Archive for the ‘Comfort Foods’ Category

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September 27, 2015: Tri-color “Salt” Potatoes

September 27, 2015

Tri-Color Salt PotatoesOne is never sure what will work. Sometimes, what can seem at first mundane, is virtually unheard of to the world at large.

Back in December of 2010, I was stuck for a topic/food/recipe for the blog, and I got a brainstorm: I had never seen a recipe for “Salt Potatoes” in any of the sundry food blogs and magazines I subscribed to. At the time I thought that was because I couldn’t imagine anyone documenting such a common dish.

How wrong I was.

Growing up, salt potatoes were at least a weekly dish. We kids didn’t mind. Salt potatoes are tasty, go well with many meals, and with eight kids to feed…cheap and plentiful! Having an Irish woman as a mom probably added to the frequency with which she added them to the weekly menu.

Writing the original article, what I didn’t consider was how common this dish is to my locale and why. You see, I hail from Syracuse NY, which in an earlier American history was where much of our salt came from. The natural deposits of primeval salt in the local lakes made salt production easy and cheap. One main street of Syracuse is named “Salina Street” due to the impact the industry had for residents.

So, with cheap salt supplies and Irish workers digging the nearby Erie Canal, salt potatoes were pretty common. They are still often sold at open markets and fairs, often replacing french fries as the potato treat of choice.

So, I was pretty surprised when my (to my mind..a very, very basic) recipe was picked up by a national food blog! The recipe was “featured” as best recipe of the day and yielded my best day for the blog, with a total of 125 hits!

My sister Mary Lou, happened to call that day and I was excited to tell her the news. When, knowing my range as a chef, she asked what recipe was featured, and I told her…there was long pause. “WHY?” she asked! Turns out what a native Syracusan considers commonplace was not so for the rest of the world!

Salt Potatoes are indeed so basic, it is hard to improve them, but recently I picked up these tri-color baby potatoes in a local farm stand and these upped the ante! As well as color, each potato had its own individual taste, and I was surprised to find the inner part tinged with a slight color of the outside. The one that appears black, is actually a dark purple like a beet, so the inner potato had light purple color!

A good chef is always looking to improve on even the most basic recipe! Adding this one to my repertoire of cheap, easy, aesthetic, fun, and unusual dishes!

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September 17, 2015: Cucumber Soup

September 17, 2015

Cucumber SoupAs I mentioned in my last article, when my family visited last month we went to the Colonial Inn in Concord, Ma. Cooking for myself like I usually do, I’m very impressed when I go out to eat these days to find almost every restaurant caters to the vegetarian palate to some degree. Sometimes it’s just soup and bread, but I can almost always find something to eat.

Once in a great while I find a restaurant that raises the bar on their vegetarian dishes to the unique and noteworthy. Such was all the dishes we  tried at the Colonial Inn.

My niece ordered the Colonial’s Black Bean Burger. I saw this on the menu as was almost going to order it, but changed my mind at the last second. As she was on the other side of the table, I didn’t hear her order and was very pleased when she offered to share a taste with me.

One problem with black bean burgers, homemade and store-bought, is that they often add just a tad too much cumin in the mix. Cumin is one of those spices that it takes an expert hand (and tasting while tweaking the addition) to keep the balance from interesting that can quickly shift to overwhelming. The Colonial got that balance just perfect. Topped with a tiny corn relish and a fine roll, the taste was easily the best of any black bean burger I’ve ever had. The texture was very close to a meat burger, which shows the skill of the chef, as veggie burgers often fall to pieces when soft like this, but because we’ve never had one with such a delicate texture, both my niece and I agreed that it was rather unfamiliar.

I was pleased to find Truffle Fries on the menu and they were very good at the Colonial and seemed to be fried in truffle oil. But after one taste, I realized the down-side of knowing a master chef like Yoshio. He makes truffle fries and tops them with real grated truffle (which makes the dish far too expensive to make for mass distribution.) Yoshio has forever spoiled me this way, but the Colonial’s fries were a very delicious and welcome second.

I also ordered what the Colonial called their Cucumber Gazpacho Soup. The name was a little confusing (as gazpacho is usually a tomato-based broth and cucumber soup is usually a cream-based broth) so I asked the waitress to describe the soup. She explained that it was a cold, creamy cucumber soup with a topping of salsa. I loved the addition of a tiny bit of heat into the cool, slightly sweet, very smooth, cucumber base and I was inspired to make my version. Again, made for mass-consumption, there was nothing wrong at all with the Colonial’s soup….I just tend to like my soups a bit more on the savory side and I don’t mind a slight amount of texture that the Colonial carefully got rid of.

Cucumber Soup

2 Medium Leeks (washed thoroughly; chopped; green part for stock)

6 Large Cukes (washed; de-skinned (save skins for stock); de-seeded

2C. Baby Kale (washed; chopped)

6 Tblsp. Fresh Dill Weed   2 Bullion Cubes

2 C. Heavy Cream         3 Tblsp. Butter

Make stock of cuke skins, green part of leeks, and baby kale stems. Sauteé veggies in oil until tender. Add 1 Qt. H2O. Add bouillon cubes to fortify. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.

Sauteé white part of leeks in butter until tender. Add de-seeded cukes (cubed into 2″ pieces) and baby kale. Add stock and H2O to cover veggies. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover until veggies are tender. At the end of the simmer, add dillweed, salt & pepper and grind with an immersion blender. Add cream.

Top with a splash of hot sauce, then sour cream and a dab of mild salsa.

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August 30, 2015: European Breakfast

August 30, 2015

European BreakfastLast Christmas, Teja and Barb gave me a fantastic gift: a sturdy, white-ceramic lined 10″ fry pan. One of the most perfect cooking tools I’ve ever owned (I’ve never had a pan that so easily cleans to a spotless finish) it is too large for most meals I make for myself, and sadly, since I don’t entertain for large groups as much these days, I don’t use the pan as often as I would like.

The Trip_2010The Trip To Italy

I’m a big fan of the two “The Trip” movies. These are about two friends who travel (the first in England, the second in Italy) reviewing food in restaurants as they go. The movies are much, much, more than this simplistic overview, but the food was the first hook for me. The big English Breakfast that the boys experience in the first film caught my attention. I remember similar breakfasts at B&Bs from my trips across Ireland and I found I missed them. As I was cleaning up, early this morning, I was looking at my beautiful pan and it all came together. I had all the makings for an European Breakfast!

Normally, the European Breakfasts are big on meat. The Irish ones were very meat-heavy ones: sausage-links, bacon, and even blood-sausage were prevalent at just about every B&B I visited. Since my visits to Ireland, I have been a steady vegetarian, but I keep an eye out for the best meat substitutes. The choice ones, these days, are made by Quorn, who have even developed a good bacon substitute (or “facon” as I know it) which is something I thought I never would experience (‘tho Quorn’s is closer to “Canadian Bacon” than what we know as bacon, it still is pretty good.) Their sausage patties are the best, so in a thin layer of olive oil, they were the first to hit the pan.

Next was a combo of sauerkraut with juniper berries that had been steeping in the sauerkraut juices for an hour. I like a slightly crisp edge to the sauerkraut, so that is why I put it in early.

Next, was a little bit of butter and 1/2″ slices of fresh tomatoes that my bosses, Jim and Wendy, had given to me from their garden. A grind of pepper, sprinkle of oregano, turning ever so often. No need to tamper too much with Nature’s (and a good gardener’s) perfection.

Then, it was pinto beans mixed with a little molasses. followed quickly by a couple of tablespoons of chopped leeks. Last was an egg, topping the leeks.

Altogether, ‘tho delicious, it was a little too much breakfast for me really, these days to be honest…I’m usually only game for a bit of cereal, a small yoghurt or some such, but I enjoyed the bounty…and an attachment to a memory of bounty, where a big breakfast like this took me 40-50 miles on my bike to the next destination…an Irish town I had just barely sketched out on my map…far from home.

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March 08, 2015: A Riff On A Classic

March 8, 2015

Riff On A ClassicMost of my adult life I have been prone to slam my mother’s cooking. In recent years, I’ve come to realize how unfair my attitude has been.

Like most children, I suppose, we don’t find the true worth of a parent until it is far too late. My mother had to cook, daily, for ten people. If she sometimes found shortcuts to stretch my dad’s salary and cover what must have been a huge drain on our household…well, now that I am older and perhaps a bit wiser, I realize she did a pretty decent job, all in all.

Like most women of post-WWII, my mom took advantage of popular foods of the day. Many of these included, frozen and canned foods. Some were bland and awful…and a few were pretty spectacular! One dish my mom made often was “her” tuna fish casserole. I seem to remember that it came right off the back label of a Campbell’s mushroom soup can. It was a combination of boiled noodles, a can of tuna fish and two cans of the mushroom soup (plus milk) then baked. It was cheap, fast, fed a lot of hungry kids, and was a no-brainer. Best of all, as kids, we loved it! No wonder my mom made it often!

I thought I could make a healthier, veggie-based, slightly more jazzed-up version of this dish:

Peel skins off 3 large portobello mushrooms (I put these in a sandwich bag and keep them frozen until I make my next broth.) Slice them 1/2″ thick, and saute in 4 Tblsp. melted butter until soft. Add the juice of 1 lemon and a splash of sherry. Continue cooking a little until the shrooms almost absorbs all the liquids.

Chop 1 head of broccoli. (In keeping with my mom’s economy sense, I used the stalks as well, but chopped them a bit finer.)

I set about 4 Qts. H2O to boil while I made my veloute. This is always slightly different, depending on the dish, but this one was:

4 Tblsp. of melted butter+4 Tblsp. flour whisked together on medium heat until it has turned a slightly tawny color. Add 2C. whole milk and 1 can mushroom soup and continue whisking until just thick enough to pour easily. I had some organic mushroom gravy so I added 1C. of that. Normally, I would have used veggie broth instead.

When the H2O came to a boil I added 1 bag (12 Oz.) wide egg noodles. These usually boil for about 7 minutes, but I did them for 6 (knowing I was to bake the dish, a bit al dente is best) adding the broccoli for the last 2 minutes. Drain.

Butter the bottom and sides of a large (18″ X 12″) Pyrex pan and add drained noodles and broccoli. Top this with mushrooms and add veloute. I then topped this with 1/2C. each grated Swiss, Asiago, and Colby Jack cheeses and a sprinkle of each ground pepper and herbs de Provence and baked at 325°F for half hour.

A crunchy, cheesy top with tender noodles and veggies underneath. Best of all was the earthy, tangy, lemony shrooms that accented every bite.

Mom’s dish was more easily made than mine, but with just a tiny bit more effort and time, this classic turned into a real treat!

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July 11, 2014: Go-To Salad

July 11, 2014

Go To SaladNow that the hot weather is here, I’m more active (running and kayaking more; working in the yard, etc.) and I’m looking for foods that are filling and nutritious, but still light enough to allow me to move without being weighed down. The best food solution (for me) is salad: cool, crunchy, light , satisfying, guilt-free, and infinitely variable. In Summer I practically live on salads. The best is (like now) when local farms introduce the fresh lettuces.

But even during the colder months, good salads are available to us. My perennial favorite is a salad with a base of one of several pre-cut cole slaws mixed with a little taboule. The cole slaw by itself is a bit plain, but the taboule (fresh parsley, chopped tomatoes, cracked wheat germ, olive oil and lemon juice) is just the thing to liven the cole slaw up. I often add a little viniagrette…’tho you don’t need much with the taboule. Tightly sealed,  I find both the cole slaw and taboule last all week-long.

With the addition of extras to this salad base, I can have a different salad each day of the week, so this salad never gets old. I often add some combination of fresh veggies, olives, garbanzo beans, cottage cheese, and nuts. The salad pictured above is cole slaw, taboule, red peppers, and pecans. As dressing, I used a few drops each of Blood Orange Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar  from the Saratoga Olive Oil Company. A fine collection of salad condiments from Saratoga was given to me by my friends Christopher and Sara, who shortly will fly from the Yankee-land of snow and ice to grace their company on the The Lone Star State.

To Chris and Sara, much luck on your new life. Your intelligence, good company, generosity, guidance and inspiration (not to mention entertainment…both personal and professional) will be sorely missed by all your fans here in the cold, cold, North.

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August 26, 2013: Irish-American Cuisine at Showa

August 27, 2013

Showa 08.26.13Today was the third presentation of Irish-American food for Japanese students at the Showa Institute of Boston. Yoshio and I created a range of foods that show the assortment of influences on Irish-American cuisine.

I made a translation problem for Yoshio by spontaneously using the word “goofy” to describe St. Patrick’s Day celebration by Americans, compared to the Irish tradition of climbing Crough Patrick…barefoot, to honor the saint.

As in previous years, Yoshio made his wonderful Corned Beef and Cabbage. This year he omitted any additional salt and just let the corned beef  season the stew of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and onions. Tasting the veggies and broth, this was just perfect!

I made Irish Soda Bread and substituted craisins for the normal raisins for the New England touch. I also made Coddling Cream with Gala apples stewed in port. My Colcannon (mashed potatoes, leeks, and kale) was a little less smooth this year as my big mixer was broken, and was too tough for my hand mixer.

Some students surprised me by actually liking the taste of buttermilk that I usually have leftover from the soda bread recipe.

Our original recipes can be found here.

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August 20, 2013: Breakfast at Armageddon

August 20, 2013

Ramen OmeletteWhat you may or may not know about me, is that I am a Libra. You know…the icon that looks like scales in the “Astrology” segment on page 15 of the “Living” section?

Do I believe in astrology? Oh, not too much. If the proximity of the stars  at the time of birth governs ones actions, I should rather consider myself to be a “Schwartz” the name and most strong gravitational influence at the moment of my birth…that of my doctor delivering me.

What I DO find coincidental about astrology is that Librae are supposed to be all about harmony and justice (scales…the symbol of justice…right?)

What I cannot deny is that I:

1. Was raised by a lawyer/judge who imbued upon me a strong social conscience.
2. Value honor, justice, and honesty above all human attributes.
3..  Strive to attain harmony in all personal, social, and collaborative endeavors [and here, please stress the word “strive” in this statement instead of “attain“…which is far more rare.]

And, I fully admit that this may be a “chicken and egg” scenario: was I predestined to be concerned with justice and harmony by virtue of my “star-sign” or was it rather that I somehow sensed this was expected and lived accordingly? I dunno. The conundrum is that the former doesn’t explain the chance case of being born to a judge, while this fact, at the same time, fully enforcing the latter.

If Librae are all about harmony, I suspect that there must be  a lot of them who have a life that is rolling along on an even keel. That seems not to be the kind of Libra that I am. I tend to gain harmony through manic expressions of  opposites. Take my cooking, for instance: friends and family know me to make for them extravagant gourmet meals…and they are perfectly correct to think so…while they are around. My dirty little secret is that I personally subsist on a daily habit of cooking whatever happens to be around at the time I decide to make a meal. When I think about this style of cuisine,  I refer to it in my mind as “student/bachelor/camping/guerilla” cooking. It is close to the bone, cook it before it spoils, as few dishes as possible. It is quick, simple, cheap. Through experience, I have made a lot of these meals quite tasty. If they are impressive at all, it is due to the fact that even spartan ingredients, cooked well, can come out quite satisfying.

In my college days, I was hitching a ride home with a friend during a bitter snowstorm. I suspected I might be in trouble, as being from Florida, she told me she had never even seen snow before. The two miles to her apartment were the most torturous two miles I’ve ever spent in a vehicle. We finally made it where she promptly “parked” headfirst into a huge snow bank. As the car had front-wheel drive, it was stuck. Of course, she owned no shovel, so I spent the next couple of hours shoveling out her car with a board! Soaked, exhausted and starving, I asked her is she had anything to eat. “Nothing” she replied. Scrounging around her apartment, I found pasta, bouillon cubes, a few veggies and made a passable “chicken soup.” Not altogether the most hardy meal in the world, but enough to weather the storm.

This kind of cooking is good for everything from minor emergencies, “guys night” and camping to breakfast at Armageddon. So, here’s an omelette, worthy of a last meal.

Armageddon Omelette [Recipe serves one. Double, if you are lucky to have a friend at the end of days.]

Ingredients:
2 eggs (room temperature…quite likely, anyways. The wisdom of popular films tell us that power and lights go out waaay before the end of the world.)
Packet of ramen noodles (your choice of flavor.)
2 Tblsps. diced onion, spring onion, or leek
2 Tblsps. veggie oil

In 2C. H2O [Oh, sheesh…I hope there’s water. Please, don’t shoot anyone or anything, trying to get it!] boil 1/2 of ramen noodles (Do NOT add the spice packet to the H2O) and drain. In a medium, non-stick, skillet heat oil on medium/high heat for 30 seconds and lower heat to medium/low. Add onions and cook until caramelized. Add 1/4 (*and ONLY 1/4) of the ramen spice packet to beaten eggs ad cook in the skillet, lifting the omelette gently a couple of times to let the runny egg under. When omelette is almost cooked through add the ramen noodles. Fold omelette, a grind of pepper, serve and enjoy…before saying “sayonara.”

*These spice packets have enough sodium to stop your heart…and if it is Armageddon, why rush things?)

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