Monday, January 19, 2015

Leek and Potato Soup-- a general scheme

Here is a dish which requires a scheme rather than a recipe. That's true of soups in general, and of stovetop cooking in an even broader general. But dishes like potato soup have a simple enough flavor profile that the way to make them 'right' is an open approach to adjustment.

I made a leek and potato soup for my Mom's birthday yesterday, and it turned out well! It was served with topping options: crisp bacon crumbles, extra sharp cheddar cheese, blue cheese crumbles, chopped chives, sour cream, saltine crackers. I also made rolls and prepared some buttered corn, with the idea that a person could even add their serving of corn to the soup. I did.

Here was my scheme:

Melt ~6 T butter in a very large pot
Saute  ~6 leeks, halved lengthwise, carefully washed, and thinly sliced, in the butter, keeping the pot covered except for frequent stirrings. ~15 minutes.
add ~4 very large potatoes (a few pounds), peeled and diced small.
Again, cover and cook with frequent stirrings, over medium heat, ~20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Don't let them burn; I did at this point and had to transfer to a new pot.
Add ~8 c chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until everything is quite tender.
Add creaminess: I added a pint of half-and-half, and, wanting more creaminess, planned to add sour cream; but decided I did not have enough to add to the soup and supply as a garnish. So I got crazy, and added a heavy dollop-- almost a cup? cottage cheese as well. Or you could just add cream.
Season heavily with salt, pepper. 
Take off heat; blend with immersion blender till quite smooth, adjusting seasoning.
Gently reheat.
Serve with: bacon, cheeses, chives, sour cream, crackers, corn, etc. 

Acar Timun (Javanese quick pickle)

I put myself in charge of Three Kings Day, because I had this image of doing a fun simplified version of a Rijsttafel, or Rice Table. This is a traditional Dutch way to eat lots and lots of Indonesian-style dishes all at once, and that sounded like a great party to me.

I planned for the top of the rice four curries: a simple, inoffensive creamy chicken curry straight from the Joy of Cooking; a beef penang curry (one of my favorite Thai curries); collard greens in curry sauce; and rendang, the dry beef curry considered by some to be the most delicious food in the world. Toppings included hard boiled eggs, cucumber, bean sprouts, sultanas, unsweetened coconut, serundeng (a coconut-shallot-peanut-and-spice condiment), roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and a variety of my sister's very good chutneys. I was pretty excited.

You will not be surprised when the penang curry turned out hotter than I was aiming for for my family's digestion's sake, and when the rendang was a big mess. I suppose I used the wrong cut of beef because by the time the sauce reduced the beef was utterly shredded, making it difficult to extract the shards of whole spices left over; and the lemongrass, which was supposed to enter into a puree did not and instead mimicked fibrous grass in the glorpy brown dish. It tasted ok, I suppose, but it was difficult to eat, and it just wasn't meant to be that weird. It was meant to be rather accessible, actually.

So I liked the penang curry but would adjust it, and the other recipes were no-saves for me. But the one thing I really loved from my menu was almost an afterthought. I made a quick Javanese cucumber-and-carrot pickle. With all the options on the table, I don't know if anyone else even tried it. And compared to the hours it took to make the curries, I scarcely remember making the pickle. But I really liked it a lot! And I thought it made a delicious topping for cold rice as leftovers.

I got the recipe from Contributor Kitty M. says it comes from the cookbook "Nonya Favourites."

Acar Timun (Javanese quick pickle) 

10-12 oz cucumber
1 t salt
4-6 oz carrots
2 T oil
4 slices ginger
1/2 t mustard seeds
1 t turmeric
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
2 T rice vinegar

Half lengthwise and seed cucumber. Cut in narrow 3.5 cm planks. Mix 1 t salt with the cucumbers; let sit in strainer over bowl 10-15 minutes. Cut carrot to the same size as cucumber.

Heat oil in large skillet; add ginger and mustard seeds, cooking until mustard seeds pop (this will take a while). Stir in turmeric and cayenne, then add vegetables, sugar, and salt and saute 2 minutes. Do not overcook,as you do want the vegetables to retain some crunch.

Remove from heat. Mix well with vinegar. Cool it in the pan before storing in a jar. Refrigerate overnight before serving.