I’ve been sick, so I’ve been eating a lot of soup. Now that I have drained every Thai and Vietnamese restaurant in the neighborhood, it’s time to make my own. I want something creamy and coating with strong flavor, since I can barely taste anything. This recipe requires no skill and is simple, but even more so if you have a mandolin slicer and an immersion blender.
1/2 stick unsalted butter, plus more for other nefarious purposes
3 medium size leeks, cleaned and dark green ends removed but reserved
1 quart broth or stock (chicken, beef, veg, whatever – you can even use bullion)
3 medium-large Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 cup buttermilk
salt and pepper
In a medium-size stock pot, melt butter over medium low-heat, add the leeks and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, until soft, stirring occasionally.
While the leeks are cooking, peel and slice the potatoes as thin as possible. This is where the mandolin comes into play, because if you can cut paper thin, the next step can take 20 minutes instead of 40.
Add the broth and potatoes, and let simmer, covered, until potatoes start to break down, stirring occasionally. Don’t be startled; the broth becomes a thick, starchy goo as soon as it reaches a boil.
Turn off the heat and blend until smooth, if need be, in a traditional blender in batches.
Stir in all the dairy products, season to taste and bring slowly back up to temperature if need be. Finish with a knob of butter stirred in at the end.
For garnish, lemon zest, and/or take the leftover green parts, slice thinly across the grain and saute over high heat in butter until crispy.
On assignment from Newman’s Own, I shot my first ever cooking video. They were kind enough to furnish me with snacks and a video camera to shoot this piece, as well as a replacement for the first camera, which didn’t work. Now that we have the federally mandated compensation disclosure out of the way, I will just say that I had fun shooting this, but it was kind of stressful. I think that has a lot to do with working in a small, counterless kitchen, but it was a rewarding experience, and I think I might just do this again.
I know, I know! It’s all I’ve posted about lately, but I promise to stop talking about Mac and Cheese soon. SF Food Wars just uploaded these pics, among others, to their Flickr page, and I wanted to post them here for nostalgia, and for anyone else who wants to see them.
Here are the pics of Team ¢#€€$€ (because my mac is money) and “The Crusty Vermonter”.
Preheat oven to 400, and cook the pasta in salted water (the only salt used in this recipe, so don’t forget). Butter four 12×20-inch aluminum pans and grate cheese while pasta cooks. Drain the pasta, reserving 3 cups pasta water.
Working in 4 batches, combine 3 cups panko and 1/2 pound Mexican cheese blend in large ziptop bags, shaking to combine. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons salted butter and integrate one batch panko-cheese blend, melting to integrate. Remove from pan and set aside, rebagging when cool. Repeat with 3 remaining batches.
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter and add flour, red pepper flakes and black pepper, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
Whisk in milk, bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add cream, cheese, mustard, sriracha and pasta water, and turn off the burner. Stir until sauce is smooth.
Incorporate the cooked pasta and chorizo, and pour into the buttered pans.
Top each pan with 1/2 pound prosciutto and bake 10 minutes.
Spread panko mixture across the top and bake another 10 minutes.
Julienne apple over the top and serve with a side of spicy slaw or homemade pickles.
When I mentioned to my friend Christopher that I was putting chorizo in my mac and cheese, he mentioned that his father makes a mean chorizo and offered me the recipe. I hadn’t considered making it myself, and although I didn’t follow his dad’s recipe to the letter, it was a great jumping-off point. Here is the recipe I created:
“The Crusty Vermonter,” submitted by the ¢#€€$€ team, was another standout. Sweet apples, sharp cheddar, and salty bacon mixed it up in a balance both hearty and subtle. It was served with little sides of pickles (unnecessary) and mild slaw (good for texture and crunch). This one got the People’s Choice Honorable Mention. A gasp rippled through the crowd after the chef’s big reveal: The cheese sauce was 40 percent Velveeta.
Regardless, the gent from “SF Delicious Catering” who bested me owns a catering company and spent several years working in restaurant kitchens, so I feel pretty good about placing second behind him, especially when so many of the other 15 competitors were professional cooks, chefs and caterers as well, and I have never worked in a kitchen or had formal training.
All said and done, it feels like a Braveheart kind of victory. I’m sure William Wallace would have defeated the Brits if their generals hadn’t brought so many of their troops, and hadn’t been able to cook in a commercial kitchen while the Scots had to make 50 pounds of mac and cheese on my tiny little apartment stove.
I know I said I would post the recipe, but it was really sunny yesterday and I have a lot of conversions to do in order to scale down the recipe to something reasonable in size, so I will try to get it up here soon.
Thanks to everyone at SF Food Wars and all who came to the event. I had a blast! Also thanks to my gorgeous sous chef Tamar (pictured below) and to Irwin, who posted some great advice on how to win this battle.
If you follow the link at the top of the page, we were team #13 “¢#€€$€ (because my mac is money)” and my dish was called “The Crusty Vermonter”.
In an attempt to attain sympathy leftovers, I went to McDonald’s and ordered a McRib meal on Thanksgiving. I tried eating that infamous, ephemeral sandwich and it was absolutely horrid, but the fries were great as always.
The vanilla shake is exceptional with a Thanksgiving upgrade: a 2-ounce shot of Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit.
Alright, I am whiter than white, but my earliest cooking lessons were from a Korean gal who taught me to make amazing dumplings, which have since evolved into my own potsticker recipe and which led to my fascination with Asian cooking, creating new recipes from Far East standards, getting a federal grant to study Japanese food with a nutritional anthropologist, throwing ridiculous Lunar New Year dinner parties, and so on.
A friend who was at that last dinner party recently commented on my penchant for Asian cuisine and I realized that I have been making mostly American comfort food for at least the last year, as evidenced by the roasted chicken, meatballs, brisket, Brussels sprouts and mac & cheese on this site of late.
So, it’s time to get back to where I’ve never been. I’m scouring cookbooks for Asian classics to adapt and I am thinking that my next will be Japanese-style croquettes that came to mind while reading a short story by Haruki Murakami last night, and perhaps while I am back east for the holidays, I can put on a whole (or partial) kaiseki ryōri for family and friends in Vermont.