as above, dry-sauteeing the mushrooms and simmering with the shallots and 1 Tbsp of butter. Set these aside (if you’re using frozen mushrooms, toss the pucks into a pan over medium heat until they are thawed and starting to simmer lightly).


In another (large) pan, melt the remaining 3 Tbsp of butter, and whisk in as much flour as it will hold. This is called a roux – it will look sort of like a crumbly dough. Cook this for a few minutes until it is barely browning. Then add in about 1 c of stock and whisk together until smooth. Continue whisking while adding the rest of the stock and the white wine. Bring to a bare simmer, but DO NOT BOIL.

Add in the milk and cream, again whisking until smooth. Incorporate the sauteed chantarelles and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Serve hot with a big hunk of crusty bread (a rustic sourdough is great with this). If you want to serve a vegetable, nothing beats broccoli as a side dish. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are OK too.

But make no mistake, this soup will steal the show.

Soon I will be overrun with fresh chantarelles (I can hear the raindrops now, telling me they are on their way), so I’ve got a great excuse for using all of last year’s haul. I have a feeling there will be quite a bit of this soup in my future!
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Broccoli-Cauliflower-White Cheddar Soup


There’s nothing so fulfilling and comforting on a cold winter’s day than a steaming bowl of thick, creamy, cheesy soup. While the wind is howling and anyone who’s got two brain cells to knock together has bundled back up in their blankets and put on their bunny slippers, a hot bowl of soup can make everything right with the world. Soon there will be Christmas lights to put up, presents to wrap…

…wait, it’s not winter? It’s August? Could’ve fooled me – it’s freezing out today. The chickens are huddling under the coop to get out of the wind, and the house is dark and dreary. It’s like we never got quite past that crepuscular dawn/twilight hour.

So what does one do when it’s supposed to be summer and it’s just…not?
One makes comfort food. Naturally.
On the menu today? A cream of cruciferous vegetable soup with lots and lots of sharp white cheddar cheese, fresh black pepper, and a healthy splash of white wine. Apparently my CSA is having a bit of a cold and wet year too, since they’ve been sending me heads of broccoli and cauliflower in the weekly box, right there along side of the corn and heirloom tomatoes that they are somehow coaxing out of the ground (we’ve had a few ears of sweet spring corn from our backyard, but so far only a tiny handful of cherry tomatoes have made it to ripeness).
The result is a thick and luxurious soup guaranteed to warm you up from the inside out. And if you are one of the lucky sort who are actually having a summer right now (with SUN and everything), well, it makes a great lunch served cold with some parmesan-garlic croutons or some diced tomato.
Broccoli Cauliflower Cheese Soup

serves 6-8 for a soup-course…or 4-5 for a meal
1 large head cauliflower, cut into manageable pieces
1 large head broccoli, same
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c white wine or sherry
1/2 c flour
1 1/2 c veggie stock
1 1/2 c milk (I use nonfat)
1/2 to 1 c sharp cheddar cheese (shredded, crumbled, or diced)
salt and pepper, to taste
note: if you like your soup very smooth and the veggies in it very soft, try steaming the broccoli and cauliflower a bit before adding them to the recipe. Personally, I like when they still have a little life left in them.

In a large pan over medium heat (I like a deep sauté pan, but any stock pot will do just as well), melt the butter and the oil and sweat the garlic and onions until translucent. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and cook until the broccoli is bright green and the pieces are barely starting to brown. Add the white wine and allow it to steam until the wine is nearly all cooked off.
Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat all the pieces evenly with the sticky mess. Then add the stock and stir, melting the flour into the liquid (don’t worry too much about lumps – the whole thing is getting blended). Let this simmer until the mixture starts to thicken.
At this point, the broccoli and cauliflower need to be pureed. You can do this with an immersion blender, a stand blender, or a food processor (my Cuisinart makes fast work of steamed veggies and works just fine for me). If you like a more rustic soup, I suppose you could also mash the soup with a potato masher or run it through a food mill.

Add the soup back to the pan (unless you have used your immersion blender, you lucky gadget-haver, you), and stir in the milk. Allow everything to come up to a simmer and thicken a bit, and then stir in the cheese, giving it time to melt into the soup.
Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.
With more cheese.
And bunny slippers, of course.
And some awesome person to help with the dishes.

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