This Week's Menu: In the Dark Edition

Menu planning process for the week of November 13

It's here -  the time of year where afternoon is a narrow slice of the day - as I write this at 3:30 pm, it's already starting to get dark. Late fall -  it's time for soup and slow cookers and KITCHEN PROJECTS (more on those later). 

Anyway, only one of those things (maybe two if I manage my time well) made it onto this week's menu.  Typically I sketch out the plan on Fridays, so I can spread grocery shopping and prep out over the course of the weekend. This week, I didn't sit down until Sunday - I traded in my weekend prep time for sleeping late and reading the Sunday paper. So it goes - and that's why the menu is full of dinners I can pull together relatively quickly. 

I'd been to the farmers market on Saturday, though, and while there was seized by the idea of potato-leek soup - so I knew that would land on the menu somewhere. My kids reject the entire soup category but shit, what am I going to do, NOT make soup? Not an option. That'll be Wednesday - along with grilled cheese sandwiches and roasted beets. I can do the soup prep after dinner early in the week and make it during the day while working from home. Ditto beets - those are 100% hands-off and I can roast a batch to get me through dinner and a few lunch salads.

Tuesdays are always tacos - this week I have a hunk of pork shoulder I'll braise at some point (another good cooking method for the dark season!) and we'll have pulled pork to pile into the tortillas - plus I have chipotle-laced black beans that have been squatting in the fridge for too long. I love taco night for its ability to make space in the refrigerator. 

That leaves Meatless Monday - ok, we have tofu, so let's do stir-fry with one of those leeks from the market and use up the little nub of ginger that's been rolling around in the bottom drawer of the fridge. 

Galen's cooking on Thursday - I ordered some ground beef for burgers from our Farmers to You share - and hoping a veggie platter will also materialize. Raw veg is one of the only ways my kids will eat vegetables - so we run with that. 

Friday? For the third week running I have curried mussels on the board - a coconut-ginger number that so far only exists in my brain. We'll see if this week leaves me with the bandwidth to make it on Friday. UPDATE: nope. 

Meanwhile, here's a recipe for potato-leek soup; only five-ish ingredients, two of which grow underground, in the dark, so appropriate. It's somehow rustic and luxurious at the same time. And I love its simplicity. I don't like to fuss with it much - sometimes I'll throw in a fistful of chopped chives and parsley to finish it off. But I also imagine that chopped hazelnuts would be delightful sprinkled over a bowl of this soup; as would some thinly sliced leeks fried in brown butter. 

Potato-Leek Soup

Makes 6-8 cups

2 large leeks, tough ends trimmed, halved lengthwise

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Roughly 2 pounds potatoes (around 10 small potatoes), quartered

6 cups chicken stock 

1 bay leaf

1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk is best)


Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg 

Chopped parsley (optional)

>Chop the leeks into 1/4-inch slices and clean as needed (I submerge them in water in a salad spinner, then swish, drain, repeat if needed, and spin dry). 

>Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot (I use my Dutch oven) over medium heat. When it foams, add the leeks and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until they've collapsed and turned translucent. 

>Add the potatoes,chicken stock, and bay leaf. Stir to combine. Cover the vegetables with water if there's not enough stock and raise the heat to medium high to bring to a simmer. When the pot's bubbling, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. 

>Puree the soup either with an immersion blender or a standing blender. (If you have a food mill and want a smooth soup without the flecks of potato skin, go for it - but the yield will be a little less). Return soup to the pot and whisk in the yogurt. Taste the soup and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg as needed. Serve plain or with a handful of chopped parsley - or any other toppings that suit you.