Surviving January – Potato Leek Soup

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In my family we nearly always put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and take it down the day after New Year’s Day. My mother, while wanting to enjoy the decor as long as possible, was also very pragmatic. Wanting to take advantage of the days off work surrounding these holidays, she managed our lives accordingly. I am definitely my mother’s daughter and follow this pattern in my own home. But whereas she would rejoice in the look of her house without the Christmas decor clutter, describing it as refreshing, simple, and relaxing, I always mourned the loss of the lights, the sparkle, and the festive atmosphere. Living now in a place where we have bitter cold winters and the unromantic every-day dealing with snow, I’ve come to loath putting away the decorations even more (it’s, like, fun for a minute when you’re cuddling with a cup of hot cocoa inside your house until you’re stuck scraping ice off your window while wet snow water seeps into your boots so you can get to work on time).

I didn’t notice it at first, but over the past few years I’ve been rebelling. It started when I didn’t take down my window lights in the dining room – I liked keeping them up for when I had parties all year around – they are white, simple, and don’t scream “the person who keeps their holiday lights up all year around.” Then I noticed I’d forget to put away certain decorations – the snowman bowl that sits on my coffee table, the red and grey dish towels with snow flakes on them. Slowly I realized that I wanted to keep some non-Christmas, but still-winter things up and out to pull me through the dark, cold month of January and into February when I’d perk back up because of Valentine’s Day.

I see now that I’m slowly building up specific rituals designed to get me through January intact – this California desert girl still wilts under the weight of the winter blues despite having lived here for over 15 years. One of the things I love to do now is try even more new recipes because — what else do you do while you’re trapped in the house for a three-day snow storm? Luckily we haven’t had that yet, but the impulse to stock up on handy ingredients for experimentation is still there. This year, I was also the grateful recipient of two new cookbooks for Christmas gifts – Paula Deen Cuts the Fat and The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook. I’ve been pouring over these in my spare moments, enjoying the real-talk of Paula as she details her struggle to cook and eat more healthily and loving the unique stories of the immigrants who contributed to the Ellis Island volume.

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A little blurry, but I was trying to show you some of the chunks we left after blending – mmmm! 

This week, Mr. Foodie and I took a stab at Paula’s Leek and Potato soup because even though we love soup all year around, we especially love making it in winter. Paula’s goal was to create a warm, rich soup without loading it up with butter or cream. We both declared it a success! Paula’s recipe calls for chicken broth, but we used veggie stock. I imagine the broth would have given lovely flavor, but we only had veggie stock on hand and thought it might be slightly healthier, although I’ve yet to make the comparison to check. The only “fat” element in the soup is a cup of 2% milk (although we think Paula would go with whole milk. The cauliflower is what lends the creaminess in place of actual cream or the addition of cheese. I LOVE cauliflower, although Mr. Foodie is not a fan, generally. Cauliflower makes so many cool things you wouldn’t expect – a great substitute white sauce for pasta, the base for pizza crust, even roasted with some garlic it’s delicious.

The part I liked best about preparing this soup is that we got to use the immersion blender! This blender was the first Christmas gift Mr. Foodie ever gave me. We’ve used it before, of course, but mostly the blender bowl version for smoothies. Making smooth, creamy soups is so much easier with an immersion blender. No transferring hot soup to a blender, no risk of burning yourself, and it is so much quicker.

This recipe made a LOT of soup. We had two big bowls and still more for lunch the next day. Mr. Foodie said it could have benefited from the addition of bacon – lol. I see what he means, we are almost conditioned to see potatoes and think of bacon, but we were trying to keep it healthy. On the other hand, a little sprinkle of crispy bacon on top of the soup for garnish would be heavenly. On its own, the soup was hearty, creamy, and yet fresh in the mouth – a great use of leeks!

We have one leftover leek, so we’ll see what we come up with for that – maybe for inclusion in a new batch of risotto? If you have suggestions, we’d love to hear them!

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Paula Deen’s Creamy Potato Leek Soup

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

4 medium leeks, green and white parts sliced thinly

2 cups cauliflower florets

2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie stock like we used)

salt and pepper

1 cup milk

Paprika for garnish

Melt the butter and cook the leeks on medium until softened (7-8 min). Add cauliflower, potatoes, broth or stock, and salt – bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer 20-30 min, until potatoes are soft. Blend in the pot with immersion blender. Stir in the milk and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stock, Eggs, and Leftover Dinner

T.G.I.F! Yes, even in paradise we can get excited about the weekend. This weekend in particular is a celebration of Ernest Hemingway down in Key West. Yesterday was his birthday! Didn’t know Hemingway was such a fixture down here? Well he is. Writers and artists don’t only flock here for the beauty and light but in hopes that a little of his genius will rub off on them. Touring his former home with one of the knowledgeable docents is a highlight of visiting here. Even if you aren’t a fan of his writing or the man himself, his home gives a unique glimpse into Key West’s history and the impact that man had on its culture. 
While there are many Hemingway-related events planned for the festival, the one that might baffle you the most if you happen to stumble upon it unawares as I did years ago is the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest held down at Sloppy Joe’s. Imagine casually strolling up Duval, rounding a corner, and being surrounded by 50 men in white beards and kakhi shorts. I was take aback to put it mildly. Then I found out that this is a yearly contest and you can see the photos of all the winners hanging on the wall at Sloppy Joe’s all year around. Mr. Foodie and I are determined to spend some time in Key West this weekend, so I might get him a glimpse of that spectacle. 
It might seem silly to end the week with a post about how I usually start the week, but I thought I’d share with you how Mr. Foodie and I usually launch our culinary adventures each week with some routine. I am by no means the first to advocate for doing some food prep on Sunday so you can eat more healthily and save money throughout the week. My prep is not perhaps as comprehensive as some because I have the time each night to do a little prep and cooking (plus I just enjoy it), but if you are strapped for time and/or hate cooking during the week, there are many ideas for prep that will save you time, money, and cooking headache. For us, I like to prepare for the week by hard boiling some eggs and making a chicken stock. 
                                                                               Stock
This might seem silly to most of you who probably love the convenience of picking up a few cans of stock at the grocery store if you are the type to use stock in the first place, but I love making my own. In the first place, having a roast chicken (whether you make it yourself or buy it at the store) to start the week is awesome. You can use the breast meat for soup, salads, and sandwiches. You can munch on the chicken legs anytime or make it part of an informal cheese, bread, chicken leg dinner. You can use the meat to make burritos or casseroles, the list is endless. Then you’re left with this chicken carcass – why let it go to waste? Pop it in a large pasta pot, cover with 8 cups of water, salt and pepper. Peel one medium-large onion and slice in half, put halves in the water. Throw in a handful of baby carrots and the leafy tops and root bottom of a celery bunch. Make sure to toss in any liquid that pooled at the bottom of the chicken roast container (good flavor there). Bring to a boil and then simmer for 40 minutes while you do something else. Use tongs to remove as much of the stuff as possible and a handheld sieve to scoop any other bits from the stock. Et Voila! You have a delicious homemade stock for the week. Upon tasting it you might think it doesn’t taste salty enough because you’re probably used to store-bought, which, like most processed foods, has a lot of salt. Feel free to add more to taste, but know that you will probably be adding it to something or adding something to it that has salt down the road. 
What to do with this stock, then? Sometimes I save it and use it a bit at a time in stir-frys and casseroles (you can also freeze it in bulk or in ice cubes for dashes of flavor that will last you months, but often I go ahead and make a soup for Mr. Foodie and I with the stock. Chicken noodle is, of course, a good choice since you will have leftover carrots and celery from your prep and the chicken breast meat from the roasted chicken. All you need is noodles – this is btw a great way to use up any leftover noodles you have in the pantry, but my favorite noodles to use are whole-wheat spaghetti or egg noodles. The other soup I love making is Kale, bean, turkey soup. Cook up your ground turkey (or mild Italian sausage if you want more flavor) and put it in the stock, add chopped Kale, 1-2 cans of either chickpea or cannellini beans, heat together and serve with fresh pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan.
                                                                            Eggs
While I’m making stock, I always boil eggs using the method my grandma taught me: put eggs in pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, boil for desired amount of time (for hard, 8-10 minutes). Once they are done, drain, add cold water, toss in ice cubes to stop the heating process, pop in egg carton and put in the fridge (or eat! Slightly warm boiled eggs are the best). Since I add mine back to the carton with fresh eggs, I take the onion peel leftover from my stock prep and add it to the water – this dyes the eggs naturally and helps Mr. Foodie distinguish between the boiled and fresh ones in the carton when he goes for a snack.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Leftover Dinner                                                                                                                         Remember those leftover celery and carrots you have? I put them in ziplock bags and we use them for hummus dipping throughout the week! So nothing gets wasted and everything is yummy. This past week I made the Kale soup instead of chicken noodle, so I still had some leftover noodles and meat from the chicken. With that we made a quick angry pasta (saute chopped garlic and red pepper flakes in a little olive oil, add cooked noodles to coat, take off heat and sprinkle with parmesean cheese), microwave-steamed whole green beans (I don’t like microwave veggies usually, but we had them leftover from guests, so I improve them by tossing with hot oil and flavoring like pepper flakes or garlic), and of course chicken breast meat. This dinner took 15 minutes since we were using leftovers. 
Chicken, Angry Pasta, and Green Beans

What do you do to prep for the week? We’ve been thinking about adding prepped salads to the repetoire, but I could use some suggestions for making that work. Feel free to leave comments below. 

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