Archive for August, 2009

Ina Garten’s Incredible Cold Cucumber Soup

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP

Amazing Cold Cucumber Soup Recipe in Here

Amazing Cold Cucumber Soup Recipe in Here

Okay Ina, I hope you don’t get too upset with me for sharing this. But it is the MOST fantastic soup I’ve EVER had. For those of you who love to cook – get Ina’s “Barefoot Contessaa Back to Basics” cookbook.

Here goes with the project story of how I stumbled upon this recipe.

Project Initiation

I recently listened to an audio book on tape called “Julie and Julia”. It’s a story about this woman who after recently turning 30, decides that her life is pretty blase and to spice things up, she undertakes to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s book – “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year. She also decides to blog about her year adventure.

My younger daughter, who’s kitchen claim to fame is “Easy Mac” just howled at the book. She purchased it on a jaunt across the country. She talked about it endlessly for several days and I figured any book that got her inspired to move her culinary exploits past the reheat button on the microwave might be entertaining on a ride to Cape Cod to go camping in the rain for three days. She claimed the actual book was a lot better than the audio version (for whatever that is worth – not having read the book, I can’t comment).

Oddly enough, when I got back to Alaska several weeks later, I had a copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” on my bed. My oldest daughter had given it to me for Mother’s day and I had just started reading it before I left for my two month summer adventure. Having grown up watching Julia Child’s cooking show on PBS, I am prone to spontaneously break into Julia Child imitation when I’m explaining something I’m doing in the kitchen to anyone within ear shot. My children always just thought this was how people normally behaved while cooking, until they got older and realized, I was just doing my “Julia Child’s” schtick. So it’s no wonder I get books like this for Mother’s day.

One day last week, I randomly opened the Julia Child Mastering the Art of French cooking book on my bed and was reading a recipe for Poulet Saute or something like that related to pan frying chicken and serving it with a cream sauce. But since the book was upstairs, and NOT in my kitchen, the idea went in and out of my head to make that recipe. (For some reason when I first got the book, I had no idea it was a cook book which was why it made it’s way to my bedroom for some light night time reading – ha ha ha). An hour later, still in the cookbook mode of being, but now in the room where I happily co-exist with cookbooks, the kitchen, I was thumbing through Ina’s lovely book. With fantastic pictures, and very unique recipes. Ina’s book makes for a fantastic breakfast companion. Earlier in the week I had made Ina’s Parmesan Roasted Broccoli with my award winning broccoli, Tuscan Lemon Chicken, and Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits (three other GREAT reasons to get her cookbook). Julia Child’s team of revisionists really need to upgrade her books to the Ina Garten standard.

That morning at breakfast, would start the tastebud adventure of a lifetime. Little did I know this as I studied Ina’s Chilled Cucumber Soup with Shrimp recipe. The ingredients looked a bit like what you’d find in Tzatziki sauce. Tzatziki sauce is what is used on Greek Gyro’s that also goes great with leg of lamb roast (Trader Joe’s sells a nice pre-made Tzatziki sauce as does Costco). I figured, if it wasn’t good as a soup, I could always use it with lamb.

Okay this was Saturday when I read this recipe. I purchased all the ingredients on Sunday to make the soup. But since it required a two hour refrigeration time, I just didn’t get my act together enough until Wednesday (yesterday) to actually give it a shot. Usually I’m a bit faster on the uptake than this for new culinary adventures.

Project Planning

The ingredients for Ina’s cucumber soup are pretty basic (as she promotes on the cover of her cookbook).

3 (7 oz) containers of Greek yogurt. (all I could find was a 24 oz container of greek yogurt in my small Alaskan town).
1 cup half and half
2 hot house cucumbers – unpeeled, seeded, and chopped – I peeled the cucumber, didn’t seed it, chopped it, and used 4 instead of two. I have no idea if they were hot house or not.
1/2 cup chopped red onion – I just cut a large red onion in quarters and used that.
6 scallions – white and green parts chopped – the old wilted ones in the fridge worked just fine.
4 teaspoons kosher salt (YES that seemed like an awful lot to me too).
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (this is really hard to measure – I just worked the pepper grinder for about a minute).
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill – fresh dill is rather hard to find in rural alaska – I just used dill in the spice jar.
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons) – easy enough
1/2 pound cooked large shrimp, halved (okay I dominate in this area – we had just got fresh shrimp out in the cove – but it was little. Worked just fine).

Project Execution

You mix the cucumbers, onions, scallions, yogurt, half and half, salt and pepper together and then process it beyond recognition in a food processor or blender. Then you fold in the dill. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Right before serving, put in the lemon juice and garnish with the shrimp.

Project Monitoring and Control

If you taste this BEFORE it chills for two hours, it will taste way too salty. After two hours, the saltiness mellows out and with the addition of the lemon juice, you don’t perceive it as “too salty.” With regards to putting in the lemon juice just before serving it, I had leftovers and it was just as fantastic the next day so I’m not sure how much it really hurts the soup to have the lemon juice in ahead of time.

Project Closeout

This is one of the most incredible taste bud experiences I ever had. The guests I had over dinner didn’t have as adventurous palates as I do, and they even loved it. It is very different than anything any of them ever tasted before and it is nothing at all like Tzatziki sauce. I don’t understand why the recipe suggests you don’t peel the cucumber – I really think that is a typo. Plus I really don’t like the bitterness of cucumber peels so I did away with them. GREAT recipe Ina – THANK YOU!!

Alaskan Square Foot Garden Produces Prize Winning Broccoli!!!!

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP

Best in Division, Best in Class, First Place - does it get any better than this????

Best in Division, Best in Class, First Place - does it get any better than this????

Okay I must admit, broccoli is not my favorite vegetable, but my gosh does it grow well in my alaskan square foot garden. My daughter encouraged me to enter one of the heads into the Southeast Alaska State Fair. So, the morning of the competition, I took knife to plant, and beheaded it. Yes, whacked it there on the spot. Then with lovely broccoli bouquet in hand, went to the exhibit hall at the state fair grounds and entered it into the competition. They even supplied the lovely vase. I’m not sure what division it was in or why it won best in division – but here it is in all it’s glory. The first of the bounty from my first alaskan square foot garden.

Was it the automatic watering system, the extensive wind protection, the uncharacteristically warm summer, the thousands of worms from Uncle Jim’s worm farm, the seaweed I mixed in with the vermeculite, composite, manure planting mix? It certainly wasn’t my attention as I was not even here all summer. I am more inclined to think it might be the lack of other competitors. No one else entered broccoli. I’m not sure if this town has many broccoli fans as the main reason I grew broccoli was because it was one of the few starts left at the nursery. Late to the party and what happens – I WIN!!!!!!! YEAH. I am so proud of my head of broccoli. I might even start to like this vegetable.