BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES: Jazzing Up A Standard Recipe!

bleu cheese mashed potatoes textGood old mashed potatoes. Straight forward. Easy to prepare. And, most of all, filling. This last one is important if you have picky eater children (I speak from experience).

But, how about if we fancied-up those potatoes to make them company worthy? What would happen if we added bleu cheese, a little thyme, and topped with port infused sautéed onions? A brilliant side dish, that’s what!

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ lbs russet potatoes
  • 3/4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp brown sugar, packed (it’s not much, but aids caramelization)
  • 1/2 lb yellow onions
  • 2½ T ruby port (or any sweet red wine such as Masala)
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 6 T half & half
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/3 tsp dried)
  • 2 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Place whole potatoes (with skin intact) in a saucepan and cover with 1″ water. mashed pot1Bring to simmer and cook until easily pierced with fork – about 35 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the onions. Cut onions into 1/4″ slices. In a nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over high heat. Add in 1/8 tsp salt, brown sugar, and onions.onions saute1 Sauté 5 minutes – until they start to lose volume and become a little browned. Decrease heat to medium and continue cooking until well browned (about 20 minutes or so).onion saute2 Add in the port and letter simmer for 5 minutes to evaporate the liquid. mashed pot2Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm half & half and thyme just to the simmer point. Cover and set aside.

When potatoes are cooked, remove from water and peel. (They’re very hot so you might want to use a fork to hold them in place, while peeling with a knife.) For best mashing results, use a ricer or food mill.mashed pot3 Gently fold in melted butter. Add in half & half, bleu cheese, remaining salt, and pepper. Very gently blend together. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

To serve, top with onions.

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SPICY CORN FRITTERS – Crispy Pancakes With A Sweet & Sour Kick!

corn fritter textCorn on the cob is great, but sometimes one wants to enjoy fresh corn without having to floss our teeth before smiling afterwards.

SPICY CORN FRITTERS to the rescue! Yes, they’re a little more work than dropping an ear of corn in boiling water, but once you try one…or more of these crispy pancakes, you’ll agree that they’re worth the effort.

SPICY CORN FRITTERS – makes about 11, depending on how big you make them

  • 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup + 1½ tsp sugar, divided
  • 1 red jalapeño chili, minced (or serrano, if you like to kick it up a notch)
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 8 oz (2 ears, about 1½ cups) – fresh, frozen, or canned
  • vegetable oil for frying

Make the sweet & sour sauce by combining vinegar, 3/4 cup sugar, chili, and 1/2 tsp salt in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Continue at a hard boil until sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup total. You don’t have to stir, but keep an eye on it so you don’t reduce it too much. This takes about 5 minutes, depending on how high your burner is. Cover and set aside until ready for use.

If you’re using fresh corn, like I do in the summer, remove raw kernels. This is quite easy – rest one point of the shucked ear at a diagonal, holding it away from you, and run a sharp knife from midway downwards. corn de-kernalFlip the cob and repeat. Boil kernels in a little unsalted water for about 2 minutes, until done (adding salt at the beginning of cooking can lead to tough corn). Drain.

If you’re using frozen corn, thaw.

If you’re using canned corn, drain.

Into a blender (preferably the small pitcher that comes with some blenders), place the cilantro, garlic, black pepper, and water. Blend until pureed.

In a medium bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rice flour, 1½ tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and baking powder. Stir corn and cilantro mixture into flour.

Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet (yes, you have to oil nonstick pans) over medium/high heat. When hot, pour in 1/3 cup amounts, spreading out batter to about 4″. Cook until well browned on bottom. Flip and cook other side.

Serve immediately, spooning on Sweet & Sour Sauce.

 

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD – A Lovely Summer Salad!

1/2farro asparagus salad textApparently, there’s yet another new-to-me ancient wheat grain called farro. It’s kind of similar to brown rice, but heartier with a nutty taste. As a gal who gets around (well, at least, is nearby) I figured I’d give it a try. After all, I’ve jumped on board the couscous, quinoa, barley, sorghum, and Israeli couscous bandwagons. May as well sample this.

Thank goodness for my adventurous spirit. Farro is FABULOUS! I randomly picked a brand of organic farro which, fortunately, was the right kind: Italian pearled farro. Other kinds need to be soaked overnight. Also, make sure the farro you purchase in NOT instant. Look at the ingredients – it should only contain farro. (organic or not – it’s up to you)farro salad 5Don’t follow the package directions for cooking. A better way is to cook it in a large pot of water, then drain it (like pasta). This alleviates the possibility (and, for me, the almost certainty) of burning when the water runs out.

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD – makes 7 cups

  • 1½ T salt, divided
  • 1½ cups Italian pearled farro, raw
  • 6 oz asparagus (about 8 stalks), cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 6 oz sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 2 T shallots, minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried dill, (or 3 T fresh)
  • 3 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 oz grape tomatoes, cut in half

Rinse farro. Boil 2 quarts of water. (It doesn’t have to be precise, but should be close due to the salt – if you have too little water, the farro will be too salty.) Add in 1 T of the salt and the farro. Uncovered, bring to back to a boil, then reduce flame to keep a low boil for 15-20 minutes (17 minutes works for me) – until the farro is cooked, but still has a bit of chew. Stir now and then – especially at the beginning.orange rice salad prep2While the farro is cooking, in another pot, bring 2 cups of water to boil. Add in 1 tsp of the salt, the snap peas, and the asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes. Tip:  SET TIMER SO YOU DON’T OVERCOOK!!! – You want the veggies to have a crunch. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.

Note: If you don’t want to dirty the second pot, wait until the farro is done, and cook the asparagus and snap peas in that pot.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, Dijon, 1/2 tsp salt, black pepper, and dill. Set aside.farro salad2Once the farro is done, drain in a sieve and then pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Spread out evenly in order to cool and dry the farro. This should take 15-20 minutes.farro salad1To assemble the salad, place the tomatoes, asparagus, snap peas, and Feta in a large bowl. Add the farro on top (this way the dressing will be absorbed into the farro). Whisk the vinaigrette briefly and drizzle on. Stir the ingredients to blend.  Let set about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to mix.

FARRO-ASPARAGUS SALAD is best served the first day. It’s still tasty after that, but a bit drier since the dressing has been absorbed.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES: They’re Delicious All Day Long!

cheesy brunch potatoes textI’m a fan of potatoes – dressed up or dressed down, they’re pretty much always good. I’m, also, a fan of brunch….only for dinner. So CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES is an Antonini family favorite evening meal.

Served with a vegetable, salad, and a yogurt shake, you’ve got yourself a fast, filling, and kid-friendly meal.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES – serves about 6 (unless you have teenagers – then it’s 2)

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes are fine, too – just not russet)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1¼ cup jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup avocado, cubed

Get a pot of salted water boiling. Cut unpeeled potatoes into 3/4″ cubes. potatoes choppedWhen water reaches boil, drop in potatoes and cook about 5 minutes – just to par-cook them. potatoes boiled(You don’t want them completely cooked or they’ll start to mash when fried.) Pour into sieve to drain.

In a large nonstick skillet (at least 12″), melt butter over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, flipping them with non-metal spatula every few minutes. After about 5 minutes add in the onions (they cook faster than the potatoes – you don’t want to burn them). potatoes onions friedContinue flipping until the potatoes are browned. potatoes onions fried2Turn off flame.

Stir in salt and cheeses to blend. Gently fold in tomatoes and avocado. Add salt and pepper, if desired.brunch potatoes beauty

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD: A Winter Fruit Salad!

jicama-salad-textOne generally associates fruit salads with summer. But sometimes a heavy winter meal needs the fresh sweetness that fruit provides.

What to do? JICAMA-MANGO SALAD, that’s what. Not only is it simple to make, but it’s brightly colored with a bit of a kick to it (thanks to red pepper flakes).

JICAMA-MANGO SALAD – makes 4 cups

  • 3 T lime juice
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 jicama, peeled
  • 2 mangoes, peeled
  • 1 orange, peeled

NOTE: Cube the jicama one layer at a time. Slicing through a stack can cause the top layer to slip, possibly yielding a nasty cut.

Cut jicama into 1/4″ pieces. Cut mangoes and orange into 1/2″ pieces.

Into a saucepan combine lime juice, sugar, lime zest, pepper flakes, and salt. Over medium flame, bring to simmer, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add in the jicama. Cover (off heat) and set aside for 20 minutes to soften a little.

After 20 minutes, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate, at least, half an hour.

TOMATO-SPINACH TIMBALES: A Festive Side Dish!

tomato-spinach-timbale-textDuring the holiday season it’s always fun to make festive foods. I created TOMATO-SPINACH TIMBALE with a little trepidation since December is NOT tomato season. While supermarket tomatoes generally lack flavor, even during peak times, my worry was for nothing, since the cooking process plus the flavors of the other ingredients brought out the best in these red beauties.

TOMATO-SPINACH TIMBALE – makes 4

  • 2 round tomato,  at least 2″ in diameter
  • 6 oz fresh spinach
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind)
  • 6 T seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried minced onion
  • 2 egg
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Peel tomatoes by submerging them in boiling water for about 1 minute – until skin starts to split. Remove from water and let cool until the skin can be peeled off without scalding your fingers. Discard peel. Slice tomatoes in half along the equator.

Steam spinach for about 5 minutes, until wilted. Wrap spinach in a paper towel and squeeze out excess water. (I wrap a terry cloth towel around the paper towel – the terry towel maximizes absorption, and the paper towel protects the spinach from lint.)

In a medium sized bowl, beat eggs.eggs-beatenAdd butter, milk, bread crumbs, salt, and dried minced onion.timbales-mixing1Remove spinach from paper towel and chop.spinach-choppingStir into egg mixture.timbales-mixing2Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Butter 4 custard cups or small ramekins.custard-cup-butteredPlace a tomato half, cut side up, in each. Using your fingers, spread open the tomato so it touches the cup sides.tomato-in-custard-cupSprinkle on feta cheese.timbales-fetaTop with spinach mixture to the brim, patting down to get rid of air pockets.timbales-spinachPlace cups in a baking dish and fill halfway with boiling water.timbales-bakingBake at 350º F for 25-30 minutes, until spinach layer starts to brown. Remove from oven. Take cups out of the water bath and place on a rack to set for 15 minutes. To remove the TOMATO-SPINACH TIMBALES, run a rounded knife around edges, then invert, removing cup.

 

What’s Up Doc? CARROT FETA SALAD!!!

carrot-feta-salad-textIn our house we have broccoli nearly every night. It’s fast, it’s tasty, and it’s healthy. But sometimes one has to shake things up a bit.

So I came up with CARROT FETA SALAD to expand our horizons. No cooking is involved and can be made ahead of time. BTW, this recipe is a success at potlucks.

NOTE: Shred the carrots yourself rather than buying pre-shredded. If you have a food processor, it can be done in seconds. If you don’t have a food processor, the holidays are coming up so put it on your list. I use mine nearly everyday!

CARROT FETA SALAD – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ cups carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup canned mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 T honey
  • 1/2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 T lemon juice
  • pinch salt

Put carrots, feta, oranges, and cranberries in a bowl.

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. I use a mini-whisk for this – a spoon just won’t blend the dressing as well. Pour dressing over carrots and mix.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.