If I make it to the early yoga class, things line up so that I head in with unadulterated darkness behind me, but come back out to sun. It's a fleeting thing, but the contrast is especially bolstering. It adds to that ta-dah feeling of doing meaningful work to start your day. Crazy as it sounds, the making and eating of today's soup affords a similar feeling of goodwill. 

Nigella Lawson's Chinese-inspired Chicken Soup | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

It's the Chinese-inspired Chicken Noodle Soup from Simply Nigella, a book which includes this cake — the most beautiful bundt imaginable, but also one so dulcet with the persuasive combo of five spice and apple cider that it's looks are rendered a second billing. Since the book came out late last year it's shouldered itself comfortably into a spot in my regular rotation. 

When it's me alone for lunch, brothy soups are my ideal. I make up some stock early in the week or late on the weekend, and then reheat it by the bowlful and cooking whatever add-ins I have around directly in my serving. Lawson's soup keys in on all that's appealing of that habit. The process is thoughtful and still the particulars are forgiving to fiddle to suit your likes.

Two days ago Sean brought home a plump but petite organic chicken, the perfect size to tuck snugly into a 4L cococtte. After a moment of bronzing, followed by a Shaoxing deglaze, the bird was joined by cilantro stalks, celery, and carrots, then water, garlic, ginger, soy, lime, and dried chiles. From there all is trusted to slowest blip and burble that can be maintained, under a lid clamped tight. But this, this is where it all shifts, goes sideways, and changes. What begins as intensely heady and clear, simmers into a with a wholly different character — one of redolent singularity rather than disparate components. 

The chicken came from its soak, pale and splendidly tender. The broth, deeply flavourful with supple weight on the spoon was a triumph, the ideal example of the alchemy of slow cooking. I ladled a clear, steaming cupful and drank it standing by the stove, in raspy slurps so that the air would cool it just enough to save my mouth. It made me feel lit up while soothed, like medicine and precious reward all in one.

When it came time for a proper serving, I laid a bed of noodles in my bowl then nudged some shredded chicken up beside. I brought the soup to another boil, and added leeks followed by Shanghai bok choy; first the stalks, then the leaves, so that the former was poached but the latter only wilted. At the table there came radishes, sesame oil, more soy sauce, the leaves from the cilantro now, and sesame seeds. The garnishes accentuated the broth — think of turning up the light rather than stealing the spotlight— and the slipping, tangled slide of noodles and vegetables went down with ease.

As an epilogue, the leftovers lasted three meals more, which made Monday's endeavour feel especially productive and satisfying. I hope you're having a great week. 

A quick endnote — Simply Nigella was photographed by my friend Keiko Oikawa and a public hooray for her felt apt. K, you've been such an inspiration for so many years, and you did an expectedly bang-up job with this. xx

One more — my cookbook was included in Food52's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks this month, and while I was kicked out in the first round, to lose to Ruth Reichl hardly feels a loss at all. And, the nomination was truly the most unexpected honour. Cheers and thanks for that. 

 

CHINESE-INSPIRED CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

"Actually, there are dual inspirations for this soup, for it really a version of My Mother's Praise Chicken from Kitchen infused with Chinese flavours. What you end up with is the sort of soup you want to eat in bowls held up inelegantly close to your mouth so that you are in easy slurping distance. I am embarrassed to say that I can't use chopsticks, unless they're the children's sort held together with a piece of card and an elastic band, but this soup really makes me want to learn.

I always recommend organic chicken (or organic meat generally) but I am mindful of the fact that not everyone can afford the luxury. Even so, if you use an intensively farmed chicken here (and the lack of taste is only one concern), you just won't get a flavoursome enough soup, in which case some bouillon cubes or concentrate in the water. 

I've given an exuberant list of ingredients for sprinkling on at the end, as I love that final fling of flavour. And though I haven't added them here, should you be making a fresh foray to an Asian food store to make this, and you see Chinese flowering chives about, they would be a real treat, and are so beautiful. Despite the Asian inspiration for the soup's flavour, I make a steep geographical about-turn and use golden nests (one per person) of an egg-enriched tagliolini for the noodle element, though I do also love this with those very thin mug bean or rice vermicelli. In fact, I just can't think of a bad way of eating this: even noodle-less, and thus rather not living up to its title, this is bliss in a bowl. "

— from Simply Nigella, by Nigella Lawson (Appetite by Random House, 2015)

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SOUP

  • 3 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
  • 3 carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 3 stalks celery, trimmed
  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 small or medium chicken, preferably organic
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Chinese (Shaoxing) rice wine
  • tied stalks from a bunch of cilantro, plus leaves to serve (see below)
  • 2 1/2 quarts cold water
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoons Szechuan pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to serve
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or minced
  • zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably unwaxed
  • 10 ounces baby bok choy, tatsoi, choi sum, or other greens of choice 
  • 4 ounces radishes
  • 2 ounces dried fine egg noodles or vermicelli per person
  • salt for noodle water to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil, plus more to serve (see below)

TO SERVE

  • Asian sesame oil
  • 2 (or more to taste) fresh red chiles, seeded and finely diced (optional)
  • leaves from a bunch of cilantro (see above)
  • finely chopped chives (optional)

METHOD

Slice each trimmed leek in half lengthways, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Set aside. Cut the carrots into 1 1/2-inch lengths and quarter each log lengthways. Chop the celery into 1/2-inch slices, reserving any leaves to add to the soup at the end. Grate the ginger onto a plate for the time being. I use a microplane grater and get 4-5 teaspoons of fiery pulp out of this. Don't wash up the grater yet, as you'll need it for the garlic and lime later.

Now, with your vegetables prepped, untruss your chicken, cut off (but do not discard) the ankle part of the leg (I find kitchen scissors more than adequate to the task), and put the chicken, breast-side down, on a cutting board, then press down until you hear the breastbone crack — perhaps I shouldn't like this as much as I do — and the chicken is slightly flattened. Wash your hands, and then warm the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan that comes with a lid and that's big enough to take all the ingredients comfortably; I use a saucepan of 12 inches in diameter, 5 inches deep, which is a tight, but good, fit. 

When the oil hot, put the chicken in, breast-side down, and leave to brown for 3 minutes; the heat should not be too high for this or it'll start burning. Turn the chicken the other way up, then turn the heat to high and chuck in the rice wine. While it's bubbling, throw in the chicken ankle pieces along with the tied cilantro stalks, sliced carrots, and celery. 

Pour in the water, then add the sea salt flakes, Szechuan pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes), soy sauce, and finely grated ginger. Add the garlic, then grate in the zest of the lime, and squeeze in the juice of half of it. Let this come to a boil. 

Once it's bubbling, clamp on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Once the hour is up, take the lid off, then turn up the heat and bring it back to a boil again, and, once it is, add the leeks you sliced earlier. Cover partially with the lid and cook for 10 minutes, then let the broth simmer uncovered and confidently for another 10 minutes. This is to let the broth strengthen a bit. Then turn off the heat altogether, though keep the pan on the stove, clamp the lid back on, and leave for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. While this is going on, I'd put a saucepan of water on to boil the noodles later, and salt it when it comes to a boil.

When you want to eat, remove the chicken to a board: it may be falling to pieces, but so much the better. Remove the chicken skin (I discard it, as for me there's no joy in chicken skin unless it's crisp), then take the meat off the bone and shred it. And by the way, should you not use up all the chicken for the soup, know that it is magnificent — flavoursome and tender — in a salad or sandwich the next day. 

Chop the stems of the greens you're using, and put the leaves into a separate pile. Quarter the radishes top to tail. Bring the pan of soup back to a boil, add the stalks of the greens and the quartered radishes, and let it come back to a boil once more. At the same time, add the noodles to the pan of boiling salted water, and cook them (if you're using the fine noodles or vermicelli they shouldn't take more than 2-3 minutes). 

Add the leafy parts of the greens to the bubbling soup and drain the noodles. Put the noodles and shredded chicken into your serving bowls. Taste the soup for seasoning, and add more salt (or soy) and the juice of the remaining half of lime, if you think it needs it. When satisfied, ladle the fragrant broth, with its vegetables, on top of the chicken and noodles, add a drop of sesame oil to each bowl, then sprinkle with chopped chiles, cilantro, or chives, as you wish. Bring the bottles of soy sauce and sesame oil, and some more of the chopped chiles and herbs to the table for people to add as they eat. Warning: don't burn your mouth; this soup smells so good, I'm afraid it's easy to be dangerously impatient and eat while the soup's still scaldingly hot. 

STORE NOTE:

  • Transfer leftover cooked chicken to a container, cover, and chill within 1 hour. It will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days

FREEZE NOTE:

  • The cooked and cooled chicken can be frozen, in airtight containers or resealable bags, for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator before using.

NOTE FROM TARA:

  • Because I'm probably the only fan of radishes in my household (I'd be sad, but it means more for me), I left them out of the soup pot and added them instead to my serving alone.

 

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Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.

How good it is | Tara O'Brady

The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy. 

That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.  

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood. 

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.

Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the  more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget. 

 

(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK

I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice. 

The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
  •  3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  1 tablespoon curry powder
  •  1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  •  2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
  •  1 tablespoon maple syrup
  •  1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  •  1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
  •  Juicy wedges of lime, for serving

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top. 

NOTES:

  • When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week. 

There are many reasons why I could never be a photojournalist. Chief among them being that when I travel, I regularly forget to take many photos.

Case in point, when I went to Seattle at the end of October, most of the pictures I have of my time there were taken over two days, even though I was there for eight. 

Pizzeria Gabbiano, Seattle

Pizzeria Gabbiano, Seattle

Instead, of documenting things as I intend, I get distracted by them. Lost the view on a drive down the coast; the road that winds and climbs beside the shore, and mountains that look like a theatre backdrop. Or caught up in people watching and the rose petal dukkah at The London Plane, or the roast chicken and the staggeringly-piled meringues at The Whale Wins, or the pizzas sold by the kilo at Pizzeria Gabbiano — two fingers' width worth of four types makes a fine lunch. (By the way, those pizzas are Roman-style, and brilliant with toppings like pistachio with mortadella, squash with mushrooms and blue cheese, and I hear they currently offer one with persimmon and 'nduja. If you go, please try it for me.)

Then it is the brioche at Le Picheta breakfast sandwich to write home about, too many coffees to count, and a walk through the art museum, and a few through the market, and return trip to a trio of food shops (here, here, and here). The guava ginger beer at Rachel's reminded me of India, my grandfather's house, and sitting on the dark green hood of his car eating guavas from the tree in the yard. 

Signs at Pizzeria Gabbiano

Signs at Pizzeria Gabbiano

Pike Place Market clams

Pike Place Market clams

Or its the multiple feasts between Delancey and Essex; skinny-and-wood-fired pizza (a crust with bubbles and char and chew), lamb barbacoa on toast, oysters, and succulent-as-all-get-out burgers the size of my fist. And The Man About Town, Ashley's Sazerac, and the scent of flamed cinnamon stick for that one cocktail (it stings the nostrils. In a good way.) Those spaces are immediately welcoming, with tables close enough to feel like everyone's at the same party. And where everyone seems to be a regular. want to be a regular.

(I need to get back for Taco and Tiki Tuesday.)

Flowers at the end of the day, Seattle

Flowers at the end of the day, Seattle

And then people.

Aran is the one that brought me to the Seattle, to lead a workshop on the mechanics of telling stories across multiple disciplines — basically, how photography and words, and even food, can be teamed up, and how we can make the best use of each to serve an overall whole. We covered the elements and principles of design, the fundamentals of writing, and copy and developmental edits. We took photos and made notes, and swapped inspirations. Aran and Bee made recipes from my manuscript for lunch (one of which is below — if you hover your mouse over the photo, details will swoosh up like magic). I talked a lot about working with intention, which made me think a lot about what my own aims and goals are with what it is I do. 

It was a grand group in the studio that weekend.

Baked Eggs, North Indian Style 

Baked Eggs, North Indian Style 

While Aran's invite gave me the excuse to (almost) cross the continent, the trip had long been on my wish list. Beyond the class, I was able to see Lecia, Ashley, ElissaMegan and SamBrandi, Jenny, Brandon and Molly, and Tara. It took me too long to get there. 

Aran's gluten-free apple tart

Aran's gluten-free apple tart

I was in the midst of a community of creative people, each driven in their different ways; some writers, others artists, designers, business owners — all actively pursuing their own goals. And again, with such company the topic of conversation meandered to work, ours and others, comparing approaches and the challenges of experiences. (It wasn't always so serious. Subjects also included Bollywood films, high school dating, bleaching one's hair with lemon juice, numbered streets, scarves, and the O'Hooligan boys).  

One night, Tara and I stood on the near a bonfire with high flames that deserved photography, and talked about our cities, about purpose and plans, and family. There was a chill in the air, but we didn't need coats. You could see downtown from where we were, multicoloured and evenly glowing, and between there and where we were was the silken rippling expanse of the inlet, reflecting that light here and there like sparks.

Boats out the market windows

Boats out the market windows

My book went to the printer on December 1st.

In a printshop somewhere, its starting to exist as something real. Physical. With a weight that can be held in hand rather than felt in the abstract. Once I am able to share a more about its contents in this space, I have every intention of then sharing that much more about what I was trying to get across with its writing. Seattle gave me a chance to practice what I want to say.

I'm looking forward to it.

Amy Chaplin's Spicy Carrot Soup with Lime Leaves and Coconut

Amy Chaplin's Spicy Carrot Soup with Lime Leaves and Coconut

Since I've been home, I've started a habit of soup. I think it's Aran's influence, as she has this witchy ability to make simple soups with remarkable depth.

One that has been a large part of this current trend, is from Amy Chaplin's book At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, which was released just over a month ago. It is a curry-bright carrot bowlful scented with lime leaves and lemongrass, spiked by chilies and smoothed out with coconut milk. It starts with aromatics in the pan to sauté, then in goes everything else. It's a breeze to get together in less less than 10 minutes, then it is left to blip contentedly on the stove for 20 minutes more. It is voluptuous and comforting, with enough heat to restrain the vegetal sweetness and an aromatic freshness. While it is vegan, I wouldn't call that it is its selling point. It is an excellent, stomach-and-soul satisfying meal, simple as that, which is to say, everything Amy's food is about.

Amy has 20 years experience in the food industry, as a former executive chef, teacher, recipe developer, and private chef. She is a vegetarian, and her recipes are often vegan, yet once more, that status doesn't come across as first impression. Amy cooks seasonally, with a globe-covering collection of influences, never encumbered by unnecessary fuss, or sacrificing flavour for dietary restriction. There is never a feeling of absence with the recipes, they have everything they need. The dishes are sometimes soothing, others vibrant and rousing. It is truly good food, first and foremost, which just so happens to be accompanied by a sensible, and adaptable approach to feeding ourselves in a conscientious way. 

It is an impressive collection of over 150 recipes, from pantry staples to full meals, beginning with an in-depth discussion of ingredients and Amy's practices when it comes to how she cooks. It is an invaluable resource, a true reference as well as a cookbook. It gives the reader the tools to change the way they eat, and by extension, their health, and our environment. The book itself is almost intimidating in its beauty, verging on an object to behold rather than use — but then Amy's enthusiasm and quiet, approachable expertise shines off the pages and you're charmed.

Amy, mission accomplished. 

And Seattle, I can't wait see you again. 

 

SPICY CARROT SOUP WITH LIME LEAVES AND COCONUT

Making a pot of this invigorating soup in the middle of winer is the perfect antidote to cold, gray days. The lively flavours of ginger and chill are tempered by a good splash of coconut milk, creating a gorgeous texture and bright orange colour. The lime leaves and lemongrass give the soup a nice lift, but if you don't have them on hand, don't worry. I have made this dish many times without them with delicious results.

Note: in cold weather, coconut milk is solid at room temperature. To melt it, place the can in a bowl of a hot water for a few minutes, then shake well before using.

— From At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., 2014)

SERVES 6

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise and chopped in 2-inch pieces
  • 6 lime leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder (see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons minced cilantro stems, leaves reserved for garnish
  • 10 medium-large carrots (2 1/2 pounds) cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 8 cups)
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk, stirred and divided
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

TO SERVE

  • Cilantro leaves
  • Sliced red chilies

 

METHOD

Wrap lemongrass and lime leaves in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it tightly. Set aside.

Warm coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until golden. Add garlic, ginger, serrano chili, and salt; cook for 2 to 3  minutes more, lowering heat if mixture begins to stick. Stir in curry powder, turmeric, and cilantro stems. Add carrots, water, 1 1/4 cups coconut milk, and lemongrass-lime leaf bundle. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and remove lemongrass-lime leaf bundle and compost. 

Blend soup in batches in an upright blender on highest speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until completely smooth and velvety; return to pot and season to taste. Stir in cayenne pepper, if using. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each bowl with a drizzle of reserved coconut milk, cilantro leaves, and chilies. 

NOTES (from Tara)

  • Lime leaves are often sold frozen at Asian groceries and will keep for ages in the freezer. They might also be called murkat lime leaves. 
  • I used Amy's curry powder from the book, but any one you like will be fine here. The water can also be replaced with vegetable stock. 
  • To serve, I added browned cubes of paneer, along with cashews I'd bashed around in a mortar and pestle. 
The last of a workshop lunch at Aran's studio

The last of a workshop lunch at Aran's studio

Now! Finally! Since you made it this far! To in addition to sharing this recipe, Amy and Roost Books generously sent a copy of At Home in the Whole Food kitchen for me to pass on to one of you! If you'd like to be in the running, please comment below to that effect, and be sure to include an email address when you sign in (i.e. on the form, not in the comment field). A winner will be randomly selected after 8 PM EST Friday, December 12, 2014. UPDATE! Congratulations to CASEY on winning the book! I'll be in touch via email. Thanks to all who entered.

One more thing! On the topic of coming home, my friend Tiffany Mayer's book on Niagara and its food was released this fall. It chronicles the region's farming history, its present food culture, and the hopes for its future in an ever-changing environment and economy. The book, called Niagara Food, reads like a chat with a particularly smart friend, and celebrates not only this area's bounty, but also the people who make it their life's work to feed others. She did such a great job with it. 

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Sneaking in for lunch, to serve up a soupish risotto that we had on Saturday, when my parents and nephew came for a visit. I see now I could have, and probably should have, scooted another bowl into frame, or the pile of spoons to my right, as this recipe makes a big ol' potful, and feeds a gang with abundance. But I was distracted, because of a rousing game of Battleship, because of a convoluted plan to secure my older brother's birthday gift, and because I was hungry.  So a lonely, single serving it is, with a timid-seeming slouch of green and bronze and black. Still, it gives a good idea of everything you need to know.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

The soup is maybe more of a stew, but either way, it is resolutely savoury, with a base of onion and anchovy upon which a risotto is started. Atop that goes handful after handful of the thinnest slivers of kale you can manage. It cooks some more, to tender acquiescence, until the greens and grain are languid in a saline slip of broth. But then, oh then, we loosen the business with more stock, then stir in bouncy quinoa, and walnuts that have been toasted and so strike an aromatic note that verges on sharp. The effect is taken to full-throated cheer by an exuberant amount of lemon zest and oil-packed chilies. It's the last few minutes there, the last few ingredients that change the soup's character entirely.

Now it comes across loud and clear; it is a soup that exclaims. The effect is ebullient, energy-enhancing, and bracing, simultaneously substantial and soothing while clearing the head and nostrils, and setting shoulders straight. The soup requires taking breath around each spoonful, the extra air needed for balance. It is mostly vegetables, granting a sense of piety and wholesomeness, toothsome without excessive weight. After the roasts, braises, gravies, marshmallows and custards of our lately, it was the jostling we needed.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

Though I've not tried her recipe, this reminds of the cabbage and rice soup from Molly, via Luisa, that came from Marcella Hazan. I like how that version is all softness, harmonious with butter and a generous amount of cheese, and is closer to the recipe upon which this is based. I'll be making that one soon, when the momentum of this one wanes.

Hope your days have been happy and merry, and here's to the brightness ahead. Cheers, all.

 

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO

A soupier, brasher, even more kale-packed adaptation of a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman via the New York Times.

Enough for 6.

INGREDIENTS

  • 7-8 cups good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 anchovy fillets or about 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Salt, as needed
  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 exceedingly large (approximately 16 ounces / 454 g) bunch of kale, well washed, stemmed and cut into slivers 
  • 3 cups cooked black quinoa
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup (57 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Peperoncinio in oil or dried red pepper flakes

METHOD

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. 

Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan over medium heat (I used a 5-qt Dutch oven). Cook the onion with a generous pinch of salt until tender but without colour, around 3 to 5 minutes. When you think the onion is about a minute away from being ready, add the anchovies, stirring them into the onions and breaking them up with the back of the spoon. 

Tip the rice and garlic into the pot, and stir until the grains separate and start crackling, around 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine while still stirring, and continue until it evaporates. Pour in about 1/2 cup of stock, and cook, stirring regularly, until the liquid is just about absorbed. Add another couple ladlefuls of stock, and continue in this fashion, stirring in the stock then adding more once the rice is almost dry. After 10 minutes, start adding the kale, in batches as necessary. Cook as before, with regular additions of stock, then stirring in between, until both the rice and kale are tender. 

Stir in the black quinoa, most of the walnuts, the Parmesan and lemon zest. Pour in enough stock to wet everything to your liking, giving it all a few good turns in the pan to give the broth a chance to thicken. It should be lush and creamy.  Check for seasoning, then serve straight away with more cheese, the reserved walnuts and the peperoncino. 

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My parents gave us our kitchen table. Or maybe it's a loan. We've never worked out the details.

Either way, it is a table that's been around since I was a kid. The seat of one of the chairs bears scratches from the dog we had when I was in university. It's been in the home of my parents, my brother, and now my own.

Our table shows its age. The finish is waxy here, worn down there. When the humidity is high, the surface feels tacky. Over the summer, the boys and I were making a birthday card, and there was glitter. Since then, in spite of the newspaper we'd laid out in protection, the tabletop has boasted a random patina of tiny sparkles. I've scrubbed, but the shining scatter remains, a glimmering finish of silver and gold, shot through with turquoise. Subtle at times, and a flashing metallic at the right angle. 

Around here, peanut butter toast is presented with a disco ball backdrop. Granola gets sequins.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

A week-and-a-half ago, when I shared the news of my book, I was sitting at that table. And, dear readers, you shone with such light. Your response outshone everything. You were the shiniest part of my day. 

That evening, I made my mother's minestrone.  

I should say, traditional or not, Mum's is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it's bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she'd use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favourite suppers. I'd blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. 

I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

We had it again for dinner on Sunday. I'd craved it since there were no leftovers from that last batch. 

The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some colour but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its centre. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese. 

Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat's take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables. 

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependant upon season and circumstance;  how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I've known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we've had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.

Thanks again for that. 

SHORT RIB MINESTRONE

While there’s quite a list of ingredients here, and the preparation starts the day ahead, the active time is modest and the effort is blessedly easy on the cook. It’s a case of a lot of things stirred into a pot, twice over. Neither the braising ribs or the simmering soup require babysitting, which is to say, for its length, this recipe fits suits a lazy mood surprisingly well. 

 It is hard to pin down an exact measurement on the vegetable stock, but if you have 1 1/2 quarts to use between the ribs and the soup, that should be enough. Keeping both the pasta and greens separate from the minestrone means that with leftovers the noodles won't get mushy and the greens won't overpower or discolour the broth. Speaking of which, I use vegetable broth instead of beef because Mum's minestrone was very much a vegetable soup with beef, rather than the other way around. 

FOR THE SHORT RIBS

  • 2 1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, bruised but left whole
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or a slosh of red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 small zucchini, medium dice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 2  carrots, medium dice, or left larger if skinny 
  • 2 cups cooked borlotti or cannellini beans
  • Approximately 6 ounces, a few handfuls, yellow wax or green beans, finely sliced

TO FINISH

  • 4 ounces tubetti, cooked al dente (check package instruction), then tossed with a glug of olive oil while hot
  • Baby spinach, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, in shreds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Oregano oil (see note)

 

 

METHOD

The day before serving, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then remove ribs from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. 

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs well on all sides. Transfer to a rimmed plate, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until properly golden and starting to catch in places, around 6 to 8 minutes. Clear the vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste is caramelized, maybe 2 minutes. Stir vegetables into paste and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the vinegar to deglaze, scraping and stirring up any sticky bits. Add the short ribs back to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, then the tomatoes and their liquid. Tamp down the tomatoes, giving them a bit of a prod and squish. Pour in enough vegetable broth or water so that the ribs are halfway submerged. Tuck in the bay leaf. Bring the pot to the boil, cover, and pop into the oven.

Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours. Skim the liquid of any impurities, then move ribs to a large bowl. Strain liquid over the meat through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the vegetables through. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, spoon any fat from the surface of the short ribs and cooking liquid. Leave the the pot at room temperature to lose its chill, say around an hour, then remove the short ribs on a rimmed plate. Set aside the liquid.

To make the soup, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and oregano, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to take on colour, maybe 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Strain the short rib liquid into 8-cup measure, add enough stock to bring to 8 cups. Add the liquid and the carrots to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup bubble for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the bones from the short ribs, shred and/or chop the meat into irregularly bite-sized pieces and add to the pot, as well as all the beans. Cook until vegetables tender, 15 minutes or thereabouts. Check for seasoning, and add more broth or water if the soup has become too thick.

To serve, spoon a mound of pasta into each bowl, then greens. Ladle on the hot soup. Place the cheese, vinegar and herb oil on the table, letting folks help themselves.

Enough for 6 to 8.   

Note:

  • To make the oregano oil, use a food processor to pulse together 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon flat-leafed parsley, a few pinches dried chili flakes, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, until finely chopped.
  • The ribs can be doubled, though you're going to need a bigger pot. Store those extra for another day, with the all braising veg and some of the cooking liquid. Serve over soft polenta.
  • This can be made leftover meat instead. Simply skip the braising steps and go straight to the soup section, adding tomatoes and a bay leaf to the broth. It can also be vegetarian by following a similar tactic, and doubling the beans (chickpeas are particularly good) instead.  

 

 

 

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There is often a solitude to writing. It's the delicate scratch of pen on paper, or the glowing hum of a computer screen, against all the noise and words rattling around my brain.  

Before I get to that stage of quiet chaos however, I talk out my ideas. Sometimes to others but also to myself, in the car, driving around alone on errands and whatnot. When I used to commute to work daily, the 45-minutes-each-direction trip was often when I did my best thinking. The length of the journey gave me enough time to work around the stumbling blocks in the way of what I was trying to say. Hearing the words somehow made them come across differently  — they were clearer, the thoughts fully realized. The only trouble with those drives is that 45 minutes worth of chatter was a lot to remember until I could get home record it all. What's more, is that I don't have those drives anymore. 

Now I reply on the former option as my preference, working through ideas in collaboration. Speaking thoughts out loud when there's actually someone to hear them makes you seem less eccentric, true, but also makes the process that much more enjoyable, and more fruitful. There's the opportunity to learn from another's perspective, and that usually leads to something better. That better happens most often when I shut up and listen. In some cases, it can lead to soup.

My friend Aran, currently nominated for both a James Beard Award and Saveur Best Food Blog Award, is a stylist, photographer and writer, and the creator of the site Canelle et Vanille . You've surely heard of her work, and probably her book as well, since Small Plates and Sweets was released late last year with much-deserved accolades. 

Aran is as giving as she is talented. And it is her generosity regarding not only her skill, but also her viewpoint, that sets her apart. Raised in the Basque Country, she grew up in her grandfather's pastry shop, and trained in culinary school. Later she moved to the United States, working in professional kitchens, and marrying. She now has two children, a boy and a girl. It was only relatively recently that Aran and her family began a gluten-free lifestyle, which inspired a new definition for her home cooking that she shared with her readers.

What that dietary change has brought is not a cold, prescriptive view on eating, and while the book is gluten free, it is not presented as a defining characteristic per se; rather her cooking style is rooted in a passionate desire to feed herself and others  soulful, satisfying food, food that happens to be without wheat. Many of her dishes are naturally or classically gluten free, like macarons or her beef stew, and those that aren't use the same, fairly common, alternative flours repeatedly, so that it isn't difficult to source the ingredients or slowly build up a gluten-free pantry. It all amounts to a gentle introduction to Aran's way of living, one absolutely in the realm of doable for day-to-day meals.

What's more, her recipes are drop-dead gorgeous, full of colour and texture. They are refined and feminine, just like her, yet with a welcoming charm. Her heritage informs many of her tastes; there is a marmitako (a Basque fish stew) flavoured heavily with paprika, a couple of Spanish tortillas, her grandmother's robust garlic soup, and a classic arroz con leche perked up with lemon zest. As you'd imagine with her upbringing and schooling, she excels at desserts, but her savoury dishes have are often scene stealers. 

The pea shoot pesto from her book is a particular example of that. It is straightforward, simple and lip-smackingly-good. Blended with almonds, and thick with Parmesan and olive oil, the pesto is intensely fresh; we've had it on soup, in an adapted take on her bocadillos, which my four-year-old declared "awesome" (page 111), and I had some on my eggs this morning alongside dollops of fresh ricotta. I honestly believe it could make cardboard taste good.

The soup into which we swirled that pesto was actually from the Winter chapter, even though the pesto was from Spring. (The book is divided into seasons, with sweet treats following the savoury small plates in each.) The soup was written with a different pesto, one spiky and sharp with dandelion greens. Our spring is dallying; there are blossoms, but still a need for cardigans and I'm drinking more hot tea than usual. It was because of these cold days that I found myself flipping between the two sections, vacillating between the wintry soup, a roasted leek and cauliflower one, and a creamy fennel and spinach from spring. I chose the former for my husband, and chose the pea pesto to acknowledge that it is, in fact, April. 

I am hoping that Aran won't mind me taking that liberty, as it was her that made me think of it in the first place. Throughout Small Plates and Sweet Treats  she mentions substitutions, and links recipes to others, in a chatty way that shows how her recipes are not meant to stand alone. As you spend time any time with the book, Aran's overarching skill with flavour combinations is obvious, and what's more is that it is harmonious. The chapters and dishes flow together seamlessly, making it easy to pick and choose based on whim, or interest, or fickle weather.

 Small Plates and Sweet Treats  is a gem. It inspires me to look at recipes in a new way, to cook outside my usual, and it is her brilliant use of a variety of grains and cereals that I've found myself incorporating into our routine, time and again. Aran imbues all her cooking with vibrancy, suggests pairings that had never occurred to me, and has particular opinions on something as simple as red beans, which makes me wonder if I have one too.

Hers is an inspiring voice, and one that I'm happy to have for company. 

Thanks for all the conversations, friend.  xo

 

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER + LEEK SOUP WITH PEA SHOOT + ALMOND PESTO

From the book Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My family's journey to gluten-free cooking (Little Brown and Company, 2012) by Aran Goyaga

This soup is aromatic, supple, and mild in a way that is soothing — not at all bland. It  has presence without demanding attention. Pea tendrils are the basis of the pesto, which is more than a garnish, rather an integral component as well. The raw, grassy shoots offset the mellow roasted vegetables, and the aroma of the fresh garlic in the sauce is brought out by the warmth of the soup. It makes for a bang up combination. As noted, this soup was originally served with a dandelion green and hazelnut pesto, and the pea shoot pesto was to dress ricotta gnocchi; for reference, the recipes appear on pages 99 and 156, respectively. 

The recipe here is as written in the book, with my notes following after. 

Serves 4 to 6

For the pea shoot and almond pesto

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) slivered almonds
  • 2 cups (60 g) pea shoots, tough stalks removed and chopped
  • 1 ounce (30 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

For the roasted cauliflower and leek soup

  • 1 medium cauliflower (1 pound or 450 g), cut into small florets
  • 1/2 medium leek, cut into large rings
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups (750 ml)  chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

 

METHOD

Make the pesto. Place the garlic and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the almonds are finely chopped. Add the pea shoots and process into a paste. Add the Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse one more time. Add the olive oil in a slight stream while the processor is on and process until a smooth paste forms. Scrape down the sides and mix well. 

TIP: If pea shoots are not available, watercress or spinach would be a great substitute. The pesto can be made in advance. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Make the soup.  

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Toss together the cauliflower, leek, onion, garlic, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes or until golden.
  2. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large pot. Add the diced potato, chicken stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. 
  3. Purée the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning and serve with the pesto. 

 Notes:

A few small things that I'm divulging out of honesty, not out of any conceit that you must follow suit —

  • I used goat's milk instead of the coconut milk because we had some in the fridge. Its sharpness was lovely. 
  • The bunch of thyme I thought I had went missing, and so was left out. The pea shoot pesto packs such flavour, that the soup was still a knockout.
  • I garnished the soup with chili oil. 

 

 

 

 

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In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe