The French. Is there anything the can’t do?

Is it any wonder that the rest of the world is in love with the French?

They own the term champagne. If you put ‘French’ in front of a product description, you can charge 700% for it (French butter? TAKE MY MONEY). Their accent is the stuff of dreams/fantasies. They don’t diet or need face-lifts (apparently), their children simultaneously eat everything and nothing (how else do you stay skinny?!), and if you believe the internet, French women basically invented style. Look, I may have to conceded that last point, I do own at least six Breton striped tops. That’s normal, right?

If none of that impresses you, the French are also responsible for the framework of modern cooking, so, you know, there’s that. I’m not going to lie to you, traditional French cooking isn’t something I know a hell of a lot about. It’s never been my scene, though I respectfully acknowledge its contribution to food.

However, when you live with someone who is all about all things Paris and it is their birthday (Happy birthday Lou!), you shut up and pull out Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Soupe à l’Oignon is a pretty excellent entry into French cooking. The recipe for French Onion soup is relatively effortless, but is still chic enough to serve at a dinner party. Impressionnant, non?

My advice to you, is this: as always with recipes with so few ingredients, the strength of your dish depends on the quality of those ingredients. Buy the best you can afford. and you can’t go wrong.
I also advise you to get your hands on a mandolin, because it will take you forever to thinly slice all those onions without one, unless you’re a pro with impeccable knife skills. They’re a pretty cheap bit of kit, and worth having in the cupboard for times like these. Make sure you buy one with a safety guard!

Also, even with a mandolin, I cried the whole time. Stupid onions.

20140708-214222-78142705.jpg

 

Soupe à l’Oignon (French Onion Soup)

From Smitten Kitchen

680 grams thinly sliced yellow onions (I sliced up 6 large onions)
42 grams unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons plain flour
8 cups or 2 litres beef stock
1/2 cup (118 ml) dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional)

To finish (Optional)
1 to 2 cups grated cheese (I used Gruyere)
Thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard (2/3 toasts per person)

 

In a large, heavy based saucepan, melt the oil and butter together over low heat. Add the sliced onions and gently stir until coated in oil. Put the lid on the pot, and allow to gently cook for 15 minutes.

20140708-214221-78141182.jpg

Once this is done, ditch the lid, stir in the sugar and salt and raise the temperature ever so slightly. For the next 40 minutes, stir the onions frequently until they are a deep golden brown. This caramelisation process builds the soup’s flavour, so make sure you take care!

Once the onions are golden, add the flour and continue to stir for 3 minutes. Add the wine to the pot and scrape any delicious brown bits from the bottom. Add the first litre for stock, a little bit at a time, continuing to stir. Then add the second, and season with salt and pepper. If you’re adding the cheese later, go easy on the salt – it’s easier to add more at the end, but you can’t make it less salty if you add too much now! Add in the brandy or cognac and stir.

To finish, cover the toasted French rounds with Gruyere, and grill until golden and bubbly. Stir any leftover cheese into the soup, taste and season accordingly. Divide soup between bowls, and serve with toasts.

20140708-214223-78143964.jpg

 

The cure to all your problems

It took no more than 3 days after Perth’s cold weather kicked in for one of my housemates to come down ill.

The Plauge Man-flu is as merciless as it is swift and incapacitating. The sniffles and aches, headaches and sneezing; it’s truly a wonder that health organisations don’t take it more seriously. There is, of course, only one known cure for man-flu – the magic of chicken soup.

Now, before you tell me that’s an old wives’ tale, science has my back (thanks, science!) on this one. With its anti-inflammatory properties and congestion clearing super-powers, getting a big bowl of this into your belly is probably the best life choice you can make when curled up on the couch with a box of Kleenex and 6 seasons of Sons of Anarchy.

I loved this recipe because it’s packed with vegetables for nutrition, pasta to fill you up, and plenty of juicy chicken, which is everyone’s favourite part. The stock base for the soup can even be made in advance and frozen if you’re a little short on time.

So, as soon as man-flu kicked in, a pot of this went on the stove, because there’s nothing in this world that is more comforting than this soup. Promise.

 

Chicken Noodle Soup

Adapted from Jamie Oliver

4 carrot
4 sticks celery
3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
sea salt
4 whole peppercorns
1 free range chicken (see note)
1 large knob butter
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks roughly chopped
200g fresh egg pasta
200g baby spinach
1 lemon

 

Roughly chop 2 carrots and celery sticks, then add to a large pot over medium heat with the chicken carcass, 2 diced onions, bay leaves, peppercorns and a big pinch of salt. Cover the chicken completely with water – roughly 1.5 litres. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour.

 

20140516-211634.jpg

While the stock simmers, dice the remaining carrots and celery into even pieces. In another large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat; add the garlic, remaining onion and parsley and gently cook until soft but not brown. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5 minutes.

When the stock is done, remove the chicken and shred the meat, setting it aside. Discard the carcass. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and discarding the vegetables.

Add the stock to your second pot. Bring the soup base to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add the egg pasta, baby spinach and shredded chicken and simmer for a further couple of minutes until the pasta is cooked. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a really good piece of sourdough slathered in butter. Seriously.

 

20140516-211700.jpg

 

 

NOTE:
So, in terms of the chicken you use, you can go two ways.
1) If you use a whole, raw chicken, you can break it down into parts following a video like this one. Breaking it down makes the chicken easier to handle once it’s cooked.
2) If raw chicken freaks you out, you can simply use a roasted chicken from the supermarket. Pull roughly 2/3 of the meat off the bones, shred it, then leave it in the fridge until a few minutes before serving – stir it though and simmer for a couple of minutes to warm it up. Add the carcass and remaining meat to make the stock in the first step.

All killer, no filler

As I’m typing, it’s raining. This makes me extraordinarily happy. I might have wasted absolutely no time wriggling into a pair of track pants and a hoodie, though I’m having a little trouble finding my knitted socks. All in good time, I suppose. Of course, with the sudden influx of wet and cold comes the need for wintery foods. Cravings wait for no man, and I wasn’t really surprised when I discovered no less than 4 friends delving into soup territory in this same afternoon. Beetroot, pumpkin, pea and ham… My contribution to the souptivities, was carrot.

I know. Carrots, right? Possibly the least exciting of all the vegetables. They’re filler veggies, to bulk up salad or add colour, but not distract from the hero of the dish, whatever it may be. Who goes out of their way for carrots? No one. Why would you?

Here’s what happened. The downside to living in a share house is the double ups. Wade peered into the fridge last week and noted that between the three of us, we’d accumulated 3 kilos of carrots.  What the hell  do you do with three kilos of carrots? Admittedly, he made some amazing carrot muffins, but that only knocked it down to 2.5 kilos. Juicing? That got us down to 1.5 kilos. Hummus dippers took care of half a kilo. And so here we are. Sunday, and soup. Waste not, want not, right?

I know I ask you to trust me regularly. And you’re still here, so thank you for humoring me so far. But for old times sake, trust me on this. I know it looks like baby food, and probably as appetizing. Holy jeebus, this is really, really tasty. Cumin, turmeric and coriander are regularly seen kicking about in Indian recipes and they really shine here. The addition of chorizo is inspired, because who doesn’t love chorizo? All in all, you might just be looking at your new favourite winter soup. Yeah, I went there.

Carrot & Chorizo Soup

From Delicious Magazine

30g unsalted butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 tsp cumin seeds
1kg carrots, chopped
1.25L (5 cups) chicken stock
1 tbs lemon juice
150g chorizo, finely chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, to serve
 

Preheat your oven to 220*c. Roughly chop the carrots to even sized chunks. Place in a roasting pan, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes until softened.

IMG_6801

In a large saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter and oil together. Gently cook the onion and garlic until soft, then add the ground coriander, turmeric and 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds until fragrant.

IMG_6802

Add the carrot to the pot, stirring to coat with the spices. Pop on the lid and soften for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrot is soft.

IMG_6803

Once cooled slightly, blend with a stick blender. Stir in the lemon juice.

In a frying pan, add the chorizo and last of the cumin seeds, stirring until crisp. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the lemon while cooking.

Split the soup between bowls and top with chorizo and coriander.

IMG_6805

As an FYI, you don’t have to roast the carrots first, you can just throw them in raw if you don’t have time. But I like the sweeter flavour that you get from roasting first.

No Reservations

Everyone has their favourite celebrity chefs.

I find it impossible not to love Jamie Oliver, with his all-round-nice-guyness. My other great chef love is a man who is possibly Jamie’s polar opposite, the one and only Anthony Bourdain. If Jamie is the guy you bring home to your parents, Bourdain is the guy your parents warned you about. He’s loud, brash and honest; he drinks like a fish and swears like a sailor. He’s a dream meeting of food and being a goddamn rockstar (seriously – he’s friends with The Ramones and Josh Homme), and I love everything about him.

Wade and I have spent countless winter nights glued to the couch, burning through season after season of No Reservations, making lists of dream foods or destinations. The places he ends up, and the foods he eats, the crazy people he meets; it all makes for some seriously compelling viewing. Bourdain has made his career as a New York chef of French cuisine, rustic and honest, but his love of unpretentious street food as well as haute cuisine sets him apart from the

It’s no secret that Wade struggled a little in the MasterChef kitchen of late. Cooking food to please other people is always a tricky business, and one that has not been kind to him. So when this challenge was put in front of him, no one was more please than me (except maybe Wade himself) when he set about dicing mushrooms. This is a soup that is good for the soul on a cold winter’s night. Incredibly simple and deceptively delicious, this soup is a classic.

I know all this, because he makes it for me.

#teamwade

Anthony Bourdain’s Mushroom Soup

From Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain

Ingredients
50g butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
340g button mushrooms, halved
4 cups chicken stock
1 sprig parsley
2 tbsp sherry
salt and pepper

1) Over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter in a large pot. Toss in the onion and cook until softened.

2) Add the remaining butter and then throw in the mushrooms. Soften for 8 minutes.

3) Pour in the stock, add the parsley, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer for an hour.

4) Pour soup into a blender or with a stick blender, and process until smooth. Return to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the sherry, mix to combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread (or cheesies!) and a dollop of cream.

Winter is coming

And then that day came that we were all simultaneously expecting and dreading.

Winter is upon us. The cold, the rain, the frosts. Gone are Perth’s beautiful long summer nights, and we welcome the excuse to bundle up and hibernate. Bears have the right idea, with their carb loading and epic nap schedule.

Dinners are turning from grilled meats and fresh salads, to slow cooked delights heartier feasts. Stews, roasts, casseroles and soups are all the order of the season and the season’s vegetables are the best place to showcase winter’s flavours.

My favourite corner of the earth at the moment is the Subiaco Farmers Markets, held every Saturday morning from 8am until noon. Fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, pastries… Basically, if you’re into food (and real food), you needn’t set foot in Coles or Woolworths again. I’m sure I don’t need to tell how that that’s a good thing. Everything is local, fresh and good. Oh, and did I mention cheap?

20120508-180244.jpg

I couldn’t resist all the beautiful winter vegetables that were starting to appear in the stalls. Organic tinned vegetables stood in for the things I couldn’t buy; Maggie Beer’s chicken stock actually contains chicken. I make a point of saying this, because many stocks don’t contain the things you’d think they would. All of these beautiful ingredients were going to combine into the perfect winter soup, filling, nutritious and not overly liquidy because I can’t be trusted not to spill it.

Chunky chorizo, chicken and vegetable soup

Adapted from Gourmet Traveller

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 onions, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1 chorizo, diced
4 free-range chicken thigh fillets diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
400g can chopped tomatoes
750 ml chicken stock
1 cup rigatoni or other small pasta
1 cup green peas
2 zucchini, cut into 1cm dice
400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
50g spinach leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
finely grated parmesan

1) Over medium to high heat, warm olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add onion, carrot and cook for 10 minutes, softening. Throw in chorizo, chicken and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until chicken changes colour.

20120508-180233.jpg

2) Add tomato and stock to the mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste Bring to the boil then reduce to medium. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

3) Add the pasta, zucchini beans peas. Increase the temperature to medium-high and cook, covered, for 10-12 minutes.

20120508-180159.jpg

4) Remove from heat and add the spinach, basil and remaining olive oil. Serve with grated parmesan and a good crusty sourdough.

20120508-180005.jpg