Category Archives: second fiddles

Decadent Scalloped Potatoes

You know how once or twice a year, you find yourself either eating or cooking something you don’t normally eat or cook on an everyday basis?  This dish is one of those things.  When I was growing up, if we had ham for dinner, it was a special occasion.  My mom would make scalloped potatoes from the Betty Crocker mixes you can buy at the store as a side dish, and we’d have some vegetable too, usually green beans.  Friday, my dad called to let me know what we needed to bring over to his place today as we were celebrating Christmas with him and his wife and her sister.  We’d be having ham and prime rib, he said, along with a vegetable tray, pickled beets, and baked beans.  I asked him if he’d like me to bring something potato-y to accompany the meat, as my dad (like many of his generation) is a meat and potato eater at heart.  He said, “I’d like some scalloped potatoes.”  I agreed to make some, as I had the ingredients at home for them.

So this morning before the gift opening began, I got to work making what was possibly the unhealthiest thing to come out of my kitchen in a long time.

I'll be honest, the only healthy thing about this dish is the calcium in the cream. Otherwise, it's super decadent, and will make your cardiologist rich if you eat this every day.

But I’m not going to lie:  it was worth every last bite.  This recipe is stupidly easy, and if you make it, you will NOT have leftovers.  It’s the kind of dish where people will fight for the last bite–it’s that good.  The recipe I made was for a large group, so scale down as appropriate for your own needs.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 6-7 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled*
  • 1 quart plus 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3-4 whole sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg, ground
  • salt
  • pepper
  • butter

*I used Yukon Golds because they hold up really well to baking in dishes like this.  They are waxy-fleshed and not as starchy as Russets, which you can also use if you like.  The consistency of the final dish will be more mushy should you use Russets.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  In a large saucepan, heat the cream, thyme, rosemary and nutmeg over medium to medium-low heat.  You just want to warm it, not boil it.  Stir periodically to prevent a skin from forming on top of the cream mixture.

While the cream is warming, peel the potatoes and slice them into 1/4″ slices.   Use the butter to grease the bottom of a large glass casserole dish, and begin forming an overlapping layer of potato slices on the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle the layer with salt and pepper.  You may want to salt liberally, as potatoes really need salt, but feel free to go light on the salt so your guests can salt the dish as they like.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat, and remove the thyme sprigs.  Using a ladle, cover the potato slices with the cream mixture.  Repeat the layers of potatoes and cream until you have used all of each.  This should give you about 3 layers.  Bake uncovered in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is brown and bubbly and the potatoes are cooked through.  Use a fork to test for doneness.  Let the dish cool for about 10 minutes before serving to allow everything to set up.

This recipe filled a 3 quart baking dish.  It was entirely gone by afternoon’s end.  These potatoes will only make an appearance once a year, even though they are really easy to make!  They are super rich, and definitely not something you’d want to eat on a weekly basis lest you drive your cholesterol sky-high.




Orange-Scented Rosemary Rice

On tap for tonight’s dinner was pecan-crusted ruby red rainbow trout (its flesh is bright red, like that of salmon), sweet and savory green beans.  Originally, our starch was going to be mashed “fauxtatos”–the type made with Yukon Golds and cauliflower, so as to reduce the starch content.

Once I got to thinking about dinner, I wasn’t feeling the fauxtato side dish idea.  Something as light as fish and green beans needed an equally light-feeling side dish, so I thought rice would be a good, natural accompaniment.  But I didn’t want dirty rice, or plain rice.  I wanted something with a light flavor that would complement the fish, and I think this dish did a nice job.

A nice lightly flavored side dish, this orange scented rosemary rice is a great accompaniment to fish, as seen here.

I cheated a bit with this recipe, as I didn’t have any dry rice on hand, but I did have microwavable instant rice which worked equally well.  As I wanted to get dinner prepared in 30 minutes, the instant rice was handy to have!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups cooked white rice
  • zest of one orange (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • salt to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, stir the orange zest, minced rosemary and orange juice to combine.  When your rice is done cooking (whether it is stovetop or microwave), pour the rice into the bowl with the citrus flavoring and quickly stir so that the citrus herb flavoring is evenly distributed throughout all the rice.  Don’t stir too much or you will get mushy rice.

This recipe made two generous 1 1/4 cup servings and would be a fantastic accompaniment for grilled chicken or shrimp as well.

Garlicky Kale with Crispy Salt Pork

Inexplicably, all week long I’d been jonesing for some comfort food–some serious, Southern comfort food.  Maybe it was because this past week, I’d increased my cardio workouts to 20 minutes every other day, or maybe it was because I just wanted some down-home, stick to your ribs food.  Whatever the reason, I decided when doing the shopping for the week that we’d have unfried chicken, mashed potatoes and some greens.  I didn’t want green beans (we eat a lot of those), and I didn’t want a salad (we eat a lot of that too).  Sticking to my resolve to try at least one new recipe a week, and at least one new vegetable a week, I decided we’d have kale.

Kale is a member of the mustard family of plants–the Brassicas.  This is the same group that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard/collard greens and Brussels sprouts.  I’m a big fan of the lot, and I’d had kale before, but had never actually prepared it myself and wanted to try my hand at it.

Last winter, my friend Julie and I had gone to a cooking class all about bacon over at Central Market, and one of the recipes we learned was kale with crispy salt pork.  I figured it would be a good accompaniment to my Unfried Chicken recipe, and decided that would be our green vegetable for dinner tonight.

A different take on traditional greens served with a lot of Southern cuisine, the saltiness of the salt pork here means you don't add any during the cooking.

They were not the soggy looking greens I’d been accustomed to seeing on steam tables.  These were toothsome, flavorful and a bit salty (owing to the salt pork in the recipe).  The salt pork here is cooked until it renders most of its fat, leaving it crispy.  The kale is then quickly cooked in a bit of the remaining fat until bright green, but not soggy or limp.  A bit of garlic is added, and then the crisp salt pork is then added back to the leaves and served while warm.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Optional:  red pepper flakes, Tobasco

Trim the thick layer of fat from the salt pork.  Trust me when I say there will be plenty of fat rendered from the meat to cook the greens in.  If you are all about the fat, then by all means, don’t trim the salt pork.  I trimmed the fat in an effort to reduce the fat content (and to not have to drain it off!).  Dice the salt pork into 1/2″ pieces and cook in a hot skillet until crispy.  Keep an eye on the skillet, as it will begin to smoke as the meat becomes crispier and crispier.

While the salt pork is cooking, remove the leaves from your kale.  It is best to do this by hand by tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces away from the stem.  Put the pieces into a bowl or colander so that you can wash them off thoroughly, removing any traces of dirt.  For me, this yielded about 6 cups of raw kale.  Your amount may vary, depending on how large your bunch of kale is.

Once the salt pork is crispy and has rendered nearly all of its fat, remove the pieces from the pan to a bowl.  Pour off all but about two tablespoons of the drippings.  You really do not need much fat for this next step, but you want enough fat to flavor the greens without drowning them entirely in it.

While the pan is still hot, add the kale.  It should sizzle when added to the pan.  Stir it around rapidly to coat the leaves with the fat remaining in the pan and cook until bright green.  This took me about 4 minutes, because my leaves were not terribly large to begin with.  Near the end of the cooking, add the garlic and stir.  If you like your greens with pepper flakes, this would be the time to add them.  Return the crispy salt pork to the pan, stir one last time and remove from heat.  Serve while hot.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

I think if I make this again, I am going to rinse the salt pork a bit to remove some of the saltiness.  I do not usually eat a lot of salt to start with, so this dish was a bit salty for my tastes.

Mushrooms in Creamy Bourbon Sauce

Earlier this week, I posted the recipe for the beef tenderloin I fixed SB and myself for Valentine’s Day.  The accompanying photo, seen here:

A creamy mushroom sauce with a hint of bourbon on the tenderloin sends it over the top with flavor.

shows some lovely Cremini mushrooms draped over the top of the luscious rare tenderloin.  Sweet Baboo is a big fan of fungi, and while I am not, I am always glad to make him sauteed mushrooms of some sort whenever we have steaks.  This time, I didn’t want to make the run of the mill sauteed mushrooms, though.  I wanted this to be a bit more elegant and flavorful; after all, we were eating tenderloin, which is not an every day occurrence in our household.

I happened to pick up some Cremini mushrooms at Central Market when I did the shopping for this meal, but really, any sort of button mushroom would do here.  I also used half and half to cut the fat slightly, but unfortunately I think the butter I added just put it right back in!  The bourbon I used was Knob Creek, but you can use any bourbon you have.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup half and half (for a richer sauce, use heavy cream)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a skillet on medium-high heat and then saute the mushrooms in it.  Sprinkle a bit of salt on them during this part of the cooking process so that they release a bit of their liquid.  Once the mushrooms have released a bit of their liquid and are starting to brown, pour the bourbon in the pan to deglaze it, and stir the mushrooms around carefully to wet them with the liquor.  Once the mushrooms have been sufficiently flavored by the bourbon, add the half and half, and stir until thoroughly mixed.  Allow the mixture to bubble and then remove from the heat.  Feel free to add in some fresh ground black pepper.  Serve immediately over steaks or any other favorite meat.

This recipe served one very hungry husband, who thoroughly enjoyed the ‘shrooms as an accompaniment to a tasty rare beef tenderloin.

Bourbon-braised Short Ribs with Savory Cheddar-Thyme Polenta

If you aren’t fully aware (or living in a cave), the majority of the country is buried under some form of frozen precipitation, our part of Texas included.  Needless to say, with a couple of inches of solid ice on the ground, neither I or Sweet Baboo had to go off to school today.  I was supposed to be off work today anyhow, as I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment, but the weather closed her office down too.   I’d decided over the weekend that since I was going to be home today anyhow, that I’d make the short ribs I bought a couple of weeks ago that were sitting in the freezer.  Since we were iced in today and travel was going to be damned near impossible, it was a good opportunity to get some cooking done that I don’t normally get to do during the week when school is in session.

Enter the bourbon-braised short ribs:

These bourbon braised short ribs made for a perfect cold weather dinner. The bourbon adds a nice flavor to the pot liquor that warms you to your toes.

I’d been wanting to make short ribs for quite some time, especially since I saw this recipe over at Pioneer Woman’s blog.  However, I didn’t have any red wine in the house, nor did I have shallots (not that it matters; can’t use them anyway).  So I did a bit of research to get a general idea of how braised short ribs should be made, and came up with my own version.  And the verdict:  they were absolutely luscious, rich and oh so good!  I served my ribs atop a bed of cheddar-thyme polenta, which was an excellent accompaniment.  Mashed potatoes would also be good here.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 6 meaty beef short ribs (the meatier, the better); about 2 pounds
  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup good bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots, plus 2 cups whole baby-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (chopped), plus 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper (or use freshly ground)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Before you begin cooking, set the short ribs out on the countertop to allow them to come to room temperature.  This helps them to cook more evenly when you are browning them.

Once your ribs have come to room temperature, pat them dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.  This aids in the browning process (thanks Julia Child!).  Sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.  Once it is hot, carefully add the ribs to the pot, but do not crowd them.  You want to brown them on the meaty sides of the ribs, about 2 or 3 minutes or so on each side, until they have a lovely brown color.  If your ribs do not fit, then perform this step in batches so that the meat does not crowd the pan.  Remove the ribs from the pan to a bowl for the time being.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Once you have browned the meat, deglaze the pot with the cup of bourbon.  If you have a gas stove, be careful at this step!  You will be met with a cloud of bourbony goodness.  Stir the browned bits on the bottom of the pot, and then add the garlic, chopped thyme, celery and carrots to the pot.  Give them a quick saute, about 3 minutes or so, enough to coat the veggies with the little sauce you’ve just made.

Add the ribs back to the pot, standing them up in the vegetables.  Pour the beef broth over the contents of the pot.  Toss the sprigs of thyme on top and carefully stir in the granulated garlic.  Cover the pot tightly with the lid, and place in the oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

The greatest thing about this is that you put it in the oven, and walk away.

As for the polenta, that was easy to make too.  You need:

  • 1 cup polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add the salt, and slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream, whisking it in.  Once all the polenta has been added and incorporated into the water, turn the heat down to low.  Allow this to cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes.  When the polenta is cooked, stir in the butter until it melts, and then stir in the cheeses and thyme until evenly distributed and melted through.

The short ribs recipe makes enough for 3 people to have two short ribs apiece, plus veggies.  The polenta recipe makes about 6 cups, so there may be leftovers.