Easy, yummy potato skins

Who doesn’t love potato skins? Here is a quick, easy way to make them, particularly if you made the gnocchi the other day.

If you used or just read that gnocchi recipe in the Food Network Magazine, you may have noticed it said to discard the potato skins. Holy cow, don’t do that! Save them to make these delicious potato skins.

They’re easy peasy . Here’s how.

Ingredients:

  • Six potato skin halves. (If you made the gnocchi, you’ll have six halves.) However, if you need to start from scratch, bake three potatoes until fork tender. When cool, slice in half and gently (I mean gently) scoop out the insides. (Consider saving those insides to make gnocchi.) PotatoSkinsForDec.28Post
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound cooked bacon
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • chopped green onions or chives
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sour cream

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Brush your potato skins with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then BrushingWithOliveOilDec.28salt and pepper them.  Bake for 20 minutes or until brown and crispy.

While they’re baking, cook your bacon. (Please excuse me while I digress a bit. Is there a better smell in the house than bacon? There should be bacon-scented air fresheners or perfume.) While the bacon is cooking, grate your cheese. I like to grate it myself instead of buying it grated. It just seems to taste better when I do it.

Once your skins are brown and crispy, remove them from the oven and add the bacon and cheese. Return to the oven until the cheese is melted.

Before serving, add chopped green onions or chives and sour cream, if you like.RevisedPotatoSkinsFinished

Of course, the skins are very versatile. If you want to get funky, try one of these variations.

Mexican:
Follow the same baking instructions, but replace:

  • bacon with cooked taco meat
  • cheddar with pepper jack cheese
  • chopped green onions with chopped jalapeňos

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and add sour cream to taste.

Italian:
Follow the same baking instructions, but replace:

  • cooked bacon with diced pepperoni, salami or prosciutto (or get really crazy and use a bit of all three)
  • cheddar with mozzarella
  • chopped green onions with chopped fresh basil

Instead of using a dollop of sour cream, try drizzling them with pasta sauce

If you try any of these, let me know. And, if you create a new version, please share with me.

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Homemade gnocchi an Italian will love

He Who Must Be Fed is Italian — really Italian. So, it only makes sense that I would make some of his Italian favorites. However, I have a little confession to make: I’ve always been a little intimidated making Italian dishes. I feel as if his ancestors — and a few of mine — who hailed from the boot  are looking down at me, judging my humble attempts. After all, I didn’t think I could ever make anything as delicious as my grandmother or my father-in-law.

Awhile ago, I found a recipe for gnocchi with brown butter and sage in the April 2012 edition of the Food Network magazine that I clipped to save. As you can see, it took me some time to work up the courage to try it, but I’m so glad I did.

It’s not hard. Really. The first time I tried it, I made it with the brown butter and sage, according to the recipe. But, since He Who Must Be Fed makes delicious pasta sauce, I skipped that part in later attempts, covering them with his sauce instead.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large russet potatoes
  • 1 to 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour of mound of kosher salt on your baking sheet. Prick your potatoes with a fork then nestle them in the salt.PotatoesinSalt

This prevents the potatoes from browning and draws out the moisture. Bake until they are fork tender. When they’re done, remove them from the oven and let them sit until cool.

scoopingpotatoCut the potatoes lengthwise and carefully scoop out the flesh into a bowl.

Either press the flesh through a ricer or mash with a hand masher.  Dust your counter with flour and spread the potatoes on the flour. In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1/2 teaspoon of salt then drizzle over the potatoes.

Sprinkle the potato mixture with one cup of flour and knead until smooth. Add up to another 1/2 cup of flour until the dough isn’t sticky. You can test your dough by inserting your finger. If it comes out clean, you’re ready to go. Cover your dough with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

On your lightly floured surface, divide the dough. I cut it into four pieces. Then roll each section out into a long rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut each section into 1-inch pieces.cuttinggnocchi

To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once it boils, carefully add the gnocchi. When they float to the surface, let simmer another 30 seconds. I always taste one to make sure it’s done. Drain the gnocchi into a colander and immediately plate and cover with pasta sauce, grated cheese and a sprig of fresh basil to make it look — and taste — pretty.

gnocchifinishedFull recipe disclosure: First, do NOT throw away those potato skins. Tomorrow I’ll tell you what you can do with them. Also, this recipe is good for four medium-sized portions. So theoretically, if you’re cooking for just two, you can freeze half to save for another meal.

Best. Prime. Rib. Ever.

Christmas is almost here. (If you haven’t finished shopping, I don’t mean to be a reminder that your time is running out.) And you may be thinking about what to make for Christmas dinner. Well, do I have the recipe for you.

My friend, James, who is pretty much the smartest guy I know, shared this prime rib recipe with me. I tried it, and He Who Must Be Fed — as well as the youngest spawn of He Who Must Be Fed — said it was the greatest prime rib he ever had.

Watch this to see how it’s done:

I’ve made this several times, so I have some helpful hints for you:

  • For this to work, follow Chef John’s advice by making sure the roast is at room temperature.  That’ll take at least six hours, so you’re going to have to plan a little bit.
  • When I first watched the video, I didn’t know what herbs de Provence was, so I skipped it, and the roast tasted great. However, I have since found it and now use it. Delicious. You’ll be successful whether you use it or not.
  • While Chef John says the roast needs to be bone in, it’ll work even if it’s boneless. The last time I made this, I inadvertently got a boneless roast, but it worked just fine.
  • When the roast is done, remove it from the pan and cover it with foil so it will stay warm. Then, deglaze your pan with some beef broth. Don’t waste those delicious bits at the bottom of the pan; they’ll make marvelous gravy.
  • Heed Chef John’s advice and do not — DO NOT – open the oven during this process. It’ll be tempting. You’ll want to open the oven, but fight the temptation. In fact, it’s easier if you just leave the kitchen.

If you make this, let me know how awesome it turned out for you. Merry Christmas, my foodie friends.

Salty triple-chocolate caramel bark

Is there a better flavor combination than salty and sweet? I don’t think so. When I went to the movies as a kid, I couldn’t quite figure out why alternating bites of popcorn and a Hershey bar was so damn delicious, but I knew it was and that’s all I cared out.

Now, years later, everyone recognizes the appeal of the luscious salty-sweet combination. And, I’ve found a bark recipe that will make your taste buds – or the buds of your loved ones if you make this for them — dance for joy. Last year, I found this recipe from Diamond Crystal, which makes the kind of coarse sea salt that you’ll need for this recipe. My family loved this so much last Christmas it’s going to make a repeat performance this year.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chewy caramels
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the chocolate and caramels in separate microwave-safe bowls. ChipsInBowlsMicrowave the milk chocolate for about 45 seconds. The time may vary depending on the power of your wave. Stir the chocolate until smooth then, using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate onto the parchment. You don’t have to drizzle it in any kind of pattern. Think Jackson Pollock.

FirstChocolateLayerTurn the pan 90 degrees. This will enable you to vary the randomness of the drizzles. (Hmm … that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d get the chance to write.) Microwave the dark chocolate and repeat.SecondChocolateLayer

Turn the pan another 90 degrees and repeat with the white chocolate. ThirdChocolateLayerTurn the pan another 90 degrees. However, before you microwave the caramels, add about a tablespoon of milk. This will make the caramel a little smoother and easier to work with. Plus, the caramel will be a little softer so no one will lose a filling trying to eat this. After you drizzle the caramel, sprinkle the salt on top. I used the full 1 ½ teaspoons.AddingTheCaramel

Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and break into small pieces. Store your bark in an air-tight container, though you’ll probably want a taste before you do, right? Or, you can store in the freezer for up to three months.

If you’re giving it as a gift, you can use a small container and add a ribbon or bow to make it look even more festive.

FinishedBarkUseThis

If you make this, let me know how you like it.

Easy and festive candy cane kisses blossoms

Some of my friends don’t like chocolate. I know that’s hard for chocoholics to understand, but it’s true.  So, when I’m baking something special for them for the holidays, I look for non-chocolate recipes. I found a great cookie recipe last year – ironically from Hershey’s – that my friend Jen loves: candy cane blossoms. They’re made with Hershey’s candy cane kisses, which are available only at Christmastime. (Thank goodness because I can eat an entire bag of them with no – well, maybe a few – regrets.)

Not only are these cookies easy and delicious, but they’re also beautifully festival for the holiday season.FinishedCookies

Ingredients: 

  • 48 Hershey’s candy cane kisses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Red or green sugar sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While your oven is heating up, remove the wrappers from the kisses.

Beat together the butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla until well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar mixture the dry ingredients alternating with the milk.

Roll into one-inch balls then roll into your red or green sugar sprinkles. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.RollingCookies

Bake 8 to 10 minutes. (Nine minutes was perfect for my batch for Jen.) Remove from the oven and cool two to three minutes. Then place a kiss in the center of each cookie. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.

KissingCookies

Enjoy.

Full recipe disclosure: I didn’t unwrap all 48 kisses in case my cookies were a little bigger, and I didn’t need all 48. Plus, I didn’t want any unwrapped kisses left over because then I would just eat them. I think I unwrapped 36, which was just enough. Of course, if you want to eat the rest, have at it. They are yummy.

Sweet, buttery baklava pie

When you think of holiday baking, you probably think about frosted sugar cookies in various holiday shapes and fudge and candy-cane topped goodies.

Well, I have an interesting and delicious pie you might want to try this year. I’ve made it for my friend James for the last few Christmases, and he likes it so much that I keep on making it. And, he never seems to mind, so why spoil a good thing?

I call it baklava pie because it has all of the delicious of baklava — honey, walnuts and butter, lots of butter — in a pie shell. The recipe comes from Pillsbury, which calls it Greek walnut pie. But I like my name better. Don’t you?

Anyway, it’s easy to make and just about dances on the tongue.

Ingredients:  

  • 1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on the box (Or, you can certainly make your own crust.)
  • 2 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup butter melted and cooled
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Heat your oven to 325 degrees. Spray a nine-inch pie pan with cooking spray and make the crusts as directed on the box.

In a bowl, combine your walnuts, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Pour and spread evenly 1/4 cup of the cooled melted butter over the bottom of the pie crust. Spread the walnut mixture evenly over the butter. Then, drizzle another 1/4 cup butter of the nut mixture.

Top with the second pie crust. Seal and flute. Cut three large slits in the top crust so the steam can escape. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup butter evenly over the top crust.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until beautifully golden brown. About five minutes before you take the pie out of the oven, cook in a small saucepan the honey and lemon juice over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixture has the consistency of water.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack. Slowly pour the honey mixture evenly over the top of the pie, making sure it seeps into the slits in the crust. Cool at least three hours before serving.

Pillsbury suggests you whip up some homemade whipped topping for the pie, but I can assure you that you won’t need it. This pie is delicious completely unadorned.photo

I hope you like it as much as James does.

Recipe full disclosure: If you melt your 3/4 cup butter in a measuring cup with markings on it, you’ll be able to easily see when you’ve poured 1/4 cup into the pie. Just an easy tip I discovered. Hope it helps.

Pumpkin bread perfect for holiday gifts

The best presents are homemade. Unfortunately, I can’t knit or crochet. So making sweaters, scarves or mittens is out. I can’t make jewelry, so no one on my Christmas list is getting a handmade necklace or earrings. I’m not good with wood, so there will be no handcrafted chairs or tables or desks next to anyone’s tree.

But,  I can cook. So, I’m going to be making some yummy things for my friends this holiday season.

First, a confession: During the past few Christmases, while I struggled to complete a master’s degree and had class right up to and including Christmas, I cheated a little. For example, I used those Pillsbury boxed breads, merely adding some chopped walnuts or cranberries or chocolate chips, then giving them as gifts. Not completely homemade, I admit, but better than nothing.

However, now that I’m done with all of that crazy schooling, I’m making it all homemade this year.

Fortunately for me, I found a pumpkin bread recipe that is not only delicious but easy. I’ll be making several loaves for friends this year. (And I’ll be using those paper loaf pans I mentioned last week.)

This pumpkin bread recipe is from King Arthur Flour and makes two large-sized loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups (or one 15-ounce can) solid pack pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, optional
  • Coarse white sugar for sprinkling, optional

Full recipe disclosures: I eliminated the teaspoon of nutmeg — I’m just not that into nutmeg– and added a teaspoon of cinnamon instead. Also, I toasted my pecans in the oven before adding them to the batter. Toasting makes them taste so much better.

And, in my mind, the coarse white sugar is not optional. Liberally sprinkling it on the top before baking adds a delicious crust to the bread.PumpkinBreadUSE

If you get one of these for Christmas, know that I made them with my own two hands.  What are you making your friends and loved ones?

Baking holiday gifts? These are neater than sneakers on a chicken

Each year as the holidays near and I plan the gifts I want to bake, I face a dilemma. If I make cookies or cake or bark, how do I package it? I want the gifts to look nice and festive, but I don’t want to spend a ton of money on packaging. And, I don’t want to use something the giftee feels he/she has to return.

Then magically, almost like the dancing Sugar Plum Fairies themselves, the answer appeared as I was leafing through last month’s catalog for King Arthur Flour.  (In case you’re wondering, I am not being compensated by the company. However, if someone from KAF wants to toss some free sparkling sugar or espresso powder my way for endorsing these products, I won’t be mad.)

Anyway, the catalog featured something I hadn’t seen before: paper baking pans. What a neat idea.

These are worry-free pans: I don’t have to worry about getting my pans back, and the giftee doesn’t have to worry about washing and returning them.

There are several to choose from:

KAFPaperBakingPans

There are also several holiday package accessories:

So, if you get something tasty from me this holiday season, just toss the pan out when you’re finished with it.

If you try any of these, let me know how they worked out for you.

Holiday gift ideas for your favorite foodies

Foodies love foodie gifts. With the holiday season quickly approaching, Here are some gift ideas you might want to consider for your favorite foodie.

PhotoForDec.1TrioofSpicesGreat spices/ingredients
A true foodie is always looking for good spices and ingredients to make his/her recipes even better. Last Christmas, my friend Liza bought me some Vietnamese cinnamon and pizza seasoning  from King Arthur Flour, and I’ve been using them ever since. Trust me on this one. I purchased these for my dad, my favorite foodie, and he loved them. The cinnamon is incredible, and makes everything – even boring old oatmeal – taste fantastic. I wouldn’t use anything else.

Cookbooks
You might think that a foodie wouldn’t need or want a new cookbook, but au contraire, it depends on the book.

PhotoJohnSchlimmBookDec.1Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes a Cook’s Manifesto”  is more than a mere cookbook.  While it includes recipes, the premise of the book is that every cook’s success comes down to 20 concepts.

TheCheesyVeganIs your favorite foodie a vegan? If so, I have an author for you: John Schlimm, who has written several vegan cookbooks, including “Grilling Vegan Style” and “The Cheesy Vegan.” Or, is your foodie a fan of beer and spirits? John’s got you covered there as well, with “The Beer Lover’s Cookbook: More than 300 Recipes all Made With Beer”  and “The Tipsy Vegan: 75 Boozy Recipes to Turn Every Bite Into Happy Hours.”

Funky gifts
Uncommon goods has several interesting and unique gifts that your foodie likely will cherish, including a wiener dog oil and vinegar set and a salts of the world test tube set.

Bacon
Yep, you read that right. You can enroll your foodie in a Bacon Club. For three or six months, your foodie will receive 12 to 16 ounces of bacon (did someone say bacon?!?) along with recipes and other bacon goodies. At $189 for six months’ worth, it’s a little pricey, but it’s bacon.

Food
There’s no reason you can’t get a foodie food. Most foodies I know love, love, love food. While I have bacon the brain, here’s a potential stocking stuffer for your foodie: the Noble Pig Chocolate Bar library, which includes a milk chocolate bacon bar, a dark chocolate bacon bar and a Barcelona bar, which includes hickory-smoked almonds and sea salt – all for $22.

Zabar’s from New York, one of my most recent finds, offers a wide assortment of awesome-looking food, including coffee, bagels and deli meats. The cinnamon babka is fantastic and makes delicious French toast.

If your favorite foodie comes from The Boot, you may want to check out the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittsburgh for some Italian delectables, including  a small or large antipasta gift box filled with sliced Italian meats, sharp provolone and peppers.  The company also will send fresh pasta, such as smoked mozzarella ravioli and lobster ravioli, which are both wickedly delicious.

Cool tools and gadgets
Foodies love gadgets. The Food Network store features several cool tools/gadgets foodies would love, including what it calls a “lasagna lugger,” a cloth carrier with handles so your foodie can transport hot or cold food easily without burning fingers or making a mess in the car; and an iPad stand for those cooks who refer to electronic recipes.

At one point, every foodie needs a microplaner. Even if your foodie has one, he/she could use another. Williams-Sonoma  offers four with different surfaces for $16.95.

You could also make your foodie an apron at Cafe Press. Yes, most cooks already have one, but they don’t have one with your picture on it, or a special saying or one that you created. And, we foodies are always getting our aprons dirty, so it’s good to have a spare.

What about a baking tool caddy for your baker foodie? Think of it as a tackle box for bakers, enabling him/her to organize all of his/her foodie favorites, including sprinkles, pastry bags, tips, etc.

PenguinsClockSomething for the kitchen
And what foodie wouldn’t love this penguin kitchen clock? Oh, wait. That’s on my holiday list. Never mind.

What are you getting your favorite foodie? Tell me. I can keep a secret.