Today is World Nutella Day and I was fully planning to participate. I had at least two projects in mind and I even attempted them, but someone stole my cooking mojo and both my experiments were abject failures. If you’d like some Nutella goodness I offer up these Nutella Nanaimo Bars from last week and I hope you enjoy them. You can also check out this Nutella Cheesecake from Eat, Live, Travel, Write, this Chocolate Hazelnut Spread from David Lebovitz or this dangerous looking nutella molten lava cake from Paula at Bell’alimento. So strike one for topicality.
Also, Sunday is the Super Bowl, which is a big holiday in food terms. I was going to post a new experimental guacamole recipe, but my avocados were not photo worthy. Feel free to check out Jalapeno Popper Dip, this Easy Crockpot Chili, Hot Clam Dip, Black Eyed Pea Salsa or Pimento Cheese if you’re looking for grub for the big game. Strike two for topicality. (The guacamole recipe will come later).
So I’m going to present you today with a recipe that isn’t at all topical, but is good, nonetheless. It came from a desire for old fahioned, comforting, mashed potatoes (because WHO doesn’t like mashed potatoes?) combined with my New Year’s goal to eat more vegetables. We always have broccoli in the house (the Nuni loves it raw), and I’ve made mashed cauliflower before — an idea was born. [...]
The Nuni has been very taken with picnics lately. It started last weekend when we were at the Huntington Library. After a hard hour of playing in the bubble fountains and the rainbow tunnel of the children’s garden, we spread a towel on the grass to dry off. Being toddler parents who are never without snack food, we broke out the water bottles and the dried apples. Nuni looked happily around and said, “Mama! Dada! Nuni! Family! PICNIC!”
Since then she has applied the term “picnic” to every nontraditional eating situation in which we find ourselves, and let me tell you, they are not infrequent. Morning coffee in bed is a picnic, so are takeout ribs eaten on the couch and dinner on the deck behind Nonna and Pappi’s house. Of course, the Nuni may be on to something here. Calling a meal a picnic makes it less formal and more exciting — an adventure in the making.
Whether your picnic is in the dining room or at the beach, this potato salad would be a marvelous addition. [...]
With the weather getting warmer, my thoughts start straying in the direction of picnics. Picnics, according to my personal definition which I have just made up, can be eaten indoors or out, at a table, on the ground or even in the car. There are certain parameters, however. The setting must be nice and the company good, but above all, what defines a picnic is the food. Picnic food must be casual and even a bit louche. Foods like cold fried chicken, that maybe challenge the boundaries of decorum to eat. Bread torn from the loaf, with a nugget of cheese. Food that is maybe unbeautiful, or unchic, but undeniably delicious. And the king of picnic food might just be potato salad.
I don’t think I have ever met a potato salad I didn’t like. Warm German potato salad slick with olive oil, simple mayonnaise potatoes with herbs, purple potatoes with green beans and parsley, even that sweet yellow stuff from the deli with the bright red flecks of an unidentifiable pepper – I love them all. But something about this particular potato salad spoke to me – roasted potatoes made tart with vinaigrette and a trio of my favorite flavorings: capers, cornichons, and smoked paprika. [...]
My early encounters with sweet potatoes were of the Thanksgiving variety – candied from a can and topped with marshmallows and tooth-achingly sweet. I was not a big fan. I wanted dessert for dessert, and not for dinner, and if I was going to have dessert, I wanted it to be something good, like chocolate, or at least pumpkin pie.
It wasn’t until I was all grown up and had my own kitchen that I discovered the myriad and delicious uses to which sweet potatoes could be put. (And when I say sweet potatoes, to be clear, I mean thin reddish skin, orange flesh. Sometimes called yams. To be distinguished from the white fleshed sweet potatoes you find in Japan and the Caribbean, and “true yams”). Baked with a little butter and salt, mashed with garlic, or cut into French fries, sweet potatoes offered that lovely caramel sweetness that stands up so well to savoury applications. (I’m still no fan of the sweet with sweet. Unless you are talking about sweet potato pie, which is properly served as a dessert, or the sweet potato cake served up by my husband’s Southern grandmother. My contribution to Thanksgiving is a spicy sweet potato gratin. My grandmother has a conniption about the departure from tradition and then eats it with gusto.)
This lasagna takes the noble sweet potato out of the category of “side dishes” and into the main course, where it rightfully belongs. The goat cheese and basil add a little piquancy to counter the mellowness of the sweet potato flavor, and the mushrooms add an extra oomph of umami.
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It’s confession time. I love mashed potatoes. I know they’re terribly unfashionable in our low glycemic-index, phytochemical-obsessed, Mediterranean Diet culture. They’re stodgy and white and lacking in high concentrations of flavonoids or anthocyanins, without the punch of bright colors or big bold flavors.
And yet I could eat a bowlful all by myself, couldn’t you?
These potatoes are mashed potatoes for the new millennium. Mashed potatoes you can bring out of the closet and serve to your guests, unashamedly and proudly. With their no-peel ease of preparation and the flash of green (from basil and scallions) these can stand up as a pleasing part of any meal.
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