November 06, 2013

Hearty Potato Soup

The influx of cold fall weather has me wanting all the best comfort foods.  Especially all things cheese and potato apparently, because I just posted scalloped potatoes earlier this week.

This past Sunday was spent recovering from a fantastic rugby Halloween party, napping, and watching football (go Bills!), so it was the perfect day to mozy and work on soup, since it takes a little bit of time.       Now I will admit that I have never in my life made soup.  I don't even remember my mom ever making soup.  But with Joe's voice of confidence and my conviction that nothing with potatoes, cream, and bacon could go wrong I set out on my very first soup-making adventure.  It was both as easy and delicious as I had dreamed it would be, so I hope you'll give it a try.

This recipe was largely based on the Absolutely Ultimate Potato Soup from Allrecipes.  They even have a video if you want to see this baby in action. It takes maybe 1.5- 2 hours to make, depending largely on your chopping speed and how soft you want your potatoes to be.  This also allows some lovely time for Charm Hour (aka the time spent drinking, socializing, and snacking before dinner).

FYI: this makes enough soup for 8.  You can think about cutting that down, but you really should make the full thing and save it in tupperware.   The full recipe is at the bottom.

You'll Need:

1/2 lb bacon, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 leek, chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken stock 
3 TB butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

To start, chop up 1/3 to 1/2 of a pack on bacon and cook in a dutch oven/ large pot over medium heat.
You can always use more bacon, just pour off some of the bacon fat so you have about 1/4 cup left in your pot.

The pieces don't have to be too small, they'll shrink with cooking.  We also found it easier to cut multiple pieces at a time.

While that's cooking, get your chopping going.  Start with celery and leeks, as you'll need those first.  You can use onion rather than leeks, but I'm not much of an onion person.

Because leeks are these many-layered stalk-like veggies, they can trap dirt in between their layers.  The easiest way the clean them is to chop them all up, then drop them in a bowl of water.  The leeks will float, and your dirt will sink.  When it's time to use them, just scoop they off the top of the water.

Type of potato, peeling and chopping size are really up to you and what you like best.  I haphazardly peeled my gold potatoes, but you can go crazy and use not-peeled red potatoes, or whatever your heart desires.

Once your bacon is cooked, scoop it out and set aside on paper towel to keep it crispy.

Make sure to save about 1/4 cup of bacon grease in the bottom of your pot.  If you make more bacon, just pour off some of your fat.  I recommend saving it- it's great for sauteing green beans or frying an egg.

Throw in your leeks and celery and stir that around for a few minutes.  If you use onions, you'll keep those going until the onions become translucent.

Finish up chopping those potatoes and toss them in the pot with your celery and leeks.

Toss your potatoes around in the grease and vegetables for 4 minutes.

Add enough chicken stock (not broth- make sure it's stock) to cover your potatoes.  Cover and simmer until your potatoes are tender.

This next part only takes a few minutes, so wait until they're starting to get soft before starting it.

Melt 3 TB of butter into a metal skillet on medium heat.  Add 1/4 cup of flour, and stir until well mixed.  Whisk in heavy cream, tarragon, salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste.  Keep whisking until thickened.

According to the original recipe and the comments of other cookers, the tarragon is extremely important to the flavor, and shouldn't be left out.  I also added garlic salt, and Creamy Peppercorn by Penzey's.  

Add this to your potato pot and stir until well mixed.  My potatoes were still not soft enough for my taste, so I simmered a little longer.  

Once your taters are ready, use a hand masher to bring it to your ideal consistency.  I wanted my soup real think with not too many chunks, so I did a good bit of mashing, but you can do it as sparingly as you please!

As you can tell, my soup's really thick.   You can always add milk or chicken stock to thin it out without altering the flavor.

And now for those final product pictures:

Obviously, everything potato is better with cheese.  I used extra sharp cheddar.

And of course, the bacon.  Alternatively, you can add it earlier in the cooking process (i.e. when you add the cream mixture) to get more bacon flavor mixed in.  I chose to keep it for the end so it would be nice and crispy.  So many choices!

And because we ought to have more than just soup for dinner, Joe made up some roasted bone-in chicken breasts with an herb dry rub.  He's so wonderful.

The Recipe:

You'll Need:

1/2 lb bacon, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 leek, chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken stock 
3 TB butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

In large pot, cook bacon over medium heat until done. Remove bacon from pan and set on paper towels, but keep bacon grease in the pot.

Saute celery and leeks in bacon grease for 4 minutes.  Add potatoes and stir to coat.  Saute for 4 minutes.  Add chicken stock to just cover the potatoes.  Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender.

In a separate pan, melt butter on medium heat.  Mix in flour to form roux.  Whisk in heavy cream, tarragon, salt, and pepper.  Cook and stir until thickened.  Pour into potato pot and stir until well mixed.   Once potatoes are tender, mash with a hand masher until preferred amount of chunkiness.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve and garnish with shredded cheese and bacon.

October 30, 2013

Scalloped Potatoes

I absolutely love cheese.  You can put in on nearly anything and I'm a happy camper.  And what could possible go better than cheese and potatoes?!  I mean whether their baked, mashed, or roasted it's basically the best thing ever.  So in my book, scalloped potatoes are definitely the bee's knees.  Creamy, and gooey, and crispy on top.

Now that is heaven on earth.

October 20, 2013

Karen's Crab Cakes

I seriously love crab.  And fortunately for me, my mom has spent her life on the east coast so she's an expert in seafood.  She grew up in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and spent a big chunk of her graduate school/ young adult years in Maryland so she's got all that knowledge and love.   Last time I was home she suggested crab cakes for dinner and I leaped at the opportunity to not just eat them but blog them so all of you lucky readers can make amazingly delicious crab cakes too.

These little babies are freaking amazing and you should definitely try them.

You'll Need:

1 lb crab meat
1 cup crushed Ritz crackers (about 1/2 a sleeve)
1 egg
2/3 cup mayo
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp Old Bay seafood seasoning
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a dash of salt and pepper

optional: panko breadcrumbs

This scrumptious recipe uses canned lump crab meat.  Our family believes the lumpier the better when it comes to crab cakes, but to each his or her own.  You can always break it up a little more in your mixing process if you'd rather it have a more shredded-up feel.  

In a medium bowl, crush up your Ritz crackers.  Alternatively, you could use seasoned breadcrumbs.
Add your dry mustard, Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

Next mix in your egg and a scoop of mayo.  If you want to go healthier, you can use a little milk instead.  Then slowly and carefully mix in your crab lumps.

As I said earlier, we're in the lumpier-the-better camp.  If you are too, then you'll want to gently fold the crab in with a big spoon like my momma's doing in the picture below.  If you don't mind it being broken up, then you can just stir it in and not worry a bit.

Once you're mixed in, make them into palm-sized little cakes.

Once your cakes are made, you can press some panko bread crumbs into each side.  It makes it a little bit more crunchy, but they'll be delicious either way.

Now that you're ready to cook, you might as well open up your wine if you haven't already for Charm Hour.  Usually they say you should have white wine with seafood, but we had this super special white cabernet sauvignon that actually looks like a rosé.

 This wine is made with cabernet sauvignon grapes- which usually make a dark, dry red wine.  But with this wine they remove the skins early in the fermenting process, leaving the wine with a hint of pink color, but a lighter taste that you'd associate with a white wine.  It's absolutely delicious.  It comes from Silver Springs Winery on the east side of Seneca Lake in upstate New York.  If you're in the area you should stop through for a tasting, and if not you can always consider ordering some.

 Back to those crab cakes!  Let's get cooking.  Heat up some olive oil and butter in a pan.

You can tell it's hot enough when A.  the butter is melted and B. if you splash a drop of water on the pan it sizzles.  Carefully place your little cakes into your hot pan and let them sit.

When they start to brown, gently scoop and flip them over.  The crab is already cooked, so it's really just heating it enough to cook the egg in there and make the outside crispy so don't worry too much about how long on each side.  

To round out our meal we also cooked up some salt potatoes and threw together a salad.

And now for the final product:

And now, as Joe keeps saying next to me, "I'm hungry for crab cakes just looking at them".  I think I'll be making these again myself one day soon.

More than anything, I'm thankful that I was able to get home to see my family and spend some time together.  Here's to you Mom, for instilling in me a love for crab (and wine).  I love you!

p.s.  If you're looking to make crab legs rather than using just the meat, check out my snow crab dinner here.  

October 09, 2013

Karen's Striped Granny Blanket

One on the foundations of crochet is the granny square.  It's a motif made of clumps of double crochet that can be made into just about anything- the most simple being either a quilt of small squares or one gigantic square blanket.

granny square via Purl Bee

via EmpowerNetwork

Because of it's simplicity, it's also very versatile to being modified to make either elaborate squares, or as with this blanket, a more abstracted form.

I fell in love with the simplicity and sleekness of this blanket when I came across it on the Purl Bee.  Although I don't shy away from the cute or quirky, my mom has a much more classic sense of style.   She also likes things to match in a way I've never mastered.  We often joke that things have to be in "her colors"- dark brown, black, and gold usually.

Because of this blankets simplicity and sleekness, I thought it would be perfect.  Swap out that delicate alpaca yarn for a very sturdy yarn (Loops and Threads: Impeccable Solids), and you get something warm enough to survive my parents freezing air conditioning that also matches their decor.

p.s.  After all this talk about matching, let me just say that these pictures are taken on my couch, not my parents.  These couches have given up on matching and instead mean I can put basically anything in my living room and call it matching.

Ta-da!  Plus Oy very nicely modeled for me.

The basic premise is that the wider and taller granny stitch is interspersed with rows of single crochet in a contrast color.  I did my stripes at random intervals, but you could also make them evenly spaced, like in the original.