Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Classics: Potato Salad (Greenpoint Style)

At our house, the first warm day that my husband takes out his grill is potato salad season.  I love a good potato salad particularly because it is such an easy side for a casual get together.  One labor day I brought it to a luncheon at a friend's family beach house in the Rockaways.  Her grandmother was so full of compliments I felt like a Domestic Potato Salad Goddess for the day.  Really, I think I just got lucky.  Two uninspiring batches of potato salad later and my domestic goddess status was demoted.

The ingredients in my potato salad are like commas in my writing attempts.  I just, don't know, when, I have too many, where, to put them in, or when, to leave them out.  Like all cooking, art and life (it alway comes to that), the priority has to be balance, then all the ingredients fall into place.  The formula: potatoes, one or two crunchy vegetables, one or two flavor boosters like onion, hot pepper, or capers, a choice of meat, egg or fish, an herb or spice, and a dressing to serve as a binder, most commonly mayonaise or oil paired with an acidic flavor.  More than that and I have not been successful.  The flavors just don't shine through.

So if I haven't mentioned this before, Nick and I live in Greenpoint, Brookyn.  This is a well established Polish community with distinctly Polish flavors up and down (and in between) our main drag.  This suits me and my Polish-American husband just fine, especially when we are craving some comfort food in form of a smokey fish or meat.  The morning of this potato salad, a neighbor brought us a beautiful, rich coral orange steak of smoked salmon from Acme Smoked Fish.  Sadly. I have never been able to go myself as they are only open for public retail on Friday mornings.  Ah, the limitations of a day job.  Thinking of playing hooky anytime soon? Maybe for an exceptional smoked salmon experience?   Needless to say, some if it made it into our potato salad and the rest, well, got devoured as is and with our fingers.

Potato Salad Greenpoint Style with Smoked Salmon

5 or 6 potatoes cubed
2 to three scallions (I like to use only the greens) chopped
3 radishes chopped
A handful of the chopped radish greens*
2 teaspoons capers
3 1/2 inch cut of smoked salmon steak diced
sea salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup mayonaise
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 glugs of olive oil
juice of one lemon

Boil your potatos in salted water until tender but not mushy.  You want them to be soft when your fork goes through but not to fall apart.  Then drain.  In a large bowl, toss your chopped radishes, radish greens, scallions, smoked salmon and capers,  In a small bowl, whisk together mayonaise, mustard, olive oil, and lemon juice with a little salt and pepper.  I like to add the potatoes while they are still very warm but not steaming hot.  I would recommend letting them cool for 7 to 10 minutes.  The hotter they are the more they will absorb your dressing.  You want them to absorb some of the dressing but not so much so that the other ingredients don't get enough.  Finish with another sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper.
*I often reserve the greens of a root vegetable to use in a dish like I would parsley.  Why waste it when it is tasty and delicious?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Artful Brunch: Scones

Before I decided that I liked eating scones, I liked the word scone.  I like how the sound pours out of your mouth long and low like a church bell.  I also liked the idea of a scone, evoking cloth napkins and china tea cups.  Although what was a beautiful, auditory sound for me was paired with a dry, sandy mouthful of lumpy bread.  This was made worse one unfortunate weekday morning when, in a groggy, decaffeinated state, I convinced myself that it would be a good idea to get a scone at Starbucks.  Still dry, lumpy bread but with too much sugar.

But still, I was not ready to give up on the romanticized vision of china teacups.  And the word scone falling off the tongue easier than, let's say, pancake.  Not that I have anything against pancakes. Particularly if they are made with buttermilk and plump with blueberries (Janice!).  And I will say it, I didn't like pancakes until I had them made that way.  Proving yet again that it isn't the food alone but the approach.  Brunch, like all of life's simple pleasures, should be artful.

The first batch of scones I made were my best scones.  Back in the fall, after a very ambitious day of apple picking that became the inspiration to many an apple laden recipe (see here), I made apple cheddar scones.  These were adapted from a recipe in "Once Upon a Tart" by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau.  I came upon this lovely little cookbook quite by accident.  Or rather I should say that my mother came across this book in the library she was working in.  I came to learn that this little cafe is located on Sullivan St. in Manhattan and if you are in the neighborhood it is most certainly worth a visit.

Back to the scone recipe.  My scone adventure began with a simple recipe for Cheddar-Parmesan Scones with Fresh Dill.  I was first intrigued by how simple the recipe was.  I didn't even have to take out my Kitchenaid mixer.  How could it hurt? I swapped out the Parmesan, cayenne and dill for apples, being that I had about a bushel on hand anyway.  The result was not dry, but a delicately balanced, sweet and savory,  steamy cloud of bread that drank butter when you spread it on.  I thought that perhaps it was the apples that balanced out the texture but I have since made a few versions without that were almost as soft.  (The apples do help a little.)  My most recent version of this scone was closest to the original.  But the recipe is so adaptable that you can find any combination of sweet or savory additions to make this work. Something to remember is that if the flavor you are adding is moist by nature it adds to that fluffy, soft, texture in your scone.  The book does have a variety of scone recipes, all were the ratios are different depending on the types of ingredients being used, and is worth checking out (for other things too).  My sincere thanks Frank and Jerome!

Cheddar-Asiago Scones with Chives
(adapted from Once upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau with Carolynn Carreno)

2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, cut in 8 pieces
3 large eggs,
1/2 cup cold milk
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated asiago

Position one of your oven racks in the center of your oven and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.   Dump the dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse so that they are mixed evenly.  Add the butter run your food processor for 15 seconds.  Continue to pulse if there are still chunks of butter.  It should look a little like bread crumbs. Then dump the mixture into a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs o break the yolks.  Whisk in milk followed but chives and cheeses.   Then pour the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir with a wooden spoon.  Note that it will seem very dry at first but it will come together.  Once you have a dough- like consistency scoop  up about a 1/2 cup of it in your hands and plop in on the parchment paper.  They should be about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.