Once you go pan, you’ll never go back to that weird, unnecessarily highly processed microwave stuff. Or the bland and tasteless air popped variety that makes you feel like you’re chomping on a mouthful of styrofoam pellets. Blech!
Haul out a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight-fitting lid. I use my pasta pot. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in there; I use olive, sometimes coconut or avocado. My dad’s secret was using half butter and half olive oil, delicious. Crank the heat up to high and toss in 3-4 handfuls of popcorn kernels. Shake the kernels around so everybody is coated in the oil and then cover with the lid. Wait patiently.
Soon the popping extravaganza will begin. When the popping starts to slow, shake the pan around again. Once the popping slows to every 2-3 seconds, turn off the heat and keep it covered for another minute so the last stragglers can complete their journey to popped goodness.
While still warm, add toppings if so desired: Extra melted butter, truffle oil, herb-infused olive oil (Rosemary!), salt, nutritional yeast, wasabi salt, parmesan, garlic bread seasoning are some of my favorites, though not necessarily all together. Sprinkle on salt and sugar and you have kettle corn, if that’s your thing. Possibilities are endless.
Potato salad has never been beloved by me, though I understand it holds a dear place in many people’s hearts. I’m talking that gloppy, light yellow, faintly eggy mess that my mom, and probably many other moms made in the summertime for barbecues. To me it has always been just ok.
The one I made yesterday though was a game changer.
I guess I’m currently in my lemon period, because I’ve been putting that shit into everything lately. But here, in lowly potato salad, it really shines. Transforming something that is at best mediocre in my mind into a divine dish. Here’s how:
Boil up some potatoes, I used gold ones because that’s what I had, but anything would work. I peel mine before, but the skins do slip off easier after boiling. I guess I just enjoy the meditative ritual of peeling them beforehand. Whatever, you do you. Drain them once they are tender to a fork, but not falling apart. This isn’t a mashed potato recipe. Cool them off while you mix up the dressing in the bottom of a bowl. I made mine with mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, garlic olive oil, salt and pepper with chopped up fennel fronds. I love roasting fennel bulbs but was stuck about what to do with the leftover beautiful and bountiful fronds – this was my solution! Instantly added color, texture and a faint hint of anise-y flavour (don’t fear the fennel, it is really subtle used in this way). Then I added the potatoes, some red onion (why do we call them red onions when they are really purple??). Mixed it all together and added more salt and pepper to taste. This is destined to become my new signature potluck/BBQ contribution. At least until I enter my next flavor phase.
I love soup. It is warmth and comfort in a bowl that just keeps getting tastier the longer it sits around. Day three is primo in my book. I also think of it as a good way to get my veggies in the fall and winter months when salad sounds decidedly cold, stark and unappetizing.
Ever do that thing where you ask each other what your final death row meal would be? Well, ok, maybe my friends and family are weirder than yours, but my meal is definitely my mom’s navy bean and ham soup. I can still taste it in my mind! She made hers by boiling the beans with ham hocks and the whole house smelled like heaven. I can remember chilly winter Sunday nights, cuddled up with a bowl sitting in front of the tv with my dad and watching one of the movies we liked (Kelly’s Heroes, The Great Escape, LOTS of James Bond movies). She made many wonderful soups, but that one was always my favorite. I’m waxing nostalgic; I’ll give you that recipe next time I make it. Now back to basic soup. I make my own soups using my mom’s technique, but, of course, I’ve added my own twists! Shocker.
I made turkey soup last weekend from a stock I created using a carcass I had saved in the freezer (don’t throw those bones away after a good meal!). Chicken or ham hock would work to make stock too. I just threw the bones in the slow cooker, covered with water and added some bay leaves. You can also add veg scraps here, like carrot stumps, celery butts, onion ends. You can either compost that stuff or cook it! Later that day, presto, stock. Drained off the liquid for the soup and threw away everything else. I don’t always make my own stock, most of the time it is Better Than Bouillon, and that works great too.
Pretty much every soup I make begins with lightly sautéed carrots, onions and celery. Mirepoix, if you’re fancy, or um, French. From here, you can go in any direction. Just add the sautéed veg to the stock (or vice versa) plus some chopped up meat and/or beans if using and whatever seasonings you like. Don’t skip sauteeing the veg first though, because that’s how you amp up the flavor. Your soup will be sad and bland if you don’t. You’ve been warned. I usually add some herbs (dried basil, thyme and sage from my brother Tony’s awesome yard) and a shit-ton of salt if I’m using homemade stock. Let it hang out on low for a bit for the flavors to mingle and get to know each other. You can do this in a pot on the stove (faster) or in the slow cooker (um, slower). Then boil up some noodles on the side, or use up some leftover sides (pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes). Ladle the soup over the starchy item in individual bowls so nothing gets mushy. I like hot sauce on mine. Another shocker.
Ok, so now that you have the background on the significance this dish holds in my family, I can tell you how to make it. Kinda. It turns out different for me each time and I am ok with that. Adds a bit of excitement. If you, however, like things to be predictable, you have certainly stumbled into the wrong territory here. Turn back now and return to the safety of your cookbooks, hurry!
I’ve used all kind of potatoes in this dish and any of them will work. Use what you got. Russets, golds, reds, purples, whatever. I’ve even made this with some sweet potatoes thrown in with russets and one time I made the whole thing with parsnips instead. I was getting a CSA box at the time and had to do something with them. For the record, it was good, but maybe even a little too delicate for my taste. I crave this dish when I want something hearty and comforting, decidedly not fancy or challenging to my palate in any way. Just being honest!
This dish can easily be made vegan with non-dairy milk. I steer away from cow’s milk myself, but I do add cheese. I like sharp ones such as an aged cheddar or even a blue. Stronger cheeses don’t require adding as much to give good flavor. Sometimes I’ll add ham or hot dogs (Reserve judgment! Its family tradition). Green onions are a nice addition, leeks would also be good. Anything oniony combined with a sharp cheese is perfection in my world. I’ve gotten more creative with add-ins in the past (green peas, sausage, peppers, jalapenos), but these days usually stick to the basics (potatoes, cheese, some onion thingy, plus or minus a pork product).
Heat oven to 375, 400, something like that. Grease a baking dish, I use butter or whatever. Slice potatoes into rounds, peel them or not, I don’t care. Put the potato slices in a big mixing bowl and sprinkle them with flour or cornstarch. Dice up some butter (vegan or regular) and toss that in the bowl. Grate and add some cheese, or leave it out. Same with the onions and other mix-ins. Salt and pepper. Pour over some milk (I use unsweetened almond or coconut), it should be pretty wet, but not soup. Toss it all together until there aren’t any big clumps of flour hanging out. Tip that all into the pan and kind of pat it down. Add more grated cheese to the top if you want. Cover with foil and put it in the oven. Cook until the potatoes are tender; I don’t set a timer or watch the clock, but I think this takes about 30-40 minutes generally. Then remove the foil and let the top crisp up. I’ve even been known to up the heat to broil on this step when I’m impatient. You are going to want to dig in right out of the oven, but you will be rewarded it you wait a little bit first for it to cool. Plus avoid tongue burns that will definitely ruin the experience!
This dish is legendary in my family. I am the youngest of 6 (sadly, now 5) and this was a crowd pleaser when we were growing up. My mom totally rolls her eyes at us when we (still) ask her to make it. From her perspective at 81 years old, it is too fussy and time consuming and she ain’t got no time for that. My mom would never be accused of being overly sentimental, but that is definitely a big part of her charm!
I first started making it for myself and my hungry, clueless-in-the-kitchen college roommates. And it WAS time consuming. At least how it was written in The Joy of Cooking, which was my only cookbook at the time and I had yet to learn to bend recipes to my will. There was peeling, soaking, layering and pre-cooking involved. But I did it anyway because it was a taste of home and a bit of comfort to all of us big kids living away from our parents for the first time.
Many years later, my dear (late) chef brother opened my eyes to a better way. He did that a lot! He was probably my biggest role model and inspiration in cooking without rigid recipes. He was a classically trained chef, but ironically, never followed a recipe and made it all look effortless, fluid and fun. Maybe the recipes were in his head, IDK. Anyway, he took all kinds of liberties and was something of a MacGyver in the kitchen (you’ll have to be as old as I am to get that reference). I remember one time I was hanging about while he catered a fancy meal for a bunch of fancy people at an estate deep in the wine country of St Helena, California. VERY far from any kind of market. He was making a skewered chicken app and forgot the skewers. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ripped some rosemary stalks from the yard and threaded the meat onto those. Genius! Looked and tasted fucking amazing. He would do shit like that all of the time. Miss him so.
So back to scalloped potatoes – my brother and I were together one Christmas far from home and decided to make the old family favorite. So I started to peel and chop and was about to start parboiling, layering and pre-heating the milk when he (thankfully) stopped me. “You know you can just mix that all up in a big bowl and toss it into the baking dish right?” Mind. Blown. Duh. So I’ve made them that way ever since and it is way more fast and fun and I never measure a bit. Just trust myself to make it look right, even if it is different every time. Which is part of the fun.