How to use up leftover salt potatoes

Do you have leftover salt potatoes hanging around the fridge after your Memorial Day picnic? (If you don't know what salt potatoes are, then you must not live in Rochester. They are essentially new potatoes that are boiled in salty water. Here, you can purchase the potatoes packaged along with the salt so you don't even have to measure.)

My first attempts (left) resulted in flat potatoes without a
rough top. I found that scoring them with a biscuit cutter
(see potatoes to the right) gave me a nice rough top.
Here’s a way to use them without feeling like you’re eating the same thing twice. Just put your spuds on a sheet pan and press down on them with a potato masher a couple of times until they are somewhat flattened and the skins are split -- the rougher the top, the better.You may need to score the skins with a knife or biscuit cutter to get them to split properly.

Then brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Pop them in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes or so, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, rustic looking, side dish.

I recently paid a visit to F. Olivers on Park Avenue, so I had some of their Tuscan Garden olive oil on hand. It took my taters over the top by adding a lovely rosemary flavor. I also used some fancy pants red sea salt (it was a gift), but Kosher salt would work just as well.

They were crunchy on the bottoms and sides and soft on the insides. I topped mine with sour cream. My husband ate his plain. My son dipped his in ketchup. All of us enjoyed our potatoes, and none of us felt like we were eating leftovers.

Crash Hot Salt Potatoes

Adapted from this recipe on the Pioneer Woman website

Leftover salt potatoes (any amount)
Olive oil (F. Olivers Tuscan Garden olive oil is especially good, but any will do)
Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt, to taste (don’t skimp)
Black pepper
Spices or fresh herbs, if desired
Sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle a sturdy cookie sheet with olive oil. Place the potatoes on the sheet, leaving plenty of room between them. (I got about 17 on one large cookie sheet.)

With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until the skin splits and it mashes down about halfway. Rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. If you don’t have a potato masher or yours is a waffle weave pattern, score the skin once or twice with a knife or biscuit cutter, than flatten with your potato masher or the back of a glass.

Brush the tops of each potato generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with plenty of coarse salt and pepper. If you want to sprinkle on some spices or herbs, this would be the time to do it.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until nice and brown.

If desired, serve with sour cream.

Note: This post is adapted from my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.

Custard at Pittsford Farms Dairy

I must have passed the Pittsford Farms Dairy hundreds of times over the years, and never stopped in. I’m not sure why – I've heard raves about the nonfat milk that tastes like it’s full of fat. And I had enjoyed a superlative cup of hot chocolate Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street, and learned that it was steamed chocolate milk from the dairy.

Last week, my son and I were in the neighborhood and saw a sign for “ice cream parlor open,” so we finally visited.

What a quaint place! I loved the old-fashioned red building that housed the ice cream shop, complete with chandeliers made from milk bottles. I was told that all of the ice cream is made fresh at the dairy, which was impressive. The line was fairly long but moved along quickly. As we waited, we eyed a tempting assortment of pastries, but we used our will power to resist purchasing some.

My son was happy with his mint milk shake. The texture of my twist frozen custard reminded me more of meringue than a dense, creamy frozen custard. The vanilla side wasn’t sweet enough for me and the chocolate side didn’t have a real chocolate punch (which is surprising, given their outstanding chocolate milk).

I enjoyed my visit to Pittsford Farms Dairy, but the next time I’m in the neighborhood for ice cream, I’ll opt for of their hand-dipped flavors. Does anyone have a favorite to suggest?

The Chocolate Babka Incident

No, there's not snow on the ground in
Rochester. It just took me awhile to get
around to writing my story.
I was at Baker Street Bakery on Park Avenue buying a virtuous loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, when a worker plopped something in the half-price basket on the counter in front of me.

I knew it right away, though I had never eaten one. It was a large loaf topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing. It had to be a chocolate babka.

I have wondered about chocolate babka since an episode of the Seinfeld TV show repeated “babka” about 100 times. It first aired – can you believe it? – 18 years ago. (The relevant snip of the show is here.) Maybe it was the repetitive use of “babka,” but it stuck in my head as something I wanted to try.

I had thought about baking one myself. Martha Stewart’s recipe looks good,  but it seems like a lot of work. A cooking contest buddy, inspired by the same Seinfeld episode, based a Pillsbury Bakeoff finalist recipe on a chocolate babka. It looks yummy and easy, but I wanted the real deal.

My 17-year-old son recently discovered Seinfeld – in fact, he does a spot-on Seinfeld imitation – so I thought he’d get a kick out of having a chocolate babka. And I had always wanted to try one. Plus it was half price. So I grabbed it.

Baker Street Bakery's Chocolate Babka
As I was driving home, Seinfeld’s voice started running through my head. Or maybe it was my son imitating Seinfeld.

"Why would you buy that babka?

There must be a million calories in that babka!
A babka is not part of a healthy diet!

A babka isn't an everyday snack; a babka is  for a special occasion!

What kind of Mom brings home a babka for no reason?

What were you thinking, buying that babka?"

My son loved the babka. We all did. What’s not to like? A lightly sweet, slightly chewy bread, it had tunnels of chocolate filling and was topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing.

I’ll surely buy one again, but to avoid those voices in my head, I’ll save it for a special occasion.

Note: this column also appears in today's blog for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Flavors of Rochester website.

Outdoor Dining in Rochester -- What's Your Favorite Spot?

I am working on a piece on outdoor dining for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. I'm excited to be writing this because I love dining outdoors in the summer. I know I haven't hit them all, so I could use some suggestions. What's your favorite spot to dine outside in the Rochester area and Finger Lakes?

Bonding with Sons on Sunday Night Dinners

A version of this post appeared in my blog on the Democrat and Chronicle's Flavors of Rochester website on April 24, 2012.

I so enjoyed seeing Jersey Boys at the Auditorium when it came through Rochester last month. This is the second year that I’ve been a subscriber to the Broadway series, and I cherish the nights I take one of my teenage sons to dinner and a show.

My season tickets are on Sundays when ticket prices are reasonable and show times are earlier, so we’re home at a reasonable hour for school and work. The challenge, though, is that many restaurants are closed.

The original Sticky Lips BBQ, about five miles away from the Auditorium, is super casual with a fun Fifties-era vibe. Obviously it’s known for BBQ but our favorite item (so far) is their crunchy and slightly sweet mayo-based coleslaw (we love a good slaw).

Liberty Pizza at The Gate House
California Rollin’ Sushi Bar in the Village Gate serves a variety of inventive sushi rolls, but our favorite menu item is the addictive crawdad bowl appetizer. The crawdads are fried with a delicate, crispy exterior, coated in a sweet-spicy sauce, and served over rice. Sometimes we skip the sushi altogether and order crawdads and a salad. When we splurge on dessert, we share Dolly Ann spring rolls — walnuts, coconut and chocolate, rolled up in a spring roll wrapper, then deep fried into melty goodness.

The Gate House, also in the Village Gate, has a more upscale environment than the other two spots, but the menu is accessible to the hankerings of teenage boys, with plenty of pizzas and burgers. My son didn’t enjoy their take on Rochester’s “plate,” but everything else we’ve had there has been delicious.

We’re always looking for new places to dine on our mother/son Sundays. Do you have any favorites for Sunday night meals near the Auditorium?

Is it CSA Time Yet?

A seedling growing at Wickham Farms.
I think it's broccoli.

I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. I am so impatient for CSA harvest time to arrive! It’s been way too long since I’ve had fresh locally grown veggies.

I work at Wickham Farms in Penfield, where I’m also a member if its community-supported agriculture program (CSA).  I can head out to the field and see that peas and lettuce are sprouting. Swiss chard, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings are growing. Other goodies are in the ground, and we’re waiting for them to sprout. I want to cheer them on. Grow, plants, grow!

For those who are considering joining a CSA, I thought I’d share a few observations.

Splitting shares: Although it’s the first year for the CSA at Wickham Farms, for several years, I split a share of the CSA from Porter Farms. Splitting a share worked out great – we simply divided our bag of produce in half each week. This is a good option for people who won’t consume the amount of veggies in a weekly CSA share. Farmers are usually OK with people splitting a share as long as there’s just one name on the membership.

Another seedling. Pretty sure this is
cabbage. As you can tell, I'm the writer/
photographer, not the farmer.
Cost comparison: People sometimes want to calculate whether veggies are cheaper through a CSA. It’s difficult to compute, but my hunch is that there’s probably not a major cost difference one way or another. The reason to belong to a CSA is to eat fresh local produce and support local farmers. If there’s a cost savings, it probably comes from eating out less often because there are vegetables at home waiting to be used.

New favorites: Belonging to a CSA made me a better cook, because I learned to cook veggies that were new to me. I became a fan of leeks and beets, neither of which I had cooked before. (In fact, my 17-year-old son pesters me to make leek confit, a recipe I tried during my past CSA.) When people sign up for the Wickham Farms CSA, we ask them their favorite veggies, just to be sure we haven’t missed anything on our planting list. A common response is, “just surprise us – we want to try new things.” I’m looking forward to trying tatsoi and celeriac – two items on our planting list – this coming season.

Anyone else looking forward to CSA time?

 This also appears in my Democrat and Chronicle Flavors of Rochester blog, published today.

Spotted: Giant Rugelach

A version of this was originally published in my blog for the Flavors of Rochester website on April 30, 2012.
The Rugelach at Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters
At the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters in Pittsford Plaza, I spotted a promising croissant-like baked good on display in a large glass jar. When I looked closer, I could tell they weren’t croissants. Hmmm…

“Are those rugelach?” I asked the girl behind the corner. (There was not a sign on the jar.)

Yes, she replied.

“Wow, I don’t see those very often. Do you sell a lot of them?”

“Not as many as we should,” she said, “considering how they are filled with so much nutty, cinnamony goodness. I don’t think people know what they are.”

So please allow me to spread the word. Rugelach are Yiddish crescent-shaped cream cheese pastries, rolled up with a variety of yummy fillings. They are traditionally served as little thumb-sized cookies, so these bigger-than-a-hand pastries are like rugelach on steroids.

I’ve found them at two coffee shops thus far. My favorite is the one at the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters mentioned above. Their pastry is rolled super thin, making it especially tender, and filled with a cinnamon and nut filling.

The Rugelach at Java's Cafe
I’ve also enjoyed the large rugelach at Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street. Their pastry is thicker and filled with nuts, chocolate chips and apricot. (If you go there on a cold day, be sure to order some of their delicious hot chocolate, too.)

The one issue with ordering rugelach is pronouncing it. For awhile I was saying it like “arugula” without the first “a.” Then I looked it up and discovered it should be a short u, like rug-ah-lah. I think the authentic pronunciation may also have a back-of-the throat h-ish sound at the end but I always feel weird trying it, so I leave it out.

But don’t let my lack of a definitive pronunciation stop you from trying them. After all, Americans have been butchering “croissant” and “gyro” for years.

I've baked a few batches of rugelach to try to duplicate the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters version and haven't nailed it, although the results were delicious. I'll publish a definitive recipe once I've worked it out.