Oven Fries

Potatoes. Pomme de terre. Solanum Tuberosum. Member of the nightshade family and close relative of the tomato. I don’t speak a lick of French (despite repeated efforts to learn) but I do know that Pomme de terre means “apple of the earth” and anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of digging potatoes might agree that when, after much effort, you finally catch your first glimpse of these brightly colored orbs shining out from under the piles of black soil- well….I can’t think of a more accurate description other than an apple of the earth.

My first time growing potatoes on a production scale was what I would  describe as a “come to Jesus” moment. I was early on in being the assistant manager of a pretty big non-profit organic vegetable operation in a public park on the east coast and I’d never grown many things on a production scale, potatoes included. It was an exceptionally cold and wet spring that year. I was working for this really unstable but incredibly brilliant farmer who’s only consistency was making bad decisions. He was having an affair with a married board member by day and by night was making a variety of other questionable farming decisions like getting tractors and farm implements sucked into water logged fields that more closely resembled quick sand than soil. I don’t remb how we got the mess of implements out of the fields but I won’t ever forget the huge ruts and trenches they left behind. Trenches that we’d end up planting potatoes in, covering them by hand using 5 gallon buckets filled with a mixture of compost and leaves. Two acres total of potatoes we planted entirely by hand.

By the time they were ready to harvest my boss had been fired. Around the time he started farming by night he had also purchased a crossbow with the non-profit credit card. Yes, that’s right. a shotgun that shoots arrows intended for killing. Under the budget category of “Plant Defense” which was generally reserved for things like organic pesticides. He was intending to use it to hunt deer, illegally, in a county park operated by the DNR. So needless to say. I inherited the mess of a season he created, the employees he hired, a dry well, a spent budget and 175 families who expected their twice a week share of vegetables that they had already paid good money for. All of this is occurring in my first ever full season of farming for pay.

So when I dug my shovel into the loose soil of the potato beds and heaved up a good 3 pounds of glowing, bright, red potatoes of all shapes and sizes in one pitch fork turn… I, an otherwise not particularly religious man, let out a loud and audible shriek in a heavenly direction. I probably cried and thanked the lord. Fell to my knees and prayed. It was a sight not just of incredible relief…but also of incredible beauty and that’s saying nothing of their flavor.

Potatoes are one of many foods that I think people give a “meh” reputation to in terms of flavor. and. Partially that’s probably because half of y’all don’t salt your food. but. Partially also because folks don’t realize the importance of nutrient density in vegetables and how it relates to flavor. Vegetables don’t pull nutrients from the air and they don’t manufacture them on their own either. If the soil doesn’t have nutrients- neither will your vegetables. and if they don’t have many nutrients they likely also won’t have much flavor. Most people don’t actually know what potatoes really taste like. If asked they’d say they taste like nothing or like whatever they’re cooked in or with. Not true. I make a boiled potato that’ll make you smack your Mama. It’s all about the soil. and the salt.

Potatoes grow really well here. Colorado, in general, produces a huge amount of potatoes in the San Louis Valley and beyond. They also store well here. Folks get all up in arms if they buy produce and it has soil aka ‘dirt’ on it. A) Calling it dirt is really symbolic of how we treat the living, breathing substance we grow our food in and B) The reality of storing things over winter or just as long as you need to before eating is that you do not under any circumstance want to add water to them and then try and store them. They’ll just rot. In addition to being good for you (yes I’m saying you should eat dirt) leaving the soil on is really the key to a long shelf life of a root cellar vegetable.

This is a really simple recipe that is really easy to gussy up. Throw in some chopped garlic and fresh rosemary or dust with some Parmesan cheese and suddenly burger night goes gourmet.


 

Ingredients

~1 Large Russet Potato per person
~1/2-3/4 c olive oil
Salt. A lot of it.
Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut potatoes into fry like shapes, if you’re really struggling to envision this you might try a youtube tutorial. Basically you can easily make ‘steak fries’ by cutting the potato in half lengthwise, place the cut side down and then make thin slices again in the lengthwise direction. I don’t peel my potatoes bec we all know as Grandma says “that’s where the good stuff is” but you can. I recommend Russet’s but this basically works with whatever potatoes you have, maybe except reds- they tend to stick.
  3. Place potatoes on a baking sheet with a good sized lip or use a casserole dish making a pretty uniform single layer. You want a good amount of contact between each fry and the baking sheet.
  4. Add oil. 1/2 is a really rough estimate as it really depends on how many potatoes your making and how big your baking sheet is. You want to coat the entirety of the potatoes and the bottom of the baking sheet. It doesn’t need to be an inch thick but you want to make sure the baking sheet is pretty much completely covered in oil kinda like so:
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  5. Salt. Cover the potatoes in a good layer of salt. A GOOD LAYER, not a sprinkle. This is one of two *key* steps. Your body needs salt. Give it what it needs.
  6. Bake. Now this is where it gets tricky so listen carefully. Once you put these mamas in the oven you’re going to leave them alone until they start to turn golden brown. Leave. Them. Alone. Don’t shake the tray, don’t get in there with your spatula. Let the poor things cook. Once you see signs of golden deliciousness then you can go ahead and make sure they aren’t sticking to the tray. In my experience it takes a good 30-35 minutes to achieve a decent amount of crisp. How crispy and how long that takes are really up to how you like your fries.
  7. Remove from oven. Transfer to a plate covered in paper towel OR ranch style: dump the fries onto a deconstructed brown paper bag right in the middle of the table.
  8. Salt again. This time a sprinkle should do.

 

 

 

 

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Cauliflower Soup w/Roasted Garlic & Dried Red Chiles

It’s about that time of year. The point in winter where I watch all of my city dwelling friends spread across the country (and world) over simultaneously take to social media complaining of various versions of the flu that they’ve all managed to catch independent of one another but all at once- and I laugh! I laugh because I’m so geographically isolated that surely this is the time of year that it pays off. This is when I watch all these city folk with their kids in schools and enormous places of work and city door handles and public transportation and restaurant kitchens, and GERMS and germs and germs… This is when I watch them become victims of the germ filled environments they live in while I chug along on my winter ranch task list unscathed. OR NOT. This is when I wake up thinking I’ve got a stiff neck…probably from something I did the day before only to within the day end up on the couch with my own version of whatever bug is circulating, just like everyone else.

It happens. We all get sick or at least most of us do. and around here the ranching part of #ranchlife doesn’t stop for the flu. The pigs are out of pasture and need to be moved, I’ve got ewes who are lambing- triplets in many cases, I’ve got ewes who aren’t lambing and rams who need separating, chickens to feed, it’s too cold for hoses so it’s buckets to haul water, the working dogs have to be found/fed/rotated and then there’s the hay which doesn’t move or stack itself, the firewood that needs chopping so I don’t freeze to death at night, the roof that has to be cleared of snow and and and… and on any given day I love every part of every one of those tasks. That’s ranch life and it’s a life I work hard to keep and am grateful to have. Except days like today. Fortunately few and far between, days like today are cold misery with a side of self pity. Which is not a dish served hot or known to heal. FTR. That’s where this soup comes in. I’ve been making this for ~15yrs and it’s what I crave as soon as I’ve passed the point of no return on the flu train. It’s so easy you should probably be able to manage it on your own even in the worst of illin’ states.

Cauliflower is one of the winter crops we can still (on a good year) grow in this region at this time of year in the protection of a greenhouse. I didn’t grow the cauliflower I’m using but it is local and a lovely golden color- which accounts for the buttery look in the photos. Garlic as a root cellar crop has been dry and put up in since about August of last year, it keeps very well in most places. This years crop has been in the ground since about October of last year and will be ready for scape harvest about May-June. It’s also possible to grow garlic over the summer here, since it’s relatively dry. The heat we have gives it a pretty intense spiciness which is a little different from winter garlic but really delicious as well. and as I said above the dried chiles are a New Mexico variety that store really well for a really long time. Which basically means to throw this soup together I just need to pull some broth from the freezer and off we go.

Recipe feeds 4 OR 1 sick person for abt 2 days


INGREDIENTS 

2-3 dried chiles, the sicker I am the more I use
6 cloves of garlic. Yes, 6. MINIMUM. A lil garlic never hurt nobody
1 head of cauliflower, quartered. Youtube that if need be.
64oz Veg or chicken stock
~1/2 c olive oil, don’t be scared it’s the only source of fat
Pecorino/Parm/Mozz to top, your choice. all 3. none at all. whateves.
Crusty Bread of your choosing
Salt and Pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In relatively large sauce pan bring the stock to boil. Add quartered cauliflower. Cook until Cauliflower is soft- use a fork to test the thickest part of the quarters. You really want it to be almost completely cooked through in order for the next step to go smoothly.
  2. While the cauliflower is cooking taking the dried chiles, the garlic and the oil and add all three to a skillet that is deep enough to also eventually hold all the cauliflower. Start to heat the oil/chile/garlic mixture on medium heat, the goal is to infuse the oil with the flavor of the chiles and the garlic but you don’t want to heat the oil to a high temperature bec you’re going to add the soup stock soaked cauliflower to the hot skillet. water+hot oil = danger. How long you infuse the oil with the chiles before adding the cauliflower is really up to you. I generally start the oil cooking when I add the cauliflower to the stock, but if you just really want a light essence of spice you can add the oil, garlic, chiles and cauliflower to the skillet all at the same time.
  3. Remove the cauliflower from the soup stock once cooked through using a slotted spoon or spatula making sure to drain off all excess liquid. Add the cauliflower to the skillet leaving the garlic and chiles there as well. Turn the heat up to medium high and use your spoon or spatula to break down the cauliflower into smaller somewhat consistent pieces, add salt and pepper. Cook mixture for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower starts to turn golden brown.
  4. Return the cauliflower, garlic, chile mixture to the soup making sure to get all the oil out of the bottom of the pan. I generally leave the chiles in while I let the soup simmer together for 25 or so minutes before serving. If you’re not a spice fan, now is a good time to remove them.
  5. Top with cheese and serve with warm crusty bread.fullsizerender-6

Pickled Red Onions, Cebollas Encurtidas

I loved tacos so much as a kid that my extended family members used to invite me over to their houses for dinner on the nights they were making tacos for their respective families. There were weeks where I’d happily eat some version of tacos 4 or 5 nights in a row, a habit I’ve definitely carried with me far into my adult life as a rancher. Part comfort food and part you-can-turn-anything-into-a-taco convenience make tacos the PERFECT way for me to keep things exciting and seasonal in the ranch kitchen even when I’m having even the busiest, craziest, most exhausting of work days/weeks/months/years.

Pickled red onions, generally speaking, are one of my fav quick ways to fancy up any kind of taco, burrito, tostada, nachos etc. and because they’re so quick to make and last up to a week in the refrig we get a lot of miles outta these beauties.

There are many easy and great versions you can do with these and some of which I’ll likely end up detailing in later blog posts. but. Today I’m sharing my version that I make based on the Ecuadoran curtido Cebollas Encurtidas which relies on the acidity of lime juice versus a pickle brine as the marinade. At this time of year I find that I crave the acidity and zing of the citrus to maybe wake up my hibernating taste buds and remind me of the warmer days ahead …which are trade offs I thoughtfully but gladly occasionally make for knowing that I’m buying out of season non-local limes. Red onions are one of the storage crops we have around the root cellar at this time of year so we’ve got plenty of those readily on hand.


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INGREDIENTS

2 medium onions
juice of 3 limes
3 tsp Salt, plus 2 tsp 
2 tsp Peppercorns
1/2 tsp Coriander
1 tbsp Oil (whatever you generally use, Olive oil etc)

MATERIALS

1 small mason jar with lid OR non-reactive (non-metal i.e. glass or ceramic) bowl and plastic wrap. You want it to be a pretty tight fit in the jar and not leave a bunch of room for air.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Thinly slice the onion. A mandolin can be helpful but however thick or thin you cut the onions is totally up to you and your preferences. I like mine real thin. Just keep in mind that they’re a topping so enormous rings or pieces can be hard to manage- or not! 100% what you prefer.
  2. After you put the sliced onions in a non-metal bowl, sprinkle them with the 2 tsp salt plus more if need be to coat and a little lime juice (the equivalent of a lime wedge, set one aside while juicing if that’s helpful) and then set aside for about 12-15 mins.
  3. Blanch the onions. Bring a sauce pan of water (enough to fit and cover all the onions) to boil. Add onions and completely submerge for about 15-20 seconds or just until they turn soft. Drain immediately. Return to the bowl OR glass jar if you’re going that route.
  4. Add the the lime juice, oil, salt, peppercorns and coriander seed to the onions and toss. 
  5. Cover and let cool before refrigerating. The mixture will turn that perfect shade of pink after a few hours but I, personally, like to give them overnight to let the flavors fully enmesh. 
  6. Enjoy! The mixture keeps for about a week give or take.