St. Paddy’s Day Inspiration: Irish Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek SoupIt’s that time of year when I gently remind Tony that there is another cultural heritage to be celebrated in our family. I’m a classic blend of North Dakotan ancestry with German – both from Germany and from Russia – on one side, and Norwegian on the other. But, lucky for me and our son, Gio, both sides also have a healthy dose of Irish, and each March we get downright giddy about that. We like to celebrate our Irish-ness all month long, and this week we’re kicking off the festivities with Irish Potato Leek Soup.

This is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients, and the result is comforting and delicious. Russet (or Idaho) potatoes are perfect for this soup, but we’ve also used Yukon Golds which bring color and extra creaminess to the dish. In Ireland as well as here at home, there is a love and passion for potatoes that translates neatly into soup, especially when paired with leeks, another favorite among the Irish.

Idaho potatoes (2) (640x320)

Leeks are a member of the allium family, which also includes onions and garlic. With their unique combination of flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, Alliums are believed to help boost immunity and are a valuable addition to a healthy diet.

The Irish firmly believe in their healing properties, due in large part to a legend about St. Patrick consoling a dying woman. When she shares with him her vision of being healed by an herb, he asks her to describe what it looked like and she tells him that it resembled marsh rushes. St. Patrick leaves and comes back with some rushes, which he then transforms into leeks. The woman eats the leeks and is healed, and the leek is forever immortalized in Irish cuisine.

Leeks have two harvest seasons, winter and summer, and can be easily found in our local markets. They have a milder, more delicate flavor than regular onions or scallions, which makes them a wonderful choice for this soup. Potato leek soup can be found across cultures, and other popular versions include the chilled vichyssoise found in French cuisine, as well as Scotland’s classic cock-a-leekie soup.

Leeks

The leeks will have some grit inside the leaves, so it’s important to clean them before using. Use a sharp knife to slice them in half lengthwise, from top to bottom, and then fan the leaves out while rinsing under cold water to remove any grit. Once washed, remove the top green leaves and root end and cut into ¼’ inch slices.

The soup will be pureed so the slices don’t have to be pretty, but they should be of consistent size to ensure even cooking, and the garlic cloves can be left whole. We use chicken stock for extra flavor, but vegetable stock or even water may be used instead. Heavy cream is essential to this soup, as it brings a boost of flavor and velvety finish to the soup. To ensure a smooth and creamy texture, Tony encourages you to “blitz the heck out of it” with your handheld or liquid blender.

Potatoes are such a neutral flavor that this soup can be garnished with a variety of toppings, including fresh chives, crumbled bacon, sautéed leeks, fresh herbs, or brightly colored microgreens, as featured today.

March has come in like a lamb and may go out like a lion, but with the luck of the Irish on our side and the comfort of Irish potato leek soup, we’re ready for anything. Erin go bragh!

Enjoy these other Irish-inspired recipes from previously featured posts:

Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur
Poached Salmon in Leek Cream Sauce
Baileys Irish Cream Cheesecake

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Celebrate National Pancake Day with Bacon Pancakes!

Homemade Bacon Pancakes

Today is National Pancake Day, and we have a great recipe to share with you. One of our absolute favorite breakfast specialties is Homemade Bacon Pancakes, and cooking them in a bit of bacon grease takes them to a whole new level.

This recipe is easy to follow and the pancakes are beyond delicious. We serve our homemade bacon pancakes with real maple syrup, our easy fresh fruit salad, and of course, bacon. We prefer to use Dakota Maid all-purpose flour, which we find has a lighter texture to it than other flour brands. Plus, it’s nice to support our locally-produced products!

You can click on the links in this post for the recipes, or read more about our homemade bacon pancakes and easy fresh fruit salad in a vintage post from July 23, 2013.

We hope you give them a try – you’ll never go back to box-mix pancakes again!

Do you make pancakes from scratch, and if so, what is your favorite way to prepare them? Do you use a box mix? Which one? LET US KNOW!

Sunday Dinner Main Course: Pork Saltimbocca

Pork Saltimbocca 1

Tony, our son Gio, and I enjoy coming up with dinner menus inspired by new recipes or just some of our favorite dishes, and this week’s Scaloppine of Pork Saltimbocca is the perfect main course for a Sunday dinner.

When translated from Italian to English, saltimbocca means “jump in your mouth,” and once you try this savory specialty you’ll understand why. Our version of this dish features tender cutlets of pork tenderloin topped with salty prosciutto ham, mild and creamy fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh sage leaves, complemented with a lemon butter sauce. These flavors are well-balanced and relaxed with each other, and Tony likes to say that the taste experience “dances on the tongue.”

Roman in origin, a saltimbocca dish traditionally features veal, but this high-end meat can be expensive and is often difficult to find in our region. Instead, we’ve found pork tenderloin to be a great substitute, as its excellent flavor and tenderness work well with the scaloppine preparation.

Scaloppine is a method in Italian cuisine where slices of meat (typically veal, but chicken and pork can also be used) are pounded into thin, tender cutlets, or scallops. The cutlets are then dredged in flour and quickly pan-fried, then served with a tomato or wine-based sauce. We love preparing meat this way, as it cooks in minutes and comes out unbelievably tender.

The process for Pork Saltimbocca is an easy one, but requires some advance preparation as several ingredients may not be staples in your pantry. To begin, a whole pork tenderloin is sliced into half-inch medallions, which are then pounded with a meat mallet until they are about 1/8-inch thick. This step can be done up to one day in advance if desired.

Pork Saltimbocca Ingredients 2

Each cutlet is lightly dredged in flour and pan-fried on each side in olive oil for about one to two minutes, then transferred to a baking sheet and topped with a slice of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella to be finished in the oven. The sauce for this dish is a simple lemon butter sauce which must be prepared just before serving, so it’s important to wait until the sauce is ready before baking the cutlets.

The same pan is used to make the sauce so that all those leftover little brown bits of meat can bring flavor and depth to the dish. Lemon juice, white wine and water are cooked over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half and those savory brown bits have been freed from the bottom of the pan, about three to five minutes. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to coax the bits loose as the sauce thickens. For extra flavor, chicken or vegetable stock may be used instead of water.

A teaspoon of sugar is added, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and then two tablespoons of butter are stirred in as the sauce continues to reduce over medium-low heat for three to five minutes, until all of the ingredients are fully combined and the sauce has achieved a light, silky consistency. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the sauce warm while the pork cutlets bake in the oven for about three minutes, until the cheese melts and the prosciutto crisps up just a bit.

Transfer the finished cutlets to serving plates or a platter and top with fresh sage leaves followed by the lemon butter sauce. Serve with roasted or whipped potatoes, or linguini tossed in a little bit of garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

CLICK HERE for Scaloppine of Pork Saltimbocca RECIPE
CLICK HERE for Lemon Butter Sauce RECIPE

A Lenten Dinner: Blackened Tilapia with Mustard Creole Sauce

Blackened Tilapia with Mustard Creole Sauce

One of our 2015 food resolutions is to add more fish to our diets and the season of Lent gives us the perfect opportunity to cast a wider net into the world of fish. Today’s catch is Blackened Tilapia with Mustard Creole Sauce.

Tony chose to feature tilapia for several reasons. First, it’s new to his repertoire, which is typically focused on ocean fish like sea bass, grouper, and shellfish, or freshwater fish like walleye and salmon. Next, it’s affordable and widely available in our local markets and superstores, typically priced around three dollars per fillet.

Mild, sweet and flaky, tilapia has the perfect taste and texture for this preparation and is firm enough to withstand being blackened, unlike sole or walleye, which are more delicate and may not hold up as well. Grouper, cod, catfish, or any mild, firm white fish will also work for this recipe.

Tony uses a simple blackening process which begins by coating the top of each fillet with a dry Creole seasoning rub, and then searing each piece, top-side-down, in a hot pan for one or two minutes until blackened. Tony prefers his fish lightly blackened and only slightly spicy, so our recipe is created from his point of view, but you can adjust the level of blackening and spice as desired. To finish, the fish is baked top-side-up in a 400-degree oven for eight to ten minutes, until opaque and flaky inside.

Blackened Tilapia white meat

Having just indulged in a Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras meal at Sarello’s last week, we’ve been inspired by the exotic world of New Orleans cuisine and have paired today’s blackened tilapia with a savory Mustard Creole sauce. This sauce is big on flavor and perfect with blackened white fish, but would be just as good with beef, chicken or pork.

The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated, then re-heated on the stove or in the microwave until hot. The recipe calls for two teaspoons of Creole seasoning and we typically use the same spice mix that we used to blacken the fish. We’ve included the recipe for our Creole seasoning dry rub, but at home I’ve often used a store-bought version with great results.

Other ingredients in the sauce include sliced yellow onion and red bell pepper, white wine, chicken stock, whole grain mustard, olive oil and heavy cream, which serves as the thickening agent for the sauce.  The sauce is pureed, so the vegetables do not require special knife skills – a basic slice or rough chop will do.

The vegetables are sautéed with the olive oil and Creole seasoning until softened, then add the white wine and cook for five to seven minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. The cream, stock and heavy cream are added next, and the sauce continues to cook for ten to fifteen minutes until the onion and pepper are soft and fully cooked.

We use a handheld immersion blender to puree the sauce, which should appear smooth and velvety when ready, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it seems too thin, continue cooking over medium-low heat for another ten minutes.

To serve, we fill each plate or serving platter with the mustard Creole sauce and then top with the blackened tilapia. Pair this dish with a simple salad or a light pasta dish and you have the perfect Lenten dinner.

CLICK HERE for Blackened Tilapia & Creole Dry Rub RECIPES
CLICK HERE for Mustard Creole Sauce RECIPE