Potatoes

Every once in awhile, I get a big craving for beets. The craving doesn’t hit me often, but when it does, I typically turn to my Vinegret (винегрет) recipe from The Ancestral Table. So without further ado, here is the text from the book:

Vinegret is the name of a Russian salad that is likely not of Russian origin, but rather borrowed from German or Scandinavian cuisine. In traditional Russian cuisine, salads were pretty rare. Vinegret is often cited as the first Russian salad, first mentioned in the 19th century.

Another Russian favorite is Olivier salad, which has a much more interesting history. It was invented by Lucien Olivier, a Belgian chef working in Moscow in the 1860s. The original recipe was a closely held secret and was never truly duplicated. Documents reveal that the salad likely included caviar, crawfish tails, aspic, and veal tongue. Over the years, these rare ingredients were replaced by common ones. Instructions for making Olivier Salad are also found below, as the method is similar.

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Potato pancakes are kind of a big deal in many homes, and everyone has their own method. There’s a lot of speculation as to what goes into making a good pancake, and my guess is that’s because it’s easy to mess up such a seemingly simple dish. Too many eggs and your pancakes are rubbery; too much flour or starch, and they’re too dense. Some insist on using cooked potatoes, while others insist you can’t.

Today’s recipe is my take on a middle-of-the-road potato pancake. It’s not tied to one specific culture, but takes cues from several approaches; mostly, I like the heft of Belorussian dranikis, but the crispiness of Jewish latkes.

Many recipes use wheat flour to ensure that the potatoes stick together, but I’ve found that my favorite approach is to re-employ the starch from peeled potatoes: dump them in a water bath and allow the starch to settle at the bottom, then pour off the water to use as a binder. This step takes an extra 10 minutes, but is well worth it in terms of reducing food waste (and saving money buying tons of potato starch).

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To truly understand the beauty of Erdäpfelsuppe, I’m going to run you through a quick language lesson. When Columbus first encountered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean in the late 15th century, they presented him with the sweet potato–batata in the Taíno language–which he first brought to Europe. But on subsequent trips, explorers returned with the white potato, first cultivated in the Andes mountains–papa in the Quechuan language–and people started confusing the two. In truth, it was a little unfair to introduce two very similar tubers, with similar names, to unsuspecting Europeans. This confusion endures today; the Spanish word patata, and English potato, are the result of compounding both batata and papa.

But as the potato traveled across the continent, filling the bellies of hungry Europeans along the way, people perceived the vegetable differently. For example, the Italians first supposed that the potato looked a lot like a truffle–tartufolo–and the sentiment spread to Eastern Europe (examples include the German kartoffel and the Russian картофель).

Personally, I think the French had the most elegant interpretation. Although they first went the truffle route, with the word cartoufle, they eventually switched to pomme de terre (“earth apple”). You see, the concept of earth apples isn’t new – the phrase had been used throughout history for various vegetables, including cucumbers and melons, as documented in Old High German, Old English, and Middle Dutch. And the French weren’t the only one to make this connection, because the word Erdapfel appears in Switzerland, Austria, and Southern Germany–all used to describe potatoes.

So in reality, today’s Erdäpfelsuppe is not really different from the more famous German Potato Soup (Kartoffelsuppe), but it’s an excellent moment to highlight the connection that many of us shares at the dinner table…no matter which name we use.

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Happy Friday everyone! I just wanted to send along a quick note to let you know that I’ve released a new, 2017 edition of my eBook, The Safe Starch Cookbook.

In this update, I’ve added 27 new recipes to the eBook, 42% more content than the previous version. I’ve also updated the cover, graphics, and some of the recipe formatting. The Safe Starch Cookbook now contains 221 pages. Here’s a short list of what you’ll find inside the book:

  • 91 recipes (24 rice, 28 potato, 15 noodle, and 24 other starch dishes)
  • a picture for every recipe, taken by yours truly
  • comprehensive recipe index with thumbnail hyperlinks to each page
  • a look at portion sizes and meal timing for optimum health
  • tips to save money using starches (nearly $1,000/year per person!)
  • a breakdown of meal-planning in the context of carbs
  • a thorough substitution guide for common food allergies
  • all recipes are gluten-free and developed using a whole-food mindset
  • my argument for why white rice should be considered “Paleo”
  • rice-buying guide to avoid arsenic and other toxins
  • 221 pages total

For more info, please check out The Safe Starch Cookbook‘s main page. Happy cooking!

While we typically eat Basic Mashed Potatoes with our daily meals, you can’t deny the fun that is Smashed Potatoes. In few other recipes can you treat a food so poorly–smashing it with the heel of your palm!–and still come away with something that’s both perfectly crispy and secretly fluffy.

This recipe takes a bit longer than a typical mashed or roasted potato, mostly because you’ll need to cool the potatoes for about 10 minutes, but the extra effort is an excellent way to periodically spice up your relationship with America’s favorite tuber.

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Tortilla Española, sometimes called Tortilla de Patatas, is a Spanish omelette unrelated to the corn and wheat tortillas found in Mexico and neighboring countries (in Spanish, the word tortilla means “small torte/cake”). It is often served cold as a tapa, or warm as part of a meal.

References to the Spanish tortilla didn’t surface until the early 19th century, as a quick meal (for soldiers, as legend has it) using readily-available ingredients of eggs and potatoes, and sometimes onion. Common add-ins for Spanish tortillas include chorizo sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, peas, and eggplant; the name of the dish will often change depending on which ingredients are added to the mix.

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I recently completed some housekeeping on the blog, long overdue; I redeveloped the categories on my sidebar navigation, to include specific ingredients (like shrimp and other sub-categories instead of just seafood), as well as certain types of dishes (like soups & stews) or preparations (pressure cooker recipes). I hope this makes this website a little more user-friendly, and please be sure to share any feedback in the comments below.

In the spirit of housekeeping, I recently realized that there are some very basic recipes missing from the pages of this blog. Some are obvious; I don’t expect to ever provide a tutorial on how to fry bacon, or how to slice an onion, as there are many excellent blogs dedicated to kitchen basics. But others are such a fundamental part of my everyday cooking that their absences were missed. One such recipe is today’s post, for basic mashed potatoes.

I grew up with mashed potatoes as a staple starch. Today’s recipe is very similar to my mom’s basic technique: boil some potatoes, then drain and mash them up with a bunch of butter and cream. Although to be honest, I’m a product of the 1980s (knee-deep in the low-fat craze), so our potatoes were likely made with (yikes!) margarine and (ick!) 2% milk. I’m happy to report that after spending time with my parents the other week, they’re back on real butter and cream.

Today’s recipe comes from the pages of Deep Dish: Season One, the project I released with my friend Tony Federico this past May. In it, we explore a classic American meal – Meatloaf – and build a history lesson, radio show, and comprehensive recipe eBook to explore the ins and outs of one celebrated dinner.

One last bit of housekeeping – I’m disappointed to report that the company behind my iOS/Android app will be shuttering their services, and my app will no longer work after the New Year. After spending some weeks researching alternatives, I have not been able to find a solution that fits my budget. One of my goals is to learn programming code well enough to develop my own app, but that’ll be some time from now – I still need to finish writing cookbook #3! So for now, please accept my apologies, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with my app.

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Around this time last year, I contributed a series of recipes to Yahoo! Food, and it was a lot of fun. As part of some company restructures, however, the website shut down in February. One of my favorite recipes from my short time there was this New Brunswick-Style Potato Stuffing, so I’m sharing it with you folks this week, just in time to nudge it into your Thanksgiving meal planning. Here’s what I wrote about it last year:

Folks who follow the Paleo diet sometimes get the short stick. For example: croissants. While solutions like “meatzas” (a pizza with a meat crust) might work in some contexts, there just isn’t a good way to create a flaky, lightly-textured pastry using nut flours, or heaven forbid, meat. Similarly, a traditional Thanksgiving stuffing (or “dressing” – more on that in a bit) is difficult to replicate. Typical Paleo reinterpretations feature (yep, you guessed it) meat, and sometimes nuts and dried fruit. All those things sound just fine, thank you very much, but not very reminiscent of stuffing.

Stuffing, as we commonly think of it, is a strange mix between crispy and fluffy, and is often overwhelmingly savory; this taste sensation expertly complements tart cranberry sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, rich gravy, and (hopefully) juicy turkey. So when conceiving a grain-free, Paleo-friendly stuffing, my mind kept returning to fried potatoes – crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. I almost ran to my local library to do some research, but then I remembered about Google, and discovered that there already exists a potato-based stuffing, just in a seldom-visited cranny of the world (New Brunswick, Canada).

New Brunswick-style potato stuffing is characterized by two concepts: potatoes, and the use of savory (also known as “summer savory”). Savory is a defining seasoning in Atlantic Canada, and is used in most poultry seasonings in the same way that we Yanks use sage. We’re going to use a combination of both savory and sage, to make everyone happy. New Brunswick-style stuffing also typically uses bread slices in addition to the potatoes, but we’ll go ahead and ignore that fact since this is a Paleo recipe.

To get the perfect potato texture, we’re going to par-boil the potatoes to remove some of their starch and to soften them up; that way we can just blast the potatoes over a relatively high heat to crisp them up without worrying about whether they’re done on the inside. We’ll be frying them in duck fat, because it’s delicious, but lard, coconut oil, or any other high-heat oil will work just fine. In a separate pan, we’ll prepare the rest of the dish, then combine the two just before serving (otherwise, the potatoes would get mushy).

One last note: there actually is a distinction between stuffing and dressing, although the distinction is mostly ignored. Stuffing is, by definition, a dressing that is placed inside of a turkey, while dressing is not. Personally, I grew up calling it “stuffing”, regardless of its location in relation to a bird, so we’ll stick with that for this recipe.

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Bubble and Squeak is a traditional English dish, served as a hash of leftover roasted vegetables. It can be made from a variety of vegetables, but potatoes and cabbage are almost always included; it can be served at any meal, and is a common accompaniment to a full English breakfast. This dish was first mentioned in the 1800s, but really fell into its own as a way of elongating meals during World War II, when food rationing was common.

The name “bubble and squeak” refers to the name that the vegetables make as they fry in the pan. There are some similarly fun names for other dishes that share the same technique, like Panackelty (NE England) and Rumbledethumps (Scotland).

Prepared traditionally, Bubble and Squeak is kind of tragic, because that means you could only enjoy it on those rare occasions when you have leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge. As a solution, the recipe below is written using fresh vegetables – you roast the vegetables while you boil the potatoes, then toss them all together for the final, beautiful creation. Of course, if you have leftover vegetables, this recipe will work, too; just skip directly to step #3.

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Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a traditional dish from Porto, in Northwest Portugal. As I’ve written in an earlier post using bacalhau, the Portuguese were one of the first European cultures to fish for cod, off the coast of Newfoundland after Columbus discovered the New World. Salted cod has been an integral part of Portuguese culture, and it’s often said that you can cook a new dish using bacalhau every day of the year – it’s often cited that there are over 1,000 total recipes to be found.

Advances in fishing technology in the mid 20th century had collapsed the Northwest Atlantic cod market by the 1990s – cod takes a long time to mature, and overfishing had run rampant. Today, bacalhau is most often made using cod harvested from Arctic waters under more strict quotas.

Bacalhau is made by salting and drying the fish in the sun; while it was originally a method of preservation (salted cod keeps a long time even without refrigeration), its unique, strong flavor is unmistakable and delicious, and its popularity endures today. The only downside to eating bacalhau is that it requires a bit of foresight, since it needs to be soaked overnight to reconstitute the fish.

If you’re new to using bacalhau, you might be surprised to find that it’s available in many common grocery stores, often sold near the cured meats section. For example, my local Publix grocery store sells a few different varieties of bacalhau. I like to keep some in the fridge at all times; I’ll generally throw some in a bowl of water, then put it in the fridge to soak overnight, and either pan-fry it to enjoy with my breakfast, or making something fancy like today’s recipe.

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