Potage aux Courgettes

Maundy Thursday at St. John's Cathedral

 

 

This simple cream of zucchini soup, based on a traditional provençal recipe, is what I would definitely call a “crowd pleaser.” I’ve made this soup for groups ranging in size from myself and my partner, to a dozen members of my family surrounding a craftily-elongated dining room table, all the way up to 120 people sitting at a liturgical meal forty feet under the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral…which is precisely what I did last night. I’m a congregant at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles’ West Adams district. Throughout this Lent I have taken part in the cathedral’s formation program, which is a series of intensive classes preparing individuals seeking baptism, confirmation, reception from another denomination, or reaffirmation of faith. This past year has been incredibly wonderful and exciting but has also been profoundly transitional for me. Within the past twelve months I’ve changed jobs four times, have moved from one city to another very different city, have lived with a significant other for the first time in my life, and have finally returned to school (hence the long delay since my last posting). My life is now settling down and I felt myself finding my bearings in Los Angeles. The many changes of the past year have helped me to evaluate the function and value of many of the things that had tacked themselves onto my identity as an adult. As I evaluated who I was in the context of Los Angeles I wanted to take time to evaluate what role, if any, my faith now played in my life. Throughout Lent I’ve done just that. I find myself serenely comfortable with my identity as an Episcopalian and feel recharged and reminded of a values system I am proud of and hope sincerely to develop as a characteristic of who I am.

The candidates who have taken part in the Formation Classes will be baptized, confirmed, received, or reaffirmed by the Bishop tomorrow evening at the Great Vigil of Easter. One of the expectations of the candidates was that they would help serve at the cathedral’s celebration of Maundy Thursday. Last night St. John’s brought the last supper to life with a touching combination of liturgy, worship, and fellowship. The pews were removed from the nave of the cathedral and a great banquet was set. The congregation sat together at table as the lessons were read and the sermon was given, then the congregation came together for the washing of feet after which communion was given. After communion the meal was served.

Because of my training Fr. Dan and Fr. Mark, the deans of the cathedral, approached me about preparing the meal. They told me their vision: a Mediteranean feast complete with trays overflowing with cheeses, nuts, olives, figs, dates, and dried fruits, a simple vegetarian soup, a big salad, loaves of fresh bread, and for dessert more trays overflowing with grapes, fruits, sweetened breads, and chocolate. Almost immediately I knew Potage aux Courgettes would be perfect. The soup is at once an elegant revelation, balanced and decadent…and then a simple, homey manifestation of “comfort food.” The soup is a long-time favorite, something I make when I want to feel safe and secure…something I’ve wanted many times over the tumultuous past twelve months. And perhaps more than anything that’s what I wanted to share with the congregation of St. John’s: the feeling of comfort, love, and the certainty that every one of us is cared for. I can think of no better medium to have shared this message.

Potage aux Courgettes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds od zucchini, tips removed and cut into 1/2-inch thick rondelles

1/2 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1 1/2 tablespoons seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s)

1/2 stick of butter

freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 bunch of fresh basil, stems removed and coarsely chopped

2 healthy pinches of ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups of half and half

Directions:

In a soup pot set over medium/medium-high heat melt the butter and heat just until the foam subsides.

Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally to brown.

The onions are done when they look like this, golden brown...maybe a little crispy on some of the edges.

Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT FOR THE HALF AND HALF (reserve it for later) to the pot. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Once simmering reduce the heat to medium/medium-low and cover. Cook for 30-40 minutes at just around a simmer until the zucchini are very tender (pierce easily on a fork and almost fall apart. Once done turn off heat and allow to cool to room temperature, covered.

Once cooled to room temperature, ladle the soup into a blender. Do this in batches, fill the blender about half-way full on each batch to make sure the soup purees evenly.

puree for 20-25 seconds.

Once all of the soup has been pureed, pour back into the soup pot and return the heat to medium.

Add the half and half. Stir the soup slowly until it returns just to a simmer. Take care to continue stirring the soup, the half and half will curdle if left still.

 

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Ideas for Entertaining

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Ingredients:
One plain goat cheese log
12 fresh mint leaves
The seeds of half a pomegranate
2 grapefruits cut into citrus sections
Orange Blossom Honey for drizzling

Directions:
Toss together the grapefruit sections and the fresh mint leaves. Place the goat log on your serving dish. Cover the log with grapefruit/mint mixture. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over all then drizzle everything with orange blossom honey

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by | January 19, 2012 · 11:45 pm

The Los Angeles Breakfast-Table Debut

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When I was leaving San Francisco for Los Angeles I sold my dining room table. In a characteristically San Francisco moment of serendipity the response from Craigslist I got was from the owner of Ritual Roasters in The Mission where the husband of my partner (Amanda) and I’s colleague was then representing Ritual at the World Barista Conpetition. Amanda and I are big fans of Ritual coffee and I was able to work out a trade of coffee for furniture, which has made the first several months of my southern California transplant far more enjoyable. This morning we’re enjoying a press of Ethiopian Koke. The elegant, buttery, and lemony qualities of this highly representative Ethiopian coffee paired perfectly with a ruby red grapefruit and toasted, buttered slices of Hanoverian white bread. Good morning, Los Angeles!

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by | December 30, 2011 · 4:53 pm

Taking in some inspiration for forthcoming posts. Bottega Louis at Grand and 7th in downtown Los Angeles is the west coast incarnation of Ladurée Paris

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by | December 28, 2011 · 2:03 pm

Rotten Vegetables: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of the great fermented vegetable dishes of Europe.  Originally developed as a way to preserve the cabbage harvest during the long winter months, kraut is now often prepared with roasted meat dishes to cut through both the fat and the richness.  Truly fermented sauerkraut has not only vitamin C, but is filled with probiotics, as the bacteria, lactobacilli, will do good work for your digestion and amazing work for your palette.  If I haven’t convinced you to try sauerkraut already, I should let you know that it’s dead easy.

Sauerkraut

Cabbage (however much you’d like, I’d say at least one full head of cabbage, but I used two)
Salt (3-4% of total weight of cabbage)

First, you want to rinse the outside of the cabbage to remove any possible dirt and remove a couple of the outer leaves.  Next, cut your cabbage into quarters and slice the core out of it.  Unfortunately, I did all this before we started taking pictures, but it’s pretty easy.  Next, you want to shred the cabbage into ribbons.

Just slice with your knife at an angle and get thin ribbons of cabbage. You don't want them paper thin, but you want them less than 1/4 inch.

After you’ve sliced all your cabbage, which may take a while, transfer it to a large, non-metallic vessel that has a lid.  You don’t want to risk metal ruining the flavor of your kraut and you need the lid to protect it from falling particles.  I used a prep cube.  You’ll want to add the salt.  Remember, your total amount of salt should be 3-4% of the weight of your cabbage.  Use 3% if you’d like less or more salt if you want to be absolutely certain that you get your ferment right the first time.  If this is your first time making sauerkraut, I’d recommend the higher percentage and you can rinse the sauerkraut if you find it overly salty.

I had premeasured the salt and just used the tablespoon to sprinkle it evenly over the cabbage.

Now, with your well-cleaned hands you want mix the salt in with the shredded cabbage.  At the same time, you want to squish the cabbage a bit to start the process of breaking it down and removing its water.  Pretend this cabbage did something terribly wrong to you and you’re wringing it’s neck.  It’s important that you don’t tear the cabbage (this would leave forensic evidence on our pretend crime scene, as well as cause too much water to leak out) but you do want to break some of the cells and bruise it a bit.

This head of cabbage fired me from my last job.

After you’ve massaged the salt into the cabbage, just walk away.  Leave the cabbage alone for about half an hour (or an hour).  While you’re gone, our cabbage will release it’s liquid and create a brine for us.

I advise you to drink wine, eat pickles, grope pumpkins and make smarmy faces. It's delightful.

After the time has passed, your cabbage will have released quite a bit of water.  This is a good thing.

Yay!!! Our cabbage was juicy. If you use old cabbage, you won't get as much water and you may have to make a brine solution of 3-4% and add that until the cabbage is completely covered.

Then you want to put some sort of weight to keep the cabbage below the brine, creating an anaerobic environment our friends, lactobacilli, to grow up.  Traditionally, a clean heavy stone would be used, but I prefer to fill a plastic storage bag with brine and use that.  I fill it with brine so that if the bag breaks, it won’t dilute my sauerkraut mixture.

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We poured the mixture into the bag, sealed it and looked "cute" while doing it.

As the second to last step in our kraut adventure, place the bag over the cabbage in your vessel, make sure that the cabbage is pushed down and the brine completely covers the cabbage.

Just lay it over the cabbage and then gently push down until you see a small amount of liquid start to rise from around the bag. Don't push a lot or get a lot of liquid above the bag, just enough to make there is no air to cabbage contact.

Finally, we wait about seven to ten days for the bacteria to turn our boring, dull cabbage into amazingly preserved sauerkraut.

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Hey you lil' kraut.

I let mine go for eight days and then decided that it was sour enough for me.  The kraut will develop based on ambient temperature and the amount of lactobacilli already present on the cabbage when you purchased it.  You should avoid ambient temperatures above 70° F, as this can cause yeast to grow and make your sauerkraut soft and funky.  If you see mold on the very top of the liquid (not even close to the kraut — all above the bag), you can scoop it off and throw it out.  If the mold is touching the cabbage or is below the bag, say adios to that batch and start over.  Fermentation is a natural, wild process and all fermenters have had a batch turn on them, so don’t let it upset you.  Just dump it out, clean the vessel well and start over.

This was my first post on Reclaiming the Good Name of Epicurean and I hope you enjoyed it.  Now get out there and ferment something.

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Hump Day Vices: Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon

Big, Bright, and Fruity

Tasting Notes:

Wine: Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage: 2009

Price: $22.49

Producer: Cannonball Wine Company

Region & Country: California: 62% Mendocino, 32% Sonoma/ Dry Creek Valey, 4% Napa, 2% Other

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Place and Date Purchased: 11/6/2011 Whole Foods Market – Santa Monica, CA

Place and Date Tasted: 11/8/2011 Home – Los Angeles, CA

Appearance: Bright Grape-Juice Purple, extremely light legs.

Nose: Overwhelming aroma of fresh, juicy blackberries, ripe oranges, and pineapple

Taste: Extremely fruity-sweet with a medium-long tart finish.

Finish: Medium-long with progressively intense tannin

Overall Impression: I won’t deny it, this wine tastes great. The only problem is I couldn’t differentiate it from Welch’s Concord Grape Juice if my life depended on it. A good wine should exemplify and carefully explore all the grape has to offer. In the case of Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon the only way I know it’s Cabernet Sauvignon is by reading the label. You don’t get any of the dark, subtle, rich complexity of cabernet in this wine…you get big, dumb fruit and enough of it to keep a room of kindergartners very happy indeed. I wouldn’t be as critical of this bottle as I am were it not for the price…for $22.49 you can get 8 bottles of 2-buck chuck Shiraz and two 2-liters of Pineapple Fanta, mix it together and have about 12 times the drink with the exact same flavor (trust me).

Food Pairing: I’m rarely at a loss for a wine and food pairing but Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon is so insanely sweet it would steamroll anything with a similar flavor profile and would taste off compared to anything different. If you’re going to drink this drink it straight up.

Overall Rating (out of 100 points): 60

Overall Value (1-5 stars): 1 star

Pass, thanks.

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Welcome to Reclaiming the Good Name of the Epicurean, Don McGray!

Travis Brock Kennedy, Chief Web Editor of Reclaiming the Good Name of the Epicurean

When I started Reclaiming the Good Name of the Epicurean this past September I envisioned a website where the diverse voices of professional chefs, home cooks, writers, artists, and artisans could come together to explore and celebrate the world of good food and drink. So far in the young life of this website mine has been the only contributing voice. Although I bring to the website professional cooking experience and classical training my perspective is, as is everyone else’s, limited in many ways.

Don and I on Santana Row in San Jose, California last April

For this reason I am thrilled to announce the addition of Don McGray, Reclaiming the Good Name of the Epicurean’s first contributing writer. Don is a long-time friend who shares my passion for cooking, eating, and celebrating good food and drink. We grew up together on California’s central coast and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area at the same time. Our shared food experience ranges from tri-tip barbecue in Santa Maria to 2 AM okonomiyaki making in Berkeley to Lobster Rolls in San Francisco’s Castro District and everything you can possibly imagine in-between. We’ve pounded fresh abalone under the redwoods by the Gualala river, we’ve sprayed Febreze on a rotting pot of beans in our high school drama room, and we’ve consumed more alcohol together before our 25th birthdays than most people will consume in a lifetime. In other words we go way back, and the stories will slowly trickle out as we explore the recipes and foods that have fueled the madness thus far.

Don is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley where he double-majored in French and Political Science. He has lived and studied in the Rhône-Alpes region of France and has traveled and dined extensively in Europe. He is an exquisite cook with a broad and varied repertoire. Don will be bringing to the website a vegetarian perspective on cooking which will greatly enrich the content of the site. He lives and works in El Cerrito, a small community on the eastern shore of the San Francisco bay and in addition to his other contributions will also be bringing the geographic perspective of the East Bay to the site.

Don’s first post will be up soon, please join me in welcoming him on board! I’m supremely confident his posts will help the site grow into it’s vision as the place where the epicurean’s passions meet an affection for the greater world of art, music, and literature.

The Great Work Begins!

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