Saturday, November 6, 2010

Being creative on a chilly day

Today started off rainy and quite chilly here in Durham.  My weekend project is to make cassoulet so I set out early for Wine Authorities to get duck confit legs.  I got the other ingredients at Whole Foods (after getting stuck in the Duke football game traffic-- they won, at least) and then headed back home to set the white beans to soaking.  That's tomorrow's dinner.  What about today?
I decided to make soup using things I already had on hand.  My mom used to make great potato soup when I was growing up.  I am not sure she would've been able to feed all of us without the potatoes from our garden and my grandparents' garden.  There just happened to be a few potatoes ready and waiting to be cooked in my cupboard.  I also found a few slices of bacon, an onion, and two roasted chicken legs left over from dinner a couple of nights ago.  I found a recipe on the internet (thanks to my dear friend Google) to use as a guide for quantities.  That's the thing about my cooking since I returned from sabbatical.  I am not so dependent on recipes.  I used to have to have one in front of me and I had to follow it to the letter (or teaspoon).  I am not sure I ever tasted what I was making as I went along.  Hard to believe now.
I peeled and chopped and the end result is pretty good.  The Ex-Ex definitely approves.  High school-age son hasn't tried it yet.

Onions and celery sauteed in the bacon grease...
(The cook had to have a little snack while chopping...  Celery filled with Whole Foods' pimiento cheese.  I think it helped tremendously.)

Potato Bacon Soup
(6 servings)

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut in small pieces
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. flour
1 c. half and half
Texas Pete hot sauce

Optional ingredients:
1 1/2 c. shredded carrot
2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the bacon until crisp.   Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Reserve enough of the bacon grease to saute the onions, celery and carrots (if using) until soft.  Be sure to scrape up all the bacon bits stuck to the pan.  The water from the vegetables will help with    deglazing the pan.  Add the garlic, if using.  Stir in the flour and coat the vegetables with it.  Add in enough broth to keep the flour from burning, about 2 cups.  Stir well.  (I cooked my leftover chicken legs in 2 cups water until the meat came off the bones.  I then removed the bones and leftover skin.)  Add the rest of the broth, chicken, and potatoes.  Heat to boiling.  Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Add the thyme, cayenne pepper or hot sauce, salt, pepper and corn, if using.  Cook for about 5 more minutes.  Stir in the half and half and heat gently.
Serve hot with parsley and bacon sprinkled on top.

Cornbread muffins would go well with this.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on my first attempt at cassoulet.

Bon appétit, chilly weather!

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