Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For a Snowy Day: Two Warming Recipes!

The short winters in southwest France may have freezing temperatures, but historically are not snowy.  However, for the last several years there has been consistent snowfall--sometimes just a light dusting, and at other times, up to a half a foot. I like the white, fluffy stuff, it's beautiful!  En plus, it hushes the normal noise of traffic lending a softer feel to the quartier.

Wintry mornings make me think Oatmeal!  I made enough not only to have some for a warming, nourishing breakfast, but also so I could pan fry what was left over for breakfast next morning.

Triangles of oatmeal pan-fried in butter and topped with warm strawberry jam and yogurt

After breakfast it was time to care for the starlings as on this cold, snowy day, they needed assistance.  The ice in their bath was duly smashed with a hammer so I could fill up the shallow container with fresh water.  Their feeding dish was stocked with oatmeal flakes, raisins, and moistened, dry cat food.  They pay me back by performing almost daily murmurations conducted in the late afternoon.

Cat food you say?  It is a food loved by insectivores like starlings as it is high in protein.  Happily, Dayo enjoyed himself by prancing about in the brisk, freshness of a cold, snowy day and did not notice the huge platter of cat food in the back of the garden!

The garlic planted this past fall doesn't seem to mind the snow that much.  Look at those brave, green blades!

Soon it was lunchtime, and what better dish for such a chilly day than mushroom soup à la forestière thickened with crème fraîche and exuberantly garnished?

Garnished with sliced, raw 'rooms, crispy bacon, fresh chives, and French bread chunks.

For the pan-fried oatmeal, you need of course to make some oatmeal.  There are two things to know about making oatmeal:  1) use a big enough pot to prevent boiling over, and 2) simmer on low heat without taking your eyes off it.  Off course, you could just put it overnight in a slow cooker or even just a thermos without such precautions.

I cover several large handfuls of flaked oatmeal with milk (imparts all essential creaminess), add cinnamon, lots of raisins, a bit of salt and sugar, and simmer until done, about five minutes, stirring all the while.  I scoop out a serving, and top it with a nice pat of butter.  The pot with the rest of the porridge goes in the fridge.  Or if there is a lot, you can pack the extra into a small loaf pan which lends itself to making easy, even slices.

If you like your porridge plain, then you could mix savoury ingredients like minced garlic/onion, spices, herbs, even grated cheese into the extra oatmeal while it is still warm.  Then follow the instructions below for pan frying the slices--olive oil could be used instead of butter.  The topping could be yogurt with a touch of tomato paste beaten into it.

When cold, ease the solidified cereal out of the pot--a flexible spatula comes in handy--and trim off any raggedly bits and cut into pleasing shapes.  The slices need to be about an 1/2 inch thick. Beat an egg in a shallow bowl and put some flour on a plate.  Dredge the oatmeal pieces all over with the flour, and dip in the beaten egg.  Then dredge in the flour once again on all sides.

Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a skillet, and brown nicely on both sides over medium heat.

While the oatmeal slices are frying, heat gently over a low flame several tablespoons of jam--I used strawberry but any other berry flavour would work along with peach or apricot with their cheery golden colour--in a small pot, or for savoury slices, make up some yogurt flavoured with tomato paste.

Arrange the slices on a plate, spoon some plain yogurt over them, and top with the warm strawberry jam, or for the savoury slices, the tomato-yogurt.  The sweet version has a delectable crust enclosing creamy oatmeal studded with raisins and spiked with cinnamon with a brightening splash of melted jam and a cooling dollop of yogurt.  Pas trop mal!

Mushroom Soup à la Forestière
makes 6-8 servings, any excess can be frozen

  • Onion, yellow, 1 medium, minced finely
  • Mushrooms, fresh, 2.5 lbs/1 kg, minced finely
  • Mushrooms, several caps for garnishing
  • cèpes, dried, a small gowpen (double handful!)
  • Butter, sweet, 4 T
  • Salt
  • Flour, wheat, white, 5 T
  • Liquid, combined water and cepes' liquour, 1 3/4 quarts/1650ml
  • Bouquet garni, fresh or dried, either tied or not.  (If not tied, you will have to fish out the bits!)
  • Crème fraîche, 1 cup*/25 cl
  • Garnishes:  bacon, French bread chunks, fresh chives 
*American cup measure, that is, 8 oz

In French cuisine, the addition of mushrooms which are harvested in forests like cèpes is designated as being à la forestière.  This mushroom soup has a pleasing earthiness, that is, a woodsy taste which I adore.  Start preparing the cèpes.  Finely mince the onions and gather your fresh/dried herbs.  Keep in mind a bouquet garni of fresh herbs will be larger than a dried one.  I used one large bay leaf, a long sprig of fresh thyme, and several fresh parsley springs.

Gently saute them in two tablespoons of butter over the lowest flame possible for about ten minutes or till they are soft, transparent, and yellow.  Be careful not to brown them.

Carefully wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel so as not to waterlog them.  Cut them in half, reserving a few caps for garnishing.

Finely chop the mushrooms via a food processor or by hand.  The finer they are minced the more flavour the soup will have.

Toss the minced fresh mushrooms along with the minced cèpes into the pot with the sauteed onions.  Add two more tablespoons of butter along with a teaspoon or two of salt to encourage the 'rooms to release their liquor and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.  There should be loads of brown liquid of which will be absorbed by the flour you will now add.  Incorporate the flour thoroughly and cook for a minute or too for the flour to lose its raw taste.

Slowly add the water and the strained cèpe liquor until the soup is smooth.  Add the herbs.  Simmer, covered, for another 25 minutes.

About fifteen minutes before the soup is ready,  prepare the garnish by frying up some bacon rashers, tear some chunks from a loaf of French bread, slice the reserved mushroom caps, and snip some chivesThough all is covered with snow in the potager at the moment, a large pot of verdant chives happily flourishes in a warm, sunny spot indoors.

I highly recommend herb scissors which makes the job of snipping herbs, especially chives, a cinch.  The scissors, however, are pretty heavy as they are five pairs in one!

Fish out the bouquet garni, and using a stick mixer, blend the soup right in the pot and beat in the crème fraîche.  Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Garnish heartily.  Voilà!

This mushroom soup is tangy, rich, and aromatic and is even better the next day as the robust flavour only deepens!

Bon appétit!