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MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

It’s the week before Christmas and chances are good that most people are just thisclose to either exploding or imploding, whichever comes first.  The sheer amount of nonsense and self-imposed misery people are willing to accept is mind-boggling – but we’re not here to talk about that.

*beat*

Well, yeah. My blog. I CAN talk about that. I sometimes think I might implode myself if I hear one more person whinging about the commercialization of Christmas as they head out the door to shop for more presents for little Esmeralda and little Heathcliff – well, pull up your big girl/boy panties and accept responsibility for your part in that commercialization. “They EXPECT presents/ my mother-in-law will judge me/I don’t want to be Scrooge” – oh, put a sock in it. No one HAS to be out there in the mall. If you really feel that way, declare your home a commercial-free zone. Little kiddies WILL get over your giftlessness. If your MIL has a cow, tell her to give it lots of hay and milk it every morning.

The worst Christmas I ever had – and I’ve had some bad ones – I had to return a present to the store because the intended recipient died before I could give it to him. If you want to give presents, don’t think that Christmas is the only acceptable time. You see just the right veeblefetzer that Aunt Hilda would love, but it’s only April? Get it and hand it over. Aunt Hilda may not make it to December.

Where were we? Oh. Yeah. Meat and potatoes.

Among the many headaches at this time of year is the need to feed a lot of people. You’ve already had spaghetti and lasagna and take-out and bags of lettuce with bottled dressing; now you need to come up with something a little more festive but also substantial. This dish works on all those accounts. And it can be prepped ahead and left in the refrigerator until time to roast it.

I saw a friend make a roast this way, the meat balanced on top of new potatoes, and I marveled at its simplicity. The seasoning idea came from an episode of Man, Fire, Food on The Cooking Channel. Roger Mooking visited Rancho Llano Seco, which is about 70 miles south of here, where they prepared an amazing porchetta roast on a rotisserie, allowing the pork fat to drip down onto oysters. The thought makes me salivate.

For this dish I used a boneless pork roast just under 5 pounds – not a tenderloin. Ask to be certain that the pork roast you choose is ideal for the dry heat of an oven; some cuts are better suited to braising in a crock pot. To fill the 8″ X 11″ baking dish took about four pounds of potatoes. You don’t have to use pork – you could do a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or beef roast, though because they don’t take as long to cook, you’d want to start the pan of potatoes in the oven about 45 minutes before putting the meat on top.

You’ll need kitchen string and a meat thermometer.

PORCHETTA ALLA LLANA SECO

  • 1 boneless pork roast, 5-6 pounds
  • 4 pounds new potatoes (use a thin-skinned type such as Red Bliss, White Rose or Yellow Finn; Russets or other baking-type potatoes will fall apart)
  • 2 heads of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the type you get in pizza parlors)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Broth or stock

Put the fennel seed in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan every few seconds until the seeds begin to lightly brown, pop, and smell fragrant. When they are lightly toasted, remove them immediately. if you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that; if not, use a spice grinder. If you don’t have either one, put the seeds in a sturdy plastic bag and whack them with a hammer to break them up.

Wash and thinly slice the potatoes. Stand them on edge in a baking dish large enough to put the roast on top of the potatoes and not have any hanging over the sides.

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Distribute plenty of chopped garlic throughout the potatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground pepper. If you want, you can add another herb or two – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.

Unwrap the pork roast. This one was tied with string to keep it from flopping around. Snip and remove the string. DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT ON TOP! If the pork rind is still intact, leave it on too!

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The boneless roast should have a flap where the bones were removed. Pull it open, so that you have a long somewhat flat roast; if necessary cut an opening so you can unfold it like opening a book.

Sprinkle the cut side with the toasted ground fennel, lots of chopped garlic, the teaspoon of hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

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Put a hand under each end of the flattened-out pork and carefully snap the roast back together, fat side up.

If there is a rind (skin) on the roast, score it lightly with a knife.

Cut four lengths of kitchen string long enough to go around the pork cross-wise, and two pieces to go around it length-wise. Slide the cross-wise lengths under the roast, spacing them apart, and one by one tie them tightly. Then slide the length-wise strings under the pork package and tie those. Snip off excess string.

Pour stock into the pan to about 1/2″ deep. (You can see some jellied stock on the left side of the roast here.) Put the porchetta package on top, fat/rind side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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At this point, you can put the whole thing in the refrigerator as long as overnight. Bring it out about two hours before you want to roast it.

Here is a chart  from the National Pork Board detailing how long to cook pork. I usually figure about 25-30 minutes per pound at 325 Fahrenheit. This is where a meat thermometer comes in very handy.  I roasted this to 160F, then took it out of the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes, covered.

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All roasts will continue to cook for a while; they will firm up and be much easier to slice if allowed to rest after removal from the oven.

Snip and pull the strings off. Slice the meat. If the roast has a rind, remove it, put it on a cookie sheet and run it under the broiler (watching CAREFULLY) to crisp it; slice it and put it on the platter with the meat.  Although the roast looks really spiffy on top of the potatoes, it is much, much easier to serve if you put the meat on a separate platter from the potatoes.

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I think that you want a slightly sweet side dish like carrots, beets, applesauce, red cabbage, or parsnips alongside, as well as some sort of green like spinach, kale, or collards. This is a very rich dish; a big ol’ cheesecake for dessert would be too, TOO much. Some simple cookies and sorbet would be less overwhelming. And a big red wine or dark beer is appropriate.

Obviously the seasoning can be varied – one of those barbecue rubs that’s sitting around in your cupboard would work. A Mexican seasoning like toasted cumin seeds with garlic and oregano would be great, or a good curry mix. Google “dry barbecue rubs” and go wild. I particularly like the spice rubs suggested by Chris Schlesinger in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun.

ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

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ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

After I retired – blessed retirement – I spent about the first six months getting up at the crack of noon and cooking myself an actual real breakfast. I suppose this was to make up for all the hurried breakfasts, the non-breakfasts, the eating in the car of so many years.

I made country-fried potatoes, home-fried potatoes, pan-fried potatoes, hash browns, O’Brien potatoes, mashed potato patties, oven-fried potatoes, cooked on olive oil, cooked in bacon fat. Eventually I found that cubed potatoes that were boiled and then fried made the best home-fries. Then I found out there was an actual name for those – Brabant potatoes, which is somehow associated with New Orleans.

Then I started making them in the oven – oven Brabant fries? And those were really good for dinner. But when summer came along (you can go any time now, summer), turning the oven on was not an option. And that’s when we started barbecuing them.

So I had bought a cauliflower with nothing particular in mind for it – it was cheap – and thought that maybe the potatoes and cauliflower could be cooked on the grill together. They turned out really, really well.

Amounts are approximate. You could substitute (or add) Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Romanesco, etc. for the caulilfower. And other root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, etc. could be substituted for the potatoes.

ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 6 Russet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • spices as you like them

Scrub the potatoes. Peel them if you want (though I wised up a few years ago and quit wasting time doing that) and cut into uniform size-and-shape pieces. Here I cut them lengthwise, then into half-moons.

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Remove the leaves and core from cauliflower, then break into flowerets. Cut the bigger flowerets into pieces so they are all about the same size. Leave them raw.

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Pour about 1/3 cup vegetable oil (safflower, sunflower, corn, generic mixed oil) into a foil baking dish about 13″ X 9″. Then pour in your choice of spices. If you have some pre-mixed barbecue rub spices, this is a great way to use them. Toss in about two fat tablespoons of mixed spices. Or try some garam masala for aloo gobi on the grill.  There are a million secret barbecue rub recipes that Google is just waiting to reveal to you. At the very least, just salt and pepper. Let the oil seep into the spices.

Drop all the potatoes into salted water, bring to a boil, and cook about 5 minutes, more or less. Test the pieces with a knife – if they are just barely tender, they’re done. Drain potatoes thoroughly, then mix the cooked potatoes and raw cauliflower into the seasoned oil. Use your hands for this to really get all the spices mixed with the vegetables.

Put the pan on the grill, temperature about 350 or medium or over indirect heat. Do not cover the pan with foil. Just put the lid down on the grill and let this cook about 15 minutes. Then use a spatula to turn the vegetables over.

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All told, they’ll take around 35-40 minutes to get browned and crispy.

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I am embarrassed to say that my husband and I ate nearly ALL of this in one sitting.

POTATO & CELERY ROOT MASH

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This is what celery root looks like.

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It’s not pretty. Oh sure, the tops look like celery, all green and fluffy, but it’s the root here we’re talking about, and it looks like… a root. All twisted and gnarled and hairy and sometimes a bit dirty.

I had bought celery root a few times in the past to make celeri remoulade – a sort of celery cole slaw, if you will – and I liked it, but not enough to put celery root on regular rotation. For one thing, it’s a bitch to peel. For another, one goes a long way. And it isn’t cheap.

Then my husband saw Jeff Mauro, The Sandwich King, make celery root into something called “Mom’s Mashed Potatoes a la King.”  He decided he wanted to make this for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. It went over so big that he was requested to make it again last year.

To me, a la king means creamed chicken, so the name had to go. Also, Mauro said this serves four. Four?  There were eight of us at Thanksgiving and there was plenty to go around with leftovers. I guess it depends on what else you’re serving, and how polite you are. None of us would ever be accused of holding back on portion size. This makes a lot.

Anyway, this is delicious. It isn’t low-fat as written, but I’ll get to that. This goes great with a roast turkey, but don’t limit it to holidays – any time you want mashed potatoes, try this. It has a subtle celery taste that’s quite appealing.

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Potato and Celery Root Mash

  • 4 pounds Idaho russet potatoes (about 5 large potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 sticks butter, 1 softened and 1 melted, plus more for greasing
  • 6 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh minced chives

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a big honkin’ baking dish (at least 9X13).

Put the diced potatoes and celery root in large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender. Drain.

Beat together the cream cheese and half the butter. Then add the potatoes & celery root along with the half-and-half. Keep mixing (an electric mixer is useful here). Add salt to taste plus horseradish, garlic powder, and pepper.

Scrape the potatoes into the pan, pour the additional butter over, and bake about 45 minutes until browned and bubbling. Sprinkle the chives over.

Note: you don’t have to peel the potatoes at all; just scrub them. And substitute green onions for chives.

This can be baked ahead, wrapped in towels, and kept warm for at least an hour.

Now, about all that fat:

  • Cut the butter down, way down. Two sticks? One is more than enough. Or if you really have to have all that fat, use 1/2 cup olive oil in place on one stick of butter. That’ll cut down on cholesterol. It’ll still be good.
  • Use 1% or skim milk in place of half-and-half. Or try defatted chicken broth.
  • Use nonfat cream cheese.

TWO EASY BRUNCH DISHES

My husband likes to host brunch because that’s about the only time I make crepes, which he loves. So today we had a very small end-of-year brunch. I did make the crepes (filled with, variously, Nutella & cream cheese, mangoes & Ikea mixed-berry jam, and lemon curd), sausages, gingerbread (made yesterday), and two dishes baked in the oven. If you’re going to be frying sausages and filling-rolling-frying crepes, a couple of baked dishes are  called for – you can’t really be also scrambling eggs and frying potatoes at the same time.

Oven fries are super-easy and convenient. Nothing fancy or complicated here. I peeled two sweet potatoes and cut into wedges, along with about six Russet potatoes (not peeled), put them in a baking dish and tossed with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Into a 400 degree oven they went.

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This is an egg dish I made up last year for brunch. So simple!

Melt a little butter in a frying pan and add cleaned, drained fresh spinach. Cook just until the spinach is lightly wilted, then spread in a baking pan. Here I used a 5-0unce container of raw spinach leaves. Top with one or two tomatoes, diced.

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Break as many eggs as needed onto the spinach and tomatoes, being careful to not break the yolks, unlike what I did here. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then strew grated cheese atop the eggs. If you’re in a mood to say, “Damn the cholesterol count!” then pour some half-and-half or heavy cream  over the eggs as well.

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When the potatoes are almost done – 45 minutes to an hour – put the eggs in the oven alongside them.

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When the eggs are set – the ones in the center will take longer than the ones near the edge – they’re done.

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Cut the egg dish with a spatula to serve. If you have plenty of Lipitor on hand, make some Hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce available to pour over.

Instead of spinach, you could put the eggs on top of a bed of sautéed mushrooms, sautéed zucchini, chili con queso, pico de gallo, a bag of frozen artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers,  black beans, corned beef hash,  lentils & salsa, or whatever else you think baked eggs would be good with.

See also the brunch tags for other brunch suggestions.

GRANDMA’S POTATO SOUP

I was asked to post my recipe for potato soup. It isn’t my recipe; it’s my grandmother’s. She cooked at a cafe at Mt. Lassen during the 1940s, and this was quite popular with customers. She made this often at home too and it’s still my favorite soup. The secret is using canned evaporated milk. It won’t be nearly as good if you substitute milk, cream, or half-and-half.

GRANDMA’S POTATO SOUP

  •  2 large baking type potatoes, scrubbed and diced (you can peel them if you want, but I don’t bother)
  • 3 strips bacon, diced (scissors makes this easy)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • canned evaporated milk (NO SUBSTITUTE)

Put ingredients except canned milk in saucepan. Add water to barely cover. Slowly bring to boil, reduce heat, and cook at a slow simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are fall-apart tender. Add enough condensed evaporated milk so that soup is creamy. Add a slice of butter, salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with paprika.

You could add a can of creamed corn to make corn chowder.  Substitute canned peeled green chiles for the bell pepper. Add sauteed kielbasa or other sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces. Stir in some grated cheese and top with crisp crumbled bacon, sour cream, and chopped green onions for baked potato soup. Use bottled clam juice as part of the water and stir in canned clams with the milk for clam chowder.  There are lots of possible variations, though I like the basic recipe the best.

HASSELBACK POTATOES

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No, these have nothing to do with that dopey Elizabeth Hasselback. There is a restaurant in Sweden called Hasselbacken, from whence comes this recipe…. though it isn’t really a recipe so much as directions.

OK. Get your potatoes together and wash ’em. Then get a wooden spoon and a knife. Put a potato in the bowl of the spoon.

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Like that.

Then start slicing thin slices in the potato. The idea is that by having the potato in the bowl of the spoon, it will prevent you from slicing all the way through the potato. You want to wind up with a sort of potato fan.

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See?  Like that.

Now get your seasonings and start sprinkling them onto/into the potato. Salt and pepper is fine, but hey, you came all this way just for salt and pepper?? Go wild. Empty out the spice cabinet into the potatoes. Better yet – slice up some cheese and tuck that into the little crevices along with spices. Thinly sliced onions and/or garlic is pretty good too.

Then smear some butter and/or olive oil onto/into the potatoes. Put ’em in a baking dish and stick in fairly hot oven for about an hour, or until potatoes are tender.

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Every now and then, give ’em some more butter or oil.

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Voila! Hasselback potatoes.

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