In my evolution as a cook, a significant step was when I learned to look past individual recipes and began to concentrate more on ingredients. In the past, if I wanted to make potato soup, I found a recipe, gathered the ingredients, and began with step one – peeling, dicing, and cooking the potatoes. I made the soup and we ate the soup. End of story.
These days, I operate differently. Potato soup gets served at my house, as it probably will be for lunch today, as a result of something I did days earlier. On Sunday we hosted an open house here for a bunch of people and had a baked potato bar. There were twenty eaters, but I filled the rack of my oven with potatoes, so I ended up with extras. These treasures got tucked into a bowl and put in the fridge to serve at my pleasure later.
That is when the fun begins! Just what is my pleasure for these potatoes? I could shred them for potato pancakes or to go into a frittata. I could use some for potato bread or rolls. I could slice them for a German or French potato salad. I could make them into home fries for breakfast. I could slice them and cover them with heavy cream for a sort of quickie version of au gratin potatoes. The ideas are countless. I feel happy to think of the possibilities lying before me.
The danger, of course, is that I will not recognize them for the treasures they are and will allow them to languish, unappreciated and unused, until they grow mold and die. That is a sadness of waste we have all experienced. No, I must keep them in mind as I cook my way through the week. Here is what I am doing with my potatoes this week:
–Yesterday, I took a half potato, sliced it, sautéed it in some butter and olive oil, and poured in beaten eggs for a quick breakfast scramble.
–Today, I think I will scoop out most of the flesh of the remaining potatoes and make some version of potato soup. If I had some homemade chicken broth, another regular treasure up my sleeve, I’d be sitting especially pretty, but as I used it for last week’s soup and haven’t made anything chicken since, I’ll resort to a can of low-sodium broth and some water, which will still taste delicious. If I have time, I’ll make some cheddar/onion or garlic scones (made with extra cheese I shredded yesterday for another purpose) to serve with the soup for a warming winter lunch.
–I’ll save the potato skins for a winter picnic meal later in the week. I’ll use some of that extra cheddar, maybe bacon or ham bits if I have some chasing around in the fridge, and a little onion or scallion to make a fun finger food. Maybe I’ll take them to the Super Bowl Party we are invited to instead of doing them for the picnic. Time will tell.
Go peek in your refrigerator and pantry. What treasures do you have up your sleeve? With a little thought, these accidental dividends will serve you well this week. A little more thought will have you well on the way to procuring purposeful dividends, which is an important step in your own development as a cook.
Now get up and go cook something good.
1 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, medium dice
about 3 c. chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth or water, one of these or a combination
the flesh of 4-6 cooked potatoes, roughly cubed or chopped
salt and pepper to taste
optional: herbs of your choice – rosemary, thyme, or parsley are especially good, to taste
optional: a glug of cream, light or heavy (about ¼ c.)
1. Heat the oil in a 3-4 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent but not browned.
2. Add the liquid, potatoes, and salt and pepper. Add the herb if it is dried. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, 15-20 minutes. If using fresh herbs, add them during the last few minutes of cooking. Stir in the cream, if using. For light cream, do not allow the soup to boil after you add it or it may curdle. Heavy cream can be simmered safely.
3. Serve the soup as it or puree it with your tool of choice – mine is a stick blender, more humorously referred to as a giraffe.
4. Adjust the seasoning and serve.