Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier): A Classic Soup and a Book Review of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Back from Paris and her Le Cordon Bleu training, Kathleen Flinn impulsively follows a woman and her daughter around the grocery store watching as their cart is loaded up with processed food. An impromptu cooking and shopping lesson followed, and an idea was born to teach a group of volunteers who have little skill and comfort in the kitchen how to cook and feed their families and themselves and not rely on the processed and packaged foods that are making Americans fat and unhealthy. In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks, author Flinn chronicles the cooking lessons and the impact they have on the nine women she finds to take part in her journey. We meet each of the nine volunteers as Flinn films and interviews them, looking into their kitchens and having them cook a "normal" meal for her.

Starting with the basics of how to choose and hold a knife to cut vegetables and then cooking those veggies, the group moves through the basics of meat, chicken and fish, baking bread and making pasta dishes, eggs and omelets, soups, etc. Probably the chapter with the most impact for me about not wasting food and using leftovers. On average, Americans throw out about 30-40% of the food they buy according to Flinn's research. Although I guesstimate I throw out less, any amount is really too much and I can do much better. I put into practice an exercise Flinn did where she put a post it note with the cost of the food on items that were slowly expiring in her fridge and pantry so that she would understand the cost if she threw them away. For myself, having this recognition that I am not just tossing a mango that fell to the back of the veggie drawer, but instead I am putting a dollar bill and some change in the trash can has made a big impact and made me more creative in using my ingredients. The impact of all of the lessons is seen at the end of the book as after the program Flinn returns to view the kitchens and see and hear the changes that have occurred in how the volunteers now cook and view food.

The book sprinkles in recipes at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book, including some of the recipes learned in each lesson, as well as other simple recipes from Flinn to illustrate some of the key moments. I chose to make the Leek & Potato Soup because it is a favorite of mine and I had a large organic potato that was looking a little "worn" as well as some leftover non-dairy creamer to use up. (Waste not, want not.) ;-)

I enjoyed Finn's first book about her Le Cordon Bleu experiences, "The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry," but I liked this book even more. There is a something in it for the experienced cook as well as the novice. My only complaint was in the formatting of the book for Kindle (I received a Kindle copy to review), and the way the sources were annotated and the footnotes were somewhat messy and distracting--this would not be a problem in a written copy. Overall, a worthy read.

Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher but as always, my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

And on to the soup...

Flinn says, "This is inexpensive French soul food. If leeks aren't available, try sweet onions."

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier)
From "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" by Kathleen Flinn
(Makes about 4 to 6 Servings)

3 medium leeks
2 Tbsp butter (I used Earth Balance)
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf and 1 tsp dried thyme, or a bouquet garni
2 quarts water, or chicken or vegetable stock (I used veggie stock)
1 cup whipping cream, or 2 Tbsp butter, softened (I used non-dairy creamer)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
cayenne to taste (optional) (I used smoked paprika)
3 Tbsp minced parsley or chives

Prepare the leeks by discarding the roots and the tough green upper stalks. Slice, then rinse them in water to remove any residual dirt. In a 4-quart or larger saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, then sauté the leeks for about 5 minutes, until they are softened and translucent. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, thyme or bouquet garni, and water or stock. Simmer for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaf. Break down the vegetables with a fork or a potato masher, or puree in a blender. Return to the heat. Add the whipping cream or 2 tablespoons of butter. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of cayenne if desired. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives and a couple of cranks of black pepper.

Notes/Results: Silky, rich and full of flavor--this recipe affirms how much I love a good leek and potato soup. It's the perfect soup to snuggle up with on a gloomy day. Leek and Potato Soup is one of the easiest and most delicious soups to make. Flinn notes that you can replace the leek with onions, but I encourage you to use leeks if you can--their delicate sweetness adds so much to the soup. I made my soup dairy-free by using veggie broth, Earth Balance in place of butter, and non-dairy creamer, but the beauty of it is that you can adjust it to your ingredients and tastes. The cayenne adds a nice kick, or I like to put a little smoky hot paprika in instead. I also like my soup a little chunky so before adding the creamer, I scooped out about half of the soup, blended the remainder with my immersion blender, then mixed the chunks back in and added the creamer. This soup smells heavenly enough while cooking that my mail carrier wanted to know what I was making and then asked me to tell her how to make it.

Speaking of soups, we have a few lovely ones waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look.

Janet from The Taste Space is here with a colorful Brazilian Black Bean and Vegetable Stew and says, "This stew is filled to the max with colourful veggies (sweet potato, red pepper, green pepper, tomato, kale) on a background of black beans. Garlic, cumin and thyme flavour the broth. While I cooked the stew, it was also spiced with orange zest. I was worried it would be overpowering. It wasn’t until I added the final hit of lime juice that I was seriously satisfied with my beautiful and delicious stew."

Tigerfish from Teczcape-An Escape to Food has been helping her fractured elbow heal with bone broth soups like this Oxtail Soup. She says, "This is my first time cooking oxtail and for similar reasons, the purpose is to drink up the "collagen" and minerals (calcium, iron, etc.) that hopefully helps me heal faster. Why did I choose oxtail? It can be beef shanks, other bone parts too. Oxtail is bony and gelatinous too, and usually takes a long time to cook till fork-tender. If it means requiring a relatively longer duration to cook, it also means they contain more connective tissues, muscle fibers and collagen. These days, I am super sensitive to such words related to the bone. :D"

Kat of Our Adventures in Japan made Creamy Tomato Soup and says, "I recently purchased a copy of Ellie Krieger's "Comfort Food Fix". I haven't "read" through the whole book yet, but since I wanted to make tomato soup for dinner, I flipped through to see if she had a recipe...she did. I didn't follow the whole recipe, just parts. the original recipe called for chives, cream and garlic. I thought adding garlic would be a little too strong a flavor, so I left it out and added thyme instead. I didn't want to go and buy cream, so I subbed skim milk. And I didn't have chives so I used Italian parsley instead.I liked how easily this soup came together and it was tasty too."

Joanne of Eats Well With Others had a not so successful and somewhat stressful go at at vegetarian Thanksgiving dish but that didn't stop her from trying this healthy Swiss Chard, Chickpea and Tamarind Stew. She says, "This dish may be the epitome of all things healthy, but it, unlike my disgusting side dish attempt, does not skimp on flavor. It is tart and a bit sweet from the tamarind and tomatoes...and so good that you'll actually find yourself wanting to eat your greens. Fancy that."

Wonderful friends and delicious soupy creations. Thanks to Janet, Tigerfish, Kat and Joanne for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week.


  1. I read her first book but didn't know she had a sequel. I will have to check it out. Thanks again for another souper round-up. :)

  2. I'm gonna check to see if I can find both of these books, thanks for including me this week :)

  3. A chunky leek and potato soup is perfect for a meal, esp on the fall/winter nights. Thanks for the round up.

  4. Fantastic round-up as always. So many delicious, hearty dishes!

  5. that book sounds awesome especially because I could totally see myself doing something like that with my life! I try not to waste, and am usually pretty good at it but that's only because I menu plan like a crazy person. :P

    This soup looks like comfort food epitomized!

  6. Mmmm...I love leek and potato soup, too. This sounds excellent! I have been wanting to read this book, as well...thanks for the reminder :).


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