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This year's available selection from BC Liquor Stores

Well this is a darn cool day.  I’ve been a wino for, like, a really, really long time (sounds kinda bad doesn’t it?) and I never knew about Nouveau Beaujolais Day until now.  I mean, I’ve always known about Beaujolais.  It’s a lovely, light, drinkable red from the Beaujolais region of France (duh!) made from the Gamay variety of grape.  In my experience, it’s a bit lighter and drier than the spicier Gamay Noir varietals produced here in B.C. (one of my favorites of which is from Mt. Boucherie, and the other one is from Sandhill).  It’s very pleasant and kind of … inconsequential in aspect, which makes it thoroughly dangerous.

The Nouveau Beaujolais is an early winter wine that is traditionally released on the 3rd Thursday in November.  That was yesterday.  All over the world, people have been racing to be the first to serve and drink this light-bodied, put-a-spring-in-your-step, bottle of happiness.  The guy at the liquor store said to me, “oh, you want the grape juice and bubble gum wine?”.  Hmph.  Well, it’s no Amarone, but damn!  It is hella-drinkable and thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly pretty.  I have never seen such purple wine.  Okay, so there’s a slight similarity to grape juice.

That's purple, not red.

The thing that’s cool about Nouveau Beaujolais Day is that it’s this crazy worldwide wine fest that happens in the dead of winter when people are sort of thinking that wine is done for the year.  Not that it’s ever done, but let’s face it – who goes on a wine tour of the Okanagan in the middle of November?  National Beaujolais Day has been described as one of “the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world”. Cool!  According to Wine Spectator, I am one lucky cookie, since I get to blog about this delightful libation this year – apparently 2009 is set to be one of the Beaujolais’ best vintages ever. Sweet!

Mommessin 2009

Yesterday was a good day to come home and drink a bottle of wine.  Or half a bottle.  There were two varieties released in BC Liquor Stores yesterday: the Beaujolais Villages Nouveau – Mommesin 2009, and the Beaujolais Nouveau – Duboeuf Paper Label 2009 and I contemplated opening both bottles and having a drink off, but my tasting partner, P, got thoroughly soused at an early Christmas lunch and was entirely useless to me on the tasting front.  So I settled for drinking half a bottle of the Mommessin with a few slices of French Batard from Bond Bond’s bakery, and a version of Portuguese Sausage and Kale soup that I made in my slow cooker while watching the world’s cheesiest television show.  It was a fine way to end the day.

B.

Oh, you want to know what the t.v. show was?  It was the recent remake of “V”. Terrible.  But oh so good.

What?  You want the soup recipe?  Well that’s just pushing it.  But here you go:

1. Sauté  1/2 large onion (diced), 3 cloves of garlic (minced) and 3 Portuguese Chorico Sausages (2 hot, 1 sweet, sliced 1/4″) in a heavy sauce pot.

2. Add some chopped mushrooms, s & p.

3. When starting to brown and caramelize on bottom of pan, deglaze with a little dry sherry or red wine.

4. Toss in the 1/2 large can of diced tomatoes you had left over from the casserole you made at the same time, a couple handfuls of fresh chopped basil and 1 tbsp of dried oregano.

5. Put in slow cooker.  Add 1 litre of ham stock that you made from this year’s giant Easter Ham Hock and kept in the freezer all summer long.

6. Add 2 – 3 cups of water because you think there’s not enough liquid.

7. 3-4 drops of Liquid Smoke, no more.

8. Chop 8-9 red nugget potatoes into little tiny soup-size pieces and mix into the glop in the pot.

9. Top with a few sprigs of parsley ’cause they’re in the fridge and then fill the pot to the top with coarsely chopped kale (I used one really big bunch).

10. Turn on the slow cooker and set it to cook all day on low.  When you get home, give it a stir and turn it to high while you do your chores and heat the Batard in the oven and … voila!  Perfect Stormy Night Food that pairs reasonably well with your evening’s wine assignment (ok, probably an Touriga Nacional would have been better – it’s a darn stout soup – but the Nouveau did nicely in a pinch).

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[Ed: Today marks the return of our indomitable and enthusiastic guest blogger, Della, who not only invokes the esteemed Julia in this fine post, but also adds two of my most favorite ingredients to this very classic dish.]

I made vichyssoise for the first time when I about 15 years old.  A chilled soup sounded terribly exotic to me at that time and though I had never tasted it I assumed that anything so classically French must be a) delicious and b) difficult to make.  I learned that I was only half right.  The soup was absolutely divine but it was incredibly easy to cook.  Then I learned a few years later that vichyssoise is not so “classically” French.  According to Julia Child in her 1961 culinary bible “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” vichyssoise “is an American invention based on the leek and potato soup.”  Apparently I was only 33 per cent correct.  Nonetheless the result was wonderful and I make this and other chilled soups to this day.

Like so many traditional dishes, there are as many recipes as there are cooks making them.  The first recipe I used was from the 1970 TeeVee Books publication “The New Complete Book of Cookery.” It was already an old book when I found it on my mother’s bookshelf though I’m certain I was the first to open it after the Christmas day it was received.  The soup chapter was written by Ted Moloney, the author of several notable cookbooks including “Oh for a French Wife!” (1953)  Moloney’s recipe calls for both leeks and onions with a leek/potato ratio of about 2 to 1.  Moloney also calls for celery and uses butter to sweat the leeks and onions.  In contrast Julia Child’s original 1961 recipe called for equal portions of leek and potato and no celery, onions or butter.  Instead of sweating the vegetables they were simply simmered in the chicken stock.  By the time her 1999 collaboration with Jacques Pepin, “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” was published, Julia had added both butter and onion to her vichyssoise, deepening the flavour and improving the texture of the original.  Of course, all of the recipes call for heavy cream in healthy measure.

Perhaps more important than their recipes, was the advice that Moloney, Child and Pepin offered home cooks.  All three advocated improvisation.  Potato and leek soup was simply a foundation for innumerable variations.  From these icons of French cookery I learned that ultimately even the best recipes are merely guidelines and that flavour is far more important than authenticity.  My vichyssoise is a blend of their recipes and inspired by their food philosophy.  Julia and Jacques suggested adding carrots, parsnips, cucumbers, cabbage, squash and a plethora of other possibilities either alone or in combination.  You’ll see fennel and wine in my ingredient list.  Neither are traditional ingredients but I think fennel adds an aromatic depth to the soup.  The fennel is sort of an Italian take on this French inspired American classic.

At its best vichyssoise is simple, luxurious and elegant.  Whether you stick to the basics or jazz up your vichyssoise with some exotic addition I hope you enjoy the result.  Bon appétit.

Vichyssoise

¼ cup unsalted butter

2 medium leeks (about 3/4 lb untrimmed), sliced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 fennel bulb, sliced (optional)

2 large potatoes (about 1 ½ lbs), sliced

½ cup white wine (optional)

4 cups chicken stock

½ to 1 cup whipping cream (feel free to use half and half if you want to lighten things up)

Salt and white pepper to taste

Chives or fennel frond, finely chopped for garnish

Crème fraiche or sour cream, for garnish

leeks and fennel

Puree

Sauté leeks, celery and fennel with butter on medium low heat.  Be careful not to caramelize leeks or burn butter.  When leeks and celery are soft, deglaze pot with white wine.  Let wine reduce until pot is almost dry.  Add potatoes and chicken stock.  Cover and simmer  until vegetables are very soft – about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Puree with a stick blender, food processor or food mill.  Let puree cool and then chill thoroughly.

Just before serving stir in cream.

Serve in chilled bowls garnished with a dollop of crème fraiche and chopped chives or fennel fronds if you have used fennel in the soup.

Yields 6 to 8 appetizer portions.

A couple of quick notes:

1.             Use russet or other high starch potato for the best texture

2.            For those of you who have not cooked leeks before, leeks collect sand like your worst nightmare swimsuit.  Rinsing the sliced leeks in a big bowl of cool water is your best bet to dislodge the grainy intruder. [Ed. I’ve also tried taking a mushroom scrubber to them and it works like a hot diggety, but it is labour intensive.]


 

This year's Thanksgiving Pie

This year's Thanksgiving Pie

Somebody else's kid in the pumpkin patch because I'm too busy blogging about food to get there with mine!

My good friend C's cute kid in the pumpkin patch, because I just couldn't get there this year!

This is the time of year when pumpkin patches are on the mind.  Alongside the highway, on the way to the ferries, the large pumpkin fields of Mitchell’s Farm are full of parents and children in search of the perfect pumpkin.

These aren’t the best eating pumpkins, truth be told.  These are carving pumpkins.  You know, for jack o’lanterns.  Pretty much the only part of these pumpkins that gets eaten is the seeds (I mean, you can make allll sorts of delicious things – like roasted pumpkin soup, or stuffed roasted pumpkin, or grilled pumpkin spears, or ricotta pumpkin agnollotti – but what I’m saying is that these pumpkins mostly seem to get used to make hallowe’en decorations).  Mmmmmmmm … roasted pumpkin seeds!  Delish!  I like them with a little bit of olive oil and seasoning salt on them.  Alternatively, a little olive oil, some garlic powder, salt and pepper.  You scoop out all the gooey stringy insides of the pumpkin and pick out the seeds from the pulp.  I like to roll them around in a paper towel or a dish cloth to get the majority of the pulp off before tossing them with the oil and seasonings.  Some people rinse them to get all the goo off, but I like how it adds to the pumpin-y flavour and caramelizes a little.  In the oven on cookie sheets at 350 for some random period of time equal to how long it takes for them to get toasty and Bob’s Your Uncle! (where does that saying come from anyway?).

What I really love pumpkins for, in case no one picked this up from my Brandied Fruits post the other day, is pumpkin pie.  God love a good pumpkin pie!  For true pumpkin pie, made from scratch, you’re supposed to use sugar pumpkins, not the big, tough old things that people use to create ghoulish artwork every October 31st.  Of course, I am usually in a time crunch when I make pumpkin pie because it seems to be a holiday thing and the meals it goes best with are those that involve a lot of oven-intensive dishes – turkey, candied yams, stuffing, roast vegetables and the like.  So the pie almost always gets short-shrift.  Horrific, if you ask me.  It also means I almost always … okay … always use canned pumpkin.  Nothing wrong with that actually.  Just make sure to just use the pure pumpkin, not the instant pumpkin pie filling pumpkin.

I’m not one to buy my pastry pre-made.  I pride myself on my ability to make a great pastry.  So that’s what I do.  I used to use the recipe off the back of the Fluffo box (vegetable shortening – though lard is also good), but either I have somehow invented that in my own head, or they changed the recipe this year.  Either of these things is possible.  In any event, I can’t share my fail-safe perfect pastry recipe here with you.  Not yet.  I am in an ongoing heated competition with some other pie-makers and this competition will continue until I am, once and for all, named the Supreme High Best Piemaker.  Until then, top secret baby. Top Secret.

I will share one of my favorite pumpkin pie recipes with you though.  It’s not mine, but I often rely on it.  It’s from the Silver Palate Cookbook and it’s awesome.  Go here to read the whole thing. I frequently use this recipe as a base for my own variations.  I will tell you this tidbit – if you switch out the ground ginger for fresh ginger, and if you add a couple tablespoons of molasses and a few spoonfuls of maple syrup, instead of the brown sugar … mmmmmmmmm.  I should also add that although I like this recipe because it is not hugely sweet, I often use even less sugar than it calls for.  I tend to do that.  I like to taste the fruit, or vegetable as the case may be, in my pies.

Pumpkin Pie should always be made Deep Dish.  Why?  Because then the slices are bigger.  Duh!  Like most custard based pies, it’s tricky to make a pumpkin pie that doesn’t crack in the oven and most recipes you will find are not for a deep dish pie.  The key is to start it out hot (425 – 450) for the first 10 minutes, like you would with a cheesecake, and then turn the heat down to 325 and cook it slowly over a long time.  Watch it though.  Don’t leave it in too long.  It’s okay if it’s still ever so slightly shiny and wet looking in the middle, so long as a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean.  Don’t worry – they always set.

This pie stayed in the oven a tiny bit too long, which is why you see a cracks and some brown spots on it, but it still tasted yummy!

This pie stayed in the oven a tiny bit too long, which is why you see a cracks and some brown spots on it, but it still tasted yummy!

I prefer my pumpkin pie still warm out of the oven and smothered in fresh whipping cream.  Maple whipped cream is good.  If you make some candied pecans, or even pralines, and crunch them up as a topping for the pie, that’s good too.  Because pumpkin is a vegetable, I like to tell myself that it is a healthy meal choice and I definitely enjoy my pie for breakfast.

This last Thanksgiving, I made two pumpkin pies (one for each Thanksgiving dinner I went to).  My kid had a bite of my pumpkin pie – his first.  Then he proceeded to eat half of my piece of pie.  Then he had a whole piece to himself.  He is definitely my child.

B.