Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Homemade Baked Potato Soup with Bacon & Smoked Ham Hocks

It's a wee bit chilly and rainy here in Dallas today (about 43 degrees), but that's nothing compared to the the folks in the midwest. Apparently there's a system dubbed "Snowpocalypse" that's due to hit the central United States (specifically my homestate of Kansas) either tonight or tomorrow. The weather forecasters are predicting a 100% chance of snow and anywhere from 6-20 inches. Having lived through many a snow (and ice) storm, I'm slightly jealous! 

Don't shake your head at me. I like snow. It transforms bitter, gray and shriveled landscapes into pillowy, glittering wonderlands. And snow days? Who doesn't like those? It's an excuse to cozy up with the people you're stuck with (or your warm bed if you're alone), cook up a batch of comfort food (soup, chili, baked goods) and relax. Don't forget to go outside and play in the snow, especially if there are drifts! 

Having said that, I'd like to share my recipe for potato soup. It takes surprisingly little effort, especially if you microwave the potatoes or have leftover cooked spuds hanging around. 

Plus, it's super adaptable. Use whatever milk you have on hand and toss in extra veggies or meat. Leave the bacon and ham hocks out if you're vegetarian. Substitute full fat coconut or almond milk and use veggie stock if you're vegan. 

I assure you, it's a surefire way to keep you warm and satisfied on blistery february days. 

Homemade Baked Potato Soup with Bacon & Smoked Ham Hocks
A savory baked potato soup flavored with lots of homemade chicken stock, onion, carrots, celery, poblano, chunky skin-on red potatoes, rendered bacon fat and smoked ham hocks. Organic grass-fed heavy whipping cream and melted butter, plus organic 1% milk is mixed in at the end to achieve a rich and creamy soup. 
Adapted from Cooking During Stolen Moments' Loaded Baked Potato Soup 
Serves: 5-6 (large bowled portions)

1/2 lb pastured bacon
2 smoked ham hocks, skin removed* (or substitute cooked ham)
1 large onion, finely diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
3 cups of homemade, unsalted chicken stock (get my recipe here)
8-10 smallish red potatoes (eyeball the amount depending on the type & size you use)
1 poblano pepper, deseeded and diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
Sea salt, to taste (I recommend Pink HimalayanCeltic or Utah sourced salt)
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 stick of organic grass-fed butter
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup of milk
3 tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup of organic grass-fed heavy whipping cream or milk

Toppings (optional)
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Crumbled cooked bacon
Sliced green onions
Tabasco sauce

*Many people prefer to leave the skin on the hocks for added flavor, but because the soup doesn't simmer for very long (as opposed to a brothy soup or beans dish) I felt it was necessary to remove the skin in order to extract more ham flavor in such a short time

Recommended Equipment
stainless steel stock pot or enameled cast-iron dutch oven
blender or immersion blender

Heat a large stock pot to medium heat. Roughly chop the bacon and place in the pan. Peel and dice the onion. When the bacon has cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside for topping the soup later. You may need to pull the meatier bacon pieces from the pan first and give the fattier chunks more time to render (melt the fat). Toss the diced onion into the pot with the bacon grease (drippings). Remove the skin from the ham hocks with a small, sharp knife and add into the pan. Cook the onions and ham hock 7-10 minutes, flipping the hock once or twice to sauté all sides. 

Peel and mince the garlic then add to the pot. Cook for minute, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Pour in the chicken stock and throw in the bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a light boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. This will help draw out the ham flavor from the hocks. Meanwhile, wash and cut the potatoes. Make it whatever size you want. I prefer larger chunks. But, leave the peel on (more nutrients)! Then deseed and dice the poblano, making sure to use gloves to protect your hands from the oils. After 30 minutes, toss the potatoes into the stock and simmer for 20 minutes or until fork tender. 

While they're cooking, combine 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of cold milk in a jar with a tightly fitted lid and shake well. Melt the butter on medium-low in a small sauce pan. Stir the flour/milk mixture into the butter, then slowly pour in the remaining milk stirring non-stop til it's all dissolved. Cook on low until it's thickened a bit. If  it finishes before the potatoes, remove from heat. 

When the potatoes are cooked, pull out 1/4-1/2 the potatoes (depending on how thick you want the soup) and puree with a blender (or hand blender). Add the pureed potatoes back into the soup and give it a stir. Now's a good time to salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the milk/butter/flour mixture into the soup, stir and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add in the heavy cream, stir and cook another five minutes or so. Remove the ham hocks (or keep them in the pot for flavor). Serve in large bowls and top with the reserved bacon, cheese and green onions (optional). If you like a little heat, don't forget the hot sauce! 

Notes & Tips
For a thicker soup, puree more of the potatoes and add back into the pot. For a chunkier soup, cook a few extra potatoes, dice 'em up and add back into the pot as well. 

I used the ham hocks to flavor the soup and removed them after cooking. If desired, you can pick the ham from the bone before serving and add it into the soup.

If you won't eat it up within two days, I suggest freezing leftover portions the night you make it (once it's cooled off). In my experience, most potato soups get really thick and aren't as good after a few days. 

Real Food Resources

Real Food Survival Guide For Busy Moms

"This e-book is perfect for busy folks who need help maximizing their time in the kitchen so they can fix nutritious, real food snacks and meals to eat at home and on the go. In addition to realistic advice, this book provides recipes for real food staples you can make in bulk ahead of time, which ensures you always have nutrient dense foods at hand. And it’s especially helpful if you’re interested in implementing homemade fermented foods into your diet."

From Scratch: Easy Recipes for Traditionally Prepared Whole-Food Dishes 

"If you're looking for a cookbook that is as entertaining as it is delicious, then look no further. From Scratch is a breath of fresh air when it comes to learning how to traditionally prepare and cook nutritious food. Shaye does not disappoint in her recipes and this cookbook reads like a letter from a close friend. These meals are easily prepared and yes, easily devoured."  

Question for Discussion: What's your favorite comfort food for snow days? Or cold days (if you live in a warm climate that hardly gets snow)?

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