I do love it when life presents you with a delicious conundrum. In this case: What do I do when my mother-in-law presents me with a heaving gallon-sized bag of ...
Here's the latest from Mae's kitchen...
Recently, Bon Appétit offered up a challenge so perfectly geeky and fun, I just couldn’t resist. For those of you not already aware, Watson – the IBM computer that won $1 million on Jeopardy! in 2011– has been wondering what to do with all his free time these days. One of the things he’s taken up is cooking, and it turns out that he’s quite the foodie. He’s been learning about flavor combinations by studying flavor chemistry and the 9,000-or-so recipes in the Bon Appétit repertoire to come up with ingredient lists for new and exciting recipes that have never been experienced before.
The fantastic part? You get to be Chef Watson’s right hand. His sous chef, if you will. Watson only spits out ingredient lists, not methods. This means that you are the one who needs to determine how short ribs with fennel, smoked paprika, allspice, oyster sauce, and Chinese hot mustard works together. And yes, that’s a real example of the mad genius of Watson. The good people at Bon Appétit have been more merciful in their approach to the aforementioned challenge, however. The ingredient list that Watson is offering up for this adventure is a little tamer, although still intriguing enough to get your wheels turning. The challenge is to make a potato salad with the following Watson-mandated ingredients:
potato, watercress, scallion, ginger, black peppercorns, vegetable oil, canola oil, oregano, thyme, buttermilk, dark brown sugar, mayonnaise
Aside from these ingredients, you can only include water and salt, and you cannot omit anything. To do so is to incite the wrath of the super computer. We’ve all seen enough sci-fi to know that never ends well for the humans. Hence, armed with only my grocery list and my wits, I set about to the task!
What I came up with is a salad that lightly roasts the potatoes, adding in the scallions and brown sugar along the way. This allows everything to caramelize, get a little husky sweetness and depth. Then the dressing, which is peppery and bright-gingery, kicks it into the opposite direction and lifts everything up. I finished it with some flowering oregano and thyme from my kitchen garden… cause who wouldn’t? They’re so pretty! I did a few test batches, and got some good feedback for tweaks. Everywhere I took it, it evaporated from the bowl within moments, so I take that as a good sign. I hope you will, too!
Recipe: Potato Salad, My Dear Watson
Makes 4 side dish servings
2 lb red/ waxy potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 scallions diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon course sea salt, plus more
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2″ piece of ginger, peeled
1 cup of watercress leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh oregano
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Place a rack in the center position of your oven, and preheat to 425 F
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss potatoes with canola oil and spread in an even layer on your lined baking sheet. Place in the center rack of your oven to bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine your diced scallions, vegetable oil, dark brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon sea salt in a medium bowl. Stir to soften and slightly dissolve the brown sugar. When the 20 minute baking time for the potatoes is finished, remove the baking sheet and pour the brown sugar / scallion mixture over the potatoes. Toss to combine and place back into the oven for an additional 15 – 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly golden, but still tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
To prepare the dressing for the potatoes, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, ginger, watercress and a pinch of salt in a bender. Blend until smooth.
To serve your potato salad, pour dressing over potatoes (no need to coat entirely), and top with fresh thyme and oregano leaves, fresh ground pepper, and another pinch of course sea salt. This salad works well at any temperature. For a more traditional potato salad, you can chill the roasted potatoes and then toss with dressing to coat.
Leftover dressing is perfect for salads or as a marinade for chicken!
I do love it when life presents you with a delicious conundrum. In this case: What do I do when my mother-in-law presents me with a heaving gallon-sized bag of perfectly ripe and luscious strawberries from her garden? Lots of answers to this question come to mind, such as:
1. Break out the melted chocolate and the Downton Abbey box set. Every time the Dowager Countess is appalled by the modern world, dip a berry (this doubles as a drinking game).
2. Create a legion of these adorable Strawberry Mice!!
3. Make this incredibly easy, remarkably delicious and surprisingly good-for-you strawberry ta
The last one is the option I went with, which might surprise anyone who knows how much I love Downton Abbey. But as it is, I happen to be pretty proud of this crust recipe and I don’t waste any opportunities to march it out in any number of configurations.
The first time I put this recipe together, frankly, I wasn’t sure if it would work. A good crust is is a lot like an awesome mom: able to handle all the sloppy, soggy, sticky things in life and do so with style…. and while staying light and crispy (that last part doesn’t really fit the mom analogy, but you get the idea). With only 2 basic ingredients and virtually no prep time it was also one of the easiest crusts I’ve seen. Oh, and it’s completely grain-free, did I mention that bit? Even Mrs. Patmore would be proud.
You might notice it’s been a little quiet around Little Fig this month. It’s not because I’ve forgotten you all, oh no! Quite the contrary, in fact. There’s been lots of recipe testing, culinary forays and inspiration. There’s more on that later, I promise. Until then, I leave you by sharing a few of my favorite things from April, including this (no stirring!!) fresh and oh-so-tasty polenta dish.
The vintage shoes at Sea of Shoes here (the ones covered in clouds are my favorites)
These pretty little plates I picked up from Montréal
The gorgeous Strawberry Fields pie from this shop in Dallas
The paper sculptures of Peter Gentenaar
… and this view from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
…see you in May!
There are lots of things I embrace as constants in my life. Like waking up with one less sock than what I went to bed with. Or the fact that nearly every morning there will be coffee. Dark, fragrant and perfectly-prepared coffee, in my favorite cup, handed to me by my favorite person. And also that I will make far more rice than is needed for whatever is for dinner.
That last one is something I’ve almost come to depend on, because it means finding fun ways to reuse the stuff. And there’s lots of fun options and a lot of them depend on the type of rice you have. If you’re like me, and you like to play with lots of stout, hardy rices like this one, or the one in this recipe (brown sushi rice), then you can do what I do… make a salad!
Now, funnily enough, I was reading a very timely similar recipe post by Molly at Orangette while I was creating mine. Same elements: leftover grain tossed with a bean-ish type protein (hers chickpeas, mine black beans) and a tasty dressing. This makes me cheer and feel confident in my recipe choice. Then Molly wonders to herself in writing it if this is the sort of thing that even warrants a full-blown recipe post… since it’s really just crashing a few pre-cooked ingredients together and calling it a day. This makes me doubt myself in and hate the day my recipe was born…
But that’s a short-lived feeling and I’m now glad I’m sharing this with you. Many of the very best recipes I make on a regular basis are simple one like this, made with a leftover something, and often that sort of “why didn’t I think of that?” moment. So here it is. A recipe about things you might have laying around after, say, a Mexican fiesta dinner.
Can I get an “Olé”?
It’s been a week of “yes” for me. Saying “yes” to strangers, colleagues, friends and family alike in the form projects, both edible and non, that are now arranged in various degrees of completion around my home. Fabrics and flours and papers are my constant companions. J just tries to keep from getting swept up in the current. Or baked, or sewn into it.
Growing up, ‘granola’ was a bad word in my book. It brought back memories of a health food store in Oak Park, IL that I would rather have forgotten. It was a typical mid-1980’s health food store, with that universal musty carob powder and B vitamins smell. My mother would drag me inside to peruse the rows of bulk dry goods, the canisters with wan-looking yogurt-covered pretzels pressed their waxy faces against the insides of their jars in a way that reminded me of abandoned puppies. And there was a frozen yogurt machine in the corner that dispensed pure disappointment in the form of a soul-crushingly tart and icy ‘alternative soft serve’.
To the eyes of an adult, there clearly was some kind of appeal here, but much like the Iran-Contra affair, this was something my six-year-old self was unable to fathom.
I feel like a lucky explorer today, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I was flipping thru a new cookbook (a gift from Sis & The Guitar Man) and found a certain recipe, had a light-bulb-moment and made way to the kitchen, a whisk and a good dose of inspiration in hand. A couple days and several recipes later, I was feeling downright smug. “This stuff is so simple, so versatile, so delicious!”, I thought, and did a quick little jig before J could see me (I try to spread out the instances he catches me dancing or singing to myself in the kitchen, it maintains the illusion his wife has some tiny sliver of poise).
Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain what this recipe is for, right? Well, it’s not the Shmoo… its tofu. No, don’t leave yet! Let me finish, I promise its not what you’re thinking. No complex ingredient lists (coagulants? NO!), no special presses…. and no soy. What’s that? You read that right. This is Shan tofu. A chickpea version from Burma that has somehow escaped my notice until now.
There was a time when I mainly jogged in the morning, thinking it was a great way to start my day. There’s crisp new air, chilly dew… you can almost hear the neighborhood cracking its joints with a sleepy stretch and every sound has a tiny echo for a lack of competition.
But then I discovered dusk. Maybe there’s something about working from home that makes it feel so good to close my computer and literally run out the door. Running away from the haze of a day where I am just a name in a directory that ends in “@yourcompany.com”. I remember I’m a person again. My music, my heartbeat and the thump of my legs that have been itching to get out of a seated position… they all bring me back to myself.
So maybe you’re wondering why someone would make their own crackers when you can obviously buy them at practically anywhere that sells things resembling food (grocery stores, gas stations, vending machines!)? Well, obviously fresh things usually taste better. Crackers are just one of those things. Like canned soup vs. homemade. Once you make your own, you start to wonder how those stale little boxes ever made it into your pantry. Plus, it’s ridiculously simple to make your own and then you also know exactly what went into them.
I’m starting the new year off with beans!
After trying about 100 different openings for this post, that is the sentence I landed on. Clearly I was never one for a fashionable entrance. The reason I’m starting out the year with the lovely legumes is simple: beans are tasty, they’re generally thought to be good for you and simple to make. If you’re starting out the year searching for easy, healthy snacks that go along with your resolution, beans are your guys. In this instance, bean spread is your guy, but you get the idea.