11/19/07

Potato and Leek Soup

A quick and dirty take on Amy Finley's Leek and Potato soup found on the Food Network site.

Ingredients:

  • Two tablespoons of butter
  • Two medium-sized leeks (about 1 lb each)
  • Four medium-sized yukon gold potatoes
    • (the original recipe calls for russet, but I like the smoother finish and higher starch content of the yukons)
  • Approximately 3/4 carton of chicken stock (@ 28oz)
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chives (for garnish)
Directions:
  1. To prepare the leeks, cut off the root end (about a half-inch will do it) and cut about an inch to two inches into the pale green section. Discard the roots and stalks. Cut the leeks in half lengthways and then cut the halves into 1-inch sections. Let the sections soak in a large bowl filled with water to rinse away the dirt that will be jammed into the leeks' layers.
  2. Meanwhile, Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch sections
  3. Heat the two tablespoons of butter in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat.
  4. Once the butter has melted and the pot is hot, sweat the leeks for about three minutes. Do not sautee. You're not trying to brown the leeks, you're only trying to soften them.
  5. After they've had a chance to soften, add the potatoes and chicken stock.
  6. Cook, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft to the touch.
  7. Stir in the cream.
  8. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender.
    • *If you use a normal blender, work in batches and make sure you vent the lid from time to time. Hot soup in a blender releases a lot of steam and pressure builds up quickly.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped chives.
Potato and Leek soup

Alternatives: This soup would work just as well with normal onions. To prepare, caramelize the onions in a pan before adding them to the soup pot and add the potatoes and chicken stock immediately. The caramelized onions will make a brown soup and give the soup a smokier flavor.

You could also fry some additional julienned leeks for a garnish to give the soup and heartier quality than the chives. Finally, adding a quater to half-cup Parmesan cheese would provide the soup with a deeper, slightly nutty flavor.

What to pair it with? You want something with tannins but not something that's going to blow the soup of the water. A dry Chardonnay might do the trick, or you could go with a light, drinkable pinot noir

Smoking Loon Pinot Noir2006 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir Color: A deep, translucent ruby color. Nearly watery on first appearance

Nose: Berries. Lots of them, from cherries and strawberries to cranberries. Slight vegetation and a hint of vanilla's roundness

Palate: Silky mouth feel with a tart berry taste and delicate tannins. Surprisingly good structure and balance. Will hold up to a lot of different foods.

Finish: Very clean and leaves the mouth wanting more. Surprisingly good finish without a hint of flabbiness or that cloying quality most often found in value-range wines.

This is an astonishingly good wine for the price--fine structure and lithe tannins make this a great wine to enjoy slightly chilled or with a wide variety of foods, from hearty pork chops to simple pastas and everything in between.

11/14/07

Elements of Cooking

I just came from Michael Ruhlman's second blog, Elements of Cooking. It's based in part on his latest book, The Elements of Cooking, which I'm sure is available at your local book seller, but will also be available soon from Ruhlman's own site, Ruhlman.com.

I'm excited about the book, and the site has just made it onto my permanent links section (over there, on the right). Why? Because it's not about recipes. One of the things I've loved about my own cooking journey is not recipes--don't get me wrong. A good recipe is a wonderful thing. But what I've found most valuable is basic cooking methods. Take, for example the simple b├ęchamel sauce. A little flour, butter and milk and you have a base on which you can build all kinds of things.

Just the other day I used this small bit of knowledge to really jazz up a lunch of leftover chicken and mashed potatoes. 6:30 in the morning, and I knew I wanted something a little more than plain chicken. I checked around the kitchen, found some mushrooms, and in about 10 minutes time, had a wonderful mushroom cream sauce. Simple comfort food that didn't come from a Campbell's can.

You can do it, too:

  • Sautee mushrooms in a teaspoon of olive oil with a just a dash of garlic
  • When they've given up most of their moisture (probably about 2 minutes), remove them from the pan
  • Melt a tablespoon of butter in the same pan and slowly whisk in a tablespoon of flour (you've just made a roux)
    • ***The flour and butter mix should be about the same. For a single serving, a teaspoon to tablespoon of each should be fine. If you need more, up the amount accordingly
  • Now, slowly add milk--just a little at a time--until you come up with a sauce that's the desired consistency
  • If you want, you can add some Parmesan cheese to thicken the sauce a bit
  • Add in the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and you're done

Done! In 10 minutes I was able to take bland, boring leftovers and turn them into something delicious (and even a little impressive).

Anyway, my whole point here is that by understanding a singular fundamental (b├ęchamel is one of the 7 mother sauces used in French cooking), I made something. And I could have just as easily gone with bacon in the sauce, swiss cheese, or any number of additional ingredients. And that's key. As I said on Ruhlman's blog, recipes are great, sure, but...it seems that fundamentals, not a recipe library, are the real key to kitchen creativity.