STUFFED POTATOES – Hot Stuff!

twice baked pot1I can’t deny it – I’m a huge potato lover. Mashed, French fried, hash browned, scalloped, and baked: I love them all! (It must be a trait inherited from my Irish mother.)

But, as a product of the microwave generation, preparing the perfect baked potato has always eluded me. Although many have claimed excellent results from the zapper, mine seem to continuously sport an underdone center (yuk!), with a flabby skin.

The answer seems to be in returning to my roots and, like my mama before me, bake these beauties in the oven. To ensure a tender center, I skewered the potatoes with a metal rod to promote even baking. Yes, they take an hour to cook, but it’s worth it.

As a fan of make-ahead recipes, I love STUFFED POTATOES because these can be prepared earlier in the day and then broiled during the last 10 minutes of meal-prep. Also, pototes retain their heat for quite some time afterward. Thus, a perfect side dish for company when the goal is to have all dishes on the table at their peak of flavor at the same time. (In my family, there’s the added challenge of getting everyone seated at that moment.)

NOTE: Unless I have buttermilk on hand (almost never), I always make my own, especially for the small amount called for in this recipe. Just combine milk and apple cider vinegar (see amounts below).

STUFFED POTATOES – serves 4

  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 1T butter, preferably room temperature
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (OR, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup milk or cream)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced – both green & white parts

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

Wash potato, then poke a metal skewer through the center, lengthwise. This adds heat to the middle of the potato so it cooks from the inside, too. (If you don’t have a metal skewer, don’t worry – they’ll still cook through without it.) Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until easily pierced with a fork all the way to the center (center should be 106º Fahrenheit). twice baked pot2Remove skewer and slice in half, lengthwise, along narrow side of potato so they lay flat.twice baked pot4Carefully, scrap out insides, leaving 1/8″ border to support the skin. (If you scrap a bit too much in a section, just take some of the potato and smash it down to form a patch.) Place potato pulp in a bowl.twice baked pot5With a fork, mash the potato, breaking down lumps – you don’t need to make it as creamy as you would with mashed potatoes…unless, you want. twice baked pot6Add in the butter and stir until melted. Then add the buttermilk, sour cream, salt, pepper, cheese, and scallions. Mix gently, but thoroughly. twice baked pot3Divide equally and fill potato skins. At this point, you can cover them and complete preparation later.twiced baked pot8Just before serving time, broil potatoes about 4″ from heating element 10-15 minutes, until spotty brown on top. Serve hot.twice baked pot9

 

 

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CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES – A Tasty Development!

caramel filled cupcakes text2Every now and then I get an idea for a recipe that I think will be a piece of cake (pun intended!) to develop. It never is.

The saga of my CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES began with an inspiration from Hostess Cupcakes and Cadbury Caramel Eggs. I envisioned biting into a firm cupcake filled with, not white fluff, but with creamy caramel. The recipes I found called for baking a chocolate cupcake, digging out divots from the tops, and filling with caramel sauce.

First of all, cutting out the divots seemed like a lot of messy work. Second of all, what to do with all the divots? (I hate waste!) So, I figured I’d just pour batter into the tins and drop in homemade caramel. FAIL! All that happened was the caramel blended with the batter during baking. Tasty, but not what I wanted.

I tried freezing the caramel into balls and adding it to the batter. Same result as before since it turns out caramel doesn’t freeze. (Who knew?) I tried dropping in the caramel at different times during baking. Same. Finally, I decided I needed to encase the caramel – like the Cadbury Eggs. It couldn’t actually be Cadbury Eggs, though, since not only are they seasonal, but they’re huge.

After scouring the candy departments of various stores (what I won’t do for my blog!), I had a eureka moment when I found Lindt’s chocolate covered caramels. They were just the right size and shape! Getting closer. I dropped them into the batter. They sank to the bottom, leaking caramel. I wanted the caramel in the middle – like Hostess Cupcakes’ fluff. How could I keep the balls suspended?

It finally hit me to bake a wee bit of batter in order to form a solid base for the balls, then add the balls, surrounding them with batter, and complete the bake. Yes!!! The last tweak was freezing the balls first so they remained intact.

NOTE: Just so you know, the many cupcakes that bombed were still eaten. I HATE WASTE!

CARAMEL FILLED CUPCAKES – makes 18 cupcakes

  • 18 caramel filled chocolate 1″ balls (I use Lindt), frozencaramel filled cupcakes 15
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 60% bar – not chips)
  • 1/3 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee
  • 3/4 cup (4-1/8 oz) bread flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 6 T vegetable oil
  • 1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% chips)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt

The first thing to do is freeze the chocolate-caramel balls. (I store them in the freezer immediately when I buy them.) They need to be solid to prevent melting during baking.

Break up the bittersweet chocolate bar into small pieces (so they melt quicker) and put into a bowl (or better yet, a 6 cup or more spouted measuring cup – the spout makes pouring the batter into the cupcake tin much easier). Sift the cocoa powder (cocoa powder tends to get lumpy in storage) into the bowl. caramel filled cupcakes4Pour in the HOT coffee. Immediately cover bowl with a plate to retain heat in order to melt the chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften, then stir until all chocolate is melted and mixture is well blended. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.caramel filled cupcakes5 Into another bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.bundt2 Line your muffin tins with 18 regular-sized cupcake papers.

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. 

Into yet another bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, vinegar, and oil. caramel filled cupcakes6Pour egg mixture into cooled melted chocolate and stir. (You don’t want the chocolate to be too hot or it could could cook the eggs.)caramel filled cupcakes7Add in flour mixture and mix well – this is one instance where you want a little toughness to the cake so it holds up to the caramel. caramel filled cupcakes8Pour 1 tablespoon into the bottom of each liner. Don’t put in more or the caramel ball will sit too high. This small bit of batter is going to form a barrier against the caramel, preventing it from seeping into the paper. caramel filled cupcakes9Bake for 6 minutes (SET A TIMER!!!) in the preheated 350º F oven. Remove from oven. Set a frozen caramel ball on top of each baked cake bit, dead center (do your best).caramel filled cupcakes12 Then pour batter around and on top of ball, 1/3″ from top of paper. (This is where a spouted measuring cup comes in handy! Use a spoon to catch the drips.) caramel filled cupcakes13Return to oven and bake at 350º F for another 11 minutes. Remove from oven and keep cupcakes in hot muffin tin 10 minutes to set. Remove cupcakes – with papers – to a wire rack to completely cool.caramel filled cupcakes14 To make ganache frosting, place chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. ganache1Heat cream until bubbles form along sides – don’t let it boil.ganache2 Immediately pour over chips, cover with a plate, and let melt for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. If the chips don’t completely melt, pour mixture into a small saucepan and, over a very low heat, stir until melted. Allow to cool completely so it thickens, stirring now and then. Pipe ganache on cupcakes, or just frost with a knife.

FOUR CHEESE MACARONI – A Little Something For The Adults!

four cheese mac textFor some reason, Macaroni & Cheese is perceived as a bland, children’s food. (Don’t even get me started on the boxed version!)

But what about we adults? We like cheese. We like pasta. How about a grown-up version of Mac & Cheese?

Not to worry – America’s Test Kitchen has come to the rescue. The combination of cheeses blows the kid stuff out of the water – creamy with a little bite. As if that’s not enough – it’s super easy!

FOUR CHEESE MACARONI

  • 4 slices good quality white sandwich bread
  • 1 oz (1 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 lb mini penne pasta (you can use full-sized, if you like)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2¾ oz (3/4 cup) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1¼ oz (1/2 cup) Pecorino-Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 1½ cup cream

Preheat oven to 500º Fahrenheit.

To make breadcrumb topping, remove and discard crust from bread. Tear into 1″ pieces and place in food processor. breadcrumb1Pulse about 7 times to get small pieces.breadcrumb2 Pour into bowl and add in 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan, 1 tsp salt, and black pepper. (It’s easiest to mix with fingers.) Set aside. breadcrumb3Into a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a full boil. Add in 1 rounded T salt and the penne. Stir immediately to prevent sticking, then stir every now and then, until al dente. (Don’t overcook – pasta will continue to soften when the cheeses and sauce are added.)

As the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheeses and sauce. In a large bowl, put the remaining 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) Parmesan, the Gorgonzola, the Fontina, and the Pecorino-Romano. Set aside. four cheese mac6In a saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Turn off heat and mix in the flour, making sure you smoosh any lumps – this is your only chance to remove them. Cook 2 minutes over low heat, stirring continuously, to prevent that flour-y taste. four cheese mac7Add in the cream and remaining 1 tsp salt. Increase the heat slightly to medium/low and stir until thickened. four cheese mac2By now, the pasta should be cooked. Drain in colander, but don’t shake strainer. Immediately pour hot pasta over cheeses in bowl. four cheese mac8Pour hot sauce on top. (Don’t stir yet.) Cover – I use a cookie sheet. Let set for 3 minutes to melt the cheeses. Remove cover and stir everything together. four cheese mac3Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle on breadcrumbs. four cheese mac4Bake at 500º F for about 7 minutes, until breadcrumbs are browned. four cheese mac5Sprinkle on a little chopped parsley, if desired. Can be served immediately.

 

CORNY CORNBREAD: A Moist Cornbread, Full Of Corn Flavor!

corny cornbread textCornbread often doesn’t live up to expectations. While it may look buttery-moist with it’s vibrant yellow color, one bite sends you reaching for the water glass. The other side of the coin is the cornbread you get at some restaurants, so full of sugar and fat that’s it’s really just a slice of cake.

Here’s a recipe I got from America’s Test Kitchen that uses whole corn kernels pulsed in a food processor to release their juice, combined with the usual cornmeal to maximize corn flavor. Make it in a cast iron skillet to get that lovely golden brown crust.

NOTE:  A blender probably wouldn’t work for chopping the corn – the kernals might get stuck under the blades. You could try running the blender empty, then dropping in the corn. Or better yet, try using canned creamed corn. I’ve not actually done that, but would think it would work.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: A cast iron skillet is best for cornbread – it gives it that nice crust. If you don’t have one, make sure your skillet’s handle can take the high heat of the oven. (Then put a 10″ cast iron skillet on your birthday or holiday list!)

CORNY CORNBREAD

  • 1 cup (5.75 oz) cornmeal (I use medium grind, but you can use fine grind if you don’t like the grit – or a combination)
  • 1 cup (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 T butter, melted
  • 1 cup frozen corn (canned or fresh would work, too)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco Sauce (or any hot sauce)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit.  Make sure you do this to get that nice crust!

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.corny cornbread3Melt the butter and set aside to cool a bit.melted butterInto the workbowl of your food processor (If you don’t own one, put it on your birthday or holiday list, which is becoming longer by the minute!)), add the corn, sour cream, eggs, and hot sauce. Pulse about 6 times to break up corn.corny cornbread4Pour the corn mixture into the cornmeal mixture and gently stir a few times. (The dry mixture will buffer the eggs so they don’t cook when the hot butter is added.) Then add in the butter and complete blending the ingredients just to the point where the flour in incorporated. Don’t over mix – overmixing a quick bread (which this is) will produce a tough bread.corny cornbread5 On the stovetop, heat the oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Turn off heat and pour in batter (you’ll hear sizzling), spreading it out evenly and smoothing top. corny cornbread6Place in hot oven and bake at 450º F for 18-25 minutes. (Set your timer for 18 minutes and test with a toothpick – when done, it should come out clean. Reset timer and cook longer, if need be.) corny cornbread1When done, remove from oven and let cornbread set in skillet at least 20 minutes before slicing.

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP: Fills You Up With Flavor, Not Calories!

butternut squash soup textIt’s autumn – that time of year when the days get shorter, the air a little brisker, and the markets display all kinds and colors of winter squash. While, of course, we appreciate them for their beauty – and sometimes cuteness – they’re actually edible, delicious, and filled with nutrients and fiber.

This recipe for BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP is particularly tasty…and extremely low in calories! Bonus: it’s quick to prepare!!!

NOTE: Anyone who’s ever risked life and limb by attempting to slice through a winter squash, may have sworn off cooking with one. BUT…I have the answer: the microwave!!! (This, of course, may not work with a giant pumpkin.)

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP – makes 7 cups

  • 4 T butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 lb butternut squash
  • 5 cups water
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (dark or light – I use dark)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • optional:  Cinnamon Croutons (recipe follows)

Thoroughly wash butternut squash. Place whole in microwave and cook 3 minutes. (Don’t bother piercing it – it won’t explode.) Flip it and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and let cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, cut off the head, then slice through it, exposing the seeds. (Yikes! This sounds ghoulish!!!) Scrape out fibers and seeds and set aside.

In a large stockpot (such as a Dutch oven), melt the butter. Add in shallots and sauté on medium 4 minutes.butternut squash soup6 Add in the seeds and fibers. Sauté another 4 minutes on medium. butternut squash soup7Add in the water and salt, bringing to a boil. butternut squash soup8While liquid is heating, slice the squash (unpeeled) into chunks. Place them cut side down on a steamer basket. butternut squash soup2When the liquid has come to a boil, drop in the steamer basket and cover. Decrease flame to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove basket from liquid, letting squash cool enough to handle.

Place a strainer over a container and pour liquid through it. Discard seeds and fibers. butternut squash soup3Once squash is cooled, scrap squash from its peel, discarding peel. Put squash into a blender and add enough of the liquid to purèe squash. (Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in batches.) butternut squash soup4Empty purèe into the now-empty stockpot. Add in brown sugar and cream. Heat over medium to just before boiling. Taste for seasoning.butternut squash soup5

CINNAMON BREAD CRUMBS

  • 2 slices white bread – good quality
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Remove and discard crust from bread. Cut slices into 1/2″ cubes and place in bowl. Mix in sugar and cinnamon, then stir in melted butter.

Pour onto cookie sheet and bake at 350º F for about 8 minutes, stirring midway.croutons

TIRAMISU: An Elegant Dessert That Takes Minutes To Prepare!

tiramisu text2You know that feeling at the end of a filling meal when you want just a little something sweet? TIRAMISU is the perfect solution. Although it looks rich and creamy, it’s actually very light. In fact, give me a fork and I could easily ingest the entire pan. (Thank goodness for will power.)

While it’s extremely fast to prepare, and no-bake, it needs to be made at least 6 hours before serving to chill and set. To me, this is perfect for company. If I can get one thing done ahead of time, then mama’s a happy camper! (And you know what they say if mama ain’t happy!)

NOTE: This recipe can be doubled, using a 9″x13″ casserole pan.

TIRAMISU

  • 1¼ cups coffee (brewed or instant)
  • 4 T dark rum, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 lb mascarpone, cold
  • 6 T heavy cream
  • 26 ladyfingers – DON’T buy the soft kind – they turn to mush. Buy the hard ones, such as Savoiardi.
  • 2 T Dutch process cocoa, divided
  • optional: chocolate shavings for decoration

NOTE: I would be remiss in my Queen of Freeze duties if I didn’t remind you that the unused egg whites removed from the 3 egg yolks can be frozen for future use!!!

In a bowl wide enough to dip the ladyfingers sideways (such as a cereal bowl), combine the coffee and 2 T of the rum. Set aside to cool. tiramisu14In the small bowl of your electric mixer, put the egg yolks. Beat on low speed about 5 seconds, just to break them up. tiramisu1Add in the sugar and salt. Turn mixer to medium speed and beat 1 minute. The yolks will turn pale and thick. tiramisu2Pour in the remaining 2 T rum and beat on medium 30 seconds. Add in the cold mascarpone and beat on medium for about 30 seconds, until there are no lumps. tiramisu3Empty mixture into a large bowl.tiramisu5 In the now-empty mixing bowl (you don’t have to clean it), pour the cream. Beat on high until soft peaks form. tiramisu4Stir 1/3 of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to loosen texture. Fold in remaining whipped cream. tiramisu6Have ready an 8″x8″ pan (or it’s equivalent), the ladyfingers, and the coffee mixture. Holding a ladyfinger at the midsection, quickly dip one long, flat side into the coffee (submerge less than 1/4″ – don’t go midway), turn it over and dip the other side. Shake off any excess liquid. (The goal is to get just the outside portion of the cookie wet so it will remain crispy in the center – you want the coffee flavor, but not the mush.) tiramisu7Then place the dipped ladyfinger in the pan. Continue on, lining up the ladyfingers in the same direction, until the bottom is covered. By the time you get to the last one, they will have become somewhat softer. You can probably shove them together to make room for one more in each row. tiramisu8Cover ladyfingers with half of the mascarpone, smoothing evenly. tiramisu9Place 1 T cocoa powder in a small sieve. Stir the cocoa with a spoon to sprinkle cocoa evenly over mascarpone. (Cocoa tends to clump – the spoon breaks them up.)tiramisu10Add the second layer of ladyfingers, dipping as above, laying them in the opposite direction of the first layer. Fit as many cookies as you can, although you may not need them all. Save the undipped ones for future use. tiramisu11Spread on remaining mascarpone evenly, then sprinkle on the remaining 1 T cocoa. tiramisu13Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 6 hours. (I make it the night before.) You’ll notice the cocoa will turn a deeper chocolate color due to condensation.

If you want to add chocolate shavings on top, run a sharp, non-serrated knife along the edge of a room temperature chocolate bar. I shave them onto a cold plate so they don’t get melty. (It’s easier to use a longer piece of chocolate, but this is all I had.)chocolate shavesKeep TIRAMISU in refrigerator until ready to serve.

TERIYAKI PASTA SALAD: So Pretty, So Easy, So Scrumptious!

teriyaki pasta salad textRecently, I had a fabulous pasta salad topped with teriyaki sauce. The promised recipe never came, so I decided to create my own. The most difficult thing was developing the right taste for the dressing. (You can, of course, buy bottled teriyaki sauce, but as I keep saying, I like cooking from scratch so I know what’s in my food.)

This is a very forgiving recipe – if you don’t like certain ingredients, just exchange them for something else.

NOTE: Unless you have a problem with cashews (or any other nut), I highly encourage you to add them. The salty crunch made all the difference.

TERIYAKI PASTA SALAD – makes about 6 cups

  • 1/2 lb mini farfalle pasta (bowties) (or any other pasta you prefer)
  • 4 oz Chinese peapods
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 4 scallions
  • 1  11-oz can Mandarin Oranges in light syrup
  • 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce, divided – recipe follows
  • about 1/2 cup salted cashews, either halved or coarsely chopped

Have teriyaki sauce prepared before starting salad – use homemade (recipe follows) or purchased.

Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 tsp salt and pasta. Cook to the al dente stage. (Don’t cook it longer – the pasta will continue to soften as the teriyaki sauce gets absorbed.) For the mini farfalle it took 7 minutes, but time will vary with type of pasta.

Drain and rinse to stop cooking process. Shake to remove excess water and empty into large bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce and let absorb while preparing the rest of the salad. teriyake sauce3Bring about 1½ inches of water to a boil in the now empty saucepan and add peapods. Let boil for 2 minutes – SET A TIMER! (You don’t want to over cook!) Drain and rinse to stop cooking process.

Remove any strings from peapods by laying them flat and slicing one peapod tip away from you, stopping just before cutting through. pea pods1Pull the peapod body towards you. If there’s a string, it will come away from the peapod.pea pods2 Then rotate the peapod 180º and do the exact same thing to the other tip to remove string on the other side. (Sometimes there are strings on both sides – they’re unpleasant to eat.)

Cut peapods into bite-sized pieces. Add to pasta bowl.

Cut red pepper into bite-sized pieces. Add to pasta bowl.

Slice white and green parts of scallions. Add to pasta bowl.

Drain oranges, shaking to remove excess water. Add to pasta bowl. teriyake sauce4At serving time, add remaining 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce and cashews. Stir to combine. Serve immediately.

TERIYAKI SAUCE – makes about 3/4 cup

  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T Mirin sweet wine vinegar (often in the Asian section of the market)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated (or 1/8 tsp dried, but fresh is best)
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

In a small saucepan with burner off, put cornstarch and sugar. Stir to blend. Add in Mirin and mix well, smashing any lumps. teriyake sauce1Add in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Turn on burner to medium and stir while bringing to a boil. Turn down heat to keep a simmer. Continue cooking until thickened – about 4-5 minutes.teriyake sauce2There will be a little teriyaki sauce leftover. Save it to revive leftover Teriyaki Pasta Salad, freeze it, or use it on something else. (Waste not, want not!!!)