cooking

creamy roasted potato salad [sans mayo!]


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[Microphone crackles.]

Ahem.

We interrupt this travel-saturated blogging binge, punctuated by the occasional glutenous pastry, with a long-overdue post dedicated solely to food.

[Angels sing a heavenly chorus.]

Down to business.

The antithesis of my strong affection for mustard is my absolute hatred of mayonnaise. Sure, sure, its silky texture and satisfying fat content is nice, I suppose. But the flavor? Ew.

My unaccountable but consistent loathing for the sickly white condiment presented me with a quandary, especially growing up in the South: potato salad. Oh yes, that staple of church potlucks and homestyle diners; that ubiquitous, chunky mountain of starchy deliciousness; that best friend of juicy ribs, playmate of sliced ham, and neighbor to the greasy box of Bojangles fried chicken. That dish. I just didn’t like it. I wanted to, though. Over and over again, I sampled the savory ambrosia of the South. I tried a recipe with pickles, one with celery, some with eggs and some without, many with too much dill, and others with very little flavor at all. But each time I was repulsed by my familiar enemy: mayonnaise.

creamy roasted potato salad [sans mayo!]

So, for years I contented myself with the pure and simple potato salads favored by my mother and dressed with oil and vinegar. A version with arugula became our family favorite, and for years I was satisfied with feasting up on its peppy zing and forgot about traditional potato salad entirely.

Then recently, it hit me: mayonnaise can be circumvented. It does not own exclusive rights to creaminess! Hallelujah!

Enter plain yogurt. She and I became fast friends during the summer and part of the fall of 2013, when I breakfasted nearly exclusively on overnight oats or granola with yogurt. My mother tells me I used to eat plain yogurt like ice cream, during the first two years of my life when she fed me no sugar whatsoever. Well, those days have returned. Give me a spoon, and I’ll scoop that tangy goodness right out of the container and into my mouth.

potatosalad1

So, a few months ago in the beautiful kitchen of fairytale house in another southern state I now call home, I spooned some plain yogurt over roasted red potatoes, added a bit of this and a little of that – in accordance with my usual kitchen procedure – and at last I had my own mound of creamy, crunchy, salty potato salad. Mayo not included. Childhood saved.

I decided that, since I was going to take the time to cut potatoes into bite-sized chunks, I might as well roast them. While boiling does turn the potatoes soft and keep them moist, roasting makes everything taste better. And when you’re going to slather them in yogurt, who cares if your potatoes have a slightly lower water content? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Nope, flavor wins.

potatosalad3

And for more flavor, I settled on some honey to tame the tang of the yogurt,  little bits of garlic and onions for bite and pizzazz, a dollop dijon mustard – my love, my life, fair mustard! – for excitement, and a sprinkling of rosemary to tie it all together. Of course, the omnipresent twins, salt and pepper, also made their requisite appearance. The end result not have tasted exactly like those potato salads of bygone potlucks, but by golly, it tasted good to me.

potatosalad2

Creamy Roasted Potato Salad

  • 2 pounds red potatoes (or white, if you insist on being boring)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • several dashes of salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons minced red onion (~1/3 onion)
  • 6 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 boiled eggs, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with several dashes each of salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Let cool completely.

Honestly, then I just throw everything together and mix it. But, perhaps a bit more finesse should be taken in order to insure you end up with something to your taste.

So, mix together the yogurt, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper – adding the salt slowly and tasting as you go. Adjust this combination to your taste, or blindly follow my preferences; it’s up to you. Then add the onions and garlic. Finally, place the potatoes and eggs (if you choose to include them) in a bowl, and pour the sauce over them. Stir until everything is well-coated. Taste and adjust seasonings again. And then enjoy the marvelous, mayonnaise-less mound you have made.

collard quiche with sweet potato crust

collard quicheWait! Come back! I know you’re about to click away. You saw the word “collard,” and it scared you. Maybe it brought back childhood memories of bitter, boiled leaves heaped in a sickening, faded green, shoved to the edge of your plate. Or maybe, like me, that’s what came to your mind, despite having never actually tasted that dreaded southern excuse for a vegetable.

Let me assure you: your fear is unfounded. Collards are like kale or swiss chard or spinach – perfectly palatable and delicious if you cook them right. If you boil them, not so much.

sweet potato quiche crustI doubt I would’ve ever escaped my sad ignorance of the versatility of collards, had I not asked Dad to pick up some swiss chard for me at the store. Ever absent-minded shopper that he is, he triumphantly presented me with a giant bundle of collards. So, I used them instead of swiss chard in the tart I was making. And you know what? They tasted just fine. No bitterness. No stringiness. Nothing. Deeeelicous! In fact, I’d say they were better than spinach, which tends to be mushy, and superior to kale, which can be a bit tough.

sweet potato crust

Indeed, I started eating sautéed collards as part my Whole30 breakfasts. Then I expanded to mustard greens and turnip greens. I’ve been having my own little renaissance of greens in the past several weeks.collard quiche with sweet potato crust

Naturally, quiche was the next step. As usually happens with recipes, I’d had an idea for one component floating around in my mind for a while: grated sweet potato crust. Mom makes quiche with shredded white potato for a crust sometimes when she doesn’t feel like dealing with making or eating a proper pie crust. Since sweet potato is the most scrumptious, sweet, versatile of starches, it was clearly an even better choice for a crust. Duh.collard quiche sweet potato

So, armed with my brilliant orange, crisped-edged super-crust, I browned some sweet red onions and earthy cremini mushrooms, mixed them my newly befriended collards, and added some eggs for cohesion. And there it was: one vegetable-packed, Whole30 compliant, dense quiche – with just a hint of rosemary. As I’ve said previously, I never eat quiche for breakfast; it’s a supper food to me. But I gladly ate this for both.collard quiche recipe

Appropriately enough, this is day 30 of my Whole30. It’s been a ride, but mostly an easy one. I made it through the extraction of all of my wisdom teeth, the mild temptation of all the normal food my family ate, and the boredom of the last couple days. But I did it. And I’m happy. My last official meal has been eaten, so now there’s just to wait for…

Tomorrow, tomorrow!
I love you, granola!
You’re only a night awaaaaay!

For now, I’ll have to content myself with sharing this quiche with you people. The directions look complicated, but really I’m just telling you to chop and sauté, chop and sauté.sweet potato crust quiche

Collard Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust

  • 1 ten-ounce sweet potato
  • 1 + 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 8 oz collards (~6 large leaves)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small package crimini mushrooms (also called “baby bella”)*
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a bit more here and there
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and some more here and there
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (nut milks would probably work, too)*

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Grease a 10-inch* pie pan with 1 tablespoon coconut oil.

Use a cheese grater’s medium-sized plane to shred the sweet potato. Don’t bother peeling it first; just wash it well. You should have about 3 cups of shredded sweet potato. Toss with the olive oil and a few dashes of salt. Press the sweet potato into the greased pie pan to form a crust. Bake for 20 minutes until the sweet potato is soft and slightly browned on the top edges.

While the crust cookies, dice the red onion into 1/4-inch half-moon pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and sauté until browned and softened but not mushy.

As the onion browns, cut the tough ribs out of the center of the collard leaves. Slice into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons. Mince the garlic.

When the onions are finished, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan. Brown half of the minced garlic. Once the garlic is browned, add the collards and sauté until wilted and bright green, with a few dashes of salt. Set aside.

Slice the mushrooms into fourths or fifths. Add the final tablespoon of coconut oil and the rest of the garlic to the pan with the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are softened and browned.

Combine all the vegetables with the salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Spread evenly in the crust. Whisk eggs and coconut milk together, and pour evenly on top of vegetables, being sure that the mixture gets distributed evenly. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until firm. Enjoy warm! Or cold – it’s marvelous leftover!

*Important notes:

  • You’ll have way too much filling and egg if you try to make this in a 8-inch pie pan. If you do, just leave out some of the filling and only beat 4 eggs or so. Eye it.
  • You could probably leave the coconut milk out entirely if you wanted to, but I think it adds a nice sweetness and flavor.
  • Substituting regular button mushrooms for the criminis would work just fine, I think.

toasted pecan spice cookies

pecan spice cookies up closeWell, it’s over. After a speedy procedure between 10:30 and 11:30 this morning, I stumbled hesitantly out of the oral surgery office, with a lot less smarts and a mouthful of stitches. Yes, yes, I just made the classic and corny you-must-be-less-wise-because-you-got-your-wisdom-teeth-out joke. I couldn’t help myself. My innocent little wisdom teeth were yanked from their happy homes; I need some puns for consolation.

The remaining sedative fog burned off on the car ride home, so by the time I walked into the kitchen, I felt pretty good. My face – from my ears and lower eyelids to below my chin – was still cold and numb, so the pain was minimal. Fortified by some ibuprofens, I decided to take advantage of my presumably short-lived comfort by making some cookies. Dad’s siblings and my cousin were set to arrive this evening, and one always wants to have cookies on hand when guests are coming. So, I stuffed a napkin in my mouth to catch my wayward drool (tmi?), strapped my ice packs to my face, and pulled out the mixer. Baking therapy. With a side of fruit juice to keep me going.pecan spice cookies on a platter

And the cookies? They’re delightfully chewy, warmly spiced, and full of nuts and raisins. You can’t go wrong. I first made them before Christmas, and between then and now I’ve whipped up a batch three or four times. I think they’re currently my favorite cookie. Their main flavor is reminiscent of gingerbread, but there are also oats for more texture, golden raisins for tangy sweetness, and toasted pecans for crunch and lovely, nutty flavor.pecan spice cookies

I have become loathe to include nuts in anything without first toasting them. They just have so little flavor if you don’t toast them; they’re just texture. But once you brown them a bit, suddenly the aromatic oils burst forth and fill the air and whatever dish to which you add them. It’s marvelous! Even the mild almond suddenly develops a personality. A quality raw pecan itself has a strong, woody flavor; add a little heat and it blooms beautifully.pecan spice cookie dough

Speaking of flavor, if you try these cookies, do use golden raisins. It really makes a difference. Regular raisins are to molasses as  golden raisins are to honey. There’s a brightness, a lightness in golden raisins that you just don’t get with the regular ones. And sometimes I think I can detect just a hint of tartness.pecan spice cookies in a box

Toasted Pecan Spice Cookies 

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1 + 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 + 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven as it heats up, until deep brown a fragrant; time will vary according to oven, so be vigilant and check them every minute.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until smooth. Add the oats, salt, baking powder, and spices (or combine separately in a bowl and pour into butter mixture) and mix until combined.

Chop the toasted pecans. Fold pecans and golden raisins into cookie dough.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes. The cookie will be puffy. As soon as you take them out of the oven, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. They may seem undercooked, but they’ll be fine. It’s okay if they smoosh a little bit when you move them. If you leave them on the baking sheet, they will have crispy, thin edges when they cool.

Enjoy with milk! [Makes ~33 cookies.]

how to soften chilled pie dough

cold pie doughThere comes a time in everyone’s life, or so I most earnestly believe, when you accidentally makes twice as much pie crust as necessary. Or perhaps you do it on purpose: a “one pie for now, one pie for later” sort of deal. Regardless, you have to keep the excess fresh, so you stick your the lump of pie crust dough in the fridge, snitching a bit of buttery, salty deliciousness just before you snap the container lid shut and shove it onto the nearest shelf.

The days pass and suddenly you need that pie crust. You’ve got to throw an entire pie together now. It’s the only spare moment you have, and you need it for the church potluck tomorrow or that dinner tonight where you promised you’d bring dessert or you’re watching your favorite tv show and it requires a slice of pie to go with it. But the crust is cold. Cold! And you forgot to get it out earlier. Panic.soften pie dough

So now you’ve got a choice. You can wrestle with chilled pie dough and muscle it into some sort of crust-like shape while your fingers freeze, or you can soften it up right quick and go on your merry pie-making way. But you can’t just toss it in the oven or microwave. It’ll partially cook, and you’ll have rubbery crust. Nope.

Really, the problem is all that cold butter in your dough. It’s keeping everything stiff. So to solve the problem, you just need to soften the butter – but not melt it. This is where the marvelous microwave comes it. Toss that pie dough in the microwave on a low power setting, and the butter will gently soften until your pie dough has returned to its proper pliability. Phew. On with your life!how to soften pie dough

Maybe this is a no-brainer for everyone else on earth, but I’m assuming there’s someone else somewhere who’s as impatient and pie-focused as I am. So here’s my non-recipe “how to” for softening pie dough. The instructions look long, but I promise this isn’t complicated.

How to Soften Chilled Pie Dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 frustratingly cold lump of pie crust dough
  • 1 microwave
  • some knowledge of your microwave’s settings

Instructions:

  1. Place your pie dough in a microwave-safe bowl and stick it in the microwave.
  2. Somewhere on your microwave’s keypad, there should (hopefully, probably) be a button for “time cook” or “cook time.” If there is, enter 4 minutes. (If there’s no button like that, go straight to adjusting the power level – but don’t forget to switch it back when you’re done.)
  3. Before you press “start,” find the “power” button. Most microwave’s I’ve ever used have the power automatically set at the highest level: 10. You want to set it at 1 or 2. Do that.
  4. Press “start.”
  5. Every minute take the dough out to smoosh it around a bit to be sure everything softens evenly. You can even take off the chunks that are softened and warm, set them aside, and continue microwaving the rest of the dough. Repeat until all of the dough is softened – 3 to 4 minutes, depending on your microwave.
  6. Now go make that pie!

Or

  1. Find the melt/soften butter setting on your microwave.
  2. Steps 4-6 above.

procrastination blogging [+ ginger lemon marinade]

I blog at the most inopportune times. For instance, this morning I wrote a post – that I’ll publish in the coming week or so – when I should’ve been studying for today’s German test, practicing my presentation for Spanish class, or perfecting my first phonology paper. Instead, I spent 45 minutes or so of my morning letting my thoughts flow freely through my fingers onto the computer screen. This very post I wrote – by hand, no less – while sitting in the shade of the towering lab buildings during my 30-minute break between classes. I should’ve been catching up on reading from the previous class.

This same phenomenon occurred to me last semester: writing, blogging for pleasure when my school work is most pressing and critical. Even when I crawl into bed – later and later as the week wears on – my mind is composing blog posts and perfecting their sentence structure as I drift to sleep.

I’m sure it must be a form of procrastination – something seemingly more productive than browsing Buzzfeed or Foodgawker or NPR.org, but nevertheless an escape from or delay of the task at hand.

Maybe it’s the satisfaction I get from hitting the “publish” button and seeing my post there, finished, on the front page of my blog, the product of my own brain, with no one to criticize it but myself. Meanwhile my tests and papers are graded and marked and deemed good or bad by my professors – outside my control. They can always be improved upon or changed; they always demand a second, third, eighth look.

Maybe it’s the constant state of high alert, brought on by the endless succession of weighty assignments, that puts me in the writing mood. My brain is running fast and hard and can’t even slow down enough to mindlessly browse the web. It must create! Question! Analyze!

So here I am, with a treatise about why I blog what I blog when I blog it – and a recipe that has sat in my drafts since the early summer, waiting, apparently, for the mad rush of October for it to be posted.

My, what a strange experience life is.

And with that, here’s a recipe for marinade that I made several times this summer.

I used it with beef and paired it with grilled pineapple. It was delightful. It’s a lovely combination of the slightly warm and vaguely licorice-y Chinese 5 Spice and ginger flavors and the tart acidity of the lemon and rice vinegar. Flavor contrasts make for the best marinade, I think.

Ginger Lemon Marinade

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch  slice of a medium onion, minced

Whisk together all ingredients. Place meat in a tupperware container and pour marinade on top of meat. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Marinating time depends on how thick your cuts of meat are. Cook the meat according to your preference – grill it, bake it, sear it, whatever. Enjoy!

[I used this marinade for four or so good-sized steaks. I suspect it would also work with chicken.]

how guacamole should look

best guacamoleI noted in my (semi-)recent post about the best guacamole recipe in the world that guacamole should not be smooth. It must have texture. Alas, due to all of the stirring and mixing required to achieve the perfect guacamole flavor while simultaneously recording the necessary ingredient ratios, my guacamole turned out disgustingly creamy.

guacamole and chipNo. Just no. In the words of Lady Catherine, “This is not to be borne.” Is the perfection of the guacamole to be thus polluted? No indeed! The texture shall not be a distraction! It shall be perfect!

guacamole textureThe avocado should be just mashed and slightly stirred. Nothing more. Texture, people, texture. It really does matter with guacamole. So, to aid you in honing your guacamole-making skills, I present to you these helpful photos of the best guacamole – proper texture and all. You’re welcome.

the best guacamole

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I’m a guacamole snob.

Too many avocados. Recipe calls for two.

Too many avocados. Recipe calls for two.

And maybe it’s a bit pretentious to claim that I am in possession of the recipe for the best guacamole, but I really think it’s true. It’s actually a recipe I learned from my mother, unlike most on here. Unlike a lot of people who cook, I don’t have many recipes I can say were handed down to me by my mother. I can’t pretend that I learned to cook from a tender young age, attending my homemaking mother in the kitchen and soaking in her culinary wisdom. Nope. I hated cooking until just a few years ago. And Mom is very much a follow-the-recipe-and-use-measuring-cups kind of cook. She’s not all that into improvisation, I’d say. So, other than basic life skill type cooking – eggs, pancakes, french toast, et cetera – and her blessed tendency to cook with whole foods, I haven’t inherited many actual recipes from her.smashing avocados

But this one I did. I learned to make guacamole from my mother. And before I went about measuring the ingredients and writing it down, I only knew how to make it by taste. No recipe.chopped onion

So why is it the best? Well, mainly because it has the right ingredients. Other guacamoles tend to leave out crucial ingredients or add in distracting ones. For example, my dear but sadly misinformed best friend and her family make the guacamole without tomatoes. That’s the usual offense. Guacamole absolutely must include tomatoes. They also make theirs with cumin. No. Just don’t. It distracts from the avocado flavor. Same with peppers and leafy herbs of any kinds. Those are for salsa; keep those far away from guacamole, too. Do, on the other hand, be sure to include garlic. That’s tantamount. Guacamole tastes unexciting and blah without it.smashed avocado

Also, texture is important. Finely chopping the onions and garlic allows the flavors to blend together better in the guacamole. That way, you don’t get an overwhelming taste of onion in one bit and none at all in the next. The tomatoes can be whatever size, since their flavor is more mild. But they need to be small enough to fit in one bite with everything else and large enough to not disappear or turn to mush. The avocado itself should not be too smooth or creamy, unlike the final product of this batch, which I stirred too much as I tried to get the ingredient measurements right. Mash the avocado with a fork. Don’t blend it. Don’t use a potato masher. Just a fork, so there is still little chunks of avocado rather than total creaminess. It should look like it does after I first mashed it [above].

guacamole ingredients

And salt. Don’t forget the salt.

guacamole and steak

The Best Guacamole

  • 2 perfectly ripe avocados
  • 2 cloves garlic (~ 2 teaspoons when minced)
  • 2 tablespoons onion
  • 1 small roma tomato ( ~ 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon (or lime) juice

Smash the avocados roughly with a fork. Mince the garlic and finely chop the onion. Cut the tomato into small chunks. Gently fold all the ingredients in with the avocado, using 3/4 of the salt or so. Taste it. Adjust the salt as necessary. Add a bit more of any of the other ingredients if you think  you should, but salt (and sometimes garlic) is the only ingredient that ever really needs addition. Enjoy with chips or crackers or with steak for breakfast!