Quick Thoughts on Food and Travel
and an improvised mushroom soup recipe
I’m having a lovely, slow morning surrounded by trees and the warm emotional cocoon that can only come from visiting people you had almost forgotten how much you care about, eating with them, and, if you happen to be in Wisconsin, visiting the phantasmagorical Midwestern answer to Hearst Castle that is the House on the Rock.
In a predictable turn of events, I have had too much fun with old college friends in Madison this week to get as much done as I was hoping. As such, my promised Chicago (and Madison!) recommendations post is going out to everyone as a bonus post this Friday instead of being a paid subscriber extra, like future recs will be.
This trip has been a vital, energizing break from reality, and food is a big reason why. The idea that food is the great connector is a cliché at this point, but the simple power of sharing a meal never ceases to amaze me. In the past two weeks, I’ve had a shatteringly perfect croissant filled with black truffle cream at a fancy spot in Chicago (yes, I forgot to photograph it, like a person with ADHD) and some slightly less perfect raspberry and pistachio macaron in Madison, eaten while my host cackled with glee about how everyone he had ever brought to this bakery had been wildly impressed. He had specifically taken me there to listen to me systematically break down what was wrong with it.
This week, I got to continue my tradition of eating Himalayan food with my Midwest friend who spent a semester in Nepal, was strongly discouraged from foraging for what a quickly-downloaded mycology app assured me were oyster mushrooms since we were both in a state park and I am in no way a fungi expert, and decompressed from the sheer sensory overload of the House on the Rock (which contains the world’s largest carousel, more ivory than you’ve ever seen in one place, a shocking life-size model of a blue whale fighting a giant squid, a weirdly large number of statues of cryptid ladies with their tits out, bizarre ghostly “music machines” and oh yeah, also a house with an overlook and a lovely Japanese garden I guess) by eating ice cream at a cute little gas station on the side of the road.
Food is good like that. It touches everything we do.
I’m going to leave you today for a quick recipe for the mushroom soup I invented this week in an understocked kitchen full of defiantly dull knives (my host enjoys taunting me about how bad they are). We didn’t have much in the fridge, but necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
Improvised Mushroom Soup
(serves three as a main course, with surprisingly few leftovers)
3 tbsp olive oil, and more as needed
1 white onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dried tarragon
3 pounds crimini mushrooms, or mixed mushrooms of your choice
1/2 cup cooking sherry
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Dice the onion and mince the garlic. I was using a slightly questionable knife, but you should use the sharpest one in your kitchen.
Roughly the mushrooms, and get out the largest Dutch oven or frying pan you have.
Warm your pan over medium-high heat, and add a test piece of onion to check that it’s up to temperature. Then, saute your onions until translucent (about 5 minutes), and add the garlic, bay leaf, and tarragon shortly after.
Making sure you have enough oil in your pan, add the chopped mushrooms and saute until crispy. There are a lot of mushrooms to go through, so if you’re a more responsible cook than I was while making this up, work in batches to make sure you aren’t crowding your pan.
Once the mushrooms are done and you’ve got a good fond (that’s French for the crispy bits) on the bottom of the pan, deglaze with your sherry and lemon juice. Use your spatula to release said crispy bits, and add the can of cream of mushroom.
If you’ve been using a frying pan, transfer the soup to a large saucepan at this point. If you’re using a Dutch oven, you’re doing great. Regardless, turn the heat down to a simmer and walk away for the next half hour or so.
Now, taste for seasoning and if it needs more salt (it will), this is your moment to get that right. I also struggled to make this soup bright enough, so if it needs some extra tarragon or lemon, add it now.
Blend with, if you’re lucky, an immersion blender, or in my case, transfer in batches to a single serving Nutribullet.
Taste again, because the flavors will have concentrated due to the pureeing process.
Serve with, if you have them (I did not) some chives and a fresh cheese like chevre or ricotta