Creamy Potato Chowder with Watercress

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I had scant awareness of family meal before becoming a cook. When I worked in a pizza joint in high school there was no such thing as family meal. I’m not certain that anyone working knew about the concept. We could make ourselves iceberg lettuce salads, or eat the “mess up” pizzas that the management didn’t pitch. Or we could buy our dinner, something the servers often did and no one else would.

On the other end of the family meal continuum are those you see in movies about fancy restaurants. There, everyone- cooks, servers, dishwashers- sits down before service. It’s served family style and there’s wine involved. It’s sophisticated and elegant and elastic. Whenever I see those films I dream of their family meals.

Family meal where I work is something different. It happens during service. We all eat standing up, clustered around our chest freezer. Front of the house eats in shifts. Back of the house eats between tickets. And the food is wildly variable. There are days we need to use up those luxury products and so we end up eating foie gras pancakes. On the other hand I’ve eaten burgers and gyros more times than I can count. Some times it’s collaborative, with everyone creating a component. Other times one person takes charge and spends most of their free time pulling it together.

Some meals are excellent. Homemade pasta, ramen, and pizza have all graced our chest freezer. Other day we end up devouring scrambled eggs and leftover biscuits because we didn’t plan ahead. And some meals barely get eaten. A bad family meal is unfortunate, but the only unforgivable family meal is an omitted one. Not feeding your people is one of the rudest things possible in restaurant.

I’ve made an absurd amount of salads for family meal- they’re delicious, adaptable, and I am always happy to eat a salad. But family meals offers a challenge to step out of my comfort zone and use up product that I don’t often turn to.

This potato chowder is loosely inspired by a recent family meal. We had a large amount of cauliflower scraps and gallons of very fatty smoked pork broth that both needed use, and I paired them up in a soup. And it was fine. I wasn’t happy with it but we have to feed our people. But even unfortunate meals can grow into good ones, if only the idea of them. Some times good things can come from mistakes.

Here, you gently cook celery and onions until they’ve softened and just started to take on color. Dried sage and smoked paprika add depth and a faint hint of smokiness. Vegetable stock is less heavy and fatty than pork broth, and allows the creamy softness of potato to shine. Some heavy cream gives the soup body, and watercress brings a bright, peppery bite. It’s the kind of soup I like to eat as winter starts to break- warm but not heavy, comforting but fresh.

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Creamy Potato Chowder with Watercress

If you can’t find watercress, roughly chopped spinach would be a fine substitute. I would add a bit more pepper in that case.

serves 4

2 tablespoons butter
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt
2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
a good handful of cleaned and roughly chopped watercress

to serve

oyster crackers
watercress
scallions, finely sliced on the bias

In a large soup pan melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter is frothing, add the celery and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to take on some color, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, paprika, white pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for a minute, until the spices are fragrant. Add the potatoes, and stir to coat. Add the vegetable broth, scrapping the bottom with a wooden spoon as you pour the vegetable broth in, and bring to a boil. Reduce the soup to a simmer, then simmer for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are almost falling apart.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a chunky-creamy consistency or an upright blender to puree half of the soup. Stir in the cream, and taste for seasonings. Add more salt and pepper as necessary. Stir the watercress into the warm soup.

To serve, top with oyster crackers, watercress, and scallions.  Eat warm.

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Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

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Yesterday I was debating with Aaron about whether it was really that cold outside. My argument hinged on the fact that my eyes didn’t burn when I walked outside. I may be wearing fur-lined boots, mittens over gloves, and layers of wool, but if I can feel my face then it has to be at least -10 outside. As you may expect, Aaron won.

January is brutal. It’s sharp and cruel. It’s ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that January is the month so many of us are trying to do things better. Survival can be dicey- or at least it feels a bit uncomfortable. But I think that the sharpness of January helps spur us to make changes. For all of January’s hard angles, there’s a sparse brightness that’s beaconing. January is clean and spare. The days are getting longer, minute by minute. The sun is out once again. If we can do well in January, why can’t we do well in any month?

I wrote a bit about New Year’s resolutions in my last post. One of my resolutions is to keep creatively engaged with the work I do. I want to try out new ideas, new techniques, new point of view. To that end I’m going to try and cook from a different book every month. For January, in honor of this spare wildness, I’m using Amy Chaplin’s revered and weighty At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen. Amy writes passionately about grains, vegetables, beans, and a wide variety of superfoods and condiments that I’ve yet to use. It’s a beautiful book, but most excitingly it’s a fundamentally useful book. And although we play with a lot of the same tools, Amy uses them in a completely different way.

This soup, for instance. If I were to make a hearty winter miso soup, I’d probably caramelize onions in butter, add some squash, kale, and a can of beans, add water, and stir in a tablespoon or two of miso once everything’s cooked all together. I imagine it would be tasty, but it likely wouldn’t end up here.

But Amy’s soup is a beast, hearty and perfect for January. She has you soak then cook adzuki beans from scratch with kombu and shiitake mushrooms, then cooks onions, carrots, and squash in sesame oil. You add in kale, wakame, and 2 types of miso, then stir in a hit of fresh ginger juice. It tastes savory and earthy and sweet and bright. It’s warming and hearty. It’s a soup that’s a match for January, meeting intention for intention and sharpness with warmth.

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Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

adapted from At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin

This soup calls for a small amount of ginger juice, which is very easy to make at home. Finely grate ginger, then squeeze using either your hands or cheesecloth to extract the juice. For the 4 teaspoons specified, I needed about 2 inches of fresh ginger. As for ingredients, I’ve found kombu, dried shiitakes, and wakame all at both natural food stores and Asian markets.

Serves 4

1/2 cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 two-inch piece of kombu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot (or 3 small carrots), halved and thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons dried wakame
3 tablespoons dark miso
3 tablespoons light miso
4 teaspoons ginger juice
thinly sliced scallions, to serve

Drain and rinse the adzuki beans. In a medium pot combine the beans with the shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the beans until they’re tender all the way through, 30-50 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the kombu and discard. Remove the shiitakes and thinly slice, then return to the pot.

In a large pot warm the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and squash and cook for another minute. Add the beans and their liquid and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. The vegetables should be soft by this point. Add the kale and wakame and cook for another minute. Place both miso into a medium strainer and lower the strainer into the soup. Stir well, so that the miso dissolves into the soup. By the end there will only be husks left of the miso. If you don’t mind a less than perfectly smooth broth, you could add the miso husks to the soup. Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat. Serve topped with scallions.

 

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White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

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As someone who celebrates Christmas this is the home stretch. There’s cookies to bake, an apartment to clean, and a dinner to plan. There’s also family to host and a tree to buy and presents to wrap… uff da. And so in the spirit of the holiday and of business, here’s soup. Soup is an excellent meal for many reasons- it’s easy, it’s nutrient dense, it’s warming. Soup is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s what I want to eat right now.

A few weeks ago our friend Anne and Brian made white bean soup for Aaron and I when we all got together for dinner. I’ve been thinking about that soup ever since- it was hearty and satisfying and exactly right for a wintery dinner party. This is my wintery lunch variation. Onions and cabbage are slowly cooked in butter with a good dose of chopped rosemary and chopped thyme. Stock and canned beans are added and simmered together, then it’s half-pureed, a compromise for the chunky (Aaron) and smooth (me) soup eaters.

I hope you enjoy this. And I’d love your help- if you’re celebrating a holiday in the next week, what are you making? (And what are you celebrating?) My brain stuck, and inspiration would be very welcomed.

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White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

If you’d like a creamier, thicker soup then I would start with 2 cups of broth, and add water from there as necessary.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 fifteen ounce cans cannellini beans
4 cups light vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
flaked almonds, to serve
shredded parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the onion and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and has started to take on a golden color. This should take between 10 and 20 minutes. If the onions are cooking too quickly or taking on more color than you’d like, turn down the heat.

Add the rosemary, thyme, cabbage, and spices. Stir well and cook for another few minutes, until the cabbage is starting to soften. Add the beans and the vegetable broth, and bring to a simmer.

Skim any foam that comes to the top of the pot. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes, until it’s reduced a bit and the flavors have concentrated.

Using an immersion blender, blend in quick bursts. You want for the soup to be smoothed out a bit, but still have some texture- about half-pureed. Alternatively, you could use an upright blender, blend half the soup, and then return it to the pot.

Stir in the lemon juice, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and lemon juice as necessary. Serve hot with flaked almonds and a dusting of parmesan.

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Celery Root and Parsnip Soup with Apple Butter

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Minneapolis is the coldest major city in the United States. We have yet to hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually happens by first week of October. It’s not that it’s warm- if you don’t live in the North, you might think the air is chilly. But it doesn’t feel like Novembers past. There are still leaves on trees, and I’ve only worn a coat at night. It hasn’t snowed yet. It hasn’t snowed in over 200 days.

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After a turbulent and strange week I would very much like for the weather to follow its predictable pattern. This unanticipated lag is unsettling. I wish for snow, and I fear it won’t come.

In times of stress I cook. This isn’t new news, and I have a feeling that you may have a similar coping strategy. I’ve recently tried to turn more to other people’s recipes, to let them guide me through new ideas and different ingredients. It’s an education and a practice. If you cook frequently you have a vocabulary. You have the ingredients you always keep on hand and your go-to techniques. It’s both a pleasure and a challenge to spend some time with another person’s vocabulary, using unfamiliar words. At the end there’s a new knowledge gained. With a capable guide and a bit of luck it’s good knowledge.

I make soup all winter long, both for warmth and for comfort. Right now comfort is the sole reason for making soup. It’s been a stressful season and it doesn’t seem like it will get any less stressful soon. I found this soup in Sarah Copeland’s Feast, a smart and elegant book on vegetarian cooking. And so here are vegetables and cream and spices all blended together. This is not a groundbreaking recipe, but it’s very good. Celery root and parsnips are cooked with apples and onions, then get blended together with a healthy drink of cream. It sounds fine, but it really very delicious. But then when it’s time to serve there’s a dollop of apple butter, and that sweet/tart apple butter turns the soup from something good to a knockout.

Aaron and I ate this soup for a cozy lunch together with some crusty bread and strong bleu cheese. If you’re into elegant, coursed dinners, this would be an incredible starter for a fall/winter dinner party. And if you’re uninterested in the apple butter, this would make a simple but very tasty dinner.

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Celery Root and Parsnip Soup with Apple Butter

Copeland originally calls for 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, but when I went to grab our fresh ginger it was gone. The powdered ginger is delicious and significantly easier, so I’ll be using it again in the future.

adapted from Feast by Sarah Copeland

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tart apple (such as a granny smith), peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1 celery root, trimmed, peeled, and roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
apple butter, for serving
green onions, finely chopped, for serving
olive oil, for serving
Aleppo pepper, for serving

In a large pot over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softening and becoming translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and the spices, and cook for 1 minute. Add the parsnips, apple, and celery root and 4 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are soft, between 20-30 minutes.

Once the vegetables are soft remove the soup from heat. Blend, using either an immersion blender or an upright blender, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the heavy cream and apple cider vinegar. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Warm the soup on low heat to serve.

To serve, top the warm soup with a dollop of apple butter, a flurry of green onions, a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Cauliflower and Brown Ale Soup

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Aaron and I just returned from a long weekend Up North. Up North is the mystical land that exists in the Northern parts of the American Midwest. It’s the land of lakes and woods and hills and rivers. It’s the land of sweaters even in the summer, bonfires, and mugs of tea and hot toddies all day. It’s a location, yes, but mostly a state of mind. I’m convinced that going Up North is a requirement for being a Minnesotan. It was my first time experiencing Up North, so it only took me three years to belong to where I live.

It was a wonderful weekend. We were on the shore of Lake Superior, which Aaron casually informed me is the largest lake by area in the world. It was almost like a sea, complete with tides. The color shifted- here gunmetal gray, here dark pink, here churning blue- by the hour, and the shore was strewn with driftwood. We slept with a down comforter and the windows open. Aaron whittled a walking stick. I read a novel in a day. There was a wood fire hot tub. It was the exact mini vacation we needed.

I did not make this soup on our trip. I left most of the cooking to our friends who were with us, save some cookies and pies made in a truly dicey oven. But this is the soup that I made when we returned, and I spend a good part of our three hour drive home planning it. I’d also like to publicly proclaim my love and gratitude to Aaron, who not only tolerates my endless discussions of whether sage or thyme is better with cauliflower, but offers his opinions.

This is a deliciously easy soup. Onions and leeks form a sweet backbone, and the nuttiness of the cauliflower is echoes in the brown ale. The whole mess is seasoned with nutmeg, cardamom, mustard, and thyme (because that was the eventual verdict). It’s warming and comforting, clean but not bland. It’s the type of soup makes sense whether it’s sipped from tin cups in a cabin or served in china with cloth napkins.

The garnishes are completely optional, as always, but I find that they bring the whole soup together and make it feel like a full meal rather than two-thirds of one. If you’re interested supplementing this soup, it would be fantastic with some crusty bread, good butter, and a bountiful green salad.

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Cauliflower and Brown Ale Soup

Serves 4

When choosing the beer for this soup I’d prioritize malt over hops. I went with Newcastle Brown Ale, because it’s nutty and malty and sweet but not heavy. Any beer with those same qualities should be delicious.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced
salt
1 cauliflower head, trimmed and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon (about a pinch) cayenne pepper
2 cups brown ale
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For serving:

yogurt
crushed walnuts
olive oil
pepper flakes, such as Aleppo

In a large pot warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and a pinch of salt. Let the onions and leeks soften, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to take on a bit of color. This should take about 10 minutes.

Add in the cauliflower, garlic, thyme, mustard, spices, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir well, and let it cook until the cauliflower is just starting to break apart. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Add the beer and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft enough to break apart with a spoon.

Using a blender or an immersion blender blend the soup until smooth. Add the apple cider vinegar, and taste. Add as much salt as it needs, and taste again. It should be creamy and mild, nutty but not  boring. Blend again while slowly adding the last two tablespoons of olive oil.

Serve hot, topped with yogurt, Aleppo pepper flakes, crushed walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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