Tomato-Basil Bisque with Croutons, and Greens with Mustard Vinaigrette


Our guest expert this week was my friend Lesa Sullivan-Abajian, private chef, cooking instructor, and a frequent volunteer (beloved by Seattle nonprofits and farmers markets). Lesa has a heart of solid gold, or perhaps the culinary equivalent, Plugra. As engaging as she is knowledgeable, she navigated our often-chaotic classroom with grace, spicing the lesson with amusing metaphors and tips.

We began class with a welcome to new students (hello Kosma and Jade!), the obligatory washing of hands, some mint tea and Marash-pepper pumpkin seeds I’d roasted ahead of time, the volunteering of leads (prep, plate, gratitude, and KP), and review of our vocabulary list. I don’t expect the students to remember the words, but weekly exposure will increase familiarity, and perhaps even pleasure, with the French terms. It’s more important to remember how to assemble a “mise en place” than be able to say it, but why not aim for both?


Next, the kids showed off their skills as food detectives, saying “whole” or “processed” as we checked off the ingredients in our recipes. Lesa talked through the steps in making a puree and what makes it a bisque (traditionally, crustaceans; now, cream), and then talked about what kind of fats to put in a fry pan. She introduced the kids to oil smoke points, an important lesson for the beginning cook.

“If it burns so easily, why do we use butter?” she asked the class.

“Because everything’s better with butter!” was the quick response. Fortunately you can get the flavor of butter with the higher smoke point of canola (or sunflower, or grapeseed) oil by combining the two.

After a quick demo on how to curl ones fingers away from the blade (“obey the law, use the claw”), we divided the class into teams, pairing those who were confident with their dicing skills with those who wanted practice. Unfortunately, our class knives, recently purchased on the cheap at Ross Dress For Less, were not adequate to the task, causing a lot of frustration. Good knives are the best investment any cook, or class, should make, and I hope we can make them happen soon. Meanwhile, we’re on a tight budget.

Lesa showed us the two parts to a celery plant, the stalk and the root (also called celeriac) and demonstrated how to cube the spherical root in order to stabilize it, to better cut neat batons, or sticks. She tossed the batons with lemon juice (reminding the kids of their vocabulary word acidulate), sprinkled them with cumin, and set them out for snacking. Yum. Ugly, but delicious.

One team gathered at the stove to cook the mirepoix, while another opened cans of tomatoes, a third made a chiffonade of basil, and a fourth started on the croutons. (I was eager to see how the kids liked the croutons, which to my mind are so different from the packaged variety they deserve a different name.) With only one serrated knife in the block, it took a while, but before long the boules of bread became rough cubes and were tossed with oil and herbs before going in the oven.

“What can I do now?” said one student after the next. I’m always impressed by how well the students ask for direction and take direction. Without complaint, they cleaned up the workspace and gathered around to watch Lesa make salad dressing.

We’ve been mentioning ratios for several weeks, but the kids had not yet made salad dressing. (Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Cooking is one of my favorite food books. Familiarity with ratios, whether or not they are called that, is the key to gaining confidence and versatility in the kitchen. Doesn’t everyone want to be able to whip up something, without a recipe, and make it taste sensational?)

Using our state-of-the-art equipment (vintage Osterizer), Lesa demonstrated how fat and acid molecules repel each other like “fighting cousins” and can be forced to “get along” by blending or whisking until the acid is suspended in the oil. She used the standard 3:1, or three parts oil to one part vinegar, but emphasized that ratios like all rules were made to be broken. Taste, taste, taste!

The salad dressed, the croutons toasted, an immersion blender (brought from home) was employed to puree the soup, and soon everything was ready for serving.  The kids were encouraged to try the croutons — golden, crispy and warm — in either their soup or salad, and they did not waste any time doing both. Thanks was given, and a long silence ensued. A very pleasurable silence: the sound of good food being savored.

Seeing that there was enough soup, Lesa, Mary, and I sat down with the kids (a first!) and enjoyed a bowl.

Michael Pollan recently said:

The meal is a really important human institution, and we’re in the process of undermining it, because of our food marketing and because of our lifestyles. And a lot is lost . . . the family meal is the nursery of democracy. I really do think we literally civilize our children at the table. That’s where they learn to take turns and to share and to argue; all these kind of proto-democratic, small d democratic skills, or small r republican skills, are acquired at the table.

I thought about this as we sat and talked with the kids right past the opportunity to involve them in cleanup. It seemed more important to practice the skill of conversation than KP, and with Mary staying on to help, I could afford to say “let the dishes wait.” Soon enough, we adults could also hang up our aprons, turn out the lights, and go home to our families, with that satisfying glow of time well spent. There’s probably a French word for that.



Printer-friendly version

Tomato-Basil Bisque with Croutons

Adapted from a recipe by Dianne Rossen-Worthington for Food and Wine. Serves 4-6.


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon high heat oil like canola or sunflower
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large can (28 ounce size) chopped fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Croutons for topping (recipe follows)


  1. Heat a 10-12” satoir or rondeau over medium-high heat for about 60 seconds without anything in it. Turn the heat down to medium. Melt butter and oil together until it begins to shimmer. Add the onion and celery and stir well with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Cook until it becomes fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and let it heat through for another minute. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the flour. When the vegetables are well coated with the flour, add broth and tomatoes. Turn the heat up to high and add the Italian seasoning, tomato paste, sugar and bay leaves. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves.
  2. With an immersion blender or in a heatproof food processor, blend the soup until it is uniformly smooth. (Take care with this step, the soup is splashy!). Pour the soup back into the satoir or rondeau and stir in cream until well blended. Follow with basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper (and sometimes, a pinch of sugar). Top with croutons.



  • 2 Bolo or other rustic-style rolls (about 4 x 4”), halved through the center and cut into squares
  • ½ cup high heat oil such as canola, rice bran or sunflower
  • 2 teaspoons each of pepper, parsley flakes, paprika
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • A few pinches freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the oil and seasonings together. Taste for salt and flavor before proceeding, adjust if necessary, then toss with bread cubes.
  2. Place the cubes on a high-sided baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes, turning once for even browning.
  3. Serve immediately or let cool before serving.

Greens with Mustard Vinaigrette

From Lesa Sullivan of Lesa Cooks. Serves 4-6


  •  5 ounces (about 4 cups) salad greens rinsed and well dried
  •  1 tablespoon lemon juice
  •  3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  •  1 tablespoon Dijon or stone ground mustard
  •  2 teaspoons honey
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  •  1 small garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  •  ¼ cup very good olive oil mixed with about ½ cup mildly flavored oil, such canola (3/4 cup total)
  •  1-1/4 teaspoon fresh herbs, minced (optional)


  • Arrange a damp towel laid flat under a bowl and tucked around its sides to prevent the bowl from moving. Combine lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper and garlic with a whisk. When combined, continue whisking steadily.
  • Add oil by starting with a drop of it and whisking very thoroughly after adding it. (This can be done most easily with either a liquid measuring cup or a squeeze bottle. Do not stop whisking. Continue with two or three more drops and continue whisking. Do this once more, and then drizzle in with a slow and steady stream. The dressing will begin to thicken once the drizzling has started. This can also be done in a food processor or blender fitted with a metal blade: place everything but the oil and optional herbs in the container and pulse once or twice. Then, with the blade running, add oil as directed above.
  • Once combined, stir in optional herbs. Add half of the dressing to greens immediately before serving and toss well. Taste for flavoring and add more if desired.


Categories: Entree, Salad, Soup, Vegetarian


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: