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TWICE-BAKED POTATOES

There were a few more items in our fairly bare cupboard when we returned from our Colorado visit. Besides, I was holding off a trip to the grocery store for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I felt a bit lazy.

I found two russet potatoes, and baked potatoes came to mind. They are certainly easy, but they also seemed a little boring. Twice-baked potatoes use almost exactly the same ingredients, but somehow they seem a little more festive, so that’s what I decided to do.

Just out of the oven

Just out of the oven

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

RECIPE

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • vegetable shortening
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 4 tablespoons butter + more for the topping
  • ¼ cup cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup  freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Rub the potatoes all over with vegetable shortening, pierce on both sides in several places with a kitchen fork and place on a baking rack in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, turning once halfway through the baking. Remove from the oven and cool until the potatoes are easy to handle.
  2. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and with a large spoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼ inch rim intact. Try not to pierce the skin. Transfer the scooped out flesh to a large bowl. Mash coarsely with a table fork.
  3. In the meantime, sauté the bacon in a small pan over medium-low heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on several layers of paper towelling and crumble when cooled. Set aside.
  4. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat in the still hot pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked through. Drain and set aside.
  5. Melt the butter, and stir it into the mashed potatoes along with the cream and sour cream. Then add the shallot, garlic and Gruyère cheese. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed potato shells. Smooth the tops, paint with more melted butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Then increase the oven temperature to 400°F and continue to bake until the tops of the stuffed potatoes are browned, about 10 more minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning.
  8. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Two potato halves make a light dinner or lunch. One potato half is a good side dish.
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BLUE CORNMEAL WAFFLES WITH PINE NUTS AND BACON

Food with blue corn in it is always popular when family comes to visit. Blue  corn tortillas are ubiquitous, and blue corn chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce and a fried egg is one of my all-time favorites. Blue cornmeal pancakes are also good. Add pine nuts  and you have a classic New Mexico combination. During her recent visit, Carol specifically requested blue cornmeal waffles,  so of course I had to accommodate her.

RECIPE

Blue Cornmeal  Waffles with Pine Nuts and Bacon

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blue corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons, bacon drippings, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup crumbled crisp-fried bacon

Method

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking powder, soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, syrup, bacon drippings and 2 yolks from the separated eggs
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold in thirds into the batter being careful not to overbeat.
  5. Fold in the pine nuts and bacon pieces
  6. Spoon a little more of the batter than recommended by the manufacturer into a hot waffle iron. Bake until golden brown.
  7. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Eggs and bacon on the side is a nice addition
  8. Makes about twelve 4-inch square waffles.

 

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ROASTED CORN AND BACON WAFFLES

Fresh corn on the cob is in season, and we always try to take advantage of the harvest before it’s over. Our favorite way to prepare fresh corn is to boil it for a few minutes, slather it with butter, season it with salt and pepper, and eat it directly off the cob. In our family, there are those who use the circular approach, eating the kernels in orderly fashion as they turn the ear of corn in their hands, and there are those who use “the typewriter” approach, working systematically from one end of the ear to the other before starting over. Either way seems to work.

Very atypically, we had some boiled ears left over after a recent meal, but I didn’t want them to go to waste. My first thought was to make corn soup or chowder. That can be delicious as we found out when Sarah and Evan served it at one of their demonstrations in Shreveport. Then I remembered, I had some leftover bacon (Is there such a thing as leftover bacon?) and that made me think of waffles.

First, I cut the corn kernels off the cob using my special corn cutter. It really doesn’t work all that well, but it is one of those gadgets I am reluctant to throw away. I think a sharp chef’s knife works as well or better. I roasted the corn by popping it in a medium oven for twenty minutes until some of the kernels were lightly caramelized. Then I added the roasted kernels to the cornmeal-based waffle batter and went from there.  Here’s the recipe.

Corn kernel cutting tool

Corn kernel cutting tool

Waffle iron

Waffle iron

 

Roasted corn

Roasted corn

Roasted corn and bacon waffles with butter and maple syrup

Roasted corn and bacon waffles with butter and maple syrup

RECIPE

Roasted Corn and Bacon Waffles

Ingredients

  • 2 ears boiled corn
  • 2 eggs
  • 1¾ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • ¼ cup melted bacon fat
  • 8 slices of bacon, cut into 1 inch squares

Method

  1. Cut the kernels of  corn off the cobs with a sharp knife or with a special tool. Place the cut kernels in a rimmed baking sheet and place in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 350° F. Turning every five minutes, roast the corn kernels until they are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Then stir in the buttermilk.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the  flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cornmeal, whisking together with a spoon or fork
  4. Combine the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients until smooth
  5. Stir in the roasted corn kernels.
  6. Add the bacon fat, and stir until incorporated.
  7. Ladle the batter into a heated waffle griddle, making sure the corn is well mixed in.  Then sprinkle 4 to 6 bacon pieces on each waffle segment.
  8. When the waffles are brown, repeat until the batter is used up.
  9. Serve the waffles while still warm with a poached or fried egg on top or with butter and maple syrup.
  10. Makes 8 to 10 4½ inch square waffles.

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BLT+ARO

One of our family traditions – probably a tradition in your family, too – is that for birthdays, the honoree gets to select the menu for the whole day. While we were in Los Angeles, my grand-daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday. That was a momentous occasion not only for her, but also for her younger brother and her parents. Officially, she became a teenager, but these days that is only semantics. Fortunately, she is not driving yet, but the birthday was a stark reminder that the day for that is not far away.

Included in my grand-daughter’s food selections for the day was bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for breakfast. Of course, she got to sleep late on a weekend so it was closer to brunch than breakfast. Still, a little odd for my elderly clock, but I freely admit that they were delicious.

These were not your usual BLTs. Challah was the preferred bread. That seemed to be an odd companion to bacon, but nobody blinked.

No one in the family likes mayonnaise, so there was none. How can you have a BLT without mayonnaise?  They allowed me my own. The bacon was crisped in the oven, and the lettuce was the tender butter kind. The tomatoes were beautiful heirlooms, almost purple in color.

Everyone in the family is averse to onion as well, but they accommodated me with thick slices of red onion. They don’t like avocados, either, so they sliced a perfectly ripe avocado just for me.

We gathered around a buffet to assemble our personal creations. Mine was an elaborate BLT+ARO. Then we enjoyed a beautiful Southern California morning on the back patio.  Gifts  were opened, including a new iPhone – every California teenager needs one, I was told.

All in all a great way to start a day of celebration.

BLT+ARO

Ingredients

  • 2 slices challah
  • mayonnaise
  • 3 strips bacon, fried crisp
  • 2 large slices, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 leaves butter lettuce
  • ½ ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 slice red onion
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Spread the slices of challah with mayonnaise
  2. Arrange the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, and red onion on one slice of bread. You may need extra mayonnaise between layers.
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Top with the remaining slice of bread for a thick sandwich.
  5. Eat with plenty of napkins handy or over the kitchen sink.

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MEATLOAF! – OR – CLEARING OUT THE FREEZER

I have been doing almost all of our grocery shopping for over five years. In fact, my wife says that she no longer remembers her way around the aisles of our local supermarket.  My buying habits are different from those of my wife – not so different that she wants to resume the chore of shopping – but a little idiosyncratic. It may have come from our days of living in Utah, but I try to make sure that we have enough extras of just about everything so that we won’t run out in case of a natural disaster or the unannounced visit of all of our relatives.

On top of that, being a thrifty shopper, I take advantage of bargains, so when there is a toofer- one, or even better a three-for-one sale I can’t resist. One result of this practice is that our freezer has become packed with packages of meat, poultry, and fish.

Periodically my wife stacks all of the frozen goods on the kitchen counter and issues an ultimatum, “Get rid of all of this before you buy any more.” I am currently working under one of those early warning messages. Today’s recipe is the result of my efforts and is based upon my wondering about what to do with a package of ground turkey that has been languishing at the bottom of the freezer compartment for months. Part of the reason for that is that I am not a big fan of ground turkey. Another reason is that I can’t think of anything to make with it.

So, with some frozen ground beef that was also in the freezer, I decided to make meatloaf. Now I know that everyone who reads this blog is likely to have his or her own favorite meatloaf recipe, and I also know that most readers are looking for ways to make something fancy, exotic, complicated, or all of those things.

Sorry, I hope that you will bear with me on this one, because the meatloaf turned out pretty good – that meaning you couldn’t taste the ground turkey. The best part was that there was enough left over for cold meatloaf and ketchup sandwiches the next day. And after all, that’s the reason most folks make meatloaf in the first place.

RECIPE

Turkey/Beef Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 thick slices French bread
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 jumbo eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha hot chili sauce
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup finely minced parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground bay leaf
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 pound ground beef (85% fat)
  • 4 strips thick cut bacon

Method

  1. Tear the French bread into pieces and put in the bowl of a food processor. Process into coarse crumbs and then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the milk to the bread crumbs and let stand for 5 minutes until the milk is completely absorbed.
  3. Stir in the eggs, ketchup, chili sauce,  onion, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder, thyme, bay leaf, and lemon juice.
  4. Then add the ground turkey and ground beef. With a large spoon or, better, your freshly washed and dried hands, mix the ingredients until they are well combined.
  5. If you are a perfectionist, brown a small ball of the mixture in a small hot skillet, taste, and correct the seasonings. If you are more casual, like me, pack the meatloaf mixture into a large (9x5x2½ inch) greased bread pan.
  6. Arrange the bacon strips on top of the meatloaf so that it is completely covered. You may have to cut the bacon strips into pieces to do that.
  7. Cover with foil and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 300°F (150°C) for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the foil and place the loaf under the broiler until the bacon is brown and crisp.
  8. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, cut into ½ inch slices, and serve.

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NEW YEAR GOOD LUCK – BLACK-EYED PEAS AND CABBAGE

It is the custom in the US South to eat black-eyed peas and cabbage on New Year’s Day, one for good luck and one for wealth. Some believe that not to eat these dishes will result in the opposite effect, bad luck and poverty.

Our family lived in Louisiana to get into the custom, even though we didn’t really believe the superstition. The habit has persisted even though we have lived outside the South for many years. There must be lots of other former Southern citizens in our Southwest community, because canned and frozen black-eyed peas are always sold out days before New Year’s Eve.

There are many versions of cooked black-eyed peas which qualify as good luck charms the New Year: Hoppin’ John, Texas caviar, black-eyed pea vinaigrette, and plain ol’ Southern black-eyes. The following recipe borrows from all of those classics. Likewise, the cabbage dish is an update of plain old boiled cabbage.

It may be too late for you to get your protection for 2013, but hold onto the recipes for next year. In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

RECIPES

Good-Luck Black-Eyed Peas

Ingredients

  • 3 strips bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • water for cooking peas
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 3 ounces Canadian bacon, large dice
  • 1  teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 or more dashes Tabasco sauce

Method

  • Fry the bacon in a small pan over medium heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels and transfer the bacon drippings to a heavy-bottomed soup pot.
  • Over medium heat, put the chopped onion in the soup pot, cover, and sweat for 5 minutes until translucent and softened
  • Add the peas and enough water to completely cover the peas. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer, covered, for 1½ to 2 hours or until the peas are tender.
  • Add the bell pepper, celery, tomatoes, and green chiles. Stir in the Canadian bacon.  Continue to simmer for 30 minutes more or until the tomatoes are cooked down.
  • Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and Tabasco
  • Serve in wide-brimmed soup bowls.

Braised Napa Cabbage, Red Onions and Mushrooms with Dilled Greek Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 1 small napa cabbage cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion sliced in thin crosswise rounds
  • 6 cremeni mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup minced dill fronds

Method

  • Combine the cabbage, onion, mushrooms, chicken stock, wine, salt, and pepper in an oven-proof covered pan
  • Over medium-high flame, bring the pan to a boil, cover, and then transfer to the middle of an oven pre-heated to 250°F
  • Braise the vegetables for 60 minutes or until they are tender. Check frequently, and add water if needed
  • In the meantime, combine the yogurt and dill in a small bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Chill in the refrigerator while the vegetables are braising to bring out the dill flavor.
  • Drain the cooked vegetables and serve with yogurt SAUCE.

If you wish, serve the black-eyed peas with cooked rice, along with cornbread on the side for dipping.

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MAC AND CHEESE/SHRIMP AND GRITS

Macaroni and cheese is as American as you can get. Some authorities attribute its invention to Thomas Jefferson, although that is probably apocryphal. Jefferson did bring pasta machines to the United States, but the first known published recipe came from a Philadelphia chef in the early 1800s. Whatever the real origin, the dish soon became popular in Virginia and the rest of the South. It appeared on the tables of many Southern homes as well as hotel and railroad diner menus for many decades extending into the twentieth century. Early recipes called for boiling the macaroni for an hour or longer until it fell apart. Then it was combined with cheese, covered with bread crumbs, and baked into what resembled a sort of pudding. Honestly, it sounds pretty disgusting regardless of its popularity.

The "gold standard" - boxed mac and cheese

The real event for mac and cheese, though, came in 1937 near the dawn of the prepared food rage that still engages America’s home cooks. Kraft brought out a boxed version complete with dried macaroni and a powdered cheese sauce  that was billed as cheap, fast, and easy. The original recipe on the box called for bread crumbs on top and baking, but these embellishments were soon abandoned in favor of speed.  Boxed mac and cheese was immediately popular and became more popular during the Second World War. After the war, when the whole style of home cooking was changing, it became a real favorite, especially with kids.

I remember loving mac and cheese as a child – pouring the macaroni out of the box into the boiling water, waiting for it to cook, draining it, and adding the powder from the little envelope along with some milk and butter. My grandkids still love that version, and when all else fails to please their finicky kid-type appetites, macaroni from the box is sure to appeal to them. For me during college days, boxed macaroni was a standby along with ramen noodles. Maybe that’s why and when it lost interest for my more grown-up tastes.

These days, restaurants including some very high-end places in our town are bringing out their fancy versions of this old-time favorite. You may find mac and cheese made with bleu cheese, green chiles, goat cheese, curly pastas, mushrooms, and even truffles.

Shrimp and artichoke mac and cheese coming out of the oven

Another favorite comfort food, especially if you are a Southerner or even if you have only visited the South, is shrimp and grits. This delicacy of Southern cooking has a lot in common with macaroni and cheese – a smooth creamy base of starch, oozing, gooey cheese, and maybe a little crust on the top to give it just a bit of bite.

Served with broccoli, broccoli puree and cornbread

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering what I could do to liven up the mac and cheese that I was making for dinner. What I came up with is this riff on shrimp and grits. It is guaranteed to be gooey and loaded with cheesy flavor. The shrimp, bacon,  mushrooms, and artichokes make it a lot more substantial than the old-timey product made straight out of the box. I doubt that my grandkids would like this version, but I certainly did.

SHRIMP AND ARTICHOKE MACARONI AND CHEESE

You can use regular elbow macaroni for this dish, but it is more interesting to use different shapes or colors that you have been wanting to try. I have used foglie di carciofo, a flat, round pasta flavored with dried artichoke. It seems perfect for the dish,  but any other would do.

Ingredients

butter

panko

12 oz (3 cups) dried pasta

5 oz (4 strips) thick-sliced bacon

5 medium (4 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced

14 oz (1 can) or fresh or frozen artichoke hearts, quartered

1 lb raw shrimp, peeled

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

4 Tablespoons flour

1½ Cups milk

½ Cup  cream

2 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated

4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated

4 ounces sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

grated Parmesan cheese

melted butter

  1. Generously butter the inside of a two-quart baking dish. Coat the insides with panko and set aside. Reserve additional panko for the top.
  2. In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and return to the boil. Cook the pasta for 12 minutes or until al dente, stirring frequently. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
  3. In a 9 inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until not quite crisp. Remove the bacon and drain it on several thicknesses of paper towel. Chop coarsely and set aside.  Then add the mushrooms to the still hot skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Add the artichoke hearts and shrimp and continue to sauté until the shrimp are pink – about 3 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly to make a light roux. Be careful not to brown. Add the milk and cream and stir constantly until thickened.  Add the grated cheeses and sour cream and continue to stir until the cheeses are completely melted.  Pour the mixture over the reserved pasta. Add the mushroom, artichoke, and shrimp mixture and stir gently to combine.  Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer the mixture into the prepared baking dish, top with additional panko and  grated Parmesan cheese. Baste the top with melted butter.
  6. Bake in the top third of a preheated oven at 350° for about one hour or until the top is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for about 5 minutes and then serve immediately.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 generously

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