Turkey Sausage with Peppers and Tomatoes

It is cold and sleeting out today with a high of 27°F. A thin layer of ice coats everything.

Robert went out to do some foul weather errands before it gets really bad this evening.

Icicles

While he was out, I decided it would be quite nice to have a nice big pot of turkey sausage with sautéed peppers and tomatoes over some pasta for lunch. We just finished off a large pot of chicken soup last night so it was too soon to eat soup again.

English: Green, yellow and red bell peppers fr...

English: Green, yellow and red bell peppers from the capsicum annum plant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used yellow and green peppers, onions, garlic and diced tomatoes. Everything got chopped into a large dice and set aside. Choose yellow and green peppers  because of the red in the tomatoes. This dish looks so good with lots of different colors.

A pound of turkey sausage (remove the casing if you want) gets sliced and sautéed, add the vegetables and simmer everything while you boil pasta and make a salad.

Add fresh garlic bread if you like.

A steaming bowl of sausage and peppers over some spaghetti is a perfect lunch for a day like today. Let’s eat by the fire!

Turkey Sausage and Peppers

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1  large diced yellow pepper
  • 1 large diced green pepper
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds  peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes
    (Canned diced tomatoes are a good substitute)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
  • kosher salt to taste

Method:

Prepare all the vegetables and sausage. Keep items separate until ready to cook.

Heat the oil in a deep saute pan, add the turkey sausage, toss to brown the sausage. When sausage begins to brown, add the onions, peppers and cook for 5 minutes over medium high heat.

Add the bay leaves and the herbs de Provence and garlic, stir to combine.

When the bottom of the pan begins to turn brown, add the remaining ingredients, stir well and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Like I mentioned earlier, you can make a salad and garlic bread while the pasta is cooking or just pour yourself a glass of wine.

Enjoy!

DSC_0087Turkey sausage and peppers

How to Boil Pasta

Cooking spaghetti. Photo by Eloquence.

See how the oil sits on top? Do not put oil in pasta water, it just goes down the drain. Oil pasta after cooking.

Dear Tyler,

Here is another assumption I made. Since your father is Italian, and you grew up eating pasta, I assumed you knew how to cook it.

Boiling pasta is really quite simple.

You need to use a pot big enough to hold enough water to cook the amount of pasta you need. Err on too much water rather than not enough water.

English: Boling water in colour

Bring the water to a boil. A boil is when the bubbles actively break the surface. A boil measures 212°F (100°C) on a thermometer. A lid on the pot will help water boil faster. If you live in a high altitude (like the mountain house) water won’t boil without a lid, and the boiling point decreases 1° every 500 feet in elevation (or 1° C every 285 meters). it has everything to do with atmospheric pressure. Actually, boiling point is quite a science subject.

Always salt the water AFTER it reaches an active boil. In the science community, adding a solute to the water creates a solution that raises the temperature of the boiling point. Scientists will argue that it is not necessary to add salt because the amount of increased temperature isn’t worth it to ‘cook faster’. This is not why we add salt.

We add salt for flavor.

We add salt after a boil is reached so the salt does not pit our pots over a lifetime of poor cooking habits.

Most of all, we add salt to things we boil for flavor. Boiled potatoes are ever so bland when salt is left out. The amount required isn’t much, just enough to lightly flavor the water.

Be aware, when you add salt to boiling water, the water will flare up momentarily. Be ready for it to avoid getting burned.

Choose your favorite pasta and read the package it comes in. Look for cooking directions for the time it takes to cook the pasta to “Al-dente“. Each pasta will have different cooking times.

Place the pasta in the pot, stir it up so it does not stick together. If using a long pasta, don’t break it so it fits in the pot! Short strands are hard to twirl onto the fork.

Lean the noodles up against the side of the pot and using tongs, as the pasta under the water softens, fold the rest of the pasta under the water. Be sure to stir it all around so nothing gets stuck either to other pasta strands or the bottom or sides of the pot.

This is especially true of fettuccine or linguine and other flat pasta.

Comparison between different types of long Ita...

Comparison between different types of long Italian pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Set a timer fort the required time.

If cooking fresh pasta, the time will be very short, dried pasta takes longer.

Drain the pasta in a colander and try to save about a cup of the pasta water.

Boiling pasta

Boiling pasta. Fold the ends under the water as the pasta softens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you notice there was never a mention to put oil in the water while boiling?

Ha! That is because the oil sits on the top of the water while the pasta is below the water. It does nothing to keep the pasta from sticking together.

Stirring the pasta after you first put it in the water does.

After draining, put the pasta into a serving bowl and drizzle with a great olive oil.

Serve as you like.

If you are going to use the pasta in a salad or need it cold, rinse the pasta in cold water after draining to stop the cooking process. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.

If the pasta gets dry or you need more moisture in your sauce, add a small bit of the pasta water. This is why you do not want to over salt the water. Only salt it enough to make it taste good.

If you want to re-heat pasta that has been refrigerated, simple bring water to a boil and dip the pasta in for a minute or so, just to warm it, not cook it. This can be done in a small amount of water.

Drain and serve as desired.

This works for all kinds of pasta, semolina, whole wheat, rice, artichoke, quinoa etc. Read the package for length of cooking time.

Short pasta

Short pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Short pasta

Short pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pasta is a great budget stretcher so learn to cook it correctly.

The basic technique:

Boil the water – use lots of water!

Salt after water boils

Stir the pasta after adding to boiling water to prevent sticking

Drain

Drizzle with olive oil and serve

OR

Drain, rinse  in cold water to cool and drizzle with oil.

Enjoy!

Love, Mom

Pasta again!

Pasta again! (Photo credit: HatM)

Tuna, White Beans, Artichokes and the “Presto Chango” Effect

Tuna, White Beans, Artichokes and the “Presto Chango” Effect

We decided to paint the kitchen ourselves this past weekend. The quotes we were getting to do the job seemed over the top ridiculous.

Personally, I enjoy painting the rooms of my dwelling space.

I have learned to detest wallpaper and love the instant gratification of paint.

Immediate gratification.

The “Presto Chango” Effect.

Unless something technical needs to be done; I can paint walls and cabinets like a pro. Based upon what we found while doing this project, we certainly did it better than the last “pro” who was hired to paint.

I love doing it. There is another mental space I go to when doing these kind of projects. It is a fun place to go and I don’t stay long so it is best to take advantage when it comes around.

“Let’s go buy paint and get going ” we discussed one morning.

So off we went to the paint store to buy what we needed to transform the kitchen.

Robert was amazed as to how much we actually were able to do in a days time. We began on Saturday, mid-morning, and finished Monday around dinner time, after work.

Over last weekend we dismantled the kitchen; removed cabinet doors and hinges; and such.

This is how the sequence went: Degrease, wash, dry, sand, damp mop dust, dry, prime, paint 2 coats, let dry.

The kitchen is now back in working order and feels great to be cooking again.

Presto Chango. Gotta love it.

This is an easy recipe when you want something quick and easy. (And don’t want to mess up the kitchen.)

The entire dish is easily made in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

You only need a few ingredients.

Cannellini Beans, canned tuna, artichoke hearts, lemon and pasta and cheese if you like.

These are the major ingredients: Artichoke hearts, cannellini beans, anchovies, pasta, here we are using “orecchiette” and Tuna, which is not pictured.

Tuna, White Beans, Artichokes and Pasta

  • 1 – 2 ounce tin of anchovies in oil
  • 1/2 onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 1 – 5 ounce can of “Wild Planet” wild caught tuna. This tuna is not oil packed. (Use your favorite Tuna)
  • 1-14 ounce can of artichoke hearts – packed in water, not oil
  • 1-15 ounce can Bushes Cannellini Beans (also known as white kidney beans)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 package of your favorite pasta shape. I like Orecchiette for this because of the shape and the ability to hold on to sauce. (The pasta looks like little hats when cooked.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan or Asiago cheese to shred over top

Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, salt the water and add pasta.

Note how long the pasta takes to cook so it does not get over done and mushy.

Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the anchovies and saute until they “dissolve” while being cooked.

Add the  onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the artichokes, beans and tuna and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer.

Add the lemon zest and juice.

Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is done, drain and fold it into the pan with the other ingredients.

Top with shredded cheese and serve.

A salad on the side rounds the meal out nicely.

Tuna, white beans and artichoke pasta

How To: Standard Breading Procedure

Dear Tyler,

You asked how to bread something to make Tonkatsu or Parmesan style dishes. So here it is!

If you want to bread something so the breading actually stays on the product, you need to follow a standard breading procedure,

It is a 5 station set-up. Breading your food using this method ensures a great finished dish.

Flour, Egg wash and Bread crumbs
(To remember the order, think of the abbreviation for the month of February: FEB)

1) Ready to go product – seasoned

2) Flour – just plain flour

3) Egg wash – make it liquid

4) Bread crumbs – You can use any bread crumbs, Panko are amazing in my opinion. Instead of bread crumbs, you can also use any kind of ground nut, crushed potato chips, corn flakes, or plantain chips, Trisket crumbs, coconut, etc.

5) Final breaded product

In this post I am using catfish, but the same method works for everything you want to bread.

Prepare the product, trim it, skin it, pound it thin, what ever you want to do, do it before it gets breaded.

Season with salt and pepper and other seasonings if desired.

Here, catfish is getting seasoned with lemon ginger seasonings before breading

Dip each piece into the flour

Then into the egg wash

Then into the bread crumbs

Place the breaded items onto a baking sheet; drizzle with oil.
Bake at 375 F for 20-30 minutes to ‘oven fry’ or pan fry in a saute pan with a small amount of oil.

The family favorite for this is to make “Katsudon”  with thin sliced pork loin or a chicken breast sliced and pounded thin. We serve it over Basmati rice with Bull Dog Brand Tonkatsu Sauce. (I usually buy this in an Asian grocery store.)

Bull Dog Sauce

When using chicken breasts, you can cut them into fingers or slice a large breast into thirds, place each slice into a zip bag (don’t zip it!) and pound gently it so it gets evenly flattened. Season and proceed with the breading procedure.

To pan fry instead of cooking the cutlets in the oven, heat a saute pan to high, add a thin-film of oil to the pan and saute until each side is golden brown.

Pan fry in a thin-film of oil until golden on each side

Add steamed broccoli to round out your meal.

You can take the plain breaded cutlets and serve them with different sauces and sides to create very different meals from breaded cutlets.

Boil some rice, add some frozen green peas when the rice is done. The peas only need to warm through.

Place the fried cutlet on top of the rice and drizzle with Bulldog sauce.

To make a “true” katsudon, place caramelized onions over the hot steamed rice, top with the cutlet and then top it all with an egg. Cover and the steam from the cutlet and the rice will gently cook the egg. Break the egg yolk and stir it in to create a wonderful sauce. Drizzle with Bull Dog Sauce .

Tonkatsu with Bull Dog Sauce

You can create Chicken Parmesan by topping the golden brown cutlet with marinara sauce and cheese – I am partial to Asiago – but Parmesan, or mozzarella are just fine too.

Melt and brown the cheese, serve over pasta and more sauce on the side. Top it all with more cheese and serve with a salad on the side.

Chicken Parmesan

Breaded Cutlet with Lemon

Be careful when pan frying, place the cutlets into the pan so it splashes away from you, not towards you. Once the cutlets are golden brown, you can finish cooking them in the oven that has been pre-heated to 350°F.

Enjoy making these and think of other ways to serve them too. Change the sauce ( try Thai Green sauce!) and starch. Put a cutlet on a bun, add coleslaw and BBQ sauce to make it into a sandwich.Or make Chicken Piccata with lemon and capers.

Let me know if you come up with other ideas!

If you want to freeze the breaded cutlets, freeze them raw as soon as you finish breading them. You can cook from frozen over medium heat.

Love ya!

Mom

How to Cook Salmon

Dear Tyler,

There are many ways to cook salmon. I am going to suggest one or two simple methods here to get you going.

I like to cook extra when salmon is on the menu because it makes great salmon salad, like tuna salad. When you were little, the first time you have salmon salad, you came home from school and told me it was the best tuna fish sandwich you ever had.

So you will like salmon as a salad, if you don’t recall.

To make the salmon salad, I used Saffron Aioli, which will be the next posting for you.

To address the salmon:

The easiest way for you to cook it is to  start by rinsing the fish under cold water. If you have a large piece, cut it into pieces about 1″ thick, or as thick as you want your portions to be.

Feel along the flesh to locate pin bones. If you find some, pull them out with needle nose pliers.

Pat it dry with a paper towel.

Rub your fingers over the fish to feel for any “pin bones”. Pull these out with a pair of needle nose pliers. They are hard to get out, that is why we use the pliers. If you don’t have pliers, try to pull them out with your fingers, being careful not to destroy the flesh while doing so.

Be careful not to destroy the flesh as you remove the pin bones. If can be pulled apart easily. Look carefully, see how this part of the fish looks ‘damaged’? It isn’t all smooth and together like the rest of the fish.

If the skin is still on, don’t try to remove it. There is a technique I will need to coach you on later and that will be done in person. The skin will be very easy to remove after the fish is cooked.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. (When the light goes out, the oven has reached 350°F) Pre-heating the oven may take up to 5-10 minutes depending on your oven. Plan ahead.

Oil an oven proof dish so the salmon won’t stick.

Season the fish with at least salt and pepper. You don’t have to use much, but a pinch will make all the difference. Use your favorite.
Notice the cut portion size.

Season the fish with your favorite seasonings. Salt and pepper are just fine, add a squeeze of lime or lemon; drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Place a saute pan on the heat and get the pan hot. Add a small amount of oil to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin-film of oil. You can brush it on or pour it and tilt the pan to get the bottom coated.

Place the salmon in the pan, top serving side down first. Sear it until it is golden brown. If the fish is ‘sticking’ to the pan, wait a minute or two. When the salmon is ready to turn, it will release on its own.

Using a metal spatula with slots in it, to turn the salmon over.

This tool is called a fish spatula -  but it is useful for much more than fish!

Place the pan in the oven to finish cooking the fish while you get the rest of the dinner ready.

Total cooking time for salmon is in the general area of 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, the accurate temperature of the oven and how long does the salmon stay on the burner or in the oven.

Safety Hint!

Only place pans in the oven that have oven proof handles! If the handles are plastic or other than metal, they cannot be put in the oven. Check your pans to see if the handles are oven proof before you put the pan in the oven.

Continue to cook the fish until it is no longer raw in the center. You can eat salmon medium rare and even raw, but I would advise buying “Sushi Grade” salmon if you want to eat it less than done.

Sushi grade will cost nearly double. It goes through a freezing process to kill any parasites that won’t be killed by cooking.

If you want to cook some rice to go with the salmon, plan on cooking that just before you start the salmon. It will take about 20 minutes for basmati rice; 50 to 1 hour for brown and heavier grain rice.

While the salmon is cooking, steam some vegetables. In the photo, I chose “Romanesco” which is like a green cauliflower but the florets form a very interesting logarithmic spiral  growth pattern.

English: The fractal shape form of a Romanesco...

English: The fractal shape form of a Romanesco broccoli. Français : Une tête de chou Romanesco et sa forme fractale. Photo prise avec un appareil Canon D-60 équipé d’un objectif 18-135 mm IS de même marque.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It tastes a bit like a mix between broccoli and cauliflower. Sometimes called Romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower, this vegetable has been around since the 16th century.

Since you like broccoli, look for this too. I am sure you will love it just as much. I like it for the wonderful oddness of it all. To me it is just a marvel!

Cook it the same as you would broccoli.

Other ways to cook salmon:

Another way to cook your fish is to wrap it all up in a tin foil bundle and bake it at 350°F for 10 -15 minutes; until it is done.

Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice over the salmon, plate it and gobble it all up.

Or

Place the fish on a sheet pan or oven proof dish and instead of sauteing it in a pan, simply place the dish in a pre-heated oven and cook for 10-15 minutes or until done.

The fish is cooked in all cooking methods when it is no longer dark salmon color in the center, it flakes easily and it reads 145°F on an instant read thermometer.

Cold salmon is delicious too.

It will flake easily when done.

When thinking about what seasonings to choose for salmon, remember salmon has a salty profile with a tinge of sweetness. Sweet vinaigrette such as raspberry vinaigrette or honey Dijon vinaigrette make a great sauce for salmon.

Mix white balsamic (or dark balsamic) vinegar with Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Add olive oil to smooth it out and use that as a sauce. Adjust quantities to taste. You don’t need to make a lot.

Whisk it all together and voila! For raspberries, use melted raspberry jam (seedless) or mash some fresh or thawed frozen berries through a wire mesh strainer to get the pulp without the seeds.

That’s another post!

Let me know if you have any questions.

Bon Apetit!

Love,

Mom

How to Boil Rice

Dear Tyler,

There are many kinds of rice to choose and methods of how to cook; this post is about how to boil rice. This is the most simple and least complicated method.

You just need to pay attention while it is cooking.

Let’s talk about the forms of rice that are out there. I am not going to go into all the varieties, this is just to tell you how to boil basic rice.

You don’t always have to cook rice.

You already know about the pre-cooked rice packets you can buy either shelf stable or frozen in vacuum sealed packets. These area great to have on hand when you don’t feel like cooking.

Trader Joe’s frozen Brown Rice is so nice and easy! Nuke and eat.

But you pay a price for that convenience. These products are ‘expensive’ in the relative terms of how much rice actually cost.

Rice on its own is cheap. It is a meal staple in many parts of the world for good reason.

I love the taste of rice, white, basmati, brown, mahogany, black or red. I love the texture, the way it carries sauces and serves as a flavor base for lots of dishes.

You were brought up on Basmati Rice. White and brown. When you go to the store to buy rice, don’t cheap out and buy the cheapest rice out there.

Choose Basmati or Texmati rice. Basmati rice comes from India and Texmati is the same variety grown in Texas. Honestly, the cost difference isn’t much between cheap rice and a quality rice and the taste is much more pronounced. Tastes more like rice should.

Rice has become so polished and processed that most of what passes for rice these days has very little flavor or nutrients. This kind of rice provides little nutritional value beyond carbs.

Avoid instant rice at all costs. It has horrible flavor, it tastes processed.

Avoid ‘converted or par boiled ‘ rice as well.

We get enough nutrients from our diets to have to worry about the delivery of Thiamine. If we were starving, it would be another issue.

Basmati and Texmati rice is flavorful and nutritious and goes great with lots of dishes. It is not sticky rice so it will have that fall-apart quality desired in fluffy rice.

Here is the key for How to Boil Rice:

Main ratio: 2:1

2 parts water to 1 part rice

So if you use your shoe as a measure, measure two shoes of liquid and one shoe of rice. The point being what ever you measure with, use 2:1. If you use your shoe, sanitize it first.

Whatever measure you are using, make it 2:1

Measure the liquid (so you know how much rice you need), put into a pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Bring water to a boil. It’s boiling when the bubbles break the surface.

Add salt after water boils

Add salt and then rice

Return to a boil.

Then add rice; return to a boil

Stir the rice after adding it to the water to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Put a lid on it and let it simmer.

Put a lid on it. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. If you use a glass lid, you can see what is happening while it cooks.

When it looks like this, it is probably done.
Try not to life the lid until you are SURE the rice is done. Time 15-20 minutes before peeking.

Take a large kitchen spoon and see if all liquid has been absorbed. If it has, the rice is done.

Brown and darker rice will need to cook for at least 1 hour with monitoring of the liquid to doneness; adding more liquid if necessary.

Keep your eye on it until you know how your stove works. (Does it run hot or really low on the lowest settings? Adjust your cooking accordingly. All stoves behave differently. Learn how the one you have works by observation while you cook and adjust accordingly. )

Hints to successful rice:

Do not lift the lid once it returns to a boil.

Cover and reduce the heat. Let it go until the liquid is gone.

If you do lift the lid to check, your rice will become gummy and yucky.  It’s like the curse of gummy rice. Don’t lift the lid to peek unless absolutely necessary.

Learn your stove and adjust cooking times. Start noticing how it is doing at 15 minutes cooking.

How?

  • Listen, is it crackling? (Done)
  • Is it boiling still? (Let it keep going)
  • Can you smell smoldering? (May be burnt)

This is where glass lids are really handy. You can peek without lifting the lid.

The surface of done rice will look like this:

When it looks like this, it is probably done.
Try not to life the lid until you are SURE the rice is done.

Tilt the pot to the side, use a spoon to check that the liquid has been absorbed.

If it burns on the bottom, scoop from the surface. The surface rice may not taste burnt. If it does, oh well, it is cheap. Try again tomorrow.

Figure out why it may have burned:

Burner runs hot, forgot the timer, watching TV or playing games

Remember kitchen rules! Make them habits for safety’s sake.

Most of the time when I have burned things it is because I left the room and was distracted.  Please trust kitchen rules.

Once the rice is cooked, fluff it with a fork and serve. There are so many things to serve over rice.

Comfort food! Sometimes I love just a bowl of rice with soy sauce just like this. In fact I ate this one. ;)

Sometimes when my tummy is upset, nothing makes it feel better more than a bowl of rice with a small bit of soy sauce.

Add Ins:

Enhance the rice by adding vegetables, meat, herbs and spices to the cooking liquid to flavor the rice.

My favorite is to add dried onion or vegetable soup mix or fresh thyme, garlic and shallots. Don’t be afraid to season the water the rice is cooked in. The rice will take on whatever flavor is added.

I like to finish the rice with a tablespoon of fresh butter. It really does something to the flavor that I adore.

Best way to clean pots used to cook rice:

As soon as you are done cooking rice and have removed the contents of the pot to another dish, fill the rice pot with COLD water. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so. Add a squirt of detergent if you want. It makes clean-up easier.

All the rice goop will release and rinse away and final clean-up is much easier.

To Serve and store:

Steam some broccoli and serve it over some rice.

Left over rice must be cooled and stored in the refrigerator. You can easily reheat rice in the microwave. Add a small spoon of water, cover and nuke for 30 seconds, stir and do it again. The rice should absorb the water, so don’t use too much, just a hint.

Next is how to make Tonkatsu using the standard breading procedure. (Yeah, I know you love it!)

~Can you get Tonkatsu Sauce? Check your grocery where they sell soy sauce products. It is made by Kikkoman.

Love,

Mom

All About Potatoes – What is the difference?

In this post, I will attempt to explain all about potatoes, explain the varieties available and when to choose one over another.

What is the difference between potatoes?

Red skin and Russet Potatoes

Next time you go shopping for potatoes, you will have a lot more knowledge about them after reading this post.

Have you ever:

  • Tried to make french fries from scratch only to have them turn out limp and soggy?

  • Tried to make potato salad or put nicely diced potatoes in a soup only to have the potatoes all fall apart?

  • Ever had your mashed potatoes turn out like glue?

  •         Had a baked potato explode on you in the oven? (Technique rather than variety is the secret)

It all has more to do with the potato you chose to make the dish with than your culinary skills, which I am sure are impeccable.

There are few categories in the potato world. Basically there are low-moisture, high-starch varieties and high-moisture, low-starch varieties.

The high starch varieties will fall apart if cooked in liquid but create light and fluffy mashed potatoes, crisp french fries and crispy chips.

Russet Potatoes – notice the dark, thick skin. Compare this to a new potato which has a thin tender skin.

The russet is the king of the low moisture-high starch category. These potatoes have thick dark skins as opposed to the thin tender skin of new potatoes.

Yukon Gold: thin skin, shallow eyes and golden flesh

The low starch – high moisture category belongs to red potatoes, Yukon gold, new potatoes. All potatoes with a tender thin skin will be high moisture, low starch potatoes.

These potatoes hold their shape in soups, casseroles and salads. Their tender skins are often deep-fried and used a receptacles for dips, spreads, chili and salsa.

Go to the store and buy some of each variety and compare them. Cut them, notice the textures. Cook some of both using a variety of cooking methods and compare results. Make notes so you can remember what you discover during this experiment.

Then we have sweet potatoes and yams.

Yams are not as high is sugar as sweet potatoes are but they taste just a good. Be careful with large varieties of these potatoes as they can get very stringy. Choose smaller, even sized, good color and smooth skins when selecting these potatoes for purchase.

Typically, sweet potatoes and yams can be used interchangeably and can be applied to a many cooking methods. The skins are not edible. Colors vary from pale yellow to deep orange and now there are garnet and purple varieties too.

Tiny new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, “potato gems” are all varieties that belong in the low starch, high moisture variety. their size and shape make them special in that you can cook them without peeling or cutting them if you wanted.

Fingerling potatoes

Some of this variety are so moist and tasty, you never miss the butter.

Have you ever seen a blue or purple potato? They really are blue or purple throughout. And they stay that way when cooked.

When you have purple asparagus or purple carrots, they lose the purple color when cooked.

Purple potatoes do not! For the most part, you can use them as a high moisture low starch potato, but they do mash well without turning into glue or paste.

Additional varieties from the potato world include Malanga, Boniato which take to any cooking method potatoes do.

Boniato, inside flesh is white. Use these as you would sweet potatoes.

Malanga

Here in the US, Melissa’s Brands offer several unusual varieties not only of potatoes but of all unusual, hard to find produce items.

Be adventurous and try a different kind of potato next time you go shopping.

When choosing what potato you want, if you want a potato to hold its shape as in soup, choose a high moisture low starch.

For fluffy mashed potatoes, select russets and run cooked potatoes through a ricer, not a mixer. perfect mashed potatoes is another post soon.

For great french fries you need a low moisture potato with high starch. Again russets are your best choice but you can also use “All-purpose potatoes” or “chef’s potatoes”. These labels indicate a moderate amount of starch and moisture and can be used in any potato recipe.

This is why sweet potato fries are mostly limp, they have too much moisture to get fluffy like russets do. Sweet potatoes also break down your frying oil faster due to the amount of natural sugar in the potato.

Quick run down:

Fluffy baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and french fries use russet potatoes

To hold the shape as in soup, potato salads, use red or white skin potatoes, you can also find blue ones in this category.

Never store potatoes in the refrigerator. The cold converts the starch to sugar.

Always store potatoes in the dark, in a dry place. I keep mine in a cabinet that isn’t used much.

If potatoes area stored in light, they will develop a green skin which is a toxic substance known as “solanin”

It would take a boatload of solanin consumption to have an effect, but it is an intestinal irritant. You choose.

There will be doing a series of posts of cooking potatoes and selecting the right one for the recipe in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, choose something different and play!

Inside of a purple potato; notice the color of the skin in the background.

Inside a baked garnet sweet potato; isn’t that a great color?!

An Easy “Grill Pan” Dinner

Looking for a quick and easy meal the other night, I came up with this meal that was cooked all in my grill pan.

Chicken was marinated in Mojo Criollo, a Latin marinade of sour orange, herbs and spices.

There were a couple of leeks which I split in two and placed them cut side down to grill.

When the chicken was done, it was pushed to the side of the pan and I added fresh trimmed asparagus and grilled that until it was done too. Asparagus only takes a few minutes.

Sweet potatoes baked in the oven, a salad made by ‘shaving’ radishes, cucumbers, yellow pepper, and fennel, drizzled with rice vinegar and olive oil, salt and fresh pepper rounded out the meal.

Voila! Dinner is ready.

During this wonderful season of abundant fruits and vegetables, make sure you add more to your diet. The vitamins, minerals and fiber contribute to a healthy diet and contribute to manageable weight maintenance.

Indulge and explore white the season is right!

Crab Cakes with Leeks and Corn

Crab Cakes with Leeks and Corn

Crab Cakes get so abused. Tender sweet succulent crab; why do so many ruin the delicate flavor by adding red or green peppers to the mix?

When I think of crab cakes, I think of the delicious flavor of crab, not a nasal hit of red or green peppers. While I love peppers, they do have their place. In my opinion, that place is not in a crab cake.

What is the star of your dish? Is it the crab? How much did you pay for the crab? Usually a lot of money or labor if you cleaned your own crabs. Why would you want to hide the star of your dish with the pungent flavor of red or green pepper?

Peppers have a dominate flavor, they overpower everything. Which is why they are the stars in the dishes they are featured. Stuffed peppers, sausage and peppers, red pepper hummus, roasted pepper salads, great dishes with strong dominate flavors.

If you didn’t guess already, adding peppers to delicate crab meat is a pet peeve of mine. I feel strongly about it. If you like peppers in your crab cakes, fine, I’d ask you though if you really know what crab tastes like.

Enough of that rant, on to the crab cakes!

Crab, any kind of crab, has a delicate flavor. Enhance the flavor with a dab of smooth Dijon mustard, sautéed shallot, roasted garlic and sliced scallions or chives and lemon zest. Hold the mix together with an egg and coat the outside of each formed crab cake with a layer of panko bread crumbs and you have an amazing cake for either an appetizer, entrée or salad. How to and the recipe are below.

Crab comes in many forms. You can purchase live blue crabs  or king or queen crab legs and boil your  own for a great outdoor dinner party.

Colossal size crab meat from Blue Swimming Cra...

Colossal size crab meat from Blue Swimming Crab. Courtesy of Newport International. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crab comes in canned or pasteurized form in addition to fresh. Here is the translation as to what kind of crab you are getting according to classification:

  • Colossal Lump: Very large white, unbroken pieces of crab.
  • Jumbo Lump:  largest white pieces of crab meat from the body portion adjacent to the back fin appendage. may contain broken pieces.
  • Back fin: A blend of large lump pieces and special meat.
  • Special: Flake white meat from the body portion of the crab.
  • Claw: This meat is from the crab claws. It is darker in color but sweeter in flavor.
  • Cocktail Claws: Claw meat intact on the claw with the outer shell removed.

Colossal Lump is typically the most expensive. If you think of the labor that goes into cleaning a crab, you would understand why.

Cocktail Claw crab meat from Blue Swimming Crab.

Cocktail Claw crab meat from Blue Swimming Crab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other night there was a pasteurized can of jumbo lump in my fridge. We had crab in salads and make crab cakes.

There were leeks and corn in the fridge too so I sautéed a nice side to go with the crab cakes.

Leek and Corn Saute

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

1 shallot, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced fine

1 leek, washed and sliced thin

1 cup frozen corn or cut fresh corn from 2 ears

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a saute pan over medium heat, add oil, shallot and garlic, stir.

Saute leeks and corn

Add rinsed leeks and corn, saute 2-3 minutes, add white wine and simmer until the pan is nearly dry. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Crab Cakes

1/2 pound jumbo lump crab meat (or any market form you like but cocktail claws)

1 egg

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest and juice from 1 lemon

1 tablespoon minced shallots

2 scallions thinly sliced, white and green part

1 teaspoon minced roasted garlic

1 teaspoon old Bay Seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1 tablespoon capers

To remove any cartilage that may still be in the crab meat, place the meat on a parchment lined sheet pan, place it in a 350°F oven for 2-3 minutes. Any cartilage will turn bright white or red and can easily be picked out.

Working in a restaurant, the sheet pan method is used to quickly identify any unwanted cartilage. This method also preserves the shape of the meat if using precious lump meat. High volumes of crab meat can be processed quickly this way.

Combine everything in a large bowl except the crab,  add the crab meat last so it does not get broken up too much.

Carefully, take a small handful and shape the crab cake between your thumb and forefinger as if you are making a hand gesture to say OK. This makes the sides and size consistent.

Roll each cake carefully in breadcrumbs.

Heat a saute pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Cook the crab cakes until golden brown on each side. If you move them very little while cooking they won’t fall apart.

Serve with lemon, sautéed leeks and corn on the side.

Crab cakes with leek and corn

Potatoes Au Gratin

I have been on a comfort food kick the past few days; Potatoes au Gratin are one of my favorite creamy delicious side dishes.

We always had them as a kid sometimes from scratch and sometimes from a box. The box variety always fascinated me.

The clear plastic looking chips, the powdered sauces, pour over boiling water and bake. Voila! Potatoes au gratin or Scalloped Potatoes all from a box. It was amazing stuff.

Making the same potatoes from scratch is far more satisfying, both nutritionally and esthetically.

First you have to get some good starchy potatoes – russets are the best as they are a ‘high-starch, low moisture’ category of potato.

Peeling is your option, but be sure to scrub them clean.

Have everything ready to go before you start slicing the potatoes so they don’t turn colors on you.

If you don’t know what I mean about potatoes turning color, take a slice and just let it sit out on the counter or on a plate. Look at it again in 5 minutes. It is oxidizing with exposure to air. Process potatoes quickly to avoid this color change happening.

“Green” on the potatoes is called “Solanin” and it is a sign of a potato that has been stored incorrectly with an exposure to light.  To avoid green potatoes, always store potatoes in a cool, dark place.

While it would take quite a bit of solanin to cause severe damage, it is an intestinal irritant. Simply cut away the green with your peeler. It isn’t very deep.

Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, the cold converts the starch to sugar. Restoring to room temperature, over a few days will convert back to starch.

I made this dish for Robert and me but it would easily feed four. I used an All-Clad oval stainless baker pan, you can use any oven-proof dish you want. Adjust the quantities if using a large pan.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Serves 2-4

  • 1 or 2 large russet potato, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 4 whole large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 container Herbs and Garlic Boursin cheese (or 1/2 cup any shredded cheese of your choice)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, brought to a boil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: Monterrey Jack cheese to top and get all golden brown

Method:

Thinly slice potatoes and shallots by hand or use a mandolin.

Be careful when slicing on a mandolin! Slicing on the mandolin ensures even slices so they cook at the same rate.
HINT: Slice shallots by hand.

Butter the dish, place a single layer of sliced shallots on the bottom of the pan, top with potatoes laid in a single layer, top with shredded cheese, spoon 1/4 cup of warm cream, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle a light sprinkling of flour and repeat layering until the dish is full. The top layer should be cheese.

Here is the layering sequence again:

  1. sliced shallots
  2. sliced potatoes
  3. cream
  4. salt and pepper
  5. flour
  6. cheese
  7. repeat leaving cheese as the top layer

Butter the dish, layer shallots then potatoes

Notice how the potatoes are shingled into a layer

Sprinkle flour over the cheese and potato layers

Keep alternating layers to the top

Top with cheese and bake

Place the filled dish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet to catch all spills. Place in a 400°F oven for 1 hour or until the dish is bubbling and golden brown on top.

We usually gobble these up pretty quickly but if you have any leftover, cut them into shapes and reheat either in the microwave or the oven until nice and warm in the center.

Variations on the theme:

  • Scalloped Potatoes: Leave out the cheese and make sure enough cream covers the top slightly. Top with breadcrumbs; Bake the same way.
  • Add your favorite herbs for an herbal variety.
  • Use different cheese: Goat cheese, Havarti, Asiago, fontina, add some bleu to the mix.
  • Use cheese that you know will melt nicely. If you want to make this with cheddar, please add some hoop cheese to it for melting purposes. Cheddar does not melt well all on its own.

I’m sure your family will enjoy this as much as mine does. Your home will smell wonderful as they cook. Since they are in the oven for so long, it is a good time to plan a baked chicken or pork chop to go along with the potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll have a plate of just potatoes au gratin for lunch, if there is any left over.

Plated Potatoes au Gratin