In my family we nearly always put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and take it down the day after New Year’s Day. My mother, while wanting to enjoy the decor as long as possible, was also very pragmatic. Wanting to take advantage of the days off work surrounding these holidays, she managed our lives accordingly. I am definitely my mother’s daughter and follow this pattern in my own home. But whereas she would rejoice in the look of her house without the Christmas decor clutter, describing it as refreshing, simple, and relaxing, I always mourned the loss of the lights, the sparkle, and the festive atmosphere. Living now in a place where we have bitter cold winters and the unromantic every-day dealing with snow, I’ve come to loath putting away the decorations even more (it’s, like, fun for a minute when you’re cuddling with a cup of hot cocoa inside your house until you’re stuck scraping ice off your window while wet snow water seeps into your boots so you can get to work on time).
I didn’t notice it at first, but over the past few years I’ve been rebelling. It started when I didn’t take down my window lights in the dining room – I liked keeping them up for when I had parties all year around – they are white, simple, and don’t scream “the person who keeps their holiday lights up all year around.” Then I noticed I’d forget to put away certain decorations – the snowman bowl that sits on my coffee table, the red and grey dish towels with snow flakes on them. Slowly I realized that I wanted to keep some non-Christmas, but still-winter things up and out to pull me through the dark, cold month of January and into February when I’d perk back up because of Valentine’s Day.
I see now that I’m slowly building up specific rituals designed to get me through January intact – this California desert girl still wilts under the weight of the winter blues despite having lived here for over 15 years. One of the things I love to do now is try even more new recipes because — what else do you do while you’re trapped in the house for a three-day snow storm? Luckily we haven’t had that yet, but the impulse to stock up on handy ingredients for experimentation is still there. This year, I was also the grateful recipient of two new cookbooks for Christmas gifts – Paula Deen Cuts the Fat and The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook. I’ve been pouring over these in my spare moments, enjoying the real-talk of Paula as she details her struggle to cook and eat more healthily and loving the unique stories of the immigrants who contributed to the Ellis Island volume.
This week, Mr. Foodie and I took a stab at Paula’s Leek and Potato soup because even though we love soup all year around, we especially love making it in winter. Paula’s goal was to create a warm, rich soup without loading it up with butter or cream. We both declared it a success! Paula’s recipe calls for chicken broth, but we used veggie stock. I imagine the broth would have given lovely flavor, but we only had veggie stock on hand and thought it might be slightly healthier, although I’ve yet to make the comparison to check. The only “fat” element in the soup is a cup of 2% milk (although we think Paula would go with whole milk. The cauliflower is what lends the creaminess in place of actual cream or the addition of cheese. I LOVE cauliflower, although Mr. Foodie is not a fan, generally. Cauliflower makes so many cool things you wouldn’t expect – a great substitute white sauce for pasta, the base for pizza crust, even roasted with some garlic it’s delicious.
The part I liked best about preparing this soup is that we got to use the immersion blender! This blender was the first Christmas gift Mr. Foodie ever gave me. We’ve used it before, of course, but mostly the blender bowl version for smoothies. Making smooth, creamy soups is so much easier with an immersion blender. No transferring hot soup to a blender, no risk of burning yourself, and it is so much quicker.
This recipe made a LOT of soup. We had two big bowls and still more for lunch the next day. Mr. Foodie said it could have benefited from the addition of bacon – lol. I see what he means, we are almost conditioned to see potatoes and think of bacon, but we were trying to keep it healthy. On the other hand, a little sprinkle of crispy bacon on top of the soup for garnish would be heavenly. On its own, the soup was hearty, creamy, and yet fresh in the mouth – a great use of leeks!
We have one leftover leek, so we’ll see what we come up with for that – maybe for inclusion in a new batch of risotto? If you have suggestions, we’d love to hear them!
Paula Deen’s Creamy Potato Leek Soup
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium leeks, green and white parts sliced thinly
2 cups cauliflower florets
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie stock like we used)
salt and pepper
1 cup milk
Paprika for garnish
Melt the butter and cook the leeks on medium until softened (7-8 min). Add cauliflower, potatoes, broth or stock, and salt – bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer 20-30 min, until potatoes are soft. Blend in the pot with immersion blender. Stir in the milk and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.