Carrot , Leek & Apple Soup with Garlic Croutons

The challenge of creating a spectacular-or at least edible-dish out of fridge odds and ends is one that I have always relished. I believe it to be a sign of a good cook: creative, resourceful and an independent thinker rather than just open a cookbook. I have to say I’m pretty good at visualizing how ingredients can come together for a potential meal-probably thanks to all the practice I got making ‘staff meal’ when I worked in a professional kitchen. No, we didn’t tuck into a lamb chop from the menu when we were hungry or munch on foie gras pâté and croutons, we ate a family-style meal together every night just before service that was prepared by one of the chef de parties.
I should have kept a log of the random items that were held on the shelf designated for staff eating. It was not uncommon to have to put together a meal for fourteen using some or all of the following:

several litres of razor clam juice
60 or so scrawny quail legs
reject fresh pasta dough (presumably tough as nails)
soft/slimy cucumbers (tomatoes, peppers, spinach)
a jar of picked quail eggs
giant tub of dijon
mounds and mounds of venison scraps
a litre or more of beet purée

and so on and so fourth.
What I made was generally decided for me; it depended on how much time I could take away from my usual lengthy list of prep work. One has to think “is it really in my best interest to clean all the venison, grind it, make a bolognaise and a spinach béchamel, and roll the pasta for a lasagna?”
As popular as I would have been with my fellow chefs had I done so (comfort food rocks when night after night all you plate is ultra-finicky fine cuisine) the more realistic scenario was probably me tossing the quail legs in a speedy marinade before roasting them and serving with a pot of rice.

All that said, I recently made a memorable soup from my fridge scraps after a vigorous clean turned up some withering vegetables. There’s hardly a better time to clean out the refrigerator than after the holidays (after a power outage is pretty ideal, too) and it’s a New Year to boot, so if you haven’t done it yet, get in there and toss those mouldy brussel sprouts and stale fruitcake. Be sure to wear gloves, though, it may be worse than you think; as it was in my case.

As I was making the soup, I took the time to scribble down what I was doing in loose recipe form in case I wanted to blog about it. Of course, I have no idea where that piece of paper/napkin/envelope is now, so I’m going to try and remember what I did because it’s worth repeating.

Carrot, leek and apple: not a new combination by any means, but a trio that I had wasting away in my vegetable drawer; add a liter of homemade chicken stock in the freezer that needed to give way to three vital incoming pints of Hagen Daaz (good things come in threes), and voilà, soup! For fun, toss in some whole-wheat garlic croutons for crunch and bacon because–well, bacon needs no explanation, really.

Carrot, Leek and Apple Soup
(All measurements are estimates. Feel free to change up the recipe to suit yourself)

Peel four large carrots and chop into 1-inch rounds. Remove outer leaves from a large leek and discard. Wash the leek well and chop roughly. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add carrots and leek. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften and their color brightens.
Peel two apples (I used Granny Smith), core, chop and add to the pot. Add about 4 cups of chicken stock or water (enough to cover the carrot mixture by an inch or so), a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer until carrots are tender. Remove pot from heat and discard bay leaf.
In a blender, puree soup until silky smooth. Season with salt and pepper and thin with a little cream to desired consistency.

For Croutons:
Cube several slices of bread into 1 centimeter cubes. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. When it is very hot, add the cubed bread and a clove of peeled, smashed garlic. Toss gently to coat bread with oil and cook until brown and crispy. The oil will be all absorbed. Salt generously, remove from pan and cool on a paper towel. Discard garlic.

WFD? Warm Lobster Salad with Rhubarb, Fiddleheads, and Bacon

What’s for dinner? Warm salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green Grapes and Tarragon, served over gently-poached Rhubarb and Fiddleheads.

Back in the day when I worked in a professional kitchen, I cooked lobsters by the tub-full around this time of year. It was nothing to add “cook and clean 20 lobster” to my already lengthy prep list every day and I had to be quick about it too. I may have winced the first few times, but eventually the task of grasping a live, writhing crustacean with my two hands and wringing him in two became as old hat as peeling potatoes.

Danny brought home a few lobster the other day, as they are at their most affordable right now, and it was fun to introduce Noah to them and show him the whole process. He was quite excited and couldn’t wait to eat them.

If you’ve only ever dropped a whole lobster into boiling water to cook it, allow me to show you another way that, I believe, produces better results.
The tail of the lobster is more delicate than say, the claws, and doesn’t need as long as a cooking time, so you start by separating the lobster into pieces. Here is a short video demonstrating how to do it (with Noah chirping away about how he wants to eat it).

Cooking your Lobster:

Once you have your lobster divided up into four parts (tail, head, claws and legs from claws), prepare a poaching liquid, or in French, a court bouillon.

1 large pot of cold water
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 4
1 onion, same as above
1 generous handful of parsley
5-6 whole peppercorns
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped

Bring everything to a boil and let simmer a few minutes. Skim out solids and discard; bring your fragrant liquid to a boil again and salt generously, as you would for pasta.

Now you are ready to poach your lobster! Boil the claws for 7 minutes, the legs 6 and the tail 3 minutes. Cool everything and remove from shells.

This recipe just kind of evolved, but the result was amazing. I knew I wanted to use bacon and some fresh tarragon from my garden, but that left me with an incredibly rich and poorly balanced dish! I decided to add some sweet green grapes and do a compote of rhubarb for some tartness. Fresh lemon supremes added a perfect element of citrus. I wondered if I had too many elements, but in this case more was indeed merrier!
I also did a lobster butter using the carcass of the lobster (instructions below) and this is what I tossed the salad with. It was fantastic.
Warm Salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green grapes, and Tarragon with Poached Rhubarb and Lobster Butter
Serves 2

Meat from one poached lobster
1/4 cup green grapes, sliced in half
1 lemon

8 slices thick slab bacon
2 Tablespoons fresh tarragon
1/2 cup lobster butter (recipe to follow)
poached rhubarb (recipe below)
fiddleheads, pre-blanched

For the poached rhubarb:

2 cups apple juice
5 or 6 thin stalks of rhubarb, washed

Slice rhubarb diagonally in to 1 inch lengths. In a medium pot, bring apple juice to a boil. Add rhubarb and turn off the burner. Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes and occasionally check the rhubarb for doneness with a knife. Remove when tender. Time will vary depending on thickness of rhubarb. Keep at room temperature.
For the lobster butter:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 whole black peppercorns
2 lobster carcasses, crushed slightly
1 pound butter, cubed

In a heavy-bottomed pot, sweat leek, onion and carrot in olive oil. With the heat on medium-high, add lobster carcasses and color them. Keep stirring the mixture, scraping the sticky parts off the bottom and being careful not to burn anything. When the carcasses take on a nice red color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter. As the butter melts, stir the mixture a few times.
Allow to cook very gently for a half an hour or so. Turn off heat and allow to
cool. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, heat over a low flame until the butter re-melts, strain through a fine sieve and discard the lobster carcases and vegetables. You should have a beautiful, golden and fragrant lobster butter.

For the warm salad:

Slice whole lobster tail in half lengthwise (pictured above on the left). Roughly chop claws and leg meat. Cube slab bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Fry until golden, dry on a paper towel and reserve. Cut lemon into supremes and roughly chop those supremes. Chop tarragon into 1/2 inch lengths.
In a saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of lobster butter. Add the two tail pieces, cut side down and heat gently, basting with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan a keep warm. Melt 1/4 cup of the lobster butter in the same pan. Add lemon supremes and swirl in the hot butter until they disintegrates into little pieces. Add chunked lobster, bacon, green grapes and tarragon to the pan and coat in the lemon-butter mixture. Heat gently while you add salt to taste.
Caution: do NOT cook over high heat OR more than a few minutes or your lobster will over cook and be rubbery and your grapes will turn to mush.
Turn off heat and reserve.

In another pan, saute fiddleheads in the remaining lobster butter.

To Dress:

Microwave the poached rhubarb to warm it slightly and place in the center of the plate. Place the 1/2 tails of lobster, cut side down, on top of the rhubarb. Top with half of the warm lobster and grape mixture and drizzle a little lobster butter around the plate. Add fiddleheads to plate any way you like and serve.