Thursday, November 13, 2014

Salt Baked Potatoes

We were at a an event where appetizers were passed around. One of the finger food dishes was baby baked potatoes split and topped with sour cream and chives. Perfect one bite non-messy finger food. They tasted so good, that we just had to them at home. These potatoes are small waxy potatoes - not the kind one usually bakes. So, what to do?
The answer - bake them in a bed of salt. The salt has several effects. It keeps the potatoes off the base of the cooking vessel so that the bottoms don't burn in the high heat of the oven; it seasons the potatoes; it provides some insulation when serving them so they don't cool off too quickly. Also they look quite pretty.

The picture is a "before" picture. We were too busy devouring them to take an "after" picture. We served them with grilled lamb chops, stir fried cabbage, mint sauce and lashings of butter.


Several evenly sized small red/white waxy potatoes (3/4" to 1" diameter)
Enough kosher salt to cover the base of your cooking vessel to the depth of about 1/2 inch


Pre-heat the oven to 425F
Wash the potatoes and pat dry. They don't need to be bone dry. The salt will take care of that
Place the salt evenly in the bottom of a casserole dish. Try and avoid bare metal because salt can be corrosive. I used a Le Creuset casserole dish.
Place the potatoes into the salt bed, pushing down slightly so each potato is abut 1/3 covered. Place the larger potatoes near the edge of the dish and the smaller ones near the center. The edge gets hotter quicker, so they turn out cooked at about the same time.
Put the dish onto the center rack of the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 300 and cook for another 15 - 30 minutes. The time range is there to give you a bit of a margin of safety. They are done before 30 minutes, but they will hold their heat nicely - if for example you forgot to heat the grill for the lamb chops. But that is another story

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mushroom soup

This month's issue of Fine Cooking had a terrific looking recipe for mushroom soup. However I didn't completely remember the ingredients when I went shopping. No matter, what came out was another "We can serve this to people" accolade from Madame.
What did I do wrong? I was convinced that the recipe said to use dashi - that stock used in Japanese cooking, made from kombu (kelp) and dried bonito flakes. After all, there would be lots of umami resulting from this. I thought it would be interesting to make my own dashi, so I followed Alton Brown's recipe for that.
The recipe actually called for chicken stock. Never mind! I also used more mushrooms than the recipe called for. I did follow the technique carefully - because it seemed unusual to me. I am glad that I did because the result was outstanding.


4t unsalted butter (divided use)
1T olive oil
1t whole cumin seeds
1/2 lb white mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
6oz oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Negro Modelo beer (or other dark/brown beer)
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into thin rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced. 
2 cups dashi + 2 cups water warmed to a low simmer
2 t habanero vodka or other hot sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt/pepper to taste
Torn cilantro leaves as garnish
1/2 t sherry vinegar per serving

Method - and this is where Fine Cooking really shone

Melt 2 t of the butter + the oil in a 6qt pot on low/medium heat. I used the trusty Le Creuset for this and it worked well. When the butter is melted, add the cumin and cook until they brown a little. They should start to become fragrant and nutty. Take care not to burn the butter. 
Add all the mushrooms, turning the meat up to medium high. Cook the mushrooms until they become quite dry. The recipe said 8 - 10 minutes. Mine was more like 12 minutes.
Add the beer and continue to cook until dry.
Add the remaining butter and the leeks, cooking the leaks until soft. when the leeks are soft, add the garlic and cook a while longer - until the garlic is fragrant.
Turn the heat off and add the dashi and hot sauce. Stir and blend (taking care to put a kitchen towel over the blender goblet)  in batches until silky smooth and thick. Return the blended mixture to the original (but now cleaned) pot. Stir in the cream. Over low heat, bring the mixture up to a slow simmer. Adjust the seasoning.
Serve in warmed soup bowls with some drops of sherry vinegar and a few cilantro leaves on top.

Chickpeas and pepitas - a really simple salad

I had read somewhere that a salad made with chickpeas and pepitas would be pretty good. The pepitas give some much needed crunch. But there is always the question of what else to add. So for this salad, some onion, red pepper, pomegranate, Meyer lemon juice and olive oil were the additions. A little habanero vodka for some extra character and it was a thing of beauty. It was a "We could serve this to people" kind of dish.


1/2 a small onion - diced into pieces about the same size as the pomegranate arils
1 pomegranate  - arils only, left intact
1/2 red pepper - diced into pieces about the size of the arils
1 tsp habanero vodka (or other hot sauce)
Juice of one Meyer lemon
2 small cans chick peas/garbanzo beans drained, rinsed and strained
a small handful of parsley leaves roughly chopped
1/2 cup pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
High quality Olive oil to taste (maybe about 1/4 cup)
A few grinds of black pepper
Salt to taste
Large crystal sea salt for added crunch
A few lettuce leaves torn into large pieces.


Combine onion, arils, red pepper, habanero vodka, lemon juice, chick peas, parsley in a bowl. Mix well. Add the pepitas, mix well. Add the olive oil - the chick peas should look glossy. Adjust the seasoning. 
Serve on some lettuce leaves. Add a few large sea salt crystals to taste