Apr 142013
 
Golden delicious smashie-tatoes!

Golden delicious smashie-tatoes!

So I’m an Irish(-American) girl. And we Irish girls, we have a bit of culinary baggage:

When it comes to potatoes, we cannot. get. enough.

Mashed, baked, roasted, cooked in duck fat (what a surprise, said no one ever), really, it doesn’t matter. I’m probably gonna love it (excepting most French fries, actually: most of them are such poor quality that they are borrrrr-ing!). On nights that we make potatoes, The Hubs often has to remind me that my Irish is showing. “Whatevs,” I think to myself. “My gramdma would be proud!”

Smash!

Smash!

When I had to put the kibosh on dairy, I was a little sad because was imagining a Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. That is perhaps my most favorite of all potato preparations and is by far the one I make the least often (see previous statement of cannot.get.enough. This leads to an inevitable tummy-ache). But then, I discovered this little gem: it’s less of a recipe and more of a cause for you to smack yourself in the forehead and wonder why the hell you didn’t think of doing this yourself.

True story.

Smashed and seasoned, ready for baking

Smashed and seasoned, ready for baking

What’s so great about these little taters? Only everything ever. They’re mashed, giving that great texture experience, and they are crispy, which is in compliance with My Number One Rule In The Kitchen (if you can toast it, do it!). They are portable (I defy you to resist eating one or more directly off the roasting pan). They are the easiest potato recipe ever. They are dairy-free! And oh yes, lest we forget, they are flippin’ delicious. EVERYONE WINS HERE! Except the potato, which is, in fact, eaten.

So what are you waiting for??? Go forth and cook potatoes! Serve them with anything and everything and watch how happy they make everyone who comes in contact with them. Or, y’know, if you’re an Irish girl like me, they may not make it beyond your own sticky potato-fingers. Hey, don’t look at me like that: in this war of ‘tatoes, everyone’s got to fend for themselves!

Golden delicious smashie-tatoes!

Golden delicious smashie-tatoes!

Click for the recipe →

Mar 102013
 

Corned beef and cabbage

For years after striking out on my own, I had a dilemma on my hands: being the great-grand-daughter of Irish immigrants, I absolutely love a good corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day, but I’d be lying if I said I could make a decent one back then. I tried a new cooking method every year, and every year it was the same story: just barely-avoided unmitigated disaster. But really, let’s face it: how could I possibly hope to achieve success when I was starting with a highly-questionable hunk of preternaturally pink meat and (more often than not) throwing it in a pot of water to boil. Of course I was doomed (doomed!) to fail!

But a couple of years ago, someone cut from, well, exactly the same cloth as me posted a recipe on NPR’s Kitchen Window. It was all about how to cure your own beef brisket and included not a small amount of nose-super-high-in-the-air food-snobbery (which I usually try to suppress, but let’s face it, it’s always there) and a hefty amount of embracing the art of cooking with booze. This, I thought to myself, could be the end of my woes!

So, about a week out from the venerable holiday, I set out to find myself a beef brisket — a plain ol’ one that hadn’t been subjected to salt-peter and god-knows-what other chemicals along with the traditional corned beef spice-packet. And it was nearly bloody impossible! It seems that in March, almost all of the beef briskets get processed into corned beef and it can be extremely difficult to find one au naturale (well, as au naturale as super-market beef gets — oh, and there’s that food-snob I was warning you about!). So don’t be afraid to ask the butcher if there are any squirreled away in the back, and don’t be surprised if the butcher tries to hand you a package of corned beef.

So two years ago, I tried this out for the first time. The beef didn’t get to cure for the full week (see: it’s hard to find a beef brisket a week before St Patrick’s Day), but it was still fully delicious. It was also easier to execute than I had ever imagined. I had a group of friends over for dinner and we polished that sucker off. I’m not gonna lie: it was impressive. I had intended to use the left-overs in Reuben sandwiches, but I wasn’t too upset about it since my lack meant that the party had been a success. Last year, we repeated the recipe (though I started looking for briskets much earlier that year) and since I was pregnant at the time, the booze that was in this recipe (which had of course been de-alcohol-ized by cooking) was the only beer I had (sadness!). That year, though, the left-overs were plentiful due to fewer guests and more meat and the Reubens flowed (more on that in a later post). This year’s brisket is already curing on March 3rd and I can’t wait to taste it again. So won’t you join me in forgoing creepy pink meat and finding out how easy it can be to make something utterly superior, even if you’ll be too toasty on Irish Car-Bombs to notice.

Sláinte!

Click for the recipe →

Oct 042009
 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

Click for the recipe →

Jan 292008
 

I have no problem admitting it: I am a garlic freak. It may well be the most perfect herb: flavorful, tangy, plentiful, and easy to store. I have yet to meet a recipe that has too much garlic in it, and when I was in Korea I ate the stuff raw by the clove. When I’m cooking I routinely add fourfold the garlic called for. What’s not to love?

Well, apparently there is something, since I said it was the most perfect, not the perfect herb. Let’s face it: it’s not too terribly difficult for good, well-intentioned garlic to go wrong. Garlic, even more than onions, can make you cry. They can pack remarkable heat into their little cloves, and if cooked improperly, you’ll know all about it.

Garlic, pre-poaching
Nikon D50

So when it came time for me to make a garlic soup (which is an idea I had been obsessing about ever since my husband bought me a garlic cookbook as a sussy), I was definitely looking for a recipe that would exploit the warm, earthy, comforting aspect of the humble clove, not the part that can make you wish that you’ve never been born. If I had ready access to Korean garlic that would not be a problem, since the stuff is sweet an delectable without any fuss or preparation beyond peeling it. But alas, all I have around me is American garlic. There had to be some way…

Well it turns out the that clever folks at Cook’s Illustrated had been wondering the same thing. They devised an ingenious method that used three different types of cooked garlic to give this soup an earthy pleasantness that pairs perfectly with the potatoes in the soup. My favorite by far is the poached garlic heads. Slow, long heat does wonderful things to garlic by stripping away the bitterly painful flavors, softening both texture and taste. So even though in this soup you are preparing garlic in three different ways, this recipe is wonderfully simple, uncomplicated, and well-balanced.

Comfort food, anyone?

Garlic, pre-poaching
Nikon D50

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Jul 032007
 
Roasted rosemary potatoes with green beans

Roasted rosemary potatoes with green beans

Growing up, one of my family’s favorite accompaniments to meat dishes was steamed red potatoes and green beans. For some reason, the flavors go together quite well, especially when paired with a meat dish. I brought this idea along with me when I moved out, but as I learned more about cooking I couldn’t help but modify it.

My experimentation all started with a recipe I found for a Salade Niçoise. It called for roasted potatoes, green beans (good so far) but then added in all this other stuff like chopped kalamatas, onions, anchovies, capers, and lemon and was served along unadorned flavorless grilled tuna steaks. Something had gone terribly wrong. I like a lot of those things, but the combination was simply too much. This recipe was trying way too hard. Instead of being warm, inviting, savory, simple, and satisfying, it was bitter, salty, and, well, gross.

Nevertheless, it did introduce me to roasting, and I knew that I was on to something good here. Knowing that the basic premise of red potatoes and green beans was pure and solid, I made it several more times over the coming months, but omitted the offending ingredients and added an aromatic or two.

Of course, the potatoes are heavenly on their own without the green beans. Last Christmas, my mother-in-law was roasting those red potatoes I love so well, and was of course adding in the requisite rosemary. This caused her father to protest loudly “Don’t add so much rosemary! You’ll ruin the flavor!” I couldn’t help but laugh at this well-meaning but misguided advice, given that the potatoes have practically no flavor on their own. Potatoes and rosemary go together like tomatoes and basil: a match made in heaven. What would be the point of roasting them without it?

Roasted rosemary potatoes with green beans

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May 202007
 

The first time I had gnocchi, I was pretty doubtful. Cory and I were living in San Angleo and he happened to find a package of gnocchi on the grocery store shelf. He used to make it with his family and he loved the stuff, so he bought it and cooked it for me one night. I was not impressed — they seemed like heavy, tastless lumps in the no-man’s-land between pasta and tortellini. (Really, it wasn’t his fault. They were from a package, after all.)

Gnocchi dough, divided

But then, we went to Italy.

We had gnocchi there.

And I have seen the light!

Yes, light is what they are, light and flavorful! Those potato dumplings have won a place in my heart.

Gnocchi dough, roped (and coiled for funsies)

I came back from Italy all culinarily inspired, even more firmly convinced than ever that when it comes to food, Americans just don’t get it. To help shed some light in those dark corners, I resolved to serve a proper Italian meal to some friends — with complete with antipasti, primi and secondi piatti, and dolci. I wanted to try something new, something delicious that I had never made before and that my guests would probably have never eaten before, so after a bit of searching, it came to me: gnocchi was the obvious choice for primi.

Gnocchi, formed and waiting to be cooked

When I found the recipes, I realized I had a new dilemma: I don’t have a potato ricer, and I have this thing about taking up limited storage space with single-use gadgets. So the stubborn, yet foresightful, bit of me decided to instead buy the food grinder attachment for my stand mixer, figuring that I could also use it for tomato sauces, apple sauce, sausages, and, of course, pasta.

Last week I made a test batch of gnocchi for the dinner I’ll be having at the end of the month. Let me tell you, even though I’m not really sure what the authentic shape is for these dumplings, they are delicious — especially when tossed with a pesto sauce you’ve just ground up yourself.

Pesto-sauced gnocchi!

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