Fourth of July
A pot-luck Open House eVite awaits my culinary decision. What ingredients do I already have for a summery potato salad? Hubby has our Prius. Is out getting same-day prescription computer glasses to replace the ones he lost last night at the annual county fair.
On Friday, chatted with my friend, Lynn, during the reflexology treatment she was doing. Lynn’s hosting an ‘authentic pot-luck’ with no pre-planning of the menu. All her guests were offering to bring salads of one sort or another. Just perfect – don’t you think – for a 4th of July gathering? So, I volunteered a potato salad with vinaigrette-style dressing.
It’s been weeks (much too long) since I’ve made a new post on FWB. As I prepped the salad ingredients and planned the photographs, I was having a lively conversation with all of you in my head. Is that how the rest of you food bloggers cook & bake? Do you have mental conversations with your readers as you put your creations together?
If someone had been videotaping my activities in and about the kitchen, I would have appeared to be a highly inefficient, erratic cook. Washed and prepped the russet potatoes, put them on to steam, and set the timer for 15 minutes.
Then I went out to the garden. Needed to figure out where to hang the freshly washed and filled hummingbird feeder. The hanging chain near the bay window has disappeared behind an exuberant star jasmine, a lacy white drape of fragrant bloom. Wasn’t sure the hummers could even spot it there? Considered the Hachiya persimmon growing in a huge pot, but no….too easy for our kitty, Jaeci, to jump from the soil surface to the feeder.
Tried hanging the feeder on my viciously thorned climbing rose, but imagined tragic visions of an impaled hummingbird. Considered a loop of utility wiring by the back door near the window, but it was too solidly affixed to the house with paint. (Hmmm….was this a food post or a garden journal entry? And did I remember I had left something cooking on the stove….no.) Wandered over to the Japanese maple, but decided any branches I could reach weren’t far enough out-of-reach for an agile, athletic, blood-thirsty cat. Finally, decided on a sturdy bamboo cane, too slippery & flexible for Jaeci to climb, and well away from any rocks, branches, or fences high enough for her to leap from. Seemed right, as visiting hummingbirds use the bamboo for perches to survey ‘their’ backyard territory.
Coming back into the house, THEN I remembered. The sweet fragrance of “well” cooked potatoes filled the kitchen. Wasn’t sure how long past the 15 minutes they had been steaming? Stuck a fork in one of the pre-cut pieces, very soft, not falling apart (thankfully), but tender enough to need gentle handling when assembling the salad.
Didn’t want the potatoes to cook further. Poured off the steaming potato water. Filled the kitchen sink with fresh water and swirled the hot potatoes – still in the steamer colander – quickly through the cool water to stop the cooking and remove some heat. Replaced the potatoes in the pot to drain off any excess water.
Next, I went shopping in the pantry to pull an ‘improv’ recipe together. Versatile potatoes can be flavored in innumerable ways. Thought it would be fun use Mediterranean cuisine ingredients as a creative twist to a satisfying, often boringly predictable dish. Selected virgin olive oil; the last of some port wine vinegar & balsamic vinegar; jars of roasted sweet red peppers, round green capers, whole black Calamata olives (still pitted) that were tucked into the refrigerator door; fresh savory from last week’s farmers market; a serpentine Armenian cucumber from this morning’s farm market outing; black peppercorns for grinding fresh; and finally – to add an unusual flavor element – two gourmet colored salts: coral hued Himalayan pink salt (reputed to be high in minerals) and Salesh, a strongly scented, alder-smoked black salt I couldn’t resist purchasing last week.
Oliver’s, our local health food / gourmet grocery store a mile from our home, was featuring a display of colorful, flavored, gourmet salts from around the world. (May have to do a special post just on them!) From 20 different salts I selected 3: the pink, the smokey black, and a burgundy Hawaiian salt. It was an impulse purchase. I use extremely modest amounts of salt in cooking or at the table, so what exactly was I going to do with $12 worth of gourmet salts? Must ask…do YOU purchase ingredients or produce on a whim and then wonder WHAT to do with them?
Cooking for a food blog audience is NOT sane, though it may be exceedingly or obsessively methodical. With all elements at hand, I began to put the salad together.
~ Drained 1-1/2 cups (approx.) of Calamata olives and put them in a big mixing bowl
~ Diced two roasted red peppers into little pieces (ended up using half a 13oz jar in the final salad)
~ Selected 4 stems of fresh savory, picked off its leaves chopping them into fine bits
~ Drained the capers and shook about half the 3.5oz jar into the bowl
~ Drizzled olive oil (1/4 to 1/3 cup…didn’t measure) into the bowl along with 1/8 cup of the port wine vinegar and more balsamic vinegar to taste (perhaps another 1/8 cup)
~ Ground a generous amount of black pepper over it all
~ And sprinkled in the smoked black salt VERY conservatively as I didn’t want its pungent flavor to overwhelm the salad
Photo session time! Took various groupings of salad ingredients out back to the slate patio where the afternoon sun was shining brightly.
* * *
Picture this: a plump, almost 60-year-old, woman with a camera slung over her shoulder, carrying armfuls of odd kitchen paraphernalia & food items back and forth across the yard looking for the ‘just so’ garden setting to harmonize with her potato salad colors. (Wacky? Right.)
Next, executing a series of contortionist positions, she peers intently at various food stuffs through the camera’s viewfinder close to ground level. Beginning to sweat in the hot afternoon sun, she has to wipe both her forehead and camera off with a hand towel at frequent intervals.
Next, she fills a bucket of water with the garden hose and proceeds to splash it over the ‘Raja’ slate to accent its stunning colors. The patio, now slick & wet, eliminates sitting or kneeling positions for the remaining photography shots, so she resorts to Indian-style squatting. Thankfully, she still can do so.
* * *
Satisfied with my photo catch, brought everything back inside to finish up the salad.
~ Chopped the sweet, tender cucumber into slices, and then quarters (after taking this photo)
~ Finished dicing the red peppers
~ Gently folded in the cooled potatoes
~ Did a taste test for salt. Added a bit more of the Himalayan pink, and the salad was ready to serve.
And ready for a final portrait session.
NOTE: Adding some fresh garlic or smashing some roasted garlic into the vinaigrette might be a yummy addition next time I make this salad. Also, before taking the potato salad to Lynn’s, I sprinkled on a generous amount of coarsely grated Parmesan for added protein. (Didn’t get photos of that however.) The salad is fine served either way.
The Italian Improv Potato Salad was eaten with great gusto at the potluck, by guests with all sorts of gastronomic preferences, including Lynn’s 90-year old mother Isabel, who confided she hates eating anything out-of-the-ordinary (her ordinary, natch) or new. And figures since she’s lived this long, she must be doing something right!
Got razzed by a last minute guest, who thought ‘Italian’ potato salad was an oxymoron. “Aren’t potatoes Irish?” (Didn’t get into the history of new world food discoveries with him.) “Isn’t pasta, Italian?” I smiled & said “Noodles were invented by the Chinese. Are noodles and pasta the same…..?” he parried, while helping himself to a huge plateful. Downed with gusto!
Honestly, I was surprised EVERYONE loved it, eating their servings enthusiastically. The smoky Salish is very distinct, the first flavor one notices. Perhaps its smoky nuances were reminiscent of backyard barbeques or a tasty campfire meal? In any case, every guest lavished complements on the pleased, improv chef.
So, with a unanimous ‘thumbs-up’ from Lynn’s guests, give it a try for one of your summery meals!