Monday, May 11, 2009

I Am the Enter-Tater

It was Mother’s Day weekend, and I had the opportunity to entertain ten people, besides myself. We ranged in age from 3 to 88 years, would probably all prefer a casual meal (four people would be sitting at the card table after all), and everyone would appreciate that I was cooking for them. (Entertaining Rule 1: If the people you entertain don’t appreciate your gestures of hospitality, stop inviting them). I would be giving honor to my mom and grandmother, who had come from Michigan, as well as two other moms, but they had always enjoyed my meals in the past. It would be a satisfying group to cook for, so I wasn’t nervous (much).

My kitchen is small, but its heart and ambitions are big when it comes to its extremely infrequent chances to entertain. The apron is always up to the challenge, probably because it always has backup in the closet. This time of year, the kitchen has its own backup as well, in the form of a decent-sized gas grill that saves me significant sweat in the kitchen on warm days.

I opted for the classics: burgers, bratwurst and hotdogs on the grill, with veggies, dips, a pasta salad and a few other snacks on the makeshift buffet table. I also wanted something that everyone would like, but that might be a little different than everyone expected. But this was the great Midwest, after all. What goes with meat better than potatoes?

There are probably thousands of recipes for giant casseroles with titles like “Company Potatoes” or “Potatoes for a Crowd,” but if I was going to grill, I was going to grill, and half the point was to keep it from getting too hot inside (even though it turned out to be a rather cool day). Besides, I had not ever tested any of these recipes myself. (Entertaining Rule 2: Don’t make something for your guests that you’ve never made before.) What I had done many times during last year’s grilling season, however, was grill potatoes.

Now I know as well as you do that it is nearly impossible to grill raw potatoes, since they get black before they even consider losing their vegetable crunch. And so I cheat. I use the microwave to par-cook the potatoes, then cut them into cubes or wedges (I went mostly with finger foods, so I made wedges this time), dress them with plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper, dump them in a pan made for the grill, and put them to the flames. They need to be watched carefully and turned when they begin to darken, and if, like me, you’re also cooking something that tends to flare up on the same grill, the potatoes can get pretty dark before you know it. Not that I mind a crispy potato. In fact, I’m convinced they make the world go ‘round.

I love these potatoes with an herbed dipping sauce, like the one I adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. It can be easily customized to fit your personal taste or whatever fresh herbs you have available. I used parsley (which seems to be always available), oregano and thyme. I think it would also be great with ground coriander, cumin and cilantro or with dill and lemon juice in place of the lime juice.

The potatoes were a big hit. In fact, I nearly forgot to take a photo of the finished product until they were almost gone and scrounged what was left from the bottom of the bowl for their glamour shot (every cook loves an empty serving dish!). I think we really all had a great time (Entertaining Rule 3: Have fun at your own party!) There was a violin concert, a brilliant commentary on what a hat is for, and a great dance routine performed to Weird Al’s “Yoda” by a young Batman with a blue-blanket cape. Aaah, memories. And mmmmm, potatoes!

Grilled Potatoes with Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce
This is really a method for cooking the potatoes rather than a recipe. The sauce can be halved, doubled, quintupled, whatever you need.

For the potatoes:
Potatoes (I used some nice large red potatoes, but use whatever looks nice)
Olive oil (I use extra-virgin for just about everything
Salt and Pepper

1. Cook the potatoes in the microwave (3 to 5 at a time) until they are partially cooked all the way through, but are still firm enough to cut. A knife inserted in the potatoes will meet with some resistance, but not the crispy kind of a raw potato. This should take about 6 minutes. Turn them over about halfway through the cooking process.

2. Set the potatoes aside until they are cool enough to handle. This can be done significantly ahead of time, even the day before. Cut the potatoes into large wedges.

3. In a large bowl, toss the wedges with olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss well.

4. Preheat a grill. Place the potatoes on a grilling pan over medium to high flame (depending on your grill’s power) and grill until they are browned on one side. Turn the potatoes with tongs and grill the other side until brown. Serve with Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce.

For the Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine)
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 finely chopped green onions (scallions)
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
about 3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs

1. Mix all ingredients together. Chill until ready to eat.

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