Cream soups add an elegant touch to formal cool-weather occasions. These soups involve many of the same procedures and ingredients as other soups: aromatics, broth, vegetables or seafood, and of course whole milk or cream. A bisque (“twice cooked”) usually refers to a cream soup containing seafood such as shrimp, crawfish, or lobster, though some tomato cream soups are also called bisques. Some people use béchamel as a base for cream soups, but a proper cream soup base is velouté, a white sauce made from a light stock. Velouté also makes the best base for a cheese soup, which, if you think about it, can well be considered the ultimate incarnation of a cream soup.
If you have good stock on hand, then by all means use it. If not, you can use store-bought stock, but before you do, it must be enriched with a mirepoix and a bouquet garni. Add onion, celery, and carrots to the stock, along with thyme, bay, and parsley, and let it sweat on a low heat for about an hour or so. Strain the stock. A light roux with ½ cup butter and ½ cup plain flour will thicken about a quart of stock. This is your soup base, to which add a cup of whole milk or for an exceptionally rich dish, whole cream, and about two cups of your choice of meat or vegetables diced, cooked in butter, and puréed. Let the soup rest on low heat before serving with a swirl of whole cream. This recipe makes about six 12-oz. servings.
This sumptuous brunch dish is a riff on eggs Florentine. In culinary parlance, “Florentine” indicates a recipe contains spinach, which in this instance is enriched with mushrooms, crab meat, and plenty of butter.
To poach eggs, heat water to a depth of about 2 inches in a in a saucepan or skillet. Some will tell you to add vinegar to keep the whites intact, but in my experience (which is vast and defining) it’s best to use the very freshest eggs possible and drain their excess liquid by breaking them into a tea strainer. Bring water to a to a simmer, then reduce the heat so that the surface of the liquid barely shimmers; in France, where of course they have terms for such things, they will say that the water is souriant: “smiling.” Gently pour the eggs into the water and, with a large spoon, ladle hot water over the yolk and repeat until the yolk whitens. Cook the egg for about 3 or 4 minutes until the whites are set and the yolks are still soft. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a large bowl of lukewarm water. Drain on paper towels before serving.
For the sauce, add a quarter cup plain flour to a half stick of melted butter over medium heat and stir until the bubbling subsides Whisk in a pint of whole milk and cook over low heat until thickened and smooth. Stir in a half pound thawed frozen leaf spinach that’s been squeezed and coarsely chopped, along with a half-pound sauteed fresh mushrooms. Artichokes are a nice option. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Reduce heat to low and keep warm. Prepare a pound of picked lump crab meat by heating with butter, lemon juice and a little black pepper. To serve, place a Holland rusk or slice of thick toast on a large saucer. Cover with creamed spinach, add a heaping spoonful of buttered crab meat, and, with the back of the spoon, make a depression and add an egg.