A Golden Feast

My boyfriend and I entertained for his mother this Christmas Eve. His mother is a vegetarian, which created a new challenge for me as the primary cook. The first course was a Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup; the main course was a generous portion of baked smoked sable fish with roasted ciopolini onions, beats, and fingerling potatoes; the dessert was a Kahlua chocolate fondue served with fresh pineapple, strawberries and panatone. Absolutely decadent! The possible future mother-in-law was very impressed and satisfied, which made both my boyfriend and I equally content. The Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup was the golden dish, quite literally, as it won the Gold Metal Plate Awards in 2007.

Local Chef Pino Posteraro of Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill won with this delicious soup and after making it at home it isn't hard to believe! Its texture is pure velvet in your mouth with a richness from the chestnuts and warm earthiness from the porcini mushrooms. My boyfriend's mother said it best, "This is simply the best soup I've had. It's delicious! It's like the ultimate cheesy vegan soup." Being entirely vegan (if you don't have the croutons), you would never know it. It tastes like it's laden with cream and rich meat stock. For this very reason I am sharing this luscious recipe with you. I highly recommend making it as it appeals to every palate and is very easy to make. The recipe is found on page 74 of his first cookbook Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill.

Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup with Black Olive Croutons

35 mL extra-virgin olive oil
150 g chopped mixed onions, celery and leaks
250 g fresh porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced [I used dried porcini mushrooms they worked just as well shh don't tell the Chef!]
2 russet potatoes, cubed
80 g chestnuts, shells removed [you can buy them prepared in jars from Famous Foods]
1.25 L mushroom [or vegetable] stock, boiling

50 g black olive bread, cubed
4 mL clarified butter, melted
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Heat olive oil in a saucepan on high heat. Add onions, celery and leeks and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are wilted and slightly glazed. Add mushrooms, potatoes and chestnuts and cook for 15 minutes. Add mushroom (or vegetable) stock and simmer for about 35 minutes. Allow the soup to cook slightly , then transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Strain through a chinois. Add more salt or pepper, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 260°C. In a small bowl, toss bread cubes with butter. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until crispy.

To Serve: Ladle hot soup into individual bowls. Garnish with croutons and drizzle liberally with olive oil.

Serves 8 . Preparation time: 1 1/4 hours
Suggested wine: Lodano 2004, Tua Rita, IGT, Tuscany Italy

Delicious Chicken Soup

Since the book launch in December, Delicious Chicken Soup written by Andrey Durbach and Robert Chaplin has been flying off our shelves. Check out the reviews in the Globe and Mail and Scout Magazine. You can pick up your copy at Books to Cooks and cook up what children of all ages call, "the best chicken soup in the world."

Sunday Launches: Chicken and Peasant

The shop was a bustling coop this Sunday when Andrey Durbach and Robert Chaplin launched their new book Delicious Chicken Soup. Andrey, Chef and restaurateur, wrote the unique little book, and Robert Chaplin illustrated its pages; his signature chickens multiplied in over one hundred books of guests eager to get their copy signed by these two talents. With little elbow-room, guests sipped cozy cups of chicken soup that Andrey prepared, a soup admitted by many guests as the best chicken soup they had ever tasted. People of every feather attended this exciting launch, from children to chefs to eaters and readers.

With barely enough time to clear the empty pot of soup from the stove, Mark set the kettle on the burner to boil up some tea for the launch of The Genius of James Barber. Guests sipped the Barbara-Jo's Blend and James' favourite ginger tea. In memory of James, guests enjoyed the flavours of some of his best recipes, including Black Ginger Cake and Almond Pine-Nut Tarts. Christina Burridge, James' wife, offered a few words of thanks and remembrance for the beloved Urban Peasant and all who loved him. Almond Pine-Nut Tarts from The Genius of James Barber: His Best Recipes
1/4 cup jam
12 unbaked 3-inch tart shells
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup pine nuts
icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread a thin layer of jam on the bottom of each tart shell. Place the eggs, butter, almonds, granulated sugar and vanilla in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the flour and baking powder, and process again briefly. Fill the tarts with the almond mixture, and sprinkle a few pine nuts on top of each one. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let the tarts cool. Sprinkle them with icing sugar before serving.

Entertaining with Booze and Food

On Friday night David Steele and Ryan Jennings, authors of Entertaining with Booze, hosted a lively evening of food, laughs and, of course, booze. Chef Glenys Morgan prepared a diverse menu fit for any sophisticated dinner party including Roasted Sweet Potato & Cumin Soup; Endive Spears with Orange-Scented Goat Cheese & Pomegranate; Caramelized Pear & Onion Pastries; Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Maple Bourbon Glaze; Jack Daniel's Sticky Ribs (a crowd favourite); and Black & Tan Brownies. While Glenys cooked, Dave and Ryan talked food and mixed drinks. They started with Niagra Gold, a champagne cocktail. This was followed by a stiff Caipirinha, a drink that invited the crowd up to crush their own limes before indulging. To finish the night, guests sipped a Black Raspberry, a simple combination of raspberry lambic and Guinness, while savouring the Black & Tan brownies.

Coming up this week, a visit from Rose Murray on Wednesday with her new book A Taste of Canada. Also, a signing at our Granville Island shop on Thursday with the Food Network's Anthony Sedlak and his first book The Main.