Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’

After a few weeks of perfectly warm and sunny weather, we folks here in Southern California got hit with a bit of rain today.  Big deal, you’re probably thinking to yourself if you live anywhere but here, but here in Los Angeles, it’s kind of odd when it rains after the end of March.  We really don’t know what to do with ourselves. 

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the rain.  It’s still coming down as I write this, and since both Choo and Kiddo are in bed dreaming big dreams, I have everything turned off so I can listen to it. 

Still, the funniest thing I overheard today, while in the parking lot of the local u-pick farm and farmstand was a man worrying over the whole family getting pneumonia while spending the morning in barely drizzling 58° degree weather.  Yeah, we’re a city of weather wimps. 

It was a perfect day for me to go stomp around in the fields;  I picked a nice mess of fava beans, some red leaf lettuce, and a bag full of leeks.

I love that shade of green.  This was a new experience, pulling leeks out of the ground.  It really was incredibly satisfying to do it, to tell the truth.  By the way, for my Southern California readers, we were at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.   We get out there about twice a year, once around this time, and again in the late summer–luckily, they do the farmer’s market circuit, so I see them at the Calabasas, Encino, and Hollywood farmer’s markets–it’s an easier trip.  Highly recommended, especially if you’ve got kids.

I digress.  Back to soup!

I pulled out seven slender leeks, which, once home, were washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin half-moons. 

These were tossed into a soup pot with a few tablespoons of melted butter waiting for them.  This soup calls for the leeks to be cooked on a low heat, slowly, until they’re glossy and soft, and you know that if you pulled out a bite of them, they’d melt in your mouth. 

When the leeks are tender, after about 15 minutes, a few sprigs of thyme get tossed into the pot.

I don’t know about you, but I really like fresh thyme.  The one thing I don’t like about it is trying to strip the leaves from the stems–it’s one of those fiddly jobs that just gets in the way of things.  But, you know what’s great?  When making a soup or a stew with fresh thyme, it’s okay to just throw the whole stem in during the cooking process.  The heat and the simmering will cause the leaves to come off the stem, and all you need to do is just fish the stems out at the end. 

To these lovely leeks, add four large-ish peeled and chopped russet potatoes.  I like using russets for this soup for the fact that they do fall apart, creating a thick texture.  The one warning is to not overcook and overwork the potatoes–depending on how big the chunks are, the simmer time shouldn’t be more than 15-20 minutes–just long enough so the potatoes are tender and will easily crush with the back of a spoon. 

Once the potatoes are in, then chicken stock (or vegetable stock) is added, just enough to cover the potatoes.  In this case, a quart was the perfect amount.  Bring the pot up to a boil, then turn down to low to simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Now, I used an immersion blender–I feel like I get more control on pureeing than what I get out of a regular stand blender.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, don’t fret, you can use a regular blender, but only puree about half of the soup, and smash some of the larger chunks of potato.  Only pulse the blender a few times to smooth it out–if the potatoes are overworked, what will happen is too much of the starch in the potatoes get released, and you’ll end up with wallpaper paste.  This is a soup where chunks are good and are to be expected. 

This is, also, where you put in some half and half.  Or heavy cream, if you’re daring.  Or low-fat milk, if you’re not.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

My perfect end to a rainy Sunday: curling up on the couch with a blanket and a steaming bowl of soup, and watching The Simpsons with the family.

Potato-Leek Soup

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts–appx. 6-7 leeks)
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low-sodium or homemade), more if needed
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, melt butter on low heat.  Add leeks and sweat for about 15 minutes, until soft and tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add thyme sprigs, saute for one minute.  Add potatoes, and add enough stock to just cover contents of the pot. Bring heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, and let simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat, and with an immersion blender, pulse to puree soup, but still leaving somewhat chunky. 
  4. Stir in half & half and return to a low heat for a few minutes.
  5. Season with salt & pepper to taste. 

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I wanted to bring a salad to the party last night, but I just didn’t want to bring some greens tossed in viniagrette–I mean, that’s good, too, but I was looking for something a little more substantial, perhaps served warm and using seasonal vegetables.  A search through Epicurious.com (one of my favorite recipe sites), I came across what sounded like a perfect recipe:  Yukon Gold potatoes roasted in olive oil, parmesan and garlic, then thinly sliced kale gets tossed in with the hot potatoes and dressed in a lemon-tahini sauce. 

This was delicious;  the kale wilted nicely (although I was making a double batch, and after tossing it around with the potatoes, I needed to pop it in the oven for 2 minutes to help break the kale down a little more), and it’s really the dressing that makes this dish work.  It’s tart and nutty and it lightens up what could be very heavy on the palate.  This will definitely go into into a regular rotation here at home, and it would complement fish or chicken, but it’s also hearty enough to be a vegetarian main dish. 

Wilted Kale and Roasted-Potato Winter Salad

by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez for Gourmet, December 2008

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise
  • Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, 10 minutes. Stir in sliced garlic and roast 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick.)

Toss kale with hot potatoes and any garlic and oil remaining in pan, then toss with tahini sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

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I’ll admit it:  as much as an In-N-Out Burger (Double-Double, Animal Style) makes me weak in the knees, their fries leave me cold.  I know their big selling point is that they’re made from fresh-cut potatoes; they only put them through a single frying process, which leaves them, in my opinion, tasting undercooked.   Yes, yes, I know you can order them well-done, but then they’re fried to a crunchy crispness closer to those tinned shoestring potatoes I remember eating when I was a kid. Give me a fry with some heft and with that fluffy, starchy interior that will hold up against whatever you dip it in.

I’m particularly fond of steak fries–those thick wedges with the skins left on, fried a dark golden brown, and hit with a good dose of seasoned salt.

These things always seem to start with… I had a craving.

I had a craving.

And potatoes.

A good fry starts with a starchy potato such as a Russet/Idaho potato.  Why a starchy potato, over something, say, a red-skinned potato, which is a waxy (or “boiling”) potato?  A starchy potato, is higher in amylose, which is a starch that takes on moisture–the water in the potato–and it will swell and take on that fluffy texture so desired in in a french fry.  Waxy potatoes, on the other hand, have a higher concentration of  amylopectin, which is not soluble in water, and will hold its shape.  This makes a waxy potato perfect for stews and soups where you’d rather not have your vegetables fall apart.

After cutting up three medium-sized Russet potatoes, I rinsed them in cold water, which washes off the excess starch that is released when the potato is cut.   These wedges were spread out on a towel after rinsing, and left to dry out a bit while I set up for frying:

Here I’ve got a heavy pot with about an inch of vegetable oil, with a medium-high flame going underneath.

The Husband (who will now be known here as “Choo” because that’s my pet name for him) bought me that fancy digital thermometer.  At first, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it–I liked my old school glass and metal guys.  Then again, when I realized how many of those glass thermometers I’ve lost over the years because they’d get dropped in the sink or banged around in a drawer, I realized how great this thermometer really is.  No glass to break and quick temperature readings?  Totally worth the expense, especially since I do plenty of candy making during the holidays.

The second trick to a really great french fry is a double frying process.  It sounds a bit like overkill, but let me explain what happens:  if we were to drop the fries into a very hot oil, then we get the dark crust, but the inside will remain undercooked;  if the oil is too low of a temperature, then it takes too long for the potatoes to cook, and they will start to absorb the oil (I think everyone has once in their lives encountered soggy, oil-laden fries–that’s what you get when your oil’s not hot enough).  In this two-step process, the oil is first heated to 325° to blanch the potatoes.  It’s hot enough to start cooking the potato through, without browning the outside:

This is after about 5 minutes of frying.  It’s looking nice–not as dark as I’d like it to be, and the potato is about half-cooked:  a fine start, indeed.

I didn’t need to remind you to not crowd your pan when you’re frying stuff, right?  That putting too much in at the same time drops the temperature too low and you’re going to get soggy fries–you knew that already, right?  Of course you did.  That’s what I like about you.

These were all blanched in batches–good stuff takes a little time.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

So, after blanching, I had a devious thought.

Yes.  That’s bacon fat.  A very joyous thing, indeed.

Wait–are you asking why I didn’t just fry them in 100% bacon fat?  The problem is that animal fats have much lower smoke points and will break down faster than vegetable oils.  For the temperature and period of time that the fat needs to be held to fry a few batches of potatoes, it would just end in tears, and perhaps a call to the fire station.  The trick is to add a small amount of bacon fat to the oil after all your fries have gone through the blanching process.  There’s plenty of vegetable oil with a high enough smoke point (most refined vegetable oils like canola and peanut are at about 450°) that adding some bacon fat for a little flavoring won’t hurt it too much–it will drop the smoke point, but not enough where it will be an issue for cooking some french fries.

I stirred in about two spoonfuls of that bacon fat into the pot, and started on the second part of the cooking process. I turned the heat up a little and let the oil get up to about 370°, which is a perfectly good temperature to get the outside of those fries nice and brown, and to finish off cooking the insides.

Not quite there, my little pommes frites.

Oh, now we’re talking.

I made a quick dipping sauce of mayo with garlic and parsley–ketchup’s got it’s place, but not this time.

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