Cream of Mushroom Soup

FullSizeRender-1Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom has NOTHING on this savory made-from-scratch soup by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), posted on in 2006. I’ve been making this soup for a few years, usually to serve to company in the fall or winter. The intense mushroom flavor comes from making a vegetable stock with the mushroom stems, and adding that to the mushroom cap roux. (There’s that word again, Tom! Roux just means adding flour to butter to make a paste, which thickens cream sauces and soups.) Everyone who’s slurped this soup has absolutely raved about it, including my new bosses we recently hosted. Hey, that’s one way to stay employed—dazzle ’em with butter and cream in dishes like this one!

Here’s a budget tip: I’ve found Trader Joe’s has the best price on all of the mushrooms needed for this recipe. Some of them were about $2 per 8-ounce package, a huge cost savings over Cub foods, where they are often $4-5 per 8-ounce package. TJ’s also consistently has all of these mushrooms on hand. I’ve been to other grocery stores that only carry the shiitake mushrooms seasonally, and they do add a nice nutty nuance so are worth the search. One disclaimer: Those not mushroom fans will find there’s no subtlety of flavor here, so best to avoid this recipe. But the rest of you will love this soup as a side or main dish, with a crusty slice of warm, buttered, baguette. Mmmmmmmmmm…

Serves 8-10

8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms (these are the ones that are often just called “mushrooms” on the package…)
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms (aka: baby bella)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
1½ teaspoon dried thyme, divided
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks (about 2)*
¼ cup all-purpose flour, or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried.

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Do not rinse in water. Separate the stems, trim off bad parts, and coarsely chop them. Slice the mushroom caps, and cut larger caps in half so pieces are bite-sized. Set caps aside.

To make the mushroom stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large pot or Dutch oven. Add chopped mushroom stems, onion, carrots, 1 teaspoons thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add 5 cups water, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. There should be about 4 cups of stock. If not, add water to 4 cups.

Heat the remaining ½ cup butter in the pot and add leeks. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until leeks are soft and begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender and browned. Sprinkle the flour or Namaste gluten-free blend over the mushrooms, stir, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken broth and stir to remove bits from bottom of pot, and cook for an additional 1 minute. Add the mushroom stock and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half and parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat on low (do not boil) and serve.

*NOTE: Leeks often are full of sand and grit, so it’s best to chop them, then soak them in a bowl of cold water. The sand will sink to the bottom, and the leeks will float on top. Scoop them out of the water, and drain in colander.


Mini Herb Garden Pots

Herb Pots IMG_0697Fresh summer meals require fresh summer herbs, and if you’ve got a patch of sunshine, you can grow a pot of herbs. No need to own your own acreage—even apartment-dwellers can do this with a little bit of deck and a place to put a pot. I’ve been growing pots like these for years, and if you combine the herbs in an artful fashion, they can be decorative as well as utilitarian. The pot pictured here has (from left counter-clockwise) rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, purple basil, and chives, with sweet basil in the center. I also plant a pot with just spearmint. In the summer, we go through mint like Kleenex, as I’ve got a recipe for mint ice tea that is absolutely to die for—posting to come! (FYI—we don’t use those two items interchangeably…)

Summer table IMG_0345NOTE: If you are going to plant a pot of mint, make sure you grab spearmint instead of peppermint, unless you want your culinary efforts to have a Pepto Bismol after taste. (Been there, done that.) Mint is a perennial if planted in ground, but it tends to take over a garden. One trick for outsmarting the all-consuming plant is to plant it in the ground inside an old cracked plastic pot. It keeps it somewhat contained, and if the roots are protected underground through winter, it comes up year after year. (More info below on the table setting at right.)

Back to the mixed herb pots. I try to do a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, and a mix of bright greens, dark greens, and purples. Mixing heights adds interest to your containers too. Last year, I was super lazy and didn’t pull the dead herbs out of their pots in the fall, and surprise, surprise, the chives actually came in again! Who knew there was an upside to lazy?

Herb Centerpieces IMG_0346Once your pots start growing like crazy, you can put together some sweet little centerpieces like these. The bright, clean labels on these 28-ounce Red Gold ® diced tomatoes really caught my eye. So after I used the tomatoes in a recipe, I rinsed and saved three cans for table decor. (Hey, reduce, reuse, recycle, right?) Then I cut squares of wet floral foam slightly larger than the cans, and soaked them in water about an hour. To do this at home, wedge the soaked floral foam into the cans (yes, you are putting a square peg in a round hole), then poke cuttings from your herb garden into the wet block. They will last a week or more, and make nice, low-profile centerpieces. No playing hide-and-seek with guests at the table around a gargantuan arrangement. An added bonus is that the fresh cut herbs smell awesome!

IMG_0701The super simple napkin rings (shown here and above on the table setting) are made from stringing wooden beads onto suede leather lacing, and then looping one end back through the first bead to secure. My daughter-in-law strung these one Thanksgiving (thanks, Jessica!), and they were great with our warm, neutral palette for fall. They also work with bright, summery colors like those pictured here. I’m a sucker for the affordable IKEA napkins, which are 50 for $1.99. The color choices are always fun, and keeping these napkins on hand helps to be ready for impromptu guests.