Salt “Crust” Potatoes

Like many things we try we first saw this dish prepared on a cooking show. Best I can recall it was America’s Test Kitchen however their website tells me it was Cook’s Country. They attribute the dish to Syracuse, NY. The idea is you cook small, whole, potatoes in briny water and the result is a perfectly seasoned potato. Despite the name, and the amount of salt used in preparing this dish, these potatoes taste no more salty than my regular boiled potatoes. In part that comes from the “whole potato” nature of the recipe.

I call for “baby” red potatoes here. My local megamart sells 1 1/2 pound bags of these as gourmet potatoes. I just know that they are all similarly sized and that’s a key to this recipe being a success.

Salt “Crust” Potatoes
Servings: 12-15
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups water
  • 2 1/4 cups kosher salt (see note)
  • 4 1/2 lbs. “baby” red potatoes
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Combine the water and salt in a Dutch oven and stir until the bulk of the salt is combined. Place over high heat until boiling. While the water comes to a boil give the potatoes a rinse and set them aside.
  2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook them until they are easily pierced with a fork, which for me is 20-25 minutes.
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to rest. Return the unrinsed pot to the cook top and add the butter. Once the butter melts turn off the heat and add the pepper and parsley. Swirl to combine then return the potatoes to the pot.
  4. Toss the potatoes in the pot until the flavored butter has a chance to coat all the spuds. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Notes:
I use Morton’s Kosher Salt (you know, the one with the girl holding the umbrella on the box). I vaguely remember that the original recipe suggested that different brands of kosher salt yield a different amount of salt by volume. 2 1/4 cups of Morton’s kosher salt weighs in at 130 grams, give or take a gram. If you are using a different salt then try 130 grams of it the first go around.

This recipe is based on a couple of sources including an article in The New York Times and the brief access I had to it on Cook’s Country when the episode first aired.

Seared Zucchini with Beans

Despite having hosted our friends for dinner for many of the Saturday nights over the past 20+ years I still find myself stumped fair to regularly on what to make for dinner. As a result I will often add “2 vegetables” to my grocery list with no real plan and hope for inspiration while in the produce section. Here are the results from such a recent inspiration.

Seared Zucchini with Beans
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 3 zucchini, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 28 oz. can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1/2 cup water.
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent; about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, stirring it into the onions and cook until fragrant, which should be less than a minute. Push the onions and garlic to the edge of the skillet.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and increase the heat to medium high. Add the zucchini and spread it out into a single layer. Allow it to brown on this side, untouched for 3-4 minutes. Now sprinkle the zucchini with salt and stir it to redistribute the pieces. Cook for another minute.
  4. Add the beans, spice blend and water. Stir everything together and cover. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to cook until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Notes:
You can really use any type of bean here that you like. Hominy probably wouldn’t be my first choice but if you rinsed it then it would work.

If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

Almond Cherry Cake

[Almond Cherry Cake]Searching for a suitable dessert to make for Easter Dinner at my mom’s house is a delicious challenge. While most of us enjoy a chocolate whatever-you-bake special dinners are a chance do something different. I had some cherries in the freezer that I wanted to do something with. An hour lost to the Internet provided several options. In the end I opted for this lovely creation on the right.

Notes under the cut

Buttered Farro

There are times when an improvisation turns into something you want to repeat again and again. This dish is one of the successes that I will continue to make once a month or so because it’s just that tasty.

It’s “origin story” isn’t very glamorous though. I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge as I was putting together the menu for one of our mostly weekly Saturday night gatherings. Since I hadn’t actually planned on making it part of dinner I didn’t pickup the additional ingredients necessary to make Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Luckily, a handful of pantry staples turned this from a bland grain into a flavorful side dish.

Buttered Farro
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes (if you have precooked your farro)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with oil and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add the butter. When it is fully melted add the farro, paprika and spice blend. Toss until the farro is coated with butter and the spices are well distributed.
  3. Heat for about 5 minutes so that the farro is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Serve.

Notes:
If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or chives on hand you could added a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs at the end of cooking.

Mustard Gravy

Occasionally I plan to make a pan sauce after browning meat and find that the fond in the bottom of the skillet is just too blackened to make a good sauce. I came up with this “gravy” after a recent meal featuring skillet seared pork chops. The chops were nicely browned however the fond in the bottom of the pan was too far gone to use. Luckily pork and mustard have an affinity for one another so this recipe did the trick. It was also tasty on the roasted broccoli we served.

Mustard Gravy
Servings: 1 1/2 cups
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 Tbsp. water
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
  • 1 cup hearvy cream
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. rendered bacon fat (or other softened solid fat, such as butter)
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Combine the flour and fat in a small bowl to form a paste. This is called a beurre manié and it will be used later to thicken the sauce. If you don’t have bacon fat then unsalted butter could also be used.
  2. Add the Worcestershire and water in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Add the mustards, whisk to combine and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. The mixture will reduce slightly in volume.
  3. Stir in the heavy cream. Allow the mixture to return to a simmer and add the burre manié you made in the first step. Whisk the sauce until it is fully melted and incorporated.
  4. Allow the sauce to simmer for another minute; it should thicken into a nice sauce.

Note:
Don’t be scared off by the beurre manié. You can use any softened solid fat, such as butter or even the odd tablespoon of Crisco. Use a fork, or the back of the spoon, to press the fat into the flour until it is well combined. The idea is that the fat-coated flour particles will melt and help thicken the sauce as it simmers. Additionally the fat added at the end will add a soft sheen, similar to the effect of finishing a sauce by whisking in cold butter.

Roasted Broccoli

We have tended to avoid broccoli, both in the grocery story and in our cooking. Too often the stalks you find in the grocery store are dull looking, limp things that taste of dieting and regret. Recently though we enjoyed roasted broccoli at a favorite restaurant and it was a bit of a revelation. After trying it a few times at home here’s my go-to technique.

Roasted Broccoli
Servings: 2-4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. fresh broccoli
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Cut the florets off the the broccoli stalk; cut florets into bite-sized pieces. Remove the about 1/2″ from the end of the stalk. Using a vegetable peeler remove a layer from the stem and then slice the stem on a bias into bite-size pieces.
  3. Toss broccoli pieces with oil, salt and pepper. Scatter onto a rimmed baking sheet, leaving some space between pieces.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing broccoli half-way through baking. Broccoli is done when a fork can easily pierce a floret.
  5. Transfer roasted broccoli to a serving bowl. Toss with lemon zest and juice. Adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Notes:
Any number of flavorful condiments can be used with roasted broccoli to up the flavor profile. Replace the lemon with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil (add some sesame seeds for good measure), fish sauce, or sauteed garlic and red pepper flakes.

When cooking for just the two of us I have used an oven-safe stainless steel skillet rather than a baking sheet. As long as the skillet isn’t crowded it’ll work fine.

Savory Roasted Acorn Squash

More often than not, it seems, winter squash is prepared as a sweet addition to the meal. The addition of brown sugar, maple syrup, or <shudders>marshmallows</shudders> leave us wanting to skip dessert, arguably the best part of the meal.

We tend to head to savory end of the spectrum for winter squash prep. Here’s one of our simplest takes savory winter squash.

Savory Roasted Acorn Squash
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 35-45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 acorn squash, all close in size
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Locate and set aside 2 13″x9″ pans. There’s no prep needed in the pans.
  2. Halve the acorn squash through the stem; scoop out the seeds and fibrous pulp. Cut each half in half once again so that each squash yields 4 pieces.
  3. Toss the squash with the oil and then sprinkle the interior of each piece with salt and pepper. Lay the squash, cut side up, in the 13″x9″ pans.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Squash is ready when a fork easily pierces the squash.

Notes:
Any number of savory spices could be sprinkled over the squash before baking. Cumin, coriander, sumac or a spice blend such as za’atar would all be tasty.

Strawberry Pretzel “Salad”

We first learned about this odd sounding recipe on Cook’s Country. I suppose someone might enjoy it as a first course however in our home this fits firmly in the dessert category. While a 24 hours recipe might seem daunting there is a lot of downtime between steps and a most of that time can be a long overnight rest in the refrigerator. I think active time is around a hour, spread across maybe 2 hours.

I’ll repeat this hint at least twice more, thaw the strawberries in the refrigerator the night before you want to make the recipe. Maybe you need 48 hours before you start. Trust me, the end product is worth the wait.

This is a fine make ahead recipe. You could make this up to 3 days in advance and the pretzel base will remain fairly crisp.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Servings: 8-10
Active time: 1 hour
Total time: 7 hours minimum (24 hours would be better)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 6 1/2 oz. pretzel sticks
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 8 oz. room temperature cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (see note)
  • 1/2 cup cold water

Directions:

  1. Take your strawberries out of the freezer, stick the unopened bag in a bowl and slip them into the refrigerator over an overnight thaw.
  2. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Take the strawberries and cream cheese out of the fridge so they can come to room temperature.
  3. At any point forward you can slice up 1 pound of the strawberries and set them aside. You’ll need them in step 9.
  4. Melt the butter by your preferred method (see note) and set aside to cool while you complete the next step.
  5. Place the pretzels and 1/4 cup of sugar in your food processor and pulse 15-20 times until you have coarse pretzel crumbs. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and pulse another 8-10 times to incorporate it. Transfer pretzel mixture to the prepared pan and use the bottom of measuring cup to press crumbs into bottom of pan. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Transfer crust to a cooling rack and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Beat the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar with a stand mixer on medium for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the heavy cream and, once incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high for 1 minute. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled pretzel crust, cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Next up we finally get to those thawed strawberries. Place 2 pounds of the strawberries, plus any juice that came out during thawing, into the bowl of the food processor. Process until pureed smoother, 30-45 seconds. Transfer the pureed strawberries into a fine strainer set over a medium saucepan. Use the bottom of a ladle to gently push the puree thorugh the strainer, leaving behind the seeds.
  8. Stir in the remaining sugar, and the salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles begin to appear around the side of the pan, about 5 minutes. Note, the sugar should be completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool briefly.
  9. Add the water to a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for about 5 minutes to allow the gelatin to soften. Whisk the strawberry puree into the gelatin and add the sliced strawberries. Refrigerate for 45 minutes to an hour until the gelatin thickens slightly; it should start to cling to the side of the bowl.
  10. Carefully pour the strawberry gelatin over the cream cheese layer. Recover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the “salad” is fully set-up. That’s at least 6 hours; a 20+ hour rest couldn’t hurt.

Notes:
The original recipe I worked from called for 4 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin. In my experience that is what is found in 1 envelope of the name-brand unflavored gelatin that I see in most megamarts. You might want to check the first time you make this recipe.

Final Reminder – you’ll be much happier if you thaw the strawberries overnight prior to making this dish.

Mustard-glazed Pork Loin

When you host friends for dinner as often as we do you sometimes run low on inspiration. Luckily there are a host of websites, TV programs, cookbooks and magazines aimed at helping you find something to try. I believe the inspiration for this came from an copy of Food Network Magazine that I thumbed through while at my doctor’s office.

I used pork loin “roast” for this recipe. A pork tenderloin would also work however the cooking time would be less.

Mustard-glazed Pork Loin
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • a 2 lb. pork loin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
  • heaping Tbsp. Dijon
  • 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Pat the pork loin dry and then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix the mustards, vinegar and maple syrup together and set aside.
  4. Add the oil to a oven-safe heavy bottomed skillet and heat on high until the oil shimmers. Sear the pork on all sides until nicely browned.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and brush the pork with about 1/2 the glaze. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Brush on the remainder of the glaze, rotate the skillet 180°’s and roast another 15 minutes.
  6. Check the temperature of your pork roast. If it hasn’t reached 145°F on an instant-read thermometer then roast in 5 minute increments until it reaches that temp. If it has reached that temp then remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the roasts to a cutting board. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Notes:
I thought this paired very well with Za’atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes that I served that night. The savory glaze, with a hint of sweetness matched the earthy sweetness of the side dish really nicely.

Za’atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Za’atar is a spice blend used in Middle Eastern cooking consisting of sumac, thyme, white sesame seeds and salt. In this recipe it lends a slight lemony flavor to, and enhances the earthy scent of, some lovely sweet potatoes.

Sumac Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. za’atar
  • 1 tsp. ground sumac

Directions:

  1. Place oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and dice into 1″ cubes.
  3. Toss sweet potatoes with the olive oil and spices. Transfer to the prepared pan and spread into a single layer.
  4. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing the potatoes and redistributing into a single layer half way through cooking.