roasted new potatoes with fennel green dressing

Need. Green. This dish is transitional, perfectly balanced between the two seasons vying for control over the PNW.  Darkness or light?  Stay tuned, dear farmers.

The new potatoes were roasted at a temperature higher than I usually choose, 425 degrees, which is really too hot unless you intervene in some way.  This is did by adding just a ladleful of chicken stock with my usual olive oil and herb slick to the potatoes just before I popped them into the oven.  Then I forgot about them, so they roasted longer than usual, steaming then caramelizing with the stock.  They emerged as chocolate brown, perfectly roasted, tiny little things.

The dressing was a salad, really.  In my garden, I had thinned out some shallots and a fennel stalk that was in the way, so I chopped them up together and tossed them with the potatoes, just out of the oven.  Dressed with a bit of olive oil and tarragon vinegar, they were just the thing for this still-tentative spring.

german pickle juice potato salad

One of the nicest parts of pickling is the run-off.  Yes, the leftover pickle juice.  I’ve always kept a jar of dill pickle juice in the refrigerator for potato salads, deglazing, and soups.  And I use any leftover vinegar solution to quick pickle whatever vegetable is handy: carrots, cauliflower, chick peas…

My latest batch of senfgurken sweet mustard pickle had me perplexed, however.  I couldn’t really use in my normal way the half-cup or so of strong, sweet, spicy cider vinegar solution that was left after I had packed the jars.  But happy fate intervened, and threw some cooked Sweet Briar Farms pepper bacon my way.  I still had some wonderful red potatoes from my garden and some gorgeous whole grain mustard.  And best yet, I had ham from Del Del Guercio and Laughing Stock pork, traded for a melange of pickles and jams.  I knew I’d have to make German potato salad.

I didn’t peel my potatoes since they were small, but spent a few minutes picking out yucky strings of peels that had disengaged from the flesh.  Don’t recommend.

Enjoy with any pork product on the earth.

German Pickle Juice Potato Salad

Serves 4 as side dish.

  • 1/2 cup of sweet pickle juice run-off (no dill if possible)*
  • 1/4 cup very thinly sliced white onion
  • 2 lbs. waxy potatoes (I used ‘Red Desirée’), peeled
  • 1 T. whole grain mustard
  • 3-4 slices high quality cooked bacon, chopped

Cook and chop bacon, and set aside.  Peel potatoes.

Place peeled potatoes in pot of well-salted cold water, with enough water to cover.  Bring to simmer and cook potatoes until just a bit underdone.

Bring pickle juice to a boil with the onion and mustard.  Pour into bowl large enough for potatoes.

Remove potatoes from water and let cool only enough to handle.  Slice carefully and place in large bowl, stirring carefully to allow vinegar to coat after slicing a couple potatoes (adding hot potatoes to vinegar is to discourage discoloring and encourage liquid absorption).

Add bacon.  You might also add chopped green onion or parsley for color.

Let sit for a couple of hours for best quality before serving.

* Or, replace with 1/2 c. best quality cider vinegar, 3 T. sugar, 1 t. salt, 1 t. yellow mustard seeds. (Correct taste if the solution seems too sugary or not salty enough for you.)

oscar the grouchy potato

I’ve had a slacker galvanized garbage can hanging out in my shed since I moved in, so I thought I would put it to work this year.  Drilling drainage holes in the bottom was a tiny challenge, but my wonderful neighbor had the right tool for the job, as usual, and Retrogrouch took care of the pickles-for-drill bit exchange.

Potatoes grow in all kinds of media, so I planted ‘Desiree’ seed potatoes atop about 6 inches of high-quality compost with a cup or so of low-nitrogen organic fertilizer, then topped them with another 3-4 inches of compost.  As the potatoes grow, I’ll add more, covering the stems all the way up to the leaves so little potato babies can form and grow along the stem.  In the fall, after undoubtedly pulling off a few new potatoes from time to time, I’ll dump out the compost and reuse it on the flower beds, and the crop of potatoes will be right there and ready for curing.

I also planted some ‘Red Gold’ potatoes in a smaller container, a recycled plastic nursery tub.  The thought is that I’ll be able to move around the containers if I decide they need more sun or shade.  I really like the idea of freeing up another part of my beds, as well.   We’ll see what happens!

Peas and alliums and strawberries and artichokes are growing nicely.  I’m going to hope for another break in the rain so I can get in my lettuce.  Not sure why so many people are buying tomato plants this early, but I’m hoping they all have greenhouses.  I did succumb to the charms of two new ‘Attar of Rose’ scented geraniums to replace the ones I lost in the freeze; I already used one leaf in my freshly made rhubarb simple syrup.  And thus, spring begins!

dark days challenge #5: popover for some vegetarian caldo verde soup

I’m really into soup this year.  I fell off the soup bandwagon a couple of years ago during a manic soup episode because my husband decided that he no longer cared for soup.   Heartbreaker.  Ah, but this year, soup is his favorite thing, and my own soup nuttiness is also back.  We’ve reached a synergy of soup.

For winter soups, I rely on homemade chicken stock most of all, substituting it for water in most preparations, and beef stock in others.  It’s what I have on hand, and it never fails me.  But really, all you need is a big bag of dried mushrooms from an Asian market, or a bag of russet potatoes.

Since I had an abundance of the latter, and a friend coming over for a quick dinner, I thought I’d make my Dark Days challenge for the week a local caldo verde soup, chock full of potatoes, leeks, and lacinato kale. The leeks and kale I had purchased as seconds the week before at River Bend Farm, and the potatoes were a mix of waxy and floury russet that I had bought from Groundwork Organics and another farm (Cinco Estrellas?) via Eugene Local Foods.  I used up my German butterballs and red potatoes, and threw in some red garlic from Ayers Creek Farm for good measure.

Potato soup relies on its own stock for a clean, potato-y flavor.  I don’t even like to add onion when I’m making potato-leek soup, but since caldo verde soup, a Portuguese concoction involving potatoes and kale, needs punchier flavors, I tried to pump it up.  Often, the soup contains smoky linguica sausage, but I wanted to keep it clean.  I thought I’d sauté a half an onion with two fat leeks, a head of kale, and some garlic before adding the potatoes, a few fresh bay leaves, some winter savory (untouched by the freeze, btw), and heavily salted water.  When the potatoes had cooked through, I adjusted the salt, added some white pepper and a  splash of Datu Puti Spiced Vinegar (not even remotely local), and used my trusty immersion blender to purée it to a thick, delicious, pea-green soup.  I added some Noris Dairy milk at the very end, just to thin it out a bit.

Meanwhile, my friend had brought over popover batter made with local eggs, butter, and milk, and flour she had personally brought back from a trip to Butte Creek Mill in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.   She gave the batter a final stir, and popped them in the oven to bake while the soup simmered and we snacked on my homemade vinegar pickles and pickled prunes thoughtfully left by a friend from Thanksgiving.

Could it have been a nicer meal?  I think not.  I count this as one of my happiest local cooking successes.

dark days challenge #4: latkes and grading

For my fourth Dark Days Wintery Eatin’ Local Challenge, I faced the last week of classes and grading woes.  Teaching humanities classes is difficult, because you really want your students to take the time and effort to craft an argument with great textual support, but there’s only one way to do that, and there’s (usually) only one person to read and respond to that brilliantly argued argument.  I loved my students this term and felt they could be pushed even more than usual (tough love?) but that meant 45 essays to read immediately after another 45, then finals to grade.  You do the math.

And to top it off, everyone who is finished is celebrating, so we had some parties to attend and social commitments to honor.  I don’t mean to complain about any of this, because the week had many pleasures (even in the grading because some students really stepped up their game, and others continued to do a fantastic job), but I’m pretty tired.  So the week mainly consisted of eating pizza and granola.

I did manage to make latkes for the middle of Hanukkah.  And although they were a tad overdone this year, they were local.  Noris sour cream, River Bend farm eggs, my homemade apple-cranberry sauce from locally sourced apples and cranberries, and two kinds of local potatoes just to try them out: russet and German butterball.  The russets won out — not even a competition.  I really don’t see the point of frying waxy potatoes, even with the best efforts at starch removal and fiddling.

I have a great deal more to say (in my usual pedantic fashion) about making latkes, but I just don’t have the time right now…and I need a break from teaching!  :)

Happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate, and happy term end to all those who celebrate the last day of finals!