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Mashed Potatoes 101

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Most culinary recipes or terms have a specific order or procedure. Mire poix is two parts onion, one part carrot, one part celery. A vinaigrette is three to four parts oil to one part vinegar. Even a potato gratin has some definition to the dish, thinly sliced potatoes, usually some form of cheese, either grated or in a sauce, placed in a dish and cooked under a broiler until golden brown.

Now, mashed potatoes, per Wikipedia, is a dish prepared by mashing boiled potatoes. Good, I’m glad we clarified that. Now everyone knows the most common version: Russet potatoes, butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper. Even this has some subtle variations such as substituting Yukon potatoes, adding roasted garlic to the milk or cream or folding in some freshly chopped herbs at the end.

But the variation doesn’t stop there. There are no less than 50 different ingredients that can be added to mashed potatoes, depending on what culture your recipe comes from. Everything from Indian to Spanish to Italian, all qualify as mashed potatoes.

Two of my favorite versions are Roasted Garlic, Herb and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes and Curried Mashed Sweet Potatoes, which we will go over later.

Now regardless of what recipe you are using, there are a few key rules that will help make your mashed potatoes the favorite at family holiday.

  1. Always let your potatoes sit for a few minutes after draining. This will allow all the excess moisture to evaporate, removing more of the unwanted water. Water is the enemy of fluffy mashed potatoes, especially when using Russet potatoes. Excess water will make your potatoes stiff and glue like.
  2. Salt! Potatoes are one of the few vegetables that you really have to try to over-salt. There is nothing worse than having a perfectly cooked and prepared batch of mashed potatoes fall flat due to lack of seasoning. Salt is your friend and will elevate your mashed potatoes to Super Star Status.
  3. Use a good masher. You either want to use a food mill or a high quality hand masher. Personally, I’ve got a food Rosle food mill for large batches and a Danesco Action Masher for smaller batches. We carry both at The Chopping Block. They are multi-purpose and can be used for other tasks in the kitchen. Side note #1: I’m not a fan of single use tools, waste of space and money.
  4. Don’t let the potatoes cool completely before working with them. The cooler they get, the harder it is going to be to mash them and get the right finished texture. If you are using butter or any other fat that is solid at room temperature, it will become thicker as the potatoes cool off.

Now that we have established the basic rules for mashed potatoes, let’s go back to the original definition. In case you forgot, here it is again – make a dish prepared by mashing boiled potatoes. Try experimenting with different flavor profiles to match your meal. Bacon, cheddar and chive sound good. Blue cheese and caramelized onion? Yup, that works. Celery root, potato and parsley, with a nice cut of steak? Delicious!

Included are two of my favorite variations for mashed potatoes, but let your imagination run free.

Roasted Garlic, Herb and Olive Oil Potato Cakes

2 pounds red skin potatoes

½ cup quality extra virgin olive oil (Frantoia, Lucini or similar)

2 or 3 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs of thyme, rosemary or sage

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place the olive oil, garlic and herbs in a pot and cook over low heat until garlic is lightly toasted. Strain the oil and save.

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In a separate pot, boil the potatoes in salted water until knife tender, about 20-30 minutes, drain and let rest for about 10 minutes or until there is no longer steam coming off the potatoes.

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Once the potatoes have stopped steaming, mash them until all of the big chunks have been broken up, then start slowly adding the warm olive oil until the desired consistency is reached. If you are just making mashed potatoes, you can make them a little softer, if you want to make the potato cakes, leave them a little firmer.

After you have reach the desired consistency, season with Salt and Pepper.

To make the potato cakes, make hamburger size patties out of the mashed potatoes and pan fry them over medium high heat until golden brown on both sides.

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Enjoy with grilled fish and lemon aioli.

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Curried Sweet Potato Mash

2 large sweet potatoes

1 can coconut milk

1 tsp sweet curry powder

1 -2 T honey or brown sugar

1 tsp fresh or ½ tsp ground ginger – Optional

Cilantro – Garnish

Salt and Pepper

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Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into large dice. Boil in salted water until knife tender, drain, and let steam for 5 – 10 minutes.

Mash the potatoes until all the large chunks have been broken up. Add in the curry powder, honey and ginger.

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Add just enough coconut milk to thin the potatoes to the desired consistency. I’ve never used the whole can unless I’m making a batch for 20 people.

Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with Cilantro and enjoy.

This makes a great side dish for the holidays. The curry adds depth, but doesn’t overpower, so it can be served with pork roast or seared duck breast for a more traditional meal.

Side note #2: I’m sure you noticed in the picture that the coconut can is upside down. That was intentional. Lazy line cook trick #245 – Coconut milk cans are a pain to open from top, so, shake the can to mix coconut solids and water back to together, open can from bottom, then, if there are any solids left, you can scrape them out with ease.

Side note #3: Both of these recipes can easily adapted to be vegan, plus they are free of any of the major allergies, so you can make them for anyone!

Want more mashed potato know how? Watch Shelley’s video where she uses the Rosle Potato Masher.

 

 

 

 

Spanish-Style Braised Short Ribs are Long on Flavor

Friday, October 24th, 2014

There are two things I will always try at a restaurant if they are on the menu: short ribs and duck. While neither one is all that difficult to cook, there are a few key factors that I look for in the dishes. For short ribs, they should tender, flavorful, but not so cooked that they completely fall apart on the plate.

The same holds true for duck legs, be it duck confit or slow roasted duck thighs. If they are serving duck breast, it should be medium rare. Even though most people think of duck as fatty and rich, the breast meat itself is fairly lean and, as a result, like beef tenderloin, can become dry and chewy if overcooked.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends invited me over for dinner to try out a new short rib recipe and never passing on the opportunity to try short ribs, I accepted.

His new recipe was Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs, which to my surprise, were braised in white wine, instead of red wine and contained almost no tomato. Staying true to traditional Spanish flavors, notes of cinnamon, paprika and almonds were present in the final dish. And yes, they did pass the short rib test: tender, flavorful and not overcooked. In fact, they were so good that I had to make them for myself the following weekend.

Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs

3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and pepper
2 plum tomatoes, grated, using only the inner pulp
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1 sprig fresh thyme

Picada:

1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
8-oz oyster mushrooms

Season the short ribs with salt & pepper and sear them in a heavy cast iron pot in olive oil. Get a little caramelization on them and then set them aside.

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For the flavor base, we start with sofrito, which is a generic term for a cooking base in Spanish-influenced cuisine. For this dish, I started with olive oil, some of the beef fat, onions and the plum tomatoes.

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Once the onions were translucent, I added the smoked paprika and cinnamon and toasted them for a minute or two until they became fragrant. Next, deglaze with the white wine, making sure to get all the brown bits of goodness off the bottom and sides of the pot (aka fond). Add in sugar, water, thyme, bay leaf and the seared short ribs.

Cook on medium-low heat for 4-6 hours. The short ribs should eventually be tender enough to pull apart with a fork, but not so cooked that they start to turn to mush.

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While the short ribs are cooking, I sautéed the mushrooms in a little olive oil and finished with the sherry vinegar. The Picada is a thickening paste used in Spanish cuisine. Lightly toast the almonds and bread and combine with the garlic in a blender, or mortar and pestle if you want to be really authentic. Blend all the ingredients together then add in chopped parsley and olive oil.

During the last 10 minutes of the short ribs cooking time, add in the mushrooms and Picada to thicken the sauce and add the finishing flavor profile. Serve with roasted potatoes and a nice glass of Spanish Priorat.

Note: the short ribs are much better the second day, after they’ve had time to cool in the broth.

Want to learn more about the beauty of braising? Our Back to Braising class covers all you need to know about this slow and low cooking technique perfect for fall and winter. 

West Coast is Best Coast

Friday, September 12th, 2014

At least that is what all of my friends from San Francisco and Seattle like to chant every time we go out. And while I don’t know if I completely agree, the craft beer scene in San Diego gives some validation to the saying. With over 70 microbreweries in the San Diego and surrounding areas, craft beer is the norm, not the exception. While some have nationwide distribution, others are literally still in the “garage” stage with very loose tasting room hours. There is so much enthusiasm in the beer scene that a lot of the bars we went to didn’t even serve Bud Light or Miller Lite, or if they did, it wasn’t posted anywhere.

Our first stop, mainly because it was a few blocks from the hotel and we were thirsty, was the Mission Brewery downtown. Now this is not your glamorous bells and whistles tasting room, this is an old brick and stick warehouse in an industrial part of town that has the tanks on one side and the taps on the other. Great beer, cheap tasting pours and the fact that the kitchen “opens” when the food trucks show up, usually around 3pm, make this an awesome stop. Since you walk through the warehouse doors to get in, it just adds to the character.

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Another great stop is Ballast Point’s Tasting Room where ¼ and ½ pour options allow you to mix and match your way through their selections. If you’re more on the adventurous side of beer drinking, try their Indra Kunindra, a dark stout with flavors of curry, coconut and lime leaves with enough spice to keep the palate excited. Ballast Point also makes a Blackberry Sour that is really refreshing when it is warm outside, or unseasonably warm as San Diego was. It has this distinctive sour-ness and acidity that is would be a great pairing with vinaigrette based salads or braised duck.

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We also ended up at Karl Strauss’ a few times, because let’s be realistic, how can you go wrong with Jalapeno Cheez-whiz sauce and beer basted pretzels. Their Happy Hour specials made this a frequent afternoon stop after being in the sun all day and with numerous locations, we were never more than 10 minutes away.

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The one thing I noticed where ever we were was how much care was also put into the food. Even at the local beach bar, there were no jalapeno poppers or mozzarella sticks on any menu, but fresh tuna tacos, braised short rib sliders and Mexican shrimp and grits instead.

So head out to California for some warm weather and cold beer and see for yourself if West Coast is best coast!

Stock Your Freezer with Seasonal Berries

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

If you ever have the chance to rummage around my kitchen, you’ll find lots of cooking supplies, dried rice and grains, fresh herbs, veggies and some sort of protein, usually ground beef, whole chicken or the occasional pound of scallops we get from Dirk’s Seafood. But you won’t find much in the freezer. There’s no pizza for late night cravings or half-gallons of Rocky Road in there. But that is about to change.

Lots of foods are really good for you when frozen. Corn, green beans and berries all have a very short window of being perfectly ripe and aren’t very good when under ripe. These items are picked ripe, in the field, and frozen at peak freshness in a process called IQF (individually quick frozen). This is flash frozen food that still has individual kernels or pieces and isn’t one big block. The nice thing about IQF food is it is easy to measure and use in recipes, maintaining an even ratio for fresh produce and maintains almost all of the nutritional value of their fresh counterparts.

Over the weekend we stopped by Corey Lake Orchards on our way back from Michigan and grabbed a 10-pound case of blueberries and some other seasonal goodies. To some people, that might seem like an excessive amount of blueberries. You might even say there is no way you can eat all of those before they rot. And, you’d be right.

Blueberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring in IQF. We took all the blueberries, gave them a gentle bath and laid them out on towels to dry completely. After sorting through and picking out all the stems and squished berries, we laid them on parchment lined sheet trays and placed them in the freezer overnight. Then next morning, we took all our perfectly frozen blueberries and put them into 1 gallon freezer bags, being careful not to overfill them, so they will lay flat. We ended up with 5 bags of blueberries, which might not be enough, so another trip to the orchard is already in the works.

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When you are ready to use the berries, try adding them to smoothies in the morning or as a natural ice cube for patio refreshments.

Hawaiian Wedding Part 3: Local Favorites

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

One of the best things about Kauai, Hawaii is the cultural mix. There are American, Asian, Pacific Islander and South American influences all over the island, especially in the food. One of the hidden gems I found when I traveled there to cater a friend’s wedding was the Feral Pig. It is a restaurant located in a shopping complex about five minutes from the airport, but was recommended to us by numerous locals and has a wonderful local inspired menu.

Quick digression: due to the number of wild or feral pigs on the island, year round hunting of them is allowed as a form of population control. As a result, almost every restaurant, food truck and food stand has some form of pork on the menu. I recommend trying them all.

burgerNow back to the menu, or better yet, what isn’t on the menu. They have a burger called the Feral Burger, that is on request only, but you have to try it. It is a local beef/wild boar hamburger patty, grilled, topped with kalua pork, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, “special” aioli and seared pork belly, served with house made pickles.  Finish with a Lipitor™ and you are good to go.

juice bar

When it gets really hot out, sometimes the best thing to eat is a drink. Over in Hanalei Bay, sitting in the middle of a parking lot, is Aloha Juice Bar. No website, no branding, just the most refreshing smoothies for a hot afternoon meal. Try the Celery, Lime and Apple Juice Smoothie after a long day on the beach.

beer companyWhen the smoothies aren’t cutting it anymore, grab some local beer, brewed right on the island.  If there are 40 of you, grab some local kegs, brewed right on the island. Guess which route we took? A few barrels of Lihue Lager and Black Limousine from Kauai Beer Company on the south shore rounded out our local assortment of food and drink. Great beer, great price!

If the art scene is more your style, check out Hanapepe on Friday nights. The whole town becomes one big art fair, with artists, food trucks and musicians lining the streets. I found my favorite souvenir here, a reclaimed cloth rice sack from the 50’s that had been made into an apron. This is also home to the Aloha Spice Company. They have all sorts of seasonings and Hawaiian salts to give your food that island taste.

After the rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception and taking time to soak in the local sights and culture, that’s all I’ve got for Kauai, Hawaii. If someone ever asks if you want to cater, or just attend, a wedding there, say YES!

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David Indriksons is a Lead Class Assistant at The Chopping Block with a background that goes from small scale bistros to large scale catering and everything in between. In addition to a great love of food, he is a self-admitted travel junkie that enjoys hanging out with locals around the world and trying new cuisine. Outside of TCB, he enjoys skating, snowboarding, and playing with his dog, Caesar.