leeks

Chicken with Apple Brandy Sauce (Poulet Vallée d’Auge)

It’s apple season, and I’m in heaven. Last weekend I was finally able to get out to the orchards to pick apples, but I spent the next three days on the road. The apples have been taunting me ever since.

But  right now it’s raining, I have nowhere to be, and this recipe was calling to me from my to-do list.

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Poulet Vallée d’Auge is a traditional French recipe from the Normandy region (I say that as if I have any idea what that actually means…) combining apples and Calvados, or apple brandy, with chicken and mushrooms. I *love* apples in savory dishes, and this one did not disappoint.

You can pull it off on a weeknight — plan for about 90 minutes of cooking time — but I’d lean toward a crisp fall weekend. Serve with potatoes or rice (or skip the starch altogether, like I did), and green beans.

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Poulet Vallée d’Auge

(Chicken and Apples in Brandy Cream Sauce)

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 4

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 small to medium firm-tart apples, peeled, cored, quartered
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 chicken (3 1/2-4 lbs), quartered
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small leek, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise ¼” thick
2 small or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup Calvados (or other apple brandy)
2/3 cup apple cider
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, trimmed, halved
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 large egg yolk

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add apples and cook, turning occasionally, until golden in spots, 10–12 minutes. Transfer apples to a plate and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high and add oil to pot. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook chicken until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to another plate; set aside.

Add leek and shallots to pot; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add Calvados, and ignite with a long match or lighter. After flames die down, return pot to heat and add cider. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

Return reserved chicken to pot and add thyme, bay leaf, and broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer, adding reserved apples back to pot halfway through, until chicken is cooked through, 20–25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until browned and softened, 6–8 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

Whisk crème fraîche and egg yolk in a small bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and apples to a baking sheet and remove pot from heat. Whisk crème fraîche mixture into cooking liquid in pot. Gently mix in chicken, apples, and mushrooms.

Leek and Potato Soup

My dad is a meat-and-potatoes-loving, comfort food-eating farmer.

We don’t always see eye-to-eye on food — I insist that corn is a starch, not a vegetable; he questions my decision to pair meat and fruit together in a dish — but that doesn’t stop him from taking an interest in what I’m doing, even from 1,277 miles away.

He’s a good reminder to keep my cooking simple and accessible, to never assume that what I’m cooking or eating is commonplace.

Today’s conversation was one such reminder.

“You’re making what and potato soup?” my dad asked. “Meat? What kind of meat?”

Leeks. L-E-E-K-S.

“What’s a leek?”

Well, it’s like a mild onion. It looks like a green onion on steroids.

“Never heard of it. Is that a regional thing? Do they grow that around here?”

No, they’re —

And then I catch myself. I have no doubt leeks are available in Nebraska, but come to think of it, I don’t think I had eaten them until a few years ago. It’s one of many foods I didn’t grow up eating, but have learned to love.

Leeks

And as I was typing this the best ad of the Super Bowl came on. Serendipity.

Note to self: remember your roots.

Leeks hold onto a surprisingly large amount of dirt, even if they look clean on the surface.

Leeks are dirtier than you realize

After removing the roots and dark green tops, slice them lengthwise, plunge them into a bowl of water, and give them a good scrub with your hands before returning them to the cutting board.

This soup is simple, classic French cooking, perfect for a cold winter’s night. The total cooking time is just over an hour, half of which is hands-off, making it achievable on a weeknight as well as a weekend. The soup is great with a salad or sandwich, or as a side to the protein of your choice. Substitute water or vegetable broth for the chicken broth for a true vegetarian option.

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Leek and Potato Soup

Adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

6 servings

2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper (note: the original recipe calls for white pepper; I used black)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
1 or 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (use 2 if you like a heartier soup)
6 sprigs thyme
4 cups chicken broth (or water)
3 cups whole or 2% milk

Optional toppings: Snipped fresh chives; minced parsley, sage, tarragon, and/or marjoram; grated Parmesan or Gruyere; croutons; a drizzle of truffle oil; cooked, crumbled bacon

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the onion is soft but not colored, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are mashably soft. Taste the soup; season generously with salt and pepper.

You can serve the soup as is, mash lightly with the back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill, blender, immersion blender, or food processor. If desired, garnish with the topping(s) of your choice. Or, if you prefer, chill it and serve cold.

Store leftover soup covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or pack airtight and freeze up to 2 months.