24 March 2008

Rich Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots


I dreamed of my father last night. In the dream he was strong and whole - and living happily in the south of France.

Perhaps he is.

People who have heard me relating my vivid dreams often ask me, "What did you eat before you went to bed?" and of course, I tell them nothing, because late-night snacks are not part of of my diet.

But a good supper - and we tend to eat later - is essential. I am often hungriest at night, when we hunker down in our cozy snuggery with books and magazines and DVDs and a remote control at hand.

Last night, after our wonderful roasted chicken, I made a rich golden stock from the carcass. All day I imagined how it would be, simmering away on the stove, filled with the vegetables of late winter into spring.

Shallots and mushrooms I had on hand; asparagus I found at the supermarket - yes, it's beginning to show up there!

I sautéed the shallots and mushrooms while I roasted the asparagus, just enough to impart that delicate flavor roasting provides.

Added together, the vegetables gave the soup a sweet and dark and bosky flavor, like a forest in spring. I paired it with a slice of whole grain bread from a rustic loaf from the bakery.

Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots

  • 10-12 stalks of asparagus
  • 3-4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-5 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup chicken, dark and white meat, cubed
  • grated pepper and fleur de sel to taste
  • pinch of your favorite herbs 

Wash the asparagus, breaking off the tough bottoms of the stalks. Coat with a tablespoon or less of olive oil and roast until the stalks just begin to turn brown at the edges. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, slice shallots and mushrooms. Place in a deep sauce pan and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil until the shallots and mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Empty chicken stock into saucepan (I like to chill it first so I can remove the congealed fat). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer, adding more water if necessary. Lower the heat and add the vegetables and the cubed chicken. Check the soup and season to suit your tastes. Allow to simmer about 5 minutes longer on low heat.

I kept the seasonings simple because I wanted the flavors to remain true. But I'd recommend a pinch of fresh parsley flakes. You may also add a bay leaf to the soup while it simmers.

Update: I have made this with fresh thyme, and also with a dash of herbes de Provence.

23 March 2008

Poulet Provencal (Roasted Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives)

They say it is spring, although you would not know it here in Wisconsin. I may hear cardinals and mourning doves in the morning, but what I see is snow and more snow, although patches of brownish-green grass have finally begun to show through here and there.

Easter began blustery with flurries and I had no idea what we'd eat for dinner. We are both still recovering from longish bouts with the flu and worse yet, suffering from acute cases of cabin fever.

Searching for a new way to make grilled tomatoes, I stumbled upon this wonderful recipe at Epicurious. Then I noticed it was from the March Gourmet, which for some reason I have two issues of - a good thing, because I can never get enough of this fabulous variation on chicken from the South of France. The recipe calls for all my favorites: tomatoes, garlic, onion, olives, herbes de Provence and fennel seeds. Did I mention chicken?

I added some potatoes to the vegetable mix to please my husband, and I stuffed a quartered lemon inside for additional moisture. These two ideas came from the readers comments on the Epicurious site.

This was possibly the best Easter meal I have ever made. I knew I did not want ham this year, and by happy coincidence, I'd picked up the chicken yesterday.

March was a trying month for me, with several big projects and an auto accident to cope with (I'm fine and my car is fixed already). But a good meal, some scented candles and bouquet of daffodils cheer me today.

Better days lie ahead. I am planning three trips, one for work and two for pleasure. Soon I'll be able to walk outside and enjoy warmer temperatures. Maybe.

11 March 2008

Paris: Historic Photos

On this chilly Wisconsin night, it does not take much effort to mentally transport myself to Paris on a spring afternoon.

All I need is a photograph to fire my imagination. I am easily seduced by a shadow on the grass, a hint of breeze, a warm sun and children in a park.

This particular park is Le Jardin des Plantes and it looks familiar to me. No surprise, because I have spent a fair amount of time in that area. The photograph that transports me is a simple portrait of street life in 1935, of mothers, perhaps nannies, and a boy with a ball and a blond girl in a pastel dress and a baby buggy.

In 10 years which of them will have escaped harm and which will have not? For Le Jardin des Plantes is near that sad little school on Rue Buffon that broke my heart on a spring day 70-years later.

The simple black-and-white photograph of an ordinary spring day caught me. It makes me wonder about the exact tint of the sky, the time of day, the weight of the air, the sound from off camera. Who are these people and where did they go after they left this little square of time?

If you like to be intrigued by photos and if you love Paris, you will want Rebecca Schall’s Historic Photos of Paris on your coffee table.

The book is filled with many photos that were unfamiliar to me. Some were blurred. All suggested a story. The great flood of 1910. The man with the push cart. The little girl with the pigeons. The women defiantly pedaling a velo-taxi during the Occupation. Josephine Baker. Marlon Brando arriving at Orly. Adoph Hitler and his thugs. The liberation of Paris.

Here is Paris, warts and all. The text makes no effort to romanticize, to sugar coat. The photos, many from the Roger Viollet Agency, show a cross section of Paris life and people and icons. Paris at work and Paris at play. Paris at war and Paris at peace.

The book is the perfect accompaniment to my growing collection of Eugene Atget. I love the Paris of this book.

I was asked by the book’s publisher (Turner Publishing Co.), to do a review, and was provided with a review copy. I have been asked to review books or videos before, but have not done so.

But Paris has my heart. She always will. I made an exception.