Tag Archives: Potatoes

Ladies and Gentle-Chickens!

OK, I’ll admit it…  I’m totally turning into a farm-geek.  Harvesting and gathering your own food is just plain fun (particularly since we were not involved in the hard work of prepping the garden or planting anything… just reaping the benefits).  It’s like Easter egg hunting.  Digging through the potato hill, not sure if there is anything left until your hands start raking in the ruby red tubers.  Little Man loves pulling up root vegetables, especially beets.  He grabs the leafy greens and then leans back with all of his might until either the root gives way or the greens do.  I have had to start restraining myself at the farm garden, always reason to come back tomorrow.  We have free reign in the garden, but it is not our’s and I don’t want to abuse our privileges there.  Even so I often find myself making excuses to go back to the garden or asking Little Man if he wants to go say “hi” to the chickens just so that I can say “hi” too.

After "shopping" in the garden

After “shopping” in the garden

 My favorite thing to do is gather eggs.  There is something about walking into the chicken coup, the scent of sweet hay and a little bit of chicken funk, but it just makes me smile.  Novella Carpenter in her hilarious discussion of urban farming in an Oakland ghetto (Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer) describes chickens as the gateway animal to urban farming.  After a couple of weeks living on the farm I can totally see her point.  We plan on staying here for quite some time, but when we do eventually leave… don’t tell Dave, but I would really like to be somewhere that we could have chickens. 

Dinner

 

 Speaking of Dave, a couple of days ago he came home from working at the university to be greeted by a happy toddler who invited him to go say “hi” to the chickens.  We went to take the short cut to the chicken coup through the back yard, which Little Man calls the “hair cut.”  He heard us call the short path to the garden behind our house as the “short cut,” but didn’t know the word so now it is “hair cut.”  Usually when Little Man greets the chickens he says “Helloooo Laadiessss.”  Today was different.  He walked up to the coup, threw his arms wide and yelled “hello ladies and gentle-gnomes!”  Dave and I smiled at each other and in unison said “good evening ladies and gentle-chickens!”

 We went into the coup and were greeted by Little Man’s “ladies.”  Our plan for the eggs was built on yesterday’s botched brunch.  Little Man, while trying to hold it together in a marathon grocery shopping expedition said that he would like pancakes for brunch.  I made a rookie mistake and promised my beautiful, curly-haired boy that he would have pancakes… and then we got to the restaurant 30 minutes after they stopped doing breakfast.  Oh bother!  So to atone for my error, dinner that night was a pancake breakfast.  Specifically we had pancakes made from a Bauder Camp recipe (I miss those cocktail cruises!), homemade turkey sausage patties and oven-roasted home potatoes.  I’ll share those recipes at another time.  For our purposes in this post I am going to share the recipe that came the day after our pancake breakfast for dinner.  We ended up having a good amount of sausage and potatoes left over, and in our house that can only mean one thing… frittata.

 A frittata is like a large omelet, but it’s even better since you don’t have to flip or fold it.  That means it can be easily turned into a fast, delicious dinner.  I have included a link to the frittata recipe below, and it is based off of the left overs that we had in our house that evening.  You don’t have to make a pancake breakfast for dinner in order to prep for this meal the next night… but it’s a great excuse to do so.

 One “trick” I use for frittatas is something that I learned from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Flavorful Recipes for Healthful Meals cookbook.  To make a frittata that provides four servings (the leftovers are great the next day!), I start with eight eggs.  If the eggs are small I might add another to round it out.  The trick is to only use four whole eggs and four egg whites, ditching four of the yolks.  My brother is moaning right now, but by getting rid of those yolks I can decrease the amount of fat and bad cholesterol in the dish.  Dave and I are both a bit rounder than we would like, and lowering overall bad cholesterol in our diets is another goal.  So there you go.  You can keep or ditch those four yolks as you see fit.  I haven’t found any loss of flavor, richness or overall awesomeness in my frittatas since I started doing this.

 One last frittata trick…  Many of the recipes that I’ve read and seen demonstrated on TV require that you get out an extra plate, flip the darn thing when it’s mostly cooked onto the plate, and then invert it again into the skillet to finish cooking.  It looks simple on TV.  I’m sure my issues with this have been a result of a lack of patience or my overall clumsiness, but I have burned my hands and splattered my stove (and countertops… and cupboards…) enough that I gave that technique up.  Instead, I cover the frittata pan with a lid immediately after I add the eggs.  This lets the top set up through the steam released from its cooking.  Once the eggs are set up nicely I remove the lid, sprinkle on a bit of grated cheese and pop the thing under the broiler for a minute or too to brown it up.  That way you get the crispy browning of the top that you would otherwise miss from not flipping it.  No more burned fingers (or at least less), no more messy stove and surrounding area (or at least less), and the resulting frittata is stunning in its caramelized cheesy glory.

Sausage and Potato Frittata

Left over roasted potatoes and sausage patties for the frittata

Left over roasted potatoes and sausage patties for the frittata

The frittata flavor base of onions, roasted potatoes and sausage

The frittata flavor base of onions, roasted potatoes and sausage

The flavor base after adding the smoked paprika, my favorite spice

The flavor base after adding the smoked paprika, my favorite spice

After adding in the egg mixture

After adding the egg mixture put a lid on the pan to help cook the top

Once the top is almost set, you can add the cheese

Once the top is almost set, you can add the cheese

The top is almost set and I had run out of cheese to grate.  Luckily I did have slices of Colby.

The top is almost set and I had run out of cheese to grate. Luckily I did have slices of Colby.

The finished product.  Be careful with broiling your frittata.  I have been known to walk away from the oven and "caramelize" my frittatas more than intended.

The finished product. Be careful with broiling your frittata. I have been known to walk away from the oven and “caramelize” my frittatas more than intended.

Best kitchen helper ever!

Best kitchen helper ever!

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Are These Even Edible?

 Sorry for the delay in posts.  We just got back from a week’s vacation/family reunion with Dave’s family.  I’ll write more about that later.  For now, let’s get caught back up…

View of the pasture and surrounding forest

View of the pasture and surrounding forest

So not only are we living on a farm, but all of Vancouver Island is a massive gorgeous forest.  We have seen a number of eagles, an otter crossing the street, and a seal hanging out at the crabbing dock looking for a handout.  But mostly there are plants, plants, plants everywhere.  And my son is afraid of every single one.  He throws his bouncy ball into the grass that has tall dandelions, and he squeals if his hand has to get too close to one.  We were on Vancouver Island University campus today, walking on some of the trails through the trees while Dave unloaded boxes into his new office.  As Little Man and I were “trail blazing” he would squeal if a branch had the audacity to cross the trail.  If he had to maneuver too close to a dangling flower, he squealed.  If his mommy took a leaf and tickled him behind the ear while he walked, he squealed.  Hence the rub, by being so cute when he squeals at the greenery I’m inspired to cause more squeals.

Little Man surrounded by plants.  The background is part of a neighbor's garden.

Little Man surrounded by plants. The background is part of a neighbor’s garden.

  Little Man also must contend with various gardens up and down our street.  At the end of the street live two dogs that he loves to visit, and they have a lovely garden that I like to visit.  The next house over has a prolific garden whose owner consistently presses bulging shopping bags full of English cucumbers and zucchini at us.  Needless to say I walk past that house as often as possible.  There is also our house, which does not have its own garden yet, but we do have the farm garden more or less in our backyard and we have been granted free access for whenever we want.  All of these visits cause more squealing from the short member of our family, and chuckles from us.  Poor boy…

Little Man and myself walking to the "store" aka farm garden.

Little Man and myself walking to the “store” aka farm garden.

One of the first times we went “shopping” in the farm garden behind our house also happened to be a weekend when Dave’s parents were visiting.  On this particular occasion, Dave, his mom, Little Man and I were in the garden, harvesting a head of cauliflower that was almost overblown.  While we were out there and Little Man was squealing at the pepper plants, Dave’s mom commented that the cauliflower leaves looked incredibly similar, almost identical in fact, to collards.  I took a second look as well, and the huge leaves fanning out from around the cauliflower stalk do look just like collards.  Now mind you I have no experience with collards “in the wild,” but if these cauliflower leaves were off the plant, tied together with a rubber band and put in a bin at the grocery store, they would look just like collard greens.  This led to her next question; are cauliflower leaves edible?

Cauliflower is in the foreground with brocolli just behind.

Cauliflower is in the foreground with brocolli just behind.

A little internet research later, and yes, cauliflower leaves are in fact edible.  Even more impressive than the fact that they are edible is that they are delicious.  I have found that cauliflower leaves are more bitter than collards, which I don’t mind, but if you are not fond of that particular flavor you can just cook the leaves for a longer period of time like in traditional southern recipes for collards.

Brocolli from the garden.  The leaves are just as delicious as the head itself.

Brocolli from the garden. The leaves are just as delicious as the head itself.

The overall internet opinion about harvesting cauliflower leaves is that you likely want to wait on harvesting the leaves until the cauliflower head itself is harvested, or at least leave some leaves on the plant that can protect the head.  Before the cauliflower head is harvested the leaves can be tied up around it for protection from the sun and insects.  Once the head is harvested, the leaves are fair game.  This also allows you to eat more from the entire cauliflower plant, rather than simply harvesting the head and then composting everything else.

 Another little beauty whose leaves you can eat is broccoli.  This should not have been too surprising to me, but I am still learning my way around the relationships of the plant world.  Apparently collards, cauliflower, broccoli and kale are all related.  Who knew?

 The one bummer side to this information is that if you do not grow these plants in your own garden or do not have access to them through a farmers market, you will likely have a hard time finding access to the leaves.  While I have not yet grown them myself, it sounds like cauliflower and broccoli are relatively easy plants to grow.  Or at least so say my gardener friends on the street.  If you have space for a planter on your deck or front step, you likely have enough space to grow a couple of these for yourself.  We got to the island a bit late in the planting season for me to have started some of my own cauliflower this year, but I am going to get some lettuces and kale going in containers later this week.

Harvesting potatoes... Little Man's favorite vegetable to pick.

Harvesting potatoes… Little Man’s favorite vegetable to pick.

But first, back to the cauliflower leaves.  Once we learned that they were edible, I started plotting ways that they could be used.  Our cauliflower leaf harvest coincided with the gathering of a batch of potatoes and peas from the garden as well.  Then I came across a Pintrest picture of a gorgeous potato and pea curry.  I thought that the julienned cauliflower leaves would be an amazing addition to this curry, so I tried the link… and I’m still not sure what language that is.  Perhaps something Eastern European?  I have a little bit of experience with a number of languages (not enough to be fluent in anything but English), but for this recipe I could not even recognize the word for onion.  So I gave that recipe up for lost and instead used the picture itself as inspiration.  After combing through a number of different recipes on the internet and my own cookbook collection I came up with this Curried Potatoes and Peas with Cauliflower Leaves recipe.  When I came up with and tested this recipe I was not yet blogging so I don’t have lovely pictures of the process yet.  I promise to get back to that and will load those once I have them.

Picture of the curry that inspired my Curried Potatoes with Peas and Cauliflower Greens recipe

Picture of the curry that inspired my Curried Potatoes with Peas and Cauliflower Greens recipe

Curried Potato, Peas and Cauliflower Leaves

This recipe was inspired by the gorgeous produce I found in the farm garden, and given shape by an online picture of a gorgeous curry.  This has some hints of Indian influences through the spices, but is more reliant on preblended curry powders that you would not find in “authentic” Indian food.  If you cannot find cauliflower leaves, please feel free to substitute them with collard greens or another sturdy green of your preference.  The recipe also calls for peas.  When I first made this I used fresh peas from the garden.  Frozen peas work well too, but you do lose some of the sweetness and texture of the fresh produce.  Lastly, a delicious way to boost the protein in this vegetarian dish is to add quartered boiled eggs at the end with the peas.  This is done in some traditional Indian curries, and works wonderfully with this recipe.  In fact, that is exactly what I did the first time I made this dish and Little Man gobbled them up.  Serve this over basmati rice or with flat bread to soak up all the rich, spicy broth.

 Curried Potatoes with Peas and Cauliflower Leaves Recipe

Mommy, Where Are We?

Little Man and our "big, big, big, big" tree

Little Man and our “big, big, big, big” tree

“Mommy, where are we?”

 Ever since the move, our son asks us this a couple of times a day.  When we ask the question back to him, he answers that “we’re home.”  Not having had anything in his experience to prepare for (or to understand) our cross-continental and over-the-border move, he’s still working out what “home” is.  And frankly, so am I.

 So where in the world are we? 

Country: Canada

Province: British Columbia

Island: Island!?!

OK, one more time… Island: Vancouver Island

 As the second house on the farm property we are surrounded by trees and pasture and wilderness, but in less than 10 minutes we’re back down in town close to dozens of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or the sea wall, or the library, or within 15 minutes to the university where Dave teaches.  We seem far from everything, but can get anywhere in a matter of minutes.

 When Dave’s mom, sister and I were first driving out here to view the property this “closeness” was not apparent.  Having lived in the American Midwest for a number of years I was not as immediately worried about the wilderness as my lovely, city-raised travel partners.  The minute we passed by the last subdivision and there were more trees than telephone poles my in-laws got fidgety.  There was quite a lot of nervous giggling, and “where ARE we?” questions.  Our odd mumbling GPS didn’t help matters, nor did my cryptically written directions.  Was I even awake when I wrote them down?  Then finally we passed two mammoth Easter Island heads (moai) in the middle of the forest, and turned right onto our road.  I know this may sound odd, but all of you archaeologists out there (in career or in heart) will understand when I say that those heads seemed like a good omen to me.  They are incongruously perched amid the cedars that run alongside the road, and the first time you catch sight of them they can be startling.  I still have no idea why they are there, but I’m glad that they are.

 Our neighborhood seems like two sides of a fairytale.  A few homes, all with incredible gardens and most with chickens, wrap around a short lane.  This is bordered on one side by grassy fields and restful horses, and on the other side by a gentle downward slope leading to a low, damp pasture ringed with trees and a small pond.  When I first saw this view on that cool Spring evening, the edges of the bottoms were fringed with a silver mist, and I imagined all sorts of magical creatures emerging from the forest darkness.  Or then again, maybe a slip back in time, before the Hudson Bay Company and the miners and the loggers, when this land was filled with a very different type of civilization.  The darker side of the fairy tale I learned later that evening.  This land used to belong to a British aristocrat, tales of the native peoples who might have called this place home long buried.  The aristocrat wanted to create a home more suited to his fancy, and drained a lake that once filled the pasturage below that I had been admiring.  That story still makes me think about a novel I’ve read, the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain, where the evil sorcerer-lord drains a magical elven lake.  The drained pasturage today is beautiful, particularly when the sheep are slowly munching their way through the cedars.  I do wonder, though, what it was like before; and what older beauty was destroyed to make this current beauty possible.

 Now our “home” borders this beautiful expanse.  When Dave came home from his first soccer practice, we sat outside under the little arbor on a bench. Sipping beer we sat and ogled the view, laughing at what had brought us here and not quite believing that we’d landed in such a beautiful place.  This is where Little Man’s first memories will be formed.  Amazing…Sunflower3

 As I try to create my own sense of “home” in my wilderness, I’d like to share the latka recipe that I mentioned in an earlier post.  Mom made these latkas for me and my brother every Saturday morning throughout my entire childhood.  They are one of my earliest food memories.  I also remember spending the night at my Grammie’s house as a young girl and asking her to make these latkas in the morning.  She didn’t know how to make them, and I was young enough that even though I had helped my mom make them countless times I did not know how to explain the process or the ingredients.  Later I would pay much closer attention to what Mom was doing so I could also recreate that taste, and now they are probably my most powerful comfort food.  These latkas were a part of our Independence Day(s) dinner, and are still my go-to comfort Saturday morning breakfast.  Little Man is going to love them!

 Mom’s Latkas

Latkas are traditionally Jewish, specially served at Hanukah, but I have also had them at diners in different parts of the States.  I have never had the opportunity to eat them homemade anywhere else than my own home.  They’ve become the kind of dish that is so closely embedded in my own culinary identity that even though I am not Jewish, I don’t think that I could try any one else’s latkas (except for my Mom’s) with an open mind.  When Dave and I were dating, in fact, he asked me to send him the recipe (more of a method at that point) so he could make them for his family when he went home one Christmas.  I was later horrified to hear that he’d had the audacity to grate cheese into my latka mix.  While that could be a lovely oozy hash brown recipe, I was not amused that it had ended up in MY latkas.  I haven’t shared the recipe with anyone since, but now in my quest for home I’m sharing the recipe again hoping in the sharing some sense of “home” can be created here as well.  So traditionalist (with a side of apple sauce and sour cream), anarchist (grated cheese in the batter…) or just plain wonderful on their own, I hope you love these as much as I do.

 Makes about 12 medium-sized latkas.

 3 medium (2.5 lbs) Russet Potatoes

4-5 eggs

¼ cup garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Canola oil for the pan

 Preheat your oven to its lowest setting.  You will keep the cooked latkas warm in the oven while you finish cooking the rest.  I am not a mom who stands at the stove cooking while everyone else gets to sit down and eat the delicious food.  I like to cook them all, keeping the done ones warm in the oven, and only when the last latka (or pancake, piece of french toast, etc.) comes out of the pan do we all sit down to eat together.

 Line a large nonreactive bowl with a clean kitchen towel (not a fuzzy one) and grate the potatoes into the towel-lined bowl.  Collect the four corners of the towel together and squeeze the potatoes firmly over the sink to drain out the extra liquid.  Put the potatoes into the bowl and set aside.  Some people like to drain the potatoes in a colander for 30 minutes or so, but I am not that patient.

Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl

Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl

Grated potatoes after being squeezed

Grated potatoes after being squeezed

Pour enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet to coat the pan well.  Don’t skimp here. By having a good amount of hot oil in the pan you can get a good golden crust on the latkas.  Too little oil and the latkas stick to the skillet, and oil that isn’t hot enough lets the potatoes soak up too much oil creating greasy latkas.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot.  Do not try to use olive oil here, as it will burn.

 Now back to the drained potatoes.  Break the eggs into the grated potatoes and add the garlic powder, as well as a good amount of salt and pepper.  It will seem like you are adding an excessive amount of dried spice, but you’ll be surprised by how much it takes to season the latkas.  I often start with about a tablespoon of salt and pepper depending on how much potato I have to start with.  Stir the mixture together until well blended.

It is always a good idea to break eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then add them to the main mix.  That way if you get a bad egg you have not ruined your entire batter.

It is always a good idea to break eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then add them to the main mix. That way if you get a bad egg you have not ruined your entire batter.

Lovely latka mixture.  You will not know if you have the seasoning right until after you taste the "tester."

Lovely latka mixture. You will not know if you have the seasoning right until after you taste the “tester.”

 When the oil is hot take about a tablespoon of the mixture in a slotted spoon and put it into the hot pan, pressing down lightly to form a rough pancake shape.  Cook this “tester” latka until golden on one side and then flip it.  This should only take a minute or two if the oil is heated well.  Once the latka is crispy on both sides remove it to a towel lined plate and taste.  The “tester” lets you gauge if you need to add any more garlic powder, salt or pepper.

Latkas frying on their first side

Latkas frying on their first side

Latkas on the flip side

Latkas on the flip side

 Once you have the mixture seasoned properly, drop more latka mixture into the skillet.  I use about 1/3 of a cup of mixture each for four good-sized latkas cooking in the pan at any given time.  It is important to use the slotted spoon for the latka mixture, as the potatoes will give off liquid as they sit.  You don’t want soggy latkas, so let the excess liquid drain out of the spoon before you drop the mixture into the pan.  Cook until the latkas are golden on one side, flip them and crisp the second side.  Between batches you can add more oil as needed, heat the oil again, and then add another batch to the pan.  As one batch of latkas is done, remove it to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep them in the warm oven until ready to serve.

Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.

Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.

Latkas

Print on the link above to open a pdf of the Mom’s Latkas recipe card that you can print.