A Christmas Story

‘Twas the month of December, and blog posts? There were none.
But wait! Before you get angry…there was much to get done!

I had to make presents and eat cookies and decorate my house…
…and travel to Orlando to meet a famous big mouse.
There was butterbeer to be drunk and playgrounds on which to climb…
…and two very bestest friends having a wonderfully magical time.
Then it was back to Boston, my home sweet home,
where, Merry Christmas to me, I bought an iPhone.
Then a yankee swap at work, where we drank lots of wine with lunch…
I got a margherita gift basket from those mofos. Hey, thanks a bunch!

Then off to New Jersey for more presents to unwrap.
Santa was f***ing good this year, just look at all this cool crap…

I got a zebra hat and mittens to protect from winter’s rough bark…

…a macro lens to take badass photos, and a floating toy shark.
But the real reason I’m typing out this silly, long ballad,
is because tucked in my stocking this year…

…was the recipe for my grandma’s famous potato salad!

(more about the recipe after the recipe.)

Nonna’s Smashed Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sized sweet onion, grated so that the onion is essentially a pulp (more on this below)
  • Helman’s mayo (to taste…more on that, again, below)
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder (to taste)
  • A whole lotta paprika
  1. Hard boil the eggs. (See below.) When cooled, peel and chop them.
  2. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. They should be at a mashable consistency, not much firmer. Put in the fridge to cool. When cooled, peel off the skins (I pulled the skins off right after I took them out of the boiling pot…I see no reason why you can’t do the same).
  3. Cut the potatoes into evenly sized cubes and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, onion, egg, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The potatoes should become slightly mashed.
  4. Little by little, add the mayonnaise to your liking. The salad shouldn’t be white with mayo, and should have a fairly thick, stable consistency (not soupy).
  5. Continue to mix until the potato salad has a consistency of mashed potatoes with lots of lumps.
  6. Top the entire bowl with lots and lots of paprika.

I’ve loved this potato salad since I was a kid. It was the only potato salad that ever called to me. In fact, I had sworn off potato salad before I tried my Nonna’s. I don’t like the potato salads that are soupy, covered in thick white stuff, crunchy…nope, I don’t want any of that shizzz…

I begged my Nonna forever for her recipe and I got the run-around for the better part of a year. Imagine my surprise when I found a little index card tucked in my stocking this year. At one point during the holiday, I proclaimed it my favorite gift, which invited dirty looks from my mom who had just bestowed upon me a $300 camera lens.

But of course, in typical Nonna fashion, the recipe was horrifyingly vague. Look at the picture I posted of the index card above… she lists only two ingredients: 5 pounds of potatoes and 6 hard-boiled eggs. Later in the recipe, she mentions all the other crap I need, but gives no quantities. Not to mention, she says nothing about how to hard boil eggs… which I may or may not have had to look up directions for…

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the onion is so finely grated that there is no annoying onion-y crunch present when you bite into a fork full, just some pleasant onion taste. Obviously if you like just a liiiiiiiitle bit more crunch, you can dice the onion, slice it, or mix and match.

Anyway, above is my best interpretation of her recipe and the results were spot on to the potato salad that was present at every springtime family function when I was a kid. Sure, it’s a little out of season right now, but it reminds me of family…my family…my big, crazy, food-loving, grudge-holding, tradition-following, Italian family.

Soon to Be Tofurkey Day!

OK, OK, it’s time to get my bloggin’ shoes on and make a REAL post that’s not modified pasta with butter or some variation on rice.

Think Lauren, think! What would be super culinary of yo’ lazy ass?

Well… Thanksgiving is right around the corner… perhaps it’s time for some pre-tofurkey day practice! I’m armed with a pound of fresh cranberries (word to the wise — they don’t taste like craisins when they’re raw :( ) and a shelf full of various squashes — time to get cookin’, Pilgrim style!

This year we’re planning on hosting our very own vegetarian Thanksgiving. Instead of turkey, or even tofurkey, we’re having a homemade seitan loaf prepared by a close vegan friend. Us veggies have always been left out of fun holiday-time events like carving the roast beast, so this was very exciting news…something substantial to sink our steak teeth into!

But sadly that meant one big letdown — no giant stuffed squash as our big time centerpiece…

Which left one burning question: WTF am I going to do with all these squashes!?!?

I have exactly six of them… they take up a whole shelf in our kitchen. Do squashes even go bad?! Am I going to be inundated with these things forever, without even an expiration date or a hint of mold to help me usher their way out of the house?!

No sir, not if I can help it.

That’s right… it’s squash stuffin’ time!

The beauty of stuffed squash is that it presents an entirely open palette. Even if you follow the traditional equation of squash + carbs + veggies + spices, there are still a multitude of questions to address; rice or bread? something more exotic and weird like pasta? ooo how about potatoes? or even squash stuffed squash (hey, I have a LOT of squash, ok?!)!

The door is pretty wide open to possibilities, and you don’t have to stick with the traditional Americanized version… how about Mexican stuffed squash (with rice, beans and tomatoes), Asian stuffed squash (a stir fry on a bed of squash), or just plain ol’ leftovers stuffed squash (am I crazy or would soup in a squash bowl be AWESOME?!). Ohhh how my hungry mind wanders!

Since I’ve never made stuffed squash before, I decided to stick with a nice, solid, traditional base. Like many ubiquitous and foods with a million variations, I couldn’t find a recipe that I loved AND had all the ingredients to, so I came up with my own using stale bread and veggies from the freezer:

Easy, Traditional Stuffed Squash

  • 1 squash of your choosing, cut in half and de-seeded (I’d go for acorn or butternut)
  • Enough olive oil to give your squash a nice, light basting + 2 tbs more for the stuffing
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped but not diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1/4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 to 1.5 cups bread, cut into cubes or small pieces (If you have crusty or stale bread, go with that. Slices from a loaf of bread work, but you generally want something that holds up a little better. Whole wheat bread produces a nuttier flavor; since there’s already nuts in this recipe, I’d go with white, if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth (or less)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
  • Liberal pinches of the following spices:
    • Rosemary
    • Parsley
    • Paprika
    • Chile powder
  • Salt and peppa’, to taste
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan
  1. Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly baste the insides of the squash halves with olive oil and throw ‘em open side up on a baking pan. When the oven is preheated, stick the squash in and bake for 30 minutes.
  2. While the squash is baking, prepare the stuffing. Start by sauteing the garlic and onion in a large skillet over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, carrots, peas and two tablespoons of the vegetable broth. Saute for two minutes until combined.
  3. Add the bread to the pan and mix well. Little by little, pour in the vegetable broth until each piece of bread is coated and wet, but not soaking (this may require more or less vegetable broth than listed). Throw in the spices and heat until all the excess liquid is absorbed from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and throw in the nuts and a handful of parmesan cheese.
  4. Take the squash out of the oven and fill with the stuffing mixture. Consider covering the squash with tinfoil if you prefer a less crispy and more evenly cooked stuffing (I like the crispier stuff, so I didn’t). Stick the squash back in the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until squash is tender. About 5 minutes before the cooking ends, top the squash with more freshly grated parmesan and allow to melt in the oven.
  5. Take the squash out of the oven, let cool for 5 minutes and eat!
I had leftover stuffing, so I just stuck that at the bottom of the pan to bake on its own. The result was great and a perfect prelude to our upcoming Tofurkey Day! I especially enjoyed the cheesy goodness that came from the melted parmesan:
Woohoo! Happy cooking!