Sunday Suppers

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.

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

A few years ago, Sunday Suppers became a tradition among my friend circle. About once a month, we’d gather at someone’s house, usually on Sunday nights (though not always). We all liked to cook, and some of us have big egos and like to be the center of culinary attention (ahem). We set up a rotating schedule which allowed everyone to take a turn in the kitchen, sharing both the responsibility and the glory. We would eat, drink wine, and talk and laugh for hours. Sometimes these dinners would accompany field trips: wineries, farms, orchards, museums, movies, Target.

This is how friends become family.

Sometimes, though, life gets in the way. Condos get purchased, jobs change, schedules get busy, best friends move to Atlanta… until one day you realize there hasn’t been a Sunday Supper  in months.

When I decided to reignite my Sunday Supper tradition, it was only fitting to go back to the last recipe we’d made. The faces around my table had changed, but the sentiment is the same: friends sharing a meal, telling stories, and laughing into the night.

These short ribs take a long time, but are relatively hands-off and difficult to mess up. I wasn’t paying enough attention at the butcher’s counter and ended up with boneless short ribs. Both bone-in and boneless work well; if you go boneless, you can probably cut back to 4 1/2 pounds and still have 6 generous servings.

Pat the ribs dry with paper towels, then generously season with kosher salt and pepper.

Pat the ribs dry with paper towels, then generously season with kosher salt and pepper.

Sear the ribs in batches, browning all sides.

Sear the ribs in batches, browning all sides.

Cook the onions, celery and vegetables in the pan drippings.

Cook the onions, celery and vegetables in the pan drippings.

Serve ribs over mashed potatoes, and top with sauce.

Serve ribs over mashed potatoes, and top with sauce.

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

From Bon Appetit

6 servings

5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 750-ml bottle Cabernet Sauvignon
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs rosemary
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
4 cups reduced-sodium beef stock

Preheat oven to 350°. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs, garlic, and stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

Apple Bread Pudding

Do you like bread pudding? It’s a popular dessert, but I was never a fan.

Am I allowed to say that? Is it sacrilegious?

When I think “pudding,” I think… well, PUDDING. A creamy, dairy-based dessert, ideally involving chocolate. Bread has nothing to do with it.

The bread puddings I had tried were either dry, mushy, or both. It was like eating stuffing (which for me, isn’t a compliment), only sweet. The flavors weren’t anything special. With so many great desserts out there, bread pudding never entered my mind as something worth making.

And then a year ago, my best friend made this recipe for one of our Sunday suppers.

All that animosity between me and bread pudding? Gone.

The combination of tangy apples, slightly caramelized pieces of bread from the bottom of the pan, and salted caramel sauce are a nice balance of flavors. The dish stays moist as long as you don’t overbake it.

When I decided to restart my Sunday Suppers, I knew this was a great recipe to kick it off. Assemble it in the morning before you leave for brunch, let the flavors mingle all day, then put it in the oven about 30 minutes before you sit down for supper.

Pudding

Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

Adapted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, by Amy Traverso

Makes 6-8 servings

Butter for greasing pan
1 loaf (1 pound) crusty white bread, such as Pullman style or Italian
1 1/2 cups caramelized apples (1/2 batch)
3 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup salted caramel sauce

Butter an 11″ x 7″ baking pan. Set aside. Trim the crusts off the sides and ends of the bread, leaving top and bottom intact. Cut the loaf into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Arrange the pieces evenly in the prepared pan. Tuck the caramelized apples down among the bread pieces.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, sugars, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour over the bread. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours.

Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Toss the bread cubes and apples with your hands so that all the pieces are moistened. Bake the pudding until the top is golden brown and the custard is set, about 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the salted caramel sauce. Serve the pudding hot in individual bowls, with caramel poured over top.