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.




Arroz con Pollo

Since being on holiday, I’ve done a bit of meal planning and prep work for upcoming meals for the week, some of which are more elaborate than the usual weeknight fare we have here. Last night, I decided we’d have something that was relatively fast and easy to fix since I’d been busy all day and SB was tired from the long day at school (they were in session until today!). Enter arroz con pollo:

Simple. Tasty. Comfort food.

It’s a variation of the usual chicken and rice dinner that I used to cook quite a lot as a kid, when both my repetoire and palate were much more limited than they are now.

I’ll start off by saying that this recipe really does need onions to add depth of flavor, but due to food allergy issues in our house, they have been omitted. If you do make this yourself, add half a small onion that has been finely diced to the rice when you brown it.

Here’s how I made the dish. You will need:

  • 4 chicken leg quarters, excess fat removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice, raw
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt, to taste
  • OPTIONAL: half a small onion, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the leg quarters by removing any excess fat and skin, or your finished dish will be extremely greasy. Sprinkle the leg quarters liberally with salt and pepper. On either a broiling pan or a rack set in a jelly roll pan, roast the leg quarters for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the leg is pierced with a fork. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

During the last 15 minutes of the chicken cooking time, in a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat so that you can brown the rice. You will know that the oil is hot enough when you put a couple of rice grains in it and they dance a bit in the pan. When the oil is hot, add the rice and stir it around as it browns slightly. If you decide to use onion, this is where you want to add it in. Once the rice is lightly browned, add in your tomato sauce and stir. Add in the water and spices, and stir thoroughly to mix. Let this mixture cook for a few minutes until it begins to bubble. Once the rice begins to bubble, add in the chicken and cover with a lid. Turn the heat down to simmer, and allow the rice to cook, stirring only a couple of times as you don’t want your rice to be mushy. Allow the rice to cook for about 30 minutes, and tilt the lid slightly to allow steam to escape during the last 8-10 minutes. Then, turn off the heat, close the lid and let the dish finish steam cooking for about 10 minutes. Serve while hot.

We ate ours with mashed pinto beans and cheese. This would also be good with a green salad and tortillas. This recipe made 4 servings: 1 leg quarter plus about a cup of rice each, so for us, we got two really yummy meals out of this recipe.

Shepherd’s Pie

Today was the last day of the semester, and for that I was grateful.  As I’ve mentioned before, this semester has been particularly trying, and I am just thankful to have made it to the end!  I have the next two weeks off on holiday, during which I plan to rest, relax, and do a fair bit of cooking.  I started this evening with our dinner–we’d been eating out all week long as the end of the semester usually is so busy that I don’t have much time to cook, so we resort to going out.  This week we also had a few social engagements that involved dinner, so eating at home happened very rarely this week at dinnertime.

Sometimes you just want a meal that soothes and comforts.  And sometimes you just want something that is easy and quick to fix that doesn’t require a terrible lot of work.  This dinner is both.  We’d been out earlier in the week to one of our neighborhood favorite joints, the Allen Wickers.  It’s a great pub/restaurant that we frequent, and the food there is quite good and includes a few British pub favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.  Their version is ground beef with mixed vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes and a bit of cheese.  There isn’t a gravy or sauce, so while it is good, there isn’t anything that really holds it together.  I decided I’d make a remixed version of their recipe for dinner tonight, with a few modifications to accommodate for SB’s onion allergy.

Comfort food at its best: shepherd's pie. Easy to make, full of vegetables, and sure to be a repeat guest at your dinner table.

Now I’d made shepherd’s pie before, but it had never turned out anywhere near as good as this one did.  As SB said while he ate, “This is off the chain.”

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 package steamable frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 package Alexia Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (about 3 cups)*
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • salt to taste

*you can always make your own mashed potatoes; I used these because they were in my freezer and cut the prep and cook time significantly.  Additionally, this particular brand of steamable mashed potatoes is really good and tastes homemade–SB couldn’t tell the difference!

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground sirloin.  While the meat is cooking, steam cook the mixed vegetables according to package directions (about 5 minutes).  Drain the fat from the meat and add in the garlic.  Carefully open the package of cooked mixed vegetables, and add them to the pan, stirring them in with the meat to combine.  While you are cooking the vegetables with the meat, cook the mashed potatoes according to package directions (about 10 minutes).  Add the dried spices to the meat-vegetable mixture and cook for about 5-6 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the mixture.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

After this has cooked, sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture to lightly coat it and stir to distribute the flour.  Stir in the milk so that a gravy is created, and turn the heat off of the meat and vegetables.  After the mashed potatoes have finished cooking, carefully remove them from the package using a rubber spatula and spread them over the surface of the meat and vegetables so that you create a mashed potato “crust.”  Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Allow the pie to set for about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe made 4 large servings, but would make 8 small servings if eaten with other vegetables or side items.  We elected to eat it as a solo dish.

Beef Stew with Dried Thyme Dumplings

I’d like to apologize in advance for the huge gap in time between my last post and this one.  This school year has been particularly challenging–larger classes, fewer resources, needier students, and the specter of more cuts to come makes for a very stressful and busy work life.  It hasn’t stopped me from cooking, but it has put a sort of damper on my ability to create new things to cook.  Needless to say, we have eaten a lot of the same thing week after week.

This weekend, my local butcher, Hirsch’s Meats, had stew meat on sale, so I decided to use a Groupon for there that I’d bought a while back since it was due to expire.   I considered making chile verde, but really wanted something comfort food-y packed with veggies too.

Enter beef stew.  Many beef stew recipes have the usual beef dredged in flour, then browned in a bit of fat, stewed in stock until tender, and then have carrots, onions and potatoes added for a stick-to-your-ribs meal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except the onions would aggravate SB’s allergies, so I set about making a stew that omitted the onions and ramped up the flavor in other ways.

A really easy beef stew with tons of veggies, lean stew beef, and lots of flavor! This is a really hearty meal, and is low in fat.

The recipe I made is going to be dinner for us for the next 3 days (including tonight).  Hooray leftovers!    It’s a really easy recipe, and for the most part, is one you can set on the stove to cook and walk away from.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2 pounds lean stew meat (ideally, all the fat is trimmed from it, as mine was)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons beef base (I use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bag frozen cut green beans
  • 1 bag frozen cut carrots
  • 3 large red potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 6 cups water

For the dumplings:

  • 2 1/2 cups Heart Smart Bisquick
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

In a large stockpot (8 quarts is best; I have a 6 quart one and everything barely fit), heat the oil and then add the stew meat.  Cook the meat over medium-high heat until it is browned on all sides.  Once the meat is browned, add the beef stock, beef base, 3 cups of water, the Worcestershire sauce and the dried spices.  Stir the spices in and mix them in well and turn the heat down to medium.  Allow the meat to cook in the broth for 90 minutes.  Once the 90 minutes has passed, add the vegetables plus 2 more cups of water, stirring everything thoroughly so that it blends together well.  Allow this to cook for about 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically, or until the potatoes and carrots are cooked all the way through.  In a small mixing bowl, stir the 1 teaspoon of dried thyme into the dry Bisquick mix.  Whisk the milk into the seasoned Bisquick with a fork until you have a sticky batter.  Use a teaspoon to drop blobs of batter into the hot soup.  You may have to push the dumplings down to fit all of them in the pot.  I found that because my pot was small, I had to do this, plus I had to ladle some of the soup over the dumplings as they cooked.  Place the lid on the pot so that the dumplings steam cook, being careful to watch so that the pot does not boil over.  The dumplings will help thicken the stew, so adding a flour slurry (as is sometimes found in many stews) is unnecessary.

Serve once the dumplings are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  This recipe will make quite a lot of really tasty stew–I dished it up into bowls that held about 2 cups’ worth per serving.  We had seconds, and have plenty for the next two days’ worth of dinner.

Stufffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

This past week, I’d been craving pasta like nobody’s business.  I think it was because the previous week, we’d gone out with a friend to Olive Garden for the endless pasta dinner special, where I ate some whole wheat linguine with roast chicken and marinara (which was good, but I won’t do it again).  I think having that gave me an Italian food jones something awful, and so I thought about things I could make at home with the ingredients I had access to.  The week before, I’d bought two large zucchini squash and had picked up some hot Italian sausage at Central Market.  I decided to make stuffed zucchini–it was easy, filling and really tasty.

Stuffed zucchini: easy to make, delicious to eat and full of antioxidants and fiber! The meat used can be changed to ground chicken or turkey sausage as well; pork was what I happened to have on hand. Serve with a salad and crusty bread, and you've got a filling dinner.

You will need:

  • 2 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise and cut in halves
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage*
  • 1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree

*certainly, ground chicken or turkey sausage could also be used here as well; pork sausage was what I had access to.  For vegetarians, I think I’d probably mince up 3 cups of Portobellos sautéed with onions, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until completely done. While the sausage is cooking, cut the zucchini in half vertically, then slice them lengthwise.  Take a grapefruit spoon or melon baller (or something that scoops that has a sharp edge to it) to scoop out the pulpy middle of the squash.  Reserve this pulpy goodness in a bowl.  Lay the hollowed zucchini quarters in a 13 x 9 baking dish.  You do not need to grease the dish, as there will be plenty of liquid to prevent the zucchini from sticking to the bottom of the dish.

Once the sausage is done, drain it and return to the pan, and add the garlic, stirring to distribute it evenly throughout, cooking at medium-high heat.  Add in the zucchini pulp, again, stirring to evenly distribute it throughout the meat, cooking for about 10 minutes until the pulp really isn’t so visible.  You are adding the pulp back in to add moisture to help the rice cook and to add a bit more fiber.  Add in the half cup of water and then stir in the instant rice until it is well-distributed.  Stir in 3/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese until it melts throughout the mixture.  Turn off the heat to the skillet, and stuff the zucchini quarters, mounding the filling into each quarter.  Pour the can of tomato puree over all the zucchini quarters, and sprinkle the top of the baking dish with the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned.

This recipe serves 4, or two really hungry adults, as it did the night I made it.  It is lovely with a bit of garlic bread and a salad.  You could serve it over pasta if you wanted.