ODE ON A STINKY CHEESE

At this time of year, our daylight time have shrunken to around seven hours long. Here among the tall trees, that is a bit shorter. Rain is battering against the windows, driven by southwestern winds. At times it’s so intense that one can barely see a few yards.  Mercifully, because the storm is moving in from the southwest we are riding what is popularly known as the Pineapple Express. Temperatures are hovering around 55° outside which means that we’re getting our precipitation in a liquid form and we haven’t needed a fire in two days. (It’s a really well sealed house which holds the heat from daily activities very well.)

So, why this weather report from the wilds of western Washington? Simple; the onset of winter weather heralds the beginning of soup and stew season. Warm liquid goodness filled with yummy bites of vegetable and meat just make the season better.

Creamy, warm goodness and easy to make

Creamy, warm goodness and easy to make

One of our favorite soups is very quick to make but tastes as if it took hours. It hails from the Williams Sonoma ‘Lifestyles’ collection; a wonderful creamy mushroom and chicken soup.  (Whether you’re an experienced chef or a novice cook, this series offers some truly wonderful recipes.  If you can find these thin volumes – buy them. You will not regret it.)

Now, those of you who know us well will recall that for Jim, a recipe is more a guideline or suggestion. Such is the case here as well. He set out to make the soup for lunch today (I told you it was quick!) and had what our British cousins refer to as a brain wave. Usually, the soup is made with heavy cream but, in prowling the fridge, he came across an aged bit of cambozola cheese. This is a creamy, soft cheese that has been described as being like a cross between brie and gorgonzola. Like brie, cambozola ages as it sits. This block was well enough advanced that it held few prospects of being smeared on crackers or crostini.

Cambozola. Hey, it's blue cheese. It's great! image courtesy of pennmac.com

Cambozola. Hey, it’s blue cheese. It’s great! image courtesy of pennmac.com

Remembering that our British cousins make a lovely dish called Stilton and Mushrooms, he thought, “Why not cambizola and mushroom soup?”

I suspect that most cheese soups were derived from the discovery of a stinky bit of leftover cheese combined with a thriftiness that militated against throwing it out. Hence, beer and cheddar, etc, etc, etc. Anyway, here’s the recipe for today’s luncheon soup.

CAMBOZOLA AND MUSHROOM SOUP

  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms or similar brown or “wild” mushrooms. Consider porcini, morel, or shitaki. Also, dried mushrooms that you have rehydrated in hot water work very well. Add the water to the soup in place of part of the broth. It’s fabulous.
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 quart chicken stock or broth
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ cup Port, Maderia, Sherry, or Sweet Vermouth (we used the latter)
  • about 4 ounces of cambozola cheese
  • a bit of butter for sautéing the shallot and garlic
  • a bit of olive oil for browning the mushrooms
  • the diced meat from one leg and thigh of the infamous Costco rotisserie chicken, or equivalent
  • the equally infamous Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning to taste (optional but I can’t understand why you’d leave it out – it’s wonderful for brightening the taste of almost anything!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

Finely mince the shallot and garlic. Sauté in the butter with a bit of salt, pepper, and every day seasoning. As the shallots become translucent, add the stock soy sauce and wine. Increase the temperature and watch the pot for when the soup is just about to boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and carefully drop in chunks of the soft, ripe cheese.

If you have a stick mixer, use it now. Blend the mixture until it is smooth and creamy. If you don’t have a stick mixer, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and, working in batches so it doesn’t erupt all over you and the kitchen, blend the soup until smooth.

Add in the chicken which you have chopped. Let the chicken heat through and ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

That’s it. The whole process takes about 30 minutes and it tastes amazingly wonderful and comforting. Serve it with a crusty bread or a simple salad (or both if you’re so inclined) An added benefit is that this, like all soups and stews, is a great way to use up leftovers and reduce your overall food bill.

NOTE: If you prefer a thicker soup, you should make a roux by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan over low heat and slowly stirring in slightly less than an equal amount of flour. Your butter/flour mixture should be the consistency of thick jam. Be careful to not let this brown or burn. You’re thickening here, not making gumbo that cries out for a toasted roux.

When your roux is done, remove it from the heat and proceed as above. After you have blended the soup smooth, add in the roux. Since the gluten is already dissolved in the butter, it won’t make the broth lumpy.

Well, that’s it for now. Gotta run and start marinating the fish for tonight’s dinner, Brazilian Fish Stew. Believe me, even if you hate fish, you’d love this rich tropical stew. If there’s enough interest in that recipe, I’ll post it later. Feel free to vote in the comments section. Cheers mates!

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