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Informal cooking for lunch

These days many of my friends seem to prefer coming for lunch rather than for dinner. The informality seems to encourage long relaxed afternoons of pleasant conversation. Often people coming from a distance like being able to drive home in daylight, especially now that the days are getting shorter. However, lunch makes it more difficult for the cook as it shortens the time available for preparation.

I am suggesting a menu that keeps last-minute preparation to a minimum: Smoked salmon spread on toast points; pea and watercress soup with cream biscuits; smoked turkey salad; sour cream butter cake with berries and crème fraiche.

Chilled pea and watercress soup

Adapted from “Gourmet’s Holidays and Celebrationsâ€

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup sliced scallion

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups hot chicken broth

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas

1 1/2 teaspoons dried chervil, crumbled

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

White pepper to taste

1 bunch watercress, rinsed well, tough stems removed, and chopped coarse

1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan cook the scallion in the butter over moderate heat for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the broth, peas and seasonings and simmer until the peas are very tender.

Add the watercress and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. In a food processor, blend the mixture in batches for 10 seconds and puree it through a food mill or coarse sieve into a bowl. Let it cool.

Stir in the cream and chill the soup overnight, correct seasoning.

A tip from the Country Cook: canned chicken broth

This suggestion comes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Iâ€: Canned chicken broth is good when simmered with aromatic vegetables. Simmer for half an hour, allow to cool, strain and season. The recipe can be doubled or tripled according to your needs, and can be made way ahead and frozen.

2 1/2 cups of canned chicken broth

3 tablespoons each of sliced onions, carrots, and celery

1/2 cup white wine or 1/3 cup dry white vermouth

3 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme

For additional recipes, questions or comments, e-mail Country Cook Adina Simonson at countrycook1@hotmail.com.

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