Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup + Baked Apricots

June has slipped by more quickly than I could have imagined.  This Friday I leave for Europe and Peter leaves for a wedding.  Most of the travel arrangements are finally made, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve forgotten something.  Once Peter joins me in Europe, we will try to post photos from Copenhagen, Florence, and Paris.  I am determined not to forget the camera.   Do you have any suggestions for things to see or eat in these three cities?  There’s still a lot to do before we leave, so I made a big pot of potato, carrot and leek soup and some simple baked fruit for dessert.

I have made this potato, carrot, and leek soup many times using a wide range of ratios between the different vegetables.  I have used only water and butter, so as to make it vegetarian, and, this time, made it with homemade chicken fat and chicken stock.  Since my chicken stock was flavored with rosemary, I added a little more rosemary to the soup.  A bay leaf might also be a nice addition, as would fresh tarragon in place of rosemary.

Potato, Carrot, and Leek Soup
2-3 large potatoes, chopped
4-6 medium carrots, chopped
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
Chicken broth or water
Butter or chicken fat
Salt and pepper
Begin by preparing the vegetables.   Both the white and light green parts of the leeks can be used, as long as all the dirt is carefully washed from between the leek skin layers.  In a soup pot, cook the leeks in the butter until soft, 5 minutes, keeping the pot covered to trap steam and keep the leeks from browning.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and chicken broth, plus enough water to cover the vegetables.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 20-40 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.  If desired, puree the soup with a food processor (hard and messy) or immersion blender (easy).

These baked apricots are just softened through and have released lots of delicious juice.  The point isn’t a thick syrupy pie filling, but rather a hot, simple fruit dish that depends almost completely on the fruit for flavor.  Luckily, unripe or just not very flavorful fruit can be improved in this process.

Baked Apricots with Almonds
(per person)
2-4 apricots, pitted and sliced
1-2 tablespoons coarsely sliced raw almonds
Drizzle of honey
Pat of butter plus enough for buttering the baking dish
Dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  If making more than one serving, bake each serving in its own dish so that everyone gets their fair share of the fruit juices.   Line the glass or ceramic baking dish with butter, and add the apricots and salt.  Top with the sliced almonds, a drizzle of honey, and a pat of butter.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the white sides of the sliced almonds are beginning to look golden.  Serve warm for dessert or save in the fridge for breakfast.

Dark Chocolate Pudding

Does anyone else have brilliant moments of food inspiration while they’re falling asleep?  This is the second time this week that I’ve thought of something sweet while nodding off.  The first time resulted in a hilarious molasses meringue.  As Peter put it, molasses is the anti-meringue: sticky and thick.  It ended in a puddle; never again.  After learning my lesson, I decided to (almost) follow an actual recipe for my second brilliant food thought, chocolate pudding.  The Commonsense Kitchen has a dreamy chocolate pudding recipe involving both cocoa and 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate.  I ate it for dinner.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
(4 medium bowls of pudding)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
Mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder in a medium sauce pan with a whisk to get out the clumps.  Separate the egg yolks and mix them with a fork in a small heat-proof bowl.  Pour about half of the milk into the sauce pan and mix it with the powders until all the clumps are gone.  Add the rest of the milk and turn the heat on low.  Mixing every minute or so, heat the pudding just until it starts to steam and gets slightly thick.  Then take the sauce pan off the heat and spoon a bit of pudding slowly into the egg yolks to acclimate them to high temperatures, mixing the egg yolks constantly.  Pour the heated egg yolks and pudding back into the sauce pan and mix everything well.  Put the sauce pan back on the low heat, stirring fairly often or even continuously until the pudding begins to simmer.  Once you see bubbles, stir the pudding on the heat for 1 minute and then take the pudding off the heat for good.  Add the ounce of unsweetened chocolate and mix until the chocolate has melted and been evenly incorporated.  Let the pudding sit for 10 minutes while you get out pretty bowls to put it in.  Pour the pudding into bowls, let cool, and enjoy.  Or, eat it warm with a big smile and lots of chocolate on your face, like me.

Hamburgers with Sir Kensington

One of the problems with living in an apartment complex is that the drifting scent of bbq and hamburgers can send one into a meat frenzy.  Usually this happens on the way home from work, when fatigue and the lack of any meat in the freezer lead to a predictably vegetarian dinner.  However, for some strange reason this was not the case on Saturday night.  First, we were walking to the store when we turned into meat zombies and second, we had one package of ground beef in the fridge.  Why was the store necessary?  We didn’t have bread, lettuce, or ketchup, and a burger is very very sad without any of these.

While the local grass-fed beef (blah blah blah) was good, it bowed before Sir Kensington, a gourmet scooping ketchup.  That may sound a bit absurd, but traditional ketchup was ruined for me when,  a few years ago, my friend Karen sent me a box with homemade canned yellow ketchup.  Karen’s ketchup was the stuff of dreams: tangy, slightly sweet, eat-it-on-a-spoon yum.  This is a reminder Karen, I want that ketchup recipe!  Until Sir Kensington I had forsworn eating non-homemade ketchup (except on fries out of the house) and, let’s face it, burgers are just not the same without it.  So thank you, Sir Kensington, for enabling me to eat an entire jar of ketchup in less than a week, you saucy minx you.

I wish I had a recipe for hamburgers for you, but I did exactly the opposite of whatever the Commonsense Kitchen suggested (by accident mind you).  It suggests handling the ground beef as little as possible (I mixed mine ferociously) and not salting it until after cooking (how the heck does that work???).  So yes, go buy good beef, do as little to it as possible, and top it with ketchup.

Sourdough Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup

In less than a year we have fostered three yeast colonies.  The first two slowly solidified in the fridge after weeks of neglect.  I was worried, therefore, when I was given Atlantis III, that it would suffer the same fate: I would grow tired of throwing away perfectly good sourdough starter and cease to take it out of the fridge at all.  Perhaps the world of sourdough starters is new to you, in which case you may be wondering why it would be kept in the fridge or why I would have to throw it away.  Here’s what I used to do: twice a day discard half the sourdough starter and feed the rest with a half cup of flour and a quarter cup of water.  If I didn’t want to babysit the starter during the week, I put it in the fridge, thereby slowing down the ravenous yeasts’ metabolism.  But this time something has changed.  In addition to a new yeast colony, I received a recipe for sourdough starter pancakes (in fact, I might go so far as to say that I only accepted a new yeast colony after hearing about the recipe for sourdough pancakes).  My friends said this pancake recipe changed their lives.  Well, it has changed mine too.  Instead of ever having to throw out part of the starter I use it directly in the pancakes, and the flavor is just divine.  Really, I look forward to the weekend because of these pancakes.  We have had them every Saturday and Sunday morning for breakfast for nearly the last month and I’m far from being tired of them.  And even when I’m snuggled up in bed on a Friday night, I am willing to brave the cold evening air to race downstairs, take Atlantis III out of the fridge and feed her, because otherwise I won’t get my pancake fix.  If throwing away sourdough starter kept you from keeping a yeast colony of your very own, I present you with the pancake recipe that might just change your life.

Sourdough Pancakes
(enough for 2-3 people)
3/4 cup sourdough starter
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons oil (I use olive oil)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar OR one heaping spoonful of honey
Grated lemon, lime, or orange peel (optional)
Using a whisk, mix all the ingredients except for the baking soda until very well incorporated.  Heat a skillet with a small pat of butter (or oil).  Add the baking soda to the batter and incorporate well while trying to stir as little as possible.  Fry the pancakes on medium-low heat for about a minute per side.  Or rather, flip them as soon as you can see them start to bubble, and if the underside is too dark by then, turn down the heat.  I usually make ~3 inch diameter pancakes (4 at a time).  Keep the cooked pancakes warm under a lid or in the oven at 170 degrees F.

Strawberry Syrup
2-3 cups frozen strawberries
2-3 cups water
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (or vanilla extract)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 packed tablespoons brown sugar
Place frozen strawberries and water in a large pot.  Bring the water to a simmer while you make the pancakes.  The strawberries will slowly soften and turn the water a deep red.  I simply let the strawberries cook for as long as it took to make the pancakes, probably 30-40 minutes, but I was careful to add more water to the syrup if the sauce got too thick.  Add the lemon juice and Grand Marnier early on in the cooking.  Towards the end add the brown sugar if the sauce is not as sweet as you would like.   Even a small amount of sugar made the syrup sweet enough to eat as the only pancake topping (normally I prefer both fruit and maple syrup).

Roasted Vegetable and Apricot Pizzas

Doesn’t this pizza sort of look like an alien head?   Moving on, the agenda was to recreate one of the best of the best of the best pizzas from Olio Pizzeria (my current pizza crush): the roasted vegetable pizza.  Let’s not get distracted by such trivial details as Peter completely winging the crust due to a lack of instant yeasties (a portion of my darling sourdough yeast colony was sacrificed instead).  I roasted some veggies.  I burned some of them.  The first pizza only got half baked due to the much greater water content of the (sour)dough.  To make up for it, we burned the heck out of the rest of them, hence the nice brown spots on the cheese.

A pizza dough recipe is here, so all I want to mention are the toppings.  For a roasted vegetable pizza you will need:
– Canned crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce of your choice)
– Flavorings for tomato sauce, such as minced onions, oregano, basil
– Zucchini and eggplants
– Fresh mozzarella cheese
– Optional: fresh herbs like basil or oregano
For the sauce: if not using prepared tomato sauce, saute the minced onion until soft and add the canned tomato.  Add the oregano and/or basil, and let the sauce simmer for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (sometimes I even put the canned tomatoes straight onto the pizza,  *gasp!*).
For the roasted vegetables: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Slice the zucchini and eggplants into long, thin strips.  Rub a good amount of olive oil onto a baking sheet.  Rub the veggies in the olive oil on the baking sheet so both sides of the veggies are covered.  Layer the veggies on the baking sheet in a single layer and season with salt and pepper.  Bake the veggies for about 20 minutes per side, although the time really depends on how thick the slices are.  I usually aim for 1/4 inch thick slices although it’s hard to be consistent.  When the veggies are done, set them aside for pizza topping.
Topping the pizza:  Now we’re on to the hard part.  Start topping the pizza with a layer of tomato sauce.  Next layer on the veggies.  A few sprinkles of fresh herbs go on next.  Finally, slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and a grind of fresh black pepper.  This is the hardest part because all the pizza toppings are so delicious that it’s hard not to just sneak away with them.

And then there were the apricot dessert pizzas (or breakfast pizzas).  The apricots were so ripe that some of them literally disintegrated in my hand, so one pizza was covered in fresh apricot paste and the other in apricot slices.  Both were delicious, one was slightly more attractive.

Perhaps this is only because my passion for peaches extends beyond the reasonable bounds of human-fruit relations, but until I cooked apricots, they were just uck.  Seriously, aside from the ones we bought two weekends ago (a fruit fluke if there ever was one… they were so yummy), apricots seem like sad, tasteless mini-peaches.  This has completely baffled me ever since first trying fresh apricots when I moved to California, because dried apricots are my favorite dried fruit!  What is so wrong with fresh apricots?  Do I just have horrible taste when picking them out?  Are they usually too ripe when I finally get around to eating them?  Now it doesn’t matter: bake them on pizza and be done with it.

Apricot and Goat Cheese Pizza
1) Rub olive oil over the pizza dough.
2) Arrange slices of apricot in a decorative fashion.  OR, rub oozing apricot slime all over the pizza dough instead.
3) Scatter sliced almonds on top.
4) Fling pieces of goat cheese on top of that.
5) Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons of honey for the final sugary kick.

Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Rosemary

I think it says a lot about my mad skills in the garden that the only two herbs that aren’t dead are the massive rosemary bush (it’s taller than me!) and the mint plant.  Of course the real problem is that I’m never quite sure how to cook with either of them.  Sure, there are mojitos, of which I’m a huge fan, but apart from being drunk too much of them time, it would require a bit more organization in my liquor cabinet (a shelf) that currently houses Grand Marnier and 11 bottles of strawberry honey wine that Peter recently bottled and refuses to let me drink for another 2 months.  Cruel.  My coping mechanism is usually to add rosemary to anything and everything (chicken and potatoes) and completely forget about the mint plant.

Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Rosemary
Olive oil
Goat cheese
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Wash the potatoes and slice them thinly.  I often get impatient and the potato slices get progressively thicker, but let’s not dwell.  Line a glass baking dish with olive oil.  Layer the potato slices in the glass dish with chunks of goat cheese interspersed.  Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary as you go.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over everything and put another drizzle of water in the bottom of the dish to add moisture to the potatoes.  Bake until the potatoes are done (just be adventurous and nibble one), 40 minutes or so depending on how diligent you are with potato slicing and how much patience you have.

I would also like to draw your attention to the blue bowls in the first photo.  They are some of my new collection of handmade pottery bowls that conveniently do not stack.  Notice how they are also not perfectly round… I’m still working on that.