Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Tastes of Liberty" & Summer Feasts - (4th of July) Hot Potato Salad w/Bacon & Watermelon Granita

Date I made these recipes:  July 8, 2012

Tastes of Liberty:  A Celebration of Our Great Ethnic Cooking, Bob Betz, editor
Published by:  Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington state wine producer)
ISBN:  0-941434-75-3
Recipe:  Hot Potato Salad with Bacon (Warmer Kartoffelsalat Mit Speck) – p. 56-58

Summer Feasts by Molly Finn
Published by:  A Fireside Book, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
ISBN:  0-671-55453-0
Recipe:  Watermelon Granita – p. 265-266

I had something very pithy to say about these recipes and about the Fourth of July but given the extremely hot weather we’ve been having, I think that my brain just incinerated.  Really.

On the 4th of July, Minneapolis set a new record temperature of 101 degrees.  Or was it 102?  Whatever it was, it was damned hot - as in “Feelin’ hot, hot, hot,” a popular 80’s song by Buster Poindexter.  And because it was so damned hot, and because we had party plans that day, I didn’t make a 4th of July recipe on the 4th.  So sue me.

The next day, the 5th of July, my community band played a concert in south Minneapolis at a park without a band shell and without any shade.  My section, the clarinet section, was facing west and the lower the sun got, the hotter I got (“hot, hot, hot”) and I nearly had myself a Wizard of Oz “I’m melting, I’m melting” moment.  The more we played, the more I listed like a ship taking on water.  At one point, one of our jazz ensembles played, providing a brief interlude, and I exited, stage left, to go sit with the audience and pull myself together.  It was so tempting to pack up and go home before I got really ill (not that I wasn’t having visions of ambulances anyway) but that would involve me putting away my clarinet and my stand and my chair (BYOC is required for many venues) and that would have likely interrupted the performance (ya think!) and so there I sat.

Given that the concert started at 7 p.m., I really didn’t have time to cook dinner on Thursday nor would I:  the temperature only dropped to a balmy 94 degrees instead of a scorching 101…or 102 depending on who you ask.  In other words, we got a break in the weather! Party time!!

Friday came and went as did Saturday and the temperature was still on “scald” but by Sunday, I decided that I could risk using the stovetop and made the German potato salad and the watermelon granita (Let’s hear it for FREEZER recipes!).  We also used the stovetop to cook some burgers, it being too hot to even pull out the grill.  Hey, sacrifices must be made and so we made them.  It’s the American way.

By the way, about a week or so ago, when the weather started warming up, I selected a few recipes to make, one of which was a pork loin that required oven cooking.  I mentioned this to my husband, Andy, who gave me the look a mother gives a child when he or she is just being dumber than dirt (or like Ricky Ricardo’s famous comments to Lucy “You crazy or sumpin’?”) and said “NO oven.”  And so that was that.  I am very happy to report though, that the temperatures are now in the mid 80’s and that’s good enough for me to fire up the oven should I decide to make the recipe.

Given that I intended to make something to celebrate the 4th of July, I went through the shelves and found this book, Tastes of Liberty: A Celebration of Our Great Ethnic Cooking.  This book showcases foods “brought” to the Unites States by different immigrant populations when they came over to the United States, passing by the Statute of Liberty on their way to Ellis Island.  So there you go—liberty, 4th of July – it all works.

Out of all the food choices, the recipe for the German Potato Salad caught my eye because it triggered fond memories of family picnics by the shores of Lake Superior when I was growing up.  As previously mentioned in one of my blogs, my parents used to pack up various foodstuffs in an old, wooden apple (or peach) basket with wire handles and off we’d go down the hill, round to the corner to the beach to have a picnic.  If we didn’t bring a classic American potato salad, we brought along a can of German Potato Salad.  Dad would open the can with a can opener, along with a can of pork and beans then plop the two cans in the bonfire we made from Lake Superior driftwood along with some burgers or hot dogs and we would have ourselves a feast.  (By the way, if you try this at home, be sure to open the cans before putting them on the fire or you will have one hell of an explosion on your hands.  And it may put someone’s eye out.  Just sayin’…)

Since Andy is not fond of American potato salad (nor is he fond of putting an eye out), I made this recipe to go along with burgers and then the watermelon granita.  It may seem a little un-American or un-picnic-y for your tastes but it works for me and that’s all you need to know.  Plus, stovetop time was minimal and would have been less had I microwaved the potatoes but I was fine with using the stovetop and just upped the air-conditioning while I was cooking.  Yes, the 4th of July is about celebrating that “pioneer” spirit that built our country and so while yes, I could have toughed it out by not ramping up the air,  there’s no need to get ridiculous about things in a time of severe weather crisis.

So hot potato salad it was, now I just needed to find something to go with it for a true 4th of July post-celebration and found the recipe for the watermelon granita. Watermelon is the perfect summer food and just screams “4th of July!!” And wouldn’t you know I had just purchased a package of sliced watermelon a few days earlier.  But while the potato salad rocked my world, the granita left me disappointed by its very flat taste.  And the damned thing is the recipe was so easy so how did it derail?

Well, I was warned:  the recipe said that the flavor would be much less intense when it was frozen and so be generous with the lemon juice and salt.  But when it comes to recipes, I am often a Scrooge in thinking “less is more” rather than “distribute the riches.” And given that I made half a batch, I used only a ¼ teaspoon of salt and it still tasted like a salt lick (to me, anyway)!  Bleh.  But oh well, we had our watermelon (cue the sparklers) plus, if you add a bit of vodka, I’m thinking you would have one sensational slushie!  (And by the way, and speaking of slushies, Andy and I stopped by a Dairy Queen not long ago and can someone tell me what the hell happened to Mr. Misty??  Because I want answers, people!  Oh sure, they have something called an Arctic Rush but it’s not the same, damit!)

So anyway, here you go, better late then never.

Hot Potato Salad with Bacon (Warmer Kartoffelsalat Mit Speck) – 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds medium boiling potatoes
½ pound sliced bacon, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup rich homemade beef broth
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)

Place potatoes in 3- or 4-quart saucepan and add water to cover by 1 inch.  Heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potatoes are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.  Drain and let stand 10 minutes.  Pare potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch slices and place in large serving bowl.  Cover to keep hot.

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from skillet with slotted spoon and sprinkle over potatoes.  Discard all but 3 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet.  Add onion to drippings and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in vinegar, broth, sugar, salt and pepper and heat to boiling.  Blend about ¼ cup hot vinegar mixture with egg yolk in small bowl and blend yolk mixture into vinegar mixture in skillet.  Cook 1 minute and remove from heat.

Pour hot vinegar mixture over potatoes and toss lightly until thoroughly mixed.  Serve hot or cool to room temperature.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Watermelon Granita – serves 6-8
4 pounds watermelon
Juice of 1 large lemon (3-4 tablespoons or more)
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Make this ice only with delicious, ripe melon.  Cut the melon from the rind and remove the seeds.  Cut into 1-inch chunks and puree it in the food processor or blender.  If you are using a blender, before turning it on, press the watermelon down in the container with your fingers to make enough juice to puree the melon.  Put the puree in a metal bowl and season it to taste with lemon juice, sugar and salt.  Remember that its flavor will be much less intense when it is frozen, so don’t be afraid to use plenty of lemon juice and salt. (Ann’s note:  I made half a batch of this and only used ¼ teaspoon salt and it was still too salty for my taste.)

Freeze the mixture using one of these two methods:

1)      To make the granita by hand - Put the puree in a metal bowl in the coldest part of the freezer.  After about an hour, when the granita starts to solidify, stir it with a large fork, scraping the frozen puree from the bottom and sides of the bowl and mashing it in well.  Repeat this every half-hour or so, using a fork or potato masher, until the granita has completely crystallized.  There should be no large lumps – only crystals.  –OR-
2)      To make granita in the food processor – Freeze the fruit puree, using 2 ice-cube trays.  When it is frozen solid, just before serving, process as many cubes as you need.  Put the cubes in the processor (not more than one ice tray at a time) and, using the metal blade, process the ice until it is fine, smooth and free of lumps.  You will have to turn the motor on and off a number of times – do this rapidly or you will soon have a liquid puree again.  Serve the ice immediately and store the unused cubes in plastic bags.

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