Following the initial jubilation that folks liked our “Hello” (First column, Feb. 14), I immediately began to fret about what to write about next. Expressing that concern with Chef Phoebe, she looked at me — with literally a wink in her eye — and said: “You’ve been honest so far, Mandy. Tell them that two weeks before we were to open our doors, I had no idea on what our menu would look like!” She half-giggled (yes, there is such a thing as a half-giggle) and continued: “There’s no shame in saying that I was in a mad scramble to figure out what we’d be serving, is there?”
You see, after everything came together (the building purchase, initial retrofit and start-up capital, hiring our builders, etc.) it was a five-month rush to make a chocolate factory and store into a restaurant. Phoebe and I had our hands in everything to help. I recall asking her almost weekly if she had been working on a menu. Her response was always the same: “Don’t worry, Mandy.”
And, miraculously, at least to me, within 48 hours of greeting our first diners, there — on my makeshift desk in an empty room on the second floor of our late 1800s colonial farmhouse — was a handwritten list of what we would be serving on March 14, 2005. Oh my, I remember thinking to myself in half disbelief. There would be a birth of the Blue Paddle Bistro after all!
One of the first concoctions Chef Phoebe developed — and remains a true favorite of our friends — is her Paddle Cream of Mushroom soup. Whenever she makes it, it inevitably sells out by the end of the evening much to the dismay of our later guests.
According to Chef Phoebe, soups are the easiest thing to make. The problem stems with the person in the kitchen. “People try to make soups more than what they are. The reason why folks struggle with making a soup is that they don’t realize that it’s as easy as one, two, three.
“The tendency is to keep adding ingredients, thinking the more the merrier for it’s flavor,” she said.
Please remember that our column is called the Unpretentious Gourmet in part because Phoebe doesn’t work with recipes. (And her food is so consistent — another head scratcher.) She’ll be having her kitchen assistant, Erin LeDuc, measure out the ingredients for all her recipes for this column. So, when I overheard her saying: “Cook down the mushrooms until they become this weird color,” I had to laugh out loud. I mean, at least describe that color for me, okay? (Which she did in her recipe.)
So, without further ado, here is her easy-as-pie recipe for making our awesome Paddle Cream of Mushroom soup.
Chef Phoebe Bright and Mandy Hotchkiss are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero. You can reach them at Mandy@bluepaddlebistro.com or 372-4814
Paddle cream of mushroom soup
4 tablespoons kitchen oil or butter (not extra virgin olive oil)
1 medium white onion, chunky chopped (about 1 cup)
4 celery stalks, chunky chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
8 cups domestic mushrooms, sliced
½ cup white wine (you should never cook with any wine that you wouldn’t drink, so have a sip)
1 tablespoon chicken (or veggie) base mixed with 1 cup water
1 quart heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
A shake of the wrist of Tobasco sauce
1. Warm up a stock pot.
2. Add oil, celery, onion and caraway seeds.
3. Let cook down to a medium softness.
4. Add wine and continue cooking on medium heat until the mixture is a bit softer.
5. Add mushrooms and chicken/veggie stock.
6. On low heat, continue cooking until mushrooms are soft (at least 20 minutes – this slow process brings out the flavor of the mushroom to an oatmeal color as Chef Phoebe called it)
7. Add one quart of heavy cream.
8. Add salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste.
9. Let your soup simmer for another 15 minutes or so; do not bring to a boil.
If you have any questions, Chef Phoebe wants you to call her.