Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome to fall, now let's start making (potato leek) soup

I could without a doubt live off of potatoes and nothing else. Mr Turvy shares my love for all things spud, as I discovered when he recently showed me his 6th grade yearbook.  He went to a small school and each class had their own page dedicated to the students in it.  His class's page began with the headline "Can you imagine...?" and was followed by lots of funny middle school class inside jokes- things like, "...Catherine M. wearing clothes that clashed", "...Danny P. being on time" "Megan R. not gossiping" annnnnnd drumroll please- "Mr Turvy not liking potatoes".  Apparently he liked them so much that his whole class knew about it. So maybe it was fate? Perhaps.

In any event, I can- and will, keep the potato recipes coming. Let's say that you didn't have any russet potatoes on hand to make pommes frites last week but you do have yukon golds (or even those basic, all purpose potatoes).  A great way to use some up is in a potato-leek soup- one of the most delicious, belly warming meals around. There are a number of ways to make this soup using a variety of different ingredients (so feel free to poke around online for modifications).  To make my potato-leek soup, I adapted this pretty basic recipe from Epicurious, my go-to recipe/meal idea website since college. The leftovers will grow more flavorful overnight but this will make you an absolutely ENORMOUS batch of soup. However, if you aren't cooking for a tiny army (or even a grown-up sized one), you might want to halve the recipe.

Potato Leek Soup
Serves 12

2 leeks, washed and sliced
3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. light cream
2 sprigs thyme
2 slices of bacon (save the bacon after you fry it because you'll use it for garnish)
6 c. chicken broth
3 c. water
1 T salt (more to taste)
2 t pepper (I use white pepper in white dishes)
4 scallions, diced (optional, for garnish)
sour cream (light, regular, fat-free- whichever you prefer) or creme fraiche (optional, for garnish)

Step one, cut a hole in the box...  Oops, sorry. Just kidding. Actual step one, peel and chop the garlic and potatoes. Then wash and chop the leeks.  Leeks can Over the years, I've learned to get all ingredients ready to go before you start cooking.  This way, you won't be panicking as things are burning on the stove and you're still trying to get everything chopped and in the pan. Not that this has EVER happened to me of course.

 Look at what a good little worker bee I am.  A word about the leeks: most of the time, they collect unseen dirt in the outer layers.  More than once have made the mistake of trying to slice them whole.  Total fail.  Turns out that it's nearly impossible to get the dirt out from tiny little rings of leek. (You won't use the top, dark green part of the leek, but the dirt usually manages to find its way further down the stalk). To combat that, after washing the leeks, I slice them in half and then peel back the outer layers just a hair and wash them again:    
This should solve the problem

Now that everything's chopped, fry the bacon in the same pot you'll be using for the soup.  The pots at our house range in size from small-ish to lobster pot and I figured everything wouldn't fit in the little guys, hence:
Certainly not winning any prizes for bacon photography
Once the bacon is browned to your desired level of crispness, (I like mine almost burnt but not quite), remove the bacon but leave the grease in the pot.  Add the sliced leeks and garlic and cook on medium/med-low for about 7 minutes (until leeks are floppy).  Then add the chopped potatoes, thyme, chicken broth, water, thyme, and cream. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to medium low and cook for about an hour (until the potatoes are tender- think mushy potato salad-consistency). If you find the soup getting too thick, add water or chicken broth in half cup increments to thin it out a bit. 

Total dream
Here's the soup cooking (at left). In real life, it wasn't nearly this yellow.  Poor kitchen lighting and an iPhone camera flash contributed to this exotic color.  Once the potatoes are tender, remove the sprigs of thyme (no worries if a few stray leaves have detached themselves). You now have two options.  If you have an immersion blender (one of my favorite shower gifts from my pal LuckyClairo- and her darling mother Christmas Cele), now's your time to shine.  I had been pining away for one of these for years and it has already revolutionized my soup making. Basically, it's a hand-held blender. And it will change your life. It's too bad I didn't capture a pic of myself smiling up a storm while using it.  Ah well.  Your second option is to use a regular blender.  But fait attention, it's easy to get carried away and try to cram too much hot stuff into a blender at once. The steam rises up and the hot liquid will escape through the top if you aren't careful.  To avoid this fate, only put 2-3 cups of liquid in the blender at a time (you'll blend several cups at a time and then return them to the pot, and blend another few cups and so on until everything is blended to your liking- some like it chunky, some like it smooth).  Also, while blending, always put pressure on the lid with a dish towel (just to make sure the lid doesn't leak or pop off and you aren't caught off guard trying to put it back on with your bare hands).  Add salt and pepper (add more to taste. I used low sodium chicken broth and added a lot of salt back in to give the soup more flavor).  Incidentally, did you know that peppercorns grow on trees and  look like this in nature?   Saw that on Alton Brown recently and it was totally news to me. At my parents' house, we always used Tony Chachere's creole seasoning in our potato soup and it was delicious- so if you have that handy, give it a go. (Also, we pronounced it "Chaach-erees", which I'm pretty sure is incorrect).

Serve with whichever toppings you prefer.  I used chopped scallions, chopped bacon (remember that from the beginning), a dollop of sour cream (gives it a great tanginess), and a little hot sauce. Grated cheddar is also fantastic on top. As are chives. Basically anything you'd want on a baked potato. Enjoy :)    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When life gives you potatoes....

make pommes frites!  Duh. That's Freedom Fries to you, silly americains.  Remember that whole situation?  When the House cafeteria replaced "freedom" for "French" on their fries and toast.  I was living in France at the time and one of the downsides (aside from living with a host mother who, in addition to being crazy, fed me frozen fish and imitation crab meat while my friends sampled homemade baeckeoffe and choucroute and flammekeuche and all sorts of Alsatian delicacies with their host families) was actually having multiple serious conversations with the French on the freedom vs. french debacle.  (And if you're looking to try any Alsatian delicacies in Boston, check out Sandrine's, an Alsatian restaurant in Harvard Square). On top of that, being American made me seemingly irresistible to people wanting to discuss Monsieur Booosh and his politics, often in bars.  (#1 on my list of intense dislikes: talking politics when drinking. I know it's tempting, but just. don't). When I got back to the States (yes, you can call it that when you've been abroad or are talking to someone who's also been abroad and yes sometimes I know it sounds pretentious but sorry I can't help it) I got a huge kick out of how my fellow Americans handled the situation, chanting U-S-A at every possible opportunity.   

Anyways, where were we? Right, french fries. (One more thing- do you realize that it was three years before the House cafeteria served french fries again? Ouch, America).

That aside, it's a pretty well-known fact that french fries, which were actually invented in Belgium, are one of the most delicious snacks in all of snackdom. However, short of buying a deep fryer, it can be tricky to recreate delicious fries at home.  Especially healthy ones.  Tipsy Turvy to the rescue!   

Homemade Baked French Fries
(serves 4)
5 large russet potatoes (russet potatoes have the perfect consistency for fries), well scrubbed
2T olive oil
1 1/2t sea salt (I prefer the taste of this to standard table salt)
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Note: this is a basic recipe for fries.  If you're feeling extra fancy, additional flavor options include:
  • 1t chopped rosemary
  • 1t Tony Chachere's cajun seasoning 
  • or top with finely grated Parmesan cheese.
Your first step is to cut the potatoes into 1/2" strips.  (If you like them thicker or thinner, cut to your preference).  Do you notice the thick, slippery coating left on your cutting board?  That's starch. Next, you'll put the uncooked fries in a bowl and cover them in cold water. This process helps eliminate starch, sugar, and helps your fries achieve that crispy on the outside, soft on the inside perfection 
Cut fries taking a bath
Put the bowl of potatoes/water in the fridge and let sit for at least an hour (and up to 8, though I never plan far enough in advance to need that much time). Take fries out of the fridge, drain the water, rinse and pat dry. (If you're short on time, here's a quick version of this step: boil a pot of water and add the fries. Cook for 10 minutes, drain, rinse and pat dry, then continue to the next step). In a bowl, toss the taters with the olive oil, salt and pepper and put on a baking sheet in a single layer, like so:

Almost there
You've already preheated the oven to 400, so pop the fries in for 25 minutes.  Cooking time will vary based on your oven- ours is kind of all over the place. At 25 minutes, take the fries out and turn them over with a spatula to get them crispy on both sides.  Put fries back in the oven and cook for 10 extra minutes (until crispy but not burnt). Et voila!

Excuse the poor lighting- our kitchen is beyond dark!
Serve and enjoy, preferably with a homemade burger. Yum!

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to satisfy a craving for Chinese food without calling for take-out

(Now with pictures!!)

As the daughter of two parents born and raised in the Midwest, ethnic cuisine at our house usually translated to exotic dishes like bratwurst, German potato salad, spaghetti and any dish involving noodles. (As a disclaimer, I love my mom's cooking. She is-and always has been a fabulous cook and an incredibly gracious entertainer, even as she's still working on dinner when the guests show up).

Nowadays when I visit my parents in Georgia, my mom always asks me what meals I'd like while I'm home. And invariably, I always request her stir fry. I'm not sure where she got the initially got the recipe for this dish but I do know that it's been a comfort food for me since elementary school. (Yes, I ate lots of veggies in elementary school. That sweet mother o' mine pioneered the chef salad as a lunch long before salads, chef or otherwise were en vogue. You can probably imagine how confused my classmates were in 1988 when I pulled out Tupperware containers of salad and dressing. Embarrassing for sure, but at least it was less embarrassing than a stinky but delicious egg salad sandwich wrapped in wax paper).

What follows here is my take on my mom's stir fry recipe, a healthy chicken and veggie version of a dish ubiquitous to many a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I've made this recipe for friends and family since college and it's evolved a bit over the years from the original recipe (which isn't so much an actual recipe as it is an experiment in adding ingredients, seasoning and tasting until it's just right). Keep in mind that I'm not making any claims of authenticity (by any means), but you can easily modify this recipe to fit your take-out cravings.

Mr Turvy, for instance, loves his stir fry with pineapple. If you're a fan of this sweet/savory combo too, try adding 3/4 c chopped pineapple (fresh or canned and drained). When I made this stir fry last week, I used what I had on hand in our fridge and pantry. When I plan ahead a little better, I love to include 1.5c bean sprouts, baby corn (1 can, drained) and sliced water chestnuts (1 small can, drained). Obviously this is a lot of ingredients to cram into one pot, wok, etc, so you'll probably want to pick and choose your favorite ingredients.

First things first, you'll need to round up your ingredients. When I make this, the bulk of my time is spent chopping vegetables-so if you're short on time after work, do your chopping a day ahead while you're watching the Kardashians or something.  Don't lie- everyone watches the Kardashians. It's hard to avoid them, really, since E! runs re-runs about six times a day.

Something tasty to look forward to!

Chicken and vegetable stir fry
Serves 4-6

2 boneless chicken breasts, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 of a green or red pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 head (or crown) of broccoli, chopped (I use crowns because I'm not crazy about broccoli stems and yes I know it's weird and I need to get over it- maybe someday)
1/4 lb (two handfuls-regular sized handfuls, not super sized, Caroline-esque handfuls) of sugar snap peas, trimmed at ends
2T soy sauce
1/2t red pepper flakes (in lieu of red pepper you can use Sriracha or a spice mixture called sambal oelek to add heat-or if you don't want heat, leave it out entirely)
1T sweet chili sauce (I found mine at Trader Joes but if you don't have any on hand you can substitute it for teriyaki sauce or a hoisin sauce for a taste that's sweeter and smokier)
2T olive oil
2T sesame (or peanut) oil
1/4c chicken broth
3 chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
Rice (brown or white) or rice noodles, cooked according to directions on the package

1/2c chicken broth

1T cornstarch
2T water

Chop the peppers, onions, and garlic and set aside. Trim the ends of the sugar snap peas and set aside. (As the chicken cooks, you'll have time to chop the vegetables but I like to get the chopping out of the way en avance just in case I get distracted while I'm cooking- not entirely uncommon, unfortunately!) Chop the chicken and season it with salt and pepper (I usually aim for 1", bite sized pieces since I don't think you should have to use a knife when you eat stir fry).

In a saucepan or wok, heat 2T oil (I use a mixture of 1T olive oil and 1T sesame oil) until it shimmers.
I tried to take a picture of the shimmering pan, but alas, no dice.

Add the seasoned chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side (until browned)on med-high heat. Be careful of the oil spattering as you put the chicken into the hot pan. Boneless chicken tends to give off water as it cooks, so don't be alarmed-you aren't doing anything wrong.
Watery chicken? Hakuna matata

Push the browned chicken to the outside edges of the pan, add 1T olive oil and add the chopped yellow onion, pepper and garlic.  Just scootch everything over a bit...
Yup, just like that
 Stir occasionally until onions are translucent (shiny and clear-ish)- about 4 or 5 minutes. If you're serving this dish over rice and your rice takes 20 minutes to cook, start it now so that the stir fry and rice will be ready to serve at the same time.

Move the peppers and onions to the sides of the pan to make room for the broccoli and sugar snap peas. Turn heat down to medium and add peas and broccoli.
As an aside, this pot is way too crowded.  Using a wok will really help you cut down on cooking time since everything has more room to spread out

Cook for 2-3 mins until both are bright green. Add the soy sauce, red pepper flakes and 1/4c chicken broth and scrape the pan. Make sure that you're using a wooden or heavy plastic spoon to scrape the pan as metal and stainless steel will damage the finish. 

Add the sweet chili sauce and stir.
Thank you, Trader Joes, for providing me with inexpensive goodies to use in my cooking
Add 1/2c chicken broth to the stir fry and reduce heat to medium low. In a small cup or bowl, stir together 2T water and 1T cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved (this helps to thicken your sauce). Add the mixture to the stir fry and simmer for 5-6 minutes until sauce thickens. Season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve over cooked rice or rice noodles and garnish with chopped scallions. Then pat yourself on the back because you've just fixed yourself a delicious Chinese feast and you won't feel gross afterwards.

I typically make enough of this for leftovers. Y'all have probably noticed that when you reheat cooked chicken in the microwave, it gets sort of creepily rubbery and hard at the same time.  Gross, right? You can avoid this fate by reheating it in an oven-safe bowl or baker at 350 for about 10 minutes.

If you attempt this, let me know how it turns out. What do you like in your stir fry?