Smashed Sweet and Russet Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Herbs

Last week we got together with some friends for a “top your own potato” party that was inspired by a recent post on The Kitchn. Highly recommended. Everybody took the meal at their own pace by choosing either a baked sweet or russet potato and some toppings that included Pulled Barbecue Chicken, cheese, butter and sour cream. Mmmmm.

We baked enough potatoes to feed a crowd with spuds to spare. In thinking about how to use the two sweet potatoes and one russet we found in the refrigerator the next day I remembered an episode of Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals where he made Piri Piri chicken and dressed potatoes, the potatoes being a side-dish that was a mixture of baked sweet and white potatoes roughly mashed together on a large wooden cutting board and dressed with lemon juice, chopped cilantro, sliced chilies and chunks of feta cheese. I’ve made and re-interpreted that dish a number of times — there is something really magical about combining sweet and white potatoes. I took another go at it with our leftovers and other ingredients we had on hand and was really excited about the empty plates at the end of the meal.

We made this particular version of smashed potatoes, as I said, with refrigerated leftover baked potatoes, but you could obviously start by baking your potatoes and then just moving on to the smashing part after they have cooled a little.

A warming fall dish

A warming fall dish

And my own two cents about “smashed” vs. “mashed.” The former implies something rustic and rough; the latter, something more homogenous and uniform. I rather like rustic in this case — large and small chunks of white potatoes mixed in with the creamier and softer sweet potatoes, pockets of goat cheese melting into them, and a mix of herbs scattered throughout. Not too fussy. That makes for a great kids’ dinner that you really can’t mess up.

Some of the essentials: sweet and white potatoes and goat cheese (love these single serving packs!)

Some of the essentials: sweet and white potatoes and goat cheese (love these single serving packs!)

Here’s what went into our most recent version of this dish:

Smashed Sweet and Russet Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Herbs

2 large sweet potatoes, washed and pricked several times with a sharp knife or fork
1 large russet potato, washed and pricked several times with a sharp knife or fork
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
2 ounces fresh goat cheese (chèvre)
Several generous pinches of Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Begin by baking the potatoes in a 375 degree oven for 90 minutes. You may want to wrap the potatoes in foil or place a baking sheet under them because the sweet potatoes, especially, will ooze some of their sticky sugar during baking. The skins will not be as crisp if you wrap them though. Your choice. Remove from the oven when finished and cool, removing foil when cool enough to handle if you’ve used it.

Roughly crush the potatoes, with skins on, on a cutting board. This does not need to be a homogenous mush – it should have large and small chunks of white potato along with the softer sweet potato.

Heat a large (preferably non-stick) skillet over medium high heat and add the butter and oil. When hot, add the smashed potatoes. Allow to brown slightly for additional texture and flavor, flipping them in the pan occasionally.  When ready, crumble the cheese as best you can over the potatoes, breaking it into smaller chunks with your fingers as you add it. It will be moist but try to get as much onto the potatoes, and off your fingers, as you can. Add the herbs, several pinches of salt and grinds of pepper and mix everything together. Serve.

Serves: 4 (and can be easily doubled or tripled to feed a crowd)

Great fall meal of smashed potatoes and a barbecued pulled chicken sandwich

Mmm mmm: smashed potatoes and a barbecued pulled chicken sandwich

Parent rating: Five stars. I also like that this dish can be re-interpreted and mixed up every time you make it. Add the herbs you have on hand with a complementary cheese (aged cheddar, feta, even a smoked gouda would be good). Squeeze in a little citrus (lemon/lime) or some freshly-grated lemon or orange rind for a brighter taste. I love Jamie’s suggestion of adding a spicy chili pepper, cut into thin rings or finely diced. As we were having this my husband and I commented that some diced jalapeño would be really good in the dish…but I’m not sure the girls would have appreciated it.
Kid rating: Four stars. Two clean plates speak for themselves. Daughter 1 loved this dish and had seconds. Daughter 2 is a little more skeptical of sweet potatoes (go figure) but, since they were mixed with chunks of white potato and cheese, seemed to enjoy what was served to her. Confession: I dished theirs before adding the herbs, so no complaints about “green things in their food.” We’re working up to that!

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

I’m going to start this post with an endorsement: a six-year-old I know had two servings of this salad at a birthday party this weekend and it was the first thing he asked for at lunch the next day. If that doesn’t get you to try it, I don’t know what will!

While this dish recently joined others as part of a birthday party buffet, it is really more like Christmas in a bowl — only three months ahead of schedule. All green and red, you can’t help but dig in. And when you do, the flavors are both intense and inviting. Crunchy kale, tangy red peppers, sweet raisins, earthy walnuts, and a tart lemon/shallot/garlic dressing tying it all together. And did I mention this, too, is vegetarian and vegan? Bonus!

Feeding a birthday crowd

Feeding a birthday crowd

I sadly have to fess up and admit that, for the longest time, raw kale held little interest for me. My husband and I are big salad eaters but I’d continually pass on the kale at the farmer’s market. Or, when we had it as part of our farm share basket, I’d put it into a soup. Fairly often, I’d freeze it for some future use…which actually meant it went into cold storage until the day I could bring myself to throw it away, all freezer-burned and inedible.

And then….

It must have been another festivity years ago. The time my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, Chef Dan Barber’s now-iconic farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. We hadn’t yet been exposed to the growing buzz around Chef Barber’s fresh cooking philosophy. After touring the farm and then making our way through his multi-course tasting menu we were converts. And while I can’t quite remember if kale was on any of the many plates that evening (it almost certainly must have been!), what I do know is that, suddenly, I couldn’t open a magazine or read a newspaper without seeing Dan Barber’s name. And somewhere along the way, I came across his recipe for Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. It was all over. Raw kale was on the menu at home, too, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients and tastes to really bring out the benefits of this overlooked vegetable.

Like Christmas on a plate

Like Christmas on a plate

So, be it a birthday, a holiday, or just another night packed with soccer practice or piano lessons…give this one a try. You’ll be celebrating, too.

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

2 large bunches of kale (preferably curly kale), well washed with ribs removed
12 to 14 ounces roasted red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a pan on the stove top and broken into small pieces (not too small though)
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Lay out the kale leaves on a cutting board, stacking one on top of the other, and slice them into thin ribbons across the grain. Put the kale into a large bowl.

Kale, salad-bound

Kale, salad-bound

After removing any remaining seeds from the peppers, cut them into then ribbons as well, and then slice further so that each piece is approximately 1/4 inch x 1 inch (don’t worry too much about the size…you just want small pieces that integrate into the salad). Place sliced peppers into the bowl with the kale.

To plump the raisins, reconstitute them by placing them in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup with water to cover, and then microwaving on high for 1 minute. Raisins will be nice and soft. Drain them, and add the raisins to the salad.

Add the walnuts after they’ve been toasted. Be careful not to burn them while toasting.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper until well combined (this is a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe for jam jar dressings – worth having these at your fingertips). Pour the dressing over the salad and work everything together with your (clean!) hands until the kale is well coated and the red peppers, raisins and walnuts are well-distributed.

The kale salad, being assembled

The kale salad, being assembled

Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for approximately one hour before serving. The lemon juice will begin to soften the kale leaves and make them more tender, and the flavors will really develop.

Serves: 10 – 15 as a side dish. To serve a smaller party, halve the recipe.

It’s worth noting that we’ve done variations on this salad with great results. A close friend of ours doesn’t care for roasted red peppers or walnuts, so I made a version with oven-roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts and it turned out nicely too! I shaved some Locatelli cheese into that version, which made it a pretty close cousin to the version Dan Barber makes.

Parent rating: The hostess at the birthday party gave me a report of “four stars” from the adults. And she really is the hostess with the mostess…so to even have a dish on the table with some of her wonderful creations is an honor!
Kid rating: I’m going out on a limb and giving this four kid stars based on the endorsement from the afore-mentioned six-year-old. Sadly, our girls would NOT try this. Perhaps kale really is an acquired taste…and a six-year-old palate is so much more sophisticated than a five-year-old one!

Roasted Beet, Cucumber, and Feta Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing

All days of the week are not created equal. Especially in summer. Saturday and Sunday have their obvious merits, and nobody can disagree that making it to 5:00 pm on a Friday shouldn’t somehow be celebrated. But one of my favorite days of the week is CSA day. That’s the day we pick up fresh produce from Cherry Grove Organic Farm, a local community-supported agricultural farm outside of Princeton, NJ.

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

I’m not working this summer which makes CSA pick-up day even better. Instead of flying out of the office and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike to get to the farm before gates close at 7:00 pm, I have the luxury of picking up the girls in the afternoon from daycare and taking them with me. They love it and I love that they love it. It’s a love fest, which somehow is just what the produce deserves.

This week's bounty

This week’s bounty

Look mom, it's cabbage

Look mom, it’s cabbage

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

This week it was HOT at the farm, but the goodies we brought home now have me planning menus days in advance. Our five-year-old even asked to make a salad and came up with a dressing recipe that included sugar, salt, and jalapeños. Hmmm. We’ll have to work on the proportions, but I applaud the creativity! She later confessed that she wanted to make the salad for me and her dad…but then I put together a little something that she and her little sister agreed to try, with predictably mixed results. My husband and I, however, endorse this one!

Salad ingredients:
3 roasted beets, peeled and cubed (to roast, rub with olive oil and roast in tightly-sealed tinfoil with some thyme sprigs at 400 degrees for one hour)
1 cucumber, peeled and cubed
About 4 ounces of feta cheese, cubed (add more if you like feta)
1 cup walnuts, toasted on the stove top in a frying pan until fragrant, cooled and then roughly chopped
Small bunch of fresh arugula

For dressing (with homage to Jamie Oliver’s Honey & lemon juice dressing…it seemed just right when I searched on lemon/olive oil/honey…gotta love Kismet):
1 ounce fresh lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
2 ounces olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey or to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground pepper

Whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined. Set aside.

Combine the beets, cucumber, feta and walnuts and toss with enough dressing to flavor. You may have a little dressing left over…I did. Won’t go to waste.

Place several (5 or 6) arugula leaves on each serving plate and mound salad on top. Finish with additional sprinkle of salt and freshly-ground pepper.

It's a layering thing

It’s a layering thing

A salad makes a plate a meal

A salad makes a plate a meal


I served this with pulled chicken sandwiches made from the left-over hickory-smoked chicken thighs and breasts earlier this week. But that, my friends, is a post for another day!

Serves 8 as a side, or 4 as a main dish.

Parent rating: four stars. I would have given it at least four-and-a-half stars if the beets didn’t bleed so much after combining the salad. An elegant presentation, but leftovers looked a little pink…which, if you’re a five-year-old little girl, might not be that bad!
Kid rating: three stars. Beets were downright vetoed by both girls, leading to a squishing episode that we won’t discuss further. Daughter 1 ate all the cucumber and feta and TRIED the beets. Daughter 2 ate cucumber and walnuts, thought the feta was an unknown veggie and rejected it, and squished the beets. Enough said.