Another family dinner. Fussy male in-laws on the guest list. What to make. Why not start with an irresistible cream soup? Beautifully photographed in the newly acquired French cookbook. Yes. Artichokes have a certain class about them. But what's this Armagnac they call for? Substitutable by cognac or any good quality dry brandy?
Off to the state store we go in search of a cooperative clerk to broaden our knowledge of unfamiliar hard liquor. Finally we locate the target item. Whoa! Catch that price tag. What is this stuff? The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board employee chokes at the inquiry. No idea. No alcohol encyclopedia. No CD-ROM to consult. No interest in satisfying the customer. Hey, we're just cooking with the stuff. We grabbed the cheap brandy on the bottom shelf.
The artichokes we popped out of a can. Broke in the food processor slicing blade on the potatoes. Food processed the rest normally. Cut down the killer cream. Toasted the hazelnuts. Puréed with the Euro-hand-blender-what-a-toy way easier than the Vitamix super blender routine. Dinner is served. Pass the bowls. Finally the moment of truth. The king of fuss and his junior assistant. Just a taste we timidly suggest. Met immediately with blocking hand motions and matching who are you kidding facial expressions from the king. Wrong color soup. Or something.
This soup is super. You don't need fresh artichokes. No Euro hand blender or super blender or food processor required. The French can do it by hand. Maybe we could too.
Years later we learned through our only friends in Yerevan that Armenia has a long tradition of making cognac/brandy (although the French don't seem to like use of the word cognac for foreign production), and one version of Armenian cognac/brandy is called Ani, a few bottles of which have been hand transferred to us in Europe by Vahe, with the original Russian Cyrillic lettering on the label, through which one can still decipher the name Ani. Cognac is a very particular and usually superior form of brandy and judging by the price tag of what we see in our State Stores, Armagnac, a similar style brandy, is even more particular. For the record, Cognac is a town in France, and if your cognac is not produced from nearby grapes, an army of French lawyers will be on your case. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and resulting economic distress mixed with corruption in Armenia, the French simply bought out their Armenian "cognac" competition, according to our Ani supplier, making sure its labels read "brandy" instead. If not entirely true, it still makes a good story.
By the way, by 2011 the "no way" fussy soup critics became "way" as they tried and liked our product.