Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cold Weather Cooking and Comfort Food

After finishing up my last blog post, imagine my surprise when I got a message a few hours later from the college saying campus was closed. Well, that meant two things for me: more time to catch up on sleep and an early afternoon of cooking ahead. After making the gnocchi a few days ago, I had to think of something I could make to use up more of my stored mini redskin potatoes. Being able to finish up the remaining chicken stock sitting in my fridge since the pupusa night would also be a plus. Thankfully, two recipes took up much of the potatoes and got the stock out of the fridge. Let's take a trip to Québec for some poutine and return back to the Midwest for some bacon cheddar potato soup.

I don't know why I never had poutine, one of French speaking Canada's quintessential dishes, as it's simply a collection of some of the greatest foods...ever: French fries, chicken gravy, and cheese curds. However, the freezing rain that landed in our area prevented my from going outside in search for gravy and cheese curds, so naturally I had to improvise and make the components myself.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. For enough poutine for one (arguably more, unless you're into cholesterol on a plate), take three mini redskin potatoes and batonnet (matchstick) them, keeping them submerged in cold water until they're ready for seasoning and eventually the oven; not doing this will potentially equate to the starches acting up and the potatoes getting discoloured.

In a mini food processor (or spice grinder), grind a pinch each of paprika, onion flakes, and garlic flakes (unless you have these in powdered form already); transfer the spices to another bowl. Drain the water from the potato sticks, add a few teaspoons of olive oil, and closing the two bowls (i.e., the potato and olive oil, and the spice one) together, shake 'em up, essentially coating the potato sticks with the oil and spice mix. Transfer all of this onto a baking sheet, in a single layer, and get this in the oven.

While that's going, cook up five slices of bacon and then let's get going on the bacon cheddar potato soup (which was adapted from this anonymous recipe). In a medium size pot, heat up a few teaspoons of olive oil, and when hot, sautée half a small onion (brunoised). Give this a stir and once it begins to caramelize, add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp flour, stirring all of this together. After that gets cooking and the base you're creating starts to thicken and bubble up (as depicted above), add 1/2 c chicken stock and 1/2 c milk. Stir this all together, reduce the heat to med-lo, add a pinch each of paprika and dried thyme, and allow it to simmer away as you get to work on the potatoes.

Peel about 1 lb potatoes (here, six mini redskin potatoes; about 1 whole russet potato) and get these into a bowl of cold water to prevent discolouration. Dice up the potatoes, and stir this into the soup base, making sure to coat the potatoes with the soup. Let this all cook together for about 10 min, checking in a few times to make sure nothing's burned onto the bottom of the pot. After that time has elapsed, stir everything up again and add two crumbled slices of bacon. Cover the pot and allow it to continue simmering for about 5 min.

At this point, the fries should be just about ready to come out (total cooking time is 40 min). So, get to work on the chicken gravy because it's better to let the fries chill out than to let the gravy do so. Melt 1/2 tbsp butter and stir in 1/2 tbsp flour. After the flour has been well incorporated into the butter and this (now) roux begins to thicken, stir in 1/2 c chicken stock and a splash of milk. Then set the heat to medium and let it boil away the water, leaving behind a thickening gravy. Stir in a pinch of paprika, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. If, after 10 min, the gravy hasn't thickened, add a touch of flour and give it more time; trust me when I say the gravy will pretty much thicken on its own.

As the gravy is boiling away, take the fries out of the oven, and immediately get some freshly ground sea salt and black pepper on them. Transfer this to an oven proof serving dish, and with the oven turned off, put the dish inside to keep it warm. Check on the (now) bacon potato soup and off the heat, stir in 1/2 c sharp cheddar cheese. Cover the pot and leave it alone until you're ready to serve it.

Let's plate! With the gravy done, carefully take the serving dish with the fries out of the oven and spoon on the chicken gravy. Traditionally, you'd top this off with cheese curds, but again as I didn't have any, I topped this off with a combination of shredded mozzarella and mini cubed fontina cheese. Garnish with two more pieces of bacon (crumbled). By now, you may be thinking what the other piece of bacon is for... eat it and enjoy, haha! If you were good at not eating that solitary piece of bacon, use it to garnish the bacon cheddar potato soup, along with additional sharp cheddar cheese. Bon' ap!

Hot and very filling, these are two dishes that scream winter food. Incredibly easy to make, these are again made with ingredients you most likely have sitting around, and with the added smokiness from the paprika and bacon, the poutine and bacon cheddar potato soup will have you ready for hibernation mode. Until then, be sure to check out the other photos from this afternoon's cooking voyage.

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