Little Potatoes

I’m sure we all have certain foods that instantly remind us of our childhood. I have a few. Tonight I was craving one of them: little potatoes.

After Mom died, my brother asked me for two recipes. The Passover mandel bread and “the little potatoes.” That’s what Mom called them and it’s what we’ve always called them. I knew I had both recipes in my recipe box.

About 10 years ago, shortly after moving into our house, I was preparing to make dinner one evening. I decided I wanted to make the little potatoes, but I could not find the recipe anywhere. I called Mom. [oh how I miss calling Mom] I asked her for the potato recipe and I remember her laughing. She mentioned that my brother had recently called to ask her for the potato recipe as well. As she started telling me the recipe, I quickly grabbed a piece of scrap paper so I wouldn’t need to ask again. I jotted down her instructions exactly as she said them. I can hear the whole conversation in my head every time I look at this paper.

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I used this scrap paper to have the same conversation with Mom’s sister, my Aunt Judy, who also called to ask if I had this recipe after Mom died. I could hear myself saying it exactly the way she had said it to me.

Mom made these potatoes with many of our dinners growing up. I can understand why. They are pretty easy to throw together, you can leave them in the oven while you are cooking other things, it’s practically impossible to ruin them, and they are delicious.

The outside gets crisp and slightly crunchy, but the inside stays soft. I find them mildly addictive and instantly comforting.

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My brother says this must be some sort of “Depression Era” recipe because it calls for canned potatoes. I’ve never made it exactly the same way with anything other than the canned potatoes. I prefer the cans that indicate “no salt added” if I can find them.

Little Potatoes

You will need:

  • 2-4 cans of whole white potatoes (depending on serving size, I tend to use three cans to serve 4 people)
  • olive oil or canola oil, enough to coat the potatoes
  • cooking spray to spray the pan
  • paprika, seasoned salt, pepper to taste (add other spices as you like)
  • matzo meal – just enough to lightly sprinkle on top of the potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 or 375 degrees.

Cover a large cooking sheet with foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Open the cans of potatoes. Drain, rinse and then pat dry.

If any of the potatoes are big, cut so that the potatoes are all similar sizes. Place all of the potatoes in a single layer on the cooking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with seasonings to your taste. Stir to coat evenly.

Sprinkle the matzo meal lightly on top. You don’t want to put too much matzo meal or it will burn.

Put tray in oven for and bake for 30-60 minutes, or until crispy. Stir occasionally.

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Picnic Chicken

Today marks three months since mom died. I hate that phrase, “mom died.” I don’t like “passed away” any better. I’ve found it also really catches people off guard when they ask “What’s new?” and I respond with “My Mom died.” These are casual acquaintances – we’re not friends on Facebook, so unless someone else happened to tell them, they’d have no way of knowing what I’ve been going through since January. I’m trying to take things one day at a time and I’m trying to get back to my life. My real life. The one with an unbelievably understanding husband and an amazing little boy.

A life that includes a job I enjoy and colleagues I consider friends.

I was reminded of that today when I spent most of the day with a dear friend I met at work. Come to think of it, I’ve met some of my closest friends (here in PA) at work. Even though she no longer works at the College, we’ve stayed in touch – even when she lived across the country. Now that she’s back…and lives less than 10 minutes from my house, I’m hoping we can see each other more frequently. We went to a “garage” sale hosted by a local church and then to a library’s used book sale. She shares my love of “treasure hunting”- something I inherited from Mom. One weekend when Mom was visiting, we all went to a large flea market together. On a separate occasion, I took Mom to a library book sale and we happened to see this same friend. Perhaps that’s how this friend knew that these events would be welcome distractions for me today.

We spent most of the day talking (I did some crying), hunting for treasures, and digging through boxes of books. It was perfect and I loved it.

I happened to bring up the topic of Mom’s recipes and cookbooks and we started talking about meal planning. I need to get back into the habit of meal planning, something I never seemed master despite the fact that I do enjoy cooking. My friend tends to cook her way through cookbooks, frequently trying new recipes. She keeps a record (in a paper journal) of those she tries, notes which are fabulous and which are flops. I’m thinking of doing something similar thanks to her inspiration.

The inspiration for tonight’s recipe comes from my day spent with her. I picked up one of Mom’s cookbooks and flipped through until I found something that sounded good and easy. It was already after 4p.m. when I started thinking about dinner, so I wanted to find something that didn’t need a lot of ingredients.

Hubby did the cooking for this one, I made some minor adaptations to the recipe.

The mustard was delicious. If you like dill, I highly recommend.

Picnic Chicken

1/2 cup mustard *the original recipe called for Dijon, I used a Dill Mustard we had in the pantry. It sounded good and I love dill.

1 clove garlic, mashed

1/2 tsp dried dill (original recipe called for thyme)

1 cup panko

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 tsp paprika

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (split into 4 pieces)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Mix the mustard, garlic and dill together in a bowl. In a separate shallow dish, mix the bread crumbs, cheese, and paprika. Coat a piece of the chicken with the mustard mixture, and then place the chicken in the breadcrumb mixture. Turn to fully coat the chicken with crumbs on all sides. Repeat with all of the chicken pieces.

3. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are golden brown, crispy, and cooked through, 50-55 minutes, depending on size.

4. Serve chicken hot, or let it cool and take it on a picnic (hence the name).

-Adapted from The Crabby Cook Cookbook by Jessica Harper

Mushroom, Onion and Farfel Kugel

Passover is a funny holiday. Cooking and baking become sort of like a weird science experiment. You can’t use certain ingredients that you normally would and you create things you likely would not eat during the rest of the year. Though, I have been known to eat Fried Matzah (Matzah Brei) all year long. It’s genetic, I can’t help it.

Before I worked up the courage to try my first-ever Passover Mandel Bread, I wanted to start with a recipe that had no emotional connection for me.

Armed with binders and cookbooks full of Passover recipes, I searched for something that didn’t seem too intimidating and something that I could offer to bring to the first night’s Seder at my in-laws house.

Most of mom’s recipes weren’t organized in any sort of way. Scraps of paper were scattered throughout her house (on the kitchen island, next to the phone, next to the bed, piled in photo boxes, piled next to cookbooks, scribbled on paper in cookbooks, etc.). Even the recipe boxes just had recipes in them, not separated by category. However, Passover recipes are an entirely different story.

Mom had taken the time to organize most of them. She organized them by category (appetizers, soups, kugels, main dishes, desserts, etc.) in massive binders.

As I flipped through the binders, I noticed one recipe three different times. It must have sounded really good to mom and it sounded pretty yummy to me too: Mushroom, onion, and farfel kugel.

Simple enough, I thought. It was.

I enlisted the hubby’s help again and he was a good sport about helping me prep and prepare the recipe. I made two batches and both turned out well. I’d make again.

The recipe appeared in The Boston Globe in April 2006.

Mushroom, Onion and Farfel Kugel

3              tablespoons canola oil, plus more for greasing the dish

1              large onion, chopped

2              ribs celery, finely chopped

10           ounces white mushrooms, sliced *I used one 16 oz package of Baby Bellas

3 1/2      cups matzo farfel

2              eggs

1              can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed chicken broth

2              teaspoons paprika

1              teaspoon salt

Pinch of black pepper

1              cup boiling water

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the excess liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the farfel.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Stir in the broth, paprika, salt, and pepper. Pour this over the farfel mixture. Slowly pour the water over it and let it sit for 10 minutes.

4. Transfer to the dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes or until set and golden. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Adapted from Julie Sall

Passover Mandel Bread

Anyone who knew my mother knows she loved all things related to cooking and food. Cooking was one of the many ways she expressed love. Every Passover for as long as I can remember, she’d make a big batch of mandelbread. One bite instantly takes me back to my childhood as I remember helping Mom sprinkle cinnamon/sugar on too many batches to count. But, for as much as I love this mandelbread during Passover – I have never made it myself. Why? I’m not really fond of baking, but mostly it’s because Mom always made it for me. While I was away at college, she made sure a double batch was ready to go back with me after Seder. When I couldn’t get to Maryland during Passover, she’d make a trip up with mandelbread in hand.

Facing my first Passover without her, I knew exactly which of her many recipes I needed to make. Fortunately, she chose the recipe as the one she contributed for an index card collection from my bridal shower. You’ll see she listed the number of servings just as “Amy.”

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[index card now priceless to me]

On the Saturday before the first Seder, I asked my hubby to help me with my first batch. He’s the baker between us and I knew I’d be a crying mess baking alone in the kitchen. Even though my mother made this recipe countless times, I had never seen her do it from start to finish. I could only remember the last part after they were already out of the pan and sliced. So, we followed her instructions as best we could.

I wasn’t sure how to get the loaves out of the pan to slice without them cracking or breaking. I remember Mom always had a few that crumbled or cracked. She would put those aside and we ate them as “quality control” tasters. I loved the broken ones. Those were the only ones we were allowed to eat while she was whipping up multiple batches.

As I sliced them and put them onto the baking trays, not a single slice broke or cracked. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and not a single one. I have to believe that she was watching and helping. Either that, or total beginner’s luck.