With all the buzz surrounding French cooking these days, (thanks, Julia!) I couldn’t help but try this classic, chilled soup. And the timing was right, since all summer I’ve wanted to find a soup fit for the season, something I could rely on any day of the week, for any occasion, and still be interesting enough that I wouldn’t tire of eating it. Let's just say my expectations were high.

After a few failed attempts at two versions of gazpacho this summer, I returned to a tabbed page of Fine Cooking magazine and instantly knew, even before I made it, that this soup would be the one. I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that this soup is absolutely divine. It’s actually the only chilled soup you’ll ever need to learn because once you dip a spoon into the bowl and taste the creamy, almost custard-like consistency of leeks, potatoes and a fresh sprinkle of chives, you’ll understand.

The warmed-up version of this soup is nothing new here. I make it once a week during fall and winter, without thinking now. But it’s been hot, and the recent wave of wildfires hasn’t exactly been helping the air quality in Los Angeles. Even though summer is coming to an end (sigh), there is still plenty of time to give this recipe a try. As easy as this soup is to make, there are a couple of tricks that will ensure it’s always impressive and impeccably smooth.

The Blender. I normally go on and on about my immersion blender. I’ve dedicated entire posts to how obsessed I am with this kitchen appliance, and when it’s a bit cooler outside it always stays plugged in on the counter in case I decide to make soup on a whim. But this time, I set it aside and pulled out my red KitchenAid blender instead. The blender is essential, and while I don’t tend to give orders around here, absolutely mandatory to getting the consistency right. The blade configuration will give the soup its silky, wow factor.

The Sieve. I had really, really small Yukon potatoes, and the prospect of peeling them was an experience I wasn’t ready to commit to, so I threw them into the pot, skins and all. Even if you do peel the potatoes (which is recommended), you must, must put the blended soup through a sieve. It’s Part 2 of the blending process that will ensure that no lumps or bits of skin remain in the soup. It might take a little time (and elbow grease), but the final product is absolutely worth the effort.

The Cream. Did I mention this soup was French? You don’t actually need a lot (I used slightly less than the recommended 1 cup). It’s like giving a gift wrapped without a bow—you just wouldn’t do it. (Ok, you might, when time is short or you just don’t have enough spools of ribbon, but you get the idea.) In this case, the cream finishes the soup and imparts a subtly sweet flavor that lingers in the mouth after every bite.
Presentation. Not as essential as the blender or sieve, but a soup this lovely deserves a proper presentation. When I eat this alone, any bowl will do, so long as it’s sprinkled with freshly cracked pepper and garnished with minced chives. But for company last weekend I poured some into martini glasses, which was a fun way to add some visual interest at the table.

Vichyssoise (Chilled Potato and Leek Soup)

Recipe courtesy Fine Cooking

4 medium leeks, trimmed and washed as directed opposite, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 3 cups)
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 4 cups)
2 cups whole milk
Kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives, for garnish


Combine the leeks, potatoes, milk, and 2 cups water in a 4-quart pot.

Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add 1-1/2 tsp. salt, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until a potato slice falls apart when you poke it with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream, and let cool briefly.

Purée the soup, preferably using a regular blender and working in batches, filling it only half way each time.

Strain the puréed soup through a fine sieve. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (stirring prevents a skin from forming), and then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Before serving, thin the soup with water if necessary—it should be the consistency of heavy cream. Season to taste with salt. Serve cold in chilled bowls, garnished with the chives.

Golden Beet Soup with Mascarpone Chive Cream

This spring, one of Bouchon’s nightly specials was golden beet puree. Paired with a dry chardonnay, it was a delicious first course and made me wonder where this vegetable had been all my life. The last time I had beet soup was in Poland, after a terrible river raft trip in the pouring rain and my feet were so cold I wasn’t paying any attention to what the borscht tasted like, just that it was warm.

Beets aren’t very common in my kitchen (and I’d be willing to bet most kitchens), so this soup will be unexpected for anyone who tries it. The flavors blend together so well you just swallow a big spoonful and smile. The cool mascarpone with a hint of onion flavor from the chives is a beautiful combination, and when lingered over a glass of wine, makes for an exceptional light dinner (we had an arugula salad with goat cheese alongside) or first course of Thanksgiving or other autumnal dinner party.

It tasted almost identical to what we had in the restaurant, but Andrew thought they might have used pumpkin instead of butternut squash. Next time I make this I’ll use pumpkin instead and see which version we prefer, but considering that I recreated this dish from our favorite restaurant using only my taste buds and an immersion blender, I’m very, very proud.

Golden Beet Soup with Mascarpone Chive Cream

There are many ways to garnish this soup. I remained true to the original soup I tried, but you could also make pesto with the beet greens, use goat cheese, or fried sage leaves.

Wine pairing: Rusack 2007 Chardonnay


Extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 golden beets (skin on, trimmed at the stem and leaves removed)
1/2 of 1 medium butternut squash, seeds removed
1 large onion, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
Zest of one lemon, plus additional juice to taste
4 cups chicken stock
1 to 2 tsps. cider vinegar
Mascarpone and chive cream (recipe follows)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle squash with olive oil and salt and set on a lined baking sheet. Wrap each beet in foil (this will make the skin easier to remove) and place on the same baking sheet. Roast vegetables for 40-45 minutes until fork tender. Let cool slightly, then gently peel the skin off each beet under running water. Slice in quarters and reserve in a medium bowl. Scoop out the butternut squash from its skin and add it to the bowl with the beets.

In a large stockpot, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, garlic and cook for about five minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add beets and butternut squash and stir to combine. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Puree soup with an immersion blender. Add cider vinegar and butter to soup and thin with more broth, if desired. Add lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Mascarpone chive cream, add chopped chives to 1/4 cup Mascarpone and stir to combine. Season with a bit of salt. Dollop a small spoonful into each bowl and serve.

Perfect Cauliflower Soup


I tend to like almost everything that comes out of Tyler Florence’s kitchen. So when I turned to a beautiful photo of cauliflower soup in his cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate, I didn’t think twice about making it as soon as possible. But let's just say things didn't work out. (I suppose I should preface with a note about how I still love Tyler and although I was disappointed with his soup, I’ve moved on.) So, on to the disaster.

Most soups begin by sautéing a base of onions, garlic, or other vegetables, then adding liquid, usually stock, and letting it bubble away. Tyler's recipe began by simmering cream, then adding the onions and cauliflower and boiling them until they were tender. Although a red flag was raised when the recipe for what looked to be a perfectly delicious soup called for an entire stick of butter and one quart of cream, I followed the recipe exactly. This resulted in a soup that looked nothing like the glossy photo in his cookbook. In fact, there was hardly a resemblance. Not to mention that the milk frothed like latte foam when I used my immersion blender. Oh, it was a sad evening.  While the flavors were certainly there (the scent of butter seeping into cream, infused with thyme, was almost heavenly), I couldn't bear to look into my Dutch oven.


I was ready to give up, but wanted to at least attempt saving it. I tried to thicken the mixture by adding shreds of French bread and letting them soften before pureeing the soup again. It helped, but the soup, I later reasoned, was beyond saving.

There was, however, one glistening beam of hope shining down from the fluorescent kitchen light: the topping of Tyler’s soup was perfect. A mixture of toasted bread crumbs, thyme, and reserved cauliflower florets provided the satisfying crunch I tend to look for with creamy soups. So, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but I vowed to fix the problem immediately by creating my own version of cauliflower soup that was thick, healthy, and wouldn’t make me want to cry.

I turned to my Potato and Leek soup as a starting point. I’ve made this soup often enough that I rely on memory when making it, and it always, always, is the perfect velvety consistency. I reduced the number of potatoes, added cauliflower and thyme, and miraculously managed to create my ideal soup experience, perfect for the rainy weather we’ve been having.

Perfect Cauliflower Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 heads cauliflower, core removed and cut into florets
2 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
Several sprigs thyme, bundled with a string
6-8 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Melt butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are soft, about five minutes. Add chopped potatoes, cauliflower florets and thyme bundle to the pot. Add chicken stock until liquid just covers the vegetables. Bring soup to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, about ten to fifteen minutes.

2. Turn off heat and let soup cool for several minutes before pureeing. Using an immersion blender, puree mixture in 60-second intervals until lumps are removed. Add heavy cream, butter,  salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

3. To serve, return pot to low heat ten minutes before serving. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with desired garnishes, a drizzle of olive oil, and serve.

Notes on garnishes: You have a lot of options for how to finish your soup. Here are a few suggestions

  • Toasted breadcrumbs with thyme and pine nuts: In a small saucepan, toast breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and thyme leaves until brown and crisp

  • Roasted cauliflower florets: You can roast these in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees (dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper) or saute in a bit of butter in a skillet

  • If you have nothing else – chopped parsley!


Rosemary White Bean Soup

One of the first soups I made at home and fell in love with was white bean soup. It was also the first soup I made with my immersion blender, which I’ve already plugged on this site. I’m telling you, if you love soup, you simply must have this gadget.

Paired with woody rosemary, this creamy, simple soup is always satisfying, and very straightforward to make. I’ve tried several variations over the years. Some recipes called for basil instead of rosemary, others lacked cream, and some soups skipped pureeing altogether and left the beans in tact to mingle with wilted greens suspended in broth. As enthusiastic as I initially was about these soups, I always went back to rosemary, and essentially the easiest preparation which I have found to be the most luxurious and delicious. Why mess with a good thing?

Cooking notes: With the liquid to vegetable ratio, I tend to add enough liquid to just cover the ingredients that I’m leaving to boil. I find this method usually results in an ideal consistency when it comes time to puree. If your pureed soup is too thick, you can always add more stock to thin it.

Rosemary White Bean Soup

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 branch fresh rosemary
4 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed clean from their juices
5 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream (optional)

In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, warm olive oil and add onions and carrot. Sauté until the onions are translucent and carrot is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for three more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary branch, chicken stock and bay leaf.

Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the beans are soft. Remove the rosemary branch and bay leaf.

With an immersion blender, puree soup until desired consistency is reached. If using, stir in whipping cream. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and ladle into bowls. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Farmhouse Butternut Squash Soup

The last time I made butternut squash soup, I took the easy route. Oh, I made a crunchy sage topping, but you couldn’t find me breaking down squash that night. Until recently, I had major problems with my peeler. My old peeler was ok for thin carrot skins, but completely useless when it came to thicker-skinned vegetables. That’s when I turned to the boxed soup version and Costco’s pre-cut bags that spoiled me over the holidays (which, by the way, I completely endorse). Now, armed with my set of three brightly colored blade cutters from Williams-Sonoma, there’s nothing I can’t handle, even after a long day at work.


The slight sweetness of the apple really cuts through the heartiness of the squash, but the flavors blend well. The recipe didn't mention anything about saving the squash seeds, but I rinsed and toasted them, and used them as garnish along with the crispy bacon. A dash of cider vinegar wakes everything up, and even though I only had two slices of bacon in the fridge and no carrots, this soup was still a hit.

Farmhouse Butternut Squash Soup

Recipe adapted from Gourmet

4 bacon slices
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 lb carrots, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
3 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Cook bacon in a 4- to 6-qt heavy pot over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Add garlic and caraway seeds to fat in pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add squash, carrots, apple, thyme, bay leaves, broth, water, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and boil, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard thyme and bay leaves.

Purée about 4 cups soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Return to pot and season with salt, pepper, and vinegar. Serve topped with crumbled bacon.

Leek and Cauliflower Soup


I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love soup this time of year. And that I love cauliflower. So, really, you should have been expecting this post.

Soup and good crusty bread can be the perfect meal, but special textural additions like croutons, herbs, or in this case, grilled cauliflower, will always elevate an already wonderful soup. Grilling or roasting cauliflower releases its nutty flavor, providing a soft crunch with every bite.

Leek and Cauliflower Soup

Recipe adapted from Caviar & Codfish

Serves 6


2 medium leeks, sliced into rounds and washed
1 medium sweet onion
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
4-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
salt and pepper
1 T butter
¼ cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan, saute onion, garlic and leeks with a bit of olive oil, until they soften but do not brown. Add cauliflower and enough stock to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook until cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes. Before pureeing, take out a few florets of cauliflower, set aside.

Puree the soup in batches in the blender. then add soup back to saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in cream. Keep warm over a low heat.

Slice your reserved cauliflower florets thinly, so you get cute little shapes that look like trees. Add butter to a small frying pan. When melted, add cauliflower slices and brown in the butter on both sides, taking care not to burn. Remove from pan to a small plate. Do the same with the leek rounds.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with the cauliflower trees and leek rounds.

Asparagus-Lemon Soup with Grilled Rosemary Shrimp


In case you haven’t noticed, I’m really into soup this season. Ever since fall hit I’ve made one almost every week, and often make grilled cheese and boxed tomato soup for Friday night dinners. Besides its comfort food quality, one of the reasons I love soup so much is because of my immersion blender. If you love soup as much as I do, I highly recommend you invest in this amazing kitchen gadget.

It is entirely possible to ladle batch after batch of soup into a blender, but omitting this step from a recipe is so much easier. Plus, for those of us not blessed with dishwashers, it keeps everything in one pot. Before my husband gave me mine for Christmas last year, soup wasn’t exactly a hot menu item at our house. There are plenty of soups that don’t need to be pureed, like Tortilla Soup or the recently featured Mushroom-Barley Soup, but an immersion blender opens up a world of new possibilities.

I first pulled this recipe from a local California magazine long before I had an immersion blender. It sounded good, and I knew one day I’d get around to making it. And I’m so glad I did!


This soup knows how to be center stage. The contrast of pink, grilled shrimp against the silky sage green of the soup gives a beautiful presentation. When it comes to the marinade, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I used all of the ingredients, but less of each. I used a few spoonfuls of Dijon here, a clove of garlic here…

The consistency was medium: not too runny, but not as thick and hearty as say, Potato and Leek soup. It comes down to your personal preference. Next time I might experiment by adding some potato for added thickness.

The details are essential to this soup. Parmesan and a last drizzle of lemon add complexity, and the tangy shrimp a new texture. The recipe would feed 4-6 as a first course, but as a main dish, my husband and I ate it all.

Asparagus-Lemon Soup with Grilled Rosemary Shrimp

Recipe courtesy Chef Rick Manson, Central Coast Magazine (April 2007)

1/3 c Dijon mustard
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly grated black pepper

8-10 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the soup
2 c chopped yellow onions (about 2 large onions)
4 Tbsp butter
4 c chicken stock
1 lb asparagus
juice of one half lemon, or to taste
¼ c cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese
chopped parsley

To make the marinade, combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and puree for 30 seconds or until smooth and creamy. Pour the marinade into a glass or stainless-steel casserole. Place shrimp in the marinade, pushing down on them to make sure they are completely covered in the sauce. Marinate, refrigerated for at least one hour.

Melt butter in a large pot and simmer the onions until very soft and golden, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, trim the tips from the asparagus and reserve. Cut about 1 inch from the “butt” ends of the asparagus spears. Don’t try to remove all the tough parts, just the very woody ends. Chop spears into ½-inch pieces and drop into the boiling chicken stock. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until asparagus is very soft.

Ladle hot soup into a food processor or blender and process until soup is very smooth. Return puree to the pot. (Nicole note: I used an immersion blender.) Add the reserved asparagus tips and simmer until they are tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, cream, and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat grill pan to medium. Grill the marinated shrimp for 1- minutes per side until cooked through.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Place two grilled shrimp on each bowl. Garnich with freshly grated parmesan, chopped parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Potato and Leek Soup


This soup is one of my new favorite obsessions. When I saw Pinch My Salt’s Potato and Leek Soup it instantly went on my weekly menu and I loved it so much I know I'll be making it frequently through the fall and winter. The soup is smooth, filling, and laced with subtle flavors that will warm you up on a cool night.



I purchased the recommended six potatoes, but while peeling them decided that 1) I hate peeling potatoes and 2) four potatoes would be plenty for two people. I froze what we didn’t eat so I’ll have a great dinner ready when I don’t have time to plan something elaborate. I’ve made the necessary adjustments to the recipe below, including the addition of some garlic. This soup makes a lovely presentation on its own with some crusty bread, but I dressed up each bowl with fresh parsley and crunchy bacon.



Potato and Leek Soup

Adapted from Pinch My Salt

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 large onion or 2 small onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 large russet potatoes, chopped into ½ inch chunks
3 14 oz cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh parsley and chopped bacon for garnish (optional)

Melt butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onions, leeks and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are limp, about five minutes.

Add chopped potatoes to pan and pour in the chicken broth until liquid just covers the potatoes. (Note: If you use more or less potatoes, you may need to adjust your stock measurements accordingly.) Bring soup to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about ten to fifteen minutes.

Turn off heat and let soup cool for several minutes before pureeing. Using an immersion blender, puree mixture in 60 second intervals until lumps are removed. The soup will be quite thick. Add 1/3 cup water, heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste and stir until cream is absorbed.

To serve, return pot to low heat ten minutes before serving. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with desired garnishes and serve.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

In the next few sentences I'll be explaining why it’s been so long since I’ve eaten mushrooms, but please don't let this story deter you from making this wonderfully easy soup. I didn’t always have such a strong aversion, but one negative experience nearly ruined me. I was eating at one of my favorite Italian restaurants – the small, only locals know the address kind of place – when I decided to branch out (my fatal mistake). I always ordered the pumpkin ravioli but somehow convinced myself to try the mushroom polenta. I had recently seen an episode on Food Network that featured polenta as a lovely side dish similar to mashed potatoes, but what came out of the restaurant kitchen was not what I had in mind.

The polenta was a square block smothered in mushroom ragu. For me, it was actually inedible. I have never – never – had an experience where I couldn’t actually eat what was on my plate. I took one bite, maybe two, and was so repulsed by the smell that I just couldn’t put any more on my fork. My husband, who enjoys most foods, was equally repulsed. We still frequented the restaurant (avoiding all things mushroom, of course), but after that night I forgot about the vegetable altogether until I saw a picture of this soup in Everyday Food.

I realize this appalling story might not be the best introduction to the recipe being featured, but let’s be clear that it was this very recipe that pulled me out of my mushroom coma. This soup comes together very quickly (under 30 minutes) – perfect for Cooking After Five-types. My barley was not quick cooking, so before starting on the soup I cooked it according to the package directions so it would be ready when I was. And when I curled up on the couch and took in a big mouthful of mushrooms, I was very, very relieved.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

Recipe adapted from Everyday Food

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 1/2 cups canned reduced-sodium beef broth
1 cup barley (quick cooking or pearled)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 chunk (1 ounce) Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler


If barley is not quick cooking, cook according to package directions. In a medium pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil and add barley. Reduce heat and simmer for 50-60 minutes until barley is tender.

For the soup, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add broth and 2 cups water to pan; bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to a simmer; add barley (if quick cooking), and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. If barley is already cooked, add it now and stir together. Remove soup from heat; stir in parsley and lemon juice. Garnish with shaves of Parmesan cheese and serve.