My last blog post was in dedication to my friend, Erica Stark. I posted a link to that blog on Facebook, and as a result, one of Erica's old friends from university, Louise Barker, reached out to me. I was so excited to make a new connection through Erica, especially of someone who shares a love of food. We had a nice conversation over email and we talked about Erica, recipes, cooking, and a way to honour her memory. I decided to ask Louise if she would consider guest blogging for me. She said yes! Without further delay, here is her recipe (also in honour of Erica).
I met Erica in August 1991, in Room 409, Woodstock Hall Residence, McMaster University. Erica was assigned to be my first year roommate – in fact she was one of my two roommates (’91 was a busy year at McMaster and they overbooked students and rooms). Consequently, Erica, Jen and I were packed into what they referred to as the “submarine” room, there was only one on each floor. This unique room was not your typical square dorm room but almost a galley. If we had a friend visit (and often our friend Kristen was that visitor) the width of the four of us in a row, exceeded the width of the room. Connecting from one side of the room to the other was strictly limited to one person at a time. Needless to say, this was a situation that like most assigned roommate situations, at the end of the school year, you either didn’t like each other, tolerated through till the end or got along famously and made yourself a new great friend. My experience was the latter!
Over the next 24 years of our friendship there were boyfriends, jobs, marriages, houses, decorating, family stories, renovating, travels, lots of red wine, babies (well, Erica had those), too many laughs to count, sharing difficult times and sad news.
But during all those times, there was always food. Our general habit was taking turns hosting dinner at our respective homes. I always admired Erica’s culinary skills and how the dining experience at her house was like eating at a fine restaurant. Erica always had the full meal experience (appetizers, salad, entrée, dessert, liquors). I used to leave thinking to myself, “oh, mini pizzas are a great appetizer”, or “oh, limoncello is changing my life”!. Throughout the years, it seems the LCBO Food and Drink was a main source of the recipes we tried and we enjoyed many fantastic meals. The baked potato soup is one such recipe.
Last January (2014), Erica came to visit me in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Erica was my first guest and I had been living in Halifax for only four months and we had lots to catch up on and only four days of time. My objective was to ensure that all that time was quality time, so I got things like meals prepared as much as possible in advance. That first night, after picking her up from the airport I had the baked potato soup ready for dinner. The meal was a success in my book, as it gave us more time to sit and talk, but Erica also really enjoyed the soup. Upon returning to Toronto, she requested the recipe and let me know that she was making it for the family and it was a success in the Stark home as well.
So this soup, for many reasons, will always remind me of my friend Erica, the last meal that I cooked for her, and a wonderful weekend together. A weekend that epitomized that the depth and quality of a friendship transcends how often you email, talk or the proximity of where you live. So 24 years later, I remember, I smile, I get inspired, I cry and always, I miss my wonderful, beautiful friend.
Baked Potato Soup Adapted from a recipe in the LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine (Winter 2009)
This is a fun recipe as it allows an opportunity for your guests to make it their own and add any or all toppings that they choose, just like a baked potato!
½ cup chopped smoked bacon
1 cup chopped leeks (white and light green part only)
3 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
Shredded old cheddar cheese
Crumbled blue cheese
In a large heavy saucepan, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crispy, about 6 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and reserve for garnish. Drain all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the pan. Add leeks and cook until softened.
Then add potatoes (perfect cubes are not necessary), salt and pepper, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan.
Pour in wine and cook until reduced by half; pour in chicken broth and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Using a blender or a hand blender, puree soup until creamy and smooth.
Serve in warm soup bowls and add any or all of the toppings you want (see options).
Editor's Note: Erica's friends and family are working together to create an 'In Memoriam' cookbook that will be filled with Erica's favourite recipes, artwork from her kids and her kids' friends, photos, and much more.
Erica loved to listen to music while cooking with her friends, so included in the book will be some of her favourite music suggestions from her university days (as suggested by Louise), as well as some recipes for (adult) beverages to accompany your next dance party.
Stay tuned to this blog or to the Richler Recipes Facebook page for more information on this cookbook, the proceeds of which will be donated to a worthy charity, in honour of Erica Stark.