The manuscript for my newest cookbook, The French Cook: Soups & Stews (Gibbs Smith, June, 2014) has been filed. Though not yet finished (photo shoots, edits, and design await), my months of soup recipe testing and writing have come to a close. I would by lying if I didn’t say it was a relief to have this book done, but I am also a little bit sad that the creation steps are behind me. I’m elated with the cover which I just discovered this morning. Here it is:
I hope you like it, too. I am eager to see the new book when she’s done. Gibbs Smith and my editor and her design team always do such a wonderful job.
I want to share with you another little advance peek into the book’s content with the following (adapted) chapter front on consommes, the very last chapter I wrote. A recipe for a simple and beautiful Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives follows.
The inviting and elegant clarity of this soup makes it an excellent candidate for a special occasion or holiday, such as Easter.
Consomme (prounced con-some-may) is the consummate soup. A darling of The Belle Epoque in 19th-century France (and elsewhere), it is a dainty soup that deserves to be served in pretty, petite bowls and demands polite sipping. Made from stocks that are clarified with egg whites and enriched with meat (or seafood) and vegetables, they become as clear as the Azur sea and can be “finished” with anything from fresh herbs, to pasta, to truffles and even savory cream puffs. Escoffier catalogued hundreds of consommés in his legendary Le Guide Culinaire. There are consommés named after sunrises (Consomme a l’Aurore), actresses (Consomme Sarah Bernhardt), and Kings (Consomme George V).
It’s a shame that consommés have slipped somewhat out of fashion, because they are truly a pleasure to see and eat, can be made ahead, and are so versatile. The process of making a consommé is not complicated, but it does take a little time. Because the soup is purely “stock” (beef, veal, seafood/fumet, or chicken can be used), you really must use a well-prepared homemade stock or a top-quality commercial stock. Make it several days ahead and/or freeze it to break up the work. Once the stock is at room temperature, the stock is combined with a mixture of egg whites, (sometimes) ground meat, and finely minced vegetables. These ingredients do two things: they add a second, corresponding level of flavor to the soup and most importantly, the egg whites “clarify” the stock, literally pulling out impurities as the strange looking mixture simmers along. For the first several minutes (about 15), the egg/meat/vegetable mixture needs to be stirred, basically non-stop, with a wooden spoon, to make sure none of the crucial egg whites stick to the bottom or sides. After that it’s left alone, uncovered, and the most miraculous thing happens. The mixture starts cooking and thickening at the top and becomes what is known in consommé circles as a “draft.” After 30 minutes, it’s done its work and what lurks below the rather ugly draft is a beautiful, clear as a brilliant, sunny day, consommé. Next, a ladle is nudged into the draft to form an opening, and the consomme is ladled into a waiting bowl, through a fine sieve lined with three paper towels. The draft is then discarded, having done its work.
After that, the list is virtually endless on ways to finish the seasoning and garnishes for the consommé, but they should pair with the flavor of the stock, be petite, and be pretty. Nothing clunky will do. This chapter gives you an opportunity to pull out your food processor, which does an excellent job of mincing the vegetables finely for the clarifying mixture. All consommés can be prepared ahead and frozen or refrigerated, but add the garnishes just before serving the steaming soup, preferably served in your prettiest China.
Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
Whisper thin slices of button mushrooms are added to the hot consommé to cook in just five minutes and are garnished with a sprinkling of fresh, green onion flavor chives. The “feet” of the mushrooms are added to the vegetable mixture to add another layer of mushroom flavor using an otherwise discarded part of the mushroom. This is an excellent consommé for beginners as it relatively simple and simply beautiful to behold.
2 stalks celery, chopped into 2”-lengths
1 leek, trimmed, cut to 1” above the white root, halved vertically and well-rinsed. Cut into 2”-lengths
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
Cleaned “feet” from 14 cleaned button mushrooms. Reserve the mushroom heads separately.
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and stems
4 eggs whites
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
10 black peppercorns, lightly cracked with a chef’s knife
6 cups best quality beef stock
To finish the soup:
1 tablespoon Cognac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups very thinly sliced reserved mushrooms
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Place the celery, leek, mushroom feet, onion and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until very fine, about 30 seconds. Set aside. Place the egg whites in a very large bowl and whisk energetically with a whisk until frothy, about 1 minute. Whisk the reserved vegetable mixture into the egg whites and combine. Fold in the beef, salt, and peppercorns with a wooden spoon and stir to combine.
Place the room temperature stock in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized pot. Stir in the vegetable/beef/egg white mixture with a wooden spoon. Turn on heat to medium, and continue cooking (uncovered), stirring constantly, until the stock comes to a simmer, about 15 minutes total. The draft will form now. Stop stirring and leave it alone for 30 minutes, making sure to keep it at a low simmer as to not break up the draft.
Remove from the heat. Break a hole in the draft, gently with the bottom of a ladle, and start scooping it out into a sieve lined with three paper towels into a large bowl. Keep working until all that is left in the pot is the draft. Discard this. The consommé can be refrigerated or frozen at this point. To finish, heat the consommé over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until simmering. Add the Cognac and mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are just wilted. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh chives, being sure to get mushrooms in every bowl.
Variations: Another way to use a good beef stock consommé such as this is to serve it with a julienne of a combination of vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, leek, celery, onion, and cabbage. Cut the vegetables into a julienne and simmer them in the warm, finished consommé to cook just before serving. They give extra flavor to the consommé at the last minute and are both beautiful and delicious.
The last year and a half has been so crazy busy in my world, I’ve rarely had time to settle into one of my favorite things in the world to do, simple, joyful cooking. The only thing that has that beat, is cooking for friends, which is something I enjoyed doing this weekend. Planning the menu, doing the prep, setting the table, and all the things that go into making a successful meal, set the groove for a happy mood and an enjoyable meal.
Appetizers are the starting point for any meal, and as such, are perhaps one of the most crucial components to set a successful, tasty entertaining stage. I came across some beautiful, fresh local shrimp at the market, and decided to put them to use in appetizers. I liked the idea of shrimp salad – a Southern staple after all – but wanted to keep it super light and sophisticated. So, the mayo and calorie count is really low, and the flavor comes mostly from fresh lime juice and zest, and oodles of finely chopped fresh chives. Instead of bread, I decided to use delicate, crunchy endive leaves to “wrap” the salad into individual bites. It works nicely, but bread will do just fine, too.
For this salad, I roasted the shrimp, a trick I picked up from The Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten. Roasting at a high heat takes just minutes and really helps preserve the flavor and the nutrients of the shrimp. The best part about all of this? You can prep the salad the day ahead and scoop the salad into the boats as your guests are arriving, which is exactly how it played out at my house on Sunday night.
These would look beautiful on your Easter or any spring holiday table. Happy holidays and happy cooking!
Elegant Shrimp Salad Boats
(Makes about 12 appetizer servings)
3/4 of a pound fresh, shelled shrimp, de-veined and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Generous dash Tabasco Sauce
1 shallot, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lime, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 – 2 Belgian endive lettuce heads, trimmed, rinsed, separated and patted dry.
Preheat oven to 425F. Arrange the shrimp on a roasting sheet and toss to coat with the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 3 minutes, or until just opaque and lightly pink. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, chop the shrimp very finely (see picture). Place the chopped shrimp in a medium bowl and combine with the mayonnaise, Tabasco, chopped shallot, lime zest, lime juice, and chopped chives. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. (Note: This can be prepared up to one day in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator).
To prep the endives, trim a bit from their root base and remove any tattered, browned outer leaves. The leaves that are inside are a bit sturdier and best for the boats in this recipe. They can also be prepped ahead, but store them in the fridge wrapped in a damp towel. They should not be exposed to open air or they may discolor.
To finish the boats, simply scoop a rounding, heaping tablespoon into the center of each boat. Top with a drizzle of fresh chives, if desired. Arrange prettily on an attractive service plate.
These savory beauties would be perfect on any Easter or spring holiday table…Adapted from Tart Love – Savory, Sweet and Southern (Holly Herrick/Gibbs Smith). The lovely photo is by Helene Dujardin. Happy Easter and enjoy the beautiful weather and flavors of spring!
Sweet potatoes and arugula (also called “rocket”) grow best in the cooler seasons of fall and spring. Though sweet potatoes are often served loaded with sugar and fat at calorie-drunk Thanksgiving tables, they have a rich, nutty, savory flavor in their virgin state. Arugula provides a deep green color lining at the bottom of the tartlets that gives peppery taste surprise to every bite. Crumbled, candied pecans scattered over the top add just the right sweetness to counter the Cajun kick of tasso ham, which is prepared from cured and smoked pork butt. If you can’t find it, substitute pancetta or bacon, and feel free to spice either up with a little cayenne and fresh garlic as it cooks.
Makes 10 to 12 Tartlets
Equipment needed: Ten to twelve 3 5/8″ X 1″ tartlet pans with removable bottoms, 6″ round pastry cutter
For the pastry:
2 1/2 cups White Lily All Purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 sticks (or 1 cup) best quality, AA Grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4″ cubes
ice cold water – about 3 tablespoons or enough to just hold the pastry together
One egg wash – yolk, pinch salt, dash water, blended together
For the filling prep:
2 large sweet potatoes, skin on and pierced with a fork or knife
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup 1/4″ cubed tasso ham
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh arugula, stems removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the candied nuts:
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup fresh pecan halves, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili pepper
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
To finish the potato filling:
1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, preferably good local honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Half & Half
Prepare the pastry first. Pulse the flour and the salt together in the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a pastry blade. Add the butter and pulse until the butter breaks down into small pieces, about the size of peas (40 – 50 pulses). Gradually, add the water through the mouth of the food processor, while pulsing. Add just enough so that the pastry comes together in one large, loose ball. Turn it out on a lightly floured surface and form it into a 2″ thick disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes or overnight. Once the pastry has rested, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thickness. Working tightly to avoid waste, cut rounds with the pastry cutter. Line the tartlet pans with the pastry, pressing the pastry delicately into the edges and forming a small 1/4″ high border. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line each tartlet with parchment paper and fill with about 1/4 cup of weights – dried beans, pie weights, and rice will all work. Arrange the tartlets on a baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes or until the pastry has begun to set. Remove the weights and their liners and brush the sides and bottom of the tartlets with the egg wash. Continue baking another 20 minutes or until golden brown and fully baked. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings.
While the pastry is baking, place the two sweet potatoes in the hot oven to bake, skin-on. Bake until softened, 40 – 50 minutes. Remove to cool at room temperature. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When sizzling, add the tasso and brown, tossing from time to time, browning on all sides. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the arugula all at once, tossing or stirring to coat. It will wilt and break-down almost immediately. Cook only 1 – 2 minutes so that it retains its brilliant green color. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool, draining off any excess liquid.
Prepare the candied nuts. Heat the butter in a medium saute pan. When sizzling, add the pecans, salt and pepper, chipotle chili pepper, and sugar. Toss to coat, stirring occasionally. Cook until just browned. Watch carefully so the nuts do not burn! Count on about 5 minutes for the nuts to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel, and place the cooked flesh in a large bowl with salt and pepper to tate, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 cup Half & Half, and one egg. Beat with a hand-held mixer on medium high until frothy and light, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
To compile the tartlets, line each with about 1 tablespoon of the cooled arugula mixture. Top with 3 tablespoons of the potato mixture. Arrange the tartlets on a baking sheet and bake at 375 for 35 -40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Finely chop the cooled nuts and drizzle the top of each tartlet with about 1 tablespoon of the nuts. Serve warm, drizzling lightly with a bit more honey, if desired.