Sunday, June 16, 2013

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

Who doesn't love a good potato and leek soup? It's thick, creamy, and full of flavor. There are a billion recipes out there for anyone to follow, and I developed my recipe after reading a few of them, but it's based primarily on one of Emeril Lagasse's recipes (fact: Emeril has posted at least four versions of Potato and Leek Soup on his website). I think this just proves there's no one right way to do it.

One side note: I have found that one of the best kitchen tools to have for making soups is an immersion blender. This is the immersion blender I have. A $25 tool which eliminates the need to clean up a food processor (or spill half of your food trying to get it into a food processor), or a blender. It works great for milkshakes and hot chocolate too.

Total Prep Time: 25 minutes

Total Cook Time: 45 minutes

What you'll need:

3 medium sized leeks
4 russet potatoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine (yes, that is Dave Matthews' wine in my picture. His reds are better than whites, so this has been relegated to cooking purposes)
40 ounces of chicken stock (to make this vegetarian or kosher, you could use vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream

First things first: Open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a drink. You deserve it.

Next, peel and dice your potatoes, then put them aside. You want to dice the potatoes in a medium dice, but the important thing is to try and get them to be somewhat uniform in size so they cook evenly.

The next step is probably the most annoying step. You're going to trim, wash and dice your leeks. Leeks themselves are some of the dirtiest vegetables you'll ever work with, no matter where you purchase them (in fact, I think Whole Foods probably brags about how much dirt is in its leeks, because more dirt = more organic). So it's very important to pay attention when you're prepping your leeks, because the easiest way to ruin a good soup is to end up with a mouthful of dirt.

Take a leek and cut off the bottom, flat end, like so:

Next, you're going to want to cut off the dark green part of the leek. It's hard to exactly figure out where the useable part of the leek ends, so sometimes you just have to try and cut. You can figure it out because if it's useable, the leek gives pretty easily and uniformly under your knife, rather than feeling like you're trying to saw through some palm leaves. DO NOT DISCARD THE DARK GREEN PARTS OF THE LEAVES YET.

As you can see, I misjudged the unusable part of the leek
Take the tender light green/white part of the leek and slice it in half, lengthwise.

When the leeks are cut like this, it's easiest to wash them. Hold the leek halves under running cool water and loosen the layers gently with your fingers, allowing the water to run through. Check for any stuck-on grit or dirt--it's very apparent. Then return the leeks to the cutting board and dice them uniformly.

In a large saucepan (I use a 4 quart saucepan that has handles on both sides), melt 2 tbsp. of butter on a medium heat. Once the butter starts to bubble a little bit, throw the leeks in and stir with a wooden spoon gently to mix the butter on to the leeks. Let the leeks cook for about 5 minutes, or until they become tender and somewhat translucent.

Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine (you could add an extra splash or two without hurting it) and raise the temperature so the wine will boil. After it boils, add the remainder of the ingredients--the potatoes, the whole sprigs of thyme, the bay leaves and the chicken stock. Then, add two of the largest, darkest leek tops after trimming the edges and rinsing. 

Gourmet tip: Emeril recommends that you make something called a bouquet garni using these leek leaves and tying up the thyme, bay leaves, and also a handful of peppercorns in between the leaves. I tried doing this exactly once, and all of the peppercorns escaped the bouquet garni and I cut myself on the stupid leek leaves, so I decided that I'd just go fishing for the remnants at the end of the process. It tastes the same.

Liberally salt and pepper the mixture. Usually I recommend conservative salting and peppering, but this recipe needs more salt and pepper than you think it does. Trust.

Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes. Taste the mixture to make sure you're happy with the flavor profile, and then also check to make sure the potatoes are tender. Turn the heat off (or move the saucepan off the flame momentarily) and remove the dark green leek leaves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme (most of the little tiny thyme leaves will have fallen off of the stalks, which is perfectly acceptable, but you want to get the stalks out of there). 

Now it's time to blend. If you're using a food processor or a blender, you'll transfer the mixture in the amounts that your equipment can handle. But here's why the immersion blender is so great: NO MORE DISHES. No transferring boiling hot liquid and spilling it on you and in the crack between your oven and your counter. Just, one pot, instant creamy goodness.

After you get a smooth consistency with the soup, ladle into individual bowls and seve. You can put a tiny dollop of creme fraiche or a swirl of heavy whipping cream on the soup to make it fancy and to add an even more luxurious, rich taste, but it's really quite delicious without the extra dairy.  Serve, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Horseradish and Herb Crusted Standing Rib Roast

I know,  I keep promising that I will come back. And then I come back for one or two posts and then I vanish. But this time, since things have died down a bit in my personal life, I promise I'm back. For real. You see, the wedding is over! We are married! And now I have TONS of fun wedding gifts for the kitchen to play with. My posts in the future should be more aesthetically pleasing, at least. 

This is a very impressive dish that is actually quite easy to make. My mom originally gave me this recipe and I make it pretty much any time I see a standing rib roast on sale at Publix. The great thing about the dish is that it's easily modifiable based on how many people you're having for dinner, and once you get it in the oven, it's very low maintenance. And it's VERY pretty.

Oh, and by the way, I've come up with a new trick for the blog. Whenever there is a step or a tip that I have that is optional, but will really elevate the end product, I'll insert it with the heading "Gourmet Tip."

Total Prep Time: 15 min (not counting time it may take to soften butter and let meat come to room temperature)

Total Cook Time: 1.5 hrs-3 hrs depending on size of roast


Standing Rib Roast (the size you get will depend on the number of people you are cooking for. The general rule of thumb is that one rib will typically feed about two people, but since we are typically hungrier, I try to think more that one person will eat 2/3 of a rib--also they typically don't sell them any smaller than two ribs at a time, otherwise it's just a bone-in rib-eye steak)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 tbsp prepared horseradish
3 tbsp softened butter
finely minced thyme, rosemary and sage to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

Gourmet Tip: Meat cooks so much better if you bring it out of the fridge anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes before you plan on cooking it. Why? You want your meat to rise to its cooking temperature quickly--whether you are searing it or roasting it. Otherwise there's a better chance the meat will steam, which will leave it colorless, crustless, gray and rubbery. Or just won't have as good of a texture. My tip is to just pull the meat out of the fridge before you do any of your prep work and set it on the counter so it can warm up a little bit. I typically will open the package, rinse the meat, and then let it dry on some paper towels and covered loosely by a paper towel, since we all know that dry meat cooks better than wet meat.

Preheat your oven to 350. 

If you have softened butter by leaving it on the counter, good for you. I commend you. Otherwise, put your butter in a microwave safe bowl (don't slice it, just put the whole hunk in there) and nuke it for 10 seconds. You want it to come out at this consistency:

Add the horseradish and the finely minced herbs to the butter and mix well, creating a paste.

You want there to be enough herbs in the butter mixture so that you can see them, but you don't want to be entirely herby. I can't tell you how many sprigs of each herb to use, but try to evenly distribute them throughout the butter mixture.

Place your roast a small roasting pan where your standing rib roast fits snugly (I typically use a square 8X8 non-stick pan for a smaller roast). Salt and pepper all surfaces of the roast. Then, stand your roast up so that the bone is closest to the pan, and coat the top of the roast with your butter mixture.

After you evenly coat the butter mixture on top of the roast, sprinkle with bread crumbs. If you want to get super fancy, you can put parmesan cheese in with the bread crumbs, but just a tiny bit.

Then, put your roast in the oven. For cooking times, I have calculated that the roast cooks best at approximately 22 minutes per 8 ounces. That will give you a pretty rare roast, but I'd rather you undercook at first, and then put a meat thermometer in to find out it needs a little more time, rather than end up with an overcooked piece of meat. 

When you check the temperature, make sure you don't touch the bone with the meat thermometer. I like to check it in a couple of places in the center of the roast so that I can get an "average" reading. For medium rare center, you want the center to be at about 140. Remember, you're going to let it rest for about 15 minutes after you pull it out, and the temperature will continue to go up about five degrees.

Shhh, it's resting.
After you let it rest (some people tent tin foil over it while it rests but I tend to find that this steams the crust that I worked so hard to make crispy), you will slice it and serve. The best way to slice is to go vertically between the bones, then carve off of the bones. 

Serve, and enjoy!!!