Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

mushrooms

Delicious Fun with Squash, Barley, and the Nutritious Flavors of Fall

Barley, Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Spinach Soup Recipe  – and new culinary tours!

October in Charleston is officially the beginning of the fall season for me, at least emotionally and also from a cooking standpoint. Most of the beastly heat and hurricane threats are behind us, and we can settle into the beautiful winter squashes, greens, apples, and root vegetables of the season and the grains and flavors that pair so well with them.  I’ve been thinking about barley a lot lately. It reminds me of my Nanna who loved to cook with whole grains and simple, unprocessed ingredients like barley, because we all should eat  more of it (just one cup contains 128% of a day’s worth of dietary fiber), and because its chewy/soft, nutty goodness is a shoe-in pairing with winter squash, which are bursting from the grocers’ bins and farmers’ markets these days.

I love cooking with all kinds of winter squash. Hubbard, delicata, acorn, butternut, pumpkin, turban – all of them.  A preferred way to use them is to roast them, halved, and puree them with seasonings, a little stock, cream or butter. They make beautiful soups practically all on their own. I have several such recipes in Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, 2017) .  One of my favorites is the luscious and deceptively simple Maple Acorn Squash Soup (page 97) which was inspired by my mother’s maple syrup and butter-filled bacon acorn squash halves that we regularly enjoyed at our fall dinner table and sometimes for holidays.

I’m using butternut here because it can increasingly be found pre-cut, the pesky hard cover removed, and already cubed for handy additions to soups (such as these), or a steamed, roasted or pureed side. Any of the others would work just as well. Be careful to cut and peel with care. A sharp, sturdy paring knife and ample patience will do the trick. Simmering the barley with the mushrooms and squash adds a lovely richness to the soup with virtually  no added fat except for the olive oil used to sweat the onions and celery. Fresh or frozen spinach (or substitute kale) is added near the very end. You will likely need to add more liquid to the soup left-overs, as the barley is notorious for absorbing extra liquid as much as bad cholesterol from our bodies – another reason to love it and eat it often. Most of all, the soup comes together simply and quickly in one hour. I enjoyed its aromas watching football this weekend and recalling fond memories of my favorite season.

This nutritious soup is a delicious ode to fall, rife with barley, mushrooms, butternut squash, and spinach.

INGREDIENTS

(Makes 10 to 12 servings)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, medium dice

3 stalks celery, medium dice

Light kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped button mushrooms

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped shitake mushrooms

4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

2 teaspoons dried, rubbed sage

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup uncooked pearl barley

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 quart chicken stock

1 quart water

3 cups cubed, peeled, fresh butternut squash

Juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2 tablespoons

3 tablespoons local honey

4 cups additional stock or water as needed

2 cups chopped, frozen spinach

METHOD

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and light salt and pepper. Stir to coat and sweat until softened, three minutes. Add the button and shitake mushrooms, garlic, garlic, sage, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to coat and cook another three minutes until just wilted.  Add the barley and wine. Stir and cook a minute or so until wine has reduced to nothing. Add chicken stock, water, butternut squash squash, lemon juice and honey. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, uncovered. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. After thirty minutes, add additional water/stock as needed (you want soup consistency, not porridge).  After forty five minutes of cooking, add the spinach, stir and heat through for a final fifteen minutes. Serve hot. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese or  finely chopped walnuts as desired.  (Note: The soup will store well, refrigerated and covered, for several days. More liquid may need to be added before reheating and serving).

Cooking Classes and Now Culinary Tours

A lot of my cooking class students have been asking for culinary tours for themselves, friends or even their businesses. I have added customized tours – those built around individual tastes, budgets, interests (history, culinary, chefs, restaurants, menu items, etc.), and timeline, to my repertoire. These can be bundled with classes in my kitchen, signed copies of my cookbooks, and a personalized tour led by me.  Pricing dependent on dates, tour size, length and details of tour. Contact me on my website if you’re interested in finding out more.

Exploring

Happy cooking, enjoy the cool and wonderful days of October.

Bon appetit – Holly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Somewhere Between Sauces and Choux

I just bought Dansko shoes for the first time in my life. Sexy they are not, but they are highly practical in the kitchen and go reasonably well with the pair of jeans I usually wear when I’m cooking, especially the sassy, oiled red shoe variety pictured below.

The perfect working kitchen shoe – Dansko.

I’ve been cooking for years. So, why now, why today? A giant of a French chef told me years ago in Fauchon’s kitchen that if I didn’t wear the right shoes and stand up straight while I prepped, I’d be crooked by the time I was forty. Maybe that was the impetus, but I think it has more to do with transition.

Some people can leap from one project to another with reckless abandon. I’m not one of them. I need time, if only a few days, to clear the decks, clear the desk, clear my brain, empty the nest, and get pumped up before starting all over again.

So, on this, the literal eve of the official beginning of my next cookbook (cookbook #6!), I’m transisting and taking the brave leap from the nuances of delicate, layered French sauces and into the puffy, stalwart realm of choux pastry. And, I’m kicking it all off with a brand new pair of red shoes.

Unlike tart pastry I manipulated in Tart Love or sauces I created for The French Book: Sauces (Gibbs Smith, March 2013), choux pastry is one tough little nut. It likes to get beat up pretty good to activate the gluten and choux pastry’s unique rising effect – aided only by this, butter and egg yolks. Nutty and savory in flavor, once cooked it can be filled with anything from whipped cream to bacon and eggs. It’s a huge sweet and savory universe all of its own and can also be formed into little balls (cream puffs) or longer tubes (eclairs).

Beautiful eclairs.

Not only delicious, these little treats are amazingly versatile. In the sauces cookbook, my primary task was to reveal the technique and versatility of sauces while adhering to the classic “recettes” for the five French mother sauces. Here, my task load is a little more free-form – to find an excellent, practical technique for making choux pastry itself, and coming up with all kinds of beautiful and delicious flavor pairings.

My head has been adrift for days and weeks with such thoughts: lemon and mascarpone and pumpkin and cream cheese on the sweet side; BLT cream puff sandwiches and French onion choux on the savory. The list goes on and on and I’m ready to have some fun and get some flour dust on my pretty new shoes. Please jump on the band wagon with me and let me know if you have any ideas you would like for me to try out. I’d love to give it a go! And, for restaurant news/review fans, I want you to know that I’m back on track with those too (after a mandatory medical delay) as we wrap up 2012 and prepare for 2013. Charleston has so much exciting and delicious restaurant news happening right now, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for fail-proof roasted chicken. It’s the perfect feast for this time year. The techniques work just as well for chicken as they do for turkey. It’s from The French Book: Sauces, with which it’s paired with a lovely mushroom sauce. Here, simply strain any pan juices, skim off any fat, and whisk together with a little Dijon mustard for a quick, delicious pan sauce.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

Roasting chicken is simple and so rewarding when done with love for the people seated at your table. Basting is really the key. Keep giving back to the chicken what it gives to you in juices. Use a sturdy roasting pan and a roasting rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan. In addition to creating a safe spot for the chicken to nestle while it’s cooking, the rack enables better browning.

1 (3 to 4-pound chicken)

Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot halved

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

1 small celery rib, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced

For basting:

3/4 cup good-quality white wine (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)

3/4 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off and discard wing tips and any excess fat from near the cavity. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the thyme, shallot, carrot, and celery. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast from the flesh by slipping your index finger under the skin and gently prying it loose. Place the sliced butter under the skin of the breasts, spacing evenly.

To truss the chicken, arrange it on your work surface, back side down. Run kitchen string underneath the bottom of the spine and around the bottom of the legs. Cross the string over itself and now guide it up on both sides of the breasts, along the crease where the thighs and the breasts meet. Flip the chicken over, wrap the string around the wings, and pull tightly to form a knot. Trim off the excess string. Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is a pale golden color and a skin/salt crust begins to form, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Combine the wine and stock and baste the chicken, starting now, every 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s done, about 1 1/2 hours (count on about 20 minutes for every pound). Test for doneness by piercing the chicken between the leg and the breast; it is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 20 minutes.

To carve the chicken, cut the legs away from the body, and cut each into two pieces at the joint. Carve the breasts away from the carcass and cut each horizontally into two pieces.

Serve immediately. Delicious with rice, mashed potatoes, and a simple side of sauteed mushrooms or spinach. Bon appetit!

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