Tapas Partay!


A little blurry, but oh, what a spread!

Last week Regina and I had a couple of great friends over for an early dinner. Well, all dinners are early when you have an infant, but luckily our friends are obliging and understanding. Of course when I put out a spread like this of course they are obliging! Mitch supplied the wine and Stef made a excellent blueberry pie to finish the meal with.

Starting from the bottom left and travelling a meandering path up the table in a vaguely clockwise direction the dishes are as follows: garlic aioli with a touch of saffron, garlicky sautéed mushrooms, paprika-dusted fried chicken wings, roasted purple cauliflower with shallots and a hit of sherry vinegar, marcona almonds, pickled peppadew peppers (say that five times fast!), lightly sweetened olive oil crackers (in the wax paper), assorted olives, patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes), grilled lamb riblets, grilled ribeye with roasted garlic, lobster with saffron sofrito, grilled bread for pan con tomate, membrillo (Spanish quince paste), assorted cheese platter including cabrales, idiazabal, some kind of hard Basque cheese that I’ve forgotten the name of, and some nice Spanish chorizo (not to be confused with the Mexican stuff), clams with garlic and white wine and diced chorizo, and finally at the bottom right a plate of hand-shaved slices of one of the world’s great cured meats — Jamon Iberico “pata negra” — a dry-cured ham made from these cute little black pigs that feast on acorns.

Eating like this — with a wide assortment of small plates with complementing and contrasting flavors and textures and colors — is so enjoyable and delicious and fun and communal that I wish we could feast like this every night! I’d be 300 pounds, but I’d be happy as a clam cooked with white wine and chorizo.

Today’s Lunch: Chicken Piccata

A light, simple lunch.

I cranked out this tasty lunch the other day at work and my peeps loved it! I cooked some chicken breasts and made a simple piccata-style sauce to spoon over the top. I served it with some crispy little yukon gold potatoes and a salad of romaine, arugula, tomato, red cabbage, spinach, cucumber, crumbled egg, and a little manchego cheese.

Typically chicken or veal piccata starts with cutlets that are breaded with a little egg and flour mixture, but in the interest of keeping it lighter I eschewed that step and simply sautéed the chicken breasts. The tart and zesty drizzle is an herbed lemon-caper pan-sauce made in the same skillet the chicken was cooked in, which allows it to pick up some of those flavorings left in the pan from the chicken.

I’m not going to write out the recipe, I’m just gonna throw it at ya! I’m gonna move fast.

I preheated the oven to 350ºF and then I heated a non-stick, oven-ready skillet over high heat. I generously seasoned three chicken breasts with salt and pepper. When the pan was super-hot I swirled in about two tablespoons of vegetable oil. I added the chicken breasts and browned one side (about three minutes) and then flipped them. I cooked the other side another couple of minutes and then threw the pan into the oven. I baked the chicken for another five minutes and then pulled out the pan from the oven.

I took the chicken out of the pan and put the breasts on a plate and covered them with foil. I poured off most of the oil (leaving maybe a teaspoon in the pan) and then put the skillet back on the stove over medium-high heat. Into the pan I threw one minced garlic clove and about a tablespoon of minced shallot. I stirred that around for thirty seconds to soften the garlic and shallot and then I added two tablespoons of white wine. I scraped the bottom of the pan and boiled off the wine. I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of capers.

I made a slurry of a half-cup of chicken broth with a tablespoon of corn starch whisked into it. I poured the slurry into the pan and combined everything with a whisk. I seasoned the sauce with more salt and pepper and added about a tablespoon of minced parsley and a teaspoon of minced chives. I brought the sauce up to boil to thicken it and reduce it and then I whisked in a tablespoon of room temperature.

I killed the heat and put the chicken breasts (and any collected juices) back into the pan, turning them to coat them with the piccata–style sauce. I put the chicken on a plate with the potatoes and the salad and then drizzled a bit of sauce over the top of the chicken.

Viola! Lunch is served!


Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes & Crispy Chard

Doesn’t that look yummy?

I made this lovely chicken main course last night. It was full of robust flavors and was damn satisfying. The sweet potatoes and corn were steamed. The chard chips were a nice addition. I also added a pureed cauliflower sauce and an emerald basil oil for flavor, color, and contrast.

The chicken was an organic, skin-on, boneless chicken breast that I sprinkled with a mixture of sea salt, cracked black pepper, minced rosemary, a little thyme, garlic, some dried lemon zest, and a bit of paprika. I seasoned it generously and rubbed it all over with olive oil. I put it skin-side down into a very hot grill-pan over high heat. When the skin was nicely browned and a bit crispy on the edges I flipped the chicken breast and popped the whole pan into a preheated 350ºF oven for about six minutes. I removed the pan and took the chicken out, letting it rest on my cutting board for a few minutes prior to service.

The sweet potatoes I peeled and cut into large cubes. I steamed these with a handful of fresh corn niblets, maybe 20 minutes. I seasoned the sweet potatoes and corn with some salt and pepper and a little chiffonade of basil. I tossed it with a little olive oil and squeezed a tiny bit of orange juice over it.

The swiss chard chips were pretty easy. I tore the leaves off of the main ribs and rubbed the leaves well with some olive oil. I seasoned the chard with a little salt and roasted it in the oven set to convection for about 20 minutes on a sheet-pan lined with a rack at 275 degrees F. When they were nice and crisp I took them out of the oven and left them at room temp.

I simmered a half-head of cauliflower with about a cup of chicken stock, one large garlic clove, a splash of white wine, a little bit of chopped onion, some salt, and a pinch of ground white pepper. I cooked the cauliflower until soft (about 20 minutes) and then pureed it until very smooth in a blender. Note: take care when blending hot liquids. Remove the top portion of the lid, put the lid back on, and cover the lid loosely with a kitchen towel as you blend. This creates a vent so that the hot steam can escape and not cause a pressure explosion of scalding hot cauliflower puree. That’s bad. Also, start at a low speed and increase to fully puree, just to be extra cautious.

Finally I made the basil oil by blanching in boiling salted water a whole bunch of basil. I blanched it for about one minute, drained the basil, and patted it very dry with paper towels. In the blender I pureed the cooked basil with about a half cup of very good olive oil. I poured that into a dish and let it sit on the counter for two hours. I strained the oil of all the solids through a sieve lined with cheesecloth, which took about 20 minutes. What was left was a beautiful, emerald-green garnishing oil redolent of fresh basil.

So, to complete the dish I put a little pile of sweet potatoes and corn in the center of the plate and surrounded it with a moat of hot cauliflower puree. I put the cooked chicken on top, drizzled a little basil oil around the moat, and topped the whole thing off with a few crispy chard chips. It was dynamite! And beautiful.

Keep in mind that these instructions are out of order; so if you intend on trying the dish, read well and plan accordingly. Make the cauliflower sauce in advance, make the basil oil a couple days in advance if you want. Make the chard chips early in the day and set up your steamer an hour before dinner.

Feeding the Family


A casual dinner by the Willamette River.

Regina, Bennet, Vivian, and I visited my father and step-mother in Portland, Oregon last week. Dad and Joan have an absolutely gorgeous place by on the east bank of the Willamette River. Their house is set on a bluff overlooking a wide expanse of perfect lawn that leads down to the river bank. My father is a dedicated plant man and he’s got stunning vegetable beds, fruit trees, and grape vines growing vigorously on their property. Kale and tomatoes, lettuces and potatoes, rosemary, lavender, fig, eucalyptus, red chard, bartlett pear, apples, and more. In the eight years they’ve been in Oregon they’ve managed to create and maintain a home that is inviting and charming and that’s a reflection of their progressive thoughts on nature, food, health, light, and community. And on a late summer afternoon there’s nothing better than sipping a glass of my Dad’s homemade white wine and watching rowing sculls flit across the river’s surface, competing occasionally with the wake-making antics of jet-skiers. Birds loop in the blue skies, adopted fuzzball cats get fresh with your legs, a breeze stirs the perfect green beans clinging from their trellis, the occasional passenger jet carves contrails impossibly high above us. It’s all so perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Regina and I got married on these fair premises last summer.


Always superb salmon can be found in the Northwest.

When we visit I usually try to cook one good meal for my family; we only seem to have time for one as we always have so much on our plate — other friends and family to see, zoos to visit, and breweries to tour. We like to eat outside, watch the sunset, play board games as we nibble dessert, and perhaps sip a little cheap sherry (that would be only my father and me) as we yak about our lives, politics, and what-have-you. This past week talk of politics, the food industry, my much-missed absent sisters, and (naturally) The Olympics dominated. We try to make the most of what Dad and Joan’s garden has to offer, we take a casual pace, and we enjoy each other’s company.

Joan and Jeff (my bro) contributed some excellent Coho salmon — each filet about a pound, very lean, but very fresh. Full of pin bones, even though I yanked out most of them. I patted-dry the fish very well, cut the filets down to individual pieces, and seasoned them with sea salt, pepper, and a big pinch of some random Penzey’s spice mix (maybe like a poultry seasoning) that Joan had in her cooking arsenal. I cooked the filets by first searing the fish skin-side down in a very hot skillet with some olive oil. After the skin was crisped I then flipped the pieces and cooked the other side about a minute. I then transferred the par-cooked pieces to a baking dish. The baking dish I popped into the oven and finished the fish at 375º F for about five minutes.

The fish was just cooked through, moist and delicious.


A simple salad — romaine, tomato, radish, etc.

Our salad was definitely a family affair. Jeff contributed a perfect large Persian cucumber from his yard-garden, Joan added a bulb of fennel and a head of fresh romaine from her lettuce bed, and just that morning I’d gotten a few excellent tomatoes, celery, and radishes from the small but very inviting Milwaukie Farmer’s Market. At the market I also picked up some great local and organic goat-milk feta cheese. I whipped up a simple cider vinaigrette with some garlic, shallot, and a bit of minced fennel frond (and S&P, of course).

I (mostly) peeled, seeded, and chopped the cuke. I shaved the fennel and soaked it briefly in cold water to firm it up. I cut, soaked, and spun-dry the romaine. Cut the tomatoes, finely cut some celery, shaved some radishes, crumbled the sublime and creamy feta. I tossed everything together with some of the dressing. Basically a Greek-style salad with no olives or peppers, it was light and refreshing and complemented the fish perfectly.


Potatoes fresh out of the ground are the best!

Dad dug up some potatoes from a mixed patch that yielded some good glossy reds, some Peruvian purples, and a few starchy Russet-style baker-types. After hosing them down, drying them off, and cutting the spuds down to similar sizes (think 3/4-inch thick cubes, about) I tossed them (in a big bowl) in melted butter and olive oil. Over the top I sprinkled generous amounts of kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I also threw in some minced herbs from Joan’s herb pots — fresh rosemary, a bit of fresh lavender, lemon thyme, marjoram, and parsley. A couple large cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, completed the potato seasoning. I spread the taters in a roasting pan and cooked them at 400ºF for about 35 minutes, until the potatoes were browned and crisp on the edges but soft in the middle. I turned and tossed and moved the potatoes around a couple of times during the roasting to ensure even cooking.

Everyone loved the potatoes, and it’s a good thing I made a whole lot as we ended up eating them the next day as well! The dish wasn’t particularly hard to make or inventive. It’s  all about fresh potatoes. Fresh potatoes are heads above your typical grocery store spuds. They are moister, richer, earthier, and butterier. Just excellent. And according to Dad, pretty much toil-free as a home crop.


Very simple sauteed green beans.

Earlier that day Joan had picked some green beans. I trimmed these and blanched them in boiling salted water for about four minutes until tender. I shocked them in a ice bath to stop the cooking and then then drained them very well. I cut the beans into two-to-three-inch lengths. About five minutes before dinner time I heat up a big sauté pan and lightly browned (over medium-high heat) some chopped onion and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil. I threw in the beans and cooked them for another minute. I added a splash of white wine (New Zealand Sauv Blanc), stirred the beans, and served them.


Excellent lemon-garlic fettucine with butter, parmesan, lemon zest, and fresh breadcrumbs.

At the Milwaukie Farmer’s Market I also picked up a pound of very good organic linguine infused with lemon and garlic. First step in making this dish was toasting some homemade fresh breadcrumbs. I cut the crust off of a chunk of stale baguette and then cut the interior of the bread into smaller pieces, about a half-inch in size. I put the bread into a food processor and pulsed it down into crumbs. I then sautéed the crumbs in butter and olive oil until nice-and-crunchy; I pulled the crumbs from the pan and held them until later.

I set up a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. I set up another big sauté pan and melted a generous plug of butter in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Into the oils I added two cloves of coarsely garlic & once minced shallot. I cooked the garlic and shallot about a minute until softened and then turned off the gas. When the water boiled I cooked the noodles to al dente.

I drained the noodles but I retained a half-cup of the pasta-cooking liquid in a measuring cup. I put the hot drained linguine into the butter-olive oil mixture and tossed it well. I turned the heat up to high and added the cup of pasta-water. I threw in a handful of chopped red chard and about 5 basil leaves, which I tore up by hand. Over the noodles I added two tablespoons of lemon zest and the juice of one lemon. Using a pair of tongs I mixed the noodles to get everything together and then tested for seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a whole bunch of black pepper, and 1 cup of grated parmesan. I killed the heat, stirred the cheese in, and transferred the pasta to a big serving bowl. Finally, as a garnish, I topped the linguine with a big handful of toasted breadcrumbs. Voila! Garlic & lemon linguine with butter, chard, basil, parmesan & crisp breadcrumbs.


Sitting down to a fine meal with fine people (clockwise from left): Jeff, Bennet, Regina, me, Vivian, Joan. (Missing from this photo: Dad, who took the pic, and my sister-in-law Kate, who had to work.)

Jeff brought some homemade beer (pretty yummy!) and we also drank lemonade and one of my personal faves — Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (pretty decent and relatively cheap NZ white). For dessert we had this delicious crostata made from organic nectarines and a partially whole-wheat crust, which came out a tiny bit tough. I made a basic pate brisée but I think I screwed up the proportions of fat-to-flour. C’est la vie. Even the best of us screw up from time to time. Best of all, we topped off the crostata with vanilla ice cream from Graeter’s out of Cincinnati. Good, ole-fashioned iced cream.

Seriously, is there anything better than good food and family? Well, the view helped too. And the wine.


Fresh nectarine crostata. Yummy!

Smoked Salmon Hash


This morning I made a lovely and simple breakfast hash with some excellent local smoked salmon.

My father has a small potato patch and he dug up a few very fresh, waxy, red-skinned potatoes. In a small pot I covered the potatoes with cold water and boiled them until fork-tender. I drained the taters and when they were cool enough to handle I peeled them, mostly. I left on about 20% of the skin for a little texture. Next I cubed them roughly and set them aside.

I cut up half of a small onion into a large dice. I also chopped up one celery stalk, a small piece of fennel bulb, and one very large garlic clove. I then minced a little rosemary, some lemon thyme, some parsley, and a tiny fistful of celery leaf. I broke up a big handful of smoked salmon into flakey chunks; this was hot-smoked “kippered” salmon, as opposed to lox or nova, although you could use pretty much any type of salmon you wanted. Or you could use smoked trout or cooked lobster meat or big chunks of crispy bacon if you wanted to.

Into a hot skillet I swirled about three tablespoons of olive oil and added a tablespoon of butter. I threw in the onions, celery, and fennel. I added a big pinch of kosher salt and a generous amount of cracked black pepper. I sauteed all that over medium high heat until just barely browned and then added the potatoes. I stirred the ingredients together until well-combined and let the potatoes brown on one side until crispy and golden. I stirred in the salmon and the herbs and cooked for about five minutes over high. I checked for seasoning, added a bit more salt, and then killed the heat.

It was ready to eat. And it was yummy! Fried up a couple of farm-fresh eggs and had a fantastic brekkie.

Crispy Roasted Laker Baker Potatoes

Super-crispy Laker Baker Potatoes!

Laker Baker potatoes are a specialty variety cultivated and sold by Weiser Farms at Los Angeles area outdoor markets. I get them occasionally from their stand at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, usually on Saturdays. This variety is a lovely two-tone potato with skin that is about 60-70% (totally guessing here) purple with the yellow “undercoat” showing around the eyes. The flesh is colored deep yellow and is firm, slightly waxy, and buttery, much like a Yukon Gold.

Apparently Weiser Farms had originally called them Zebra potatoes and then tried on the name Pinto potatoes, but Laker Baker is the moniker that stuck in this basketball-crazed city. The purple and yellow hues are reminiscent of the LA Lakers uniforms, you see. But as the mighty LA Lakers were solidly rebuffed by The Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of playoffs in the 2012 season, it seems that Laker fever has ebbed a bit. I hope, however, that enthusiasm for this delicious potato doesn’t wane as well. Call them whatever you want, but I declare them super-tasty!

I’ve bought these potatoes larger, probably five inches in length, but this past Saturday they only had smaller, round ones about two inches in diameter at most. I washed the little Laker Bakers and dried them very well. I then quartered them lengthwise and tossed them with a couple of big tablespoons of melted butter and about the same amount of melted bacon fat (leftover drippings from that morning’s brekkie). I added some minced garlic, some chopped shallots, some minced fresh rosemary, a little fresh thyme, and plenty of salt and pepper. I laid it all out on a sheet pan and roasted them in a pre-heated 400°(F) oven until they were well-browned, crispy on the edges, and cooked through. They cooked in about 30 minutes, with one interruption in the middle of cooking to flip the potatoes with a spatula and move them around a little.

They were fabulous! And they perfectly complemented a meal which consisted of pan-roasted thick-cut rib-eye steaks, garlicky sautéed pea shoots and tendrils, baby tomato Greek salad, and white peaches with creme fraiche for dessert.

Here’s some info on Weiser Farms: http://www.weiserfamilyfarms.com/

Lovely two-tone potatoes.

This post is my 16th in an occasional series dubbed The Potato Chronicles. My last episode was in April. I hope to get more potatoes to you, happy readers, in the next couple of weeks! Stay tuned. But in the meantime, check out what’s below.

More episodes in The Potato Chronicles:

Crispy Yukon Taters with Fresh Dill & Fleur de Sel:  https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/2346/

Roasted Pee-Wee Potatoes:       https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/roasted-pee-wee-potatoes/        

Perfect Peruvian Purple Potatoes:          http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/11/perfect-peruvian-purple-potatoes.html   

Buttery Boiled Baby Red Potatoes:          http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/11/buttery-boiled-red-potatoes-with-herbs.html

Mashed Potatoes:                                         http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/10/mashed-potatoes-potato-chronicles-pt-11.html

Sweet Potato Chips:                                        http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/10/sweet-pototo-chips-with-pink-salt.html

Crispy Hash Brown Cake with Provolone: http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/10/crispy-hash-brown-cake-with-provolone.html

Potatoes Dauphinoise:                                    http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/09/gratin-dauphinoise.html

Pommes Anna:                                               http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/09/perfect-pommes-anna-is-awesomely.html

Potato Wedges:                                                   http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/09/crispy-potato-wedges.html

French Fries:                                                                   http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/09/pommes-frites-french-for-french-fries.html

Potato Chips:                                                        http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/09/light-crispy-homemade-potato-chips.html

Tater Tots:                                                  http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/08/homemade-tater-tots-yep.html

Garlic & Lemongrass Home Fries:                 http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/06/crispy-garlic-lemongrass-home-fries.html

Baked Mashed Potato Casserole:           http://www.spencerhgray.com/2011/04/pommes-regina.html

Sunday Picnic Salad

Sunday Picnic Salad is Divine!

I love this kind of old-fashioned, mayo-dressed salad. I’m a fan of potato salad, I love egg salad, and I get downright passionate about macaroni salad. This Sunday Picnic Salad is a revelation in that it combines all three old-school salads in one harmonious synthesis. It’s like the holy trinity of side salads — potato, mac, and egg — and it can be both super-casual or casually elegant. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday picnic, perhaps as a side for cold fried chicken or deviled ham sandwiches or smoked trout. And it makes a great potluck addition.

It’s creamy, it’s flavorful, it’s tender, it’s easy, and well, it’s cheap. Make it!

This recipe yields about 8 cups of salad; it’ll be more than enough as a side for 15 people or more at a church picnic, kids party, beach blanket lunch, or what-have-you.


You Will Need:

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni (approximately 4 ounces)
  • 7 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1/4 cup chopped black olives
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 2 tablespoons minced dill
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Sunday Picnic Salad is even delicious on Tuesdays!

Now Do This:

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until fork-tender and then drain. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (maybe five minutes), gingerly peel off the skin and cut the potatoes into a large dice. Put cut potatoes into a large bowl.

Simultaneously, you can boil the macaroni according to package directions. Drain well and add still warm to the potatoes. Peel the boiled eggs and coarsely chop. Add to the potatoes and pasta.

In another bowl mix the mayo, the vinegar, the mustard, and the relish. Pour this dressing mixture over the warm ingredients and combine well. Add all the remaining ingredients and  fold into the salad. Cover and allow the salad to sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes for the flavors to meld. Refrigerate until needed.

Right before service check for seasoning and add a bit more salt if necessary.


Enjoy your salad! Happy Sunday!