Tzatziki Potato Salad

There are as many ways to make potato salad as there are grandmothers, and although my own Gram never made this version, I know she would have liked it. Gram introduced me to yogurt when I was a young girl, and it’s a good thing she did, for a couple of reasons. First, I love it in all its forms—plain, Greek, drinkable, etc.—and second, I likely would not have tried yogurt at all because my mother hates it.

If the passion for food and cooking is passed down genetically, then all I can say is that it skipped a generation in my branch of the family tree. My mom is not a bad cook, just a basic (and infrequent) cook, and the meals she served when I was young never strayed from what she herself liked to eat. My friends, that was a short list. On the good side of things, this allowed me to experience Mexican food at an early age, and it is still a favorite. On the flip side, I nearly missed out growing up on so many things I love today, including cream cheese, eggplant, bleu cheese and, well, I could go on for days. Not only did my mom not enjoy those foods, but she would make disgusted faces about the very idea of them, and I might have grown up believing they were poisonous, if not for my grandmother’s influence.

Yogurt is about as far from poison as you can get; it’s rich with protein and gut-nourishing probiotics, and I learned to love the little cups of it that my grandmother always seemed to have in the fridge when I visited. My favorite flavors, as I recall, were lemon and the ones with blueberry or peaches that you stirred up from the bottom. These tasty treats paved the way for me to love Greek yogurt in my adult years, and most often with no fruit or sugar added. This powerhouse food is strained to a thicker texture than regular yogurt, so that the protein is concentrated, making it a fantastic base for healthy breakfast smoothies. In our house, we regularly reach for Greek yogurt as an even exchange for sour cream, and we whip it into our scallion cream cheese to make it more spreadable.

As summer inches toward its end this year, I had been considering ways to liven up my basic potato salad recipe, and it occurred to me that tzatziki—the bold and zesty, Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce—could be a terrific addition to a potato salad. I am not crazy about having a lot of mayonnaise in my salads, and the idea of refreshing tzatziki sounded pretty darn good. I was right.

Cool, creamy, refreshing!

While you cook the potatoes, make the tzatziki. Begin by chopping or shredding a peeled and seeded cucumber, then use salt to strip it of excess moisture and blend it together with a healthy dose of Greek yogurt, garlic and dill. Combine that with a touch of mayonnaise and fold it into cold, boiled potatoes, and you will have a side salad that’s perfectly cool and fresh, served with burgers or any kind of meat kebab on the grill.


Ingredients

About 1 1/2 pounds red or yellow potatoes

1/2 good sized slicing cucumber, peeled

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

2/3 cup Greek yogurt

Fresh or dried dill leaves

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used canola mayo from Trader Joe’s)


Instructions

  1. Scrub the potatoes but leave the peel on. Cut the potatoes into large chunks and cook them in salted water at a low boil until they are just tender enough to pierce with a knife. Drain, cool and chill them at least two hours.
  2. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters (like pickle spears). Use a paring knife to carefully slice off the center strip that contains the seeds. Discard them. Slice, then dice the remaining parts of cucumber into very small bits. Alternatively, you may cut the cuke in half lengthwise, use a spoon to scoop/scrape out the seeds, and then grate it on the large holes of a box grater.
  3. Transfer the cucumber bits or shreds to a paper towel-lined bowl and sprinkle with two generous pinches of kosher salt. Toss the cucumber in the salt, fold the paper towel over it and put the bowl in the refrigerator. After about 30 minutes, gently press the cucumber between layers of clean paper towel to remove the excess moisture.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, minced garlic, black pepper and dill. It is unlikely that you will need additional salt, as the cucumber will bring that flavor to the dip. Fold in the salted, drained cucumber bits.
  5. Combine the tzatziki with mayonnaise. Adjust pepper and dill to taste.
  6. Fold the dressing into the chilled cut-up potatoes. Garnish salad with additional sprinkles of dill and a few cucumber slices.



Bleu Cheese Potato Salad

Here’s a truth I have learned in the past couple of weeks: you don’t realize how much you use all of your fingers until one of them is out of commission. It has been almost two weeks since my little accident with the mandoline slicer, and I’m constantly reminded of my limitations in the kitchen. I am not in any kind of pain, mind you, but the urgent care doctor was specific to instruct that I should not let my injured right ring finger get wet during the healing process. That means asking for help (not one of my strong points) with washing dishes, prepping vegetables and moving hot pots. Everything takes longer than usual, and my husband, Les, has done half (or all) of the cooking, or we have ordered takeout.

I am pleased to report that on Thursday, the two-week mark after my second COVID jab, we ventured out to a real, honest-to-goodness restaurant—one of our favorite casual, but delicious, places in our city. We sat inside (gasp!) and enjoyed a lovely dinner that included this incredible plate:

This plate was a work of art, and as delicious as it was beautiful!

OMG, it was sooo delicious! The grilled shrimp accompanied a salad of arugula with candied bacon and vinaigrette, flanked by walnut-crusted goat cheese medallions, chilled, roasted carrots and dollops of fresh pesto with microgreens, artfully arranged on a roasted carrot puree. We even ordered an appetizer and a glass of wine, and I literally wanted to lick my plate. It was a real treat, and so good to see the friendly, familiar staff at West End Cafe after such a long separation.

At the same time, with the CDC announcement last week that vaccinated people can relax a bit, we are eagerly anticipating some in-person time with friends, and excited that our social re-entry will coincide perfectly with the start of summer grilling season. For practice, we prepared one of our favorite grilled items—the coffee-rubbed grilled tri-tip steak that Les shared yesterday, and an easy side that takes a favorite steakhouse combination down into casual mode. This bleu cheese potato salad was Les’s idea, as we were pondering what to make as a side for the bold and spicy tri-tip. Think of it as a bleu cheese-stuffed baked potato, but cold. And creamy.

The slight funk of bleu cheese is such a great complement to grilled steak, and it worked out great in this easy potato salad.

The bleu cheese flavor is assertive, which is exactly what we wanted, but the combination of mayo with sour cream gives the salad a creamy texture without the slick greasiness of too much mayonnaise. This potato salad was a perfect complement to the tri-tip, and equally good over the next couple of days with sandwiches. I love that his creative flavor idea and my kitchen instincts made it such a winner on the first effort. Yeah, this teamwork thing is working out pretty well.


Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, boiled tender and chilled

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream

A few shakes granulated garlic

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles

2 large scallions, cleaned and sliced (white and green parts)

Small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Romaine or leaf lettuce leaves, for plating (optional)


Instructions

  1. Cut up the chilled cooked potatoes into bite sized chunks.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise and sour cream, plus granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Fold in bleu cheese crumbles and half of the scallions. Fold in chopped parsley.
  3. Add the chilled, cut-up potatoes and gently fold to combine with the dressing mixture. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Plate onto a lettuce-lined platter and sprinkle with remaining sliced scallions.

Easy to notice that I was working with one good hand. My lettuce-lined plate is a little lopsided!

Catering tip: When serving any kind of side or salad for a group, present it on a platter rather than in a bowl. It allows guests to serve themselves from both sides of the table, and it looks prettier and larger!



Buttered Red Bliss and a Pinch of Thyme

My friend, Tammy, was accustomed to bossing people around—politely, of course, because this is the South.

“We need you in the kitchen on Friday,” she declared. “Can you be there around noon?”

Her proposal, more like marching orders, was nonetheless music to my foodie ears. It is not a stretch to say that meeting Tammy, events manager for a local catering company, was a pivotal point in my culinary experience.

As I have mentioned many times, I learned all the basic, important cooking skills from my grandmother. In Gram’s kitchen, I learned to sear meat before roasting, to blanch vegetables before freezing and to sift flour before measuring. I learned plenty about cooking safety, too—including proper use of an old-school pressure cooker and how to not blow up the kitchen when lighting the gas oven. That second lesson was temporarily forgotten when I was 9 and I was “teaching” the babysitter how to make cinnamon rolls. I was lucky that I only lost my eyebrows that day.

My finer culinary skills, however, were honed in a different place and time, when I was all grown up and living in Greensboro, North Carolina, hundreds of miles away from Gram. At 28, I was already a pretty good cook (said my friends), and I was well on my way to becoming a full-fledged foodie. Being a disc jockey had led to delectable restaurant experiences, as record company reps were always wining and dining us at the nicest places in town. Plus, we frequently had the unbearable responsibility of accompanying contest winners on fabulous vacations and getaways, including cruises, week-long events at Walt Disney World (where I met Alex Trebek) and even a live broadcast from Jamaica. It was rough, but someone had to do it, and the food was always incredible.

Meeting our listeners was one of the best parts of the job for me, and I had plenty of occasions to do so. Tammy and another friend, Lee, were regular, loyal listeners of our morning show (P-1 is what we called them in the biz), and they started “stalking” me at my live-on-location visits to car dealerships and retail stores. After several of these visits, Tammy and Lee (or “Lee-Lee,” as we all called her) invited me to join them for after-work drinks at their favorite Friday hangout, which happened to be exactly three blocks from the radio station. In no time, we became “The Three Amigos,” and as it became obvious to Tammy that I knew my way around the kitchen, she decided that I could be an asset to the crew in the catering kitchen.

A Pinch of Thyme was one of the premiere caterers in the area during that time, and the kitchen was slammed during the spring and fall “furniture markets.” That was the International Home Furnishings Market in nearby High Point—it drew upward of 70,000 buyers, dealers, designers and manufacturers from all over the world—and it was an all-hands-on-deck situation for caterers, who scrambled to meet the crushing demand for fancy foods. There were many cocktail parties, receptions, box lunches and fully catered dinners to be prepped, and Tammy’s invitation was my cue to get in there and help them get it all done.

I showed up on Friday, donned my white apron and got to work, following whatever instructions Chef Rodney barked out. Tammy stopped by the kitchen periodically to check on things, and she was well-known for telling us, as she handed over yet another client order, “y’all can handle it.” And we always did, despite some near-disasters that I’ll save for another day.

The stories in my head are many, but what I’d like to share today is one of the first, most essential lessons I learned during my time in the “Pinch” kitchen: simple is always best, and it is usually the smallest “tweak” that makes the most important impact on a dish, whether that is a squeeze of lemon, a quick scatter of finishing salt or, yes, a pinch of fresh herbs. There is no need for grand gestures, and the client requests proved that time and again.

We served up all varieties of side dishes, but it was always the buttered red bliss potatoes that made our clients swoon. That’s what I’m serving up today. The presentation of these humble early potatoes is elevated, with a distinctive, thin strip of peel removed from each perfect little spud. But the ingredients list is short and sweet: new potatoes, butter, garlic, salt and pepper.

Also, obviously, a pinch of thyme. 😉

Catering trick: If you want your food to make a statement, put a frame around it. These buttered red bliss beauties are escorted by a bed of simple sauteed spinach.

These potatoes are cooked twice—simmered to produce a tender, creamy interior, and then lightly pan roasted in clarified butter, infused with garlic and herbs, for a perfect finishing touch. The delicate flavors do not overpower the potato, and the result complements any main dish on your table. If you wish to make it vegan, substitute a mild-flavored, extra virgin olive oil for the butter.


This post for simple, but elegant, buttered red bliss potatoes is dedicated to the memory of my friend. We would be celebrating Tammy’s birthday today, and you can bet there would be some amazing food on the table, and Tammy’s favorite chardonnay would flow freely, as would the reminiscing and giggling over inside jokes. Sadly, we lost her three summers ago, following her very brave (second) battle with cancer. I think about Tammy every time I put on my white apron, though today it is a bit tattered and stained. It is still my favorite. 🙂

(L to R) Tammy, Terrie and Lee-Lee, back in the day! We were, as they say, thick as thieves! ❤

Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

2 lbs. red baby (new) potatoes* (see notes)

6 Tbsp. clarified butter*

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed (you will measure about 1 tsp. leaves)

*Notes

Choose the most uniform, small, round potatoes possible. Ideally, they should be no larger than 2 inches across. Other small, waxy potatoes, and even the medium-starchy Yukon gold, will also be delicious in this recipe, but the contrast of color provided by the red ones is perfect for visual appeal. Russet potatoes are not recommended here; their skins are too thick and the interior too starchy.

To clarify butter, melt an entire stick (8 tablespoons) in a small saucepan over very low heat. Allow the milk solids to settle to the bottom of the pan, and carefully pour off the clear butter. Discard the solids or save them for another use later. You may clarify the butter ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. Reheat it on the stove over medium-low heat or microwave, about 15 seconds at a time, until melted. To save time, you could also use purchased ghee, which is essentially the same thing, but more expensive than making your own.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about clarified butter (or ghee): The casein proteins in butter are concentrated in the milk fat solids, so melting to separate them, and straining them from your final product reduces or removes the lactose, making it more easily digestible.


Instructions

  1. Rinse the potatoes, rubbing gently to clean, and keep skin intact. Use a sharp vegetable peeler or channel knife to carefully remove one thin strip of peel, all the way around the potato, like a band.
  2. Cover potatoes with cold water and bring potatoes to a gentle boil. Cook until easily pierced by the tip of a paring knife. Be sure potatoes are tender to the center.
  3. While potatoes cook, make the clarified butter. Pour off the clear butter into a large, non-stick skillet and place it over low heat. Add garlic to the butter, season with a pinch of kosher salt and slow-cook on very low heat, just until garlic is softened and plump.
  4. Drain potatoes gently in a large colander, taking care not to tear off the skins. Transfer the potatoes to the butter skillet and swirl the pan to coat the potatoes. Season with kosher salt and black pepper and cook until potatoes take on a slight “roasted” appearance. Keep the temperature in the medium-low range.
  5. Sprinkle the fresh thyme leaves over the potatoes, give the pan another swirl to distribute the thyme, and transfer to a platter for serving.


Perfectly Crispy, Pan-fried Potatoes

If any doctor ever tells me that I’m allergic to potatoes, I’m all done. Just put me in the ground. Something in me is completely hard-wired to crave the starchy goodness of a potato, and the more texture I can experience in one bite, the happier I’ll be.

There are as many great ways to cook potatoes as there are varieties of potato. And I love them every which way—soft and creamy, as my hubby’s ultra-decadent roasted garlic mashed; firm, cold and toothsome, as my dilly-dilly, double-heat potato salad; or crunchy, cheesy and slightly greasy, as the easy hash brown waffles that we enjoy so much for our big breakfasts on the weekends. Above all, it’s pure crispiness and simple saltiness on potatoes that really wrecks me. My favorite potato chips are the ones that are kettle-cooked with the skin on, and if they happen to be folded over, bubbled up and wrapped around each other, maybe burned a little bit—even better. Yes, give me some of that crunch, please!

Everybody should have at least one really simple potato dish that is easy to make at home, yet still delivers all the goods on texture and flavor, and this, for me, is that dish. These crispy, pan-roasted potatoes are crispy and salty on the outside, but soft, fluffy and tender on the inside. The dual texture that I find so satisfying is the result of cooking them twice, though neither method requires much effort, and they can usually be done in the background of whatever you are serving with them. You will want to choose small, thin-skinned potatoes for this recipe—my usual go-to is baby reds because they are waxy and firm enough to hold their shape through both cooking processes. Small gold or yellow potatoes also work, but russets are a no-go for this one, both for their crumbly nature and the thicker skin.

Begin by scrubbing the potatoes thoroughly, removing any little eye sprouts or dark spots, but keeping as much skin on as possible. Next, boil the potatoes gently until they are just tender enough to pierce with the tip of a paring knife. Drain and cool until they can be easily handled, then carefully press them under a flat dish to create thick potato disks. Then (here comes the best part) fry them over medium low heat in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Salt and pepper, nothing else. Oh. My. Goodness.

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, scrubbed clean (keep the peels on)

Kosher salt for boiling potatoes

3 Tbsp. salted butter (maybe more)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper for serving


Instructions

Let’s run through it in pictures first, shall we? I’m sure you know how to boil the potatoes, so we are picking up from the point they are fork-tender and drained.

  1. Cover potatoes with cold water in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a low boil, add a good amount of salt (about a teaspoon), then reduce the heat and simmer gently until potatoes pierce easily with the tip of a paring knife or a fork.
  2. Drain the potatoes in a colander until they are cool enough to handle.
  3. Place one potato at a time on a cutting board and press it gently, using a flat-bottomed dish or bowl. Use a clear bowl if possible, to help you see how much the potato is flattening. It should burst slightly open on the sides, but you want to keep it intact as much as possible. Easy does it. After flattening, each potato should be about 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Heat a heavy stainless or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and all of the olive oil. When the butter-oil mixture begins to bubble at the edges, arrange the potatoes in a single layer in the pan. It’s fine if they are touching, but leave enough room to insert a spatula when it’s time to turn them. Reduce the heat to medium-low once all the potatoes are in the pan.
  5. As the potatoes begin to cook, they will soak up much of the butter-oil mixture. Slice off a couple dabs of cold butter and insert them between potatoes here and there in the pan. Give them about 8 minutes, then begin checking the bottom for doneness.
  6. When the potatoes begin to get browned and crispy on the bottom, use a small spatula to gently turn them over, one at a time. If you get over-ambitious, the potatoes may break, so take it slow. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. As with the first side, if the potatoes seem to soak up the butter right away, add a couple slivers more butter, or a thin drizzle of olive oil around and between the potatoes.
  7. When second side is browned, turn the potatoes over once more, for a quick “re-crisping” of the first side. This ensures that your potatoes are perfectly crispy and hot on both sides. Give them one last sprinkle of salt and pepper, and serve them hot.

These crispy, pan-fried potatoes are easy and done in the background while you work on whatever else you’re serving for dinner. We had them this time with our Easter dinner of roasted leg of lamb and asparagus. But wouldn’t they be great alongside a roast chicken, or meatloaf, or burgers, or just about anything?

These potatoes made our simple Easter dinner complete.


Dilly-Dilly, Double-Heat Potato Salad

There is a common thread that runs through the culinary fabric of the U.S. South. And that thread, in a word, is sweet. Whether it’s beverages, desserts, BBQ sauces or even potato salad, the foods you find on a southern menu will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. That’s a bit of a challenge for people like me, who prefer more savory flavors. In a salad, I want freshness, with tangy, herbal and briny flavors.

When I spotted an online recipe for potato salad with dill and horseradish recently, I got excited about the brightness of flavors and especially the absence of sugar. I found inspiration in that recipe, so I made it (with my own tweaks, of course), and my husband and I enjoyed it so much I’ve made another batch and it will make its way into our recipe rotation. Me being me, though, and always pushing the envelope on flavors, I’ve adjusted it yet again. This time, I doubled down on the dill, adding chopped dill pickles to the original idea of fresh chopped dill. I heaped jalapeno heat on top of the horseradish and crowned the finished salad with chopped hard-boiled egg. Oh, happy Spring! 🙂

This salad is fresh, bright, herbal and zesty!

Best of all, for me, is that there is no sugar in sight. The salad is very dill-forward, and that freshness makes me eager for all the other light foods on the way for Spring. The heat, though doubled, is subtle in the background. The yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer) contributes a creaminess that isn’t all mayonnaise. And the capers and chopped egg provide a little something extra, as a salad you might expect to find in a good delicatessen.

The result is this dilly-dilly, double heat potato salad, delicious as a cool, savory side to sandwiches, hot foods off the grill or anything you might be serving as a casual meal for Passover or Easter.


Adapted from The Spruce Eats: Dill and Horseradish Potato Salad

Ingredients

About 3 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled* (see notes)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1/3 cup chopped dill pickles*

1/4 cup minced red onion or shallots

2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped*

2 Tbsp. pickled jalapenos, chopped*

2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish

1 Tbsp. capers

Salt and pepper to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (for garnish)


*Notes

The best potatoes for this recipe are those that do not fall apart too easily. Red, yellow or white potatoes are all good options. Russets, not so much. Their starchy fluffiness makes them more prone to mashing.

If you do prefer a slightly sweet flavor, substitute bread and butter pickles for the dills. The dill flavor will still be present, but the sweetness will help to soften the savory edges of this salad.

This is the right time of year to find fresh dill in the supermarket, but if you do not have access to it, substitute dried dill leaves, but only about a teaspoon. Remember that dried herbs are much more potent than fresh.

Can’t stand the jalapeno heat? I promise it is subtle, but if you don’t want or like jalapenos, leave them out. This is my recipe, but you are always in charge of the decisions in your own kitchen, so make it the way you like. Want it hotter? Well, now you sound like my husband. Go ahead, add more. 😊


Instructions

This is one of the simplest recipes, but I’ll share the steps in pictures anyway. Keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Cut up the potatoes into large, “three-bite” size. Boil gently until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain them and cool completely before cutting them into smaller pieces. If you wish, cook them a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Cut the cooked potatoes into cubes about the size of croutons.
  2. Combine all remaining ingredients, except eggs, in a large bowl, seasoning the dressing with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Fold the cut-up potatoes into the dressing. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
  4. Serve with chopped hard-boiled eggs scattered on top of the salad.

Want to make it?


Colcannon

Often regarded in the U.S. to be a food for St. Patrick’s Day, colcannon is traditionally enjoyed at Halloween in the old country of Ireland. Cooks there would hide coins or trinkets or charms inside, and legend said that what you found in your hearty spoonful was an omen for the coming season—be it riches or poverty, marriage or singlehood. The exact origin of the dish is disputed, but historians are certain that it has been enjoyed in Ireland since at least the mid-1700s, and there’s no arguing that it is creamy, satisfying comfort food at its best.

Well, did you ever make colcannon made with lovely pickled cream
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the ‘melting’ flake
Of the creamy flavoured butter that our mothers used to make

Oh you did, so you did, so did he and so did I
And the more I think about it, sure the nearer I’m to cry
Oh weren’t them the happy days when troubles we knew not
And our mother made colcannon in the little skillet pot

Excerpt from The Auld Skillet PotMac Con Iomaire
Who doesn’t love the little “melting flake” of butter? 🙂

With fiber-rich potatoes, cabbage, onions and butter, colcannon could seriously stand on its own as a meal. My version subs in cooked kale and leeks for the cabbage and onions, and it is a gorgeous addition to our homemade corned beef and cabbage dinner.

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds potatoes (mix of russet and golds), peeled and boiled until tender

2 fat handfuls fresh curly kale, washed and chopped

1 leek (white and light green parts), cleaned and sliced

8 Tbsp. good Irish butter (divided)

1 cup light cream, room temperature

Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. While potatoes are cooking, melt 2 Tbsp. of butter in a skillet or small pot. Sauté chopped kale and sliced leeks until wilted and tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Drain potatoes, return to pot and add 4 Tbsp. of butter and light cream. Mash until soft and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add kale and leeks to the potatoes and fold to blend. Serve family style with remaining butter on top.

Want to make this traditional Irish recipe?


Bangers & Mash!

There cannot possibly be a food more deserving of the title “pub grub” than bangers and mash. This hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dish is original to Ireland and other parts of the U.K., and a real treat on St. Patrick’s Day, but its history reflects hard times for the Irish people. During W.W. I meat shortages, sausage makers resorted to stuffing the links with lesser amounts of pork or lamb, substituting fillers and higher-than-usual water concentration. As they cooked, the sausages exploded from their casings with a banging sound. Thus, “bangers.”

Today, you don’t have to look very hard to find a more meat-centric version of the sausages, and I found this delicious variety made by Johnsonville. They are slightly sweet, but with plenty of garlic flavor that I think holds up nicely to the dark stout beer used in the thick onion gravy. If you can’t find sausage that is labeled specifically as “Irish,” I would recommend any bratwurst-type of sausage as a fine substitute.

These Johnsonville sausages were delicious! If you do not find sausage labeled as “Irish,” I think bratwurst would be a good substitute.

The Irish, especially peasant populations, have always relied heavily on the nutrient-dense potato, for its fiber, antioxidants and minerals (especially potassium). Potatoes contain a resistant starch that is not absorbed by the body, but provides a vehicle to deliver nutrients to feed our gut bacteria, which is crucial for overall good health. Isn’t it nice to know that a favorite comfort food can actually be good for you? At our house, it’s a rare occasion to have any kind of potatoes other than my beloved’s fabulous garlic mashed, but their richness, and especially the parm-romano flavor, is not quite right for this meal. I’ve taken a different direction, using buttermilk and a moderate amount of butter to cream them up a bit, and a couple of spoons of horseradish, which gives them legs to stand under the intensely flavored Guinness onion gravy.

My version of the gravy begins with sautéed onions, and is finished with a very generous glug of Guinness stout, plus some broth. This gravy is big and bold, and if you wish, you can shift the ratio of stout or leave it out altogether in favor of beef broth—that’s up to you.

Garlicky sausages, simmered in Guinness and then piled onto hearty potatoes with the Guinness-onion gravy. This is some serious Irish pub grub!

The preparation of these three components (bangers, mash and gravy) will happen concurrently; if you are working ahead, the whole meal heats up nicely as leftovers.

Ingredients

Package of Irish banger sausages (or similar substitute)

1/2 cup Guinness stout ale*

2 1/2 lbs. starchy potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

4 Tbsp. salted butter

1/2 cup thick buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

It’s surprising to get so much flavor from so few ingredients. The scotch cocktail in the back is for the cook, not the gravy. 🙂

Guinness Onion Gravy

3 Tbsp. salted butter

1 large yellow onion, sliced (mine was about the size of a softball)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup Guinness stout ale

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. beef bouillon base*

2 tsp. dark brown sugar

Salt and pepper

*Notes

The Guinness stout ale is very strong, and carries a somewhat bitter note. I believe the secret to making delicious gravy with the stout is cooking it slowly, so the malty flavors remain but the alcohol cooks out and mellows in flavor. If you are averse to the bitter flavor, or avoiding alcohol, substitute a hearty beef stock for similar results. This recipe calls for a 12 oz. bottle; you will use part of it to simmer the sausages and the rest to finish the onion gravy. I purchased the “Foreign Extra” stout, but for less intense flavor, use a Guinness draught stout.

I use vegetable broth regularly for the nutrients and flavors, and I have amped up the flavor with a hearty spoon of beef bouillon base. If you prefer, skip the base and use beef broth.

Instructions

Let’s run through it together in pictures, then scroll to find written instructions, and a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Cook in salted water over medium-low heat until fork tender.
  2. Drain potatoes in a colander (reserve the water, if you wish, to make a batch of my sourdough potato bread with onions and dill). While potatoes drain, add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot over medium heat until butter is mostly melted.
  3. Return hot potatoes to the pot and mash, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in horseradish and additional butter, if desired.
  4. While the potatoes are cooking, place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and pour in 1/2 cup of the Guinness stout. Add sausages to the stout and simmer, turning sausages a few times, until sausage is plump and stout is reduced to a couple of tablespoons. This should be about 25 minutes. Transfer sausages to a separate dish and set aside to make the gravy.
  5. Pour any reduced stout into a glass measuring cup, along with vegetable broth and beef base.
  6. Add butter to the same pot used to simmer the sausages, and add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, at least 10 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle flour over onions in butter and stir until onions are coated and flour begins to cook. This is a roux that will be the thickener for your gravy. When the bottom of the pan begins to accumulate cooked, stuck-on flour, move the onions aside and pour in about half of the remaining Guinness stout. Stir, scraping up the cooked flour from the bottom.
  8. When the pan is de-glazed, pour in the remaining stout and the broth mixture, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and reduced. You should take about 25 minutes for this step; don’t rush it, as simmering is necessary to blend the flavors and reduce the bitterness of the stout. Give it a taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired. If the gravy is overly bitter, stir in the brown sugar and simmer a few more minutes.
  9. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in a small amount of olive oil and add the plump banger sausages. Cook and turn until sausages are fully reheated and nicely browned.
  10. Plate the mashed potatoes, spoon on a bit of Guinness gravy, then top with bangers and a generous ladle of the onion gravy.

Want to make this classic Irish pub grub?


Sourdough Potato Bread with Onion & Dill

The joy of baking homemade bread, for me, is second only to the bliss of eating it. Or is it the other way around? When I established my sourdough culture in early 2016, I wasn’t sure how successful the adventure would be or if I would tire of eating “only” sourdough. As I’ve declared here several times, though, sourdough is not exclusively a flavor of bread, but a method of giving rise to the dough, and I rarely use commercial yeast in any form of bread anymore—whether it’s pizza dough, English muffins, waffles, soft pita breads, challah or focaccia. For me, there’s no turning back, and I cannot imagine tiring of it. Sourdough rules!

The potato bread I’m sharing today is my adaptation of a sandwich bread recipe I’ve grown to love by King Arthur Baking Company. KA’s version of this bread uses dry active yeast, but I’ve converted it by conjuring my math skills; I’ve swapped out equal amounts of liquid and flour (by grams, of course) for the appropriate percentage of my ripe-and-ready starter (sourdough nerds understand me). The result is terrific on its own, but I’ve recently taken the recipe a bit further with the addition of minced onions and a dill swirl and—well, wow.

The dill swirl lends a nice touch to your favorite sandwiches. My hubby especially loves it with his tuna salad and a fresh leaf of lettuce.

The recipe itself is unusual, in that the mixed dough does not have an initial rise at room temperature; it moves directly to the refrigerator for cold overnight fermentation. It’s very sticky dough that is not easily kneaded, so I recommend use of a stand mixer if you have one. After chilling overnight, the cold dough is easier to handle and shape into a loaf to proof at warm room temperature until it’s ready to bake. Words don’t adequately describe the aroma that wafts from the oven.

The cooked Yukon gold potato and softened butter lend a soft texture and lovely gold color, and the onion and dill I’ve added make it a great choice for all kinds of sandwiches. My hubby declared a few mornings ago that this sourdough potato bread may be his favorite bread ever for breakfast toast. Of course, he has said that about my soft sourdough rye, too (I’ll share that one soon).

My ingredients are measured by weight, because that’s how I bake. I highly recommend a digital scale for consistent results in any kind of baking, but especially for bread. If you’re not ready to get on the sourdough train, you can still enjoy this bread. Follow the original instructions offered by King Arthur, but halve the ingredients, as KA’s recipe makes two loaves. The onion and dill flavors are my own Comfort du Jour twist.


Adapted from King Arthur Baking Company
Makes one loaf

Ingredients

1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (boil and mash the potato, then measure out 100g for use in this recipe)

100g ripe sourdough starter (fed 8 to10 hours earlier; my starter is 100% hydration)

100g lukewarm water* (include the potato cooking water in this total)

40g (about 3 tablespoons) sugar

260g unbleached all-purpose flour*

80g white whole wheat flour*

1 large egg (room temperature)

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature.

2 Tbsp. dried minced onion, rehydrated 15 minutes in 2 Tbsp. warm water (optional)

2 tsp. dried dill leaves (or 2 Tbsp. fresh dill if you have it)


*Notes

Reserve the water used in cooking the potato, and add more water to total the amount needed for the recipe. The potato starch in the cooking water will add to the fine texture of the bread.

The original KA recipe calls for only all-purpose flour, but I always swap in at least some amount of whole grain flour. Make it as you like, but don’t swap more than 25% of the total flour without also adjusting the ratio of liquid. My swap is within that suggested limit, and it works great.


Instructions – Day One


  1. Combine all ingredients, except butter and dill, in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until ingredients come together and form a shaggy ball on the beater blade, and all flour is incorporated. Scrape dough from beater blade. Cover and allow dough to rest 20 minutes.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the pieces of softened butter, one or two at a time, and mix on speed 2 until each addition of butter is worked into the dough. Continue to knead at this speed for about six more minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or elastic cover and transfer immediately to the refrigerator at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

On Baking Day


  1. Lightly spray a clean countertop (and a 9 x 4” bread pan) with olive oil spray. Remove the refrigerated dough to the counter and use your fingers to spread it out into a rectangle shape, about 6 x 18”. Sprinkle the dough with the dill leaves.
  2. Beginning at one of the short ends, roll the dough up tightly, tucking in the ends as you go to keep the dough in a smooth cylinder shape. Use a bench scraper if needed to release the sticky dough from the counter. When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed. Tuck the ends as needed to fit the dough into the greased bread pan. Cover with plastic wrap or elastic “shower cap” cover and proof at warm room temperature until the dough rises above the top of the pan.  This may take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
  3. Near the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350° F, with baking rack in center position.
  4. Remove plastic wrap from pan and gently transfer the loaf to the oven. At this point, the dough may appear “jiggly;” you don’t want to cause it to collapse, so try not to jostle it too much. Bake at 350 for a total of 45 to 50 minutes, turning halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. At the halfway point, cover the loaf loosely with a foil tent to prevent over-browning. Bread is fully baked when it reaches 190° internal temperature. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a cooling rack. You may need to run a clean knife or plastic scraper along the edges of the bread for easier release. Cool at least two hours before cutting, and completely (this may mean overnight) before wrapping it up in a plastic bag.  
The dill makes a pretty swirl in this loaf, but you could easily substitute another favorite dried herb.

Want to make this bread?


Garlic Mashed (Terrie’s favorite potatoes)

I can’t remember exactly when I ditched boxes of potato flakes and started making mashed potatoes the real way for Thanksgiving (and every other time I wanted mashed potatoes). But I can say the process has evolved over the years. As my wife, Terrie, creator of this blog often says, cooking is about being inspired, taking chances and elevating your dishes. Just as I continue to try new methods and ingredients on the first dish I ever successfully created (chili), I’ve tweaked these garlic mashed potatoes over the past 20 years. In fact, they didn’t even start out as garlic mashed!

When I was growing up, I would sometimes take the baked potatoes my mother made, scoop out the innards, add margarine (Parkay, to be specific) and mash. It seemed to make them more tolerable.

For the current version, I’ve upped the ante by adding real butter, roasted garlic, our grated parm-romano blend and heavy cream, none of which were in the early year versions of this dish. About a decade ago, I decided to experiment with the potato mix. I loved Yukon Gold and had a hunch doing a 50-50 mix of Yukon and russet would work well. I was right. The garlic mashed I’m serving up here is a silky blend of flavor that kind of melts in your mouth. I usually add more butter than what the recipe calls for. Just because, as Terrie and I say about certain recipes, “There’s too much butter (or parm-romano blend, bacon, bourbon, chocolate). Said nobody. Ever.”


Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

1 large garlic head, roasted

Extra virgin olive oil (or spray)

2-3 medium to large Russet potatoes

2-3 medium to large Yukon gold potatoes

4 Tbsp. (half stick) salted butter (with the option to add more)

4 oz. heavy cream (with the option to add more)

1/4 cup parm-romano blend (with the option to add more)

Salt and pepper to taste


Putting it together

Preheat oven to 350° F. Roast the head of garlic by cutting off the top, adding oil (olive oil preferred) either from a bottle or a spray can. Wrap tightly in foil and roast for about an hour. You can check out Terrie’s post from yesterday for more detail and step-by-step pictures, but it goes like this:

Peel and dice the potatoes and heat stove-top on high. As the water begins to boil, add salt and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork. Drain potatoes and return to pot.

Add butter and heavy cream, add salt and pepper. Squeeze out the roasted garlic bulbs into the potatoes. Use a potato masher and mash by hand if you like. Or use a potato ricer if you like (before adding ingredients) for an even silkier texture. There was a time when I added the blend to a stand mixer, but I’ve since disavowed those years (the potatoes get too pasty).

As you mix, continue to taste, adding salt and pepper as needed, but also adding additional butter and/or cream if it feels too potato-ey. Add the grated cheese blend and continue to mash until it completely disappears into the mix, which won’t take long.

Serve with an additional pat of butter, gravy or your own preferred alternatives. Terrie is already eating it straight from the pot.

Now we have perfection.

Terrie’s note:

The blend of potatoes Les uses makes these so special because the Yukon golds are smooth and creamy, while the russets add a soft fluffiness. The roasted garlic and parm-romano add new levels of savory flavor. They are good for Thanksgiving, but we also make them as a side for more casual meals, such as meatloaf, steaks, pork chops and beer can roasted chicken. I confess that I’m always on the lookout for another new main dish that would be an excuse to make these again. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section. 🙂

Want to make this recipe?


Pierogi with Potato, Leek and Spinach Filling

One of the most satisfying cooking achievements is striking an item off my culinary “bucket list.” I started my running list a couple of years ago as a way to challenge myself in the kitchen, and my late-night Pinterest surfing (which, unfortunately, coincides with midlife insomnia) is making it longer. Occasionally, I might see a Pinterest recipe I want to try as it is, but more often, I see something that inspires me in a different direction. Either way, you don’t have to be good at math to recognize that my habit (plus my imagination) can only grow the bucket list, so moving an item over to the “made it” column feels like a major accomplishment. Today’s dish has been on the bucket list for at least a year. It’s time!

These pierogi—yes, that is the plural—will be coming up again in rapid rotation, because they were delicious and filling, but also easier to make than I expected. In the big picture of comfort foods, these Polish dumplings are about as far as you can go—tender dough stuffed with potatoes, onions, vegetables or whatever else you like, then boiled and fried in a skillet. With butter! What’s not to love? The arrival of fall seems like the perfect time to tackle them, too. The challenge for me in trying a classic dish for the first time is choosing which recipe to use, and that’s what I’m really sharing today.

An internet search for “best pierogi” will yield at least two pages worth of results that declare to be the original, the best, the most authentic, etc. One person’s “perfect” pierogi dough will fully contradict the next, and here’s the deal on that—everyone had a grandma, and everyone’s grandma made dishes that were “original” for their family, and so that was the best for them. But my grandma was Scandinavian, so how do I know from a cultural standpoint what is truly authentic—at least when it comes to pierogi?

Simple—I research it.

I dig deeper to learn where a dish comes from, who were the people who created it, what was their life and what foods were common to their everyday diet. All of these background notes help me arrive at my own approach to the dish. The central and eastern Europeans who created this dish were likely Jewish peasants, and so they would have used simple, inexpensive ingredients. Over time, the dish caught on with other classes, and sweet, fruit-filled versions evolved, but I’ve decided to keep them savory for my first run-through.

Next, I consult trusted recipe resources, whether that is cookbooks I already own or internet sites such as AllRecipes.com that provide multiple recipes for a particular food. I do not select a single recipe and give it a go. Rather, I look for commonality among the recipes, and then I trust my own cooking instinct as I dive in to create it.

I’ve trusted this book, The Gefilte Manifesto, for the dough portion of the pierogi recipe, primarily because their ingredients and technique are very similar to Italian pasta dough, which is in my wheelhouse so I have a bit of confidence going into this. I’ll save the cream cheese-based dough for another time. For the filling, I followed early tradition and made a potato-cheese-onion mixture. And I’ve added sauteed fresh spinach because my half-Polish, all-Jewish husband (whose family, unfortunately, never made him pierogi) can’t get enough of it, so I always have spinach on hand.

Here we go!


Dough Ingredients

(adapted from The Gefilte Manifesto)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 eggs

3 Tbsp. warm water

The original recipe made a very large batch of pierogi, and in hindsight, I wish I had gone that way because they turned out so delicious. But I halved the ingredients, as I often do when I make something for the first time. The original used only AP flour (which I never follow on anything), so I’ve adjusted for some whole spelt flour so that we can have some amount of whole grain. The original recipe said 3 eggs, but chickens don’t lay eggs in halves, so I used 2 and cut back on the suggested amount of water. I suppose I could’ve whisked three eggs together and divvied out half by weight, but that seemed overkill, and the eggs add richness and protein. I followed my instinct and made the dough the same way I make pasta dough but with less kneading, and set it aside to rest while I made the filling.

Unlike pasta dough, this pierogi dough was only kneaded enough to be fully mixed.

Filling Ingredients

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and boiled until fork-tender

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, white and light green parts, split lengthwise and sliced thin

2 handfuls fresh baby spinach

1/3 cup small curd cottage cheese

1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 oz. finely shredded white cheddar cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

For frying (optional): 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves.

Some of the suggested filling recipes I considered mentioned addition of an egg, but I didn’t feel this was important, given that the Yukon gold potatoes already had a creamy quality. I decided the cheddar and cottage cheeses provided enough binder. I put the mixture in the fridge to chill while I rolled and cut the dough into circles.


Putting it all together

Rolling out the dough proved more time consuming than I expected, given that I hadn’t kneaded it much. It was surprisingly strong, which means gluten strands had formed during the rest time. Again, I followed my instinct from experience with pasta, and covered the dough a few minutes to relax those strands, then continued rolling, until the dough was about 1/8” thickness. I did this in two batches.

All the recipes I found suggested cutting about 3 1/2” circles, and the only thing I had that size was a little ice cream bowl. Note to self: buy a biscuit cutter already!

On to the fun part—shaping the pierogi! I spooned about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling mixture onto the center of each dough round, then I dipped a finger into a small dish of water and wet the outer edge of the rounds to help seal the dough. This is important, because a good seal prevents the filling seeping out during boiling. Anything oily along the edge of the dough will cause the edges to separate, so I was also careful to keep the filling right in the center of the rounds as I closed them. I cupped the dough round in one palm, and used my other hand to seal the edges tight, stretching the dough as needed to fully envelop the filling. Once the rounds were sealed up into half moon shapes, I crimped the edges with a floured fork and let them rest while the water came to boil.


Boiling and Pan-frying

As with pasta water, I used a generous amount of salt. Don’t skimp on this out of fear of sodium—remember that most of the salt will stay in the water, and the pierogi (like pasta) will take up just enough to season it well. Various recipes I’d seen suggested that the dumplings would initially sink but eventually float, and I followed the recommendation to cook them about 4 minutes from the float stage. They cooked at a gentle boil, just above a simmer. I scooped them out onto parchment paper, and though they could have been served exactly like that, I pressed on with the pan frying to give them some extra texture—and, of course, the browned butter. 😊

This half-batch of pierogi fed us for dinner twice, and I ended up with enough leftover to freeze for later. I laid the (un-boiled) individual dumplings out on a parchment-lined sheet, covered loosely with another sheet of parchment and frozen overnight, then I transferred them to a zip top bag for cooking later.

Ready for a quick weeknight meal later this fall! Boil them straight from the freezer.

Want to print this recipe?

These turned out so comforting and delicious, I wish I had made them sooner, but I’m glad to get them off my bucket list! 🙂 Here is a sampling of my remaining “someday” recipes, and I hope that sharing this glimpse with you will give me the accountability I need to get cooking:

Porchetta (an Italian specialty made with pork belly wrapped around pork tenderloin)
Why I haven’t made it: It looks fussy and complicated, and that scares me a little.

Black-and-white cookies (one of Les’s favorite NYC classic treats)
Why I haven’t made them: He loves them so much, I’m worried I’ll mess them up (crazy, I know).

Barbacoa (slow cooked spicy beef, which I love, thanks to Chipotle chain)
Why I haven’t made it: I’m committed to only using grass-fed beef in my recipes, and our city doesn’t have the best options for grass-fed, so I need to venture out to a market in a nearby city.

Hold me to it, dear friends! Those dishes deserve a shot in my kitchen. What foods are on your bucket list, either to cook or just to try?