Tornado Potato

Last night, being a Sunday, dinner wasn’t a rushed affair between classes and extracurricular activities, which it definitely can be during the school week. I had the opportunity to try out a new recipe that I’d spotted on Tasty for tornado potatoes:

It looked pretty simple, and it actually was! (That isn’t guaranteed with tutorial videos, as they’re often made by people who are experts in their fields, who can make even the most difficult techniques seem simple because they have tonnes of practice at them.) I had a really hard time inserting the bamboo skewers into the potatoes, though — they kept snapping off, sometimes inside the potato! So I used metal barbecue skewers instead, which slid through the potatoes like butter.


Tornado potatoes served with a ground beef/lamb mix in mushroom soup gravy, steamed frozen peas, and steamed carrots.

I used Prince of Orange potatoes from my garden, which are a little harder than a russet, so I should have cooked them a little longer, but I will know that for next time. Overall, the taste was very nice, and everyone in the family liked them. Now that I have the kinks in the process ironed out, I can see eating tornado potatoes a lot in the future.

Childhood Family Dinner

Yesterday I had a million and one things to do in order to prep for the party on Saturday, so I really needed to make a dinner that I could probably have cooked in my sleep. This was the kind of dinner that I had regularly as a kid and was one of the staples of how I learned how to cook, way back when. A few small things have changed here and there, but it basically tastes the same.

I baked chicken thighs that were sprinkled with powdered onion soup mix. When I was a kid, boned and skinned meat was way too expensive for everyday meals, so it would have been whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), bone-in, skin-on. I served it with whipped potatoes; as a kid, that would simply have been mashed, no fancy schmancy electronics like a hand mixer. The corn was exactly what I grew up with: boiled from frozen, generally in the microwave.

We ate all kinds of other food, of course. My mom used to hang out with a Lebanese couple, and they exchanged recipes and techniques, so Mom made great Lebanese food. We ate all kinds of pasta and roasts and fancy Sunday dinners. But when push came to shove and we had something going on on a weekday evening (and with both my brother and I in hockey and Guiding/Scouting, that was most evenings), this was our fast, easy, everybody-likes-it kind of meal. To me, this kind of dish is a comfort food, because it brings back fond memories of family togetherness. And as a bonus, now that I’m a parent myself, there’s nothing in a supper like this that I have to fight to get my kids to eat!

Oh, and if you think that my parents wouldn’t have served supper on a plate with a skull and bones on it, on top of a skeleton-print tablecloth, you probably haven’t met my parents. Trust me, if they’d had those things, they would have used them in a heartbeat.

Harvest

Even though the days have been lovely, it is now the beginning of October, so the nights are getting colder and there is often the threat of frost. This means it’s time to bring in the harvest. I dug up about half of my garden last week, and it wasn’t all mutant carrots!

Please excuse the long grass. My plants were hanging over the sides of the wooden garden border, so I figured I should pull them all up before mowing.

I picked the last of the hot peppers and dug up the few shallots that survived the season. For some reason, most of my shallots didn’t sprout this year. I will freeze the hot peppers with the intention of making hot sauce at a later date.

I tried growing lemongrass this year, which was very pretty but didn’t yield a huge amount of edible parts. It’s supposedly a perennial, but the root ball may not survive the harsh Canadian winter. We shall see if it sprouts in the spring.

I’m still harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes, much to my surprise. Last week’s heat wave meant that the plants haven’t started to die down as much as usual by this time of year.

I had a total yield of about 30lbs of Prince of Orange potatoes. These potatoes are apparently a pretty new breed. They have reddish skins and a dark yellow interior (actually pretty close to my Creampak carrots when cooked). They also have a stronger flavour than traditional white-fleshed potatoes, which I really like. I may plant these again next year, or may be I’ll alternate with Violet Queens, which have purple skins and flesh. I figure hey, if I’m going to grow it myself, why be satisfied with the few varieties that are available at the average grocery store?

Mom’s Potato Salad

Back when I started writing this blog, I set a personal goal to record the recipes that I had grown up with. I didn’t want my descendants to encounter the same issues that I’d had when my grandmother passed away and took her knowledge of family favourites with her.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

To this end, I asked my mother the other day for her potato salad recipe so that I could post in online (it’s one of my favourite summer dishes). Much to my dismay, she explained to me that she had no real recipe and added ingredients until it “looked right”. After telling me this, she laughed a bit, because she used to get frustrated with my Nan and her approach of “a little bit of this, a touch of that” dishes that were downright impossible for her to recreate.


Mom’s basic potato salad.

So Mom and I set aside some time at the cottage this summer to measure all her ingredients and record everything that she did to make her potato salad. This one of her most often-requested potluck or barbecue dinner dishes, and indeed, it got rave reviews when I made her recipe for the most recent potluck. As a bonus, it is both simple and a great make-ahead dish. Actually, it’s easier to prepare the ingredients a day ahead, then combine them into the final dish on the day it will be served. It takes the pressure off of hosting when you know that at least one dish is ready and waiting in the fridge.


Mom’s potato salad made fancier by leaving the potato skins on and including bacon bits.

Mom’s Potato Salad
Makes about 7 cups of salad

You will need:
6 cups potatoes (any variety) cut into bite-sized pieces
This recipe works well with both older and new potatoes. With older potatoes, peel before cutting. With new, thin-skinned potatoes, wash them and leave the skins on before cutting.
Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with water. Boil potatoes until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork, but not yet mushy. Drain and refrigerate in a covered container until cool (this can be done overnight).
While the potatoes are cooking, hard-boil:
6 large or extra-large eggs
Place eggs into cold water until they are cool to the touch. If assembling the salad the next day, the eggs can be left in their shells in the fridge overnight.
Place the cooled potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Peel the eggs. Cut up 4 of the 6 eggs into bite-sized pieces (usually eighths or smaller), setting the two most aesthetically pleasing eggs aside as topping.
To the potatoes and eggs add:
1 cup mayonnaise*
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp yellow mustard
3 Tbsp finely chopped green onion or chives
Optionally, you may add:
(375g package of low-salt bacon, cooked and chopped into bits)**
Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated.
Scoop the salad into a serving dish, or simply serve in the mixing bowl for informal gatherings. Optionally, you may lightly sprinkle over the salad for looks:
(a dash of paprika)
Cut into quarters the 2 eggs you set aside. Arrange the eggs at the center of the salad in a sunburst pattern.
Serve.
This recipe may easily be multiplied in order to serve a larger number of people.


Mom’s fancy potato salad.

*Regular, olive oil, reduced-fat, or reduced-fat olive oil mayonnaise are all acceptable. However, do NOT use salad dressing or Miracle Whip, the flavour is all wrong in this dish.

**If you add reduced-salt bacon, halve the amount of salt in the recipe. I prefer the reduced-salt kind, but if you have to use regular bacon, don’t add any salt at all.

Potluck Dinner

Last night I attended a potluck dinner held in honour of a members of my husband’s extended family visiting all the way from Germany. For the occasion, my in-laws rented the party room in their friends’ posh apartment building, which was the fanciest location in which I have ever attended a potluck. However, the view of the Rideau River and Rivierain Park were gorgeous coming up onto sunset. (I’m assuming the views of downtown at sunrise would be equally spectacular, but at by evening the sun was too much in our eyes to appreciate it.)

Given that the guests of honour were international, I went all out and cooked up a storm of dishes to bring along. I wanted them to get a taste of the favourite Canadian dishes that I grew up with.

On the far left is the fancy version of my mother’s potato salad (recipe here). At the center is maple pecan butter tarts, using the recipe found on page 234 of The Canadian Living Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1987). Despite these being one of my absolute favourite desserts ever, this was my first time ever baking them. I think they turned out rather well, although the filling did overflow the crust a little bit. Lastly, I made up a batch of my Nan’s Pan Rolls.

I always worry that my cooking won’t hit the right note with the guests at a party, but this time every last bit of food I brought was consumed. I actually should have made a double batch of the potato salad, because a number of people came back for seconds and were audibly disappointed when there was none left. I got quite a few compliments on the rolls and tarts, too, but I think the potato salad was the biggest hit. The German grandmother hunted me down and made sure to make it clear, in her few words of English and copious hand gestures, that she absolutely loved it. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

Stormy Supper

The other day we had a couple of friends over for dinner at the cottage that my parents are renting, which is always a lovely way to spend an evening. I feared that our plans may have been dashed when a harsh wind blew in from the west, raising whitecaps on the lake, and causing the power to flicker. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the chance to finish cooking dinner before the incoming storm knocked the power out entirely, and we might have to serve our guests peanut butter and banana sandwiches and leftover salad.

Luckily, although the power went down for a few seconds here and there, it was on for long enough to prepare a decent meal — even though we kept candles lit and flashlights on hand anyway just in case. We had a plethora of leftover salads to choose from: potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, kale and cabbage salad, and some spinach & fruit & goat cheese salad like I’d had a few days previous. I picked the spinach and macaroni salads for myself, along with a sweet mustard baked sausage, and some boiled baby potatoes.

Once the storm blew in, the wind let up a little bit, with torrential rain, lightning, and thunder taking the center stage. My photos are exposed so that it’s possible to actually see what was going on outside, but to the naked eye it was as if dusk had arrived hours early.

I felt truly lucky to be indoors watching the weather under a good, stout roof — even a roof with gutters plugged with pine needles so that the water cascaded over them instead of flowing down the pipes. Instead of enjoying a lovely dinner at the cottage watching nature’s show, we could have been on a family camping trip.