October 26, 2012

Baked potatoes and Creamed corn

Potatoes don’t make me jump out of my seat with excitement.  I like them as much as everyone else, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t wake up in the morning thinking that “today, I’m in the mood for potatoes”.  When I think of potatoes I usually shrug my shoulders and see them as the bleak starch component on my plate.  I never give them much thought.  There’s nothing glitzy or fancy about potatoes in their natural state; they’re rarely the focus of a meal unless you’re talking about potato salad.  And so far I haven’t come across any potato dish that would constitute a full satisfying meal in itself (if you have, please report); for me, potatoes fall into the side dish category.  That’s why they need help or a partner of some sorts to really impress.  Perhaps I should just give them some credit. 

Sometimes, I do think that you could write volumes if you consider the thousands of varieties of potatoes out there; just their infinite color palette is worth novels.  Perhaps someone has already taken care of that (I’d have to check).  Bottom line, on their own, potatoes don’t bring much to the party, and most of the time I just wonder how I should cook them and make them shine.        

I was contemplating this very question when I stumbled upon David Rocco’s superb Patate al Forno recipe.  There are few good potato recipes, and even fewer truly fantastic ones.  But this one definitely makes the cut.  So, as you’ve been anticipating, potatoes are taking center stage today, and with Thanksgiving around the corner this recipe might make it onto your holiday table; it will surely make it onto mine!      

These potatoes are something special.  The spectacle of flavors is lip-smacking.  To tell you the truth, you couldn’t expect less from a hefty amount of thinly sliced starchy potatoes, showered with fresh, pungent herbs and garlic, and bathed in olive oil.  Once out of the oven, they are brown and crispy on the edges where they touched the pan dangerously resembling homemade chips, glossy, golden and tender throughout and speckled with herbs and garlic.  And let’s not forget that the heady aromas of rosemary and sage seep into every corner of the house.  One last thing about these scrumptious potatoes – I will not wait until Thanksgiving to make them again!

Baked Potatoes with Garlic and Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Patate al Forno by David Rocco

Serves:  4-6 servings


·         2 pounds (1 kg) Yukon gold potatoes, washed, peeled, and thinly sliced
·         1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
·         1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
·         1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
·         Optional: 1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
·         2 cloves of garlic, chopped
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon black pepper
·         ½ cup (125 ml) olive oil


Preheat the oven at 400°F (200°C). 

Place the potatoes in a roasting pan.  Mix together the herbs and garlic, and sprinkle the mixture on the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and put the roasting pan in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and tender. 

And since we’re looking at this perfect trio, let me tell you more about this gorgeous, glossy, golden corn coated in butter, flecked with a palm full of fresh parsley (to brighten things up), and drowned in a sea of cream.  I know it sounds kind of scary, “drowned in a sea of cream” (and some milk…).  I know, I know; it’s not your go to diet meal but it’s creamed corn after all, comfort food at its best, and trust me this one will steal the show.  It’s savory and sweet, bright, fresh and pleasantly creamy.  And guess what, roasted potatoes, creamed corn and schnitzel belong together.  Enjoy!

Creamed Corn
Adapted from Creamed Corn by Giada De Laurentiis

Serves:  4-6 servings


·         3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
·         1 pound frozen corn, thawed
·         Salt and pepper
·         1 Tablespoon flour
·         ¾ cup heavy cream
·         ¼ cup whole milk
·         2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped


In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the corn and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.  Add the cream and simmer until the mixture thickens, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the milk and parsley and stir well.  Season with more salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.   

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)     

October 13, 2012

Cucumber salad

I’m still grasping onto summer and its charming recipes with all my might.  Still, as days grow shorter and cooler, it does feel that summer is growing into fall, and is steadily giving way to its warm and cozy dishes.  But, as I told you before, I’m not yet ready for fall, and I’m still eating my fair share of summery delights.  Among them is Cucumber Salad.

Cucumber Salad is a classic in my family and summer isn’t summer without it.  During the hot season I always eat herculean amounts of cucumber salad; a lot more than I would ever admit.  This year was no exception.  I made it so often that we had it with almost every meal.  It paired beautifully with chicken, pork, beef, fish, and even with omelette.  I was actually astounded that Adrian never complained about having too much cucumber salad or suggested that we tried something else instead; better yet, I was amazed that I wasn’t tired of it.  But I wasn’t.  And that was good since the fridge was loaded every week with pounds and pounds of cool and crispy cucumbers, patiently waiting for me to turn them into cucumber salad.  The food police should have arrested me if I had wasted them.  There was only one major obsession that tormented me all summer long – I had to get the salad right on point! 

I made this salad dozens of times for Adrian and our friends; whether at home or away, cucumber salad was on the menu.  I knew exactly what went into it since this was my grandma’s favorite salad and the first dish that I had ever made on my own (that’s mainly because it involves no cooking), but I couldn’t wrap my head around the precise measurements especially when it came to the dressing.  I knew that I had to douse the cucumbers in salt, and then in a mixture of vinegar and sugar, but that was about it.  There was always a lot of tedious eyeballing, perpetual tasting, and constant praying for that perfectly balanced outcome – not too sour, not too sweet…  I do admit, though, that one summer while at home in Romania I finally asked my grandma for the exact measurements.  Unfortunately, her answer didn’t spark a revelation but rather caused my head to get lost in a deeper puzzling haze.  What else can you expect from “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that” kind of answer?

But in spite of the tentative measurements my guests kept munching and never complained about my salad.  On the contrary; they all seemed to love it, and the cucumber salad always received rave reviews.  I, on the other hand, only seemed to like it.  For me it was always slightly off pitch; I was never fully satisfied with the taste.  It was good, but not great.  When I closed my eyes I could easily recall every nuance of the dish, every detail, tone and undertone, crunch, acidity, sweetness and freshness; but when I wanted to replicate those flavors, it was harder than expected, and more often than not the results fell short.  I desperately wanted to get it right, and replicate my grandma’s cucumber salad to the last drop.  And, this summer, after much trial and error and many just good cucumber salads, I can finally report that I got it right on point.

I have now upgraded this salad from good to stellar.  And I’m not saying that lightly.  After drenching the cucumbers and onion in salt, the cucumbers are now soft and silky on your tongue, but still fresh and crunchy under your teeth; and the onion is less pungent and verges on sweet.  The perfumed dill brings elegance to the marriage of flavors, while the sweet-acidic dressing adds the final touch.  A splash of olive oil for a glossy top and you’re in for a treat. Another good thing about this salad – you can find cucumbers year-round so you don’t have to limit your Cucumber Salad intake to summer!  

Cucumber Salad

Serves: 4 servings


·         2 medium cucumbers, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
·         1 small yellow onion, sliced
·         ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
·         1 heaped Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
·         1/3 cup white vinegar
·         2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
·         1 teaspoon olive oil


Put the sliced cucumbers in a medium bowl; add the sliced onion and salt.  Using clean hands mix them all together.  Allow the mixed ingredients to sit at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes.  You will notice water accumulating at the bottom of the bowl.  

In the meantime, in a small bowl, combine the vinegar and sugar, and whisk until the sugar dissolves completely.

Drain the cucumbers and onion of the extra water on the bottom of the bowl.  Add the dill and mix well.  Add the vinegar and sugar dressing and then the splash of olive oil.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)