Archived entries for potatoes

The Manliest Dinner: Steak au Poivre and Garlic Fries

Objectively speaking, this was definitely the manliest meal I think I’ve ever cooked. Beef, potatoes, and fire. Sure, it also had a dollop of Dijon, and some cute little diced up shallots. And parsley. I will admit, the parsley lowers the manly rating a little bit. But for a guy who just wants to make some totally manly man food for a nice romantic dinner with his boyfriend, this totally takes the cake. (Also there was cake. Cake Batter ice cream. For dessert.)

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I actually started with the recipe for the fries, which I came across online and instantly fell in love with. I made a few modifications (as I tend to do) and ended up with possibly the second-best taters I’ve ever had, just behind the Mascarpone and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes that are my standard for Thanksgiving. Certainly these were the best fries, and I am thinking of trying it again with home-style-cut potatoes for a really easy side dish. I added Dijon as a last minute inspiration, and I think it helped both to adhere the bits of garlic to the fries, as well as mellow out any potential oiliness. Now, for a main to go along with, my lovely dinner guest was actually the one to suggest steak au poivre.

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I had never cooked a steak stovetop, and had also never had an opportunity to light a pan on fire, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to do both. The result was epically good: a gorgeous sear on the outside, absolutely melting tender on the inside. The peppercorns were neither too…peppery, or too crunchy, like I was a little worried about. Bashing them into submission with the bottom of my mortar did the trick — which I tried after I found out that bashing them with a pestle in the mortar was, frankly, never ever ever going to work. Let’s hear it for the miracle of plastic baggies + heavy things, shall we?

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I will say that lighting a pan on fire was exactly as fun as I suspected it would be. However: if you’re using a cast iron skillet like I was, remember that if the recipe tells you to “shake the pan vigorously until the flames subside,” it is significantly more difficult with a pan that weighs 20 pounds. The effort was worth it, though; cast iron is hands down my favorite surface to use if I’m trying to get a beautiful crust on something, and there is nothing that beats it for even heat. You may just want to stretch a little before all that vigorous exercise. Besides, I said this was the manliest dinner, didn’t I? Be tough! And remember that you too can have an ice cream sundae when the work is all over.

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Danger omelet: The Spanish tortilla

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Much like learning the tango, the first attempt at the eggy, starchy Spanish tortilla is not for the faint of heart. Deceptively simple, it requires strong arms, a steady hand, and a certain appreciation for danger. Simply put, it’s the kind of harebrained business that I simply cannot resist trying on a schoolnight.

My interest in eggs is a recent development, and I’ve spent the last year cultivating it; though Bench is the household’s undisputed King of the Scrambled, I must say I’ve become quite the glad hand at poaching, and I have been feeling of late that I am ready to step up my game. Omelets seemed like a sensible next step, moreso when I discovered that attempting the right kind of omelet presented the very real possibility of completely trashing my kitchen. That kind of a disclaimer is like waving a red flag in front of me; resistance is futile. The description that did me in is by Ximena at Lobstersquad:

“(T)ortillas require nerves of steel. Blood must be summoned, upper lip stiffened, oven mitts worn, and prayers said. Please understand that the Italian method of starting on the stove top and ending under the grill is strictly for little girls. Likewise the French sissified folding thing.”

I mean, really–how’s a girl like me supposed to resist a description like that?

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To my chagrin (and Bench’s delight), the tortilla was not quite as much of a production as I’d feared. Yes, it required flipping. And yes, it had a truly terrifying amount of oil in it. But, the prodigious quantity of olive oil involved kept everything well-lubricated and unstuck, which was a godsend when flipping the incredibly heavy cast-iron skillet over during the tortilla-turning process (plus a goodly amount of it drains off before you mix it in with the eggs).

Though success is, in fact, dependent upon truly posting one’s courage to the sticking place (hesitate for a second, and you’re screwed), at the end of the day it is a potato omelet: no more, no less. I assure you: if I can do this, you can do this. And once you have, it’s a tremendous trick to have up your sleeve–its versatility means you can pull it out for just about any meal; plus, it’s excellent cold, so you can make it ahead of time. Smother it with ketchup for a fantastic hangover breakfast, or pair it with a salad for a delicious light meal.

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I leave you with these pieces of advice:

  1. Invest in oven mitts.
  2. Be sure to have lots of paper towels on hand to drain the oil off the potatoes
  3. Be brave! You can totally do this.

Spanish tortilla (Tortilla de patates)

1-1.5 lbs medium-sized waxy red or white potatoes, peeled
1 medium-sized white or Spanish onion
6 eggs
2 tbsp milk or half and half
tons and tons and tons of olive oil (somewhere around 1/2-3/4 cup)

  1. Cut each potato into quarters, and then slice thinly (contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need a mandoline, though I’m sure it helps). Place in a towel-lined colander to drain a little.
  2. Meanwhile, quarter and thinly slice the onion as well.
  3. In a heavy, large skillet, heat all but two tablespoons of the oil at medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, drop the heat to medium-low, and cook (stirring occasionally) until just tender, about 7 minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper.
  4. Add the onions, and keep cooking until everything is soft, about 10-15 more minutes.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the potato mixture on to a baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels to drain. Reserve the oil that remains in the pan for later use.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together with a bit of salt. Add the potato mixture, mashing it about slightly to break up the potatoes a bit. Let this mixture sit for about ten minutes.
  7. Meanwhile! Take the 2 tbsp of oil you set aside earlier and put it in a heavy, 10″ skillet (I used my cast iron–I recommend you do the same). Keep at medium high heat until it just starts to smoke. Pour the egg/potato mixture into the pan and flatten it with a spatula until the top is more or less level. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan and running around the edges with a small spatula, until the top has started to set, 6-10 minutes.
  8. Take a rimless plate that is larger than the pan, place it face down on top of the pan. Using oven mitts, flip it over quickly and turn out the omelet onto the plate. Then, replace the pan on the stove and gently slide the tortilla, uncooked side down, back into the pan. Reduce the heat to VERY low and keep cooking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 3 more minutes.

giant duck salad


When Matt and I went to France last fall, we rented a tiny apartment in Montmartre for the week so we could pretend to be locals. Montmartre seems like the Carroll Gardens of Paris: the place where regular folks can actually afford to live, and though it’s not quite in the center of things, there are cheese stores and nicer apartments and perfect neighborhood restaurants to brag about. Each day we took the subway to the more central parts of the city to see museums and markets, and while we enjoyed some fancy meals there, our favorite dinner was in a casual place a few blocks from the apartment.

It was at Le Relais Gascon that I had my first French Cassoulet. It was eye-rollingly delicious with creamy beans and meltingly rich meats. But sharing the spotlight was the salad of my dreams. These are serious salads—the menu warns that they are “Salades Géantes”. I think we laughed out loud when it arrived in its hulking bowl. Each salad is topped with a mountain of freshly fried, fragrantly garlicy potato slices. Inside, lardons and warm goat cheese, crisp greens and perfect vinagrette. You could order it with tomatoes and green beans, foie gras or sausage, ham, smoked salmon, duck, etc, etc. I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.


A trip to Essex market provided the excuse. I picked up three beautiful bits of cheese at Formaggio, and while we could make a whole meal out of that unbelievable cheese, a salad would serve as a good foil. I chose a loaf of bread and some bitter frisée, some cheap red peppers and endive. I added some potatoes for the essential salad topping. To gild the lily, my new best friend Jeffrey the Butcher sold me the duck.

I probably should have sprung for the breast. The magret duck breasts were huge, more expensive than Shiv’s entire Long Island duckling. I chickened out (ducked out?), saving my money for our fancy cheese plate, and just chose a leg. I think I’ve learned tonight that duck legs are good for braising, and for making confit, but really nothing special roasted. Nothing special, except for one thing—the fat. One duck leg provided the perfect amount of amazing, fragrant, musky fat to crisp up our potato slice topping. Divine. But when I try this again, it won’t be with the leg.


Not much meat is needed for this recipe, especially if you’re serving it with a cheese plate. But go with your own appetite. And feel free to riff on the vegetables—kirby cucumbers are a good addition, or tomatoes if they’re in season. Corn cut off the cob would be great. I experimented with a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, a touch of soft goat cheese, and a few blackberries, but your favorite simple vinagrette may work better.

Giant Duck Salad
Inspired by Le Relais Gascon

1 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 dried chipotle
1 duck leg (or try a breast, cooking time will vary)
2-3 medium waxy potatoes
1 head frisee and 2 heads endive (or substitute greens of your liking)
vegetables for salad: red peppers, cucumber, etc, sliced
vinaigrette (your favorite recipe)

1-2 hours before cooking, break chipotle in to three pieces or so in a small bowl. Pour a half cup of warm (not boiling) water over, let sit five minutes. Rub duck leg with Five Spice and garlic. Place in a sealable plastic bag, add orange juice, soy sauce, balsamic, and honey. Add chipotle with its soaking liquid, seal bag and shake a bit to mix ingredients and distribute the marinade. Marinate an hour or two, turning to coat the duck leg if you remember. Preheat oven to 350. Remove leg from marinade, let excess drip off. Heat an ovenproof skillet (I used cast iron) to low-medium heat, and place leg, skin side down, in it. No grease is needed since the duck will give off fat. Let brown for 10 minutes, then turn and cook five minutes more. Meanwhile, slice potatoes about 1/8″ thick, leaving skin on. Add potatoes to pan when browning is complete, turn duck leg skin side down, move skillet to oven. Cook 40 minutes, flip potatoes and turn duck, then cook another 40 minutes or until duck is cooked. Meanwhile place salad and salad vegetables in a bowl, and make the vinagrette. When duck is cooked, let rest a minute. Remove skin and cut meat from the bone into small pieces. Add to salad and toss with vinagrette. Place crispy potatoes on top and serve.


In other P&C news
Thanks to the magic of Craigslist, I have acquired a digital SLR of my very own! Perfect to celebrate the hundredth post of Pithy and Cleaver (and the recent birth of my baby neice!) Please bear with me as I learn how to use it.

Going back to my roots (and tubers): Texas-style sweet potato casserole.

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1:42, Thanksgiving day: The (homemade) marshmallows have been applied to the casserole, because I am dumb and kind of forgot that I need to reheat the whole pan before applying the extremely flammable ‘mallows. Clearly, I need more wine.

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2:28 The casserole is about to go in the oven; we’ll bake it for 45 minutes or so, then refrigerate till tomorrow, at which point we’ll reheat them for serving. If you’ve got roots in the South, you know what else we’ll be doing–topping them with a few of these. Divoon!

2:22 I have seriously got to get me one of these 10″ Global chef’s knives. Mmmm.

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1:54: MASH MASH MASH MASH AAAHAHAHAHAHA! *ahem.* Also, is there a discernible difference between orange and yellow sweet potatoes (besides the obvious, of course)?

1:32: One of the tricks to this dish is to boil the potatoes with their skins on; when they’re done boiling, you can just peel them with your fingers. I should also mention that you should let them cool first. As I probably should have done before I stuck my hands into a steaming colander of cooked potatoes. Ow.

1:25: That last one just refuses to finish cooking. But I am patient. It is only a matter of time before I bend it to my will.

1:18: Oh, ARSE. There are still two potatoes on the stove, aren’t there? I should go check on those.

12:22: Cauldrons located. Not one, but two! It is indeed a beautiful world. The sweet potatoes (unpeeled) are now a-boilin’. Also, my face almost got burnt off, but that’s cool.

12:17
: “Biscuit, do you have a cauldron?”
“Excuse me?”
“Do you have a pot that could double as a cauldron. I have to boil something.”
“…I might?”

True story: I have a lot of family in the People’s Republic of Texas, where the wide open spaces are wider and opener, the tacos are unparallelled, and even the vegetables come to the table with sugar and spice. This is a recipe that I didn’t properly experience until I was nudging the tip of adolescence–the kind of dish that causes my Yankee mother to clutch her heart and make exclamations like “That’s not a vegetable! That’s dessert!” She may be right, but since when has that stopped me?

Introducing: Sweet potato casserole, Silk-style!

Sweet potato casserole

6-8 Large sweet potatoes
3/4 stick of butter, melted
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
Ground cinnamon (to taste)
Ground nutmeg (to taste)
Dash of salt
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c evaporated milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c chopped pecans

Marshmallows to finish

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Wash sweet potatoes (don’t peel!) and place them in a large pot with enough water to cover (adding water as needed) until just done. Drain and let cool until they can be handled (heed that part of the step!), then gently peel off the skin.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the potatoes. Then, add butter, spices, and salt. As I’ve said before, I use gargantuan quantities of spice–use however much you’re comfortable with.
  4. Add vanilla and milk.
  5. Add eggs. Stir until the concoction is the consistency of thick, creamy mashed potatoes.
  6. Fold in pecans.
  7. Bake in a rectangular casserole dish for 45-60 mins (until it’s just starting to brown.
  8. To serve, place in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes or so. Once they’re warm, remove from the oven and place marshmallows all over the top. Broil the marshmallowed dish for just as long as it takes the ‘mallows to get brown. Be vigilant! Do not overcook! Marshmallows like to set off the fire alarm, so be careful they don’t burn.

And there you have it! A little taste of the South for your Thanksgiving table.



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