Simple Potato Salad

I like potato salad of all kinds. I grew up eating a simple German Potato salad made with potatoes, cucumbers, red onions and vinegar and oil, that my dad use to make whenever there was a get-together of some kind. And then there’s the other one, that typically came from the store, and was often at picnics. The yellow American one with a mayonnaise and mustard dressing, and maybe some hard-boiled egg and celery in it. No one in my family made that one, but I love them both. Those are the only two kinds of potato salad I know. I often wonder, why just two?

So I’m always on the look out for salads with potatoes. They’re not typically on restaurant menus, and when they come as a side, it’s usually some white thing with dill but no flavor. Often a deli will have something that looks tasty, but ends up being tasteless. One I see a lot looks like it’s full of stuff you’d find in a baked potato: cheddar cheese, green onions, bacon…but with no real dressing, so it comes off as dry and just gums up my mouth.

I don’t know what makes a good potato salad, but I’ve been trying to figure out a formula, and experiment with combining simple ingredients, to formulate something that I would crave, look forward to making and eating, the way I crave my father’s German potato salad.

We were having sandwiches for lunch the other day, and I had some potatoes, cucumber, and celery I needed to use up, so I gave the following a try, and it was pretty good:

3 small golden potatoes
2 stalks of celery, diced
1/3 English cucumber, peeled, 1/2 moon slices
1/4 cup diced white onion
a few leaves of chopped Italian parsley

2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
4 Tbl olive oil
1 small garlic clove, finely diced.

Boil potatoes with skins on just until soft. Place under cold water, and remove skins. Cut the potatoes in half, and then slice. They were still slightly warm so I drizzled a small amount of apple cider vinegar on them to absorb while warm. After they cooled a bit more, I added the other ingredients, along with salt and pepper to taste. I also sliced a few small cherry tomatoes for color. I would have used red or green onion if I had any, but I was trying to get rid of the stuff I had – and this worked pretty well. It was enough for 4 people to have a single serving at lunch.

So the basic formula for this is: a few potatoes, some veggies you have laying around that you can cut in a way that suits your bite for the day (cucumber, celery, bell pepper, etc.), some type of onion, an herb of your choice, and a vinaigrette. 

Beef Stew in the Instant Pot

Last year I got an Instant Pot for Christmas. The IP Lux model. I used it for our annual tamale party and it was great for getting the tamales done in record time. But it’s been sitting on the counter for the last 11 months, essentially unused. I did cook one thing it, but I remember not being impressed, and haven’t taken the time to figure it out, or experiment with it. Plus, I’ve been a little skeptical luddite-wise, as in how can something cooked quickly be as good as something that simmers all day long?

But today my question was answered. Now that my teaching schedule is over, I’ve been enjoying the lovely fall weather, and taking time for things I’ve been putting off.

1 lb of stew meat
toss with 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper
2 Tbl olive oil in Instant Pot on simmer
add a few sprinkles of soy sauce 
Simmer the meat for a few minutes then remove
1/2 to 1 chopped onion w/another Tbl olive oil
deglaze with 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
add some beef stock ti finish deglazing
add back the meat

add 2 diced potatoes
3 diced carrots
3 diced celery stalks
a bunch of quartered mushrooms
1 Tbl tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
the rest of the stock (total of 2 cans)
1-2 Tbl soy sauce
whatever flour mix was left over form breading the meat.

cover with lid and cook for 30 minutes
took 15 minutes to get up to temperature
then 30 minutes for natural steam release
so total cook time was 1 hr 15 minutes
after opening the lid, turn to saute and add cornstarch mix
stir for 2 minutes
add 1/2 cup of frozen peas

It was really good!
The meat was fall apart tender.

Corn Tortillas

Every year around Christmas I buy fresh masa at the Mexican market for making tamales. I also buy a bag of Masa Harina flour as a kind of insurance policy in case I run out of fresh masa. I end up not using it, and it sits in the cabinet all year. I always figured I could use it to make corn tortillas. This year, after the bag sat in the cabinet for 9 months, I finally decided to give it a try.

Corn tortillas are another one of my inconvenient struggles. I like them, but the market down the street sells two kinds: small bags of ultra thin corn tortillas by the dozen – too thin for most things, and large 2 lb bags of the regular corn tortillas I grew up with, the ones that are just under an 1/8 inch thick, and good for making enchiladas, or tostadas, or Mexican hot dogs, or anything. However, a 2 lb bag is more than I can use, and I inevitably end up throwing some out. Although I did purchase a vacuum sealer just after making tamales this year, so I could store them better, and have been using that to freeze batches of corn tortillas in usable size bunches.

However, my tortilla problems are now solved! A little masa harina flour, a little water, a little rolling some dough, and voila! Fresh tortillas that are actually good!

My test batch was small:

3/4 cup Masa Harina Flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 tsp salt

the dough came together very easily. I needed it for a minute or two, divided it into six pieces, rolled out little disks with a rolling pin, and put them on hot griddle for minute or two until they started to form brown spots, then stored them in a cloth towel before using them to make 3 quesadillas. They were fantastic and easy and quick to make.

Good Easy Meatballs

I finally seem to have found a quick recipe for good meatballs that makes just enough for us, with not too many ingredients, can be made in just a few minutes, and are pretty tasty.

Simple Meatballs

1/2 lb ground round
1/2 lb ground veal
a few squirts of Worcestershire
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 tsp salt
1 egg

bake 10 minutes at 425 F

You can serve them with spaghetti and red sauce or bolognese, and then use the leftovers for meatball sandwiches.

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Blackened Tilapia

Tonight menu: Blackened Tilapia with rice, roasted cauliflower & chopped salad w/avocado.
Frozen tilapia fillets from Costco. Thaw in a bowl of cold water.
Blackened Tilapia

1 Tbls Smoked paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne (i have little kids)
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper
coat fillets with spice mix. Place in pan with hot oil 
and cook ~3 minutes on each side, until fish is done.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower. Wash, cut into large florets, then slice florets when possible into 1/4 inch thick slices. throw it all into a bowl and coat with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of turmeric. Mix it all around by hand, spread it around onto a cookie sheet and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes. Flip with spatula after 15 minutes.
Rice: chop green onions, saute in oil. Add orzo, pasta bits, rice. Stir around. add chicken broth, salt, simmer until done.

iced teas

I think I finally found an iced tea recipe/protocol that I like. I use a mix of hot and cold brew. It can be ready in a reasonable time, and you can decide how long you want it to brew for. I make it a liter at a time. I store it in a glass bottle in the fridge, and I found a liter canning jar that is useful for brewing.

15 grams tea (0.5 ounce)
25 grams honey
25 grams sugar
35 ounces water

chill 20 oz of water in the canning jar
Boil 8 oz of water
throw in the tea and turn off the heat after a few seconds
brew for 1 minute.
pour the cold water into the pan
and then transfer back to the glass jar
finish brewing the tea
at room temp or in the fridge for an hour or two
strain the tea mix into the bottle
make a simple syrup with honey and sugar using the final 8 oz of water
add it to the bottle
chill and serve
For the last step, I heat the water in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, place it on a scale and squeeze in 20-25 grams of honey. Once that is dissolved, I add 2 tablespoons of sugar.
For Yerba Mate, I might also add a few teaspoons of lemon juice.
I started making these iced teas after stopping at the Spice of Life tea shop in St. Cloud Minnesota where they have a huge selection of fresh teas. For instance, the Paradise Fruit & Berry Blend, has apple, papaya, elderberry, red currant, raspberry, strawberry and hibiscus. I didn’t want to drink it hot. But I remember making a hibiscus based tea when I worked at Seychelles restaurant in Snata Cruz in the 80’s so I figured I’d make an iced version and it turned out great. A nice bit of unique pleasing flavor, different than the usual array of commercial drinks to offer people with dinner.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

I hate it when something simple takes years to achieve. These days, I’ll take any simple pleasures I can get, and this was an easy one.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make my own enchilada sauce. It’s always been a mystery to me that comes only from a can. And yet, there’s something luscious and familiar and screaming “I’m homemade” when I eat enchiladas from Rudys. The sauce is dark and very specific to Rudy’s – I’ve never tasted a sauce like it at any other Mexican restaurants.
I know from making chili sauce for Tamales that I can use dried peppers and a blender to make a nice thick flavorful sauce if I can just figure out what else to put in it. Here’s what I tried:

1 Ancho chile
3 gaujillo chiles
2 New Mexico chiles
6 California chiles
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Break up the dried chiles and remove the stems and seeds. Tear or chop them into pieces and place them in a pan. Roast for 1-2 minutes with heat, but don’t let them smoke or burn. Add 2 cups chicken broth and and bring liquid near boiling but just get it hot and then turn off heat and let them sit for 20 minutes until then get soft and swell in the liquid.
Add the soft mix to a blender. Add cumin, salt, and sugar, and blend to a fine puree (add water or broth if too thick).
Heat 2 Tbl oil in a pan and add 1 Tbl flour. As the flour is sizzling, stir in the sauce. until it starts to bubble. Add more liquid to get the desired consistency.
Even with three cups of added liquid, I found I could have added another half cup of water, as the sauce was still thick, but it did a wonderful job of coating the tortillas while making enchiladas, and when I topped the enchiladas, it was thick enough that it didn’t run down the sides. So even though it was thick, it worked well and had good working consistency.
I made 8 cheese enchiladas (cheddar cheese, black olives, white onions, baked at 425 F, 25 minutes) and had about a cup of sauce left over.
The sauce tasted pretty good, but was a little bitter. Not sure what it was missing.

Barbecue Beans

“Momma’s iPad smells like the inside of an airplane!” exclaims Jude from the couch with giant headphone on his head as he watches youtube on the little red-leather covered device, holding it to his nose every few minutes.
Yesterday I made baked bean, or barbecue beans, not really sure what the difference is. They’re baked and barbecue tasting, and contains some leftover barbecue meat. Here’s what I did:
Soaked 1/2 lb of red beans, and 1/2 lb Great White Northern beans in water over night, with a sprinkle of salt.
The next day, sliced 5 or 6 strips of bacon, and cooked in the cruset. Removed bacon and added a diced onion (yellow or white, or in my case, leftover pieces form both) to the bacon grease. As the onions turned translucent I added 2-3 cloves of diced garlic. Just before the onions were starting to brown, I rinsed the beans and added them to the pot. Along with almost a quart of chicken stock. I brought it to a boil, and added 2 teaspoons of salt (on the edge of just right – maybe a little too much). Added back the bacon and let it simmer for an hour.
On the 4th I spent the day installing a bike rack on the Volvo before visiting a friend of mine with the boys for some barbecue. She was busy packing for our trip so he had given me a plate of barbecue for Kim. Not a big meat eater, his generosity meant plan B. I stuck it in the freezer and thought “baked beans!” After thawing the meat: three ribs and a bratwurst sausage, I added it to the pot.
Then added 1/2 cup dark brown sugar.
Then made the sauce:
1 cup ketchup
1 Tbl tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbl dijon mustard
1 Tbl Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp liquid smoke
1-2 tsp barbecue rub we had in the cupboard.
added it to the pot, stirred placed into oven at 300 F for 3 hours. Sprinkled a little tobasco, and voila! Baked beans! They were yummy.

Easy Sunday Corned Beef

Corned Beef for dinner with cabbage and potatoes. Kim ate earlier. The boys didn’t really like it. Alec didn’t like the consistency, but he liked the cabbage. Earlier, Jude had asked what corned beef tastes like. I told him it tastes kind of like hot dogs. When I gave him a little taste before dinner he said, “You’re right Papa, it does taste like hot dogs.” But then at dinner he didn’t really like it.
It was a 2.8 lb brisket. I got it on sale at Price Chopper just over a month ago for 6 bucks. Took it out of the bag, gave just a quick rinse, as the liquid was really goopy. Placed it into a baking dish, fat side up. Coated the top with the seasoning packet, and then ground pepper over that. Covered with heavy duty foil and placed into a 325 F oven, for 2 & 1/2 hrs. For the last 1/2 hour I took the foil off. Poking it with a fork, it gave no resistance, so I knew it was done. I had been worried, because I didn’t start it until 3:30, and with 3 hrs of cooking at a minimum, there was no room for error. It turned out good however. I took it out of the oven, and let it rest while I boiled the potatoes and prepared the cabbage. I ended up cutting a half cabbage into 4 wedges that I seared in the large iron skillet with olive oil. After flipping them searing on the opposite side and sprinkling with kosher salt and a little ground pepper, I added a 1/2 cup water and let them steam for a few minutes before rubbing butter around the outside.
Jude and I spend most of the day together, as Alec had a birthday party to attend at Sky Zone. We went to the park. It was 60 degrees out. I was wearing shorts, but a sweater and my black levi jacket. Jude played while I fumbled with some new bluetooth headphones that I plan to use with my Apple watch. We stopped by work to confirm that my wedding ring wasn’t there. Which means that Jude likely took it off the window sill and lost it somewhere. Jude wanted Goodcents for lunch, so we rode out bikes as the Art Fair was still in full swing, and traffic was a mess. We ate out at a table in the cool air.