Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Feast for 10: Twice Baked Potatos

For as log as I can remember, we have had twice baked potatoes with every holiday dinner. I was trying to describe the glory of the twice baked potato to my friend Paul, and he summarized my wordy illustration quite nicely:

So you mean, it's like a potato skin with more stuff in it?


This recipe is great for many reasons, one of which is that this is another one of those foods that you can prepare in advance and keep in the fridge or freezer. They're very filling and taste great. They take a little work to make, which is why it's good to make them a few days in advance. No matter what, they always manage to impress. They especially come in handy when feeding large amounts of men.

The recipe does come with a disclaimer:

CAUTION: THIS IS NOT A HEALTH FOOD. Do not be deceived by this recipe's "vegetable" status. This is not your grandma's baked potato. This potato will hit you harder than the turkey, so be prepared for the Foma (Food Coma).

All American Twice Baked Potato
6 Baking Potatos
4 tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 cup + 2 tblsp Butter
1 1/2 cups Milk
10 strips Bacon, cooked and chopped
1 Leek, finely chopped
1 cup + 1/2 cup grated Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 350*f
1. In a small bowl, mix olive oil and salt.
2. With a pastry brush, coat all of the potatoes evenly in the prepared oil.
3. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and cook in the oven until soft, about an hour.
4. When potatoes are soft, remove from oven and let them sit until they are cool enough to handle.

5. Cut the potatoes in half, length-wise (the hot dog way).
6. Scoop out the potato into a large pot over low heat. Make sure you leave the skins in tact because you're going to fill them at the end!
7. After all of the potatoes have been scooped into the pot, add 1/2 cup butter and the milk.
8. Mix with egg beaters.

- You are essentially making mashed potatoes here. You want them to be smooth and creamy. It might take some playing around to get the right consistency, so keep this in mind: Butter makes them creamy, milk makes them fluffy. You want to make them creamy, but too much butter will make them dense. So after you add your butter, add milk to make them as fluffy as you want them!

9. In a small pan, melt the remaining 2 tblsp. of butter over medium-low heat.
10. Add leeks and saute until they become soft and loose their sharpness.

11. Add bacon and leeks to the potatoes. Mix with beaters on low.
12. Add 1 cup cheddar cheese and mix again.

13. Fill the potato skins that you've set aside with the mashed potato mixture and set on a baking sheet.
14. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.

*At this point you can refrigerate or freeze the potatoes until you're ready to cook them.

15. Bake at 350*f until the cheese on top melts and begins to brown, about 20 minutes.
16. FOMA!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Festive Feast for 10: Portobello Mushroom Cups

I think it's an intrinsic quality of any foodie to love to entertain guests. Finally settled in my own place again, I've invited Jim's brothers and my siblings up for a Festive Gathering. While Jim cleans the apartment, I've been preparing the menu, cooking, and decorating. Many of the recipes I use are great year 'round, so I'd love to share a few of my favorites with you.

Events like this are like projects, and it takes a good amount of careful time management. Having some foods that you can prepare ahead of time is crucial. This recipe for Portabello Mushroom Stuffed Phyllo Cups is a go-to recipe for me. It's comes from my mom and has been a fail-safe for every big dinner I've prepared. They look nice, they make a great appetizer, and you can prep them as far in advance as you want, because you can freeze before baking. Oh, they taste awesome, too!

Portobello Mushroom Stuffed Phyllo Cups
2 10 oz. containers Baby Bella Mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 cup Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
2 boxes "Athens Mini Fillo Shells" (found in the frozen food section, near pie crusts)

1) In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute the garlic in oil until it begins to soften.

2) Add the mushrooms to the skillet. Saute them, stirring constantly. They should reduce by half, becoming very soft. This takes about 10 minutes.

3) Once mushrooms become soft, mix in the parsley and saute for another minute.

4) In a medium sized bowl, combine the mushrooms, ricotta cheese and grated Parmesan. Stir together until the mixture appears to be thoroughly combined.

5) Fill the Fillo Cups (each one can hold about a teaspoon of mushrooms).

(At this point, after filling the cups, you can place them back in the box and freeze them until you want to use them.)

6. Place the cups on a baking sheet, bake at 350*f until the filled cup begins to brown and sizzle (about 20 minutes).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside! Better get Chili!

It's December 12th! With Christmas less than two weeks away, and my holiday feast less than one week away, I've been cranking in the kitchen! The foods that I traditionally make in the winter are some of my favorite kitchen concoctions. For me, the best winter-time comfort food is Chili.

Today Jim, our friend Paul, and I are going to go chop down our Christmas tree. More specifically, I am going to pick out a tree, and Jim and Paul are going to chop it down while I take pictures. To thank them for their efforts, I'm making a big pot of chili to warm us up when we get home.

Like most of my recipes, this one started with my mom. Some of my fondest memories involve snow days, hot cocoa, and a bowl of chili covered in red onions and cheddar cheese. I've always been a fan of my mom's chili, but I'm also a fan of spicier fare. I gave this chili my own twist to make it hot, hot, hot!


Red Hot Chili...uh, Chili!
1 1/2 lbs. Ground Beef
1 15 oz. can Kidney Beans
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 Red Onion, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 can Crushed Tomatoes
2 Jalapeno Peppers, chopped
1 Chili Pepper, chopped
1 tblsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tblsp Red Cayenne Pepper
2 tblsp Chili Powder
1 tblsp Red Curry Powder
1 tblsp unsweetened cocoa powder
salt and pepper

Note: When I buy ground beef, I like to get it from the butcher. Ground beef can be sketchy if you don't know where it comes from. If you go to the butcher, you are more likely to get a higher quality, and fresher selection. You won't pay much more than you would buying it from the refrigerator section.

Now, this recipe moves pretty quickly, so it's best to cut your veggies first. There isn't a lot of down time.

1) In a large, heavy pot (I use a dutch-oven), over medium heat, drizzle olive oil. Add minced garlic, and saute until golden brown.

2) Next, add the chopped bell pepper, jalapeno peppers, chili pepper, and onion. Saute all of the veggies with the garlic until the peppers are soft and the onion begins to become translucent. Make sure you're constantly stirring the vegetables, if they just sit in the pot, they'll steam.

3) Remove the veggies from the pot, and set aside for the time being. Add the ground beef to the pot and brown it thoroughly. Stir it consistently to make sure it gets broken up, this will ensure that you don't get ginormous meat chunks in your chili (unless you're in to that sort of thing).

4) After the beef is brown, sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Add the veggies back in to the dish, add the Kidney Beans and mix together.

5) Next add your spices: Cayanne Pepper, Chili Powder, Red Curry Powder, and Cocoa Powder. Mix in to beef and veggie mix.

Believe it or not, the Cocoa powder compliments the chili powder perfectly, and gives the chili a rich color and flavor. Don't leave home without it!

6) Finally, add the crushed tomatoes and stir it up. Reduce the heat to low/simmer and let the chili simmer with the top off for 30 minutes. Put a lid on it and let it cook together for another hour. The good part is, you can't over cook it. You can keep it on low heat until it's ready to eat!

Serving Suggestion: A TON of grated extra sharp cheddar, chopped red onion, and a dollop of sour cream!

Stay warm and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's the Great Pumpkin Bread, Charlie Brown!

We all know that the holidays carry with them one constant: Food! More specifically, desserts.

This entry is a good way to ease in to the holidays, and it addresses an unrelenting cultural phenomenon: the sudden and intense worship of the pumpkin. In October we carve them up, and for the rest of the holiday season we're downing slice after slice of pumpkin pie.

For something a little different, I make pumpkin bread. The reason behind this is twofold:

1) A girl can only eat so much pumpkin pie before it starts to loose it's novelty.
2) My mom raised me so well that I could never eat a slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast without feeling ridiculously guilty (blueberry pie is a whole different ballgame).

With those two things in mind I created this pumpkin bread recipe. It's sweet, moist, has a little spice to it, and goes great with a cup of coffee in the morning -- or after dinner! The cream cheese glaze makes the cake, I mean, bread!

Preheat your oven to 350*f, and we'll get started.

The Great Pumpkin (Bread)
1 1/2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground Clove
1/2 tsp. ground Nutmeg
1 tsp. Salt
2 Eggs, whisked lightly
1/4 cup Butter, melted
1 (16 oz.) can Pureed Pumpkin

1) Grease a loaf pan with butter. You can use a baking spray, but I am like a petite, northern, Paula Dean. I like my butter.

2) In a medium bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt.

3) Next, add the eggs and butter. Incorporate them in to the flour mixture.

4) Mix in the pumpkin until the batter is smooth.

5) Pour the batter in to the greased loaf pan, and bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted comes out clean (about 35 minutes).

After the loaf comes out, let it cool. Once you can handle it, take it out of the pan and place it on a rack. After it cools, top it with the cream cheese glaze.

Frosting, SOMETIMES, is a little excessive. This is already a sweet bread, but it's so nice to have the warm spice of the bread with the coolness of cream cheese. Using a thick glaze instead of a full on frosting works this magic without overwhelming the main event.

Cream Cheese Glaze
1 (8 oz.) package Cream Cheese
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Confectioners Sugar
1/4 cup Butter, softened
1 tblsp. Vanilla Extract

In a bowl, combine all of the above ingredients. Beat on HIGH until the mixture is smooth, for about a minute. The glaze should fluff up a bit. It should look and taste like cheese cake batter, but it will be a little thicker. Keep it in the fridge until you're ready to glaze your bread.

This bread is so delicious, I actually like it better than pumpkin pie! It strikes a great balance between spicy and sweet, breakfast and dessert... It's the Great Pumpkin Bread, Charlie Brown!