Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Creamy Chinese Celery Soup

So you know we get this box of fresh, locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables delivered right to our doorstep every other week by a service called SLO Veg. We have been getting the bulk of our produce from them for the past two years now, and I swear its the best thing we have ever done for our diets.

While my daughters think its too much trouble to wash and prepare all that produce with their busy schedules, I find it therapeutic. My girls like fresh veggies from Trader Joe’s that are washed and cut and ready to eat (they're young!), whereas I like the process of chopping and sautéing and putting together a recipe from scratch. It gets me out of a food rut. I do like to pre-prep whenever I can, so on my days off I might chop some veggies or marinate some meat so that I can put a dinner together quickly the next work day. Vegetables are usually pretty quick to prepare, though, so as long as I have a plan, life is good. 

One thing I really like about the SLO Veg service is the way they tell you a few days in advance what to expect in your next delivery, then they offer a bunch of recipe ideas using the items that will be in the box. Genius, right? What a great marketing angle. I am sure Rachael was behind that idea; probably Dan is more of the brawn in this operation, but I could be wrong. Whoever thought that one up, well, that's irrelevant...I am just so glad they did. Saves me so much time! Otherwise I try to save recipes I come across on Pinterest because I have read the blog about "This Weeks Harvest Box" and know what I am going to need to cook.

I browse recipes constantly. It was weird when my sister-in-law asked during our last visit, "So, what are you reading these days?" and all I could think of was cookbooks, books about nutrition, and recipe blogs. Sigh! Thank goodness for Pioneer Woman. At least on her site I can read "Confessions" or something about life on the ranch and so forth.

Today I am doing what I love best: watching cooking shows (Anne Burrell is on right now, making a fava bean soup and a Swiss chard crostini. *Note: save idea for later!), cooking some soup on the stove, taking pictures of what I am cooking, and blogging about it. Great day in my book! I already made some quick ramen soup with celery and carrots and cilantro to eat while I do all the above multi-tasking. This morning I have already sliced up some top sirloin marinating in orange juice that will become carne asada tacos tonight after my husband gets home. I have some leftover rice to serve with the tacos, and I might doctor up some canned pinto beans as well. But I am hankering for hearty vegetable-type soup, and soup I will make.

We got a big bunch of fresh green celery in Monday's box, so now, this week from SLO Veg, some delicious Creamy Chinese Celery soup! . My husband and son aren't real big on celery, so if I make it into a bunch of soup and freeze it, I can take it to work and have a nice hot, delicious homemade treat for myself without traumatizing them by actually forcing them to eat celery themselves. They can have canned tomato soup and be happy about it. (They would be!) The great part is that this recipe calls for a potato, of which I have two or three leftover from my box that was delivered two weeks ago.

My soup starts out with a whole bunch of chopped celery, a white onion, some sliced leeks and three really cute little white potatoes. I am making more that what the recipe from SLO Veg calls for, because I want to eat some and freeze some. I sliced the leeks first and got them soaking in a bowl of water, because leeks tend to collect a lot of sand inside the layers, so you want to soak them and let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bowl. Then you scoop the leeks out and proceed with the cooking.

I put all the veggies into a stock pot with a chunk of butter and began to sauté them. Oops! I forgot to peel the potatoes, so I quickly did that and gave them a chop and tossed them into the pot, too.  Now I've got it all in the pot and its set to simmer for an hour.
I had to open a really nice bottle of Pinot Blanc we recently got from a SLO area winery, Claiborne-Churchill. It was either that or run down to the market for a cheap bottle of white wine. I was a little stingy with the wine in the soup, because I want more for me to enjoy later when I eat my delicious bowl of soup. Wait, that was Chinese Celery Soup, right? I think it needs a splash of fish sauce, too, and some cilantro, maybe a dash of celery seed to bump up the flavor. I have some fish sauce in my pantry somewheres...

Okay, its been an hour or more. I can let the soup cool a bit before I attempt to puree it in the blender. Too bad I wore out my immersion blender, because that is perfect for blending soups. I guess I need a new one...hint hint! Anyway, the recipe says to puree the soup and then strain it. I skipped the straining step, because I need all the fiber I can get. I served it with some Chinese fried noodles instead of croutons, too. Dang I'm good. Keeping it real! (as PW would say!)

What is Rachel doing on her show? Its playing and I am not even paying attention, but it looks like she might be making some kind of soup, as well. I need to back it up and see what she is doing. (Salmon and dill chowder!) Then I need to search for Anne's crostini recipe. Ahhhh! Such a busy day at home.

Creamy Chinese Celery Soup (Celery/Shallots/Leeks) 

Servings: 6  Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Total Time: 1 1/2 Hrs

For soup 
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only),
1 medium russet (baking) potato 
1/2 cup chopped shallot 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 bunches Chinese celery (1 1/2 lb total),
 top leaves discarded and stalks cut into
 2-inch pieces 
1/2 cup dry white wine 
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken 
broth (32 fl oz) 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 

For croutons 
6 (1/4-inch-thick) diagonal baguette slices 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
Kosher salt to taste 

Garnish: fresh Chinese parsley leaves or 
flat-leaf parsley leaves 
Preparation: Make soup: Wash leek well in a bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well. Peel and chop potato. Cook shallot in butter and oil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add leek and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add celery and potato and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add wine and boil 1 minute. Add broth and simmer, covered, until celery is very tender, about 1 hour. Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), then pour through a large medium-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids. Transfer soup to cleaned saucepan, then stir in cream, salt, and pepper and heat over low heat until hot. Thin with water if desired. Make croutons while soup simmers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush baguette slices with oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Arrange in 1 layer on a baking sheet, then bake in middle of oven until golden brown and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve soup topped with croutons. Cooks' notes: • Soup can be made 1 day ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered.

*Note: I added about 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 1 tsp dried cilantro, and I sautéed the veggies in butter instead of olive oil. I didn't strain the soup prior to adding the cream, either. Just pureed it in the blender then added the cream. 

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