Potato Leek Soup

Cooking a pot of potato leek soup in a Le Creuset

At some point a few weeks ago I realized that my camera had been sitting in a drawer for weeks on end, and I hadn’t shot any photos other than selfies with my dog on my terrible front facing phone camera. So I’ve been trying to remedy that – here’s to taking at least a photo a day in 2016. (I also had to download a fresh install of Lightroom on my computer to edit them and now I’m scrambling to find the original box with the serial. I refuse to pay for a monthly creative cloud membership… Grrrr… Where is that box?!)

Given that it’s winter, and you might be looking for something warming and relatively healthy after the holidays, may I suggest potato leek soup as a good option to cook this weekend? I had a large pile of leeks, onions, and potatoes on my counter from my winter farm share, and needed to do something with them before they died completely. The leeks were already getting dry on the outside and I was too ashamed to provide photographic evidence. Another resolution this year is to make sure I don’t let produce go to waste. Soup is an excellent remedy!

My kitchen helper is also on duty to provide quick response clean up to any floor mess I create. I’m still a little nervous that he’s chosen the spot directly in front of the stove to curl up, but if I’m cooking anything that might splatter, I use the back burners.

Bertram the Kitchen Helper

Right, the soup. You’d think this has become a puppy blog. I’ve been eating this for breakfast for the past few days. Have you ever done breakfast soup? It’s actually quite satisfying.

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup (for allium lovers)

I recommend that you make this a day in advance. Like almost all soups, a night in the fridge gives the chance to mature into a more robust flavor. Soups just taste better when you make them in advance.

Here’s the thing about this soup. I don’t bother chopping the vegetables. I just boil them mostly whole, and the puree with an immersion blender. Admittedly, the potato gets a tiny bit gluey when you do this.

A better way would be to patiently chop the vegetables in sort of bite size or inch long pieces before putting them in the pot. And then use a masher at the end to get a nice texture. But I’m a little lazy. So I don’t. But do what you wish. If you have guests coming, don’t take the short cut?

a knob of salted butter (a few tablespoons), or olive oil
a pound of leeks, chopped
two yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
a pound of potatoes, cut into large cubes
2 bay leaves + a few sprigs of thyme.
a quart of very good tasting chicken stock
two cups of water
salt + pepper

In a large pot, melt your knob of butter over medium high heat, and cook the leeks and onion until soft but not brown. Add the garlic, potatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Cover with a quart of your best chicken stock, and add a few extra cups of water if everything isn’t yet covered. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer, and let the pot go for about half an hour, until the potatoes are soft and the onions are meltingly tender. Turn off the heat and mash with a potato masher, or do as I do, and blend until the big pieces are broken down with an immersion blender. You can eat it right away, but it’s better after a night in the fridge.

Things to stir into your soup at the end: A little bit of cream or buttermilk, but it doesn’t really need it. To serve, swirl around a little slick of olive oil, and a sprinkle of thyme or chopped chive.

Falling back into routine.

Morning Coffee

Today was the first time in a few months that I felt like I was getting back into a routine. I made myself a single cup of coffee in the morning, and proceeded to reheat it over and over as I worked through the day. Meetings, a webinar, it’s nice feeling immersed in my work, but I suffer when I neglect a good cup of hot coffee. I’m loving my new mug – a hand me down from my friend AA, who moved and left me with a pair of these, and plenty of good tea to brew in them.

For lunch, I made myself a bowl of steel cut oats with a large spoonful of pumpkin butter. Later in the afternoon I ate some canned wild salmon, with a spoonful of mayo, and plenty of cracked black pepper. I was in the mood for the most simple meals I could make today – as usual when I travel, I find myself on the cusp of feeling unwell, and need to take care of myself before anything more sinister develops.

Oatmeal with Pumpkin Butter

On Wednesdays I try to get into the gym to lift, but I wanted to give myself a little bit more time to rest after my marathon. I’ve been eying the local Core Power Yoga, which offers a free intro week, and decided to sign up. This afternoon I came to the mat with the intention of healing, resting, and restoring.

The yoga instructor, Amanda, was direct, clear, and gave very good guidance. I’ve practiced now for over ten years, and am always pleasantly surprised when an instructor can teach me new things in a class, or help me look at familiar poses in a new way. She was also particularly giving with extra manipulation – a hand to provide guidance, and gentle push into a deeper stretch. I was supremely appreciative of her care in this class.

Core Power Yoga

I returned home with a strong desire to make soup, taking out my Le Creuset for the first time this fall, and making a large pot of pasta e fagioli, Olive Garden style, with ground beef. I’m never too high brow around here, and I’d have killed for some of their breadsticks.

Pasta e fagioli (if you can call it that): my basic recipe was tweaked from a handful of online recipes (most closely following Iowa Girl Eats and Giuliano Hazan): brown a pound of ground beef with some salt and pepper, add a cup of chopped onion, a few sticks worth of chopped celery, and one chopped carrot stick, a few cloves of garlic. Sautée until the vegetables have softened. Add three cups of cooked cranberry beans (or a few cans of cooked beans of your choice), a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce, and a 28 ounce can of crushed fire roasted tomatoes, a teaspoon each of: dried oregano, thyme, and basil. Cover with a few cups of beef stock, and cook for an hour or two. At the end, add a few cups of cooked pasta. I make my pasta ten minutes before I’d like to serve, and stir it in at the very end. You could also par-cook it, and then let it finish in the soup. Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano. A sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Pot of Pasta e Fagioli

The best part about a big pot of soup, is that you have many a meal for later. Looking forward to eating my way through this for the next few days.

Welcome, October

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I’m ashamed to admit that it has been far too long since I’ve actually sat down to breakfast of my own making in my house. Usually it’s a few eggs, made into frittata, unceremoniously wrapped in a paper towel and ziplock, and eaten on the go. Or, I’ll stop by a coffee shop near the office and grab something small – or a treat – a seeded bagel toasted with cheddar cheese. But today, run down, and tired, I went to the kitchen and fried some eggs, made a small pot of Turkish coffee, and sat, watching the rain come down. My body, it seems, is due for a little bit of rest.

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While foraging in the freezer this afternoon, I stumbled across a single frozen bag of soup – marked 10/1/13 “Pork, Bean, and Sauerkraut“. Exactly a year to the day from when I stirred the pot – I knew I was to have this for lunch. The recipe is a beautiful one: Marcella Hazan’s La Jota – made with pork jowl, and fresh cranberry beans, from her brilliant work ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking‘. I’ve learned so much from that book over the years, and this soup is a winner – cooked ever so lovingly last year, as it was the day after I heard that Marcella had died.

Pork Bean and Sauerkraut Soup

Fortified with soup, I worked through the afternoon, wrapping myself in blankets and hopping on the office hangouts – until I could stand being in the house no longer, and I shut my computer. I was hoping to head into the gym – it’s been so long! – but I knew that with how I was feeling it would be unwise, so option two was a quick bite to eat out of the house. I ended up at 51 Lincoln, where I (uncharacteristically) opted for a small cocktail – the old monk – hoping, seriously, to kill any germs (I drank half, I’m too much of a lightweight), and shared a few small plates: chicken liver pate, home made chorizo, and panisses, over conversation with a dear friend.

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I’m still feeling unwell. Perhaps this is my body telling me that after cycling 300 miles in September, I need a little bit of rest.

Minimalist Avgolemono (Greek-ish Egg Lemon Soup)

Everyone is getting sick around here. The mayor of Boston declared a health emergency for the flu epidemic, and you can’t go anywhere without seeing people out and about sniffling and spreading the plague. So I’ve been trying to stay in, limit my face time to critical meetings, and exercise outside without meeting up with anyone. Because I’m a hermit at heart, this is admittedly enjoyable.

One of the best ways you can fortify yourself is with soup, so I’ve been drinking copious amounts to ward off the sickness. I’ve now made this liquid health elixir twice this week, and thought finally that I should share it here. Egg Lemon Soup (or sauce) is common in Greek, Turkish, and Jewish cooking – all of which are part of my culinary heritage. Despite this, I have very few memories of my mom or grandmother making this soup, but I do fondly recall ordering it often as a child with my grandparents at the Putterham Deli, which later became Andrea’s and then shuttered before I moved back to New England. The soup was always the first part of a gleeful two part culinary adventure – usually followed by poppy seed hamantaschen and picking up a challah for the sabbath next door at Cheryl Ann’s – and thus is etched in my memory in a positive way. Unlike jello, another sick-person-food, which to this day revolts me.

If you are lazy, tired, or coming down with something, this soup comes together in mere minutes, with ingredients you are likely to have on hand. It’s rich and chicken-y if you use good stock, tart and lemon-y enough, and filling because of the egg. You could add a handful of orzo, rice, or pieces of chicken, but I don’t usually bother. Traditionally you are supposed to temper the eggs by pouring some of the hot chicken stock into the egg mixture first, and whisking vigorously. Then you pour it back into your soup for a silky smooth texture. But I like doing a bastardized version by just heating up my chicken stock, and slowly pouring in my egg mixture while stirring, so that the soup has some intrigue to it, like a finer egg drop soup. It’s seasoned simply with lemon juice and fish sauce rather than salt, which I like because it provides a bit more savory depth to the soup.

Not So Traditional Egg Lemon Soup for 1

2 eggs, whisked
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon Red Boat Fish Sauce (more for salt and funk, less if your stock has salt already)
1 – 2 cups chicken stock, preferably home made
optional: a small handful of orzo, leftover roasted chicken, some dill, a sprinkling of lemon zest

In a small bowl, whisk together two eggs, the juice of half a lemon, and some fish sauce. I like using a few good glugs. It’ll smell funky, like fish sauce, but don’t worry. Set aside. In a small saucepan on medium high heat, bring your chicken stock to a simmer. (If you’d like to add some pieces of chicken, or a small handful of orzo, do so here, and cook until warmed or cooked through.) Turn down the heat to medium-low, and start slowly whisking in the egg mixture. It’ll look like egg drop soup, then suddenly fluff up. Take off the heat, pour into a bowl, and savor immediately. If you feel compelled to gussy it up, go ahead and sprinkle on some parsley or lemon zest. I rarely feel the need to.

Lifting heavy things + Mel’s Chocolate Chili

A few weeks ago I went into the gym with a cold, a red face, and a killer sinus headache and nearly had a panic attack when I saw Evan in the gym with his camera. For those of us who live behind a camera, being in front of one is not something we are accustomed to. In fact, I may have rudely let Evan know that in no uncertain terms was he to take a photo of me. I was a total jerk about it – I blame the headache!

Well, he managed to sneak one. And I think it’s awesome.

*          *          *

10.15.12

Coffee this morning was a little fancy. Although I grew up in a house where my mother drank her coffee black, I much prefer mine with a heavy dose of cream. Having kicked the cream for this challenge, I’ve been doing quite well with black, but I decided to doctor my mug with a little bit of coconut oil to add back a little bit of that creamy texture. I won’t do this everyday, but it certainly was a treat!

There was no breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, and had to go out and about on a few errands. I’ve been really struggling to get in a good breakfast. Part of my problem is that I much prefer to eat a big lunch, a good size snack, and a big dinner. I’m on the fence about whether or not to actively change this habit as long as I’m getting in proper amounts of nutrient dense foods…

For lunch, I had a very specific craving for Tortilla Espanola– a Spanish frittata with eggs, onion, and potato and lots of olive oil. Seeking similar textural consistency, I made myself a big frittata with leftover roasted cauliflower, over a spinach salad with a bright mustard vinaigrette. I let the eggs cool down to room temperature before eating, which is really the best way to eat frittata.

In the late afternoon I went for a walk and grabbed a gala apple and some Justin’s Maple Almond Butter as I walked out the door. Portable snacks!

When I got home, I set to work making dinner: Mel’s Chocolate Chili from Well Fed. I can’t recommend this book enough. I don’t often actually cook with cookbooks (I usually just read them for inspiration), but I’ve actually gone about and cooked several of the recipes in here to the letter, and they’ve been marvelous.

I have a few tried and true chili recipes, and make a similar version, but I thought I’d stick to as close to the book as possible for the sake of an honest opinion.

I made just a few small adjustments to the recipe: halving it because I didn’t have enough beef, using the ultimate cheater move onions, shallots and garlic pre-chopped from Trader Joes, and omitting beef broth because I had a limited supply of tasty bone broth and needed to re-stock. (I just used the whole can of tomatoes instead of halving it, and added a little bit more water.)

The chili takes literally 10 minutes to put together, and then you just let it simmer away on the stove top for a couple of hours. Your house will smell fantastic.

I served it with a dollop of guacamole, and ate two bowls full.

My biggest mistake? Not *doubling* the recipe. This one is definitely a winner.

Under the weather.

I woke up under the weather. It was grey and raining, and I had a headache and that thing where your body says “Hey there, you better rest and take care of yourself or I’m going to make you miserable. Oh yes, you think I’m teasing you, just you wait.” I’m really, really hoping that I can shrug this before it turns into something. I’ve been resting and taking hippy remedies (spoonful of cider vinegar here and there, and crossing my fingers). In lieu of a photo of myself unwell, here is my friend Oso. This is what the morning looked like.

Very little work, movement, or life happened in the morning.

In the afternoon, I went to my kitchen to fix myself lunch. But first I set about on a little project – Nom Nom Paleo’s Magic Mushroom Powder. It’s a wonderful salt mix with porcini mushrooms and special spices, that makes things taste… magical!

I ground up a bag of dried porcini mushrooms in my spice grinder (a.k.a. coffee grinder, I swear I wash it in between uses). Then I added the special spices, and salt.

Mixed it all up, and voila! This stuff is going right next to my salt collection, and I’ll be putting it on almost everything. Chicken, pork, fish, in stews – it’s the perfect spice mix to add that umami flavor to your dishes.

I won’t post the recipe because it’s not my own to post, but you can find it on her awesome iPad app! Highly recommend it.

For lunch, I made a bowl of pork, pumpkin, and greens soup. It seemed very Southern. You may have noticed that I like soups, and I try to make them as often as possible because soup is one of the best ways to get in your nutrients, and hydrate yourself. Rather than making a big pot of soup, I can put together quick soups nearly any day of the week at lunch using a basic method that usually works.

Super basic soup for 1 or 2:

1. Season 3-6 ounces of meat with salt and pepper. Cook in a little bit of fat on the stove, until the meat is cooked through. (Or heat up some leftover meat.) Chicken, pork, cubed meat or ground all work fine. (Today I used some fresh ham with marrow bone.)

2. Add 1-2 cups of vegetables of your choice. I’ll usually use some greens (even mixed frozen greens), leftover roasted vegetables, and whatever is seasonal. (Today was a combination of greens and cooked mashed pumpkin.)

3. Top with just enough liquid to cover. You can use chicken or beef stock, or even just water! (I used water.) Season with a pinch of salt and taste. I usually like it just slightly less salty than I’d like the finished soup to be. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer for 20-40 minutes, until your vegetables are tender, and a little longer if the flavors need to meld more.

4. Take off the heat, and gild the lily. Swirl with a little olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice if it needs a little acid, a spoonful of pesto or a grating of cheese.

In the late afternoon, I had a snack: some cooked butternut squash topped with walnuts, cinnamon and coconut butter.

Before dinner, I decided to take a very short walk to air myself out. Just for half an hour, and it felt good being outside. By dinner time, I was exhausted, so I made my best last minute comfort food “Faux-Shakshuka”. Shakshuka is a wonderful Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce, usually with peppers and onions. For this dinner I opened a can of Rao’s Marinara, dumped in three eggs, and that was it. No apologies, it’s pretty much the best quick meal on the planet.

After dinner I had about a cup of pineapple, and was asleep by 10pm. Because I’m an old lady. Crossing my fingers that this’ll go away soon!

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