Carrot , Leek & Apple Soup with Garlic Croutons


The challenge of creating a spectacular-or at least edible-dish out of fridge odds and ends is one that I have always relished. I believe it to be a sign of a good cook: creative, resourceful and an independent thinker rather than just open a cookbook. I have to say I’m pretty good at visualizing how ingredients can come together for a potential meal-probably thanks to all the practice I got making ‘staff meal’ when I worked in a professional kitchen. No, we didn’t tuck into a lamb chop from the menu when we were hungry or munch on foie gras pâté and croutons, we ate a family-style meal together every night just before service that was prepared by one of the chef de parties.
I should have kept a log of the random items that were held on the shelf designated for staff eating. It was not uncommon to have to put together a meal for fourteen using some or all of the following:

several litres of razor clam juice
60 or so scrawny quail legs
reject fresh pasta dough (presumably tough as nails)
soft/slimy cucumbers (tomatoes, peppers, spinach)
a jar of picked quail eggs
giant tub of dijon
mounds and mounds of venison scraps
a litre or more of beet purée

and so on and so fourth.
What I made was generally decided for me; it depended on how much time I could take away from my usual lengthy list of prep work. One has to think “is it really in my best interest to clean all the venison, grind it, make a bolognaise and a spinach béchamel, and roll the pasta for a lasagna?”
As popular as I would have been with my fellow chefs had I done so (comfort food rocks when night after night all you plate is ultra-finicky fine cuisine) the more realistic scenario was probably me tossing the quail legs in a speedy marinade before roasting them and serving with a pot of rice.


All that said, I recently made a memorable soup from my fridge scraps after a vigorous clean turned up some withering vegetables. There’s hardly a better time to clean out the refrigerator than after the holidays (after a power outage is pretty ideal, too) and it’s a New Year to boot, so if you haven’t done it yet, get in there and toss those mouldy brussel sprouts and stale fruitcake. Be sure to wear gloves, though, it may be worse than you think; as it was in my case.

As I was making the soup, I took the time to scribble down what I was doing in loose recipe form in case I wanted to blog about it. Of course, I have no idea where that piece of paper/napkin/envelope is now, so I’m going to try and remember what I did because it’s worth repeating.

Carrot, leek and apple: not a new combination by any means, but a trio that I had wasting away in my vegetable drawer; add a liter of homemade chicken stock in the freezer that needed to give way to three vital incoming pints of Hagen Daaz (good things come in threes), and voilà, soup! For fun, toss in some whole-wheat garlic croutons for crunch and bacon because–well, bacon needs no explanation, really.


Carrot, Leek and Apple Soup
(All measurements are estimates. Feel free to change up the recipe to suit yourself)

Peel four large carrots and chop into 1-inch rounds. Remove outer leaves from a large leek and discard. Wash the leek well and chop roughly. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add carrots and leek. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften and their color brightens.
Peel two apples (I used Granny Smith), core, chop and add to the pot. Add about 4 cups of chicken stock or water (enough to cover the carrot mixture by an inch or so), a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer until carrots are tender. Remove pot from heat and discard bay leaf.
In a blender, puree soup until silky smooth. Season with salt and pepper and thin with a little cream to desired consistency.

For Croutons:
Cube several slices of bread into 1 centimeter cubes. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. When it is very hot, add the cubed bread and a clove of peeled, smashed garlic. Toss gently to coat bread with oil and cook until brown and crispy. The oil will be all absorbed. Salt generously, remove from pan and cool on a paper towel. Discard garlic.

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Guess what arrived in my mailbox yesterday? The Martha Stewart Living November issue with a big, fat, perfect turkey on the front and the title “Thanksgiving Solved!” We’re a little ahead of the game here at UtHC.
I think my side dishes–not to mention my stuffing–were better than the ones she featured, but you can decide for yourself! Let’s continue with our meal.


First up we have Maple Glazed Baby Carrots, harvested from the earth the same day they were served. They were so naturally sweet, the syrup was an unnecessary, but lavish touch. Wondering why they are a funny color? These are my purple carrots, which look almost black when they are cooked.


I’ve enjoyed brussel sprouts every time I’ve had them; I can’t understand why they have such a bad rap. They brought such gorgeous color to our Thanksgiving table and were far more elegant than the common green bean (and don’t even get me started on canned peas!). Just a head’s up for the mama’s reading: there were plenty of brussel sprouts rolling around under the high chair as these were not a hit with the little ones. More for us grown-ups, that’s all!

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnuts and Lemon

Brussel Sprouts
Butter

Lemon,
zested
Walnuts, lightly toasted

Salt and Pepper

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Prepare brussel sprouts by peeling away one layer of outer leaves and scoring an ‘X’ in the bottoms, about 1/8th of an inch deep. Drop brussel sprouts into the boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes, less if they are really small. A sharp knife poked into the center should still meet with some resistance. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a tray. (This part can be done well before the meal)
Just before serving, melt butter in a sauce pan and toss in a pinch of the lemon zest. Add
brussel sprouts and pan roast until they start to get some golden patches. Some people prefer to slice them in half and brown the cut side generously. Mine were very small, about the size of a grape, so I chose to leave them whole. Toss in the rest of the lemon zest and a handful of walnuts. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This dish held up well in a warm oven for about 15 minutes while I brought the rest of the meal together.


Lest I lead you to believe I cooked this entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own, let me assure you that I didn’t! It was a joint effort, a well-executed pot-luck, I would go so far as to say, and that made all the difference. How else would I have been able to photograph every dish for your viewing pleasure?!
The best part of a pot-luck is getting to try new dishes that you may not necessarily have made on your own. My brother-in-law, Kevin (of the Egg McMuffin) contributed this amazing Butternut Squash Gratin, which was so light, it reminded me of a soufflé. I am not accustomed to cooking with Miracle Whip–I’ve never purchased it in my 30 years–but this gratin just might make me a believer. Maybe.
If you have family members who protest when you serve squash, try this dish and see if any one is complaining! I don’t think you’ll hear a peep.

Butternut Squash Casserole

3 cups chopped butternut squash
1 onion, chopped

2/3 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

15 crackers (Ritz like), crushed

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp. Miracle Whip dressing

Heat oven to 350F. Cook squash in boiling water in covered saucepan 15min. or until tender. Rinse under cold water; drain. Mix squash and remaining ingredients; spoon into 8-inch square baking dish.
Bake 1 hour or until heated through.
Enjoy!

Dinner is served! Clockwise from top center: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Onion Buttermilk Rolls, Apple & Fruit Stuffing, Maple Glazed Purple Carrots.



My sister contributed these Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; comfort food at it’s best. She also found time between volunteering at the SPCA and writing an essay to whip up a gravity-defying deep-dish Apple Streusel Pie, but I’m saving that for the next post! Stay tuned.

Click here for Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co