Tag Archives: potato

We are all Julia’s Children.

A while back, I had the pleasure of seeing Julie & Julia on the big screen. I don’t typically shell out movie theater dollars to watch a pseudo-documentary (Big Screen money is for Star Wars, the Terminator movies, and Beowulf 3-D), but this was special. I grew up with Julia Child.

Every Saturday on PBS, I’d sit with Mommie Dearest and my sisters while the menfolk were off somewhere getting dirty, and we’d learn how to roast a goose, bake a gateaux, and flip an omelette. By the time I came along, Julia was in color, but reruns of the black and white show were frequent.

It didn’t matter whether we ever tried her recipes or not. We loved her. She made cooking significant and entertaining. And because of Julia, we began to explore more sophisticated flavours and techniques. My brothers can make roadkill stew. My sisters and I can make burgundy beef. It pays to watch Public Television. Between Julia Child and Betty Crocker, there were a lot of good eats at our house.

It’s my birthday week, and I’m glad to be here to share something I learned from la plus belle chef du monde: a simple recipe for Potato Leek Soup. I had a plan to attempt Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon for the first time, but the recipe is involved and I wanted something to sate our hunger until the big dish was ready. Soup was just the ticket. Both recipes came from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, a small book compared to her others, but chock full of basic master recipes and excellent tips for everything from preparation to garnish. It’s an essential reference on my kitchen bookshelf. The Boeuf Bourguignon was also a great success, but that post is for another day. I’m still enjoying the leftovers.

Potato Leek Soup

This is the very first recipe in Kitchen Wisdom, and with good reason. It’s in a section called “Primal Soups” which Julia calls “the least complicated and often the most loved.”  Its versatility is extraordinary, served hot or cold, you can leave it chunky and brothy or puree it smooth and add something creamy. To boost the flavour, I chose to use both chicken stock and water, and I sauteed the leeks briefly in a teaspoon of rendered bacon fat. Don’t panic, it’s one itty bitty teaspoon in a whole 2 quarts of soup (that’s at least 6 servings, more if you stretch the leftovers a bit with some extra milk or cream).

Preparing Leeks:

  • One big leek plus one small leek yeilded about three cups sliced. You’ll use most of the white part and some of the green part.
  • Cut off the root and a few inches off the top leaves.
  • Split the leeks in half lengthwise and spread them apart under cold running water to remove any dirt between the layers.
  • Slice the leeks crosswise into thin strips.

In a saucepan over medium heat, briefly saute 3 cups sliced leeks in 1 tsp bacon fat (or olive oil or butter). Add 3 cups of chicken stock, 3 cups of water, 1 1/2 tsp salt, fresh ground black pepper, and 4 baking potatoes (peeled and diced).

Bring the pot to a boil and simmer about 20-30 minutes until potato chunks are tender. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup sour cream. Taste and add more S&P if needed.

NEXT DAY: “Baked Potato” Leek Soup

Heat leftovers and garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, some chopped green onion, and bits of crisp-cooked bacon.


Country Style Potato Cakes

My Sissy is an excellent cook. She can work magic in the kitchen with nothing but a prayer in the pantry, and her country cookin’ is da bomb. A couple of days ago, I made a heap of garlic mashed potatoes, and I wanted to do something other than just reheat the leftovers, so I called up my Sissy for a little culinary inspiration. She helped me whip up a batch of potato cakes over the phone. I have many fond memories of these crispy little potato patties, creamy on the inside, served hot out of the pan with a drizzle of ketchup on top.

Fresh out of the pan.

Fresh out of the pan.

It’s one of those things every good country cook can make, but it’s nearly impossible to find a recipe for them. Some books call them “potato pancakes” which is a little misleading, because they aren’t anything like a pancake or crepe. They’re a little more like a latke, except latkes use grated raw potato like hash browns (related to but not the same as home fries, which use sliced or diced potatoes). Good potato cakes start out with good mashed potatoes that have been in the fridge overnight. My garlic mashed potatoes recipe is at the bottom of this post.

They were as good as I remember . . . better, in fact. The “loaded” version is also extremely tasty and would make a delicious companion for a nice juicy rib eye steak.

Country Style Potato Cakes

2 C cold mashed potatoes
1/2 small onion, minced and sauteed (optional)
1/3 – 1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1 tsp mustard
olive oil + butter for pan frying

Mix together potatoes, egg, mustard, and cooked onion. Add enough flour (up to 1/2 cup) to hold potato mixture together. The mixture should not be too stiff, but if your leftover potatoes are very moist, you may need to add extra flour.

Melt 1 Tbs butter with 1 Tbs olive oil in frying pan over medium heat. Drop a heaping spoonful of potato mix in the pan. Spread it gently to form a small patty about 1/2 inch thick. Make several cakes, but don’t crowd the pan.

Fry until crisp and golden on both sides (turning once). Add more butter/olive oil between batches.

Transfer to wire rack to cool slightly. Serve hot with ketchup on the side.

Cheesily delicious.

Cheesily delicious.

Loaded Potato Cakes

Add 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese to the potato mixture.

Top with sour cream, bacon crumbles, and green onion.

A Few Notes:

  • Putting the cakes on a rack for just a couple of minutes after frying keeps the outside crispy. They’ll hold their heat long enough to finish the batch.
  • Some folks make a stiffer potato mix (using more flour), then shape the patties and dredge them in flour before frying. I think this makes the potato cakes tough and can affect the taste, plus it’s not really necessary.
  • Potato cakes are a blank canvas. They accept many variations in flavour, and can be altered or garnished to suit personal tastes. Ginger Man likes his with spicy mayo (mayo mixed with Frank’s hot sauce). I think topping them with a poached egg and some hollandaise sauce would make a nice change for brunch.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes (diced and boiled until tender)
1 Tbs garlic minced (about three cloves)
2 Tbs butter
1/3 Cup sour cream
1/4 Cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the garlic briefly in butter (1 or 2 minutes). Drain the cooked potatoes, then mash them up with the garlic butter and remaining ingredients until smooth and creamy. Reserve about 2 cups of mashed potato for potato cakes. Store covered in refrigerator.