August 29, 2006

Herby Smashed Potatoes

My mother-in-law will be proud to hear that she inspired this simple recipe. There was a time when a common side dish with dinner at my in-laws house was potato chunks boiled and then tossed in a bowl with butter, salt, and pepper (aka, boiled potatoes). And I liked 'em. Heck, that’s pretty much all I need to make me happy: properly cooked potatoes and lots of butter.

My wife, however, having grown up eaten these very potatoes on what, as she explains, was a fairly regular basis, is not so enamored with this home-cookin’ treat. When I would suggest it as an easy side for a meal that sort of needed a side dish if it was going to actually qualify as a meal, she would always say: “No, I’m sick of that.”

So, the other day, I put together a rub for some center-cut pork chops and cut up some garden veggies and other stuff (capers, olives, etc) for a salsa to put on top of them [future recipe, I promise]. Even though they were big chops, we needed something else.

On the shelf, sidled up to some PA Simply Sweet™ onions, I spied a small container of “new” potatoes from our CSA. I knew if I didn't use them at that very moment, they would be doomed to the garbage can. I could not let that happen (part of my Potatatic Oath: "I promise to respect the spud, not to cover it with fake bacon bits or processed cheese, but to treat it gently, with the same courtesy as a main dish..."). So this is what I did…

  • 5 to 8 medium-sized new potatoes, quartered (skin on, Nancy)
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped sage
  • 2 tablespoon of snipped chives
  • ½ stick of butter (plus a little more for later)
  • ¼ cup of cream, half-half, or whole milk (plus a little more for later)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes in a pot of water until they are fork-tender. Strain and put in a big bowl, add the herbs, 1/2 stick of butter, 1/4 cup of cream, salt and pepper.

Take a fork (a big salad fork works well) and mash the ingredients of the bowl together. These aren’t “mashed” potatoes, however, so just mash and mix until everything is incorporated, but still a little chunky. Then taste and adjust ingredients as you see fit.

We don’t have potatoes that often, so we really enjoyed these and they worked well with the pork chops. I have a feeling these will make it back onto the dinner plates in our house fairly soon.

August 25, 2006

Asian Porkalicious!

I’ve only made this once, but it was so good – and so easy – that I wanted to get it up quickly.

This is actually the cover recipe for the September 2006 issue of Food & Wine magazine. The name of the recipe in F&W was “spicy ginger pork in lettuce leaves.” The only problem: it really isn’t “spicy,” at least not in the traditional American sense. Despite its misleading title, it’s still an extremely flavorful dish that makes you want to eat it as fast as you can.

The original recipe called for ¾ pounds of pork. But most of the time when you buy ground pork, it’s going to come in 1 pound increments, or something close to that, so I adjusted the recipe a bit to compensate for the extra pork. I was fortunate enough to have some organic pork from Wil-Den Family Farms in Jackson Center, Pa. It’s some good stuff.

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 big red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of minced ginger
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Thai sweet chile sauce (most large grocery stores carry this)
  • 1 1/4 tablespoon of Asian fish sauce (most large grocery stores carry this)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil
  • 8-ounce can of water chestnuts, drained and sliced thin
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (I find the bulbs of green onions can some times be surprisingly pungent and can overwhelm a dish. So, to be safe, I typically use a good bit of the green leaves and just some of the white bulb)
  • 2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon of oyster sauce
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • A whole bunch of (cleaned) sturdy lettuce leaves, such as Boston or Bibb

Mix the ground pork with the red pepper, garlic, ginger, chile sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of the grapeseed oil.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining grapeseed oil over high heat. Add the pork and cook, breaking it up, until it is no longer pink and starting to brown, which should take about 10 minutes.

Mix in the water chestnuts, scallions, oyster sauce and cilantro and remove from the burner. Put a big spoonful or two on a lettuce leaf and have at it.

Now, this recipe is meant to be a starter or an appetizer. But, heck, why not just make some brown or white rice, throw in some chopped cilantro or green onion -- or any other left over herb/spice used in this dish -- and call it a meal?!

Finally, I don’t see why this couldn’t be a “spicy” dish. Next time I make it, I’m going to add a dash or two of cayenne, or maybe throw in some diced jalapeno. Nothin’ like a little sweat under the eyes to make you really 'feel' your food.

August 16, 2006

Goin' to the beach

We're going on vacation for a week or so, so won't have a new post until the end of next week. But it will be a goody, so be sure to come back for some... Asian Porkalicious!

August 13, 2006

In Honor of Pesto

I can’t remember the first time I had pesto. I’m certain I never had it during my childhood. With few exceptions, pasta in my house came dressed in red gravy, usually with a meatball or two.

Now that I’m a firmly entrenched, 30-something adult, pesto is an important part of my life. I’m fairly certain that I could eat some pasta with pesto—or put it on some sort of sandwich, or maybe on some eggs and toast even—at least once a week. Pesto is something I always look forward to, even when it’s leftover. Heck, especially when it’s leftover.

The beauty of pesto is twofold. First, it’s easy to make and requires only a handful of ingredients. But the quality of the ingredients is critical to creating a pesto worthy of adulation. Freshly grated parmesan really is a must. Don’t insult this dish by using any of that pre-grated stuff from the store that is closer to lint balls than cheese. A fairly good quality extra-virgin olive oil also is critical. Along with the basil, olive oil is pesto’s foundation. Using a cheap olive oil in your pesto is like using mud to hold together the bricks on a house. You may complete the task, but the end product is sure to let you down.

Second, pesto is always satisfying. When I eat a good pesto, I can taste every ingredient in it, but no one ingredient – even the basil, I suppose – dominates. The pine nuts, assuming enough have been added, comes through, the cheese, the garlic. It’s all there, and it all works together to slather your tongue and stimulate every taste bud on it (even, I swear, the sweet ones!). Some pasta coated with pesto is my idea of simple perfection.

And although I can’t necessarily fault anybody for only making classic pesto, I highly recommend doing some branching out here and there. Following the wise words of Molto Mario, we’ve made a fantastic pesto that substitutes hazelnuts for pinenuts and throws in a little crushed red pepper and… wait for it… goat cheese. Man is it good (see below).

We also recently made a mint pesto that has both basil and mint but that also included some ricotta cheese. In that case, however, the ricotta was mixed in with the rest of the ingredients in the food processor. The mint to basil ratio was about 1:2, and that seemed about right, because the mint was there, but it didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients.

And I just read on another food blog I recently started visiting (and that is apparently quite popular - even though its author is only, gasp, 27!) about a makeshift strawberry basil pesto. I recently had a strawberry basil mojito at Six Penn Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh, and it was tasty (but not as good as a well-made classic mojito). This strawberry concotion sounds interesting. I may have to give it a shot, but not until next year when we can get "luscious berries" from Harvest Valley Farms.

A traditional northern Italian preparation with a classic pesto is to mix into the pasta some blanched green beans and thinly sliced, cooked potatoes. Yes, that’s a lot of starch. But it’s pretty darn delicious. Just don’t put in too many potatoes.

With the colder months not too far off and the basil we have growing in various spots around our house likely to start going south, I just made two batches of classic pesto and two mint to put in the freezer.

I’m already looking forward to the day in mid-January when I mix some linguini with pesto for dinner and then head outside to clear a few inches of snow from my driveway. If you’ve got to shovel snow, might as well start the job with a smile on your face, eh?

Classic Pesto

This should make enough for you to use half one day and freeze the other half for use another time, but play with it and see what you think. You may, in the end, need a little more basil, and, in turn, a little more of everything else.

  • 5 cups of basil
  • 6 tbs of pine nuts (some recipes suggest substituting walnuts; I don't)
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Few generous pinches of kosher salt and some pepper
  • Half- to 2/3-cup of grated parmesan
  • 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ lb of pasta (linguini, penne work particularly well)

Throw everything but the olive oil into a food processor and pulse to it’s somewhat pasty. Then begin to drizzle in the oil through the top (with the food processor going, that is).

Important note: You don't have to add all of the oil. Add half, check the consistency, and then taste the pesto. At this point, you probably want to add some more oil to make sure it’s sufficiently oily to coat the pasta, a little more cheese, even some more pine nuts. Tasting it after the first go round is very important.

Variation on the theme. Substitute a few tablespoons of hazelnuts for the pine nuts, and add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Then, when you’re pasta is just about cooked, put some pesto over medium heat in a large saucepan and throw in 4 oz of goat cheese, stir until it’s just incorporated, add the strained pasta directly to the pan and stir ‘til it’s coated.

August 8, 2006

Lemon Box Pie (aka, Lemon Ice Box Pie)

This is Lusty Bit’s first recipe from a guest contributor, my friend and colleague, Barbara Cire. Please hold your applause until the end of the recipe or once you have successfully made it. I plan on making it this weekend.

The name of this pie comes from the fact that you must refrigerate it before serving. At least through the 1960s, refrigerators were referred to as “ice boxes” by my family, who come from Mississippi. This, of course, goes back to earlier days when refrigerators actually had blocks of ice in them to keep everything cool.

When my niece, Elizabeth, was younger, she left out some of the words (not knowing what an ice box was) and referred to this as a Lemon Box Pie. So, that’s what we call it now. She also called the serrated bread knife an Ocean Knife because of the waves on the blade.

  • 1 box of vanilla wafers
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • one-third to one-half cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbs sugar

Vanilla Wafer pie crust

Cover the bottom of an 8” pie plate with vanilla wafers and prop them up along the sides of the pie plate. Then, finely crush a handful or so of vanilla wafers and use them to cover the spaces between the cookies on the bottom of the pie plate. (You can also use a commercial graham cracker crust if you absolutely don’t have time to make this crust, but it’s not nearly as good as a vanilla wafer crust.)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the egg yolks with the condensed milk. Then, add about half of the lemon juice and slowly blend it with a whisk. Then, add the rest of the lemon juice, again mixing it slowly. Pour the mixture into the pie crust.

Beat the 2 egg whites into a meringue, adding 2 spoons of sugar when the meringue is almost stiff. Spread the meringue evenly over the top of the pie, sealing it to the vanilla wafers around the edges. Brown meringue in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until meringue is a light golden brown.

Remove pie from oven and cool thoroughly. Then put it in the refrigerator and chill it thoroughly, preferably overnight. (But, if you make the pie first thing in the morning, it should be OK for dinner that night.)


1. This pie does not travel well because the meringue always sticks to the tin foil and looks bad when you unveil it at your potluck

2. Double the recipe for a larger pie plate.

3. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice is best, but the Minute Maid frozen lemon juice works well. (Make sure it’s thawed before mixing it with the condensed milk.) Under no circumstances should you use ReaLemon or MiLem or any kind of reconstituted lemon juice product. That would be a sin and the recipe might not work.

August 4, 2006

An Oily But a Goodie

Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil

My mother used to make a version of this quite often for me back in the day. And I made a really bad version of it when, after college, I pretty much lived by myself for a year, made very little money, and realized I couldn’t eat out for every meal. I typically cooked the garlic until it resembled little bits of crushed rock. My advice: don’t do that.

Over the last year I’ve rediscovered this easy pasta dish and seem to always have a hankering for it. If you search this on the Web, you’ll see many variations. Some have other herbs, some used dried chilies. I’m embarrassed to admit that I first added anchovies based on a Rachel Ray recipe. So thanks, Rachel. Even though you’re really annoying, you do come in handy now and then.

  • 1/3 cup or so of olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • 1 tbs of chopped, fresh oregano
  • 3-6 anchovy fillets (from a tin of anchovies packed in olive oil)
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ¾ lb of spaghetti

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti.

When the spaghetti seems about halfway to al dente, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat for a minute or two. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook the garlic for just a minute or two and then add the anchovies (if, like me, you’re not an anchovy fan, keep it at 3; if you like ‘em, add as many as you like) and stir for a few minutes until the anchovies are pretty much disintegrated. DON”T FORGET ABOUT THE SPAGHETTI.

Pull the oil and garlic from the heat. Add the strained spaghetti to the pan, add the oregano, salt and pepper, and a little parmesan. Toss and serve.

Mix things up a bit: Add some chopped tomatoes, especially at this time of year when you can get excellent tomatoes from the farm market or your own garden. Or, skip the parmesan and add some lemon zest instead. Not too much, but a nice sprinkling over top is really good. Haven’t tried it, but I would bet some grilled shrimp on top would be pretty good.