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Potato panic. September 22, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, for the first time I can remember, I had no potatoes in the house. No baking potatoes, no sweet potatoes to roast with olive oil and herbs or bake into caramelized deliciousness, no Yukon Gold potatoes to boil, then mash with cream, butter, salt and pepper into the best mashed potatoes on earth, no new red-skinned potatoes to roast with sweet onions, mushrooms, and asparagus into the best meal ever.

Yow! How could I have run out of potatoes?!! Our friend Ben and I love potatoes, and especially now, when cooler weather has signalled the arrival of fall, our favorite season. I rely on potatoes to fill in gaps in our supper menus. Potatoes aren’t just delicious, filling, and easy, they’re healthy, vitamin-filled additions to any meal. Much as we love pasta and white rice, potatoes have them beat bigtime for nutrients and health benefits.

To think, we went to the grocery just yesterday and I forgot about the potatoes! We also visited our local farmers’ market, and I got some lettuce but was too late to get watercress, failed to get arugula, and then forgot to get mixed lettuces when we stopped by the local Giant. Shame on me!

I guess poor OFB and I will be heading out today to get salad greens and a variety of potatoes. At least it’s a beautiful day!

‘Til next time,

Silence

When is a scallop not a scallop? February 13, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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When it’s a scalloped potato. Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were enjoying scalloped potatoes last night, a cherished comfort food, with its creamy, potato-y interior and crispy exterior (think mac’n’cheese done right, but with more body and less assertive cheese flavor, assuming you even add cheese). As I served up our plates, I began to wonder why the dish was called “scalloped” potatoes, since it doesn’t include scallops and the potato slices don’t have scalloped edges (think madeleines). I was determined to get to the bottom of this!

My own theories were: A) that the dish was named for a popular technique of cooking scallops at the time, transferred to the potato dish; B) that the original dish had thicker slices of white, peeled potatoes that reminded its creator of scallops; or C) that the creator of the dish was a marketing genius who managed to give the humble potato the cachet of expensive seafood by giving the dish a clever name. (Much as in the case of Waldorf Salad, which sounds a lot more highfalutin than apple salad, or Caesar salad, which sounds a lot more appetizing than a bowl of romaine lettuce, or, say, Buffalo wings, which transformed the cheapest, most unwanted piece of the chicken into a prized appetizer.)

Much as I was drawn to theory C), I felt it was the least likely of the three to be true. In fact, I actually think that it’s a combination of A) and B): that the potatoes in cream sauce reminded the creator of the dish of scallops prepared the same way. I hoped that my good friend Google could resolve the issue, but for once, it failed me. (And to think, just yesterday it had helped me identify some mystery seedpods I’d found on a recent trip to Penn State as coming from the Kentucky coffeetree. You’d think this would be easy by comparison.)

Theories abounded about the origins of the name, scattered with expressions of loathing for the dish and even assertions that it was made with breadcrumbs. (Shudder!!! These people must also bread their mac’n’cheese, for shame.) The responses were all over the map, and I could find nothing definitive. Some responses said the potatoes in the dish resembled scallops, and some said they were prepared the same way as a scallop dish. Others claimed the word came from escalloped, a technique for cutting thin, small rounds from meat. One source cited the earliest known reference to the dish, British circa 1883, where a diner was complaining that he’d ordered scalloped (presumably creamed) potatoes but was served potatoes in a tomato sauce instead.

Yeesh. What’s a scalloped potato lover to do? Ignore the origins and just eat your scalloped potatoes, say I. But please, don’t put breadcrumbs on them. And if anyone reading this has a definitive answer, I’d love to hear it.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Potatoes for planting and eating March 24, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. As potato-planting season approaches, our friend Ben and I are expecting the arrival of seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm, a small but phenomenal organic potato-growing operation in Bridgewater, Maine. (Prairies in Maine?! Go figure.) We first stumbled on Wood Prairie this winter while reading an article on ‘King Harry’, a new pest-resistant potato from Cornell’s breeding program. (Ack—I can’t remember which magazine featured the article, but I think it was Mother Earth News.) There weren’t many sources for ‘King Harry’, but Wood Prairie Farm was one of them.

One quick look online (www.woodprairie.com) and we were hooked. Wood Prairie Farm is definitely our kind of place—small and passionate about what they’re doing and offering. For those who’d rather cook than garden, they offer an incredible selection of gourmet organic potato varieties, special types of organic wheat, spelt, corn, rye, and oats, numerous healthful bread and pancake mixes, organic sprouting seeds and equipment, organic cheeses from Neighborly Farms in Vermont, organic nuts, organic dried fruits, Maine maple syrup, and much, much more. For those who, like me and our friend Ben, love to garden and cook, they offer organic wheat and oat seed, carefully chosen organic veggie and herb seeds, certified organic seed potatoes, organic supplies, and on and on. Their colorful, personable catalogue offers descriptions, recipes, tips, and lots of hard-won, first-hand experience, and should be on every gardener’s shelf.  You even get $5 off your first order! Thank you, Jim and Megan Gerritsen.

As you might imagine, our friend Ben and I didn’t leave our Wood Prairie adventure empty-handed. In addition to ‘King Harry’, we purchased seed potatoes (despite its name, this is not actual potato seed, but small potatoes that you cut up to plant, leaving several sprouts or “eyes” on each piece, or plant whole) of ‘RoseGold’, ‘Rose Finn Apple Fingerling’, and ‘Russian Banana Fingerling’ as part of Wood Prairie’s “Experimenter’s Special.” And we couldn’t resist their “Organic Potato Blossom Festival” pack, with “exceptional blossom beauty and fragrance.” It includes ‘Red Cloud’, ‘Carola’, ‘Cranberry Red’, ‘All-Blue’, ‘Onaway’, and ‘Butte’ seed potatoes, enough, according to the catalog, to plant a 4-by-4-foot bed. 

We also succumbed to some of the more unusual veggie seeds—’Latah’ tomato, Wild Garden Mix fall and winter salad, ‘Cardinale’ lettuce, ‘Plum Purple’ radish, ‘Yukon Chief’ corn, and ‘Cosmic Red’ hot peppers. Wood Prairie sent the (beautiful) seed packs promptly, and will send us our seed potatoes when it’s time to plant them in our Zone 6 garden. We’re like two kids at Christmas waiting for the box to arrive!

Potatoes played a starring role in our recent vacation in North Carolina, too. We were staying with family, and the octogenarian patriarch is the family chef. He’s always a bit bemused by my vegetarianism, but gamely tries to come up with veggie-friendly recipes when I’m down there. This time, he struck gold with a main-dish potato salad. Mind you, our friend Ben and I are generally not fans of potato salad. Why eat a cold, mayonnaise-laden conglomeration of potentially bacteria-laden (and definitely calorie-laden) glop when you could eat luscious hot potatoes?

However. This particular potato salad would make a convert of anyone. It’s not only not gooey and gloppy, it has a special character thanks to using russet (aka baking) potatoes instead of the waxy-textured potatoes that are staples of potato salad. Think baking potatoes would make a gross, crumbly potato salad? I did, too. But it simply ain’t so. This salad is so good it flew off the table—even in March, not traditional potato-salad season—and into the mouths of friends and relations who kept trying to discreetly leave the table but made themselves conspicuous by returning with mountainous platters of second and third helpings. (What little was left of the enormous amount Mr. Hays had made mysteriously disappeared during the night, much to everyone’s chagrin. The culprit failed to come forward, but I have my suspicions. Are you reading this, Ben?!)

Of course, I begged for the recipe. Mind you, when I make it, I think I’ll try some hot just for the hell of it—I really do love hot potatoes. But trust me, it’s just fabulous cold. Served with a simple side salad of beautiful lettuces—maybe with arugula, scallions, sliced almonds, and orange segments in a light balsamic vinaigrette—and a dry Riesling, you have a perfect meal. So without more ado, here’s the recipe. Enjoy it!

Mr. Hays’s “Baked Potato” Salad

3 pounds russet potatoes

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 T chopped parsley leaves

1 t salt, or to taste

1/2 t fresh-ground pepper, or to taste

1 cup chopped celery

4 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and chopped

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup diced sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia, or red Spanish type)

1/4 cup each diced sweet and dill pickles

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Cook the potatoes 25 to 30 minutes in boiling water, until easily pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes and remove skins by rubbing them off with a paper towel while still warm. (Note from Silence: If using a thin-skinned potato like ‘Yukon Gold’, I’d try this with the skins on.) Cut the potatoes into 1-inch pieces and toss with the cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir in the celery, red bell pepper, pickles, and onion. Fold in the eggs and mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Serves 10. (Note from Silence: Yeah, right! Serves 5 is more like it, especially once everyone’s had a taste.)   

           

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