Monday, November 30, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 2 - for the love of soup

Dark Days Challenge meal week 2: leek and potato soup, with freshly-dug leeks from the garden and green mountain potatoes from my CSA with Wayward Seed Farm.

This week's challenge meal was inspired by the bed of leeks that were unharvested until last Wednesday. The weather had been pretty mild, but I knew that I was beginning to push my luck. The fact that I had a ton of leeks meant that this soup had A LOT of leeks - probably 4-6 large, if I remember correctly. At one point I had equal amounts of leeks and potatoes in the pot, and I was very tempted to leave it that way, but I ended up adding an extra potato (since I'd already scrubbed it.)

So what exactly is in this soup? Leeks cooked in butter, potatoes, stock to cover said potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and a dollop of fresh whipping cream and a few snipped chives to finish. Simple, eh? I didn't even peel the potatoes. It was probably the best potato soup I have made to date, and I totally credit the ingredients. Good quality ingredients allow for simple preparations.

And as for a recipe... I can't imagine using a recipe for potato soup! Okay, I actually can't imagine using a recipe for most things, but potato soup more than others.

So what goes into potato soup?

Aromatics: I like mine with leeks, so that was my aromatic of choice. I could have easily used less leeks or even more and still had a great soup. I know I needed to cook the leeks before the potatoes joined the pot, and that butter and potatoes love one another - so I used butter for cooking the leeks. I could have easily used olive oil to keep it vegan. I could also use onions or shallots, and even added garlic to it.

Potatoes: I use whatever type I have on hand, and I try to estimate enough to serve four people. Sometimes I add a carrot to the mix and turn it into a type of potage bonne femme; it really lends a lovely color to it!

Stock: I either make my own or I use the soup base from Penzey's Spices. There's no shame in that. I use enough liquid to cover the potatoes, and add more during cooking if necessary.

Cooking time: Potatoes take about as long as they take. Seriously, it depends on how small you slice them, and probably what type of potato they are. And maybe the barometric pressure, and when the potatoes were dug. If you twisted my arm I'd say 10-20 minutes. I let the stock come to the barest boil and then cook, covered, on simmer.

Seasoning: Salt and pepper. I could have added thyme (which is good with most savory things) or even a little nutmeg (great with cream), but it was perfectly scrumptious with just french grey salt and pepper. I think chives taste good and make the soup look pretty, so as long as my chive plant is still producing I grab a few stems and snip them in. Chervil and parsley are other good options.

Mashing it all up: I'm a fan of smooth soups and I have an immersion blender, so I just go at the cooked potatoes with my immersion blender until I like the texture. You can also just give it a bit of a beating with a potato masher, or put it through a ricer or a food mill, or (carefully!) put it into a regular blender. Make sure the potatoes are fully cooked before mashing!

The finale: One of the classic ways to serve leek and potato soup is with a dollop of cream mixed in at the end. I leave my soup a little thick because I find that the cream thins it out a little. I like to put some fresh-ground pepper on top (I'm a huge fan of pepper), or put some snipped chives and/or chive blossoms on top, or even do a little grating of cheese (my favorite is a local aged gouda.) You could easily skip the cream and cheese if you want to keep it vegan, or add a pat of butter if you want to be extremely decadent.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week one

One of the best things about winter is the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, hosted by Laura at (not so) Urban Hennery. I love seeing what other bloggers are eating in the winter, and getting new ideas for my freezer and pantry stores.

This week I cooked a meal that debuted last year during the dark days challenge, and has become a favorite in our house. It also happens to be my number one comfort food: creamed chipped beef on toast! For this version I used dried, chipped beef from our butcher shop (Bluescreek at the North Market.) It is a little harder to work with than the dried beef from the grocery store, but with two pairs of hands we get the thin slices of dried beef pulled apart in no time. The beef is much less salty than the grocery store variety, but it can still benefit from rinsing, so once rinsed it joins a cream sauce made with milk from Snowville Creamery (best milk in Ohio!) and butter that's either homemade from Snowville cream, or from Hartzler Dairy. I still use commercial AP flour for the roux, because I'm not convinced that the local soft wheat flour can do as good of a job as a thickener.

While the pulling apart of the beef may take a little while, this is a pretty quick and easy meal. I could have added some vegetable side dishes to make it healthier, but this is comfort food, after all! We finished the meal with smoked chocolate ice cream with homemade marshmallows from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a true Ohio treasure, and I had a glass of Traminette wine from River Village Cellars (Ohio River Valley.)