Twice Baked Potatoes

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You can’t really go wrong with potatoes and cheese. And if you brown the cheese it’s even better.

Rich and I had a date night a few weeks ago and we were looking for something that was tasty, but not too indulgent. We are still coming off our holiday indulgences and are happy with lighter meals. We decided on spuds and salads, but we wanted to jazz up the potatoes just a bit. Twice baked potatoes to the rescue.

The potatoes are a nice change from regular baked potatoes and are only a little more work. You can cut the work down even further if you use leftover baked potatoes – it is easy to throw a few extra potatoes in the oven for later in the week.

Twice baked potatoes are the epitome of a customizable dish. Make them early in the day, or even the day before, and stash them in the fridge until ready to bake. Or make them right before you want to eat them. Use less cheese, or more. Add bacon, chives, green onions, garlic or bits of whatever you have in the fridge. I kept the recipe pretty basic, but feel free to make it yours.

What’s your favorite way to eat baked potatoes?

Print just the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

Use more cheese if you like your potatoes really cheesy.

You can make bake, mash and fill the potato shells ahead of time. Store them in the fridge until ready to bake them the second time.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 egg, slightly beaten
2-4 tablespoons milk
Salt
Pepper
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar, Swiss or a combination of your favorites)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes for about an hour, or until they are soft when poked with a fork. Cool potatoes until you can handle them comfortably. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides of each half, leaving about ¼ inch shell of potato inside the skin. You don’t have to be precise. Set potato shells aside.

Mash the scooped out potato with a fork or potato masher. Try to get most of the lumps out, but don’t get obsessive. Add the egg, about 2 tablespoons of milk and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and mash again. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more milk and mash again. You want a mixture that is a little wetter than mashed potatoes.

Mix in about ½ cup of cheese. Reserve ½ cup of cheese for topping the potatoes later.

Fill the potato shells with the cheese-potato mixture, mounding the tops fairly neatly.

Place the filled potato halves on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, propping the potatoes against each other if they won’t stand up.

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or just until the tops are starting to turn golden brown in spots. Remove the potatoes from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the reserved cheese. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Broil the tops for a couple of minutes if you want the cheese browner.

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Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

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Fall weather changes my thinking when I plan dinner, even side dishes. I turn from things like light, citrusy rice to rich, cheesy potatoes. Or at least I did today. I wanted to make a cheesy potato dish to go with the breaded, baked fish I was planning. And I wanted to make it as simple as possible, with as few dirty dishes as possible.

I decided to make scalloped potatoes like my mother used to when I was growing up. I sliced potatoes and layered them with cheese and sprinkles of flour. I poured milk over the top and baked them until they were browned and bubbly and the milk and flour had thickened into a sauce.

The only hard part about this recipe is waiting for them to bake. No cheese sauce to make, no potatoes to parboil before baking. Just cheesy, warm potatoes with a minimum of fuss and bother. My idea of a perfect side dish.

Download or print recipe here.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6-8

You can make this with your favorite cheeses. Stronger cheeses are better than mild ones, in my opinion. Use any milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer your sauce.

4-6 potatoes (1½ pounds)
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup flour, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
black pepper, to taste
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heavily grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish.

Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin, round slices. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl.

Cover the bottom of the casserole with a thin layer of potato slices – use about a quarter of the potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour, ⅛ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Spread 1 cup of cheese over the second layer of potatoes. Repeat the layering twice more with the remaining potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Pour milk gently over the entire casserole. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes.

Remove foil and sprinkle top of potatoes with remaining 1 cup of cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes, until top is golden brown, edges are browned and sauce is bubbly and thick. Let potatoes rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes

DSC_0011I’m not sure what I was thinking the other night when I made dinner. I made enough mashed potatoes for an army, or at least for another family, or two. While I was mashing them, before we had even sat down to eat them, I was already trying to figure out what I would do with the leftovers. Not sure what that says about me, but I’ll go with frugal.

My mom sometimes made mashed potato cakes when we had enough potatoes left over. She didn’t do it often, but they were always good. We didn’t usually have enough to make many, usually enough to have one or two each, with other leftovers for lunch, or with eggs for breakfast. Mom liked hers with maple syrup, which I always thought was a little weird. Her mother made mashed potato cakes for breakfast when she was a girl and served them with syrup. Who am I to argue with Mom’s tastes of childhood?

We had so many mashed potatoes that I decided to make potato cakes as a side dish to go with fish for dinner the next night. Cheese goes well with potatoes, so I threw some of that in, along with an egg to hold it all together. You can certainly leave the cheese out, or use more than I did. And you will have to adjust the seasonings to your tastes. Our potatoes weren’t very salty to begin with, so I added a little salt. If I had had some on hand, I would have mixed in roasted garlic. I used just a touch of garlic powder instead, since the short cooking time wouldn’t have worked well with chopped raw garlic. Fresh herbs would have been marvelous, but I didn’t have any, so we did without.

Just a little butter on the griddle and our potato cakes fried up golden brown and crispy, with soft, cheesy centers. Calvin couldn’t stop talking about how much he liked them. And it was a good thing, since we had enough left over for several lunches, even after having them for dinner. Did I mention I had made a lot of potatoes?

Note: I had enough potatoes to make a double batch of the potato cakes, which made almost twenty. I am giving you a recipe for half that, since most normal people don’t have four cups of mashed potatoes left over – except maybe at Thanksgiving. If you do find yourself with lots of mashed potatoes, just double all the ingredients in the recipe and start frying.

Download or print the recipe here.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6 (8-12 potato cakes, depending on size)

1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
½-¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar, any cheese will work)
⅛-¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. This is to keep the first batch of potato cakes hot while you cook the second batch. If you have a griddle large enough, you can cook them all at once and skip the oven.

Melt butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. While pan is heating, mix egg, mashed potatoes, cheese, salt, garlic powder and black pepper together until thoroughly combined.

Spoon small amounts of mashed potato mixture into the hot pan, flattening them with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use a little less than a quarter cup of the mixture per cake. Or make them smaller. Don’t make them bigger or they will be too hard to turn.

Cook 3-4 minutes, or until first side is golden brown. Carefully turn mashed potato cakes over and brown the other side, another 3-4 minutes. The cakes are fragile – use care when turning them.

Remove the potato cakes to the prepared baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you cook the second batch.

Serve the mashed potato cakes hot. Leftovers reheat well in a lightly greased skillet.

Scalloped, Au Gratin or Cheesy Potatoes


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Potatoes, milk and cheese go together, no matter what you call them. Sure, it is easy to pick up a box of the dried potato slices with the included powdered sauce. But why do this when you can put in just a little more effort to get something that tastes so much better?

I usually make cheesy potatoes by slicing potatoes, boiling them until they are barely tender and then layering them with the cheese sauce I use for macaroni and cheese before baking them until brown and bubbly. I change the cheese mixture to concentrate heavily on sharp cheddar and Parmesan – we like the stronger cheese flavors with the potatoes.

The other night I decided to skip making the cheese sauce and try making the potatoes the way I made them once, several years ago. We were at my parents’ house during the holidays and my brother and his family were visiting. We had been shopping or sightseeing (the memory is fuzzy) and were throwing together dinner at the end of the day. It was one of those meals where several people each made a dish and what we got was a hodgepodge that was perfect. I can’t remember anything but the potatoes and how much fun we had. Not sure what that says about my memory, that I only remember the dish I made.

Anyway, I sliced the potatoes and simmered them on the stove in milk. Then I layered the potatoes in a casserole with grated cheese and poured the hot milk over the top before baking them in the oven. They were fabulous, if I say so myself.

To truly recreate what I did this time, you will have to boil the milk over onto the stovetop. Then you have to trail milk all over the stove, floor and counter while you are removing the pan from the stove. Oh, and you have to forget to grease the casserole dish until you have half the bottom covered with hot potatoes. Don’t forget to start the whole process with a sink full of dishes that you forgot to wash earlier in the day. Other than that, you can follow the recipe and end up with a quick version of what my mother used to call scalloped potatoes. I recommend starting with a clean sink and skipping the boiling over part.

Download or print the recipe.

Scalloped Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6-8

Use starchy white or yellow potatoes for this recipe, rather than waxy red ones. The starch will help thicken the sauce.

4 large potatoes (about 1½ pounds)
2-2 ½ cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese (I used 1 cup sharp cheddar, ½ cup Swiss and ½ cup Parmesan)
¼ teaspoon salt
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large casserole (mine is almost 9 by 13). You can also use a smaller casserole, but you won’t have as much surface area for the browned cheese on top.

Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin rounds. Put the potatoes in a large pot. Add milk until most of the potatoes are covered. Add salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cover with the lid and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are almost tender. Lower the heat if the potatoes threaten to boil over.

Use a slotted spoon to move about half the potato slices to the greased casserole dish. Spread them in a single layer – you don’t have to be neat. Layer about half the cheese on top. Add the rest of the potatoes, spreading them out as evenly as possible. Pour the hot milk evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and the top and edges are browned. Tent the top loosely with foil if it starts to get too brown. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving so the sauce can thicken just a bit. Reheats well.

Bacon and Date Calzones

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We have homemade pizza in one form or another about every other week. We have tried all sorts of toppings, but haven’t done calzones in years. Calvin saw a commercial for some pizza place that had a crust-topped pizza. He thought it looked good and I remarked that we could do that, but ours would be better. Somehow that morphed into making calzones.

Rich had seen a menu for a local restaurant that only does calzones, with a fig and bacon version that intrigued him. When I made these, we didn’t have any figs, but we had a lot of dates, so I thought we would substitute. I wasn’t sure about the combo, so I used only a few bits of date and crisp bacon in each small calzone. As soon as we ate our first ones, we realized that we had made deconstructed bacon-wrapped dates in a pocket. Next time I will use more dates and bacon to really get the flavor.

The rest of the filling was shredded mozzarella, roasted garlic, ricotta and olive oil. Calvin had his without the dates and bacon, to make inside out white pizza. We made extras of his for him to have as after school snacks (and because we ran out of bacon).

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The instructions and assembly seem like a long process. You can do this in steps – make the dough the day before or in the morning, cook the bacon and chop the dates when you have a minute, shred the cheese and chop the garlic ahead of time. If you aren’t doing it all at once it won’t be as daunting.

As you can see from the pictures, our calzones are irregular shapes. Calvin was helping me and the goal was to get dinner made so we could eat. Aesthetics went out the window in favor of teenage help to get dinner on the table. And, as always, they tasted just fine, even if they weren’t pretty.

The following recipe doesn’t have exact amounts, because I was winging it, which you should too. Use what you have and see what works. Just remember not to fill the calzones too full or you will have leaks. Not that leaking cheese is all bad, since it browns on the pan and makes a nice addition to the calzone, but sometimes it makes a pathway for all of the filling to escape, leaving you with an empty shell.

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Have fun with your calzones and post in the comments if you have a favorite filling idea.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Bacon and Date Calzones
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 10-16 calzones, depending on size

I am giving only approximate amounts, since I didn’t measure and you need to adjust to your tastes.

1 recipe whole wheat pizza dough, mixed and risen (or your preferred dough)
Olive oil
Garlic, roasted and mashed, or minced if raw (4 cloves roasted, 1 or 2 if raw)
4-8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
6-12 dates, diced
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella
½-1 cup ricotta, whole milk preferred (do not use fat free)
Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Divide dough in half on a floured surface. Cover one half of dough to keep it from drying out while you work with the other half.

Roll dough out to a rough square or rectangle, about ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into 5-8 squares – size will depend on how big you want your calzones.

As you fill your squares, be sure to keep the edges free of any toppings so the dough will stick together when you seal the filled calzone. Drizzle about ½ teaspoon of olive oil in the middle of half of each square (the other half will be the top and gets no filling).

Spread a little garlic on each oiled square. Top garlic with bacon, dates, a little mozzarella and a tablespoon, or less, of ricotta.  Add a sprinkling of Parmesan to each calzone. Make sure you don’t over-fill your calzones, or you will have trouble encasing the filling in the dough and you will have leaks.

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Fold the empty side of dough over the filling of each calzone and press the edges to seal. Use a little water as glue if the dough doesn’t stick to itself. Transfer the calzones to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle each with a little more Parmesan, if desired. Prick the tops with a fork to make steam vents.

Repeat steps with remaining dough and topping ingredients.

Bake calzones for 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom. Baking time will depend on size. Check them after 10-15 minutes to make sure they aren’t getting too brown.

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Let calzones cool on baking sheet about five minutes before serving. These store well – reheat in the oven or a toaster oven for best results.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I should have posted this a few weeks ago, on the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth. This seems like one of those dishes that she would encourage people to make. I am in no way comparing myself to Julia Child, but I hope you will try making this.

If you are looking for a relatively easy, but very impressive dish, Chicken Cordon Bleu is it. Combine chicken, Swiss cheese, a few slices of ham, coat it all with breadcrumbs and you have an entrée that will knock the socks off your guests or your family.

The recipe looks daunting because there are a lot of steps, but nothing about it is hard. If you are making these for company or even for a weeknight dinner, you can do all of the prep work early in the day, or the night before, and store the chicken in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.

I have seen recipes for Chicken Cordon Bleu that call for pouring melted butter on top of the breaded chicken, and others for deep-frying it. Still others call for a sauce of some sort to pour over the top. I do none of these. A little olive oil mixed into the crumbs ensures they brown and get crisp in the oven. The ham and cheese, along with the crunchy breading provide enough flavor without any extra fat or sauces.

Notes: I used grated cheese when I made the chicken for this post. I thought it would be easier to roll than slices of cheese. It was not. I had raw-chicken-tainted grated cheese falling out all over the place while I was rolling them. Use slices as specified in the recipe. Trust me, you will be much happier.

Have all of your ingredients and supplies ready before you start handling the raw chicken so you don’t have to keep washing your hands, or spreading raw chicken germs over your kitchen.

Use your sharpest knife for cutting the chicken. Few things are more frustrating than trying to cut raw meat with a dull knife. If your knife is sharp enough, it will do the hard work for you.

As Julia would say, “Bon Appetite!”

Chicken Cordon Bleu
From the Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1½ cups dry breadcrumbs
Paprika
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Cayenne powder
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
6-8 thin slices Swiss cheese
6-8 thin slices deli ham

Equipment:
Toothpicks
Your sharpest knife
Gallon-sized zip-top bag
Meat mallet, rolling pin or small skillet

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Skip this step if you are assembling the chicken to bake later. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish or baking pan and set aside. Have about 12 toothpicks ready beside your work area.

Place the breadcrumbs on a dinner plate and season with a few sprinkles of paprika, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne, to taste. Add salt very sparingly – the cheese and ham will add quite a bit of saltiness. Add olive oil and mix well with a fork, until the oil is evenly distributed in the crumbs. Set crumbs aside.

Crack the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat well with a fork. Set aside.

Trim the chicken of any visible fat. Find the tenderloin of each breast and cut it free from the rest of the breast. There is a natural division between the sections – use it as a guide for your knife. Cut out and discard the white tendon from each tenderloin. Cut the remaining portion of each breast horizontally into two pieces.

Place each piece of chicken in a heavy zip-top bag and pound with a meat mallet, a rolling pin or the side of a skillet until as thin as you can get it. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a plate or platter.

Place a piece of ham on each piece of chicken. Top each with a slice of cheese. For the smaller pieces, you might have to use only half a slice each of ham and cheese. Roll up each piece of chicken as tightly as possible, like a cinnamon roll or pinwheel. Use a toothpick to hold it all together. You might need more than one toothpick to hold the larger pieces.

Once you have all the chicken rolled up and secured with toothpicks, you are ready to bread them. Dip each chicken roll first in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture being sure to coat the ends. Place in prepared dish or pan, leaving space between each piece.

If you are making ahead, cover dish with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crumbs are golden brown and chicken is cooked through. Some of the cheese may leak out and brown on the bottom of the pan. We fight over these browned cheese bits in my family.

This reheats well, though the coating won’t be as crispy when left over.

Download the recipe here.

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza

 

The basil in the garden is still flourishing, happy as can be, even though it is now pretty much smothered by the out-of-control tomato vines. It is a little bit of a treasure hunt to harvest, but one that I am willing to undertake. The basil bounty leads to pesto, of course. I made a batch last week and used it to make a different twist on pizza.

Even if you have never made your own pizza dough, you should try it. It is so much better than any pizza crust you can buy, and it isn’t hard. I came up with a no-knead pizza dough recipe over a year ago. If you have a big bowl and a wooden spoon, you can make it. One trip the store will get you any ingredients you need. The recipe looks long – but I tried to include lots of directions for first-timers.

Pesto, olive oil, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese come together in a pizza that celebrates basil and cheese. Feel free to add chopped, cooked chicken, a few thin slices of fresh tomato or whatever else you think goes with the green herbiness of the basil.

Pesto Three Cheese Pizza
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 2 14-inch round pizzas

The dough recipe makes enough pizza for two pizzas. If you would rather not make two pesto pizzas, use only half of the topping ingredients for your pizza and use the other half of the dough to make another kind of pizza. Or store the other half of the dough in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week and make pizza another night.

Dough:
3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
½ cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1 package yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1 ½ cups water, approximately

Put all ingredients except water in your largest bowl. Add 1 cup water and stir to combine.

 

If there is still dry flour, add water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until a very wet dough forms. You aren’t looking for batter here, but a dough. It will be too soft to knead and look quite wet.

Once everything is well combined, beat and mix the dough with your spoon or spatula for a minute or so. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2-24 hours. If you are making the dough much more than 4 hours in advance, store it in the fridge while it rises. If it is rising on the counter, you might need to stir the dough down every couple of hours if it is filling the bowl. Stir it a few times and re-cover. If it is in the fridge, just leave it to do its thing.

If your dough is in the refrigerator, remove it from the fridge and let it sit on the counter 30-60 minutes before you want to use it to make it easier to handle.

Pizza:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pesto, homemade or purchased (more or less, to taste)
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ pound part skim mozzarella, grated
½ cup Parmesan cheese, approximately

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease pizza pans. Sprinkle the surface of your dough heavily with flour, work a rubber spatula around the edges of the dough and try to work some flour down the sides of the bowl.

Divide the dough in half with a spatula and scrape half on to each pan. Sprinkle each dough portion with flour and begin to press it out with your fingertips to cover the pan. Add more flour if it sticks to your hands. If one piece bounces back, move to the other pan and come back the first after the dough has a minute to relax. Try to get the dough to the outside edges of the pan, but you don’t have to be perfect.

Drizzle each pizza with a little olive oil and spread to cover the dough.

Add small dollops of pesto to each crust, spreading them out slightly with the back of a spoon. Don’t try to cover the entire crust with pesto, unless you really like basil. You might not use all the pesto.

Dollop ricotta cheese between the spots of pesto. Use the back of a spoon to spread the ricotta cheese out a bit. Again, you aren’t trying to cover the entire surface with ricotta, but just spread it a little thinner so you don’t have huge globs of cheese on the dough.

Sprinkle each pizza with mozzarella cheese, then Parmesan cheese.

Bake pizzas for 12-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 5-10 minutes more, or until the cheese is golden brown and the bottom crust is lightly browned. Cut each pizza into slices and serve immediately. Pizza reheats well, either in microwave or in a skillet on low heat.

Download the recipe here.