Friday, April 24, 2009

Smashed Potatoes

We always have red potatoes on hand to make our favorite potato recipe, Crash Hot Potatoes. Last night I made a very retro meal (beef tips in gravy, peas and carrots, and fruit salad), and I wanted something like mashed potatoes to go with the beef. However, on weeknights I'm more likely to make smashed potatoes because they take a lot less time. There's nothing mystifying about this recipe - it's fast and really, really yummy.

Smashed Potatoes
1 lb. red potatoes (about 8 large ones)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk, half and half, or cream*
3 T. butter
1/2 cup sour cream

Wash potatoes (don't peel) and slice into 2-inch chunks. Put in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and salt water generously (potatoes need salt!). Boil for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Drain and place in bowl. "Smash" potatoes, skins and all with a potato masher or large fork. It's okay if there are a few chunks.

Heat milk for 60 seconds in the microwave or until warm; stir into potatoes. Stir in butter until melted. Right before serving, stir in sour cream, salt, pepper. You can add green onions and/or cheese if you like.

*Note: I usually have skim milk and cream on hand. That way I'm prepared for any kind of dairy called for in a recipe because I can mix them together. Also, high-fat dairy stays good longer than low-fat, so I can buy a cheap quart of cream at Costco and it can last for two months. You can also freeze cream.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese

Do I need to tell you how good this is? Really? Should I wax rhapsodic about the creaminess, the cheesiness, the perfectly al dente macaroni bathed in generous amounts of fresh cheddar and Romano? Must I mention that around the internet, this recipe is known as "crack and cheese*"? Or will you just take my word for it: the next time you need soul-comfort after a long day at work or with the kids, this is what your heart desires.

*Unfairly, it's also known as $30-mac-and cheese. Sure, if you use artisan cheddar and 8 oz. of Gruyere, it's a lot more than the blue box. But I used the on-sale cheddar and subbed the Romano, and it was very reasonable. It makes a ton, too, and reheats wonderfully.

Both boys love Kraft macaroni and cheese, because they are normal children. However, Jack really liked this recipe. Ben, on the other hand, asked if he could have just salad for dinner.

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or 9x13 pan; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Free Coffee for My NH/MA Readers!

On Monday, Cold Stone Creamery stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts will offer free iced lattes! Why only in New England, I wonder? Is it even warm enough there to drink iced coffee yet?

Let me know if you get one! I'm sure my sister will be first in line. ;-)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pasta with Meatballs

Usually when I make meatballs I make a lot so I can freeze them raw. You can add them to sauce, pan-fry them, or bake them when they are frozen. They can top pizza, fill a sandwich, or make a great pasta sauce. They're so versatile! I don't have the perfect recipe yet: I've made Mark Bittman's and Kittencal's on Recipezaar and both are good. Once I find my ideal, I'll post it.

Anyway, we were in the mood for pasta last night, and I had frozen meatballs in the freezer. We were out of parmesan (!), so I added some mozzarella cheese to the sauce. We were also low on spaghetti, so I used Barilla Plus penne. The end result was thick, not very saucy - almost like baked pasta from a skillet. It was delicious!
Pasta with Meatballs
1 lb. meatballs (homemade or store-bought)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T. red wine vinegar or 1/4 cup red wine
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup basil or parsley, chopped
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
12 oz. pasta - penne, spaghetti, etc.
Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain.
Brown meatballs in olive oil in a large skillet. Once browned on each side, remove meatballs to a dish - they don't need to be cooked through. Saute the onion in the remaining oil for 8-10 minutes, until golden. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add vinegar to pan and stir until it evaporates (if you like a sweeter sauce, add 1 t. sugar as well).
Pour in crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, and return meatballs to pan. Simmer, covered, until meatballs are cooked through - probably 20-30 minutes. Before serving, stir in salt, pepper, basil, and mozzarella cheese.
Stir pasta into sauce, and serve with parmesan cheese - if you have any!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Dip

I made this dip to take into Ben's school for their teachers' meeting. It's not typical "ladies' fare," but men and women both seem to love it! It's great for football season or anytime you want a very heavy appetizer. My sister-in-law is famous for it! She and my brother-in-law did the low carb thing a few years back, and this was perfect - they ate it with low-carb tortilla chips and celery sticks.

To be honest, I must say it is one of the most unhealthy things I make. At times I  have used all low-fat dairy products, including Trader Joe's parmesan ranch, which tastes good but is very thin. The dip is not as creamy as normal, but it also doesn't make me feel quite as guilty eating it for supper! For social occasions, I don't skimp as much, though low fat cream cheese or low fat Hidden Valley Ranch taste fine.

You can add blue cheese crumbles or use 1/2 blue cheese dressing if you like. You can also use a white cheddar instead of the Monterey Jack. I prefer Monterey Jack because it is so mild and doesn't take away from the buffalo wing flavor.

My sister-in-law uses canned chicken, which works great because you need shredded chicken for this recipe. When I need shredded chicken, I put boneless skinless chicken breasts in the crockpot with a little salt - no liquid. Frozen or not, low or high heat, they turn out perfectly. They take about 2 hours on high if thawed.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

4 boneless chicken breasts, boiled, drained & shredded with two forks
1 (12 ounce) bottle of original Frank's red hot sauce (do not use Tabasco or buffalo wing sauce)
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 (16 ounce) bottle ranch dressing
1/2 cup chopped celery
8 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine shredded chicken and Frank's Hot Sauce and spread in the bottom of a 13" x 9" pan. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream cheese and ranch dressing, stirring until smooth and hot. Pour this mixture over chicken forming a second layer. Sprinkle celery on top and top with shredded cheese. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until hot & bubbly (do not let it get browned or it will be hard). Let stand 10 minutes. Serve with celery sticks and tortilla chips.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hoppy Easter!

I made these cupcakes for Jack's school Easter party. They are supposed to be bunnies disappearing into their garden rabbit holes. The only thing that took a lot of time was covering the circus peanut feet with marshmallow, because I couldn't find white circus peanuts.

Easter is one of those holidays that I try not to go overboard with my cooking plans. We are always at church in the morning, and everyone comes home famished! My parents came over for dinner, and they put the ham in the oven for me. They also brought a salad and dessert. We had a great time with our springtime menu!

Easter 2009 Menu
Ham with Blackberry Mustard Glaze (recipe here) I subbed a spiral sliced ham twice the size called for in the recipe, and I used pineapple juice instead of apple juice. If you use a five-pound ham as the recipe calls for, you can make 1/2 the glaze.
Crash Hot Potatoes
Broccoli Salad (made by parents)
Multigrain and Sourdough Bread with Butter (store-bought! the shame!)
Fruit Salad (kid-friendly banana, pineapple, apple, and grapes)
Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Vegetable Orzo Salad
Carrot Cake (made by parents)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Homemade Tortillas

Instead of the insipid gummy blandness of store-bought tortillas, these were substantial and flavorful. The slightly blackened spots added an almost smoky taste. These were more than just a vehicle for getting meat, cheese, and vegetables to your mouth! Crisp and slightly chewy at the same time - delicious.

Were they easy? Well, they take a bit of planning. They could certainly be made ahead of time and rewarmed in a dry skillet. There is no yeast involved, so there is no rising time, but the dough does need to rest.
I found the recipe on a blog called the Homesick Texan ( which is a great find as well! I'll be visiting often to try her recipes.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Two cups all-purpose flour (can make them whole wheat by substituting one cup of whole-
wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cups warm milk

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oil. Slowly add the warm milk. Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed.Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.

Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

After dough has rested, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s very thin and about eight inches in diameter. Don’t overwork the dough, or it’ll be stiff.

Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook. Gently shake off excess flour. In a dry skillet heated on high, cook the tortilla about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done.Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat. Can be reheated in a dry iron skillet, over your gas-burner flame or in the oven wrapped in foil. While you probably won’t have any leftovers, you can store in the fridge tightly wrapped in foil or plastic for a day or so. Makes eight tortillas.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gratineed Gnocchi with Spinach and Ricotta

Nice picture, huh? Well, everyone including Martha Stewart shows the dirty pans in their food photography now, so I guess it's okay!
Unsurprisingly, I love this recipe. It follows my formula and is pure comfort food: creamy, cheesy, starchy. The spinach is delicous; remember that a little bit of nutmeg always makes spinach shine. It's amazing how this huge amount of spinach wilts down in the hot cream. This dish reheats well, too: the leftovers were great for lunch.
Gnocchi with Spinach and Ricotta
1 (1-lb) package potato gnocchi
2/3 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)
1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 (5-oz) packages baby spinach
1/2 cup whole-milk or part-skim ricotta (I used part-skim)
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat broiler.

Cook gnocchi in a 5-quart pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions (gnocchi will float to surface when done). Drain in a colander.

Whisk together cream, flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, then bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Continue to boil, whisking frequently, until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add spinach in handfuls, tossing with tongs, and cook until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in gnocchi. Spoon ricotta over gnocchi in 5 large dollops and sprinkle with mozzarella. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until cheese is browned and bubbling in spots, about 2 minutes. Season with pepper.

What's your formula?

While I like a wide variety of food, the meals I love the most seem to follow a formula: carbs + strongly flavored cheese + vegetables. That's why I said that the Greek dip I posted recently was my type of food. The Roasted Vegetable and Orzo salad I make also follows the formula, as does pasta with marinara and Parmesan. I have a risotto recipe with wilted greens, Gorgonzola, and walnuts that I make.

So, what do you think? Do you have a formula for your favorite combinations of food?