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Monday, March 09, 2009

hash browns, plain and fancy


good neighbors

Our friends Kari & Wade are the best neighbors EVER. Wade has built two houses (three if you count the one he’s just helped his son build) in between his weeks working on the Slope, so he’s the kind of guy who knows how to do just about everything. For example, let’s say that your new 5,000-pound bread oven has been dropped off in your gravel driveway, and you’re trying to figure out how to get it into your garage, then through the workshop into your new bakery space. Without a forklift. Wade’s your guy! Or what if you can’t figure out how to install the auto-closing metal fire-safety doors between the bakery and the shop? Yep. Wade can do it. Have a question about plumbing? Wade can answer that, too.

And Kari? She is one of those wonderful people who always has a big smile and a hug ready. Since Meredith could just barely toddle, her house has been an important neighborhood destination. If we give her a ten-minute warning that we’re on our way over, she’s likely to prepare a tea party! Kari taught Meredith to play Go Fish, which has been a life-saver on plane trips and long afternoons. And don’t get me started on the times she’s taken Meredith for an afternoon so Dan & I could spend some time together.

Anyway, we invited Kari & Wade over for dinner last night, and I knew I wanted to serve tomato soup with garlicky croutons, and broccoli with mustardy vinaigrette & toasted pumpkin seeds. But I also wanted to have a nice appetizer. I had made some delicious salty olive tapenade, but since I would be serving piles of croutons to scoop into the soup, I didn’t want our appetizer to be tapenade on toast. Too much bread.

So I got the fun idea to try tapenade on wedges of crispy, delicious hash browns! This was inspired by recipes I’ve read for fancy little potato pancakes garnished with sour cream and caviar. I didn’t feel like trying to make potato pancakes—I just wanted to use my tried-and-true basic hash brown recipe.  I didn’t have sour cream or caviar—but plain yogurt worked perfectly as a contrast to the crunchy potatoes. Who needs caviar when you can use briny, rich tapenade? If you already have tapenade hanging around (store-bought or home-made), this recipe is super quick and easy—but looks very fancy! Or you can try my tapenade recipe!



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hash browns, plain and fancy

This recipe is based on a recipe in the September 1998 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Don’t try this recipe unless you have the proper potatoes—you really need to use russet or Idaho potatoes—a high-starch, non-waxy variety. If you try and use Yukon Gold or Butterball potatoes, they burn before getting brown and crispy because of their higher sugar content.

Don’t bother grating the potatoes ahead of time, because they will discolor—it doesn’t take long to grate them, so just do them right before you’re ready to start frying them up.
I love to make hash browns for dinner, not just breakfast! Even if you don’t serve them with my little garnish of yogurt and tapenade, they make a great dinner dish. Just serve wedges of hash browns with a big salad!

1 pound high-starch potatoes (such as russets or Idahos), scrubbed and grated coarsely
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or butter (I use olive oil)

optional fancy garnish

a few scoops of plain yogurt (low-fat rather than non-fat)
tapenade (my recipe below, or buy it prepared)

1. To get rid of some of the extra water in the potatoes, place the grated potatoes in a dish towel, roll the towel up around the potatoes and, using two hands, twist the towel as tightly as you can, and watch the water pour out!
2. Toss the dried grated potatoes with salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
3. Heat half the oil or butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then scatter potatoes evenly over the entire pan bottom. Using a wide spatula, firmly press potatoes to flatten; reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until dark golden brown and crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Check the underside after 3 or 4 minutes and turn down the heat if it looks like it’s browning too fast.
4. Slide hash browns, browned side down, onto a large plate. Cover with another plate and flip them over so the browned side is up. Add the remaining oil or butter to pan. Once the oil is hot, slide the hash browns back into pan. Continue to cook over medium heat until remaining side is dark golden brown and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes longer.
5. Slide the hash browns onto a plate or cutting board, cut into wedges and serve immediately, with or without garnish.
6. If you’re garnishing, stir the yogurt until smooth. Put a little dollop of yogurt on each wedge, then top with a spoonful of tapenade.

kalamata olive, sundried tomato & roasted garlic tapenade

This tapenade is really easy if you already have roasted garlic hanging around, and it keeps for a long time in your ‘fridge. You can also put it in a jar and freeze half of it for another time—it keeps just fine that way. Because of the addition of the tomatoes, it’s not quite as rich as regular tapenade, but it’s still got fantastic flavor.

2 cups sundried julienned tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil)
6 garlic cloves
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves (use either one of the following recipes)
2 cups kalamata olives
¼ cup capers
¼ cup pine nuts

1. Put the sundried tomatoes into a heat-proof bowl, pour boiling water over them to cover, and cover with a small plate. Let them soak for 15 or 20 minutes until soft.
2. Put the raw garlic into a food processor and mince finely. Add the roasted garlic and softened tomatoes and puree until smooth. Add the olives and pulse several times until the olives are in smallish pieces and the mixture is coming together, but don’t turn it into a paste.
3. Add the capers and pine nuts, and pulse several more times until everything is nicely combined.

olive oil infused with “roasted garlic”

This is how we “roast” the garlic for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread…  and both the olive oil and garlic are wonderful in many other dishes.

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic (for example, in the Southwest Caesar Salad, or in the Hummus in the cookbook or on the website). If you make a soup or a stew that needs a little extra pizzaz, just scoop out a few cloves, mash them with a fork, and add them to your dish to really pump up the flavor. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take it out when you need it.

roasted garlic

You can make several heads of this garlic when you bake it, and spread the soft, sweet cloves on toast, or add to other dishes, like soups, or hummus, or beans.

heads of garlic, unpeeled
olive oil
salt & freshly-ground pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees (or whatever temperature at which you’re baking something else). Slice the top off the garlic bulb, just enough to expose the tops of the garlic flesh. Center the bulb on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the bulb securely and pop it into the oven.
2. After 45 minutes or so (longer if it’s at a lower temperature), you should start to smell the roasting garlic, but depending on the size of your bulb, it may need a bit more time. Test by unwrapping it and slipping the sharp point of a paring knife into one of the cloves. If it slides in effortlessly, or the cloves are starting to poke out of their skins, then the garlic is ready.

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