Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

French

Home for the Holidays

Oyster and Parsnip Bisque Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway

It’s not an original concept, staying home for the holidays, but for myriad circumstances involving work and family related travel, surgery and more, Thanksgiving and Christmas at home have eluded me for a couple of years. As much as I love seeing family and friends afar, nothing beats staying home and enjoying holiday cheer and unhurried cooking (my all time favorite thing!) with friends and family near. No missed flights, no crazy weather, and best of all, nuzzling with the pets by a fire gazing at a fragrant, beautiful tree.  After several particularly busy weeks of travel, I’m delighted to be home for good to savor the scents, sounds, flavors and sentiments of the season.

This year, I’ll be making a dinner for a small group of friends which we will enjoy Christmas day. I’ll likely prepare a standing beef rib roast with a pungent horseradish cream sauce and some kind of gratin – potato or creamed spinach. To get things started, I’m definitely planning on using the celebrated mollusks of cold weather seaons – oysters. They’re revered here in the Lowcountry and Charleston and take many luscious forms – scalloped, grantinee, broiled and my favorite, soups and chowders.  Though in the past I’ve made more rustic oyster chowders, this year I think I’ll take a page from my new book, The French Cook – Soups & Stews. The oyster and parsnip bisque recipe (to follow) is simply elegant and so easy to prepare ahead. Just add the cream at the very end and you’re off to a silky start to a lovely holiday meal.

(Credits: Gibbs Smith Publisher and Photography by Chia Chong)

Oyster and Parnisp Bique makes a majestic and easy start to a holiday feast. (Photo by Chia Chong).

Oyster and Parnisp Bique makes a majestic and easy start to a holiday feast. (Photo by Chia Chong).

Oyster and Parsnip Bisque 

(Makes 8 to 10 servings)

Parsnips and oysters may sound like odd bisque-fellows, but they actually make a lot of sense. Panais, like turnips, are sweet, lovely root vegetables frequently used in French kitchens. Their sweetness plays beautifully with the oysters, and the starch in the parsnips gives a velvety texture to this heavenly bisque. If making this soup ahead, hold off and add the oysters and cream just before serving. Willapoint oysters, readily available in their brine in the refrigerator section of most fish counters at the grocery, are firm and meaty. Use the freshest raw oysters you can find, and don’t discard the brine except into the soup pot. It is one of the flavor keys to the bisque.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 leek, trimmed to 1 inch above the white root, halved vertically, well rinsed and finely chopped

2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 medium parsnips, peeled, quartered vertically, and finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup dry vermouth, plus 1 tablespoon optional

1⁄2 cup good-quality Chardonnay

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups good-quality, low sodium boxed seafood/fish stock

1 cup finely chopped oyster or chanterelle mushrooms, tough feet removed

3 (8-ounce packages) Willapoint Oysters (3 cups)

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

In a 5 1⁄ 2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leek, shallots, parsnips, and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring several times, for 15 minutes; until all the vegetables have softened (do not let them color). Add the 1⁄ 2 cup vermouth, increase heat to medium-high, and cook down to a glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the Chardonnay and cook down to a glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Scatter the flour evenly over the pot and stir to combine. Whisk in the fish stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce to medium/medium-low and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, skimming off any initial foam/scum that rises to the top.

Purée until frothy smooth with a blender or food processor. Return to the pot. Add the mushrooms, oysters, and cream. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce to medium, and cook through for 5 to 8 minutes, until the oysters are firm and opaque. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Finish with 1 tablespoon of vermouth, if desired, and fresh thyme. Serve very hot.

Looking forward to savoring the sights, sounds, and flavors of the season at home in Charleston, SC this year.

Looking forward to savoring the sights, sounds, and flavors of the season at home in Charleston, SC this year.

 

Cookbook Giveaway and New Website Design

In the spirit of giving, I want to share a signed copy of The French Cook – Soups & Stews with one of you this holiday season. Please write a comment on the blog about why you would like a copy, who you might want to give it to, or just what you enjoy about this splendid time of the year. I will select and announce a random winner on December 17 and mail it just in time for Christmas.

Also, please feel free to chime in on your thoughts on my just launched new website design by Charleston PR & Design. Cheryl and Bill Smithem worked very hard to make it very user friendly, mobile compatible, and the layout looks more like a photo and content-rich magazine style than it looked before. I’d love to hear you thoughts.

Until the next time, wishing you love, joy, health and happiness!

Holly

 

 

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Francophile Alert!

A very authentic taste of France has arrived in Charleston. Chez Nous is authentic, charming and delicious. And, she joins a gaggle of tasty new French enterprises in town.

A recent sampling from Chez Nous' menu, which changes daily - swordfish in a tomato, garlic and saffron sauce with fresh min.

A recent sampling from Chez Nous’ menu, which changes daily – swordfish in a tomato, garlic and saffron sauce with fresh mint.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

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Wearin’ of the Green St. Patrick’s Day Asparagus Soup

I call this soup “triple threat asparagus” because the flavors are layered in a stock based upon trimmings, roasted fresh asparagus for maximum flavor and color, and a finishing garnish of roasted asparagus tips. A perfect starter for your St. Patrick’s Day feast, this will whet the palate for corned beef and potatoes like no other.  Adapted from the soon-to-be-released The French Cook: Soupes and Daubes (Gibbs Smith, September 2014).

Soupe d’Asperge Cremeux

Triple Threat Creamy Asparagus Soup

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

Special equipment needed: China cap or fine colander

A shining example of French method and frugality, this purely asparagus soup uses every part of the tender spring spear, and precious little else. A quick asparagus stock is assembled with the tougher outer-layer peels and feet of the spears. Next, the tender asparagus themselves are roasted to intensify flavor and are added near the very end of cooking to maximize color and texture. Leeks provide a bit of onion brightness and a tiny splash of cream at the end is the finishing touch on this exquisite, brilliant green and slightly textured soup.

2 large bunches (about 40 spears) fresh green asparagus, rinsed, tough foot (cut about 1” above the bottom) removed and peeled, starting about 1” below the tip to the bottom. Reserve the removed feet and peelings together in a small bowl. Reserve the peeled asparagus separately.

For the asparagus stock:

1 onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, rinsed and thinly sliced

7 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

5 sprigs fresh thyme bundled together with kitchen string

Reserved asparagus peelings and trimmings

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.

 

For roasting the asparagus:

Reserved, prepped asparagus spears

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Generous dash freshly ground black pepper

To finish:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped

2 leeks, tough green leaves removed to 1” above white (save the green leaves in the freezer for later use in a stock), quartered lengthwise, well-rinsed, and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Reserved roasted asparagus spears, cut into 1/4”-lengths (put aside 1/4 cup for garnish)

3 tablespoons whipping or heavy cream

1 teaspoon Dry Vermouth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450F. In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, combine onion, celery, water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, fresh thyme bundle, and asparagus feet and peel trimmings. Bring up to a boil over high heat, reduce to a mild simmer over medium/medium low and cook uncovered, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, to roast the asparagus, on a full, edged baking sheet, toss the prepped asparagus spears in the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and just starting to take on a little golden color. Toss once midway through cooking. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus into 1/4”-lengths, reserve.

Strain the finished stock through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl, pressing against the solids to extract flavor. Discard the solids. Keep the strained stock off to the side. Rinse the Dutch oven or soup pot if needed. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the shallot, leeks and seasonings. Stir to coat and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Sprinkle evenly with the flour and stir to coat. Cook for one minute. Add the reserved stock, stirring. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a gentle simmer over medium/medium low. Cook for 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from the heat. Add all but 1/4 cup of the reserved asparagus spears to the pot. Puree with an emulsion blender, traditional blender or food processor until chunky smooth. In the same pot, bring the puree up to a low boil over high heat. Stir in the cream and the dry vermouth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve the soup very hot in individual bowls, each garnished with five spear tips. (Note: The soup and garnish can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. However, only add the cream, vermouth and final seasonings just before re-heating and serving.)

Finished and ready to serve.

Finished and ready to serve.

Bon appetit!

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Bechamel Embellished

Voila!  The stock and fumet chapter is put to bed, so now it’s onto bechamel in the new sauce book. Some might argue, and in fact some of my friends have, that bechamel is boring. One of the five French mother sauces, I agree that it is certainly basic. It’s a simple white roux, sometimes flavored with a bit of onion and finished with milk and/or cream and seasoning.

But to me, that’s a huge part of bechamel’s beauty. The simple flavor backdrop and creamy, slightly thick consistency sets a dynamic flavor potential stage that help it evolve into anything from a Nantua to a Soubise with the addition of herbs, stock, cheese, or really just about anything that makes sense depending on what you’re pairing it with. Consider a chive and Parmesan bechamel over soft-scrambled eggs and toast or seasoned with mushrooms and wine as a tasty pasta topper? The possibilities are literally endless!

Not just a sauce, bechamel is also the tasty glue that holds together casseroles and gratins, as it does in this recipe I tested in my kitchen yesterday.

Crunchy Crustacean Gratin

 

The inspiration for the recipe came from a visit to my local fish monger. I found some gorgeous seasonal shrimp and some beautiful fresh stone crab (one pound of each). I crushed the crab with a mallet, leaving the raw flesh in place, and peeled and de-veined the shrimp. Both the crab and the shrimp shells went into a large pot with a bit of butter and a finely chopped leek and a finely chopped small onion. After it softened, I deglazed the pan with a fat splash of Chardonnay, reduced it down, added 8 cups of water, and allowed the whole thing to simmer lightly, skimming along the way (see previous post) until it reduced by half. Then, I strained the entire fumet, discarding the solids, returned it to the pan and reduced it until it was down to a cup of liquid. The result is known as a glace – in this case a crustacean glace. Two tablespoons of this were whisked into the bechamel, along with some herbs and seasonings to top the beautiful fresh shrimp and some more lump crab. The result was creamy, rich goodness that utterly defies the concept of a boring bechamel! Sacre bleu!

Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Gratin

(Makes 8 to 10 portions)

Basic Bechamel

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons All Purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cold skim milk

1 cup cold Half & Half

Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and shallot and sweat to soften, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, whisking, and avoiding coloring the roux. Add the milk and Half and Half all at once, whisking to incorporate smoothly. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the bechamel up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue cooking until thickened enough to coat a spoon and the flour flavor has cooked out – about 5 minutes. Season careful to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm for the gratin recipe, which only uses half of this recipe. The rest will store fine in the refrigerator for a couple days until you’re ready to make those eggs!

For the gratin:

1/2 recipe Basic Bechamel (above)

1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth

2 tablespoons of crustacean glace (see top of the column for instructions on preparation) OR substitute best quality fish stock or clam juice

2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

Generous dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped

1 pound lump crab meat

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the basic bechamel. Divide in half reserving the remainder for future use. While still warm, whisk in the Vermouth, glace, scallions, parsley, Old Bay Seasoning, Tabasco, lemon juice. Taste carefully and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp in the bottom of a shallow,   baking dish or pie pan. Top with an even layer of the crab. Pour the bechamel over the top, spreading with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with a layer of the bread crumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm! All this needs is a small salad to be a meal, and also makes a great appetizer with toast points.

Bon appetit!

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Savannah Sweet Spots

The buzz on Broughton Street, in the heart of Savannah’s shopping/retail district, is The Savannah Bee Company.

This lively store is jam packed with golden, gorgeous honey, which is harvested by hand and beautifully packaged. There is honey to go with cheese, honey to go with tea, honey for the grill, black sage honey, peace honey, and, of course, the lovely Tupelo honey. I came home with two bottles and have been loving it ever since.

The mastermind behind the honey is bee keeper/president Ted Dennard, who has been fascinated with bees and keeping them since he was twelve years old. You can truly taste the love and the nuance of the floral bouquets of Savannah where the honey is produced on nearby Wilmington Island. Samples of the sweet, chewy honeycomb are offered to all who enter with a thin, cool slice of a tart Granny Smith apple. Kids can rock and learn in the life-size padded bee hive near the rear of the store, where videos on honey production are shown throughout the day.  There is also a beautiful selection of cosmetics and beauty products rife with the luscious healing properties and fragrances of honey nectar. There are three local locations, but the downtown spot is where it all began.

The Savannah Bee Company

104 West Broughton Street, Savannah, GA 31401

(912) 233-7873

www.savannahbee.com

A little further down the street, is another sweet spot, especially for Francophiles. The Paris Market is bursting with Parisian charm, from the pretty purr of the French owner’s lilting words, down to the fluffly little white dogs on pretty leashes that pepper the place. Plum full of beautiful brocante, home furnishings, hats, pillows, umbrellas and more, the store also has a wonderful hot and cold tea and coffee counter for light refreshments. Here is where you can also find a selection of Two Smart Cookies celebrated cut out, colorfully iced butter cookies. Started by two gal pals several years back, the cookies are buttery, rich bites of deliciousness that have taken Savannah by storm. Dig in! Look for The Paris Market’s “Writer in the Window” while you’re there. She’s perched in the window with her writing desk, books, and curious on-lookers all-around, watching as she writes and chats.   

The Paris Market

36 West Broughton Street, Savannah, GA, 31401

(912) 232-1500

www.theparismarket.com

and

Two Smart Cookies

6512 White Bluff Road, Savannah, GA, 31405

(912) 353-BAKE

www.twosmartcookies.com

   Meanwhile, across town a bit in the hip and upcoming Starland District, awaits one of the sweetest delights Savannah offers – Back in the Day Bakery.  Owned and operated for nine

Time stands still and pretty at the wonderful Back in the Day Bakery.

years at the same location by husband and wife team Griff and Cheryl Day, the bakery/cafe focuses on bringing old-fashioned, homespun goodness to the table, and they succeed. Outfitted with all sorts of beautifully arranged retro/antique culinary and bakery curios (as pictured, left), Back in the Day’s glass counter beckons with an array of cupcakes, pies, and cakes including coconut cream pie, cherry cheesecake, and ‘nana pudding! As if that weren’t enough, the shop produces some amazing savory options from quiche to assorted sandwiches, such as the delicate “Jambon Royal” served simply, and most “French-ly” with ham, gruyere and butter. Oui! The day I visited, the bakery was conducting a photo shoot led by photographer Squire Fox and food stylist Cynthia Groseclove for the bakery’s soon to be released cookbook. They were shooting the most beautiful chicken pot pies that I have ever seen. I’ll be returning for that and more of Back in the Day Bakery’s extreme charm and goodness. 

Back in the Day Bakery

2403 Bull Street, Savannah, GA 31404

(912) 495-9292

www.backinthedaybakery.com

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