Ever since I read in the book French Women Don’t Get Fat that one of the reasons our French female counterparts were much thinner than us in the Americas was because they consumed a great amount of leeks… this beautiful green vegetable has captivated me immensely.
I always thought French women were thinner because they ate smaller portions, they walk everywhere and that to the French overall, quality is much more important than quantity. And thinking about the Latin/Hispanic culture, so completely opposite to that of the French – quantity is more important that quality of the ingredients, where so many people live sedentary lives and take the car to go to the corner store… we should incorporate more leeks into our diet… actually, not should, we MUST!!!
Let’s start with this Potato Leek Soup. It’s super easy and relatively quick to make. I enjoyed the flavor a lot and most of all, I loved the fried Leek Rings as garnish… hey, I speak French, love the French culture, but can’t take the Puerto Rican out of me… This was a recipe I learned from Alton Brown in Good Eats.
Check it out…
POTATO LEEK SOUP
½ lbs of leeks, cleaned and dark and tough leaves removed
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 small potatoes, I used russet – washed well, peeled and diced small
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup Half and Half
Salt and Pepper to taste
- First you need to clean the leeks well. They always come full of sand and dirt in between the layers, even more so when you’re buying organic. You can cut the leek lengthwise without disturbing the root end so that the leek will sort-of “fan out”. Submerge in a sinkful of cold water and shake it well to dislodge any sand and dirt trapped in between the layers. Or you can just run it under cold water. (Note to self: in my dream kitchen I want a sink for the sole purpose of cleaning produce…)
- After the leeks are cleaned… finish cutting the root end and slice thinly. I use the white part and the tender green parts of the leek. These are somewhat expensive in Puerto Rico, so I try to use most of it as possible…
- In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leeks with a heavy pinch of salt. Sweat the leeks for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- While this is happening… prep the potatoes. I usually leave the skin on my potatoes, because in the thin film between the peel and the flesh is where a lot of nutrition lies, but in this case, because it’s a creamed soup, the skins will just get in the way.
- Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth. Increase the heat to medium hi and bring to a boil. I covered it to make it happen faster. Once it reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat to low, maintain covered and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. I still left some chunky pieces of potatoes and it was a nice contrast to the smooth soup. Stir in the half and half and add additional salt and pepper to taste.
The soup will remain warm enough to eat while you make these Leek Rings, which actually were incredible…
I also learned in the Good Eats episode that this soup is also called Vichyssoise, especially if served cold. I am not too fond of cold soups so we’ll keep on calling it Potato Leek Soup.
I am a single gal who shops at Costco… you might find it hard to believe, but here in Puerto Rico some of the best produce you can find at Costco. The catch is the size of the packages, which are huge for only one person. I usually buy fresh strawberries, asparagus, grape or vine-ripened tomatoes, mesclun greens, oranges and baby spinach at Costco, among other non perishables. When I can, I share with my mom, but most often times, I find myself with the challenge of cooking the same ingredients over and over in different presentations to avoid any spoilage.
That was the case a few days back with a large batch of baby spinach and grape tomatoes. How many ways can a girl make the same two ingredients and not bore herself??
Here is an exercise in how versatile these two ingredients are…
BABY SPINACH AND POTATO PASTELÓN
2 large russet or red-skinned potatoes, washed and cubed
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
About 10 grape or cherry tomatoes , halved – if you have regular tomatoes, they work fine too, just chop them
½ onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, grated or finely minced
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs butter or soy margarine
2 oz cream cheese
2 tbs Parmesan Cheese, grated or shredded
Salt and Pepper to taste
- In a medium pot, boil the potatoes in salted water.
- While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the filling of the pastelón. In a medium sized skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes and sauté until softened. Add the baby spinach to the skillet. Sprinkle some salt and pepper and toss to combine, until it wilts.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain the water and return to the pot to mash them with the butter/margarine, cream cheese and 1 tbs of the Parmesan. Season with some salt and pepper to taste. I like using garlic salt here…
- In a casserole dish sprayed with some canola oil spray, spread ½ of the mashed potatoes. Top with the spinach and tomato mixture. Add all the remaining potato and smooth out the top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese on top melts and creates a golden crust. Because all of the components are already cooked…
These days I am trying to eat less cheese… And it’s difficult because I truly love cheese. I believe the tag cloud on the right is a testament to the amount of recipes I make with cheese. But the thing is that I should not eat as much cheese as I do.
Ever since I was 21, I was diagnosed with a chronic IBS (Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome) condition. Most people react to different things… my main culprit is stress. So when I am stressed and on top of that, eat too many dairy products, things get ugly. I promise I won’t go into the details.
My condition was partly why I became a vegetarian… I started noticing that by eating healthier I could manage my condition without the need of traditional chemical medication. I would focus on eating as naturally as possible and see what effects that would have on my condition… the results were positive, to say the least.
April was designated IBS Awareness Month… so in an effort to educate my palate to think outside the boundaries of cheese-laden dishes and to raise awareness of IBS, but more in particular, the fact you CAN BE a vegetarian and thru diet manage your IBS condition you’ll see more and more recipes without using cheese.
2 potatoes, washed well and cut into quarters or eights
½ cup of hummus - it can be home-made or store-bought
Juice of ½ a lemon
5-6 grape tomatoes
1 tbs butter or canola margarine
1 tbs olive oil
Garlic salt and Pepper to taste
2 tbs slivered or sliced almonds
- In a medium saucepan, boil the potatoes. I cover the potatoes only half way with salted water. I find they cook faster this way.
- While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the hummus filling. You can use my recipe for hummus here or buy it from the store. If you’re using the store-bought kind, I like to “revive it” by adding a drizzle of olive oil and the juice of ½ a lemon. I like the tangy lemony taste in hummus. Set aside.
- When the potatoes are done, drain them and return to the same pot. Drizzle a bit of olive oil, add the butter, buttermilk and mash to desired consistency. It can be as chunky or as smooth as you prefer it. Season with a bit of garlic salt and pepper to taste.
- Now we assemble the pastelón… in a medium casserole dish spread ½ the mashed potatoes creating the bottom layer of the pastelón. Spread the hummus layer as evenly as possible. Place the cut grape tomatoes on a layer on top of the hummus. Add the remaining mashed potato layer and smooth out the top. Sprinkle the almonds on top.
- Place in 350 degree F oven for about 20-30 minutes, basically to brown the top a bit and for all the flavors to combine and meld.
This dish, with its great flavors and all, turned out a bit monochromatic for me… so next time I will make sure and include something that will impart some added color to the hummus filling… stay tuned.
To celebrate my French classmates and to practice the French we learn at l’Alliance Française, I decided to host a French dinner get-together – French food while speaking only in French… Parlez-vous français, anyone??? Hey, one of my friends even showed up with her books to look up any word she might forget… she’s hilarious.I decided to try a few adaptations from the cooking book and TV special that inspired me to take-up French again – Barefoot in Paris from Ina Garten. I decided my menu would be Comme Çi Comme Ça Salade Niçoise and Croque Monsieur sandwiches.
Comme Çi Comme Ça means in English “more or less” or “so so” – this salad is a karma-free version of the original, which typically includes tuna and eggs. The sandwich is also an adaptation, using a soy-protein smoked ham in place of the traditional real ham. I must say that none of my guests were vegetarian and they could not believe the deliciousness of the dinner.
I’m telling you… They were both magnifique!!!
COMME ÇI COMME ÇA SALADE NIçOISE
This salad is a composed salad with lots of ingredients. It might seem like a lot, but if you take it little by little it will not seem as daunting as the ingredients list might suggest. Please believe me, it’s simple.
1 recipe for French Potato Salad, recipe follows
Roasted button mushrooms, recipe follows
Marinated roasted red bell peppers, recipe follows
Sautéed green beans, recipe follows
1 head of Romaine lettuce
2 handfuls of grape tomatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thin
½ English cucumber, sliced thin
2 radishes, washed and sliced thin
Handful of olives – niçoise are best, but I also used lemon-stuffed manzanillas
Nicoise Vinnaigrette Dressing, recipe follows
Arrange the lettuce, potato salad, sautéed green beans, roasted mushrooms, marinated bell peppers, grape tomatoes, carrot, cucumber, radishes and olives on a large flat platter.
For the French Potato Salad:
10 baby red-skinned potatoes, washed and quartered
4 tbs vegetable stock
3 tbs white wine vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
A few grinds of freshly ground pepper
10 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 stalk of green onion, sliced at an angle
4-5 leaves of basil, julienned
Boil the potatoes in a medium pot in salted water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until they are just cooked through.
While the potatoes boil, prepare the dressing in a medium sized bowl that can accommodate the potatoes comfortably. Whisk together the vegetable stock, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper. While whisking, add the olive oil to create an emulsion.
Drain the potatoes well and add to the bowl with the dressing. Add the chopped green onion and basil. Toss well to combine. Cover bowl with a plastic wrap and let all the dressing to be soaked into the potatoes.
Set aside until you get ready the rest of the salad ingredients.
Marinated Roasted Peppers
4-5 jarred roasted Piquillo peppers
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 tbs capers
¼ tsp grated garlic
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and let the peppers marinate while the rest of the salad ingredients are ready.
Sautéed Green beans
½ bag of frozen green beans – I really prefer fresh, but I found non at the market so this is a cool substitute
1 shallot sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, finely minced or grated
A dash of olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fill a medium saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Pour in the frozen green beans and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and sauté the shallot and the garlic lightly. Add the drain green beans and sauté with the shallots and garlic. Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.
Roasted Button Mushrooms
1 pint of white button mushrooms, cleaned with a damp paper towel
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the mushrooms in half. Place in a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat.
Roast in oven (I do this in my toaster oven) for about 20 minutes until mushrooms are cooked and golden brown.
Niçoise Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tbs white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
3 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 scallion, cut in big pieces
4 olives, pitted
1 tsp capers
A squirt of Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender.
With blender running, slowly add oil until completely incorporated and emulsified.
Serve in a dressing pitcher on the side of the salad.
This salad was so delicious, that my friend’s husband could not stop eating it. This whole platter served only 4 people. Accompanied by the Croque Monsieur sandwiches and my friend’s Aniette’s Bull… this was a complete meal.
I was watching the Today Show the other morning and saw a piece on how to “fancy up” regular take-out food to serve it even to company… I was intrigued. Not because I am a take-out consumer, but I am always eager to learn how a simple twist or added ingredient can make something nicer and fancier…The one idea that struck me the most was to add Boursin cheese to KFC’s mashed potatoes. You mix it up, put it in a casserole dish and bake it in the oven for a few minutes and voila, fancy mashed potatoes!! I have seen this Boursin cheese in the grocery store before, but was never motivated enough to buy it.
At the Today Show demo, Hoda Kotb tried it and was amazed at the flavor… so, if Boursin cheese can do that to a tub of KFC’s mashed potatoes, what can it do to fresh baby red skinned mashed potatoes… try this one and you’ll see for yourself!!!
POTATO BOURSIN CASSEROLE
2 medium red skin potatoes, washed and cut in quarters
A 4.4oz packet of Boursin Light cheese – I used the Garlic and Fine Herbs kind
Drizzle of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbs of butter
A splash of milk or buttermilk – Optional
Salt and Freshly ground Pepper to taste
Canola Oil Spray – for the casserole dish
In a medium saucepan, filled about ¼ of the way with salted water, boil the potatoes. I find that if the water reaches about half way the potatoes, they cook faster than if the potatoes are fully submerged in the water.
Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
After the potatoes are done, drain most of the water and the same hot saucepan add the butter, olive oil, and milk/buttermilk if using. Mash the potatoes to combine the ingredients. Add the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Spray a glass casserole dish with canola oil spray and transfer the potato mixture. Smooth out the top and then rake the top using a fork to create indentations.
Bake in oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the top gets browned a bit.
You can definitely eat these mashed potatoes after you mix in the cheese… but putting it in the oven for a few minutes creates a nice crunchy topping which I loved. It all depends how much in a hurry or how hungry you are.