For a long time C had a habit of bringing me back a cookbook whenever he had a conference in what might conceivably be called a ‘food’ city.   Usually he would have a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and then, if the restaurant had a cookbook, he would kindly bring one back for me.  Once he returned home, he would inevitably recount his wonderful meal and I would attempt to control my food jealously.  I suppose he thought that giving me cookbooks from these restaurants would alleviate some of this jealously, but in truth it only made it worse.  And when he came home from New Orleans a few years back with a cookbook from Commander’s Palace, I knew I would just have to tag along at his next trip to the city, because it was clear that this restaurant was not to be missed.

Long story short – I did accompany C on his next trip to New Orleans and we had a fabulous meal at Commander’s Palace – it was how we celebrated our move to Nashville.  And once I had experienced that wonderful restaurant – and all the wonderful foods they prepare there – I realized I was ready to fully explore my Commander’s Palace cookbook.   Before I explored too long though, I found a recipe that would go on to become one of my favorite comfort foods – Cauliflower and Brie Soup.

I’ve never been a big cauliflower fan – I always found it sort of bland.  But in this soup,  when it’s combined with onions, celery and garlic, it has a wonderful savory sweetness.  And the addition of brie – well that is pure genius.  Some of the brie melts seamlessly into the soup, some stays in a semi-solid state and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.  The brie is a perfect addition to a soup that is mainly vegetables.

Once you add some heavy cream – or half and half if you’re watching calories – the finished soup is creamy beyond belief.  The fact that it’s also savory and has a hint of sweetness is all part of why this is one of my favorite soups.  There really is nothing better on a cold, rainy autumn day.  And every time I eat it I think of New Orleans and Commander’s Palace  – and mentally plan my next trip.

Cauliflower and Brie Soup

From Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and James Shannon

Ingredients:

2 heads of cauliflower cleaned and trimmed

10 T. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and diced

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

1 medium bunch of celery, diced

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 T.  AP flour

8 ounces Brie Cheese, cut into a medium dice

1/4 c. heavy cream

Directions:

Clean the cauliflower by removing the leaves, coring, and cutting into large florets.

Melt 8 T. of butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, garlic and celery, cover and cook over medium heat to “sweat”, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in cauliflower, cover and cook for 5 -7 minutes.

Combine the cauliflower and stock and puree with a hand mixer, a blender or food processor.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly and add the flour.  Cook until the roux smells nutty and is the consistency of wet sand.  Do not brown it.  Whisk into the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the brie, a few pieces at a time, and blend until the cheese has melted into the soup.  Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste.

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Friday was a miserable day.  It was rainy.  It was grey.  It was freezing cold…in every building I entered.   The combination of all three made me crave soup.   I was nudged a little in that direction thanks to the foodie stylings of S and E, and as we all know, I can eat soup any time of year. With my former home of South Louisiana at the fore front of my mind this past week, it seemed like the only solution would be a warm, rich gumbo.

Now, I am very much a born and bred Californian, so I was not born with that gene Louisiana people are born with…You know the one where you can make a perfect roux.  My friend KK swears by the two beer method of roux making.  It seems so flawless when she does it, however, I am never able to replicate it.  Some swear the color of the roux should be like peanut butter, while other advocate a more chocolate syrup colored roux.  So tonight, after deciding I wanted to fall more on the chocolate end of the roux color spectrum, I found myself wondering, should it be milk chocolate or dark chocolate syrup?!?!?

Enter glass number one of beer.  I decided, I would follow KK’s method and whatever it looked like after a second beer was the color I was going to embrace as my roux.  So with the oil and the flour in my dutch oven, I stood there with a beer in one hand and a whisk in the other, just hoping it would turn out ok.

Two beers and I successfully made a chocolately colored roux.  As usual KK was right and with my “Trinity” (chopped celery, onions, and green pepper…an essential in almost every South Louisiana recipe) ready to go, I felt more certain that this gumbo would work.

I say work because my first attempt at gumbo about 3 years ago was just plain sad.  I tried a oyster and shrimp gumbo and when it was done, it was more like burned flour and over cooked oyster soup.  I vowed that I would wait before I attempted it again.  So before making tonight’s rendition of gumbo, I looked over five different recipes, three from Jr. League cookbooks, including Talk About Good, Susan Spicer’s fabulous book, and finally a recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website from Dookie Chase.  In particular, I loved Susan Spicer’s suggestion to put the chicken bones in my store bought stock to deepen the flavor.  I thought it was fabulous.

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

4 pounds bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1/8 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
salt and pepper to taste
8 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Cup Oil
1 Cup Flour
2 Medium Onions, diced
2 Green Peppers, diced
4 Celery Stalks, diced
6 cloves of Garlic, minced
12 oz. Pork Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
12 oz. Turkey Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tsp. Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Paprika)
5 Springs of Fresh Thyme
1/8 Tsp. Cayenne
1/4 Cup Parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Filé powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the chicken out in a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Roast in the oven until the chicken reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove the meat from the bones. Set the chicken meat to the side and add the bones to your stock pot. Bring the stock to a boil and allow it to boil for a few mintues, then reduce to a simmer while you work on your roux.

**Before you go any further prep all your ingredients. The best way to stop the roux at right time is to pour in the veggies, so it is best to have then prepped and in bowls near the stove.**

The Roux
In at least a 7 quart dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and the flour, stirring constantly. I prefer to use a whisk (a flat whisk works best), but others I know like to use a wooden spoon, either will work, but make sure you keep it moving. You do not want to burn the flour, but if you do, just start from the beginning. No worries. Keep stirring until the roux reaches a chocolate syrup color (or you finish two beers).

Reduce the heat to low and add the onions, celery, green peppers, and garlic. Cook the mixture for 4 minutes. Combine the chicken and sausage. At this point everything will look like a brown mess. Add the paprika, cayenne, and thyme to the pot and stir to combine. Finally discard the chicken bones and add the stock a ladle-full at a time. Increase the heat to medium again, and while stirring constantly, bring the gumbo to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 45 minutes. This is usually just enough time to make some rice to go with your gumbo. I like long grain brown rice.

Remove the dutch oven from heat and add salt and pepper. If you will eat all your gumbo tonight, add the parsley and filé powder. I have read that while filé powder will thicken a gumbo, it can also make it stringy. Since H and I planned to eat this over the course of the week, I sprinkled a little on top of each portion.

To serve, add about a 1/2 cup of rice to the bowl, then ladle the gumbo over it. Make sure you have hot sauce on the table, and if you are feeling indulgent, I like to eat my gumbo with a fresh sweet corn muffin with garlic butter.

So the farmers’ markets around Nashville are exploding with tomatoes. Every time I take a stroll through the market, all I find are tomatoes encroaching on all the other produce. They are pushing the peaches to the side, making the peas inconsequential, and shouldering aside the squash. And as I am faced with these displays of lycopenean bloat, I’m faced with with one hard, irrefutable fact. I hate tomatoes.

Well, let me qualify that. I hate raw tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes, whether they be in marinara sauce, pasta or even ketchup are another story. Cooked tomatoes don’t have that weird slimy texture that, in my mind, has always doomed the raw, ripe fruit. Cooked tomatoes are also the titular ingredient in that most perfect of soups: tomato soup.

I’ll admit it – I love Campbell’s tomato soup. There is usually a can in my cupboard that can be pulled down and made in five minutes when I need a comforting bowl of the stuff. But I also love the the non-canned variety – and I’ve made it at home before. It’s just that my tomato soup cravings usually come on a rainy, cold day in late fall – and I have to end up using canned tomatoes rather than fresh, ripe summer tomatoes. This year though, I was determined to correct this and make use of the current torrent of tomatoes.

I found a basic recipe from a cookbook appropriately titled The Soup Bible. I added in a few more tomatoes than the recipe suggested and cut down a bit on the broth. I also used a free hand with the spices as well – doubling the garlic, adding in a dash of hot red pepper flakes, and using copious amounts of black pepper. What came out was as smooth as Campbell’s soup, but with freshness of taste that just can not be replicated in a can. I’m tempted to buy bushels of tomatoes over the next few weeks, before the season inevitably comes to an end, and fill my freezer with enough tomato soup to last me through the dreariest of winter days. It’s almost enough to make me reconsider my loathing of the raw fruit – almost, but not quite!

Fresh Tomato Soup

Adapted from The Soup Bible

Ingredients:

2 1/2 to 3 pounds very ripe tomatoes

2 T. Olive oil

1 Onion, chopped

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 T. Sherry Vinegar

2 T. Tomato Paste

1 T. Cornstarch

1 Bay leaf

2 cups, Vegetable or chicken stock

Dash of Crushed red pepper

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 cup Creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)

Basil Leaves for garnish

Directions:

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and pulp to a strainer set over a bowl. Press down on the pulp until all the liquid has been released. Set aside the liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a pan, and add the onion, garlic, sherry vinegar, tomato paste, and tomato halves. Stir and then cover the pan and cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When done, process the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and then pass through a sieve to remove pieces of skin. Return to pan.

Mix the cornstarch with the reserved tomato pulp liquid, then stir into the hot soup, along with the bay leaf and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, seasoning with the red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the sour cream (you can skip this step if you don’t like creamy tomato soup) and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot.

Even in the dead of a hot, humid, southern summer, when I am sick, I will eat soup. Though not just any soup, but a miso based soup. Miso soup by itself is good, but sometimes you need a little more substance at dinner time. So what I wanted would be filling yet light. Of course, if it is quick to throw together then it might be almost perfect. I needed the soup that would fix everything…my icky cold and a hectic week at work.

CHicken Stock

Flu with 100 degree fever + Soup = Ready for a 10 mile bike ride
Bad Day at work + Soup = Not a care in the world

Soba Noodles

Like I said it is my never-fail cure-all, and I needed it now. So while looking for another new kitchen gadget and reading the latest Gastrokids article on the Williams-Sonoma website, I found a recipe for Chicken Soba Noodle Soup that I had to try.

Fresh Grated Ginger Scallions Spinach

I loved the broth. Lots of ginger! I was not able to find yellow miso, so I used white miso, which gave it a very light miso flavor. I did want something a little more pronounced, so next time I will not substitute. With the spinach, chicken, scallions, and soba noodles, the soups was filling, yet because of the broth it was still light and delicate. It was enough for H and I to have for dinner and still have some leftovers for lunch the next day.

If you happen to fall into the crowd that likes Udon, you could easily make that change. Personally, I prefer udon to soba, so next time we might switch the part of the soup. I added the slightest amount of soy sauce and of course my favorite, Japanese Red Pepper. I love the kick it adds to soups.

Chicken and Soba Noodle Soup - Final

Chicken and Soba Noodle Soup

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Soup , by Diane Rossen Worthington.
7 Points

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. dried soba noodles
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1/4 cup yellow miso
1 tsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 boneless, skinless whole chicken breast, about 1/2 lb., cut into small cubes
2 1/2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
2 green onions, white and light green portions, thinly sliced
soy sauce, to taste – I added 2 tsp.
Japanese Red Pepper Mix, to taste

Directions:
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the stock, water, miso and ginger. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the miso is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the chicken pieces and cook until the chicken is just opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until slightly softened but still bright green, about 1 minute. Add the green onions and cook for 1 minute more. Add soy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

4. Using tongs, divide the noodles evenly among warmed bowls and then ladle in the soup. Sprinkle with Japanese Red Pepper to add a little kick. Serve immediately.