"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Monday, November 8, 2010

Virtual Cooking Lessons: Potato Soup

Virtual cooking lessons? You bet!

A month or two ago, a friend contacted me long-distance and said that she was thinking fondly about how I'd been cooking mentor to a young pal, but sighing over our geographic separation.  So, she thought she'd broach a crazy idea with me...what about doing basic cooking lessons long distance together?

I thought it it was genius. So, there she and I are on our second month together and A said, "Why not take this live and let others join in?" And here we are. In email form I'll be covering two recipes a month, things I feel should be part of any cook's canon. I've decided to share only one recipe a month here as I don't want to end up with an unwieldy post that leaves you scrolling down for years.

Feel free to observe, cook along, report on your cooking experience, pipe up with your own tips on the topic or just enjoy the photos and salivate. Dig in!

Its soup season so, we're going to make a good creamy potato version part of our canon! This is my own hurried jotting down of my mom's standard potato soup. Its fairly quick to make, has no strong flavors and so suits all palates and its wonderfully thrifty to make! I hope you like it as well as I do. I have a very soft spot for it in my soul.

When I was a naughty little tyke and said I didn't like soup...I meant that I didn't like any other soups...just this one. We always ate it with a sleeve of Saltine crackers for dipping into our bowls. I still serve it that way to my own boys but for grownups a few dinner rolls, biscuits or a nice loaf of bread with butter would be a warm accompaniment.

Classic Potato Soup

5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/3 c. of heavy cream
1 T of butter or bacon fat
2 1/2 t. salt
4 c. water
1 t. dried parsley

First, melt the butter or bacon fat in a saucepan over medium heat. When it is nice and melted but not smoking or snapping yet, add the onion and the carrot, no need to peel the carrot...just chop it up and throw it in. Stir to make sure that the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and wait to move on until the onion is translucent.

Next you add the 4 cups of water...which will cool the whole mixture down a bit so I sometimes turn up the heat to medium high...although you have to watch to make sure that it doesn't boil raucously. Once you have the water in the pot...add the diced potatoes. You can cut up your potatoes in generous, hearty hunks to fill your spoon robustly or you can cut them into dainty little cubes just because you like to see them marching in diminutive evenness down the cutting board. Whatever you like. It really is about how you like it best.

Once the potatoes are in, give it a good stir and then cover the pot and let the mixture heat up. Once you can tell its starting to simmer and steam nicely, uncover it and begin to stir occasionally and watch for the potatoes to be done. You're ready for the next stop when the potatoes are tender. You can use a fork to poke them, a knife to spear them or you can scoop a cube out of the pot and burn your tongue testing its mettle with your own teeth.

After your potatoes feel tender, take a potato masher (like you use to make mashed potatoes) and squish the soup, right in the pot. Again, there's no real rule for how much squishing would be enough, its about how smooth versus how lumpy you like potato soup. Some people like a velvet broth, and some (like me!) want a portion of chewable little bits in there for interest. Do whatever you like. Make sure to stir after mashing so that you can see how the texture of the soup is feeling as a whole, and mix the water with the potatoes and thus avoid any burning. This is a good time to make sure that the burner is back on medium...no more.

Once you have the texture you like then I often stir it over the heat and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes to be sure its nice and thick. After the consistency is where you want it, add the heavy cream, the salt and stir to mix. Taste it to be sure that the flavor is right...you may want more salt. Then add the dried parsley...mix it in and serve it up. We always have ours with a pat of butter melting on top of every bowlful.

If potato soup is old hat or you just feel like something different I sometimes add:

  • grated cheese (Gruyere, sharp cheddar or smoked cheeses are lovely)
  • some cooked salmon chunks and dill
  • freshly chopped chives
  • chicken
  • sausage
  • ham 
  • bacon

Just popping back on to add that I've now received a few other brilliant suggestions for additions:
  • sweet corn
  • fresh green beans
  • crab
  • lobster
  • clams
  • kielbasa
  • and my grandmother and mama both did a budget variation with hot dog slices (which sounds totally horrible and my husband A recoils over, but it was totally deluxe to me as a kid)

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