Saturday, November 16, 2013

Delicious Memories of the Crescent H Ranch

After my freshman and sophomore years of college during the summers, I worked at guest ranch called the Crescent H in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (and also its sister ranch, The Firehole, in West Yellowstone, Montana). I somehow cajoled many of my college friends to join me, and we had some great times. It's also where I got some professional cooking experience, first as a prep cook, and later doing breakfast and lunch on my own.

That's me, top left, at the tender age of 19, pictured with Bruno and Wayne, the two head chefs, and Kris, the pastry chef, on the right. Fun fact: Bruno and Kris fell in love while working together at the ranch and have been married for about 26 years now, I'd guess. They have two grown kids, and they still cook at the Firehole Ranch in Montana! And in the picture below, I am in the raspberry polka-dotted sweater, middle left, acting as Vanna White, highlighting a couple of celebrity interlopers in our group photo. Why Ackroyd and Hanks joined us, who knows?

The summer after my junior year of college, I decided to switch things up and work at a salmon cannery in Cordova, Alaska, which is a whole other Oprah show. But some of my college buddies, including my friend, Todd, stayed on at the ranch as a waiter, working with another chef called Ken.

Apparently, one of Ken's specialties was a mushroom-Brie soup that everyone loved, and somehow Todd managed to wheedle the recipe out of him, but only if he promised never to share it. All these years later, Todd has kept his promise, much to my frustration and annoyance. But I searched online until I found a similar recipe that looked ideal. I never had Chef Ken's signature dish so I can't compare, but I can attest that this version is delicious!

Then last night when I got home after choir practice, it was already 9:30pm. So I stopped for a carton of steamed rice at No.1 Chinese, and then reheated the leftover soup (which had thickened in the fridge overnight), added some fresh spinach for color and a little extra nutrition, and a small hunk of leftover pot roast that I diced up to form a stroganoff of sorts served over rice. Am I not culinarily creative and clever?! Who needs Chef Ken and his secrets? Good food is meant to be shared!

Wild Mushroom-Brie Soup
(Source: adapted from FoodSwoon)

1 1/2 pounds wild mushrooms, sliced (I used a mix of oyster, shitake, and Baby Bella)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 cup sherry (I used cream sherry)
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup Brie cheese, crumbled in pieces (white rind removed)
Pinch of cayenne (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper
Optional garnish: green onions or chopped fresh parsley

Add a tablespoon of butter to a skillet and cook the mushrooms until brown on each side, being careful not to crowd them. Remove mushrooms, set aside. Add another tablespoon of butter and cook in batches until the remaining mushrooms are browned.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery and garlic and cook until soft, approximately five to seven minutes. Add the thyme, flour and pinch of cayenne. Stir constantly until a light roux forms, approximately three minutes. Add the sherry, increase the heat to medium-high and let the mixture come to a boil. Add the stock and half-and-half and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for ten minutes.  

With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Or, let the soup cool and blend it in batches in a blender before returning to the pot. Add mushrooms and let soup come to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the brie and whisk to incorporate. Add the cream and simmer for ten minutes. Taste. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with green onions or fresh chopped parsley.

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