Cafe Society

Odell's Bourbon Barrel Stout eases a sweet potato soup conundrum

Unfortunately, because it's winter, a good portion of the produce in stock in Colorado right now, including In Season Local Market is from California. I'd been planning to buy some sweet potatoes for a soup recipe that's been hanging on the fridge and was bummed to hear the news. Alas, that's what I get for not anticipating the obvious and stocking my freezer at the peak of the season.

They did have some massive, white sweet potatoes, though, and even though they'd traveled over a thousand miles, I figured my money was better spent at In Season than at some major grocery store.

Thankfully, good beer is never in short supply in this state. I stopped by Mr. B's on the way home and grabbed a bomber of Odell Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Stout. I'm on a barrel-aged-kick of late; the matured complexity makes for an ideal food beer in my opinion.

This year's version of the Odell beer is stellar: balanced, nicely carbonated, fruity and roasty. It was a wonderful pairing with the sweet potato soup, which had a pleasant kick from the addition of a chipotle pepper that playfully mirrored the warmth from the alcohol in the beer.

I used white sweet potatoes, obviously, but my girlfriend insisted on making a second batch with orange ones for aesthetic reasons. She argued that the organic sweet potatoes she had bought from Safeway were no different than mine, since both were non-local. I snobbishly begged to differ, but honestly, I couldn't really say for sure.

So the next day, I looked up the farm that In Seasons sourced their potatoes from. Turns out, Quail Farms is a mono-cultural operation, one that grows large quantities of a single crop (sixty to seventy million pounds of sweet potatoes a year in this case), a practice that's devastating to the soil and relies heavily on synthetic fertilizers and pest control. The potatoes I bought were organic, but of the 2,000 acres at Quail Farms, only 40 percent are certified organic, the rest being "conventionally" farmed by way of chemicals.

As for the organic potatoes from Safeway, after hours online and on hold, the most I could ascertain about them was that they were products of the USA. They could've been from Quail Farms for all I know, which is, by the way, a mere eighty miles from Safeway's corporate headquarters in Pleasanton, California. The lack of information was not only discouraging, but scary, to me at least (as was Safeway's recall of their organic celery seed for Salmonella last month).

But as frustrating the food situation can be, I could have easily stocked up on local produce during the harvest season and frozen some for the winter.

The soup was infinitely better than the pre-made stuff regardless. And there's always the comfort of a good beer, a product as close to the way things should be as humanly possible, and truly a beacon of light in the world of American consumption.

Here's the recipe for the soup (courtesy of our friend, Vithya):

1 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed 4 cups chicken stock 2 whole cloves 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream. 1 chipotle pepper, finely chopped 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat until it starts to brown. 2. Sauté onion and garlic in butter until onions become soft and translucent. 3. Add sweet potato and sauté until it begins to brown. 4. Add chicken stock and cloves and bring to a boil. 5. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes. 6. Using a hand-held blender, blend until smooth. 7. Add cream and chipotle pepper and blend once more. 8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.