It's been quite a while since I've posted, and lots of notable things have happened in the time that's passed. Life lately has been hectic, stressful and, quite honestly, a bit of a pain in my ass ... but that's another tale for another time.
For now, I'll just stick to something worth gushing about: I got to go to dinner at Joanne Weir's house!
Let me back up a bit. Back when I had more leisurely time and a working television, my Saturday activity of choice was to watch PBS food shows back to back. I tuned classics like Lidia's Italy and America's Test Kitchen, but I also loved Joanne Weir's Cooking School. There was something about Joanne's easy confidence, the warm colors of her kitchen, and her seemingly effortless Mediterranean recipes that made her show the most approachable of them all.
Years later, I had a chance not just to meet her, but to taste her food. She showed us how to make asparagus with an olive oil-walnut allioli, and it was hands down the best mayonnaise I've ever had in my entire life. (The secret is a lot of whisking by hand.) At the time, Joanne was in the stages of planning her very own restaurant, Copita, and as we parted ways that day, she made me and Camilla promise to come in and say hi once it opened. (As luck would have it, it was the last place where Camilla and I had a meal together before she moved away to Slovenia!) It left a true impression on me, the way Joanne's ease and warmth came through in person just as much as it did behind a TV screen.
Last month, I got an email in my inbox titled "Invite to dinner at Joanne Weir's house." Naturally, I responded with a resounding yes immediately. But there was just one catch: we all were asked to bring a dish made from her latest book, Kitchen Gypsy, a half-cookbook, half-memoir that details her love affair with food and cooking and where it's taken her all around the globe. I'm a fairly confident home cook, but still, I froze. How does one pull off presenting a Joanne Weir creation to Joanne herself? Then my eyes landed on a creamy carrot soup, flavored with anise seeds and Pernod, an anise-scented liqueur.
The day of Joanne's dinner party, I walked up to her place, a Victorian in Pacific Heights, sweaty, late, and nervous, carrying a gallon of hot soup in my hands. But then I stepped into the eye-popping room that is her kitchen, and all my worries evaporated as I soaked in shelves and shelves decorated with decorative platters that she'd collected from all over the world.
I laid my soup on a table filled with show-stopping dishes, from citrus salads and arroz con pollo to roasted carrot hummus and glorious strawberry jam layer cakes. At that moment, it occurred to me that everyone at the dinner must've felt the same pressure, as everything looked especially flawless!
Gracious host that she was, Joanne poured everybody glasses of wine. She told some of her favorite stories, like the one about how a complaint about fly in a bottle of wine led her to a trip to Bordeaux and an unforgettable visit to one of the region's greatest wineries, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, where she tried some of the greatest wines of her life. She jumped to the blender to make Mexican chocolate milkshakes spiked with tequila for everyone. And she paid generous compliments to all the food that was on her table that night — including mine.
"Your soup is incredible," she turned to me to say. I had to admit she was right, although I couldn't take any credit for it; it was her recipe, after all. The toasted aniseed and anise liqueur gave it a hauntingly complex flavor, and the soup, which had been passed through a fine chinois, was impossibly creamy.
I'm looking forward to making it again. And when I do, of course I'll think of Joanne.
Carrot Soup with Anise
Adapted from Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food by Joanne Weir
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
- 6 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
- Kosher salt and freshly ground white or black pepper
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 5 tablespoons anise-flavored liqueur, such as samba, ouzo, or Pernod
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- Toast the anise seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and coarsely grind.
- In a soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and anise seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft 7 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Pour in the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In batches, purée the soup in a blender until very smooth, 2 to 3 minutes for each batch. Strain the purée through a fine-mesh strainer into a pot and season with salt and pepper. Place over medium heat, stir in the cream and heat until hot. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the anise-flavored liqueur and season with salt and pepper.
- In a bowl, stir together the crème fraîche and remaining liqueur and season with salt. Ladle the soup into warm bowls. Drizzle with the crème fraîche and sprinkle with the chives.
Reprinted with permission from Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food. Copyright © 2015 by Joanne Weir. Published by Oxmoor House.