Country roads, take me home to the place where I belong, West Virginia, Mountain Mama, take me home...
Okay, not quite. But I did spend the majority of my day in the Wild and Wonderful state, chopping, peeling, baking and broiling my way to a Father's Day Dinner. Although, if we're being completely honest, it was for Pop, but he's still a father and I'm not about to flag a technicality because he's not my father. So Mom and I packed up our tools to crank out a surf 'n' turf, pull-out-all-the-stops dinner for the head honcho and made the 45 minute trek to the mountains.
We were dressed to impress, at least our cooler and grocery bags were anyway. We came lock, stock and 4 Delmonico steaks, 3 pounds of shrimp, a sack of Yukon potatoes, half a pound of the smelliest bleu cheese I could find, 4 green apples, 2 sheets of puff pastry and 3 crowns of broccoli. We rolled up the gravel driveway to be greeted by our version of the Frontier, complete with two barking sheepdogs, a slumped over barn and the token horses keeping their distance from me and the electric fence. I suddenly had the urge to marry a cowboy, keep excessive amounts of beef in a deepfreeze, learn to can more than strawberry jam and start wearing leather chaps. I spent a minute or two soaking it in until it registered that my right arm was about to snap out of socket from the yet-to-be-compiled dinner I held in plastic bags, waiting to be lugged inside.
Pop was at Mass, so we had an hour or so to get everything together, no small feat when you're working with one oven and four dishes that all have different cook times and varying temperatures.* I started with Hasselback potatoes-my first rodeo with the accordian-style starch that offers an impressive finish with only a few tricks of the knife blade. I opted for an easier prep since we had a packed agenda in the kitchen already, but you could easily slip slices of garlic, pats of butter, fresh herbs, or whatever you like into the little slots and bake them up. No matter what you do, it's nearly foolproof that they'll yawn in the oven and relax open, revealing their buttery insides underneath a crispy crust.
2-3 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed (not peeled)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the potatoes without cutting entirely through, they should stay intact (for the most part). Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and, using your fingers, work the oil into each of the slits. Do the same with a fair amount of Kosher salt, and the garlic or whatever else you might be using.
Bake for one hour or until the tops are crispy and the potatoes open up like fans.
Pop seems to be a fan of anything smelly, like sauerkraut and bleu cheese. When I was younger, I used to open his refridgerator and peer in at the bleu cheese dressing, the fat lumps moving languidly about the bottom of a wide-mouthed jar. In our house, we only ever had Italian dressing, and maybe Ranch on occasion, so to label this as "salad dressing" furrowed my brow with confusion. I used to wait tables at a restaurant called Nicholas' that doesn't exist anymore, but occasionally the specials menu had Black and Bleu NY Strip, a blackened steak with bleu cheese crumbled and melted right on top. Now Pop is a Delmonico man, but he swooned over the crusty blue and white topping that dripped down the sides of the glistening meat.
Mom took care of the shrimp, and I voted for a lemon sauce but she insisted that, as Marylanders, we had an obligation to only ever season our shrimp with Old Bay. Sigh. Some traditions will never change. I ignored my minor culinary defeat and focused my attention on roasting the broccoli, chopped and drizzled with olive oil and salt, roasted until the florets are golden brown and the stems crunchy, tossed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving. Mom offered up a blessing over the food and I humored my Catholic grandfather by making the sign of the cross after Amen. I could've sworn he shot me a look, and Mom confirmed it: You can't make the sign of the cross backwards in front of the Grand Poobah and not get the stink-eye.
Now dessert, that is my territory. I originally planned on making an apple strudel, but Mass was ending soon and there's no way I'd have time to roll the pastry out tissue thin and stuff it with whispy-sliced apples. So I cheated. That's right, I cheated. I kept the apples but used puff pastry instead, marrying the apples with golden raisins and brown sugar before coaxing them to honeymoon with the sweet, buttery dough.
I can't imagine a real frontier woman would have a cards table on her back porch, but this one does.
So maybe I don't own a pair of leather chaps, I don't have half a slaughtered beef cow in my freezer, I like cheeses that smell more like garbage than dairy products, but I impressed the Grand Poobah, and that's really saying something.
* I will marry the man who gives me a double oven.