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Who’s Got Thyme – Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I know its practically un-American, and it would certainly make many of my Irish ancestors gasp in shock and horror to hear me say this, but I have never been much of a fan of potatoes. Yes, I know, Quelle Horreur! Now, it must be said, I have nothing against tubers – yams, rutabaga, turnips, and sweet potatoes all suit my taste just fine. But until recently I had thought of the Potato, King of the Tuber Band, as little more than a starchy calorie bomb, and, dare I say, a bit bland. Potatoes just didn’t do it for me, and with their reputation as an nutritionally devoid “guilty pleasure” I was not enticed to dig for evidence of more redeeming qualities.

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And then, light a lightening bolt, I had some potatoes which shook my world. We were in New Hampshire at an Organic Hostel and Camping ground called D Acres. It was early in the morning, Dustin and I were excited to dig into the farm table breakfast that the hostel prepared. It was the perfect filling and nutritious meal, and would power us through the many  hikes and climbs we would take on that afternoon. On this morning the hostel staff had roasted some small multicolored new potatoes they had just plucked out of the dirt behind the hostel. The potatoes were simply roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper, I took a few, expecting no major revelation in flavor, only to be thoroughly wowed.

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The potatoes that I had at D Acres that morning had this amazing mineral-y flavor that I had never tasted in a potato before. The flavor was reminiscent of a parsnip, slightly nutty and a a bit herbaceous. The farm hands attributed this amazing flavor to good organic soil and regular crop rotation, when you think about it, potatoes spend their entire growing cycle buried deep in the earth. It makes sense, therefore, that they would draw a great deal of their flavor from the soil that surrounds them.

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As I found out while doing research for this post, potatoes are not as nutritionally devoid as I initially thought. A medium-size potato with the skin provides an excellent source of Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B6, as well as trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. As one of the most highly sprayed crops, potatoes are one crop that I advise buying “organic” whenever possible. Look for firm potatoes with few eyes and no green splotches as these are the most evenly “ripe” and flavorful.

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Olive Oil and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

1 Head of Garlic, Roasted
3 Pounds Organic Red Skin Potatoes, Peeled and Cut into Large Chunks
4 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 C Heavy Cream
2 -3 Large Springs Thyme
Freshly Cracked Pepper

Put a large pot of water on over high heat, bring to a boil and season with salt. Add potatoes and cook at a low boil until just tender.  Drain well in a colander.

Place olive oil, heavy cream, thyme, mashed roasted garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt and pepper in the bottom of the empty pot. Place over lowest heat setting and allow the garlic and thyme to infuse the olive oil and cream.

Rice the potatoes into the pot and add any remaining potato skins that would not pass through the ricer. Stir with a wooden spatula as gently as possible. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy!

For the Love of Chowder – Smoked Salmon Chowder with Potatoes and Fennel

October 25, 2011 3 comments

Its funny the way that life sometimes starts to drop hints at a specific person, place, or thing. Frequently, for me, these hints point me towards a specific recipe, restaurant, or market. Lately, all signs have been pointing towards fish chowder. Let me explain, I’m currently fully engrossed in a new book I picked up at the library this past week. So much so in fact, that I completely neglected to post several recipes I whipped up in the last seven days, but fear not, we will get all those good dishes in due time. Back to the book, the novel, by E. Annie Proulx, is called “The Shipping News.” Her writing, the pace of the plot, diction, syncopation of words, all build to create an amazing, enrapturing story. The story follows the journey of a young single father, Quoyle, as he travels with his long lost Aunt back to her homeland in Newfoundland.

The images of the desolate fishing towns that run up and down the coast of Newfoundland are described in such vivid detail you can really picture the protagonist and his children as they go about their daily lives and travel across the icy and rocky terrain. While the terrain is bleak, the characters featured are rich and warm. Quoyle’s aunt is a bright and modern woman with traditional roots, who makes a deep impact on the novels plot and assists in bringing up Quoyle’s two small girls. Quoyle, a big man with an insatiable appetite, is frequently found in one of the local eateries tucking into some northern, fist studded dish. From lobster pie, to squid burgers, to fish and chips, seafood makes its way into every menu in every restaurant along the coast, and you can sure bet that fish chowder is a frequently featured entree.

As it so happens, I already have my own memories of the Eastern Canadian Coastline, and, consequently of chowder as well. When I was 12 I had the luxury of being able to attend an amazing summer camp in Nova Scotia. The camp was based on an island situated in the bay of Fundy that runs between the mainland shores to the west and Canadian peninsula to the east.  Our daily activities revolved around whale watching. We departed shore each morning on a gleaming 40 foot schooner to assist marine biologists in tracking pods of whales as they moved through the bay’s chilly summer waters.

The trip was amazing, a truly once in a life time opportunity, and I enjoyed every minute I had to sit along the railings that circled the boat from bow to stern and watch the waves and the whales as they rolled by. Our vessel’s captain reminded me of Santa Clause, old and jovial, a slightly rounded belly and a sense for goodness. But instead of present’s the old captain promised a steaming bowl of the best ever summer corn chowder I have ever tasted. And to this day I have fond memories of that soup, the creamy flavors and textures of homey and hearty cool weather chowders always seems to calm my nerves and warm me up from the inside out.

This last weekend, overwhelmed by a sudden urge to cook up a crock of my own chowder I searched the pages of my (too many) cookbooks for the perfect recipe. And low and behold I found just the one. This smokey, light, and potato studded soup is just what the doctor ordered, and perfect for the early fall. The recipe comes from a cookbook (a side note to all of you cookbook junkies out there – this book is a real snag it provides great advice on cooking seafood in a way which is simultaneously delicious and eco friendly) by Barton Seaver titled “For Cod and Country.”

The original recipe called for smoked mussels, but I adapted it to use some of the smoked salmon I get from Costco that is super spectacular. The fish is a world apart from the typical thinly sliced and slightly oily smoked salmon found at most grocery stores, it comes in fillet style slabs, skin still on, and is light and flaky – it just falls apart in a fantastic way in this chowder (kind of reminds me of the texture of crab in a crab bisque.) The broth itself provides is a lighter, gentler base to this soup and really lets the flavors of the fennel and celery shine through. But perhaps the best part of the entire dish is the way the potatoes, softened and slightly crushed, thicken the otherwise light and brothy chowder. Ad the end result is oh so good, I highly recommend giving it a go! And if you do, give me a holler, and share you thoughts. Bon Appetit.

Smoked Salmon Chowder with Potatoes and Fennel

2 TBSP Butter
4 Large Russet Potatoes, Skin On, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Large Onion Diced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs Thyme, Picked and Minced
1 Head of Fennel Cut into Small Dice (Roughly the Size of Your Chopped Onion, Perhaps a Hair Larger)
4 Stalks Celery Cut into Small Dice, Same Size as Fennel
1 TSP Fennel Seed, Ground
4 Cups Water
4 Ounces Smoked Salmon, Flaked into Bite Sized Pieces (Use Fillet Style Smoked Salmon if Available)
2 Cups Half and Half

Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, drain and set aside until needed.

While the potatoes cook, heat a large soup pot over medium high heat, add butter and allow to melt. Add onions, garlic and thyme and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until onions begin to soften, add fennel, celery, ground fennel, and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sweat, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.

Add water, potatoes, and smoked salmon and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, gently mash some of the potatoes against the bottom and sides of the pot, this will help thicken the soup. Remove the pan from the heat and add half and half. Allow to sit for 20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve warm with slices of buttered crusty bread and enjoy the memories.

Categories: Celery, Dairy, Fennel, Herbs, Potatoes

A Spoonful of Comfort – Mangalore Chicken Curry

When the going gets rough, the tough eat curry, or at least I do. It might seem a bit odd to some that curry is my comfort food but I grew up in a quasi Indian family. By this I mean an Americanized, but notably not American Indian, household that was neither strict nor religious but which held dear a love of all things garlicy, oniony, salty, and spicy. All holiday celebrations featured a big batch of my dad’s single curry recipe, which he concocted shortly after moving to the US back in the 60s. The dish falls somewhere between Thai and Indian and reflects what was a vast unavaiability of Indian ingredients and spices that are now almost ubiquitous in the many Indian markets that can be found all over the US.

While generally a man of very, very, few words, occasionally I can get my dad going on stories about his early years here. He initially moved here to attend graduate school at Cornell, he will typically note that in comparison to the university education he received at India’s notoriously tough IIT, Cornell’s Graduate Engineering Program was a bit of a breeze. Which was convenient as he quickly decided that it was far too cold to venture out of his room to attend lectures. In addition to missing the significantly more temperate environment of India’s Maharashtra region, my father longed for the pungent and familiar flavors of Indian cuisine.

Its is funny, though not surprising, that as more and more first generation Indians have emigrated to the US, the availability of authentic Indian cuisine has skyrocketed. Even in the middle of the country, in Nashville TN, there are several decent Indian restaurants that feature slightly Americanized versions of Indian dishes. And at least 20 Indian stores are scattered around the city.

When I returned from a long week of business meetings, hotels, and bland food I could not wait to cook up a big batch of chicken curry. Rather than cooking the heavy creamy curry that my father so often made, when making curries at home I typically look to the lighter, and spicier notes of South Indian cooking for inspiration. This curry is derived from a recipe I found for a Mangalore Style Chicken Curry. Mangalore is situated on India’s South West coast, just south of Goa. True to South Indian cuisine the curries of the region include the nutty notes of coconut, herbaceous flavors of curry leaves, and creamy taste of coconut milk, all of which can be found in this chicken curry.

While I made this curry with boneless skinless Chicken thighs, you can use any chicken you like. I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken as it makes it much easier to eat, and the lack of skin keeps the dish from becoming too oily. The chicken thighs stand up well to long cooking without drying and impart a nice rich and meaty flavor to the dish. I tend to go a bit heavy on ginger as I like the hot spicy flavor it gives the curry, feel free to reduce the amount of ginger if you are not a big fan. I use one long hot Indian chile, generally a Kashmiri Lal Mirchi Chile, seeds in, cut in half lengthwise. If you don’t like heat leave it out, or seed it, your choice.

You will see below that I attempted to cook this in a large cast iron skillet. This made for great photos, HOWEVER, I ended up having too much curry in the skillet and had to transfer it to a large pot so that it could simmer without boiling over. I highly recommend using a large cooking vessel for this project.

Mangalore Chicken Curry

For the Curry Paste:
1 Cup Grated Coconut (NOT Sweetened)
2 Cups Chopped Onion
2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes
25 Peppercorns
8 Cloves Garlic
2 1/2 Inch Segment of Ginger
1 TSP Turmeric
3 TBSP Coriander Powder
1 Cup Coconut Milk

For the Main Dish:
6 Cups Chicken Cubes (I Used Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs)
1 Medium Onion Thinly Sliced
6 Fist Sized Red Bliss Potatoes Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Hot Indian Chili Sliced Down the Center, Lengthwise
2 TBSP Good Quality Curry Powder
About 30 Curry Leaves
4 TBSP Tomato Puree
1 Cup Coconut Milk
About 1 1/2 Cups Water
1-2 TSP Salt

In a large pan, dry toast the coconut until golden. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Heat approximately 2 TBSP oil in a large pot, when the oil is hot fry the onions over med heat for about 3 mins. Add the garlic, ginger, toasted coconut and spices and fry another 5 mins. Add coconut milk and stir to deglaze the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a food processor and mix until it forms a smooth paste.

Rinse the pot and dry it. Place it back on the stove and heat 3 TBSP oil until hot. Add chicken and fry over med high heat until seared on the outside. Add onions, chili, potatoes and curry powder and fry until onions are slightly colored. Add curry leaves and tomato paste and fry for an additional minute before adding coconut milk, all of the curry paste, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 30 mins.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 15 mins. Taste for seasoning again. Serve with rice or nan and enjoy!

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