Saturday, September 19, 2015

It's Almost Time: Potato Leek Soup

The first whiff of Fall is in the air, and it won't be long until the first really crisp and cool day descends on us. That's always the day we make our first batch of Potato Leek soup of the Fall and Winter seasons. It's hearty, satisfying, and I typically serve it with a good bread or cheese biscuits, and, after supper, a pot of tea and some sort of spicy or homey cookie, like homemade ginger or peanut butter cookies. I think we just like all the rich, warm aromas that emanate from the kitchen! On that first cold night, nothing beats Potato Leek Soup.  But I digress. Here is the soup that we all love:


POTATO LEEK SOUP

I use a 12 quart lidded stockpot

* * * * * * * * * *

1 pound of thick cut smokey bacon, cut into 1" pieces

1 or 2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly diced into approx. 1/2" pieces

6 leeks, washed well to remove the sand inevitably stuck down near the root end, then roughly sliced into 1/2" slices

1/2 small head of cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded

8 to 10 large russet or yukon gold potatos, peeled, halved, then quarter the halves

12 cups (96 ounces) of chicken broth -- have another 2 to 3 cups on hand if needed

1 or 2 bay leaves

salt to taste

fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning

1 large carrot, shredded

1/4 tsp. caraway seed (optional)

1/2 pint of heavy cream -- or get a pint if you plan to have the soup again within the week

4 to 6 ounces of gruyere cheese, shredded (this is easier if the cheese has been frozen first) - you will need more cheese for subsequent meals


In a large stockpot, cook the bacon until browned and almost crisp, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the pot. Remove bacon, chop roughly; place in a paper towel lined bowl and set aside. If there seems to be more than 3  or 4 tablespoons of bacon fat left in the stockpot, drain some of it off.

To the bacon fat in the stockpot, immediately add the onions and celery, scraping up the brown bits and stirring to cook just until the onions begin to brown. Add the leeks and cook over medium low heat until wilted. Add the potatoes, stir, and cook a few minutes longer. Add the chicken stock, coarsely shredded cabbage, Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning, bay leaf, carrot and thyme. Add salt if needed: Remember there is already some salt in the bacon drippings and chicken broth, so add small amounts and repeatedly taste to get it to your liking. Turn up the burner to medium, and when the stock begins to boil, add half of the bacon pieces, then turn down the heat so that the stock just simmers gently, cooking until the potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes or so, stirring occasionally with the lid ajar a bit.

Using an immersion blender, pulse through the soup to break up the potatoes to the consistency you desire; we like some small potato chunks in the soup, but you may want it smoother. If you like a smoother soup but still a like a little texture, press the potatoes through a ricer instead of using an immersion blender, then return the potatoes to the stockpot.  If the soup seems a bit too thick at this point, (or you just like it a bit thinner), add additional chicken stock and heat until simmering. Add the caraway seed, parsley, and freshly ground pepper to taste.

In individual soup bowls or soup plates which have been pre-warmed, add a tablespoon or two of the heavy cream, and microwave it for 15 seconds or so to take the chill off. Ladle in the soup and stir. Add a drizzle of heavy cream to the top, followed by a 2 tablespoons or so of the gruyere, and top with some of the remaining bacon bits. Serve with nice crusty bread and a salad.

NOTE: I don't add heavy cream to the stockpot for these reasons: 1) the entire pot will be ruined if the cream boils, and 2) there will be lots of soup left for more meals, and soup with cream does not freeze well. The soup freezes wonderfully without the cream and can be used up to four months later. Freeze leftover soup in multiple serving batches.  Defrost a batch when needed, and slowly reheat in a covered heavy bottomed pot until simmering. Make up the soup bowls as above and serve.

Also: The soup is better when allowed to cool and is then chilled overnight and reheated. That never happens, though! We have absolutely no willpower. But if you can make this in advance, it is actually better reheated and served the next day. First day soup is very good; second day soup is GREAT. :-) Hence the big batch. 

Makes 8 to 10   2 cup servings





Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THOSE Toffee Bars

My Mom would make Scotch Toffee Bars when we were kids, and I remember seeing the recipe on a Quaker Oats container ... and she wrote it onto a piece of paper, which became pretty dogeared over the years.

Fast forward 45 years, and when going through the recipe drawer as we were sorting out her estate, the recipe was nowhere to be found. That is just crazy! We know it was there, somewhere.

The internet has saved us once again! I did a search for the bars, and eventually recognized the recipe that someone had claimed as their own under a different name. Here it is, in all it's original (And SIMPLE!) glory.

Quaker Oats Scotch Toffee Bars

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Farenheit
Line a METAL 7 x 11 or 8 x 8 pan with heavy duty foil that is very well buttered -- be sure to have 2" or so of excess foil beyond the rims of the pan

1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups Old Fashioned Oats (rolled oats, not quick oats)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, add the butter to the oats and stir well. Add the salt and brown sugar and mix well. Add the dark corn syrup and stir until thoroughly combined. Press into the foil lined pan, and bake for 11 or 12 minutes on the middle rack of a 450 degree oven. Remove from the oven, and immediately sprinkle with 6 ounces of semisweet or milk chocolate chips. Allow to melt for 10 minutes, then spread to swirl across the top of the bars. Allow to cool 30 minutes longer, then lift the bars from the pan by the excess foil 'ears' ... and cut into bars ASAP with a VERY SHARP KNIFE.  Don't wait to cut them any longer than 30 minutes or they are very difficult to cut.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pretty cheesy!

We (as in our family) have a long standing love affair with cheese. Good cheese, not grotty american processed cheese products or wimpy flavorless varieties. Cheeses with character and backbone, cheeses with personality and gumption. And to that end, we love recipes that use cheeses of that ilk.

So no surprise that this cheese biscuit recipe is a favorite: It incorporates a heady cheddar and a pungent parmesan for a wonderful treat of a biscuit. I snack on them often instead of the same-old-same-old tired fare of chips, etc.

They are wonderful as the starch part of a meal instead of rice, potatoes, or pasta. They are, in a word, yummy.

CHEESE BISCUITS

2 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking POWDER
1/2 teaspoon baking SODA
3/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into smallish cubes
2cups (packed!) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 4-5 ounces)
1cup (about 2-3 ounces) grated or shredded parmesan cheese
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

Oven 400 degrees

Fit a baking sheet with a width of parchment paper OR grease lightly

Whisk dry ingredients together, then cut in butter and blend wit ha pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheeses all at once and toss to coat well. Gradually add buttermilk, and stir only until mixed together.  Round up the dough, and drop by large spoonfuls (a scant 1/4 cup) and drop onto baking sheet about 2" apart. Bake 16 - 20 minutes; be sure to check them right at the 16 minute mark for doneness. Don't overbake. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.
Makes 16 biscuits.

Can be doubled, which is usually what I do .... since they make excellent snacks, too.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A tribute to Mom

This recipe is a tribute to my Mom, who passed away on January 3. Chicken and biscuits were her favorite meal. I make Sour Milk Biscuits as my go-to biscuit. This is my standard biscuit base for that meal, and it also makes a wonderful breakfast biscuit slathered with butter  and raspberry jam. Here's to you, Mom: may you have heavenly chicken and biscuits every day in the hereafter.


Sour Milk Biscuits


3 cups flour
½ cup shortening
pinch of baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sour milk*
melted butter (optional)

*Make sour milk by mixing 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar OR fresh lemon juice with enough milk to measure 1 ½ cups at least 15 minutes before starting to make this recipe.

Sift all dry ingredients together. Cut in the shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in sour milk with a large spoon, by hand. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or so. Roll out at least ½" thick and cut with a biscuit cutter or the top of a small drinking glass. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with melted butter if desired. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 -15 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen small biscuits (2" diameter) or 15 large ones