From the Farm: Potatoes

Austrian Crescent 

Austrian Crescent 

Red Norlan

Red Norlan

Potato Digging Party

Potato Digging Party

Having gone to cooking school in Ireland, I’ve heard all the jokes about potatoes and the Irish and what that meant for my education. No, 5 beers and a potato did not constitute a 6 course meal. No, you should never borrow a potato from a leprechaun—they are always a little short.

Yes, the Irish differentiation of potatoes is akin to the Inuit use of 50 different words for snow. But that seems very reasonable considering that the make up of the potato makes it more and less suited to various applications. Here is how I learned it. 

Note the thin skin of freshly dug, new potatoes

Note the thin skin of freshly dug, new potatoes

Waxy Potatoes: Varieties like Yukon Gold, German Butterball, and Austrian Crescent

Such potatoes have a lower starch content and their cells hold together when cooked. This makes them ideal for gratins and potato salads.

Floury Potatoes: Varieties like Russets, Kennebec and King Edward

These have a higher starch content and are good for a fluffy potato. Excellent for mashed spuds, baked potatoes and they blend well into soups to thicken and silk-ify the texture. Just don’t boil chunks of them and hope that they will stay together.

New Potatoes: any variety harvested very young

Traditionally, for the best yield, farmers will harvest their potatoes after the potato plant has died back, ensuring that the potatoes are as large as they are going to get because they have gotten all of the energy from the plant. New potatoes are dug after the potato plant has begun to flower. The potatoes are smaller and their skins thinner. I find the flavor to be sweet and creamy and nothing beats the sight of a magenta redskin coming out of the ground for the first time. This usually occurs just after Fourth of July but obviously varies on season and growing region.

Salad Potatoes: Varieties like Red Norlan, Pink Fir, French Thumb and Magic Molly (I kid you not)

These are varieties of waxy potatoes that grow to be small and are there fore the perfect size for boiling quickly and tossing into a salad. I think that this is what people are generally referring to when they want a “new potato.” And they are delicious when dug young, they also are tasty at full maturity and store well.

Luckily for us, because potatoes are the definition of a storage crop, a good deal of locally grown potatoes are still available in the area.

Watch out for too many eyes (sprouts on the potato) a sign that the potato has changed temperatures and is trying to grow. Greening on the skin caused by overexposure to light and the production of alkaloids, which if eaten in volume can be toxic.

Watch out too for too much fat heaved upon the poor spuds. Potatoes themselves have gotten a bad wrap for being unhealthy. In actuality, they contain as many calories as an apple of equivalent size (as well as load of vitamins and potassium) especially if eaten with the skin (where the bulk of the nutrients lie). It is usually in their cooking technique (frying) or their dressing (gobs of sour cream) that makes our waistlines a bit droopy. So either don’t take on the fat (like the baked potato recipe provided) or eat a potato dish that has delicious fat in it with several light things to offset.

But no matter what, potatoes have fed generations, when they didn’t it was a tragedy of historic proportions. So while it may be trite to talk about spuds so close to St. Patty’s Day, it is this time of year that I feel so thankful to have a cellar full of tubers to boil, mash or stick in a stew. 

Unconventionally Loaded Baked Potato

Unconventionally Loaded Baked Potato

Baked Potato

A friend once bemoaned the baked potato as the worst version of potato. I couldn’t disagree more—when the toppings are not just your usual sour cream and butter. This recipe is written strictly from what Erik and I had for dinner on Sunday night. But the real idea is to play around with what you have in your fridge to create a hearty, balanced and not necessarily unhealthy dinner. The potato is the vehicle and can provide a hot, fluffy, creamy contrast to a cool, crunchy acidic salad. This version was good, but I wished in the end that I had added some massaged kale or cilantro. Live and learn.

2 russet potatoes

½ head cauliflower

2 avocados

2 limes, juiced

½ C olive oil

1 T srirachia or hot sauce

  • Heat oven to 400F
  • Scrub potatoes and prick all over with a fork or knife
  • Place potatoes directly on the rack of the oven (this ensures a crispy, nutritious skin)
  • Bake until you can smell the potato and test for doneness by inserting a knife and feeling no resistance
  • While the potato is baking assemble the salad
  • Slice the cauliflower thinly
  • Dice the avocado
  • Add the tuna, limejuice, olive oil, hot sauce and salt and toss to combine
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, remember that the potato will be under seasoned so make the salad more aggressive in salt, acid and spiciness.
  • Cut the potato in half and score the inside to make easier to eat
  • Top the potato with the salad and serve

Eat the Skin-- that's where the bulk of the nutrients are

Eat the Skin-- that's where the bulk of the nutrients are

Waxy Potato Gratin

With mashed potatoes you want to work against the potato’s starch to keep the mash from getting gluey. With a gratin you’re utilizing the starch to make the whole dish gel. This is one of those classic dishes that are more than the sum of its parts. While it uses a good deal of fat (falling into classic potato reputation) I usually combine it with a very acidic green salad, a raw carrot or cabbage slaw and a low fat protein to make a meal that is balanced, filling but not a gut bomb.

3 lbs waxy potatoes, Yukon Gold or German Butterball

1 C heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Raclette or cheddar for melting on top (optional)

  • Heat the oven to 350F
  • Slice the potatoes ¼” thick
  • Layer the potatoes along the bottom of an ovenproof baking dish
  • Season liberally with salt and pepper
  • Continue layer after layer until all potatoes are used up, seasoning each layer liberally
  • Pour the cream over the potatoes
  • Top with the grated cheese if using
  • Cover the whole lot with tinfoil and bake until potatoes are tender when pierced (about 40 min)
  • Uncover and bake additional 10 minutes to brown the top

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

This is a restaurant way to do mashed potatoes that may seem overly finicky for a home cook. Blanching the potatoes after cooking for the specified 30 minutes, shocks the starch out of the tuber. The work achieves a silky, smooth mash that never becomes gluey no matter how hard it is worked. The high amount of butter and dairy in the recipe also keeps the potatoes from becoming gluey because it insulates the starch and keeps it from developing as it is stirred.

2 lbs waxy potato

2 C half and half

4oz butter

Lots of salt and pepper

  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to 180F (use a meat probe to test)
  • Peel and slice the potatoes ¼” thick
  • Add the potatoes to the water and cook for 30 min trying to maintain the water temperature at around 160 the whole time (bringing the water to 180 to start allows for the temperature drop that will occur when adding cool potatoes to the hot water)
  • After the 30 minutes, use a slotted spoon or sieve to transfer the potatoes to an ice bath to shock them
  • Bring the boiling water to a low boil and add the potatoes back in
  • Cook until the potatoes are tender
  • Heat the half n half and butter until just simmering
  • Drain the potatoes and pass through a food mill to mash
  • Add the cream and butter mixture along with a hefty pinch of salt and black pepper
  • Taste and add more salt as needed
Cassie's Potato Display at the Traverse City Market Last Fall. Note the thicker skin of potatoes from the fall. 

Cassie's Potato Display at the Traverse City Market Last Fall. Note the thicker skin of potatoes from the fall. 

From the Farm: Using Preserves

Summer Jam Making

Summer Jam Making

Well Stocked Pantry

Well Stocked Pantry

John Hardy's Summer pickle

John Hardy's Summer pickle

Imagine this scene.

Mid August, you’re walking in from mowing the yard in the late afternoon. The sun won’t go down for hours but its now angled rays lending a golden hue to our scene. There are grass clippings in your hair and somehow as well down your shirt and socks. The green perfume of those cut blades will waft for hours. Inside the house, hunger has set in but it’s too early for dinner.

While stretching your back, you cast glances at the counter tops for a snack. Peaches. With almost a fever, you lay hands on that fuzzy skin and step to the sink. Standing over the basin, you bite and there is a pang in your mouth—sweet, acidic and somehow tastes the same color as the sun on the fresh-cut grass. Juice trickles down the side of your chin and drip, drip into the sink. No napkins or paper towels, just ravenously eating and then a rinsing of hands and a cupping of palms to splash that cold water on the chin.

Summer time.

It is that scene that feeds my frenetic jam-making sessions at the end of summer. I want to put that gold into a jar to open months later and brighten winter days. I’m greedy for those flavors and know that it will end too quickly no matter how much attention I pay to the passing of days. And so jam away I do.

Andrea Diebler putting up tomatoes

Andrea Diebler putting up tomatoes

But inevitably this leads to rows upon rows of preserves that I then need to remind myself to use (or give away). There are the old standbys—toast with jam in the morning, ice cream with jam in the evening, pate with mustard and jam for the dinner party. But lately I’ve been working to incorporate many more of these preserves into everyday dishes.

Through that exploration I’ve found that to be a regular feature of a savory dish, jams need, either, some salt, some spice or some vinegary acidity to balance their, sometimes, overly sticky sweetness.

Inversely, having several jars open at any given time has me stirring a spoonful into unlikely candidates to delightful results. Most notably, a spoonful of apricot jam into spicy tomato soup lifted all the flavors and balanced the tinny flavor of canned tomatoes. A spoonful of red currant jelly diluted with a splash of vinegar and dash of paprika glazed a recent roast chicken. And yes, each time I open a jar I eat a glob of jam straight from the spoon.

Turns out jam will not transport you to the sepia-toned scene of being hot and sweaty after mowing the yard. But being cuddled under a woolen blanket eating spicy apricot carrots is the perfect cold weather counterpart—and equally as delicious. 

Carrots Roasted with Spicy Apricot Jam and Almonds

2 bu carrots

¼ C apricot jam

2 chilies, sliced thinly (or ½ tsp srirachia)

5 sprigs mint, picked

¼ C almonds, toasted

  • Heat oven to 450F
  • Clean carrots and cut into 2 inch pieces that are roughly the same thickness
  • Toss with a good glug of olive oil and hefty pinch of salt
  • Roast until dark and caramelized (about 30-45 min) stirring occasionally
  • Combine jam and chilies
  • Remove carrots from oven and toss with jam mixture
  • Just before serving return to the oven to rewarm as needed
  • Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with toasted almonds and the torn mint
  • Serve warm

Jam Upside-Down Cake

The original version of this recipe, from the wonderful food blog Lottie and Doof, is for pineapple upside cake. In the summer I roast fresh plums with balsamic and use that for the base. In the middle of winter it’s all jam all the time. Apricot, blueberry, blackberry, peach all of them are a perfect compliment to the butter cake. And if the top sticks to the pan, don’t worry just scrape it out and patch it up. Once it’s cool you can’t tell the difference.

10 oz favorite jam

3 yolks

½ C buttermilk (or ¼ C yogurt thinned with milk)

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ C all purpose flour

2/3 C sugar

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

9 T butter

  • Heat oven to 350F
  • Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment and butter again
  • Spread the jam across the cake pan
  • In a medium bowl, whisk yolks, ¼ C buttermilk and vanilla
  • In a stand up mixer paddle the dry ingredients to combine
  • Add the remaining buttermilk and butter and mix until moistened
  • Scrape down sides and add the yolk mixture slowly in three additions letting the batter mix for 20 between additions.
  • Pour batter over jam and bake 40-50 min or until cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the center
  • Invert cake over serving platter and let rest for a few minutes before lifting pan
  • Remove parchment from top of cake and smooth any jam lumps
  • Serve warm or room temperature with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche

Chicken Breasts with Raspberry Red Wine Sauce and Wheat berry Salad

This recipe epitomizes my love of making something new from dinner remnants. I’ll make the chicken breasts for dinner one night served along an appropriate starch and veg dish. The left over meat and sauce will then be tossed with grains and greens for lunch the next day. Any sort of grain will work. I really like wheat berries for their chew but, honestly, anything you have in the fridge will be great. This recipe would also be wonderful with any sort of poultry (duck, turkey or pheasant) and could be extended to pork or veal as well.

Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice mixture that is very savory and a bit spicy. If you can’t find it in the spice aisle and you don’t feel like mixing up your own batch, use Chinese 5 spice and add ¼ tsp of cayenne. It’s not the same but a decent approximation.

4 boneless chicken breasts (skin on or off as you like)

1 tsp ras el hanout

1 shallot, thinly sliced

½ raspberry jam

1 C red wine

2 T vinegar (red wine or apple cider)

1 C cooked wheat berries or other grain

2 C baby spinach

  • Heat oven to 350
  • In a large frying pan heat a good glug of neutral oil until just about smoking
  • Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper
  • Brown chicken on each side and remove from pan
  • Reduce heat in pan and add ras el hanout and let fry until fragrant
  • Add shallots, raspberry jam and wine and bring to a boil
  • Return chicken breasts to pan and place, uncovered, in oven and bake until chicken is cooked through (about 10-15 min) and sauce is slightly thickened
  • Remove from oven and add vinegar, taste and adjust seasoning as needed
  • Serve for dinner maybe with a big handful of chopped parsley

Next day salad

  • Cut the leftover chicken breasts into strips
  • Toss the grains, chicken, sauce and spinach in a large bowl
  • Taste and add salt and pepper as desired