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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

potato salad with green beans and thyme


Denali 2.0

We’re back from our Second Annual Labor Day trip to Denali National Park, and we’re just now getting comfortable with the rather complicated reservation, camping, and bus system in the Park. For many years, we avoided the bureaucracy associated with camping in the park when it was open, choosing instead to go to Denali in May, before the buses are running. The Park Service lets you camp at Riley Creek Campground near the entrance of the park, and you can drive your own vehicle to Teklanika and bike on the road from there. So although it’s fun to be at the Park when the only people there are other Alaskans with their bikes, there are a few drawbacks. First, it’s darn cold. In early May, we never know if we’ll get snowed on while riding bikes to Polychrome Pass. And warming up after a very cold bike ride can be challenging. And second, it’s very gray…  there’s not even any green yet. Yes, it’s beautiful, all those mountains and steep passes and rivers—but stark. And now that we’ve had a taste of the stunning fall colors? Well, let’s just say I might just have spoiled myself for Denali in May.

We picked Meredith up at the bus stop after school and drove to Denali State Park to spend the night. Dan took off in the morning, biking north towards the National Park. Meredith and I sped around the campground and the war memorial on our bikes for an hour—what a change from just a year ago, when she was still struggling along with training wheels on the little pink bike. We were having so much fun we were a little late getting packed up and driving up to meet Dan… but luckily it was such a beautiful day, with the reds and yellows of the tundra and aspens, he didn’t mind the extra time riding.

We signed in at Denali National Park and drove to Savage River, where Dan dropped me off with my bike so I could ride the rest of the way to Teklanika campground. It was a lovely ride, except for the middle part where there was this huge downpour at exactly the same time that I was going down a really long, steep hill, so I was completely covered in mud, ankles to forehead, at the bottom (see photo, below). I had such a thick layer of mud on my glasses that a wolf would have to cross the road in front of me to see it. Unlikely, I know. But luckily the rain stopped soon enough and I took my sunglasses off and had a lovely rest of my ride.

The first morning, we biked into the Park, Dan pulling Meredith’s trailer bike attached to his bike. We didn’t have any particular goal in mind, but at the top of Sable Pass we still had plenty of gumption, and more importantly, ample peanuts, raisins, and apples. So we coasted five miles downhill, and then back up the hill to Polychrome Pass! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there and pedaling along (much of the time) without getting whiny (except for one little part). Altogether it’s 35 miles, round trip, and so scenic it knocks your socks off.

As we rode between the mountainsides, we saw two bears and a couple of groups of Dall sheep (Can I call them flocks if they are wild sheep?). An unexpected advantage of the buses is that they are wildlife warning systems. I may just be the world’s worst wildlife spotter—in addition to the fact that I’m quite inattentive (preferring to just enjoy the scenery in a bit of a daze as I pedal along), my eyes are JUST good enough to pass the driving test. Which means that I don’t wear glasses, even though I don’t exactly boast 20/20 vision. So my wildlife spotting strategy is as follows: as I’m biking along, and I see a bus stopped up ahead, I pedal up as fast as I can and look all around to find the animal they are all looking at. (You guessed it—that’s when we saw the two bears.) Yay, buses! 

Another day we rode on a bus beyond Polychrome with our lunch and hiked along river drainages and over tundra-covered mountainsides and down scree slopes. We flew kites, made friends with a young Dutch couple, hiked the Savage River Trail and saw two more sheep, right up close. We visited with our friends at their place outside the Park, and got to meet their new baby boy, Sam! And then it was time to come home, back to school…  for more adventures in kindergarten!!

This recipe doesn’t have much to do with our trip to Denali, except that when we returned, we started getting new little fingerling potatoes in our CSA box!





potato salad with green beans

I absolutely love this recipe. It’s really different than the typical mayonnaise potato salad, with a garlicky, mustardy dressing and salty little capers to brighten it up. I like a high proportion of green beans to potatoes, but if you’d prefer the salad to be heavier on the potatoes, use fewer green beans. I’ll often just eat this salad for lunch or dinner—it’s that good, and filling, too.

This recipe is modified from a recipe in Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I’d always made this recipe before with roasted potatoes, but it seemed a shame to roast the sweet little fingerlings in my CSA box, so I steamed them instead, and it turned out great. So now you know you can make this recipe with either roasted or steamed potatoes, depending on whether you have new potatoes or bigger older ones.

2 pounds garlic-roasted potatoes (recipe follows)
2 pounds new potatoes, sliced lengthwise, then cut into bite-sized pieces, then steamed until tender
garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)
½ medium red onion, minced (about ½ cup)
red wine vinegar
1-2 pounds green beans, cut into 1” pieces
1 ½ tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
½ tablespoon fresh thyme, coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

1. Make the garlic-roasted potatoes.
2. Make the vinaigrette.
3. Bring a pot of water to boil and salt lightly. Place the onions in a small bowl and scoop a little boiling water out of the pot, just enough to cover them. Let the onions soak for 30 seconds, drain, and toss with ½ tablespoon of the vinegar. This takes away the sharp bite of the onions, but leaves great flavor and crunch.
4. Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook until just tender (2-5 minutes). Drain the beans and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows extra water to evaporate, and the beans stop cooking almost immediately.)
5. Transfer the roasted potatoes to a large bowl with the onions, capers, thyme, and several large spoonfuls of vinaigrette. Add the green beans just before serving (so their color won’t fade from the acid in the vinaigrette) and adjust the seasoning with more vinaigrette, salt, pepper, and/or a splash of vinegar, if needed.
6. If you’ve made enough for leftovers, only add the green beans to the portion you’ll be serving right away, to keep them nice and green.

garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette

This might make more dressing than you need, but it keeps very well in the refrigerator, and it’s great on regular salad greens, as well.

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Slowly pour in oil to make a creamy emulsion. Taste and season with more salt and/or honey.

garlic-roasted potatoes

These potatoes are great with all kinds of things—use them instead of mashed potatoes or rice with any dish. The garlic-infused oil really makes a difference in the taste!

2 pounds waxy potatoes (such as Alaskan Butterball, or Yukon Gold)
garlic oil (recipe follows, in Step 1.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Make garlic oil: Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Toss them in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of garlic oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
3. Lightly oil a large baking dish or sheet pan, and transfer the potatoes onto it, making sure that a cut side of each potato is touching the pan. (The side touching the pan will brown nicely). Roast the potatoes until tender and browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

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