Shrimp Bisque Scented with Bouquet Garni...for an elegant frosty winter evening

**Congratulations to Rooth from the blog "A Miusmie" who won the lovely cookbook "A Family Farm in Tuscany" written by Sarah Fioroni.  I'll be in touch with you about the details!

It was indeed a cold frosty winter's evening a few years back.  I planned a birthday party dinner for P. at a restaurant we had been oogling over called "Le Mistral".  The owners are from Provence and the 'mistral' winds that blow through that area have always struck me as romantic and supremely french.  

This was to be the fanciest most gourmet meal that my children had been introduced to.  I went back and forth a bit about whether or not they should be treated to such luxury.  I felt certain they were old enough to appreciate wonderfully prepared food so we booked reservations for four.

I truly learned that evening that my son has quite the palate for fine dining.  I called the restaurant beforehand and had them make their Beef Wellington dish for P.

When they brought it to the table, he was truly surprised because it was not on the menu for that evening.  We all sampled a few bites.  It was so tender.  The pastry was flaky and crisp.  The mushroom paté spread across the top was so rich and flavorful.

It was Riley, though, who declared it the best meal he had ever had in his 14 year old life.  He talked about that evening and those dishes long after that night.  He was completely charmed with the restaurant but especially, the food.

Riley ordered a bowl of shrimp bisque.  His reaction to the beautiful flavors of the seafood steeped in the rich cream, filled with the aroma of fresh herbs, was just as profound as for the Beef Wellington.

The evening was worth the dollars spent and the menu indulged.  We all thoroughly enjoyed our selections.  It was especially delightful to see our children move beyond those ages where chicken fingers or simple pasta was chosen.

I have tried to recreate that menu from P.'s birthday dinner here at home.  Beef Wellington makes an appearance on special occasions a few times a year.  

The shrimp bisque has been requested time and again by Riley.  It kept slipping down on the list of dishes to attempt but I came across a recipe recently and it just sounded right for this time of year.

Bisques are such wonderful soups.  So many subtle flavors all meld together beautifully.  A good crusty loaf of bread, some delicious Italian olives and perhaps nice slices of cheese make, for me, one of the most perfect meals.

The fresh shrimp stock, hint of tomato paste, and infused flavor of herbs from the bouquet garni are simply gorgeous in this creamy bisque with a slight hint of brandy.

We keep dreaming of a return to that restaurant with the succulent Beef Wellington and the creamy Shrimp Bisque.  We'll need a big occasion to treat ourselves to that indulgent evening again.  For now, recreating these classic dishes at home will have to suffice.  But, the power of a good meal will, no doubt, be forever remembered.

Shrimp Bisque scented with a Bouquet Garni
(from the cookbook 'Soup' by Debra Mayhew)

Serves 6 to 8
1 1/2 pounds small or medium cooked shrimp in their shells
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, halved and sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 1/4 quarts water
a few drops of lemon juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
bouquet garni
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tablespoons brandy
2/3 cup whipping cream

Remove the heads from the shrimp and peel away the shells:  Reserve the heads and shells for the stock.  Place the shelled shrimp in a covered bowl and chill in the refrigerator.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Add the heads and shells and cook over high heat, stirring, until they start to brown.

Lower the heat to medium.  Add the vegetables and fry slowly, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until the onions start to soften.

Add the water, lemon juice, tomato paste, and bouquet garni.  Bring the stock to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.  Strain the stock.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.  Stir in the flour and cook until just golden, stirring occasionally.

Add the brandy.  Gradually pour in half the shrimp stock, whisking vigorously until smooth, then whisk in the remaining liquid.  Season if necessary.  Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Strain the soup into the rinsed saucepan.  Add the cream and a little extra lemon juice to taste.  Stir in most of the reserved shrimp and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until hot.

Serve at once, garnished with the remaining shrimp.

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