January 13th, 2014

Pan-seared Potato Gnocchi with parsnips

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In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.

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This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!

Before it vanished.

Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.

The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.

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There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.

Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.

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The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.

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While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.

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Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.

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There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.

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Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.

Elusive no more.

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PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish

Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.

Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.

In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.

Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.

Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 17 Comments »




November 14th, 2012

Holiday Sides: tweaking tradition

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Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans

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Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin

There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.

Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.

Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.

Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.

But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.

However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.

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When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.

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The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.

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The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.

The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.

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YUKON GOLD-SWEET POTATO-GRATIN

4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno

13 inch x9 inch deep baking dish

Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.

In a saucepan on medium heat, saute the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.

Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8 inch) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.

Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.

Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.

Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.

Serves 10-12

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The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.

Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.

We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.

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ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH SORGHUM APPLES AND PECANS (vegan)

2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.

Wash, core and dice apples into ½ inch chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.

Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.

Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




May 9th, 2012

Dillweed Forest

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Because one lone plant was most prolific last summer, with
Multiple blossomed whorls gone to vigorous seed,
Because the winter was mild and the sprouts hardy
A great patch of dillweed, tall and feathery, took hold in my front yard.

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This unexpected abundance has me both delighted and stumped. And while its beauty alone makes the little dillweed forest a welcome presence in our postage stamp garden, I’ve been seeking new ways to use this herb.

In pickling, certainly. Snipped into salads, baked onto a side of salmon, folded into a quickbread batter with cheddar cheese.

I welcome your suggestions.

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One way I’ve been enjoying dillweed is in this sauce that uses lush Greek yogurt.

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Simple–and versatile.

A quick whisk of herbs, coarse grain mustard, vinegar, and olive oil into a bowl of this plain creamy base readily transforms into a sauce, or dip, or dressing. You might relish a dollop of this on a falafel-pita sandwich, or as a cooling dip for a spicy grilled lamb kebab. It stands up nicely alongside a tray of crudites. Or potato chips!

Long ago, I would make something similar, using sour cream. Now, I prefer tangy and thick-bodied Greek yogurt in its stead. So accessible at the market, ( all the yogurt companies have added Greek to their repertoire) it makes a terrific substitute–healthier too.

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Today, I used it to dress potato salad–a springtime variation that combines new potatoes and asparagus. So seasonal, both vegetables take well to dillweed, and both work together in this somewhat different dish.

You actually plunge the asparagus tips right in with the potatoes, in the final minute of cooking.

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Drain and cool—just slightly. When still warm, the new potatoes tend to absorb the dressing better. That bit of heat blooms the herbs in the sauce. You can serve the salad immediately, if you like. Or serve it chilled.

It tastes fantastic, either way.

If you have any other of-the-moment garden veggies on hand, slice ’em up and put ’em in. The crisp bite of French radishes, for instance, would be exceptional in this dish. Cucumbers? Yes. Scallions, too.

And, remember–I’m on the lookout for more ways to use my dillweed forest. Please share!

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NEW POTATO-ASPARAGUS SALAD with GREEK YOGURT DILL SAUCE

1 1/2 lbs. small New Potatoes, cleaned and quartered
1 bundle fresh Asparagus, cut on the diagonal into small pieces

1 1/2 cups Greek Yogurt
1 T. Coarse Grain Mustard
1 T. White Wine Vinegar
1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 heaping T. fresh Dillweed, chopped
1 T. fresh Chives, chopped
1 1/2 t. Sea Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add new potatoes. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.
Add asparagus pieces and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and drain.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients.

Place slightly cooled potatoes and asparagus into a serving bowl. Spoon yogurt-dill sauce over the vegetables.
Toss and fold until well coated.

Garnish with dillweed.

May serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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Posted in Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 33 Comments »




November 1st, 2011

The Sides Have It

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The first of November! The lure of the Feast!

A couple of years ago, Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, food writers at the New York Times, staged a battle: Turkey vs. Sides. Which brought more happiness to the Thanksgiving table, the noble bird or its myriad accompaniments?

Now I ‘m not one to take sides; I want ’em all. One is incomplete without the others. But, if pressed to choose, I must say that I’d rather have a table full of exciting side dishes than a roast turkey. And, for the vegetarian in our household, there’s no contest. The sides have it.

With the onset of each holiday season, I know that there will be constants–certain beloved dishes that appear during this time, and vanish until the next. (Like Cornbread Dressing. Cranberry-Walnut Relish. Pumpkin Pie. )

But I like change. With side dishes, those supporting players to the Big Feast, there’s the opportunity to introduce variety. It’s good to bring something new to the table, while still upholding treasured traditions.

Today I’m sharing two terrific side dishes that I made recently for our potluck. I want to put them out there early, for your consideration. Both use lesser known, seasonal ingredients. Either would bring happiness to the holiday table.

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First up: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pear, Shallots, Sage, and Hazelnuts. I have Gigi to thank for this one. Adding Red Pear to the mix is pure inspiration, a wonderful flavor balance, and color-wise, a true holiday beauty.

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I’ve roasted and sauteed everything in olive oil. You could make this with butter–which would become brown butter—and I wouldn’t blame you for that. Brown butter!

But, the shallots, toasty hazelnuts, sage, and fragrant pear bites bring a rich harmony of flavors to the brussels, in a more healthful way.

I know what you’re thinking. For a long time, I wasn’t crazy about brussels sprouts either. This dish could change your mind. Even those who usually turn their noses up at the very thought of “little cabbages” relished the savory-sweet combination.

Next up: Roasted Baby Yukon Potatoes, Harukei Turnips, and Thyme

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about these remarkable turnips that Tally grows each year. Petite, white, and earthy-sweet, they defy all my former notions and experiences with the lowly turnip. ( I have bitter, bitter associations with ill-prepared gratins from my youth.)

Harukeis are naturally mild and sweet. Roasting only coaxes that out all the more. And they pair beautifully with potatoes.

When simply roasted in a little olive oil with buttery yukon golds and fresh thyme, the turnips burst with juicy sweetness.

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I first made this dish for the Fretboard Journal Local Farm Feast last month. Another time, I added roasted cauliflower and onions to the batch. This made a very tasty melange, and visually worked as an “all white” vegetable dish.

In the process, I realized that I liked the roasted harukei turnips better than the potatoes. Kind of shocking, I know. I wished I had included more of them in the dish, and fewer spuds. That’s how delicious they are.

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH RED PEAR, SHALLOTS, HAZELNUTS, AND SAGE

1 lb. fresh Brussels Sprouts, washed, dried, ends trimmed
1 large Red Pear, firm but ripe–cored (not peeled) and diced medium
2 medium, (or 1 large) Shallots, diced small
1/2 cup chopped Hazelnuts
1 bundle fresh Sage leaves
Olive oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Place brussels sprouts on a baking pan and lightly coat with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper and place in a preheated 325 degree. Allow to slow roast for about 25 minutes. Outer leaves will get crispy-brown, and the interior will be firm but tender.

In a deep saucepan set on medium heat, saute shallots in olive oil ( 2-3 T) until translucent—about 2 minutes. Stir in hazelnuts and sage leaves and saute a couple of minutes longer. Add diced pear, and gently stir. The pear will break down slightly, and get coated with the shallot-hazelnut mixture.

When the sprouts are roasted, remove from the oven and add to the saucepan. Stir in, combining all the elements well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serves 6-8

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ROASTED BABY YUKON POTATOES, HARUKEI TURNIPS, AND THYME

2 lbs. small Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 bunch Harukei Turnips
several sprigs Fresh Thyme
Olive Oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Because these yukons were small, I was able to roast the turnips and potatoes together. But it is also fine to roast them on separate sheet pans, and then combine, post-roast.

Place turnips and potatoes on a sheet pan, and lightly coat them with olive oil. Season them with salt, black pepper, and the leaves from several sprigs of fresh thyme.

Place in a preheated 375 degree oven and roast for 40 minutes. Check on them, about half-way, shaking them in the pan, and rotating in the oven. Test for doneness.

Serves 8

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




September 21st, 2011

Apples and Potatoes/Breakfast for Dinner

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What good meal could you make for under five dollars?

Slow Food USA initiated this cooking challenge, one which meshed nicely with our Third Thursday Community Potluck this month. In a rough economy, and an ever-widening “food gap,” knowing how to prepare tasty, nutritious food at an affordable price is a crucial survival tool.

Calling it “The $5 Challenge,” Slow Food encouraged potluck gatherings to share “true value meals.” Last Saturday, 30,000 people allover the country came together to dine on these good dishes, all made with fresh ingredients, and costing less, per person, than an Abe Lincoln. Recipes from these events will be amassed and shared.

Informally, our Third-Thursday group did the same, although we kept our potluck on its given day, rather than the Saturday, as suggested by Slow Food. In the quest for community—and tasty affordable food—we didn’t think a couple of days mattered. It’s part of our monthly pursuit anyway.

And, serendipity, we had already chosen a “Breakfast for Dinner” theme. That meal provides plenty of hearty, nutritious, and inexpensive dishes: Omelettes, vegetable frittatas, mock souffles, noodle kugels, cheese grits casseroles, and the like.

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We know that cooking seasonally, using of-the-moment produce, is far more cost-effective.

In Nashville, fall is in air. Bushels of apples and potatoes are plentiful at the market. With that in mind, I chose to make a batch of fresh applesauce, and my crispy potato pancakes. Both are ridiculously simple, and “cheap” recipes–short on ingredients, but long on satisfaction.

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I hadn’t considered applesauce in a long time, although it’s something that I associate, in a pleasant way, with childhood. It was one of the acceptable things that this super-picky eater would deign to let past her lips.

We always had jars of Mott’s Applesauce on the shelf, something my beleaguered mother could count on to spoon onto my plate, and not be met with eyes of abject horror or disgust.

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But nothing could be easier than making a pot a fresh applesauce. Core and rough-chop the apples–leave their peels on. Cook them down with a little lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon–that’s really it. (This could be adapted to a slow-cooker–throw everything into the pot, and let it go all day, while you work.)

The peels mostly dissolve as the apples soften into a chunky sauce, providing flavor, nutrients, and needed pectin to thicken. If you want a smoother sauce, you can run the cooked mixture through the food mill.

Ginger Gold Apples, with their pale green skins tinged with rosy blush, proved to be a good choice. They have a bright, pleasing balance of sweet and tart.

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Pommes-de-terre, Aardappelen, Potatoes are indeed the Apples of the Earth! We love potatoes in all iterations.

My potato pancake, or latkes, recipe is gluten-free. Years ago I would add flour, but learned later that there was no need; there’s enough natural starch in the potato to accommodate. Eggs add a little protein, and help bind the crispy shreds together.

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What’s not to love about these little potato nests? Crunchy golden brown goodness, with a hint of sweet onion in the mix…they make terrific accompaniments to any meal, breakfast or not.

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What I must note about the $5 challenge: it’s an easier one to meet, if you are cooking for a group. (And, likewise, if that group is sharing dishes, in the potluck spirit!)

My big batch of potato pancakes cost just about $5, and fed a crowd. Making 30, that’s almost 17 cents a cake. The applesauce cost less, around $4, and was delicious in its own right, or dolloped onto the potatoes.

But I think that we would all be hard-pressed to consistently create well-rounded meals for under $5 a person, especially if cooking for one or two. And many today have less than that to work with.

I lead a charmed life, and I am grateful for it. I am generally frugal, but have the where-with-all to buy, cook, and enjoy more expensive foods. And that’s fine. But access to basic, affordable good food should be a right, not a privilege. It’s important to share our knowledge, so that people can cook delicious meals using fresh food for themselves and their families.

Have you got a favorite inexpensive dish to share?

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FRESH APPLESAUCE

6 large tart green apples, such as Ginger Golds
1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Lemon, quartered

Core and rough-chop apples. Place into a large saucepan on gentle heat. Add brown sugar, lemon quarters, and cinnamon stick. Cover and allow apples to cook on slow medium heat, for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Covered, the natural juices will release, condense, and fall back into the apple mixture. The peels will mostly dissolve and add their natural pectin.

Remove cinnamon stick, lemon peels. Serve warm or cold.

Makes about 4 cups of applesauce.

POTATO PANCAKES (gluten-free)
4 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 large Yellow Onion
4 large Eggs
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Paprika

canola oil for frying
1 T. butter to season the oil (optional)

Shred potatoes (I used the food processor with the shredder attachment.) and place into a large mixing bowl. Finely dice the onion and toss in with the potatoes.
In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sea salt, black pepper, and paprika together. Pour over potato-onion mix. Toss well so that everything is well coated.

Heat a skillet and pour in canola oil, about 1/2″. Melt in a tablespoon of butter, if you’d like to flavor this neutral a bit.

With a slotted spoon, scoop up a small mound of shredded potato mix and place in hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is filled but take care not to crowd. (I fit 4 at a time.) Cook for about 3 minutes—look for crispy brown edges. Wait for the right “brown-ness” before flipping with a spatula.

Rotate in the pan, as needed, so that the ‘cakes brown evenly.

Place cooked potato cakes onto a metal grid to drain, (or paper towels).

Note: As the mixture sits, some of the water from the potatoes will release into the mixture. This is not a problem. Continually stir, lifting out each mound with the slotted spoon, leaving some of that liquid behind.

Makes about 30 crispy potato pancakes

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Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »