Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can't Stop Making Soup!

Blame it on the snow. When the snowflakes begin dancing down from the sky my immediate reaction is to throw open the fridge and see what I have that can be turned into soup. After the excesses of Christmas and New Year's I knew I would find some potential soup ingredients lingering in my crisper drawer. What I found: a huge bulb of fennel that I had needed only sparingly for my ill-fated Chestnut Soup adventure and a bag of carrots. Quick as I could Google 'carrot and fennel soup' I wound up at One Perfect Bite.

Fennel is one of those ingredients that I have avoided for years. It's awkward to fit in the fridge (or at least my crisper drawer) and apparently it tastes like licorice and I'm not a big licorice fan. But I needed some fennel sprigs for my chestnut soup so I bought fennel. And rather than let it go to waste I was happy to at least try it in soup. (I know - I'm a huge risk taker, right?) So I chopped up my fennel bulb and sauteed it in some butter as per my chosen recipe and right away I think I knew I was going to be a fennel convert. It might have been the butter that suckered me, but the smell of the fennel as it softened was lovely. Not as pungent as fried onions but in the same ball park. Next I peeled and chopped my carrots which I added to the fennel along with some garlic and vegetable broth. Once the carrots were nice and soft I pureed the mixture in my blender then added some Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream that was indicated in the original recipe.

I am nuts for Greek yogurt lately. Can't get enough of it. Greek yogurt with honey is possibly the best afternoon snack ever invented. I've both cooked and baked with Greek yogurt and I'll never go back to using regular.

Where was I? Right. Soup. I realize now that I'm looking through the recipe again that I forgot to add fresh orange juice to finish my soup. I imagine the sweetness of the orange juice would work well here but I can't say the soup didn't delight without the juice. Both David and I really enjoyed it. I served it with some fresh-out-of-the-oven baking soda biscuits that I slathered with butter and honey. The biscuits were a craving I just couldn't shake despite over-indulging the last few weeks on all of the other goodies we made for Christmas. (Which I will detail in another post.) Whatever fennel may taste like raw, saute it in some butter and boil it up with carrots and vegetable broth and I get nothing like licorice. It definitely was there - the carrots were sweet but they didn't dominate, so the fennel showed up. I just can't peg the flavour. No matter, I liked it and have lots of leftovers for quick dinners this week which makes me happy.

Carrot-and-Fennel Soup from One Perfect Bite

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced; fronds reserved
1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 to 4 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (I used Greek yogurt, plain)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large heavy saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter until foamy. Add fennel slices and cook, stirring, until softened. Add carrots and garlic and cook another minute or two. Pour in 4 cups of vegetable stock and season with salt. Simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and stir in orange juice, sour cream and reserved fennel fronds. If you have an immersion blender puree soup in pot, otherwise puree in batches using a food processor or blender. If soup appears too thick, thin with reserved vegetable stock. Adjust seasoning to taste. Yield: 4 to 5 servings.

The biscuits are from a Williams-Sonoma Cookbook the kids gave me for my birthday years ago. They are so simple but with butter and fresh honey on a cold day, a dream addition to lunch. I halved the recipe because I knew I would eat an entire batch solo if given half a chance...

Classic Baking Powder Biscuits from Williams Sonoma

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine sea salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into
 1⁄4-inch dice
2⁄3 cup milk

Preheat an oven to 450°F. Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, handling it as little as possible. Stir in the milk and blend with a spoon just until all the liquid has been absorbed. With lightly floured hands, work the dough briefly until it barely holds together in a flaky ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll or pat the dough out into a round about 1⁄2 inch thick. With a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out as many rounds as possible. Gather up the scraps, work into a cohesive ball, reroll and cut out more rounds. Do not reroll the dough more than once or you will end up with tough biscuits.

Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Makes about 9 biscuits.

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