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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 28, 2012: Potato and Leek Soup. Thanks Emeril!

(this is missing a few photos...will add March 1) I have mentioned numerous times how much I love soup and stew in the winter. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Today in Knoxville, however, it was 70 degrees February no less. But alas, I have been called by a plethora of potatoes.
And not just any old potato either. The russet potato. A couple of weeks ago when I sponsored the mashed potato throwdown, several folks left me a hostess gift--their potatoes. If any of you are reading this and want them back, come on over and get 'em. I am going to be awash in potato cookery otherwise for a couple of months. Not that this is a problem. My hubby would eat potatoes every night and never complain as long as they were mashed, fried, baked, twice baked, scalloped, au gratin, gremolata, roasted....wait, I sound like Bubba in Forrest Gump!
I have been writing a practice management guideline for the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma ALL DAY and did not have much time for dinner. But I always want to make something tasty, healthy and special for my husband, so I thought Emeril Lagasse's recipe for potato and leek soup would put the BAM! into dinner.
This is another really easy recipe that tastes fantastic but isn't really very hard to make and is not time consuming. One thing I never gave much thought to until the mashed potato throwdown is how different types of potatoes are best suited for certain dishes. I guess somewhere in my pea brain, I knew this, but it didn't resurface until Amanda Stokes, our chef judge of the throwdown, mentioned this. It ends up the best potatoes for MASHING are Yukon Gold, White Rose and Red Rose.
Waxy potatoes such as these are recommended for boiling applications because they have less starch and a higher moisture content. They hold up to boiling and do not absorb as much water. Waxy potatoes tend to result in a more flavorful end product, but it can be difficult to get a really smooth texture without turning them to glue. If you decide to use russet or idaho potatoes for their creamy texture, you should steam rather than boil. Russet potatoes virtually fall apart if you boil them. So as long as you want the potato to end up as "mush" or a thickener, russets are a good choice. If you want the potato to remain intact like in a beef stew, go back to the yukon gold, white rose and red rose variety. Russets are, however, the best potato for BAKING. In this soup, I elected to use the RUSSET potato because (1) it is after all CREAM OF POTATO and leek soup and (2)somebody left a bunch of them at my house. To start this recipe off, thinly slice the white part of a large leek. One pesky thing about leeks is that they tend to have dirt or sand right where the white part meets the green part. So make sure you wash it well and pay attention to this section in particular. Otherwise, you will have grit in your creamy soup.
Put enough olive oil (2 Tbsp should be enough, but if you are watching your waistline, you might get away with one) in the bottom of a pan to thinly coat and wilt the leeks over medium heat. This should take five minutes or less. Next take a pound and a half of your potato of choice and peel it.
These potato peelers are a godsend, but you can manage quite well with just a paring knife if you don't own one. Cut these potatoes up into cubes.
These cubes don't have to be inordinately small, because you will simmer this dish for half an hour. Frankly, you likely could get away with cutting the potatoes into quarters, as long as they aren't too large. Once your leeks are soft, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. If you don't drink wine, no problem. You can use additional chicken stock instead. Finish the liquids with 5 cups of chicken stock. Place 2 bay leaves and a big sprig of thyme in the pot.
You will be taking this out at the end, so if you want to wrap it in a cheesecloth to make it easier, be my guest. I fished them out with a slotted spoon, but I am sure my husband would appreciate the cheesecloth from the engineering viewpoint. In Emeril's recipe, he tied them up inside a leek leaf...easier said than done! Add a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper (to taste.)I used white pepper, but black will work too. Bring the concoction to a boil. Then comes the fun part-- Turn the stove down to the lowest setting, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Put your feet up, grab a good book and how about another 1/2 cup of that dry white wine for YOU. You deserve it.If you don't drink wine, please don't substitute chicken stock here! Get some POM juice. Sit back and relax. Use the last five minutes before the buzzer sounds to set the table, because when you get back to the stove, SOUP'S ON! When your half hour break is over, take the soup off the stove. Remove the bay leaves and the stem of the thyme. Most of the leaves will be in your soup. Next you will need to puree the soup. I used an immersion blender. I think this is much easier and SAFER than transferring to a blender in batches.
Cuisinart makes a very sturdy quality blender for about for just under $40. But if you don't have that kind of cash for this item, use the blender or purchase a less expensive model. I bought the first one I had at Walgreen's for $12. And it lasted for about a year. Once blended, add a half cup of sour cream, whipping cream or creme fraiche.
Personally, I chose the creme fraiche. It is less sour than sour cream and is very high viscosity, so it really doesn't detract from the thick quality of the soup. Some folks, however, might enjoy that sharper sour cream bite or might not like any of it, in which case cream would be your choice. One thing I have noticed in Knoxville is that many stores do not carry creme fraiche, especially if you are outside of the ritzy West Knox or Bearden locations. The specialty food stores such as Earthfare and Fresh Market nearly always have it. But if they don't, no worries. You can make it at home. To make a batch at home, all you do: add a small amount (1 to 2 tablespoons) of buttermilk or yogurt to a few cups of heavy cream, and let the mixture sit out in a clear jar or plastic container in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. (I've read you should leave it uncovered, but—worried about bugs, dust and the like—I left the lid ajar for a few minutes, then sealed it, and was successful.) Within the day, the cream will have transformed to a thicker, tangier and more spoonable version of itself. Then just store it in the fridge, where it will continue to mature. Just as every brand of store-bought crème fraîche tastes different, yours will vary slightly depending on the flavor of your milk or yogurt, the butterfat content you can find, and how long you let it become sour. If you like a looser, runnier consistency, check your crème after 12 hours. I've left some batches as long as 36, especially when using yogurt, which I find produces a thinner version. Just keep in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken once you place it in the fridge. Once you've added in the creme fraiche, garnish with something green. I used a sprig of thyme. One other aside--- If you want your loved ones to feel like you are making a fancy meal, even when it is just potato soup, serve it up in a pretty bowl. I found these beautiful asymmetric bowls for about $3 at CB2 in Atlanta. For dessert, I made a cheater's trifle. I bought a lemon poppyseed muffin at Fresh Market. I thinned about 2 tablespoons of store bought lemon curd with about 2 tablespoons of dry white wine (I used an inexpensive, but delicious albirino for all the parts of this meal.) I had sliced strawberries left over from Monday's meal and a can of store-bought whipped cream in the fridge. I tore the muffin into bite size pieces. I put a tablespoon of thinned lemon curd into the bottom of a burgundy glass, then layered muffin, curd, whipped cream and strawberries, then I repeated, but on the last layer, I put the strawberries before the whipped cream. This made an easy, quick delicious dessert. What did my husband say about this meal? Soup: Um Um Good Trifle: Not trifling Act like my hubby and ENJOY!

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