I'm sure most of you are getting organized and trying to decide what your Holiday Season celebrations will be this year, maybe it's a tradition at your house and the menu has been long established and so will make a comforting return, bringing familiar aromas and flavors home. At our house we don't have anything that you could call established and while there are some dishes we associate with the holidays, we might have them available during the season yet for Xmas Eve, Xmas Day, New Year's Eve as New Year's Day..... it's all open.
We also have Ricardo's birthday (his 71th!) on the 28th, right in the middle of the whole thing, but we're deciding between taking him to "Technique Restaurant", which is the restaurant that Le Cordon Bleu has on premises and is overseen by one of the Master Chef's and the seniors are expected to serve an internship period before graduating, available to us with special discounts for students and French Contemporary Cuisine.... Yum! You can see it on their page at www.techniquerestaurant.com where their menu and gallery will show you their info.
But for the most part, this year I've got Rene on kitchen duty for a change and he's ready and willing to play Sous Chef and help prepare some lovely holiday goodies for us. It's also a good opportunity to practice and review some old favorites which we all enjoy and will come in handy for him at school and give a "head's up" on some of the dishes that are coming up. Fun in the kitchen with edible results, what more could you want, right?
I do know some of the "old standby's" that are sure to make an appearance will be:
- Bacalao a la Vizcaina - Traditional Spanish Dish with Cod, Olives, Capers, Potatoes, Sweet Red Bell Pepper in a rich tomato sauce. Amazing and wonderful......
- Croquembouche - Traditional French Cake served at wedding and special occasions of pate choux filled with pastry cream, glued together with caramelized sugar.
- Stained Glass Cookies - Which used to be part of my Xmas Carousel but now are toned down and serve as a reminder of the kids' childhoods, but tasty and always welcome....
- Tiropides or Greek Phillo & Feta Turnovers - Flaky, tasty, easy and oh so yummy, plus you can add whatever additional flavors you like: mushrooms, spinach, lamb, fish, etc.
- Mulled Wine - Full of dried fruits and hot wine gives comfort and a kick, lovely!
- Cinnamon Rolls - These giant, soft and wonderfully aromatic buns have always been a lovely part of our Xmas morning.
Looks like a full menu already, doesn't it? But if you consider that there are about 5 days to our holiday, you can see how we'd need to fill it out with other items, like: recycling main dishes into casseroles or pasta toppers, sandwiches for lunch or brunch, quiche is always good and takes advantage of anything and everything, Croque Monsieur Sandwiches can make even sad leftovers look special and let's not forget soups, which can dress up any meal....
With that in mind, a Cream Soup is always on our holiday table and whether Carrot, Celery, Broccoli, Squash Blossom, Potato, Leek, Mushroom or whatever you prefer, it's amazing to make and eat, fancy and if you finish it off the French way, can be elegant and ever so wonderful! Here's the basic procedure .....
Step 1- Make a real stock. Either meat or chicken based (could be fish too for that matter), but do it up and go all the way. Yes, it makes all the difference in the world and there's nothing like it in the world..... run through a sieve or chinois and set it aside.
Step 2- In a soup pot put some clarified butter (heat butter over med heat and skim the milk solids so you only have the fat left, this is clarified butter) and some finely chopped mirepoix (onion, some leek maybe), parsley. Have whatever you've chosen for your flavor of soup, ready and finely chopped like I mentioned in the first paragraph (Carrot, Celery, Broccoli, Squash Blossom, Potato, Leek, Mushroom, chicken, shrimp, crab, etc. or whatever you prefer) and sweat it for 4-5 min until it's tender but has not taken on any color.
Step 3- Sprinkle on some flour, equal amounts of the fat you've got and stir for 3-4 min but don't allow to color either. You're just cooking out the flour taste, that's all.
Step 4- Add the stock and whisk in to prevent lumps until it's well combined. It should be smooth and as soon as it boils it will become thicker.
Step 5- Use a blender or induction blender and process everything until completely smooth. Run through a fine sieve or chinois.
Step 6- Taste and add salt and white pepper to your taste. You can also finish it with 1-2 tbl of butter called "mounting with butter" which will give it a sheen and silky finish or how about some Brandy, Sherry or Cognac, Mmmmm. Top with some chopped chives or parsley and serve.
NOTE: You could add croutons, crackers, pieces of vegetable or meat too.
Anyway, you get the idea that anything is a possibility for a great Cream Soup. I hope you will try it and see for yourself, you'll be glad you did.
I'll continue to post holiday ideas as I get further into my holiday menu and maybe some of these will be of help to you in your planning for the holiday. Above all else keep in mind that food plays an important role in get together's and it doesn't matter whether the food is fancy or not as long as everyone comes together and shares the meal.
Our best wishes from our family to yours, see you soon!