Austrian Potato Salad

I’m not a big fan of potato salad.  However, I had a couple of good potato salad experiences in quick succession – one at a German restaurant in Houston, and the other at a German restaurant in Munich.  I don’t think they called the one in Munich a “German restaurant.” Ever since those experiences, I’ve been thinking about making a potato salad mimicking those wonderful concoctions. They were both served hot, and had dill as the predominant seasoning. Other than that, they were simple and tangy. No mayonnaise to be found in either (and the crowd goes wild).

Well, last month, I happened upon an article in Cook’s Illustrated that described the best way to make a perfect Austrian pottato salad. This has no fat in it – not bacon, pork, butter, or mayonnaise – yet it’s scrumptious.

Side note:  I don’t know if any of y’all read Cook’s Illustrated, but it’s fantastic.  Every article describes the science of what you’re doing, and the writer embarks on a mission – trying all sorts of variations of a recipe, based on the science – before getting it right. The following recipe is my interpretation of this wonderful article.

This article describes how to keep the cellular walls of the potatoes intact, yet melt-in-your-mouth soft, without releasing too much starch and turning the thing into a gooey mess.

  • Six golden potatoes (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds, bruised
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tsp mustard powder

Peel and cube the potatoes. Put in a big ol’ iron skillet with 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 1 1/2 cups water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Add salt and coriander. Bruising the coriander releases some of the oils, enhancing the overall flavor experience. I have a little mortar and pestle that I use for just this purpose. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. If you have some potatoes that have managed to keep their heads above the liquid, give the whole mess a stir halfway through this to ensure equal treatment. While that’s going on, get your dressing going. Put the remaining vinegar (that’s 1 1/2 tablespoons for the math-deprived), mustard, onion (chopped as finely as you can get it), and dill into a bowl large enough to receive all the potatoes and tolerate a bit of mixing. Stir that mess up and let the onions soak up the vinegar. They’ll do that without any coaching from you, but it is important to get that vinegar sweetening and softening the onions as quickly as possible so there’s a few minutes of that going on before everything is combined.

Once 15 minutes of potato simmering have elapsed, check their softness. They should be so soft that a toothpick or knife tip slides into one with no resistance. If they still have a little “al dente” texture to them, let them simmer another 2-5 minutes. Once you feel good about the potato situation, increase heat to high and boil off some liquid for 2 minutes, then dump this into a colander that is placed over a bowl. You want to preserve that liquid – put 3/4 cup of it into the bowl with the vinegar, onion, mustard, and dill. Scoop up about 1 cup of potatoes, as well, and add those to said bowl. Break out your potato masher and go to work on those bad boys. This should make the dressing nice and creamy from the potato starch.

Now, all you have to do is tenderly dump the potatoes from the colander into the bowl that’s been getting all this attention. Gently stir them into the dressing until everything has a little red onion or green dill on it. Here’s where you don’t want to overhandle the potatoes, as they are in a very vulnerable state, and one stern look could cause them to break down and release starch everywhere. A few gentle stirs with a rubber spatula should do the trick. Serve hot.

If you don’t like this dish, then I pity you.

Italian Meatballs with Balsamic/Marsala Sauce

This is another of my low fat specialities. Or maybe not.

The sauce I made with this dish tastes a lot like Swedish meatball sauce, but the meatballs here are distinctly Italian, and could be used with a traditional spaghetti and marinera sauce.

  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablesppon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup italian bread crumbs (optional)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup marsala
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 16 oz. package egg noodles

Roast garlic at 325 for 25 minutes. Let cool and peel. At this low temperature the garlic won’t be too soft to manage, but still have that wonderful roasted garlic flavor. Chop garlic, sage, thyme, and add to the ground meat with an egg. Stir this mixture thoroughly.  I add the bread crumbs to soak up a little of the liquid from the egg, and to even out the consistency somewhat. You don’t want too much of that – I’m not trying to make crab cakes here.

Form meatballs out of this concoction – a bit larger than a golf ball seems right to me. That will make about 10 of them. Heat up an iron skillet, start heating the chicken broth in a medium sauce pan, and get some water boiling for your pasta. Brown the meatballs on each side while bringing the broth to a boil. Once the meatballs have been seared and browned on all sides, transfer to the bubbling broth and cook for 10 minutes.  At the same time, get your pot of pasta going – I prefer egg noodles for this.

There won’t be enough fat in the skillet to make a proper sauce, so add 2 tablespoons of butter and melt. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour until a nice paste is formed, then pour in balsamic vinegar and marsala. Bring that to bubbling, then add beef broth. Cook sauce until it’s the proper sauce-like consistency, remove meatballs from broth, and serve over egg noodles. Hint on the sauce:  if sauce is too thick, add more liquid. If too thin, cook it some more.

I store any leftover meatballs in the chicken broth.

Mango Dill Relish

This relish is wonderful if all you do is combine mango and red onion – you could stop right there. The sweetness of the mango counteracts the sharpness of the onion so well that the onion’s natural sweetness and flavor really pop out. For this recipe, I added lemon to get some additional complexity and dill to tie the relish together with my Sugar and Spice Salmon (recipe in this blog), which uses pickling spices, including dill seed. I just like to add a little olive oil to loosen things up a bit. The pepper is entirely optional – I tend to put peppers in everything, but do this if you want a bit of extra kick. Really, the side ingredients you add on top of the mango and onion should complement whatever dish you are serving – so try your own variations. This is great on any type of fish or even a grilled pechuga de pollo.

  • 1 mango
  • 1/4 red onion (about 1/4 cup)
  • up to 1 tablespoon lemon juice to taste
  • olive oil
  • a few sprigs of fresh dill
  • up to 1/2 serrano or jalapeno pepper

Peel and dice mango into 1/4″ cubes. Chop red onion finely. You want each piece of mango to have two or three smaller pieces of onion clinging to it. Seed and chop pepper as finely as you can. If the pepper pieces are too large, the spice content will be too uneven and some bites too hot / others no heat at all. Toss with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and add the springs of dill, chopped.

I doubled this recipe for a party of 8 and had plenty left over. One old codger, observing the proceedings, as my brother chopped mango and I was tending to a 5 pound slab of salmon in the smoker, said plainly, “that’s a lot more work than a pot of beans.”  Ahh, brevity is the soul of wit.

Stuffed Yoo Do Fu

I love that dofu that yoo do so well … heh heh.

Ahh, this is an old family recipe. Not from my family, mind you – but I’m sure some family has cooked this before. I’m on a Chinese food roll right now, as I’ve got a backlog of recipes from a good friend and am anxious to try them all out. This one was quite good.

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup chopped cabbage
  • 1/2 jalapeno, serrano, or habanero pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed and chopped
  • 1 egg
  • soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • yoo dofu (fried tofu – you can buy it at your Chinese grocery)

Mix all the ingredients other than chicken broth.  Add about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce to the mix and stir well. Slice the yoo dofu on the long side and stuff those bad boys. I had about 3/4 pound of meat and that filled up two dozen dofu triangles (two packages). So make sure you have plenty of dofu – i just made a second batch and froze it so I’ll be able to pull it out for a quick dinner some time instead of going to Taco Bell.

Put a little sesame oil in the bottom of a wok and get it hot.  Add the dofu – I had no problem fitting a dozen in there.  Pour in about a cup and a half of chicken broth, a drizzle of soy sauce, and bring to a boil.  You don’t need to submerge the dofu – just have it halfway up, maybe. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes. The steam will cook what’s not submerged. Two or three times during the cooking, stir everything up so different parts of the dofu get submerged. This soaks up the chicken broth, offering a real burst of flavor when eaten. The broth should be reduced to almost nothing, and you can remove and serve.

Wok and roll, people!

Ma Puo Do Fu (Pork with Tofu)

Man oh man. A good friend of mine gave me this recipe, and it sounded good, but pretty basic. Shame on me – this dish was not good – it was great. This did not take much work at all – maybe 10 minutes of prep work, and 20 minutes on the stove. So if you’re making brown rice, start that up before you do anything else (that takes 45 minutes right there). I made this with a side dish of cabbage and served over rice.
Ma Puo Do Fu

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 8 oz. medium tofu (i used firm, because that’s what they had at the store, and it was fine)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • about 4 green onions
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 habanero or serrano pepper
  • hot sauce

Chop up the white parts of the onions, the ginger, the garlic, and pepper and cook with the pork while it’s browning. In the meantime, stir oil, soy sauce, water, and a splash of hot sauce into a measuring cup.  Once the meat is browned, and the onions and garlic are translucent, cube tofu and add.  (Tell me you didn’t poke the tofu at least once, just to watch it jiggle).   Stir a bit just to get it warmed up, but you don’t want to overmanipulate it or it will break up on you. Sprinkle flour or cornstarch over the meat very finely, so that it doesn’t clump.  Pour in the liquid mixture, so that the dish is somewhat soupy. Bring to a simmer, and let the liquid reduce for about 10 minutes – you need this to thicken so it’s got a little liquid in it, but isn’t soupy any more – the flour will help it thicken to more of a gravy-like consistency.  Think of the chinese dishes you get in the restaurant that are served over rice. That’s what you want to this stuff to be like (but it will taste a hell of a lot better).

While this is simmering, you can make a side dish and chop up the green part of the scallions. I lightly braised some cabbage in olive oil and a little water and tossed with toasted sesame seeds while it was still a bit crunchy.

Once the sauce thickens to the right consistency, top with scallions in your serving dish or while plating, and serve over rice.

New World Veggie Saute with Crispy Tortilla Strips

This is a variant of a very simple dish I found in Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, and it also reminds me of India, where in public places vendors cook fresh corn on a hot plate with charcoal and serve it in little cups with a spoon to passers by. Use the following ratios, each ear of corn makes enough for two-three people as a good sized side dish.

  • 1 ear corn
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 to 1 serrano pepper diced
  • (optional) 1/2 cup diced chayote or zucchini
  • 2 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4 inch strips and fried
  • a bit of olive oil
I made this with zucchini because i have a surplus of that lying around, but I think chayote would be perfect for this dish. After chopping the vegetables and frying the tortilla strips, this takes about five minutes. For guidance on frying tortilla strips, refer to my tortilla soup recipe here.
Saute vegetables in olive oil until the corn turns a deep yellow and before the squash gets too soggy. Top with crispy tortilla strips after plating. That’s it, hombres.

Tangy Roasted or Grilled Zucchini

This is a really simple dish. My favorite way to cook zucchini is to saute with chopped garlic in a little olive oil, and stop cooking while it’s still bright green and firm. But I’ve been cooking zucchini two or three times a week lately, as my garden has produced an abundance of eggplant-sized zucchinis.

  • Juice from two limes
  • 1 tablespoon Ancho chile paste (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

The chile paste really is optional. I just my ancho chile paste like that guy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding uses Windex. It pretty much solves every culinary problem facing me.

Put the chile paste into the lime juice and stir. Slice zucchini on the diagonal – almost length-wise to maximize the size of the slices. Bathe in the lime juice and sprinkle with a couple turns of fresh ground black pepper. This is really good cooked over an open flame on the grill, or you can roast them at 400 for about 20 minutes. When roasting, I use a steam pan to get these guys cooked through.

Dover Sole Marsala

I know I just wrote about Dover sole, but it was so good Saturday that I made it again Monday. So I made it the way I most commonly do – with a balsamic/marsala sauce.

Follow the fish recipe as discussed on 28 June, but use Italian bread crumbs for the fish, and no other seasonings.

Marsala Sauce

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup Marsala
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped finely
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Drain all but 3 tablespoons oil and keep on medium low heat. Add chopped garlic and saute until translucent. Add mushrooms and continue to saute. Once the mushrooms are looking good, sprinkle flour into the mix and stir with a fork until all of the oil is sopped up, and you have a thin paste going on. Add balsamic and marsala. Increase heat and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce to medium high and simmer until liquid reduces by 25% or so. Add broth and heat on medium, letting it bubble a bit until it thickens appropriately. This should not be as heavy as a cream gravy, but have some texture to it. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Why I Love Whole Foods

I know, people joke about this place and call it “whole paycheck” yada yada yada. But sometimes it’s worth a little extra for the great shopping experience. For example, on a recent Sunday morning, shopping for a big cookout, I picked up a sixpack of non-alcoholic beer. (I know i know, what’s the point?) I knew there might be a problem because the computer system doesn’t differentiate between NA and regular beer, and this was before noon, when it is illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays in Texas.

Sure enough, the computer didn’t allow the cashier to ring up my beer. I rolled my eyes waiting for the usual, “I’m sorry, but the computer says…” while I know that I could go buy 10 bottles of 11% alcohol cooking wine and the computer wouldn’t bark. But the cashier conferred with a collegue, then a manager, and they ran back and got the price for me. “Just ring it up as cheese,” said the manager. Now that’s using your head and serving the customer. Hell, they may have broken a law or two, but they did right by me. Now if they’d just do something about the $12.99 flank steaks.

Thanks, Whole Foods!

Dover Sole with Ancho Chile Cream Sauce

Dover Sole is about my favorite fish.  When fresh (or even freshly frozen), it is the sweetest tasting non-fishy fish in the world.  Or at least in my little section of it.  So if you read this recipe and think the sauce sounds too complicated, don’t make the sauce.  I normally bread and fry dover sole in a little olive oil and butter and serve with no sauce.  It is that good.

But I did a variant yesterday, and made a creamy ancho chile sauce with serrano peppers and mushrooms.  The sauce ended up tasting kind of like a Pontchartrain sauce – kind of a spicy cajun deal, and it was yummy. I could just see making this with some lump crabmeat or crawfish tails.  The red serrano peppers from my garden really helped with the visual appeal, in addition to jazzing up the spice content.
Fish fixins:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 lb Dover sold (fresh – or frozen fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile paste (see this blog 28 Mar 09 for recipe)
  • plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 stick butter
Heat olive oil and butter on medium heat.  It needs to be hot enough to where a drop of water flicked in there from your finger sizzles nicely. Beat eggs in a bowl, and add cumin and chile paste, and mix it all up nicely. Pour a bunch of bread crumbs onto a plate.  Dip the fish into the egg mixture, then dredge it through the bread crumbs. Place into the hot oil.  The level of oil and butter should be high enough to where the fish is almost submerged.  You’ll need to be careful handling the fish in the fryer because it will break up on you. You cannot just flip it with tongs, or you’ll end up with a mess on your hands. After 2-3 minutes (assuming there’s a lot of sizzling and bubbling going on), flip the fish.  I prefer to use a long spatula to minimize chances of breakage. The fish should be browned nicely. If you cook it on too low a heat, it can be a little soggy and greasy.
I can fit about a half a pound of filets in my iron skillet, so what I do to keep everything warm while i finish the job and make the sauce is put a cooling rack on a cookie sheet into a 200 degree oven and keep the fish warm there. I use the cooling rack to allow any excess oil to drain.
Run the fish through the oil until you’re finished – you should be able to do a pound in two batches. While the fish are frying, slice up mushrooms and serrano pepper, if you’re making the sauce.
Drain all but a tablespoon and a half of the oil.
The sauce
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 serrano pepper (red, if available) – or a red or yellow habanero
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream or 1/2 cup Mexican sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • fresh ground black pepper
Saute the mushrooms in the oil for two or three minutes, until they look like you’d want to eat them. Add the serranos and give a stir. After about a minute, sprinkle flour into the mixture, stirring everything nicely so that it’s not too much of a paste, but the oil is about all soaked up. This will be anywhere from 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour, depending on how you eyeballed the remaining oil/butter mixture. Once you have a nice smooth liquidy paste, pour in the chicken broth and raise heat to high.  Stir in ancho chile paste and shake salt and cumin into the mixture.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Let it simmer for a couple of minutes until it starts to reduce, then add crema Mexicana or whipping cream.   Give the pepper a few turns.  Taste the sauce – if it’s not hot enough (it depends if your ancho chile paste is pure ancho or if it’s the chipotle ancho blend i like to make), you can sprinkle some cayenne pepper into the mixture. Cook on medium-low heat until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. If too thin, just cook longer, too thick, add a little more broth.
I serve this with rice, as pictured, with roasted zucchini (to be blogged later). This will feed two hungry folks or three salad-eaters.