Category Archives: elegant food

‘Shroom Love

When you work in magazine publishing, there are days you love. Two-hour lunch days. Down time days right after the close. Days you want to last for weeks but only last a day or two at most. Then the worry of the status of the next round of articles kicks in. You find yourself walking or running to the nearest café or deli. Hopefully, they make decent food that you can gobble down at your desk while working. 

One of these lunch stops, the very French-American Café Clementine, that I frequented was a neighborhood favorite that often sold out of specific items. Café Clementine got so many complaints from hangry customers over the often sold out items that they put their menu online before the lunch rush. 

Hallelujah. I could check to see if my favorite lunch from them was available. Ah Mushroom soup! I was always in the mood for its creamy, comforting and mild but unique flavor. I could taste the fantastic blend of earthy mushrooms, pungent garlic and sweet onions. 

The texture and taste of this soup never disappointed. I could eat this soup at my desk—in an open office plan—and still embody happiness as if I was celebrating Christmas in the Swiss Alps with a view of tallest snowcapped mountains while I sat by a lovely fireplace. 

Upon seeing mushroom soup listed on Café Clementine’s daily online menu, I’d sprint across Broadway at 11:30ish before it sold out for the day. The usual lunch window (12pm-2pm) was too late for this soup. 

Its light gray color didn’t look very appetizing but the flavor and texture more than made up for it.

When I made it at home the first time, my son called it prison food. The texture was too thick. I used too many mushrooms and too many spices and not enough broth. 

The second time with added arrow root powder and soy creamer was a winner. It’s not an exact replica of Café Clementine’s mushroom soup but it comes very close. Try the baked mushroom topping for an umami experience.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Magical Mushroom Soup

Ingredients 
2 tbsp oil for frying
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1 tsp butter
4 cups sliced mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp arrowroot powder 
1/4 cup water or broth
1 heaping tbsp crushed garlic
A pinch of oregano
2 cups unsweetened dairy-free creamer (optional)

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Sautee onions till golden brown. Sprinkle with oregano.
2. Set aside onions and add butter and a little more oil if needed. Turn the heat up. Add mushrooms and let brown. Drain any excess water and return mushrooms to heat.
3. Add chicken broth, cooked onions and Worcestershire sauce. Let mushrooms simmer on low for 30 minutes or until tender.
4. Transfer mushroom, onion and broth mixture to a blender. Blend until mixture is pureed. 
5. Mix arrowroot powder with water or broth and add to blender. 
6. Add salt, garlic and oregano. Also add more broth or water if the mixture is too thick. Blend until smooth and creamy. Pour in a mixing bowl.
7. (Optional) Add 2 cups of cream and gently whisk. This step will make the soup a bit light and airy and ready to serve.

Crispy Mushroom Topping 

Ingredients
2 large portabella mushroom caps, cleaned with a damp cloth and sliced thin
Oil for frying
Sea salt 

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and lay mushroom slices flat. Make sure they don’t crowd each other.
3. Brush mushroom slices with oil and season with salt.
4. Bake mushrooms for 15 minutes, turn and bake for another 15 minutes. Use more oil if needed. 
5. Remove from oven and let cool and crisp up.

Avocado Crevettes

Soho. Spring 2013. Still lives. Galleries. Gray skies. Fashionably depressed cars gloomily snail along. Bumper to bumper traffic. The chatterbox mouth of the Holland Tunnel. Maybe a week after the close—about six days of slow torture in the magazine publishing world. My talented friend. Me. The long three-block sprint from our company’s office to our lunch date venue, Wine and Flowers. 

Bursting with white and pink peonies, and wine bottles everywhere, Wine and Flowers was not just a pretty Soho French restaurant, prime for a two-hour lunch getaway. It gave us life after a storm of work. We walked in loving the quiet happiness, and chose the restaurant’s only table by the only window that faced the sidewalk and dreary buildings across the street. 

Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with avocado crevettes—avocados stuffed with shrimp and topped with an amazing, creamy saffron sauce—later, and we were fans of Wine and Flowers for life, or until our company moved.

I thought back on all the authentic French food I’ve tasted over the years, and avocado crevettes remains a clear standout. Why? 

1. I’ve always loved the mild, earthy creaminess of undressed avocados. Just a little sprinkle of sea salt and you’re good. What a perfect vehicle for flavorful, juicy shrimp!

2. The flavor and texture of the shrimp was just right. There is always something so elegant about seafood that has been cooked well. 

3. The creamy saffron Marseillaise sauce was unbeatable in taste, color and smooth consistenct texture. 

In the recipe below, I’ve tried to recreate the unforgettable Marseillaise sauce at Wine and Flowers, only afterwards finding an even closer recipe in the NY Times cooking section. Alas, the recipe below is authentic and includes super French ingredients: the ever popular and expensive saffron threads, cream or vegan cream substitute and a dry white wine. 

Share it with your girlfriends, sisters, moms, and anyone else who will appreciate nice, simple, southern French cuisine.

Avocado Crevettes Recipe 

Ingredients 
4 medium ripe avocados
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup minced shallots 
2 tbsp minced garlic
8 jumbo shrimp
1/3 cup white wine
2 tbsp tomato paste 
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp of sour cream*
Chopped mixed herbs: basil, parsley, thyme 
Sea Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
1. Peel and halve avocados and season with sea salt. 
2. Heat oil in a pan and lightly brown shallots. 
3. Add the garlic and cook till fragrant.
4. Cook shrimp till beautiful, golden brown.
5. Pour in the white wine and simmer for three minutes.
6. Add tomato paste, saffron threads, and season with salt and pepper.
7. Remove shrimp and finish the sauce with cream and butter.
8. Top each avocado half with shrimp and drizzle with creamy saffron, tomato sauce.

*I used a soy creamer with added seasonings as a substitute for the sour cream and it worked perfectly.