Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Leek, Potato & Carrot Soup

This is a simple soup with a gentle onion flavor. Adding a spiced cheese on top makes it much more spicy - but you could just as easily add a drop of hot salsa or hot sauce for the same effect. Such spiciness is always optional. The soup stores well, but cannot be frozen unless it is first pureed (otherwise the potatoes develop an odd texture when they thaw).

Peeling vegetables is never a favorite chore. I lug the vegetables, a pot, and a bag into the living room, sit before the TV and start peeling the vegetables into the bag. That way I can watch something interesting and (hopefully) not cut my fingers by trying to peel too quickly.

I doubled this recipe (or tried to, you'll see) so I peeled 12 carrots (6 for the recipe, 6 for eating) and 6 medium-sized potatoes. It...took a while. Once everything was naked, I returned to the kitchen. There the veggies got a good wash, and I beheaded the leeks. I cut their bottoms off, then sliced the stalk into quarters that didn't quite cut through the bulb at the end. By fanning out the layers of the stalk under running water I was able to get rid of most of the sand. I repeated the process three times (just to make sure).

I took the fresh-made chicken broth out of the fridge and skimmed its fat off. Then I measured the amount I had. I needed eight cups, I had six. Dang. Looking at the recipe, I mentally calculated the amounts of carrots and potatoes I'd need for six cups of broth.

The extra potatoes I put in a bowl and covered them with water. Guess I'm having smashed potatoes tomorrow.

Then I began chopping. Were it not for my worrying about my finger-tips - dicing vegetables would be almost as boring as peeling them. But the proximity of a sharp knife to my very fragile flesh always keeps me alert. My knife-skills are fair and I was able to complete the chopping in about 10 minutes. More than 1/2 the carrots were put in Tupperware with enough water to cover them. They went into the fridge for snacks for the week.

I poured the olive oil into the pot and turned on the heat. While it warmed up, I cleaned up my chopping board, rinsed my knife and brought all my ingredients to the stove. I let a drop of water fall from my finger-tips into the pan. No sizzle? Not warm enough yet. I busied about, swept my kitchen floor and wandered out to see what was on TV.

When the water sizzled I added the vegetables to the pot all at once. I stirred them to coat them with the hot oil and help in the cooking. When the leeks were mostly transparent, I added the salt and pepper and stirred again. Then I poured in the broth, covered the pot, set the timer, and walked away.

I came back when the timer screamed at me. I stirred the pot, tasted the broth (hot!), and adjusted the seasoning. The vegetables were soft - so it was ready to serve.

I ladled it into bowls and threw a sprinkling of Gouda jalapeño cheese on top. Delicious.

Leek, potato & carrot soup
Serves: 4 people.
Preparation: 15 minutes.
Cooking: 20-30 minutes.
Equipment: Peeler, vegetable knife, cutting board, soup pot, ladle, wooden spoon.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, green discarded, well washed, and diced finely
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups broth, I use chicken
pepper, freshly ground, to taste
salt, to taste
1/4 cup cheese, preferably spicy (optional)

  1. Place the olive oil in the bottom of a deep soup pot, and place it on a warm burner.
  2. Test the olive oil to see if its hot. When the olive oil spits as a drop of water touches it - it's ready.
  3. Add the diced vegetables and stir until the leeks become mostly transparent (about 3 minutes).
  4. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  5. Add the chicken broth and cover for up to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat if it starts to excessively steam or if the cover jumps.
  6. Check that the carrots and potatoes are easily crushable (they mash well with a fork or between two spoons). If the carrots and potatoes are not yet soft, cover for another 10 minutes and check again. Soup should be gently boiling. If not, increase the heat.
  7. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings.
  8. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese on top.
Note: Originally this recipe was posted with 2 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper and 1 of salt. As commenters rightly pointed out -- this is a lot of pepper. I've modified the recipe so that seasoning is now to taste.

Menu for the week of October 20th, 2007

My menu plan for the week this week is pretty basic; with cold weather (supposedly) setting in I'm still pretty focused on soups and hot meals. I'll use the barbecue until it's too cold to stand outside with the food.
SaturdayVilla Souvlaki.
SundayLeek, potato & carrot soup
MondayBucher's block steak with smashed herb potatoes and steamed green beans
BBQ chicken breasts with barley risotto
WednesdaySoba noodles, stir fried vegetables, chicken & peanut sauce
ThursdayWhole wheat tortellini & marinara sauce
FridayCurry Lentil Soup

My favorite lunch is soup and sandwich. Naturally this takes a bit more preparation than I'm use to, so Saturday I'll make broth from the roast chicken I'll buy and Sunday I'll turn it into soup. The leftovers of that (and the leftovers of last Friday's stew) will give me the soup -- and the remainder of the chicken and butcher's block steak will give me the sandwiches that I crave.

Monday's meal sounds impressive - but with the help of a gas barbecue - it's quick and easy. Smashed = mashed in my books.

Barley risotto is one of those elegant recipes that always tastes good and looks even better. It's got a nutty flavor that I'm coming to prefer over the Italian rice-based risotto which is more classic.

Wednesday's recipe doesn't really have a name -- it's more a list of ingredients; but it's tasty none-the less. I use soba noodles because they're made from buckwheat (more fiber, better taste and interesting texture to hold the sauce).

The tortellini is store-bought and frozen. I saw it Saturday and had to try it. The sauce is the last of my home-made marinara sauce (made a month ago and kept frozen). The combination makes a nice, quick evening dinner.

La Commensale has a whole line of soups available. They're about twice the price of a good can of soup, fresher -- and with less salt (although they still have more salt than homemade). We enjoy them as they are relatively healthy vegetarian ready-to-eat meals.

Monday, October 22, 2007

He hates cooking but needs to love it

This Metafilter post came up this morning in my blogroll. It's incredible how often I hear, read, or am told about this situation.

You never need to love cooking, but it does help. A lot of folks cook every night for themselves and their loved ones. I can't believe they all love it; I love to cook but there are nights I really don't want to do it (and some nights I wimp out and order in, insist we go out, or prepare a ready-made not-from-scratch meal).

I really don't think there's a right or a wrong way to go about it; but here's the advice I typically hand out.

1. Get a cookbook.
There's thousands out there - but you want something that you can actually use. Something for beginners. Googling a bit on the topic of "beginner" and "cookbook" should net some good results. Go to your local store and start with the basics - ignore any of the specialty books that focus on just one type of cooking (baking, broiling, grilling, etc) or one type of flavor (Chinese, Greek, Italian...).

If there's a cookbook store in your city, start there. The clerks can often help you find a good book to start with. You want something that will teach you the basic techniques and vocabulary. Neither of which should be complicated.

2. Read it.
You can skim over the recipes - but read all the bits in between. Find a few recipes you'd like to try and mark them somehow.

3. Make a list.
Of what you've got in your pantry.
Of what you'd like to try to make from the cookbook.
Of what you need to buy.

4. Go shopping.
Take your list!

5. Do it.
This is the hard part. If you've selected a simple recipe - you should be fine, but actually starting a meal is hard. Fight the inertia!

Cooking from scratch is not difficult, it can be time-consuming, and is always rewarding. If you cook extra - you can freeze the leftovers and have them either for lunch or supper later. It's usually cheaper than buying both lunch and supper every day and healthier too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Menu for the week of October 13th

My menu plan isn't all that planned out this week.
SaturdayGreek (take out).
Sunday3-Amigos (Dining out)
MondayVinni Gambini (Dining out)
Roast Chateaubriand, steamed green beans, baked potato, and salad with red wine vinaigrette
WednesdayChicken & bean fajitas
ThursdayMarinated butcher's block steak with smashed rosemary potatoes
FridayRed wine and beef stew with vegetables

Tuesday's meal is easy, if not quick. The secret is to start with a good piece of meat and a lot of time. I usually cover it with low-salt steak spice and put some garlic and red wine in the pan beneath. Then I throw it in the oven with some potatoes and let it cook. I had friends over, so I wanted something tasty but simple for dinner (which gave me time to clean my apartment and chase down the dust-bunnies!).

Wednesday's meal is a staple for me. I rarely go by a recipe anymore (as I already have my taco seasonings combined in a bottle on my shelf). This recipe works well with either fresh cooked chicken or leftovers, and freezes well. I tend to make extra and bag it. That way I can thaw the ingredients, and then add the filling to the salsa, cheese, and sour cream inside a warm tortilla.

Thursday's meal is another staple. The marinade is mostly red wine, some fresh herbs and garlic. Typically I marinade the steak overnight. Smashed potatoes are what I call baked potatoes that I then turn into a rough form of mash with herbbed butter.

Friday more people are coming in, so I'll make an old favorite of a stew in the crockpot.

Vinnie Gambini's (a review)

Vinnie Gambinis
Montreal Marche Centrale, Quebec
951 Cremazie O
Montreal, Quebec H4N 2M5
Tel: 514.387.8464

Vinnie Gambinis is a posh-looking Italian restaurant with high-backed booths, comfortable chairs and dark wood decor. Our party of four was seated near the bar, and the waitress immediately mixed a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for us.

Service was polite and prompt. Fresh bread came on-demand from the kitchen and the waitress regularly asked if we wanted more bread before we could ask ourselves.

I started with their hearty minestrone soup. It had large chunks of winter vegetables, beans and corn floating in a rich tomato broth. My friends had the beef and barley and made very appreciative noises as they ate it.

I chose the Ravioli d'Aragosta é Grancchio (>Lobster and crab stuffed ravioli with madagascan peppercorns, garlic, sun dried tomatoes and brandy in a rosé sauce) . The peppercorns were soft and delectable, the sauce had a haunting flavor of garlic below the rich cream and brandy tastes. The Ravioli was a bit clumped near the top and the sauce was thick on the pasta, but each ravioli has a good bite of lobster and crab visible inside as small chunks and not paste.

My partner had Spaghettini con Ragu di Carne (Spaghetti with meat sauce) and meatballs. The three meatballs were huge and seated artfully around a mounded bowl of spaghettini. The sauce was thick and had flecks of color that belied its otherwise smooth taste.

My friends had the Pollo Pavorotti (Lightly floured chicken fillet sauteed with prociutto, shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes, in a marsala sauce) and the Pollo Lombardi (Stuffed chicken fillet with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese in a demi-glaze sauce). Both enjoyed their meals and all were suitably impressed with the quantity and quality.

This is not the first time I've eaten there, and I confess I was impressed with the decor of the restaurant and the style shown in their service and menu. They serve their Romano cheese out of a hollowed-out half wheel of Pecorino Romano cheese. And are free with offering both the cheese and the pepper.

Overall it was a highly enjoyable event with good food and great service.

Prices: $20-30 entree's
Table D'hote: $18-30
Reservations available, but not required.
No children's menu.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Weekly Menu (October 1/2007)

I spent Thursday carefully flipping through How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; and so most of these recipes come from his book (HTCE). Page numbers are cited. This menu may seem a bit more involved; in truth it should take me about the same amount of time to prep the meals as most of my meals have always been a main dish + salad or steamed veggies.
SaturdayRotisserie Chicken (take out) and strawberry rhubarb pie.
SundayMixed summer greens + goat cheese salad with spiced nuts(*) HTCE 96
Linguine with fresh tomato & Parmesan cheese HTCE 131
MondayCommensal soup (lentil curry) & whole wheat baguette.
Corn and bean pancakes with maranara sauce, steamed green beans
Chicken parmigiana and mixed salad with spicy nuts (*) HTCE 38
ThursdayStir-fried soba noodles with leftover chicken HTCE 171
FridayEnchiladas and green salad (5 for dinner)

* HTCE p 17
Monday's soup is store-bought, fresh from the deli section. It's got a pretty limited shelf life and is lower sodium than most tinned soups.
I know Tuesday's meal sounds fancy, but really it's leftovers. The bean & corn pancakes and the marinara sauce was made (and frozen) some time ago.