Recipe: Spicy Potato Wedges

We hosted our first movie night last night. A bunch of friends came around and, in honour of this god-awful heatwave, we turned on the air conditioning and watched A Guide to Recognising Your Saints.

I made a few snacks for us to nibble on during the movie. Some were more of a success than others. The bean and cheese pate? Yeah, I probably won’t be making that one again. By far, the biggest hit of the night were the spicy potato wedges. I know this sounds embarrassing for someone who loves junk food AND loves to cook, but this is the first time I felt like I actually nailed spicy potato wedges. They were spot-on. What’s more embarrassing was how easy they were to make.

A couple of people asked me for the recipe, so here it is.

Spicy Potato Wedges

  • 1kg Medium/Large Potatoes
  • 1tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper
  1. Get the oven on hot. I put ours onto fan-assist, 200°.
  2. Pour some oil into a roasting tray and put it into the oven to get hot.
  3. Cut the potatoes into halves, then cut those halves in half again.
  4. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and combine.
  5. Once the oven is hot enough and the oil is moving around that roasting tray, pour in the potatoes.
  6. Tossing occasionally, cook for about 25 minutes, or until they’re done to your liking.

I’d show you a photo of what the end result looked like, but honestly, we ate the fuck out of those things. I didn’t have a chance.

Shameless self-promotion →

I’ve started a food blog, where I review the restaurants I visit in Rome. I dunno, it might be useful if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.

Homesick & Hungry

Stew Station

Finally got around to checking out Stew Station, which opened up next to the Namaste Indian on North King Street, right around the corner from where I live. Like the sign on the door says, they specialise in stews and other soup-based dishes, and the menu seems to change regularly. The restaurant seems to be chasing the Gruel dollar - a very relaxed, homey atmosphere with straightforward, uncomplicated food. But it seems a little out-of-place on North King Street, like it should be closer to the Epicurean Food Hall. But no matter! With development in Smithfield finally starting to bear some fruit (a Thomas Read that has yet to be even half-full, the opening of the Light House Cinema soon), maybe Stew Station is just a little early to the party.

Anyway, since we live so close, I got the food to take away. I got the tomato soup with meatball for myself and a beef and vegetable for H. Reasonable value too: EUR7 for a hearty meal (EUR7.50 if you eat in). The stews were tasty. Comforting, but didn’t feel entirely healthy. But then again, that could have been the massive dollop of carby, starchy, delicious, creamy mash that came with the meal.

Now all they need to do is change their opening times (7pm weekdays, 6pm weekends) to handle the post-pub crowd and serve Coddle, and Zaytoon will be displaced as my favourite drunk meal.

Potato Bravas

Browsing around the cookery section in Chapters, I came across a book called “Potatoes: Mash and More.” Atkins be damned, I love potatoes and I’m always searching to make the perfect mash. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t reveal any previously-unknown tips, so my mash remains at “average”, but it does have a few other good ideas which suit my tasty-but-easy demeanor.

So last night, I decided to try out their “Potato Bravas”, with a few changes.

Ingredients:

(Serves 2)

  • 10 small new potatoes
  • 1 Chorizo, chopped into thin slices
  • 1 medium onion chopped fine
  • 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon “Cajun” seasoning
  • Salt

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.
  2. Chop the potatoes into 1cm slices and lay them in a baking tray, one row deep. Drizzle all over with olive oil and salt, and put it into the oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
  3. Make the sauce: put the olive oil, water, red wine vinegar, chili powder and cajun seasoning into a bowl and mix well. Add some salt to season.
  4. In a pan, fry the onions until they’re opaque but not brown, then add the chorizo. Turn the heat down to a low simmer.
  5. Pour the sauce into the pan and add the potatoes. Keep turning until the potatoes are completely covered and the sauce has reduced down.
  6. Pour into bowls and serve with sour cream and salsa.

Now I have one less reason to go to the Market Bar.

Something for the weekend, sir?

A few things before I disappear for the weekend (still no broadband at home!)

BBBQ

The weather being unnaturally sunny and warm, and I being Irish and a slave to tradition, we’re having a barbeque tonight. As well as making tabbouleh, babaganoush, Moroccan pork chops and the old favourite: cheeseburgers, I’m hoping to approximate the taste of the chicken wings from Elephant and Castle, which are easily the best in Dublin (Magruder’s on Thomas Street taking second place).

Games

My copy of Everyone Loves Katamari arrived today, and I’m hoping to give it a good blast over the weekend. But my back-log has reached the point of panic. I’m also in the middle of playing:

  • God of War Gameplay is fast and kinetic - you can literally tear your enemies apart in a shower of blood. “Contains Strong Bloody Violence” indeed. The sex mini-games are slightly embarassing, however.
  • Destroy all Humans Bought cheap in Game. Not the most spectacular game ever, but worth the occasional look. Amazing physics though :)
  • Midway Arcade Classics 2 I bought this purely for Hard Drivin'_ and __NARC_, two of my favourite games when I were a lad.

To top it all off, my girlfriend and I are playing Silent Hill 2 together (her: to prepare for the upcoming Roger Avary movie; me: because I just can’t play that game on my own).

Cycling

I bought a bike last weekend, and have been making the most of the freedom it has given me. It has broken the chains of lunchtime bondage - Spar/Centra/Mannings (virtually the only places to get lunch on Thomas Street). I’ve been zipping into Blazing Salads for lunch and eating it in Stephen’s Green, and have been gorging myself on their baked tofu and goat’s cheese pizza.

So far, I’m please to say that I haven’t really been in any major scrapes, touch wood (touches wood), but if you see someone on a grey bike whizzing past you and he looks like he’s not really paying any attention - watch out! And sorry!

Potato Salad with Salsa Verde

We had a vegetarian friend coming over for dinner, so I had to quickly throw some stuff together. This is a variation of a Salsa Verde. If I was making it again (and not catering for a vegetarian), I would probably include the more traditional ingredient of a few anchovies.

  • Bag of new/baby potatoes (6 potatoes per person)
  • Jar of Pickled Gherkins (3 gherkins or so)
  • Handful of Parsley
  • Jar of capers (a small handful of capers)
  • Zest & Juice of 1 Lemon
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar

Preparation:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.
  2. Cut the new potatoes into reasonably small chunks, about the thickness of your thumb, put them into the water.
  3. Chop the parsley really fine
  4. Chop the gherkins really fine
  5. Put the parsley, gherkins and lemon into a bowl and mash them (use a pestle and mortar or even food processor if you want)
  6. Pour in a good dash of red wine vinegar
  7. Pour in enough olive oil to make the paste runny but still thick
  8. When the potatoes are cooked, drain most of the water (leaving a little bit in there to be soaked up). Keep the potatoes in the pot with the leftover water.
  9. Pour in the paste and shake the pot, making the potatoes slightly fluffy at the edges. This helps the potatoes collect and absorb the sauce.

Meatballs

There is something intrinsically fun about playing with your food. Children understand this. And we tell them not to do it because.. well.. we were taught not to do it and, goddammit, if we can’t do it, we won’t let anyone else do it either. So there.

This is why I love meal-making with mince. Making mince mushy. Alliteration aside, when I’m preparing a meal out of paste that was once recognisable as meat, I’m instantly transported back to my youth: I’m 5 years old again, creating a mess with mala. Except my meat creations taste marginally better than my mala ones.

I’ve made a couple of batches of meatballs now, but the ones I made during the week were the first ones where the ingredients felt right. And best of all, it was thrown together in less than a half an hour when I got home late and wasn’t really in the mood for anything too complicated.


  • 450g pork mince
  • kielbasa sausage (or any smoked/spicy meat)
  • clove garlic
  • wholegrain mustard
  • half an onion
  • 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
  • lime leaves
  • salt & pepper

Chop the onion really, really, really fine. It doesn’t have to be evenly chopped, a few larger bits here and there add to the texture. But it still needs to be thin.

Similarly, chop the sausage into really, really, really small cubes. As small as you can. A good handful should do you.

Crush the garlic with the side of your knife and then chop it fine.

Throw the onion, sausage and garlic into a bowl with the pork mince along with two teaspons of the wholegrain mustard and about a teaspoon of the tabasco sauce.

Roll the lime leaves in your fingers to crush it, then chop it to make sure it’s extra-fine and add it to the bowl. Season the mix generously.

Now the fun part - mush the whole thing around until you get a consistent paste. All the ingredients should be roughly spread throughout the entire thing. Roll the whole thing up into little balls. There’s no rule as to the size of these, but I’ve found that they should fit in the palm of my hand, not on the palm of my hand. Does this make sense? Bear in mind, the size of the balls will affect the cooking time.

Pour a good amount of oil (olive oil won’t splash, vegetable oil will) into a decent non-stick pan and get it good and hot. When it’s ready, start adding the meatballs. You’ll never have a completely round ball, so I’ve found it’s best to cook these on one side, until they’re on the point of burning, then flip them onto another side. When they’re a dark brown on most sides, you can start turning them more regularly, to cook the inside.

Serve in some noodles with some chicken stock (Knorr do my favourite store-bought chicken stock right now).

Domestic Instiki

Since we’ve got broadband again, I’m finally getting to play with all the nifty things I’d had ideas about, but no way of executing. The first of these is a local Instiki server at home.

I use this all the time in work for note keeping and simple project management. At home, I’m finding a hundred different ways to use it.

Like keeping track of recipes.

I like to try out a whole bunch of different recipes. Nothing too fancy - I don’t make my own chicken stock or anything like that - but I do try to go beyond the simple food strategy of meat-and-a-tin-of-sauce. This doesn’t always go to plan. The most recent food-related disaster was my attempt at making a chicken maryland, which turned out squishy and odd-tasting. Live and learn.

Using instiki, I threw together a ‘web’ called “FoodWeLike”, where I’m keeping track of the ingredients of the recipes that work for us, as well as simple cooking instructions. This is mainly useful because we have a central repository of ingredients and recipes (instead of trying to remember which cookery book had what), but any web server (or file server) could do this. Instikis is particularly useful because as well as a way to easily edit these, it gives us the ability to easily categorise the recipes any way we like - for example, “We really like”, “We occasionally like”, and “We don’t like”. We’re also able to organise these into weekly meal plans. And, most usefully, plan our weekly shopping run using a page called “ShoppingList” where we can just paste the ingredients from other pages, or update as we run out of something.

And this is just one a hundred ways Instiki is useful in a domestic environment. Well, our domestic environment.

(By the way, I know this could probably be achieved using any wiki software, but I’m specifically choosing Instiki because of its simplicity of installation and also because, right now, I have a major boner for apps built with Ruby on Rails)

Cooking

A couple of weeks ago, on the recommendation of a couple of food blogs (101 cookbooks being the big one), I picked up a copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Appetite’.

I think I’m in love.

I already own a few cookbooks. Standard fare like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Then things like “1000 Quick and Easy Recipes”. And “Good Mood Food”. And they have all, without exception, bored me rigid.

You see, I’m not much for following instructions. I was brought up by people who were quite happy to boil/roast the shit out of every meal. This taught me that not everyone’s palette was the same. And from this, it taught me that slavishly following recipes is no way to create a meal. Especially when you’re just cooking for yourself - how do I know my tastes are going to be the same as Jamie’s? (For the record, they’re not. His recipe for Chicken Maryland made me quite ill).

In comes Nigel Slater.

His book explains everything I knew instictively about cooking but had never heard from someone who actually knew how to cook: recipes are not gospel and should be used only as a guide. He reminds us that recipes were originally used by chefs to keep track of where the housekeeping money was spent. And as he so correctly points out, being told to “put it in the oven for 35 minutes” will not give the same result for everyone, since everyone’s setup is different, everyone’s meal is different. Everyone’s palette is different.

Another thing I love about Nigel Slater’s book is the straightforward way he presents his food. There is no trace of snobbery in his writing. In fact, he writes as elegantly about the delights of a Big Mac as he does of any of his other recipes. Lines like “there is nothing wrong with using a stock cube, not all stock has to be home-made” have led my girlfriend to refer to the book as “vidication” for all the frilly ‘domestic goddess’ nonsense being thrown about by other food writers that make us normal people who can’t spend all day reducing stock feel slightly boorish for turning to Knorr for some help.

Also unusual about Nigel Slater’s book is the way the writing lends itself to casual reading. Unlike the other cookbooks in my collection which have a brief introduction and go straight to the recipies, Slater’s book has a conversational tone, and almost half the book is given over to best practices - how to best cook a steak, how to best store food, and how to best enjoy your food. This leads to ‘Appetite’ being the kind of book you can pick up and read at any time, not just when you’re looking for ideas for something to cook.

I also can’t argue with anyone who extols the beauty of a simple sausage and mash done well.

And with that, my first attempt at a homemade ragu.

A Simple Ragu*

*“Simple” in this case meaning “made with things we had lying around in our kitchen”.

If you’re like me, you probably buy a load of ingredients with good intentions and never get around to using them before they go off. The three main culprits for me are tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. So last night, I decided to do something about this. I decided to make my own ragu.

For this, you will need

  • Plenty of tomatoes (12 or so small ones)
  • A large onion (or a couple of small ones)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Dried Chillis

Get a few cloves of garlic (I’m fond of garlic and used 3 large cloves, which didn’t overpower the flavour of the rest of the ingredients), and slice them very thin. As thin as you can.

Then cut the onion, as thin as you can. If you’re no good at cutting onions, or want to improve your onion-cutting skills, you could do a whole lot worse than checking out Peter Hertzmann’s article on “How to cut…".

Finally, cut the tomatoes into small chunks about the size of a jellybean. Keep every part of the tomato, don’t try getting all fancy and de-seeding it. We’ll need everything.

Warm a good, solid non-stick pan and in it, melt some butter with a little olive oil to keep the butter from burning. When it starts to warm up, throw in the garlic and fry until it starts to brown. Then add the tomatoes and onions.

You’ll need to keep stirring the tomatoes until they start to get really mushy. This should take about 20 minutes. Then season well with plenty of salt and black pepper.

Right now, you have a very basic ragu. From here, it’s up to your individual taste. Personally, I was in the mood for something with a little kick, so I put in a bit of balsamic vinegar, basil and a heap of dijon mustard. I also put in a good helping of red wine. To spice it up, I crushed some dried chillies and put them in too. Once you’ve added your last incredients, you should leave it for another 10 minutes or so before it gets really sticky.

This is perfect for putting over your favourite pasta. If you want to mix in some mince, you should put your ragu through a blender first, and cook it with the meat for about 20 minutes until the meat soaks up all of the flavour.

If you do decide to try this, comment and let me know how you got on. Although don’t worry, I’m under no illusions as to how many people are going to try cooking something they found on a random website.