It’s that time of year. As winter draws to an end and spring threatens to break through, everyone seems to be suffering from a cough or a sniffle. I made it all winter without getting sick, and then BAM! It hit me like a freight train: a full blown head cold. Miserable. You know how it goes– the first day I felt a bit off, a bit tired, and just couldn’t seem to get warm. Day 2 began with a scratchy throat and ended with the chills. After a fitful sleep I awoke on day 3 unable to breathe, my head completely blocked up and my nose running like a faucet. It was over, I surrendered, waving a white tissue to let the enemy know I had no fight left in me. The husband kindly banished me to the couch and built a roaring fire in the hearth, declaring me officially out of commission until further notice.
Lucky for me I had a couple of new cookbooks to keep me company…
Remember my kitchen theme for 2014?
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
I’m a bit obsessed with healing foods at the moment, reading everything I can get my hands on. In January I even created a four week delicious detox program (Fresh Start) for food lovers looking to cook with more fresh fruit and veg here in Cavan, Ireland. I have no plans to give up dairy or wheat permanently, but it has been fun to explore new “virtuous” ingredients (as Susan Jane calls them).
When I lived in America I would have gone straight to the pharmacy (or chemist as they’re known here in Ireland) at the first sign of a cold. My goal was to suppress the symptoms with as much medicine as possible so I could get back to work and kindly share my germs with everyone around me. Here in Ireland I’ve discovered the “Health Food Shop.” A cornerstone of country towns, this is where you find herbal remedies, exotic foods, hippies and healing crystals. Instead of loading up on pharmaceuticals I went for the echinacea. I sought out oranges for vitamin C, garlic for powerful antiviral properties, and ginger to combat inflammation. According to Mayo Clinic, chicken soup is good cold medicine for two reasons: it acts as an anti-inflammatory and it gets all that phlegm moving out of the sinuses.
I suggest storing homemade chicken stock in the freezer, because you just never know when you’ll really need it (and boy will you be glad it’s there). I originally created this Chicken Soup Noodle recipe for the Fresh Start delicious detox, but later realized the ingredients make for a perfect cold remedy. In addition to the ginger and garlic mentioned above, the soup features spinach, an anti-inflammatory with loads of anti-oxidants. Reading Healing Foods, I learned that the nutrients in spinach are better absorbed by the body when the leafy green has been lightly cooked. If you can, use shiitake mushrooms for this soup. The Medicinal Chef writes that shiitake are unique to other fungi because they contain beta glucans, which are known to effect white blood cell production and boost the immune system. Thank you shiitakes!
It’s tough being home sick without anyone to nurse you back to health. Call me crazy, but I found it comforting to crawl off the couch midday and stand over a simmering pot of soup, stirring and breathing in the steam. If you’re lucky enough to have some chicken stock in the freezer, this soup takes only a few minutes to prepare. Then you can slink back off to bed and sleep off the sickness.
What foods do you find comforting or healing when you’re down with a cold? Please do share in the comments section…
Chicken Soup Noodle
I have fond memories of slurping a comforting bowl of Ma Ma Zoe’s Chicken Soup Noodle in a favourite Asian restaurant on cold, rainy days in America. It seems chicken noodle soup translates across many cultures. Homemade chicken stock enriched with dried porcini mushrooms is what gives this recipe its depth of flavor. If you’re battling a cold you may want to serve the soup with a bit of sriracha or hot chili sauce to really clear out your sinuses. This detoxifying soup is gluten-free, dairy-free, and elimination diet friendly. If you’re making ahead for a packed lunch, keep the noodles stored separately so they don’t break down to mush.
- 4 ounces/110g soba noodles (100% buckwheat or other gluten free noodle)
- 0.5 ounces/15g dried porcini mushrooms
- 16 ounces/480mL homemade chicken stock
- 0.7 ounces/20g ginger, thinly sliced (no need to peel)
- 1 leek
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 organic chicken breast
- 8 ounces/250g brown mushrooms (preferably shiitake), sliced
- 2 handfuls spinach (50g)
- 2 teaspoons tamari wheat-free soy sauce
- Coriander leaves, for garnish
- Sea salt
Place the dried porcini in a liquid measuring cup and pour over 480mL boiling water. Steep the mushrooms for 15 minutes, then drain. Discard the mushrooms and pour the broth into a medium sized pot, along with the chicken stock.
In a separate pot, cook the buckwheat noodles according to the package directions. Do not overcook the noodles or they will fall apart. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Wash the leek. Cut off the root end and the green top, leaving only the white and light green stalk. Cut the leek in half lengthways. Thinly slice into half moons. Place the leek slices in a colander and rinse to remove any sand and then toss in the pot with the broth. Add ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Add the chicken breast. Simmer over low heat, covered with the lid, for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked all the way through.
Remove the chicken breast and set aside to cool. Strain the broth, discarding the leeks, garlic and ginger. Return the broth to the pot with ¼ teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer. Add the sliced mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the scallions and soy sauce and remove the pot from the heat. Season to taste with sea salt.
Divide the noodles between two bowls. Tear the chicken breast into pieces and divide it between the two bowls. Add a handful of spinach to each bowl. Ladle mushrooms and broth into the bowls and serve garnished with coriander leaves.
I love chocolate– the darker the better. I might even say I need chocolate. Every day around 4:00pm I start rifling through kitchen drawers looking for my hidden dark chocolate bar. One little bite is all I need. A good quality chocolate bar is a beautiful thing, but every once and a while I like to treat myself to a decadent piece of chocolate cake. For me it’s all about the chocolate– no need for whipped cream or berries or even frosting– just a moist, fudgey cake with rich, dark chocolate flavor. I remember one of the restaurants I worked at had a popular recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It was baked from scratch when an order came in, filling the dining room with the most wonderful chocolate aroma. As the name says, this classic cake is made with chocolate, eggs, butter and sugar– no flour and therefore gluten free. It’s a simple cake, but I wanted to make it even simpler.
Baking Flourless Chocolate Cake usually involves separating egg whites from the yolks and whisking till stiff peaks form. After testing a lot of recipes I finally settled on a favorite that doesn’t involve whisking egg whites– no fancy mixer required. My Easy Flourless Chocolate Cake can be made entirely by hand with a rudimentary whisk. The recipe is so simple it’s foolproof, perfect for inexperienced bakers or the busy baker who just wants to throw together something special on Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day I hope you treat yourself (or someone you love) to this rich, decadent, super-chocolatey cake.
Easy Flourless Chocolate Cake
This cake is for chocolate lovers. Seek out the best quality chocolate you can find (go for 70-85% cacao solids in the dark chocolate). For this recipe I’ve use a locally handmade chocolate from my home county of Cavan, Ireland, Aine Chocolate.
Makes 1 cake, about 8 slices
- 6 ounces/113g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
- 2 ounces/55g milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
- 8 tablespoons/170g unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 6 large eggs (room temperature)
- ¾ cup/160g granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit/160 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Celsius for fan oven). Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a circular piece of greased parchment paper to prevent the batter from leaking out of the pan.
Place the chocolate, butter and salt in a heatproof bowl. Pour about an inch of water into a medium pot. Bring the water to a simmer, turn the heat to low and place the bowl on top of the pot, over the simmering water. The base of the bowl should not be touching the water. Stir the mixture frequently until melted and evenly incorporated. Set the bowl of melted chocolate aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
Beat the eggs and sugar (with a whisk by hand or using an electric mixer) until light and thickened, about 8 minutes. Gently fold in the cooled melted chocolate.
Pour the cake batter into the pan and bake on the center oven rack for 1 hour. The cake is done when its set in the middle– a toothpick will come out wet but not gloppy. The surface of the cake may develop a few cracks, but not to worry, they just give the cake character. When the cake is done, place it on a wire rack to cool. To serve, release the cake from the ring mold. It’s delicious served warm or completely cooled, and the moist crumb ensures it will keep for several days.
Happy New Year! I have a good feeling about 2014. The last year was one of change and transition as my husband and I moved from America to a small town in Ireland. This year holds so much promise! I’m eager to discover everything Ireland has to offer– the artisanal food producers, the natural wonders of Irish landscapes, the culture of the Irish people. I look forward to savoring each season fully and have plans to plant a garden. The theme in my kitchen for 2014 is:
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
I’m not a nutritionist, but more and more I’m beginning to understand that the food I eat has a direct effect on my health. In the beginning, food was only for pleasure. Now I believe food may have the power not just to promote health, but to heal. I’ll explore this idea here on La Domestique throughout the year with delicious recipes that celebrate the seasons and nourish the body.
This first recipe for 2014 “Brussels Sprout Salad with Hazelnuts, Thyme and a Pink Lady,” is a refreshing surprise in the dead of winter. Lightly steamed Brussels sprouts are sweet with a pleasant crunch. These tiny cabbages pair beautifully with slices of tart, floral apple and toasted hazelnuts. Delicate thyme leaves lend a mellow herbal note. It’s a satisfying salad that will keep you going without weighing you down.
Health Benefits of Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are known to lower cholesterol, but this ability is enhanced when they are cooked by steaming method.
Glucosinolates found in Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables have anti-cancer effects in the body.
These brassicas are high in fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K and a good source of other nutrients including folate, iron, Vitamin A, potassium, protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids.
Learn more about the health benefits of Brussels sprouts here.
Brussels Sprout Salad with Hazelnuts, Thyme and a Pink Lady
- 2 ounces/50g hazelnuts
- 8 ounces/250g Brussels sprouts
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil like rapeseed (aka canola)
- 2 teaspoons hazelnut oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 Pink Lady apple
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Toast the hazelnuts. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Fahrenheit. Scatter the nuts on a high-sided baking sheet and roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the skins begin to turn darker brown and crack. Tip the hazelnuts into a kitchen towel and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then rub off the skins with the towel as best you can.
Prepare the Brussels sprouts by trimming the stem end and removing the outer leaves, then shred them using a food processor and the coarse shredding disc (or thinly slice them with a knife). Fill a large pot with about an inch (2 cm) water and bring to a boil. Put the shredded Brussels sprouts in a steamer basket and place it in the pot, covered with the lid. Keep the pot at a simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, tossing the Brussels sprouts once halfway through cooking. The steamed Brussels sprouts will be bright green and crisp-tender.
Just before the Brussels sprouts finish cooking, make the vinaigrette. Marinate the shallot with the apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sea salt in a medium bowl till softened, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the hazelnut and rapeseed oil. While the Brussels sprouts are still warm, toss them in the vinaigrette. Allow the Brussels sprouts to soak up the vinaigrette while you thinly slice the apple and chop the hazelnuts. (If you’re concerned about the apple browning, toss the slices in lemon juice to prevent oxidization.)
To serve the salad, mound a tangle of dressed Brussels sprouts on the plate, topping with apple slices, thyme leaves and chopped hazelnuts. This salad is best served immediately, while all the flavors are still bright and fresh.
Cinnamon rolls are a Bercher family tradition. It all started with my great grandmother, Frances Bercher. Born Frances Schuster in Germany, she immigrated to America with her family in 1908 at 13 years of age. Eventually she married my great grandfather and settled along with other German immigrants in Arkansas, where most of our family still lives today. I never knew Grandma Bercher, but she was a legend in our family and in the town. She was famous for her cinnamon rolls, but even more famous for her welcoming, generous spirit. A devoted Catholic, she baked trays and trays of cinnamon rolls for parish functions. Sugar was rationed during the Depression before Word War II, but that didn’t stop her. She and Papa Bercher tended a vegetable garden in their yard and people would bring their sugar to trade for home grown produce so she could continue baking for the community.
My mother has memories of going to Grandma Bercher’s house for kaffeeklatsch, where the women of the family would bring their children and gather for kaffee (German for coffee) and klatsch (a bit of gossip). The large dining table was completely covered with trays of cinnamon rolls, baked in every pan she owned. Grandma Bercher was a pinch and dash cook and never measured her ingredients. No one in the family could ever seem to recreate the magic of her baking. Everyone always said it was Grandma Bercher’s loving spirit that made the cinnamon rolls taste so good.
I was born 10 years after she passed away, but my mom carried on the cinnamon roll tradition. My mom didn’t bake cinnamon rolls at home, though. Instead, we picked them up from the local German bakery. We always had cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, a ritual I continue with my family today. I’ve taken Grandma Bercher’s cinnamon rolls recipe and made it my own. The technique is the same; mostly it’s just a couple of ingredients that have changed. I use real butter while she would have used shortening, plus I’ve added vanilla and nutmeg, which probably would have been a luxury during her time. Whenever I bake these cinnamon rolls I’m reminded of her legacy. I think of her kind, generous spirit and find comfort in the thought that her best qualities are in me too.
Grandma Bercher’s Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12 rolls
My great grandmother, Frances Bercher, was famous for her cinnamon rolls. I’ve taken her recipe and made it my own, carrying on the cinnamon roll tradition for my family. Don’t be daunted by the process, baking your own cinnamon rolls from scratch is simple and this recipe foolproof. These rolls are best eaten just after coming out of the oven, but will also be delicious stored in the fridge and reheated the next day. Just make sure to spoon over the glaze immediately before serving.
For the Dough
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) plus 1 teaspoon whole milk
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) water
- 3 1/2 cups (450 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 teaspoons (or a 1/4 ounce pack) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (55 g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter, room temperature (soft)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Vegetable oil for greasing
- 8 tablespoons (115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature (soft and spreadable)
- 1/4 cup (55 g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (65 g) raisins
- 3/4 cup (90 g) powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons (40 g) melted butter
- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons (20-30 mL) whole milk
Heat the water and 1/2 cup of the milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat until warm. (The liquid should be no warmer than a baby’s bottle.) If it gets too hot, pour it into another container and stir until just warm.
Pour 2 1/2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and nutmeg into a large bowl and whisk to combine evenly. Break the butter into small pieces and use a spatula to stir it into the flour mixture until the texture is crumbly and the butter is well combined with the flour. Pour over the warm milk and water, stirring until combined, then beat in the vanilla and one egg for a few seconds until the mixture is fully incorporated.
Add more of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. It should be soft and easy to handle. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Shape into a ball. Grease a large bowl with oil and add the dough, turning to grease all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with butter. Gently punch down the dough, then roll it out on an oiled surface to an 18 x 10 inch rectangle. (If you rub the countertop down with vegetable oil the dough won’t stick and you won’t have to add any extra flour.) For the filling, spread 8 tablespoons softened butter over the dough, leaving a 1 inch border on the long side farthest from you. Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the butter, and then the raisins.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting at the long side of the rectangle closest to you, roll the dough tightly into a log, toward the 1 inch clean border on the other side. Using a knife cut the log into 12 pieces, each 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the cinnamon rolls in the greased baking dish and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (Alternatively place the rolls into the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and put them straight in the fridge to rise overnight. Remove the rolls from the fridge the next morning and let them finish rising in a warm place for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, while you heat the oven and continue with the next step.)
Whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon milk and brush lightly over the top of cinnamon rolls. Bake the cinnamon rolls on the center rack for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk the glaze ingredients together. Drizzle over the warm cinnamon rolls and serve immediately.
This article and the accompanying recipe was originally featured on the Food52 Heirloom Recipes column. Click the Food52 icon to see the piece and save it to your Food52 recipes.
Hello there! It’s been a bit quiet here on La Domestique, but right now can find me over on Contemporary Living with a festive recipe for Duck Breasts with Pomegranate Sauce and Roasted Brussels Sprouts. It’s a quick seared duck breast paired with a tangy, sweet sauce spiced with Christmasy cinnamon and clove. For the full recipe pop on over to Contemporary Living.
I wish all my American readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s my first Thanksgiving in Ireland, and the husband and I are planning a relaxing weekend getaway. Feels strange not to have the turkey and all the trimmings, but I know the most important thing is to be thankful for all the blessings in my life. Thank you for reading La Domestique!
It’s been one of those perfect autumn days here in Cavan. We had blue skies and golden sunshine, the wind felt fresh and crisp, and there were even a couple passing sun showers. As I write this now I gaze out the window and watch the sun slowly disappearing behind the hill. Our house looks out onto grassy fields and this is the time of day the cows come round. As I cook supper I like to look out my kitchen window and watch Herefords and Charlaois navigating the bushes looking for tasty bits of grass and basking in the sun. A stream winds its way around the field, and I can see magnificent grey herons gliding towards the water and meadow pipets darting in and out of the grass. I remember that not every home I’ve lived in had a kitchen window, and the thought of cooking in a dark box with harsh florescent light makes me appreciate my view of nature even more. There are times when I wish I lived in Dublin, where it’s all happening, but this is not one of those times. Right now I’m happy to be just where I am, in the rolling hills and the land of the lakes that is Cavan.
I’ve been cooking up a storm here at La Domestique HQ, learning about artisanal food producers in the area and finding new staple ingredients for my larder. One of my favorite autumnal dishes to make when the weather cools is risotto. I find a bowl full of creamy arborio rice is just the thing to warm me through. Risotto is an Italian rice dish, but you can also think of it as a cooking method. The grains of rice are cooked slowly, adding one ladleful of stock at a time and stirring with a wooden spoon until all the liquid is absorbed. The purpose of this technique is to encourage rice to release starches and achieve a creamy texture. For this recipe, I trade the classic white arborio rice for more wholesome pearl barley, which contains nutrients like fiber, folate, and iron. Italians cook the rice with a splash of red or white wine, but I love a malty hoppy Irish red ale with a bite to it this time of year and think the beer is a nice compliment to the barley (from which the beer is brewed). I cooked the risotto with Smithwick’s, but ale from an Irish craft brewer would be great to try. I used to live in Colorado, where there are tons of Irish craft breweries, but haven’t quite figured out where to find craft beers here in Cavan. (If any locals have a suggestion, please do let me know in the comments section.)
Traditionally, a handful of Parmesan cheese is stirred into the creamy risotto just before serving, but I’ve found a local hard Irish goat cheese that really takes this dish to new heights: Tullyboy Farmhouse Cheese from Crosserlough, Cavan. I first tasted Tullyboy at the Cavan Farmers Market and couldn’t get over the exceptional flavor: nutty, caramelized, sweet and complex. I’ll be using it all winter grated over hearty ragù and bolognese with pasta.
Cooking risotto may seem labor intensive, but on a cool autumn weekend it’s a comfort to slow down and enjoy the meditative task of stirring a big pot of rice. Here the nutty pearl barley pairs beautifully with maple roasted butternut squash and aromatic sage leaves. This dish makes an excellent side for roast pork or even a humble supper of black or white pudding (sausages for my American readers).
I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’m planning to visit the Virginia Pumpkin Festival on Saturday to check out the Artisan Food and Craft Fair and the National Giant Pumpkin Contest. There’s also The Food and Drink Show Northern Ireland in Belfast this weekend, featuring Neven Maguire and Rachel Allen, amongst others. Cheers!
Pearl Barley Risotto with Irish Red Ale, Butternut Squash and Sage
serves 4 as a side dish
1 medium butternut squash, weighing about 2 pounds/900g
1/2 cup/120mL vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves, plus 12 whole sage leaves
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup/200g pearl barley
1/2 cup or 120mL Irish red ale, (Smithwick’s or a craft beer like Dungarvan’s Copper Coast Irish Red Ale)
5 cups or 2 1/2 homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup/25g freshly grated Tullyboy Farmhouse Cheese or Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons/45g unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper
Begin by frying the whole sage leaves for the risotto garnish. In a very small sauce pot, heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil over medium-high. Test to see if the oil is ready for frying by dipping in the tip of a sage leaf. It will sizzle if the oil is hot enough. Fry 4 sage leaves at a time, cooking the leaves until crisp and slightly curled, about 15-20 seconds. Remove the crisp sage leaves and place on a paper towel to dry and reserve the oil, which is now infused with sage flavor.
Roast the squash. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the squash’s thin outer skin. Slice it in half lengthways, from stem to base. Scoop out the seeds and discard them. Trim off the woody stem end and base end. Cut the squash into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a roasting tray. You should have about 4 cups cubed squash. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon leftover sage oil, maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Pour the mixture over the squash cubes and toss to evenly coat. Place the roasting tray on the top shelf of the oven and cook the squash 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through, until tender and caramelized.
Cook the risotto. Pour the chicken stock into a medium sized pot and bring to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat down to low and keep it warm. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved sage oil. When the oil is warm, toss in the shallot and cook for a couple of minutes, till tender and translucent. Add the pearl barley and stir to coat in the oil. Toast the grains for a minute, stirring occasionally, then pour in the Irish red ale. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladleful of warm chicken stock and allow the barley to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been completely absorbed. Add another ladleful of the stock and stir occasionally as all the liquid is absorbed into the barley. Continue adding stock in this manner until the barley is just tender but still has a pleasantly toothsome quality, about 40-50 minutes. You’ll notice the change in texture seems to happen at a certain moment in the cooking process, so don’t be concerned if, for awhile, it seems like the barley isn’t going to soften. As you add the last ladleful of stock, stir in the chopped sage leaves.
When the barley is ready it should not be dry, but instead creamy and flowing. You can always add a bit more stock and let it simmer for a moment if the risotto has dried out just before finishing. Stir in the squash, butter and grated cheese and serve immediately in warmed bowls. Garnish each bowl of risotto with three crisp fried sage leaves.
Autumn is my favorite time of year. This is my first Irish autumn, and the change in country makes the season even more interesting. It’s not the fall that I grew up with in Arkansas, which was marked by warm golden-hued days with dramatic red, orange and yellow changes in foliage. Nor is it the Colorado harvest season with fields full of pumpkins, bugling elk and blazing yellow aspen trees. Each day I discover something new about an Irish autumn: it is moody and mysterious, soft and subtle, a slowing of pace that sends us back into our nests. A week of cool, dark, misty days is interrupted by a couple of breezy, sunny afternoons– perfect for opening all the windows to let in the cherished light and fresh air. The blackberry bushes have withered, but windfalls of apples arrive just in time. It’s not too difficult to find a friend with an apple tree who needs to offload a bumper harvest of the quickly deteriorating fruits. I’m eager to taste my first quince, slurp down briny oysters and (hopefully) forage for mushrooms.
To me, mushrooms mean autumn and this recipe for Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy is the perfect thing to warm you as the light fades and the chill creeps in. Wild mushrooms would be perfect in this recipe, but we don’t all have the know-how or the environment to forage for them ourselves. I noticed Fallon & Byrne in Dublin had a fantastic display of wild mushrooms in the food hall recently. Here in Cavan Town I visited multiple grocery stores to collect as many varieties of mushroom as I could find. I happily discovered more than I expected: oyster mushrooms, baby brown caps, white buttons and portobellos. I think the quality of the dried mushrooms in this recipe is very important to the final flavor– I used Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms from Harvey Nichols in Dublin (and they deliver!). I’ve also got a bag of the Harvey Nichols Dried Wild Mixed Forest Mushrooms (porcini, chanterelles, fairy rings) that I’m looking forward to cooking. This is not a paid ad from Harvey Nichols, I just want to share my sources so you can enjoy them too! If you’ve got good dried mushrooms, you can get away with making this soup using just one type of fresh mushroom and it will be delicious.
The mix of fresh and dried mushrooms makes for a soup with deep, intriguing flavor. A generous sprinkling of time (almost too much, but not quite) lends just the right amount of woodsiness. A splash of brandy brings a wisp of something warm and tingly that one can’t quite put a finger on when lips touch spoon. The cream is not essential to this recipe, but it does add a wonderful richness and luxury. A good bowl of soup is a lesson in restraint: only use just as many ingredients as you need and no more to keep the flavors pure and discernible. Autumn Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy is a lovely way to welcome Fall into your kitchen. This easygoing soup can be kept warm on the stovetop while you welcome friends into your home or set the dinner table. Serve the soup in large bowls for a proper first course at supper, or spoon it into teacups as a taster at an open house.
Autumn Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy
makes 4 bowls as a proper first course, or 8 teacups as a taster
- 1 ounce (25 g) dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 cups (950 mL) homemade chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 20 ounces (570 g) assorted mushrooms, such as portobello, oyster and white button
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces (230 g) button mushrooms, brown Baby Bella make the most visually appealing garnish
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) heavy cream (optional)
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium pot, then remove from heat and add the dried porcini. Cover the pot with the lid and soak the mushrooms for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the 20 ounces assorted mushrooms. Heat a large heavy soup pot over medium flame on the stovetop. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil, along with the chopped shallots. Cook the shallots a couple of minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, 1 tablespoon thyme leaves and chopped mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they release all their liquid and begin to caramelize in the pan.
Strain the porcini mushrooms and set the chicken stock aside. Roughly chop the soaked porcini and add them to the soup pot with the other mushrooms, along with the brandy. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the brandy has just evaporated. Sprinkle in the flour over the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Strain any grit from the chicken stock and pour the stock over the mushrooms. Add the last teaspoon thyme leaves and bring the soup to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer the soup for 10 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly before transferring the mushroom soup to a blender (alternatively, use a hand blender to puree the soup).
Do not fill your blender more than 2/3 full (puree the soup in batches if you need to). Place a kitchen towel over the top of the blender (instead of the lid) and pulse the soup a few times, then run the machine to make the soup a smooth puree. Rinse the soup pot and wipe it clean, then return the pureed soup to the pot and warm over low heat on the stovetop while you make the garnish.
Make the garnish. Slice the Baby Bella mushrooms thinly. Heat a skillet over medium-high and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once the skillet and oil are hot, add the sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and caramelized brown. Season with a couple pinches salt and a few grinds fresh cracked pepper.
Season the soup with a few pinches salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. At this time you can stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, which lends the soup a silky texture and rich flavor. If you’re on a heart healthy diet, the soup is delicious without the cream. Serve in a warmed bowl, topped with a few of the sautéed sliced mushrooms.