Loaded Potato and Leek Soup

It is definitely officially fall here. Aside from any calendar markings, the tree leaves are in full swing, the evenings are crisp and I have broken out my sweaters…and my hand blender. It must be time for pureeing soups! What, you don’t also mark the seasons by the kitchen utensil use? That’s a shame. You know it’s winter when I break out the cookie cutters.

Potato and leek soup is a classic combination and there are probably a bazillion recipes for it. This is because it’s easy and easily adaptable. It also involves roughly three ingredients + some seasoning. And to top it off, both potatoes and leeks are super cheap.

I’ve been seeing a lot of loaded baked potato soups as of late. I actually made this soup, then saw three recipes in a row for loaded potato soups. This one is slightly different though, as the soup itself is a little bit thinner than some others. Some of those potato soups out there look about as thick as mashed potatoes. Personally I like my soup to be a little more like soup. I also like my soup to ever so slightly less calorie dense than a KFC bowl. Just my personal style. So when I was craving a potato soup with plenty of flavor (read: bacon) I quickly realized that a slightly adapted potato and leek soup would probably work fairly well.

Leeks are one of those farmer’s market items that you probably pass right by as a market novice. They look like giant scallions and they’re often filthy. Layers upon layers of dirt inside and out. They have a much more subtle flavor than an onion or scallion. I’m pretty sure Bridget Jones was trying to make potato and leek soup when she turned the soup blue by using blue ribbon instead of kitchen twine. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that every time I make a soup with leeks I channel Bridget at her finest in the kitchen. Sadly, Colin Firth does not appear at my door to make omelets for my dinner party. Anyway, leeks are delicious and worth the time for cleaning. I promise.

The beauty, I think, behind this recipe is that the soup itself is so easy and uninvolved. There’s very little that goes into the soup base. The toppings, though delicious, are completely optional. This soup is still delicious ‘unloaded’ or ‘partially loaded’.

Loaded Potato and Leek Soup
Makes 10 servings, or one giant pot

2 quarts low sodium beef broth

3 large Russet baking potatoes, diced

2 large leeks, thinly sliced

salt and pepper to taste

toppings

6 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled

5 ounces of cheddar, finely grated

4 scallions, sliced into rounds

In a large stock pot bring broth to a boil. Add the chopped potatoes and leeks. Cover and let simmer until the potatoes are soft and tender.

Once tender, turn the the heat down to low. Using an immersion hand blender, blend the potatoes and leeks until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If the broth boiled down significantly add 1-2 cups of water.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve with cheese, bacon and scallions on top.


Japenese Beef Ramen

In downtown St. Paul there is a small restaurant that serves amazingly good bowls of ‘ramen’ or Japanese noodle soup. It’s called Tanpopo Noodle Shop and it’s delicious. The craving for a bowl full of Udon noodles often calls to me but Senor has never been overly excited to trek down to Tanpopo. It’s not far, really. But it’s the other side of town and a side that we have no other reason to go to. And until I made this large pot of Japanese-inspired soup, Senor had never tasted ‘real’ ramen. You know, the kind that doesn’t come out of a Styrofoam container.

This was my first time attempting to make any kind of Japanese food. I love sushi, but I don’t make it. I leave my raw fish prep up to the professionals. I love hibachi too, and Japanese udon noodles or fried rice from the local hibachi place is seriously one of my favorite things ever. I have a lot of favorite things ever, but still. Delish. And of course, I love good ramen. Oh man, do I love it. So let’s be totally honest, this is a Midwestern attempt at Japanese food. It’s delicious, but by no means would I call it completely authentic. Then again, there’s something to be said for making internationally inspired dishes out of my Minnesotan kitchen.

I realized that I might not ever convince Senor to make the trek to downtown St. Paul without first making him realize what he was missing. His world of Japanese food is pretty happily rooted in sushi and hibachi. Still, I knew he’d love ramen and would totally be on board with it. I was left with no other option. I had to make it. The other thing I knew to be true was the more unique and unusual (to us) the ingredients, the more he would love it. I set about making a beefy ramen that would be memorable.

Ramen is happily one of those dishes where nothing has to be exact. You can go out and buy all the ‘right’ ingredients or you can throw together what you’ve got. I generally prefer Udon noodles but I knew Senor had never had Soba noodles (buckwheat) so I bought a package at Whole Foods for our ramen. Don’t have either kind? Use some spaghetti noodles. Udon noodles are wheat noodles and are similar to traditional pasta. They’re not exactly the same but you know what? In a pinch they work fine. The pictures you see here feature whole-wheat spaghetti noodles. I made more soup and broth than I had noodles for.

I also got some Kombu, a dried seaweed that is commonly found in ramen. And one Daikon, a Japanese radish. Both simmered in the beef broth until they were tender. Kids, this dinner sounds fancy but let me tell you. It was easy. Just like most soups, it’s an easy process of chop, simmer, serve. No roasting required tonight. You can get all the Japanese ingredients at Whole Foods, and probably most grocery stores with an International section. If you can’t find a daikon, use a regular radish. If you can’t find Kombu, use some spinach. If you want to use miso, do it. If you want to use the traditional hard boiled egg, go for it. Personally I used two over-easy eggs and it was amazing. Customize away my friends, this is a forgiving dish and you really can’t mess it up. Oh, and I added some red bell pepper. But only because I had it on hand.

Japanese Beef Ramen
makes six servings

2 quarts beef broth

3 ounces beef, trimmed of fat and sliced or cubed

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 daikon (Japanese radish)

4 pieces of kombu, cut into small pieces

2 bell peppers, sliced into thin pieces

6 eggs

3 green onions, sliced into rounds

3 tablespoons low-sodum soy sauce

Ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika, chili powder

2 packages Udon or Soba noodles, boiled and drained

Start your beef broth in a large stock pot. Add a soup bone if you have one. You can make your own broth or use a low-sodium store-bought variety. I used a soup bone with some meat on it and prepared beef broth for this soup. I had enough left in the bone and the broth to make another gallon of broth for a separate soup. However you’re doing the broth, have it all in one big pot and turn it onto high heat.

Chop up and add the kombu and daikon. The kombu will expand greatly so cut into small pieces. Add any other vegetable you want.

Add generous amounts of ginger and garlic. Add the soy sauce and vinegar. Add salt, chili powder and cayenne to taste. And just a small dash of smoked paprika. Let the flavors simmer before testing as the heat enhances their flavor.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil for the noodles. Cook according to package directions, leaving just slightly al dente. They will finish cooking in the soup itself.

If you haven’t already, add sliced or cubed meat to the beef broth. If you were making the broth with a soup bone, take it out and trim any meat off. Add it back to the pot.

When the vegetables are soft and the broth is flavored to your liking, move it to a back burner and turn it off.

Place a serving of noodles into each bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the noodles.

Quickly prepare eggs over easy. Add them to the soup. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Enjoy with chopsticks, and if you feel like culture smashing, a grilled cheese sandwich. Or not.


Roasted Ratatouille Soup


I guess it’s officially fall when I have a fridge full of veggies and instead of chopping them into a salad, I’m pulling out my stock pot. I love soup, so I guess I have to embrace the seasonal change for what it is. A chance to make a lot of different soups and put some twists into old favorites.

Strictly speaking, Ratatouille is not a soup per se. It’s generally sauteed vegetables covered in a tomato sauce. It’s cooked slowly and the sauce is not canned tomato sauce, but the sauce from roasted or sauteed tomatoes. The dish is often baked after the veggies are sauteed and it’s sometimes a filling or topping on rice, pasta or bread. Delicious, absolutely. But I was looking for something that stood on its own, perhaps with a hearty broth. To be completely honest, I had been itching to get my stock pot out and this was the perfect opportunity.

Ratatouille is a peasant dish that food snobs often argue about. What’s the right way to serve it, make it, eat it. What are the ingredients and how must you prepare it? Everyone from Julia Child to Wikipedia has an opinion on Ratatouille. The beauty of a peasant dish is that, in all likelihood, there is no wrong way to make it. Undoubtedly this dish evolved with the realization that summer and fall harvest veggies could be cooked together to make a very hearty meal for very little money. It was true in the 18th century and it’s still true today. I doubt very much that any two Ratatouille dishes are the same. I would guess though, that they’re all really yummy.

Ratatouille generally consists of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, carrots, garlic and herbs. I had the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onion and garlic, but no zucchini. I had stuffed it earlier in the week and hadn’t replaced it yet. I did have potatoes though, so I swapped those two items. Although zucchini would have been delicious too, the pot was so full of delicious food it didn’t really matter.

I decided before I started cooking that what I really wanted was a roasted veggie soup. Too often vegetable soups are just plain broth with lots of veggies cooked in boiling broth. This can be delicious but it can also get old. Vegetables take on a completely different and delicious flavor when they’re roasted. The skins get crisp and a little charred. The insides are sweet and there’s a smoky flavor that you can’t get without high temperatures. And potatoes are always best when they have a bit of brown on them. So instead of just dumping everything into broth, I started by roasting bell peppers and onions. I cooked the potatoes in butter and olive oil over medium-high heat right in the stock pot. I roasted the tomatoes. I cooked the potatoes and eggplant in chicken broth and eventually added in the roasted vegetables. I added a healthy dose of garlic and a few shakes of smoked paprika and let it all boil into a warm, savory soup.

I burned my tongue tasting it. I added some aged cheddar, thinly sliced to the top. I buttered some bread. I burned my tongue again. Senor grew impatient waiting for it to cool and had to add an ice cube. I added an ice cube too. It was too good to wait. No one complained of being cold even though it was only 50 degrees outside.


Roasted Ratatouille Soup

1 large eggplant, cubed

2-3 pounds small potatoes, quartered

4 tomatoes, cut into pieces

1-2 onions, sliced

2 red bell peppers, sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth

Garlic, sea salt, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika

Chop peppers and onions into small slices. Place on a foil-lined tray and roast at 450º for 15-20 minutes.

While the peppers and onions are roasting, add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil to a stock pot and heat over medium-high heat. Chop the potatoes into quarters and dump into the pot as you go. Use small potatoes or, if you only have large ones, chop them into pieces small enough for a spoon. Stir the potatoes every few minutes to prevent burning. Partially cover the pot with the lid to help the potatoes soften. Be careful not to drip any steam condensation into the pot or you will get splattered with hot oil.

Chop the eggplant into large cubes. Toss with sea salt and let stand in a strainer. Toss occasionally. Before adding to the pot, rinse well with cold water.

When the potatoes are well-browned, add the eggplant and chicken stock. Turn the heat medium and cover. Stir occasionally.

When the peppers and onions are slightly roasted with black char marks and slightly wrinkled skin, remove and set aside. Add four chopped tomatoes to the oven/toaster oven and continue roasting.

Once the eggplant has softened and the broth starts to thicken, add the peppers and onions. Add the tomatoes once they are roasted. They don’t have to be completely done, a slight roast throughout will do.

Stir the entire pot and add generous portion of garlic, either fresh or powdered to the pot. Add sea salt slowly. Be sure to let it dissolve and give the broth a taste to see whether more is needed. Add about a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Let the entire pot simmer for ten minutes.

Taste the broth one more time and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon up each bowlful and let sit at least ten minutes before eating. Top with cheese and serve with bread if desired.