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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Like Good Writers, Good Cooks Steal

I’ve never been all that big into New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the day, they are nothing more than exercises in futility that leave us feeling disappointed, if not down right guilty by the middle of April.  As Mark Twain once said of New Year’s Day: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.  Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

That being said, I decided that I would nevertheless come up with a few “goals” for 2014.  I didn’t write these down and, therefore, unlike resolutions, they are more “aspirational.” Now I won’t feel guilty when they get cast aside or don’t come to fruition. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
First recipe of the new year!
One of these goals was to be more creative in the kitchen and to come up with more of my own recipes in order to grow as a cook. As Julia Child pointed out, “[y]ou learn to cook so that you don't have to be a slave to recipes.”  Thus, if you really want to free yourself to be a better cook, then you need to take some chances and fight the urge to crack open a cookbook every time you fire up the stove. After all, there aren’t many famous cover bands out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to throw out my cookbooks any time soon. (I bought yet another one the other day!) I will still use many recipes and will read many others that I have no intention of making. If anything, recipes act as a catalyst for making one a more independent cook through the practice of technique. Each recipe has at its core some basic techniques that open numerous possibilities. For example, once you have mastered sole meuniere or chicken marengo, then you can take the basic concepts in those recipes and create a whole cookbook-worth of personalized dishes.  As Tom Colicchio once said: “Recipes tell you nothing. Learning techniques is the key.” I couldn’t agree more.

However, when I started to think about the dishes that would be mine and mine alone, I quickly discovered that they were nothing more that riffs on other people’s recipes, whether they belong to my Mom or Bobby Flay. But like good writers, good cooks steal! So what follows is a soup recipe that “borrows” from both Julia Child and Mimi Thorisson.

In thinking about this recipe for a few days during my morning runs—yes, I think about food when I run! —I decided I wanted something simple, yet rich but not heavy. As many of my friends will tell you, I love French cooking, especially its use of sauces. One of the “mother sauces” that works well in creating a soup is a velouté sauce. A velouté sauce is a white, stock-based sauce thickened with roux. A roux is a near-equal mixture of melted butter and flour. One of my favorite soups is leek. I also like anything with ham or bacon. Combining these flavors with a velouté sauce should, therefore, make for a good soup. And last night, I gave it a try. I must say it was pretty darn good, if I say so myself. Of course, it is a work in progress and subject to change on a whim. In fact, once I’ve come up with a recipe, it rarely comes out the same way twice, even if I write it down. 

Anyway, here it is:

Leek Velouté with Serrano Ham

Serves 4-6


 3 1/2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable—I used chicken)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup water

3 medium sized leeks (white and pale green parts only)

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, and bay leaf)

Serrano or Iberico ham

salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste


Slice the leeks thinly (1/8 inch thick) crosswise and place in a medium-sized pot with the stock, wine, water, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Make the roux by melting the butter in a small pot over low heat and gradually adding the flour by whisking continuously until the roux is thick and smooth. 

Slowly combine the roux with the stock and stir until well incorporated. Continue to let the soup simmer at low heat for 30-40 minutes. 

While the soup simmers, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take 4 to 6 slices of the ham and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Cook in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until crispy. Let the ham cool, and then crumble.

Place the soup into a blender or use an immersion blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind that stock already has salt in it).

Once the soup is done, serve in bowls and garnish with the ham.

Bon appétit!

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