Tag Archives: potato

Go Pack Go!

7 Feb

Last week was a bit of a soup sandwich (have you ever tried to sake a sandwich out of soup?  It doesn’t work).  I feel exhausted just thinking about writing and reliving it all, but everything came to a relaxing halt with Sunday night’s Superbowl (Yay, Packers!) and Baked Potato Soup.

As mentioned in a earlier post, I have new math groups, one of which is testing my classroom management strategies.  On Thursday, after a long day at work, I needed comfort – FOOD comfort.  That night called for classic French flavors and technique – Braised Lamb Shoulder with Sweet Pommes Anna and a Pear Chutney Tart (my favorite part about that tart is the dough – a thin shortbread cookie-like sheet rustically formed to perfectly hold sweet and spicy pears.  It was hard not to just eat the raw ball of dough).

Saturday provided a different type of stress: a test!  In order to keep my Oregon credential, I have to take, and pass, a few tests to ensure I’m qualified to teach in the state.  Saturday’s test was the ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages), and I think I did well on it.  But, now it’s the waiting game to find out exactly how I did.

The test wasn’t all that inconvenient because it gave us an excuse to go to Trader Joes (the test site was on the U of O’s campus in Eugene) and we were able to spend the night in Florence, a quaint, beautiful little town on the Siuslaw River.  It might have been the fact that we slept with the back door cracked a bit, or that I woke up with my mouth open, or the stress of the week finally catching up to me (OR a very likely combo of the three), but I woke Sunday morning with a terrible sore throat.  This was like the kind I used to get back in high school and college which would inevitably lead to strep throat.  So, the last thing I wanted to do was cook.

But it was Superbowl Sunday!  And the Packers were playing!!  Cheeseheads unite!!  Even though Rob had to go on duty, I couldn’t watch the Superbowl without eating something sports bar-ish.  I racked my brain; not having much of an appetite, I really only wanted soup.  But already lounging in sweatpants by the fire, I did not want to go to the store.  What to do?  What to make?

BLOG to the rescue!  (That would be an interesting superhero – like a giant techie nerd with super-human typing skills and Dreamweaver web design capabilities not even the Trojan virus could defeat.)  Thinking about my blog, I went back my source of inspiration: the potato.  Combine with my craving/limited appetite for soup, and the biggest football game of the year only minutes away from starting, I remembered a classic: Baked Potato Soup.

In this soup, I use limited cream and comparably minimal cheese, making it light and mostly guilt-free.  I only par-bake the potatoes (to keep their integrity as much as possible), and use veg stock rather than chicken to enhance the vegetably taste of the potatoes.  And having the underlying foundational taste of bacon fat really hits home the feeling of genuine pub food.

Sitting back with my soup, I watched Green Bay spank the Steelers, laughed at the great commercials, cringed at the bad ones, and fell asleep in front of the fire, warmed from the inside out.

I still have my sore throat this morning, so it’s a good thing I made enough soup to feed an army – I’ll need the leftovers!

GO PACK GO!

Baked Potato Soup

  • 9 cups red potatoes, diced
  • 3 oz. slab bacon, diced
  • 3 large celery stocks, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves
  • 4 c low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 c water
  • 1/2 c Half & Half
  • 2/3 c shredded good quality pepper jack cheese
  • 1/2 c shredded good quality very sharp cheddar cheese
  • s&p
  • Garnish: shredded pepper jack and cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, and sliced scallions.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake diced potatoes for about 15 minutes, until soft on the outside but still firm on the inside.  Meanwhile, crisp up the bacon in a large pot over med-high heat.  Once very crisp, remove from pot and put on towel to reserve for garnish.

Keeping about 2 tbsp of the bacon fat, saute the onions, celery, and garlic in the pot.  Make sure all veg is coated in fat, and saute until just starting to soften.  Add the diced potatoes, season, and saute in the pan for about 5-7 minutes.  I even let the surface of the potatoes start to brown.  Add the thyme leaves, veg stock, water, and Half & Half.  Bring to a boil.  Using an immersion blender or a stand blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Keep on a simmer, and slowly stir in the two cheeses to melt and incorporate.  Let simmer for about 5-10 minutes, and taste for seasoning.

Serve in a shallow bowl, topping with the bacon pieces, shredded cheeses, and scallions.

Enjoy!

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Leftovers

29 Nov

Have you ever had that feeling of happiness and sadness at the same time?  Like, when you finish reading a fantastic book, or when the lights come on after a standing ovation at the theater – it’s a feeling of complete joy but also sadness about that enjoyable experience coming to a close.  This may sound over-romanticized, but that’s how I always feel after Thanksgiving weekend is over, and this year was no exception.

My Turkey Day Trials paid off as the menu was flawless and well-prepared.  The snow day our district received the Wednesday prior was also an added bonus as I was able to get many dishes done ahead of time.  By the time the sun came up on Thursday, drying out all the snow and thawing out the ground, Rob and I were able to enjoy breakfast, watch the Macy’s Parade, watch the Dog Show, and cheer on the Patriots in the background while trussing the turkey.  The only time our schedule got tight was when I forgot to broil the yams (to toast the ever-present, much debated marshmallow topping).

As my parents knocked on the door, we had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres ready, with dinner fresh and hot on the warming tray.  It was so good to see my mom and dad again, and even better to have them stay as guests in our home.  It felt like our little house was now completely nested having such great company.

Although I may have gone overboard a bit with the food. It was my first Thanksgiving – better to have too much than too little!  Plus it made for excellent weekend-long leftovers. 🙂  Here was the menu:

Hors D’Oeuvres:
– brie cheese with onion jam and honey crisp apples
– cashews
– shrimp cocktail

Mains:
– Turkey (not stuffed, but filled with garlic, lemon, sage, rosemary, and thyme, and drenched in olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also poured a mix of white wine and turkey stock into the bottom of the roaster, so a flavorful steam would keep the bird moist).
Apple and leek stuffing
– Rob’s potatoes (silky smooth with the addition of cream cheese)
– Marshmallow yams (an old classic made super flavorful by roasting yams – skin on – adding real maple syrup to the mix, and toasting the you-know-what out of the marshmallows).

Sides:
– black & green olives
– Mandarin oranges
– Turkey gravy
– Horseradish pickled cucumbers and peppers
Applesauce
– Cranberry sauce (yes, the jellied canned kind – we wouldn’t have it any other way!)
– Dinner rolls (Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe) with homemade sage honey butter.

Dessert:
– Pumpkin pie (since my disastrous pumpkin pie episode, I’ve made 4… let’s just say I got the recipe down).
Gingerbread, chocolate mousse, & brandied pear trifle (OMG.  Really, just OMG).
Cardamom shortbread cookies
See’s Peppermint Patties

Seriously, I think we all gained about 7 1/2 pounds each.

But this smorgasbord provided excellent leftover options, which is, arguably, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.  The desserts made excellent accompaniments to the morning cups of joe, and the delicious buttery dinner rolls were perfect vehicles for shoveling overflowing turkey and cranberry sandwiches (with extra mayo) into our wide-open mouths.

We stayed pretty active the whole weekend seeing the sites Coos Bay had to offer.  One major highlight was the HH-65 circling our house with a fully dressed Santa Claus jubilantly waving out the side door (it’s good to have connections to people who can fly Santa around!).  We hiked, we explored, we shopped, we got rained on, and were always welcomed back to an exuberant amount of leftovers and a warm fireplace.  And when the weather got too dodgy, the games we played (or maybe how we played them) were so side-splitting funny, Seinfeld could have used us for a new pilot sitcom.

Scrabble Slam was the first requested game, which led to a flurry of thrown cards, and frenzied shouting of suitable-for-the-family 4-letter-words.  I, at one point, tried my hardest to get “poop” down on the table, but to no avail just kept shouting the word “poop” while someone else’s card took my spot.  Yeah, how’s that mental image treating you?

And then there was Slamwich.  Slamwich is the best game – ever.  I highly recommend this game to any foodie fan, or just anyone in general looking for an entertaining way to make, munch, and steal a sandwich.  My mom and I purchased the game in Florence after a day of shopping, and met my dad and Rob at the sports bar they were holding down watching the Oregon game.  Joining them, we sat at the bar, ordered a drink and appetizers, and proceeded to read the rules to this silly, silly game.  15 minutes later, we were drawing serious looks from across the room as we were slapping slices of bacon, cheering on our sandwich thieves, and calling out each other’s “slipslaps” with gusto.  Needless to say, we were quite a scene.

But our Slamwich efforts were soon squashed by the determination and competitiveness the Wii brought to the party.  Rob and my dad literally wore a spot in our wood (I lied – laminate) floor playing endless rounds of bowling.  It was hilarious!  Then the boxing and sword fighting started.  The squealing laughter of frantically punching the air and ducking from invisible punches, jabs and stabs filled the house.  At one point, I just sat back and thought, “This. Is. Awesome.”

As most wonderful things do, the weekend flew by.  Rob and I finished most of the leftovers with stuffing and turkey stuffed mushrooms and relaxed before getting ready to face another Monday workday.  Although this Monday our pants were quite a bit tighter, it was just a reminder of the fabulous family, food, fun, and fabulous Thanksgiving weekend memories.

Mom Would Be Proud

14 Nov

It is Sunday… such a wonderful day.  Football, food, football, and relaxing.  After all, this is the day of rest, right?

This week – Monday through Wednesday – was a tough one consisting of parent conferences and drama at the Air Station.  But, come Veterans Day last Thursday, Rob and I were all about enjoying life and our time together.

We started off Thursday with a fabulous hike – the sun was out and the 5 miles through the coastal forest did us well.  Our wildlife update consisted of albino seals, many, many banana slugs, and the Super Mario Bros Mushrooms! Afterwards, we went to a great little bakery for lunch and discovered cookies that severely ruined my calorie count.  Seriously, they were only second to Disneyland’s.  Having another Coastie friend over, we finished the night with great Turkey Ranch and Swiss Burgers… yum!

Friday, Rob had to go to work for a bit, but we still had a relaxing afternoon and continued our Friday tradition of wine and bread tasting at the Empire Cafe.  One of the greatest finds in Coos Bay – where else can you buy a fantastic bottle of wine and a garlic, parmesan, balsamic and oil dip with fresh focaccia bread for under 20 bucks?

Saturday started off the day with a sweet nuts and berries acorn squash breakfast (I highly recommend this veggie for breakfast), and a trip to Eugene.  I was feeling festive and the need to decorate our house in the festive holiday decor, so Potterybarn (and our last wedding gift card) came in fantastically handy.  This year, I am also cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and am quite nervous about it.  So, I’m already stocking up on the necessities that will keep for the next week and a half: olives (both green with pimentos, and black), mandarin oranges, turkey stock, and honey crisp apples.  Thanksgiving has always been one of the biggest holidays in my household, with mom cooking from the start of the Macy’s Day Parade to the “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ras” of the first seasonal showing of “A Christmas Story.”  And this year my parents are coming to visit Rob and me – and getting in just in time for dinner.  I’m uber excited, but also slightly nervous about my Turkey Day dinner debut.  I’m praying I don’t over/under cook the turkey, and can even slightly live up to the festive day my mom has always prepared for us.  So, yesterday’s Eugene shopping trip definitely put me in the mood.

Today, Sunday, was the designated day of rest, relaxation and food.  We started out our day with a perfectly in-season Ruby Red grapefruit with toast smothered with natural peanut butter and honey.  Oregon does not produce much citrus due to the weather, but most is shipped in from California.  Being one who really tries to pay attention to where my food comes from (I will never buy strawberries in the wintertime!), and stay as local as possible, I try to stay true to the season, but also as close to Oregon as possible.  That being said, Oregon produces a LOT of squash, and root vegetables.  We have so many beautiful carrots, parsnips, onions, and of course, potatoes, from our farm basket that I have been racking my mind with what to do with them.  Thank goodness for the cold, rainy day, because tonight’s idea for dinner came to me in a “duh” moment: Beef Stew.  The only ingredient I needed to pick up was the beef!

This beef stew, though delicious, is a smidge different than your familiar beef stew.  Many of you from English decent may be upset with my preparation, but I ask you to 1) forgive me, and 2) give it a try.  For this meal you will need to channel your inner Scandinavian (think Ikea, light wood modern furniture, and Temmu Selanne), because it’s taste of sweet, savoy, spicy, and freshly herby, will leave you feeling incredibly satiated by the hearty meal.  You’ll be ready to go play hockey like the best of them.

Sweet?  Sweet stew?  Well, no.  You will not be running to your dentist after eating the stew.  Beef and sweet together don’t sound all that appealing to me either, unless it is an Asian-inspired sweet and sour marinade, or a very NorCal sweet and tart blackberry-balsamic reduction.  This is a very autumnal sweet incorporating the natural sugars of the carrots and the squash against the solid foundation of rosemary and sage, with the hint of cayenne and nutmeg for spice.  Unlike most traditional beef stews, I used chicken stock (rather than beef stock) to soften the flavors that are going on in the stew, and make the sauce a bit lighter.  Again, storming the norm.

After a mouth-watering, stomach-growling couple hours of stewing on the stove (I’m not good at waiting, and mom would be proud of me for doing so!) pouring the stew atop a creamy, steamy pile of smashed red potatoes warmed our stomaches through our eyes.  And for you, if it doesn’t live up to the hype (that only Rob and I can give you at the moment), then, well, move on to the dessert.

Our after-dinner treat was another experiment in favor balancing and taste.  I’ve tried it quite a few times, perfecting the flavor and desired outcome.  For most of you who know me well, know that I am not a huge fan of super-sweet things.  Chocolate, I can only handle it in small bites.  Ice cream?  Only if it has nuts or fruit.  But give me an over-ripe piece of fruit, sweetened and spiced up with special ingredients, and I’m all for the cavities.

So the classic combination of proscuitto and cantaloupe is a classic, emphasizing the saltiness of the meat, the sweetness of the fruit, and the creaminess of both.  It is very Tuscan, and usually served as an appetizer, but I took those flavors and decided to turn up the heat a little bit.  I sliced the cantaloupe into thin slices, sprinkled them with freshly cracked black pepper, drizzled tempered chocolate over the fruit, and topped it with a few flakes of high quality sea salt.  Talk about the sweet and salty combination – this will blow Honey Nut Chex Mix out of the water!!

As we have been enjoying our night (especially Rob since the Patriots are playing – and winning) we are leaving the dishes to clean later, and savoring the lingering moment of our long weekend.  Our next days ahead will consist of computers, lesson plans, helicopters, children, and rescuing people in distress.  But at least we will both have amazing left-overs at lunch to remind us of the finale of our great weekend together.


Autumn Beef Stew (serves 6-8)

  • 2-3 lbs. beef stew beef (mixture of cuts of chuck, shoulder, and sometimes brisket), patted dry and generously seasoned with s&p
  • 2  c carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1 1/2 c parsnips, sliced on the bias
  • 1 c winter squash, diced
  • 2 c yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 pint (usually a carton) crimini mushrooms, wiped and sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/3 c full bodied red wine (cabernet works well)
  • 2 large tsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 4 med-large red potatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp Marscapone cheese
  • 1/4 c half-and-half
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • s&p

In a large pot, heat olive oil over high heat.  Add meat (possibly 2-3 batches at a time) to brown on all sides, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from pan, and set aside.  Add 2 tbsp of butter to the pot, add onions, s&p and saute.  Once translucent, add mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and sautee.  Once soft, add garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add red wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan, and reduce wine until almost no liquid is left in pan, about 5 minutes.  Add carrots, parsnips, squash, cayenne, nutmeg, and tomato paste, and stir to combine.  Cook for about a minute (vegetables will start to steam), and then add the meat (including any juices that collected on the plate), bay leaf, fresh herbs, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, and then turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, taste for seasoning and texture (carrots/parsnips should be soft on outside but still have a bite on the inside, and beef should be tender).  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, and flour, mixing with a fork (this is called a beurre manie and is classically used to thicken sauces, stews, and gravies), and add to the stew, stirring until incorporated.  Replace lid, and continue to simmer until potatoes are finished, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the chopped potatoes to a pot of cold water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil, and boil until more than one piece is fork tender (about 10 minutes).  Drain in colander, and return potatoes to cooking pot.  Add Marcapone cheese, half-and-half, a large pinch of s&p, and chives, and smash potatoes with a large fork (I do this to keep the potatoes more rustic and lumpy.  If you like smooth potatoes, use a masher, or hand-blender to mix).  Taste for seasoning and texture.

Spoon potatoes into the middle of a large serving bowl (like a pasta bowl), and ladle stew on top of potatoes.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!


Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cantaloupe (serves 2)

  • 1/2 a cantaloupe, cut into thin slices.
  • 2 oz good quality dark chocolate
  • 5-7 cracks black pepper
  • 1-2 pinches fancy sea salt
  • Sprig of mint, to garnish – optional

Spread the cantaloupe slices on a plate in decorative fashion.  Crack pepper on top of fruit.

To temper chocolate, place 1 tsp of chocolate in microwave-safe bowl, and heat on high for 30 seconds.  Stir, and repeat until just melted.  Then add the rest of the chocolate, and stir vigorously until melted, smooth, and shiny.  While still warm, drizzle chocolate over cantaloupe, and then top with a light sprinkling of sea salt.  Note: the chocolate will harden slightly when it hits the cooler temperature cantaloupe.

Serve with coffee or a yummy cuppa tea!  Enjoy!

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