Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

It's officially Fall, and if you know me, you know that I've kicked into soup mode... even if the Fall temperatures haven't quite hit FL yet. We've had a rainy, gloomy week and I've been sick... all good enough reasons for me to make this, a quick, creamy, warming soup that happens to be my son's favorite.  You really can pull this off in about 45 minutes, so it's definitely feasible for a weeknight... just serve with a tossed salad and some garlic bread or rolls. 

A little background on how I came up with this recipe:  A few years ago I took my son and his best friend to Epcot for my son's 17th birthday.  Toward the end of the day, the kids wanted one more ride on Soarin', but being MUCH older than they are, I just wanted to sit for a bit before the drive home.  While they hit the fast pass line I wandered over to Sunshine Seasons (the counter service restaurant in The Land pavilion) and found that one of the soups of the day was potato leek.  I ordered and sat down with this HUGE bowl of perfection... much much more than I expected from a counter service place.  The flavors were perfectly combined, yet still defined... it was creamy, but still a bit chunky to make it heartier than the potato leek soups I'd had before that were blended to death.  I found myself taking note of each flavor I could place... the brightness of thyme, the subtle bite of just the right amount of black pepper, slight sweetness of carrot, and a depth of flavor from chicken stock and cream sherry.  When I got home I checked all of my Disney cookbooks and online resources, but could only find the recipe from The Rose and Crown... which is good, but a bit more mild in flavor.  I started working on my own recipe and after several tries came up with this one.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
3 leeks, chopped and washed well
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 finely minced shallot
4 cups chicken stock
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup cream sherry
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
1 Tbs dried parsley
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
shredded Gruyere cheese for garnish (optional)

Saute leeks, celery, carrot, onion, garlic and shallot in butter and olive oil over medium low heat until vegetable are very tender.  Add chicken stock, sherry and potatoes;  bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are very soft.  Mash potatoes with potato masher; add thyme, Tony Chachere's and parsley.  Simmer a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Puree soup with hand blender and add heavy cream.  Taste and season with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Boeuf Bourguignon

I've cooked from a good number of cookbooks over the years, some recipes were quick and easy, others not so much.  In general, I'm not intimidated by long ingredient lists or involved preparations... so I'm not really sure what it was about Julia Child's cookbook that had me a little nervous.  Maybe my fear of this book was brought on by Julia's reputation, after all she really was the first celebrity chef, or at least the first one I'd ever heard of, or maybe it was the many accounts I'd read of other people making a disaster of her recipes.  Regardless of what it was that kept me away from trying this recipe for so long, it was all unfounded.  There's nothing in this recipe that requires a great deal of skill, it is a little involved if you follow it to the letter (which I did as much as possible), but my total hands on time for this was about 2 hours, maybe a bit more and the result is out of this world!  There are probably a few things you can shortcut, however I'm glad I took the time to do it right the first time... every step in this recipe has a defining purpose in how it all comes together and the overall flavor.  Be brave, give this a try!

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.