Tonight I did something that I do far too often: I bailed on a party.
I really didn’t WANT to bail this time. It was being hosted by a good friend from work, and her Christmas parties are a lot of fun, and it started early, which is important to me, as I am no longer a stay-out-until-the-sun-comes-up kind of lady. However, regardless of all today’s assurances that this is NOT the apocalypse, you wouldn’t have known it looking out my front door. It was pouring rain, the wind was gusting, the temperature was dropping, and we were supposed to get snowy sleety rain later. The trip from my house to my friend’s house is an hour-long journey that includes bus, metro and walking, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
But I didn’t feel good about it. I felt like a loser for being such a coward in the face of a little (freezing, blowing) rain. So what is the best thing to do when you’ve bowed out of something and don’t feel good about yourself as a result? Get busy doing something you are obligated to do that doesn’t involve braving the weather.
So I decided to get a jump-start on the holiday cooking by making the mushroom soup for our Christmas dinner.
For the past couple of years, we’ve gone out for dinner on Christmas Day. I find Christmas a bit lonely. My father lived in Montreal until two years ago, and so we usually had Christmas dinner with him and his family. They’ve moved on to northern-er pastures, however, and my mother also lives far away, and so on Christmas it’s just my husband and me and the cats. This makes me a little sad.
So for the past two years we’ve had Christmas dinner at our favourite Ethiopian restaurant. It’s been great: quiet but warm, with plenty of other non-holiday-observant types dropping lentils and injera on themselves. A trip out of the house so I don’t feel cooped up, and lots of heavy food to keep my husband happy.
However, this year, we own a house. There’s something much more Christmassy about making Christmas dinner if you’re making it in your own house. So I proclaimed myself game, and I think my husband was a bit relieved that we wouldn’t be trekking halfway across town, even for yemesser watt and gommen.
We’ve invited a friend to join us, so that will make it much more festive. The plan is to break out the stand mixer and pasta attachments and whip up some ravioli. And as a starter, mushroom soup.
I was planning to buy mushrooms on Monday; I didn’t anticipate needing a self-affirming activity tonight. I’m therefore going to make the soup with the two bags of dried shiitake in my pantry. I’ve never made a soup of only dried mushrooms before, so we’ll see how this goes. Fortunately, I picked up some fresh dill at the supermarket when I did my massive pre-holiday grocery haul today.
I will loosely base my recipe on this one from Smitten Kitchen, because, well, why not. Sure, I don’t have fresh mushrooms, and I don’t want grains in my soup, and I don’t see the need for tomato paste, and I’ll be adding dill when no dill is called for. Which is to say, I just printed up this recipe as if I were going to make use of it, but basically I’m just doing what you do when you make soup: sauteing some vegetables, adding some broth and flavourings and other stuff, and letting the soup… soup itself up.
(This is also a good time to get a head start on the butternut squash for the ravioli.)
So first, the mushrooms must soak. They sit in a bowl of hot water for a half hour or more, with a little plate on top to hold them under. When they’re done, you have a bowl of nice fat juicy mushrooms and some delicious mushroomy broth.
Then you remove the mushrooms – keep the soaking water to add to the soup – and rinse and slice them. Remove the stems, which are tough, and add them to the stock bag in the freezer to impart the rest of their mushroomy flavour next time you make stock.
Chop an onion and a couple of carrots and saute them for 10 minutes or so. Add two cloves of chopped garlic. I also chopped the dill stems and threw them in here, saving the fronds for later in the process. (You could add some dried dill here as well.) Toss in the sliced mushrooms. Add a teaspoon or so of salt for now. Then pour a bit of sherry over it all if you like.
Add the mushroom soaking water very carefully – don’t disturb or add the sediment at the bottom of the soaking bowl. It’s mushroom dirt. Throw it away. Add more stock or water to the soup if you need it, depending on how thin you want it (you may need to add more as it simmers.) (I added a couple of cups of the Mock Chicken Stock I made a couple of days ago.)
Let it simmer away for as long as you like, at least 20 minutes or so unless you like very firm veggies. Taste the carrots occasionally to see if they are as soft or firm as you want them. Salt as necessary. I threw in the dill fronds about halfway through, as well as some Bragg’s to add depth and salt, and some pepper near the end. And at the very end, some acid – I like sherry vinegar with mushrooms, but apple cider or white wine vinegar would work, as would a dash of lemon.
Any soup that’s made ahead will need more salt, pepper and acid at serving time. You’ll also need to add more fresh dill so the herb will be nice and green and punchy.
You could totally add barley or farro or rice or whatever grain you like to this at the beginning, and you could start with a roux and throw in some cream if you wanted a creamy soup. I’m hoping this will make a nice light starter for a heavy pasta meal, so none of that will be necessary.
I’m still a little sad that I didn’t make the (Herculean) effort to pull on my galoshes and trek across town to my friend’s party. Nevertheless, having a pot of Christmas soup to show for it makes me less of a loser, I think.
Tomorrow will likely involve cookies and pasta filling. Christmas dinner at home is starting to look almost as good as yemesser watt.