Monday, May 24, 2010

The Springiest Potato Salad Ever

As I've mentioned many times before, I just don't love mayonnaise based salads. I've been a vinaigrette gal since way back. I began thinking about this potato salad the other day when Food52 announced that this week's contest is "your best potato salad." This one immediately came to mind and as I checked back into my blog archives, I found that I never actually posted this recipe. I almost posted this recipe last year at exactly this time (May 28, 2009 - at least I'm consistent), but didn't post it then because it seemed to me I'd been overdoing it with vinaigrette recipes.

I happened upon some really fresh, tiny, new red potatoes at the farm stand last weekend and although this dish is tasty with any small potato (I've used red, different fingerling varieties and baby Yukon golds all with great success) these new potatoes were something special. In fact, all the vegetable components of this dish are completely fresh at farm stands in the DC area right now. Make it this weekend for your Memorial Day barbecues! Later on in the summer, you can easily sub in minced regular garlic and scallions, or even minced shallots for the spring onions.

So one year later, here it is. Karen R. please let me know if this differs from what I sent you last year!

Wendy's Springiest Potato Salad Ever

(serves 4 - 6 as a side dish)

2 lbs. washed new red potatoes, halved or quartered if larger. I like to try to buy the ones as close to one inch around as possible. Try to keep all the pieces close to the same size so they cook in the same amount of time.

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon red wine or champagne vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

a couple of pinches of salt, more to taste

a few grinds of pepper, more to taste

scant 1/4 cup thinly sliced green or spring garlic, the kind that looks like scallions (or two cloves minced regular garlic)

1/4 cup thinly sliced green or spring onions, plus another tablespoon for garnish (or scallions - or even 2 small minced shallots)

1 cup pea shoots, roughly chopped (should be a few large handfuls when whole)

1. Put cut potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water by about 1/2 to 1 inch. Lightly salt the water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a low boil/high simmer for 8 - 10 minutes. Check potato piece after about 8 minutes by piercing with a fork. You want the fork to slide in easily, but you don't want to let the potatoes get mushy.

2. While the potatoes cook, in a large bowl, whisk the mustards and vinegar together. Add the olive oil in a stream, whisking as you add. Add salt and pepper. Add the green onions and green garlic to the vinaigrette and toss.

3. When potatoes are fully cooked, drain in a colander and immediately add into the bowl with the vinaigrette. Mix gently.

4. Add in the chopped pea shoots and toss gently but well. Taste for salt and pepper.

5. Garnish with reserved green onions or scallions.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make this earlier in the day, refrigerate in the interim, but take out about 1/2 hour before you want to serve so that the salad can come back to room temperature.

June Gourmet, Unbound

It's that time of the month again - time for a link to a recipe from a June issue of Gourmet magazine. This month I made Soba Noodles with Pea Shoots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Leeks from June 1994. I love soba noodles both for taste and health - other than the sodium in the soy sauce, this is a healthy dish, full of delicious vegetables and hearty whole grain soba noodles.

In addition to the vegetables called for in the recipe, I added one head of baby bok choy, cut up a little, to the leeks in the pan. Baby spinach or other greens would work equally well. I also added about a half cup of chicken stock (you could easily use vegetable stock) to the pan and let the leeks and bok choy braise a little. This added a little extra "sauce" to an otherwise rather dry dish. And, I added about a quarter cup of water to the soy sauce and vinegar mixture for the same reason. The result was a cross between a straight noodle dish and a soup. Lastly, I gave the pea shoots a rough chop before putting them in the colander.

As the guys in the house were out practicing their short games for a charity golf tournament, my lovely daughter and I enjoyed this for lunch without them. For her, the mostly vegetarian meal worked well. However you could easily add a small piece of salmon or some shredded chicken on top of the noodles for a heartier dinner.

Here's the link:

Monday, May 3, 2010

How to Make Your Life Easier

I think another discussion about weeknight dinners is warranted. Michael Ruhlman, a noted food writer, agitated the food world a couple of weeks ago when he claimed that we shouldn't be focused on 30 minute meals, or 20 minute meals, or for that matter quick meals of any kind. As he put it in the Huffington Post, he "called bullsh*t" on the idea that we're too busy to cook. His answer? Roast a chicken for an hour and use the time it's in the oven to do homework with the kids. I'm not even going to start.

On the way to this helpful "solution," he disses both Rachael Ray and Jamie Oliver, both of whom seek to teach people to use healthy ingredients and cook at home, even with limited time and budget.

Many food bloggers have taken up the cause in response to Ruhlman's parry and have declared that they will now blog about the boring day to day dinners they make when pressed for time, in hopes of helping other busy people cook healthy food at home. I guess this is why my blog has such a limited readership. I've been doing this all along. Most of the food I include here isn't at all sexy or fancy, or even photogenic, but hopefully some recipes are speedy enough for weeknight healthy eating. I'm inspired to renew my efforts to provide more quick recipes that still taste great and include fresh and healthy ingredients.

To begin this effort, I'd like to go back to my pantry post from last year. One of the biggest problems with weeknight cooking, and one of the main reasons to throw your hands up and order a pizza, is not having a sufficiently stocked kitchen. I learned this first hand when I was forced out of my extremely well-stocked home into a furnished rental for a month last summer. I had very limited space for pantry items and very little in the way of pots and other cooking implements. And we definitely did order pad thai much more frequently.

Perhaps part of what people mean when they say they don't have time to cook is that they don't have time (or energy, really) to shop. This is a tough one, because though many stores are open earlier in the morning and stay open later in the evening, it requires a great deal of discipline to force yourself to do the grocery shopping before or after work. I think the key is organization. Limit the trips to once a week, if possible, with a quick extra stop for fresh milk, fish, fruit or veggies if necessary. Go armed with a detailed list of pantry items that are running low and items for easy weeknight meals. Try planning a couple of meals out during the weekend - maybe a stir fry or some roasted salmon with rice. Add those ingredients to the list.

My list doesn't vary much week to week. Certain items are staples in our house: milk, salad ingredients, vegetables, orange juice, bread, yogurt bananas, fruit, etc. When I worked full-time and had au pairs living with us, I kept a notepad in the kitchen for the grocery list. Those staple items were always on it. In addition, whoever either finished an item or noticed one running low was responsible for putting it on the list. If it wasn't on the list, it probably wasn't going to get purchased. Late in the week one of us might have made an emergency milk run, but generally, we made it through the week.

I'm a semi-professional shopper now, and I am able to hit more than one store a week, but I still use a list and keep a substantial pantry. During the growing season, I do my main shopping at farmstands on Saturday or Sunday. From a bulging bag of vegetables, I can plan ahead for the week. Even if you're serving pasta and jarred sauce, a fresh bunch of sauteed kale or roasted carrots or turnips can take the meal up a notch.

One thing I'd like to encourage for pasta eaters is to keep a few jars of really delicious sauce around. In a pinch, some Rao's or Cucina Antica marinara on penne with some fresh shaved Pecorino, and maybe some crunchy grissini or breadsticks can feel like a restaurant meal. These sauces are a bit more expensive per jar, but if it saves you from ordering in,and keeps you healthier, it's probably cheaper in the long run. I am careful to check for ingredient lists that only include real food that I would use myself in a home made sauce, and to check for those lower in sodium. I recently discovered Cucina Antica brand which is on the lower end of the sodium spectrum.

A rotisserie chicken can also be more than the sum of it's parts, so to speak. Many markets now roast them without all the seasonings so they are both lower in sodium and versatile to use in recipes. I've shredded the meat of a rotisserie chicken for everything from faux mu shu using flour tortillas and hoisin sauce along with pre-shredded cabbage to "tacos" with corn tortillas, shredded lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. Chunks of the meat can go into soups and stews as well. Recently, I used an unseasoned rotisserie chicken to make a mayo-free Spanish style chicken salad which was delicious on a bed of baby spinach with a sliced avocado and a couple of olives alongside.

Frozen rice is another great time saver. Trader Joes and many grocery stores sell boxes with individual bags of pre-cooked and frozen rice (with no additives) ready to microwave. In three minutes you can have brown or jasmine rice to serve with your quick cooking shrimp or salmon and veggies.

Bagged salad used to be staple, but it's too iffy these days. I stick with actual heads of lettuce and keep a salad spinner on the counter top for quicker rinsing and drying. Grape tomatoes don't need any cutting so are an easy addition to the salad.

Please share your tips with everyone in the comment section!!