Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Boiled, Baked and Fried

I'm a little obsessed with potatoes right now. It's been a long winter in New England and indulging in comfort food has kind of taken over. My last post, Twice Baked and Loaded inspired this decadent, yummy potato casserole and the fried potato pancakes that came soon after. Get ready for some good eating. Yes this is a rich side dish, and as a matter of fact it's one of the most decadent concoctions I've ever put together. But it's a side dish, so you don't have to eat it all in one sitting (you'll want to save some for the Bonus Fried Tater Cakes), and it does have it's redeeming qualities- like it's loaded with veggies (artichokes and spinach), slow roasted garlic and of course lots of love. Ready? Let's cook.

Artichoke and Spinach Dip Potato Casserole
Serves 6-8

Roasted Garlic 1 small head of garlic
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

The Dip
8 oz Neufchatel cheese (lower fat cream cheese) softened to room temp
1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup reduced fat shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup lite sour cream
1/3 cup lite mayonnaise
5 oz frozen chopped spinach thawed or defrosted in the microwave, then squeezed dry to remove any liquid
1 medium-large can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 head of roasted garlic
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp hot sauce

The Taters
5-6 Yukon Gold potatoes (medium sized) cut into 1 inch pieces
2-3 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2
salt and pepper

To roast the garlic: Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Place a baking sheet in the oven as it pre heats. Remove some of the outer layers of the garlic skin if they are plentiful. Cut the top off the head of the garlic and place on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Seal the foil and place on pre-heated baking sheet. Roast 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and squeeze the roasted pulp into your mixing bowl (discarding the skin) with the Neufchatel. We're going to put the dip together.


To roasted garlic and Neufchatel, combine the rest of the dip ingredients.

While you're making the dip, get the potatoes started. Put diced potatoes into a medium size saucepan, cover with salted cold water and bring to a boil on stovetop. Cook about 20 minutes until fork tender. Remove from heat, drain water, and let taters dry a bit in the hot pot they've cooked in. Time to give these babies some love. Add your butter and Half and Half to the potatoes and lovingly give them the mash of their lives. If I had a ricer, this would be when I would grab it- it's the perfect utensil for the creamiest mashed potatoes. But my old fashioned potato masher did almost as well.


That is one pot of creamy goodness. Take a taste, add a bit more salt and pepper if you think it needs the additional seasoning. I added a tad more salt. Pre heat your oven to 350 degrees and spritz your baking dish with a veggie oil spray. In medium sized mixing bowl combine the mashed potatoes with the dip. Take another taste. I think you should be very pleased. If you're feeling extra decadent, sprinkle a little more Parm on top of the casserole, you know I did.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes and serve.

If, and I stress if, you have any leftovers, you're going to want to try these tater pancakes inspired by Sarah Moulton, one of my favorite cooks ever. I only had enough left over to make 3 pancakes (well.... I did make them rather large and could have gotten maybe 5 or 6). I followed her recipe to the letter, and yes, you do have to cook them at least 15 minutes per side on medium low. Fabulous recipe, and a fulfilling experiment for me.

Happy Spring! And now that the weather is changing, let's bring on the salads, I'm ready!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Twice Baked and Loaded

I've been craving that ever-so-famous, ooey, gooey spinach artichoke dip lately and decided to combine it with some lovely looking Russet potatoes I have also been craving. This was an experiment because I wasn't sure the two would work well together, and (confession here) I've never made a twice baked potato. So join me while I take you on my Sunday afternoon cooking adventure.

Roasted Garlic, Spinach, and Artichoke Twice Baked Potatoes
serves 4 (1/2 stuffed potato per person)

2 medium to large Russet potatoes scrubbed
3 T butter
2-3 T half and half
pinch or two of kosher salt

Roasted Garlic
1 small head of garlic
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

The Dip
4 oz neufchatel cheese (lower fat cream cheese) softened to room temp
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup reduced fat shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup lite sour cream
1/4 cup lite mayonnaise
1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach thawed or defrosted in the microwave, then squeezed dry to remove any liquid
4 whole artichoke hearts (from a can), drained and chopped
1 head of roasted garlic
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp hot sauce

To roast the garlic: Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Place a baking sheet in the oven as it pre heats. Remove some of the outer layers of the garlic skin if they are plentiful. Cut the top off the head of the garlic and place on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Seal the foil and place on pre-heated baking sheet. Roast 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and squeeze the roasted pulp into your mixing bowl (discard the skin).

While garlic is cooling, bake your scrubbed potatoes in the already preheated 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Before baking, I poke my potatoes with a fork to allow steam to escape, although I'm not sure if that is necessary. While potatoes are cooking, make the dip, and that's a pretty simple task. Combine all ingredients with a flexible spatula, taste and see if you need more hot sauce. I stuck with the 1 teaspoon, but was debating whether or not I wanted to add some chopped water chestnuts to the mix for a nice crunch, but opted against that as well.

Remove potatoes from oven and when they are cool enough to handle, slice them in half and carefully hollow out the pulp and place in small mixing bowl. I wasn't as careful as I should have been and ripped one. Lesson here: Next time I will make at least one extra potato. Also, leave about 1/4 inch of potato clinging to the skin. It makes for a sturdier package. Oh, now is a good time to set your oven to 350 degrees, getting ready for the second bake.

In mixing bowl add 3 T softened butter and 2 or 3 T half and half to the potato pulp. I added a pinch of salt as well, just because potatoes love to be salted.

I tried to get my mixture as smooth and silky as possible. Now take your artichoke dip and add it to the luxurious potatoes.

Combine well and fill your potato canoes. Top with a little extra mozzarella cheese and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Don't you just want to dig into this little bit of decadence? I went right for the middle one with the slightly browned cheese on top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quick Asian Soup

The weather outside is frightful and nothing in the Boston area these days is delightful, especially schlepping a grocery cart across an icy parking lot. So I'm low on provisions again and soup seems to be my answer for avoiding the market. Here's a little gem, a variation of an Asian soup my friend Donna posted the other day on facebook. It's six ingredients, and ready in under 15 minutes. And it's delish!

Quick Pot Sticker Soup
Serves 4

4 cups chicken stock
4 scallions sliced 1/4 inch
1 T oyster sauce
2 T light soy sauce
12 frozen pot stickers
1/2 cup frozen corn

Heat chicken stock on stovetop in large pot. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce and scallions and bring to a low boil.

Add frozen pot stickers, cover, lower heat a bit and simmer 5 minutes. Add frozen corn and cook with lid on another 2 minutes. Soup's ready!

Wasn't that quick? I garnished with a teaspoon of Huy Fong's chili garlic sauce which gave it a bit of a bite. I would have added cilantro as well, but as you can imagine, I was without any fresh herbs. With or without cilantro, this is the perfect dish for the imperfect weather we've had in the northeast this winter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Make Yourself Comfortable

Craving comfort food? I sure am. This little gem managed to get me out of the bad mood I've been in due to the constant snow that has invaded New England for 2-1/2 weeks. Oh yes, 2 or 3 more days of shoveling, salting, are sanding are in the forecast, not to mention an additional 12 to 15 inches of the white stuff. When we have a snowy winter like this one, I always try to keep bread, eggs, cheese, cream and butter in the house.  One of the reasons is so that I have an excuse to comfort myself with this decadent strata. It's great right out of the oven, and almost as good at room temp. Here's the recipe.

Ham and Cheese Strata
Serves 9

Cooking spray
2 T unsalted butter
8 slices hearty white bread cubed 1" pieces
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz honey ham sliced 1" pieces
2 scallions chopped
5 large eggs
1-3/4 cups fat free half and half
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Ready to assemble this cheesy, buttery, savory concoction? I sure am.

Spray an 8" x 8" baking dish and set aside. On stovetop on low, melt butter in small saucepan and remove to cool. Place half the bread cubes on top of the sprayed baking dish.

Sprinkle with 1-1/2 cups of cheese. Top with all the ham and chopped scallions. Add the rest of the cubed bread and the remaining cheese.

Set the baking dish aside and make the custard: Whisk together eggs, half and half, melted butter, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Pour this liquid gold over your ham, cheese and bread mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours (or longer shouldn't hurt), letting the custard soak into all the elements of the dish. About an hour before you're ready to bake, remove dish from fridge and let come to room temperature.

Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake 50-60 minutes in middle rack on oven. All ovens are different, so start checking for brown-ness at about 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest about 10 minutes before serving. I slice into 9 squares. Doesn't that look comforting?

There are so many ways to re-mix this recipe...add some Dijon mustard to the custard. Place a layer of roasted red peppers or softened sun dried tomatoes on the ham and cheese. Of course some chopped, cooked bacon would be heavenly as well. One of my favorites is blue cheese and caramelized onions. You can even make this on a sweet note, with cottage cheese, raisins and cinnamon. There are so many ways to make yourself comfortable, I suggest you give a strata a try!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cream-Filled Oatmeal Walnut Raisin Cookies with a Twist

The twist. Ahh the twist is the addition of Maple Extract. I don't bake with it often enough, and it's the perfect addition to so many fall and winter dishes (both sweet and savory).

I know some people are not fond of maple anything, and then some go wild over maple everything. Both my parents were fanatics about maple walnut ice cream and maple walnut coffee cake. So that was my inspiration when I decided to put this experiment together last night. There are a few steps to making these little darlings, but the results are so worth it. And as usual, I've tried to cut some calories and sugar. There might be some future tweaking, but for now...this is a yummy cookie your maple lovers will adore.

Cream-Filled Oatmeal Walnut Raisin Cookies
makes approximately 20-22 sandwich cookies

8 oz Neufchatel cheese softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened (1 stick)
1/2-3/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or 2 T regular brown sugar)
1 tsp natural maple extract
1/3 cup finely chopped or ground walnuts

1 cup unsalted butter softened (2 sticks)
1 cup Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (same amount if you're using granulated sugar)
1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or 1 cup regular brown sugar)
2 large eggs at room temp
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp natural maple extract
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1cup rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped or ground walnuts

I like to make my filling first. In medium size bowl, combine your butter and Neufchatel. I use a hand mixer. Now add your sugars and maple extract.

And fold in your ground nuts.

Wrap filling in plastic wrap and set aside in your refrigerator to set up and let the flavors meld.

Let's make the cookies. Pre heat your oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment. In medium size bowl, combine salt, flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk with a fork or spoon to incorporate. No need for any sifting. Set aside.

On to the batter. Place butter and sugars in a large bowl. With hand mixer combine sugars and butter until smooth. Add eggs and both extracts and incorporate.

Now add the flour mixture in two batches to the wet ingredients and combine. And fold in the oats, raisins and chopped walnuts.

I usually just plop my oatmeal dough by teaspoonfuls onto the parchment paper, but since I was filling these little beauties, I decided to make them into 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch balls, so they would all be pretty uniform in size.

Bake each cookie sheet 9 minutes. Let cool on cooling rack and remove cookies to paper towels to finish setting up. And amazingly enough, the cookies are all pretty much the same size. I lucked out on that one.

While cookies are cooling, remove the filling from the fridge, let it come to almost room temp so filling the cookies will be a snap. Lovingly pile a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the maple infused filling on to the bottom (flat side) of one cookie and top with a second. Keep going, and be sure to sample at least one (or two). They really are yummy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Creamy, Cheesy Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup

This is a re-mix of Laura Lopez's award winning soup. If I had all the ingredients on hand, I would have made her soup exactly as I did last time. But cold weather and a bit of the lazy gene made me put my thinking cap on and I used what was available in my pantry and fridge.

Normally I have loads of cheese on hand. But tonight I only had a partially-made cheese ball (without the outer coating of nuts). Well the cheeses that make up this decadent little hors d'orvre are rich, meltable and easy to find in your market. Nuefchatel, Wispride Spreadable Sharp Cheddar and Crumbled Blue, perfect for this soup! Check out the recipe for the combo of cheeses from a very old blog post. Now let's get cooking. It's soup weather and this is a quick fix.

Creamy, Cheesy Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup
Serves 3 or 4

1 T canola oil
1 large carrot chopped
1 medium celery chopped
1/2 medium onion chopped
2 Fresno chilies chopped or you can leave them whole- I chopped one and kept one intact
4-5 tsp taco seasoning divided (I use the low sodium)
Pinch of kosher salt
1 can (10.5 oz) Cream of Chicken soup- lower sodium/98% fat free
3 canfulls (10.5 oz) Chicken Broth- low sodium/fat free
2 cups (or more) cooked chicken breasts shredded
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup of cheese ball mixture (you can add more- it's so delish)
2-3 oz fresh baby spinach chopped

In large soup pot add canola oil and heat on low. Add the carrots, celery, and onions. Sprinkle with 2 tsp taco seasoning and kosher salt. Now add 1 Fresno chili. Cover and sweat on low until veggies are soft.

Add the cream soup and the broth and stir to incorporate. Now add the remainder of the taco seasoning and the additional Fresno chili. Cover and cook on low for about 5-7 minutes. Now add the chicken, cheese and frozen corn. Stir to make sure the cheese melts and after a few minutes you can add the chopped baby spinach. Cook another minute or two and dinner is done. Serve piping hot.

I'd love this soup topped with a slice or two of Texas Toast. Or fried tortillas. And if I had a can of black beans, they would have made an appearance in the broth as well. What a versatile meal and a big thank you again to Laura, TV star and cook extraordinaire. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemon Explosion

I love when a new cookie idea works, and this one did...like a dream. I had a jar of lemon curd in my pantry and wasn't sure if I was going to use it in an experiment that involved French toast, something savory or maybe another version of my famous cream-filled cookies. Well you know me, I dove head first into the cookie project. Let's make some creamy, dreamy, lemony cookies.

Lemon Cream Filled Lemon Cookies
Makes 16 2 inch sandwich cookies
8 oz Neufchatel cheese softened to room temp
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup prepared lemon curd

3/4 cup unsalted butter softened to room temp
3/4 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
2 large eggs room temp
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Confectioner's sugar for dusting

To make the filling: In medium size bowl combine all ingredients. I mix the cream cheese and butter first (mix about 2 or 3 minutes to get some air in the mixture). Then add the lemon curd and sugar. I use a hand mixer. Very important step here- wash your hands and dry them well. Now with your impeccably clean pointer finger, scoop as much of this creamy confection onto it and take a taste. Yummy, right?


Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge while you wash your hands again and make the cookies. By the way, you could also make the filling a day ahead, which due to time juggling, is what I did.

To make the cookies: Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In medium size bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt (I use a whisk). Set aside.

In large bowl, with hand mixer, combine butter and sugar and mix until smooth and airy (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, both extracts and lemon zest. When mixture is smooth, add half the dry ingredients into the wet and mix on low. Add the rest of the dry ingredients until incorporated. This is a sticky dough, so you'll want to cover it or wrap it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Using a teaspoon or small cookie scoop, form dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on baking sheets.

Looks like a matzo ball, right? Leave enough room between cookies, as these babies spread. Bake in your pre-heated oven for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly on cooling  rack, then remove to paper or kitchen towels to cool completely. Don't these look light and tasty?

And ready to be filled? You bet! Remove filling from the fridge. Take a hefty teaspoon of the creamy filling and place it on the underside/flat side of a cookie. Take a second cookie and cover the filling to make a sandwich. Keep going until all cookies have found their match. Don't use all the cream, as you'll want a few tablespoons to garnish the tops of the cookies.

Dust with confectioner's sugar. I like to dust through a sieve to make the sugar even finer.

And for a final presentation, add a dollop of remaining lemon cream to the top, then add a sprinkling of lemon zest to the dollop and serve in cupcake wrappers.
If fresh herbs looked good in my market, a pretty leaf of mint or thyme would have been the perfect garnish- right on top or next to my creamy dollop. With or without the herbs, this cookie is sure to please all the lemon lovers in your life.