Thursday, February 24, 2011


Tonight as I was driving home I contemplated what I might find in the house for dinner.  I forgot to plan ahead so whatever was in the pantry would have to do. I also had a movie to watch that needed to be returned to the library by midnight, so whatever I fixed would have to be quick, ready to eat in front of the TV, and warm me up enough for a quick trek through the snow to my neighborhood library branch.  By the time I drove the 7 minutes from work to home I'd made up my mind to have some soup and a hunk of bread.

Soup is one of those things that can be extremely simple or extravagantly complicated. Potato Soup in particular is one of those that can be very basic or quite elaborate, depending upon what else you might have in your pantry or your energy level at cooking time. 

Face it, potatoes are one of those foods that will go with almost anything.  Many cultures around the world wouldn't consider sitting down to a meal without potatoes on the plate.  They're basically a bland ingredient that can take on lots of other flavors and tastes terrific no matter what you do to them.

As a kid, my Mom made Potato Soup often for Saturday lunches. Served with a hot dog along side, this was one of my favorite meals. Helping her make this was how I learned to peel potatoes (because it never would have occurred to Mom to leave the skins on!) Her soup was the simple soup she must have learned to make from her Mother while growing up on a farm in the years following the Depression where they grew potatoes and milked their own goats and cows, but probably did not have things like celery or leeks or garlic growing in the kitchen garden.

Simple ingredients made for a simple
soup.  Now my tastes run just
a bit more complex.
Mom’s recipe – cube 1 medium sized potato (peeled) per person. Over medium-high heat, cover potatoes with water to cover, boil in water till soft, add a little milk, season with salt and pepper and serve.

This was simple food at its most basic - economical, easy to make and tummy-filling when there isn’t a lot of stuff hanging around your pantry because you can’t afford to buy it. Potatoes were (and still are) cheap, everyone had milk in the fridge (or out in the cow), and salt and pepper were THE seasonings for absolutely everything we ate. While visiting with my folks in Florida last winter, Mom served this same soup for lunch one day (complete with a hot dog along side) and I felt like a kid again eating this very elementary meal.

Luckily, I have a few more ingredients in my kitchen that lend themselves to dressing up a simple pot of cooked potatoes.  For instance, when I brought home a package of smoked sausage a few weeks ago, I cut it into single serving size pieces and froze them so that I could pull out one piece when I wanted it.  So my plan was to use one of those, a couple of taters from the pantry and whatever else I could scrounge for a nice bowl of warm soup.  The end product turned out very tasty and I was sad when the bowl was empty.  Maybe next time I'll double up and make enough for another night.

Potato soup ingredients ready
for the pot
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 stalk celery, washed and diced small
1/4 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped onion
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sliced smoked sausage
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced small
1 1/2 cups water (or chicken broth)
1 kale leaf, stalk removed and sliced
1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 teaspoon corn starch
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered cheese (optional)*
sprinkle of fresh or dried parsley

In a heavy bottomed 2 quart saucepan over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the celery, onion and saute until soft. Add the garlic and sausage and stir until the sausage has browned a bit. Add the potatoes and water (or broth) making sure the potatoes are covered.

 Let cook on medium high heat until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes.  You may wish to remove some of the cooking water at this point, it depends upon whether you like more "soup" than "stuff" in your bowl.  I prefer the "stuff" so will sacrifice some broth here.

Add the kale and the milk and cornstarch mixture. Heat to a simmer until soup thickens. Add the cheese powder if you wish and the parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.
* Note - I've begun to look for more uses for the powdered cheese I bought for my Cheeseburger Mac dinner.  Originally I got this to bake some bread with and then have lost track of that recipe.  Meanwhile, it lends a bit of cheesy goodness to lots of things without the mess of trying to melt reaL cheddar cheese.  If you feel adventurous, you can find this in the bulk store or order on-line from King Arthur Flour.  

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