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.

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Bacon Browned Potatoes

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Bacon is everywhere, and has been for quite a while now, in bacon peanut butter pie, bacon grilled cheese, bacon and eggs (had to throw that in), bacon-infused vodka, bacon caramels. Some of it goes a little too far – I’m not sure about the bacon vodka. But there is a reason bacon is popular – most of us love salty, smoky things.

We try to limit our bacon consumption, but sometimes we just have to buy a package. When I do have bacon to cook with, I try to use it in small amounts to stretch the flavor without indulging quite so much – a little crumbled on top of baked potatoes or a slice on top of an egg and English muffin sandwich. Occasionally I will save the fat from frying the bacon to use in other dishes. It doesn’t take much and I don’t do it all the time. Sometimes, though, there is no substitute for the smoky, toasty richness you get from bacon fat.

When I was a kid my mom (and just about everyone else’s mom) saved bacon fat in a jar in the fridge. Then the cholesterol-fearing days came and she threw it all out. Gone were fried eggs or roasted potatoes cooked in bacon fat. I still remember how they taste. There really is nothing like a fried egg cooked in bacon fat, slightly brown and flecked with the tiny bits of bacon left in the pan.

I have adapted my hash brown recipe to use bacon fat. If you aren’t interested for whatever reason, try the potatoes cooked in butter (or as Calvin calls them, Slip and Slides) instead. Both recipes are deceptively rich and satisfy any cravings for fat with just a little indulgence. A tablespoon of bacon fat is enough, though two tablespoons are decadence in a skillet. Don’t use more than that or the potatoes will be unpleasantly greasy. I like to use a cast iron skillet for these. I think it browns more evenly. But any heavy-bottomed skillet will do.

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Download or print just the recipe here.

Bacon Browned Potatoes
from The Cook’s Life
serves 3-4

1-2 tablespoons bacon fat
3-4 medium baked potatoes (I use leftover potatoes for this)*
Salt
Pepper

Start a skillet heating over medium heat and add the bacon fat. While the pan is heating, peel and dice the potatoes, cutting them into about ½-inch cubes. You don’t have to be precise.

Swirl the pan to cover the bottom with the melted fat and add the potatoes. Spread them out so they are in a single layer and then walk away. Leave them absolutely alone for five minutes before you start to stir. You are working toward a golden brown coating on the bottoms of the pieces.

After at least five minutes, use a spatula to turn the potatoes. Try to turn them all the way over so the tops of the pieces will brown. After another five minutes, stir them around, gently, and let them brown some more. If they are starting to get too brown, lower the heat. Remember, you aren’t going for constant stirring. Let the heat do the work.

Serve your golden brown, crispy, bacon-scented potatoes hot, with salt and pepper to taste.

*If you don’t have leftover potatoes, scrub the potatoes, prick them with a fork and microwave on high for five minutes, or until they are starting to get soft. They don’t have to be all the way cooked, but it is fine if they are. Let them cool a bit for easy handling.

Honey Lemon Plantains

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Rich and I had another date night last Friday. We cooked dinner together, ran a couple of errands, picked up dessert (almond tarts!) from a local pastry shop and cafe and caught up on a few of our TV shows. Exciting night, I know, but we had fun. We have been having a lot of date nights lately, as my parents have been very generous with Calvin’s overnight visits. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

We had Caribbean night at dinner, with jerk seasoning rubbed pork chops and baked plantains. We also played reggae music on the stereo – gotta love being able to pick a genre on Spotify. Not sure what the neighbors thought since it was really warm outside and we had the windows open. Our taste of spring and tropical food was a nice change from heavy winter meals and cold weather.

The pork chops were okay, but not really anything special. I think I prefer my jerk seasoning on chicken, which is how we usually do it. I will try to make that sometime soon so I can share the recipe with you. The plantains, on the other hand, were fabulous.

I had never cooked plantains before, so I looked up recipes online. They were all about the same – bake ripe plantains until tender. Some recipes called for peeling and slicing the plantains first, others called for baking in the skin. I opted to peel and slice them before baking. They baked up nicely, smelling slightly of ripe bananas. As they were cooking, they caramelized beautifully, but they were a little bland. I decided to brush them with a little honey and lemon juice spiked with a little cinnamon. That was just the touch they needed.

Plantains will be showing up on our menu fairly regularly now. I liked them as we had them, as a starchy side. I’m sure they would be delicious as a dessert, with much more of the sweet syrup. As they were, they were only slightly sweet, with a very subtle banana flavor, and were a nice foil for our spicy pork chops. We will try them with chicken or fish next time, I think, for a flavor of the Caribbean in the middle of the Midwest.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Honey Lemon Plantains
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 3-4

Ripe plantains are dark yellow with lots of black spots. They will feel slightly soft when pressed, but won’t be squishy like really ripe bananas.

Cooking spray or vegetable oil
2 large ripe plantains
salt
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
dash ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a nonstick baking sheet or line with parchment paper and grease the parchment. Don’t skip this step – the plantains tend to stick. Set aside.

Peel the plantains by slicing off the ends and then slitting the skin with a knife down the side. Peel the skin away from the flesh. Slice the plantain into 1-1½ slices and place cut side down on the prepared baking sheet.

Spray pieces lightly with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn slices over and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides and tender when pierced with a fork.

While plantains are baking, heat honey for 15 seconds in the microwave, or until hot. Add lemon juice and cinnamon and stir well. Set aside until plantains are baked.

When plantains are done, brush tops with honey and lemon mixture. Serve immediately with any extra honey sauce on the side.

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.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I have been on a quest to make baked sweet potato fries for several months. Sweet potatoes are a staple in our house, so I am always looking for new ways to make them. White potatoes get nice and crispy in the oven, but sweet potatoes don’t always. I have done absolutely no research on this, but my private theory is that the high amount of sugar in the sweet potatoes makes them burn before they crisp.

I think I have found the method to get mostly crispy sweet potato fries. I have decided that unless I get out the oil and deep fry them, I am never going to get 100% crispiness, but as I said in my post on Roasted Parmesan Potatoes, if I fry anything it will be a doughnut, not a vegetable.

The baking method isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require constant babysitting, unlike baked sweet potato chips. I cut the sweet potatoes into long fries and arranged them in even rows on the pan (this was a little fiddly, but it’s worth it). I drizzled them fairly heavily with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and baked them on the bottom rack of a 400-degree oven, turning them over after 15 minutes. I checked on them after another 10 minutes and they were almost there. A few more minutes in the oven and they were as close to perfection as I think baked sweet potato fries are going to get.

The fries were crispy on most of the outside surfaces, especially on the ends, and soft inside. They had a nicely caramelized, concentrated sweet potato flavor. And they were crispy enough to eat with my fingers, with no hint of flabbiness. Pretty much everything I was looking for in a sweet potato fry. Try them and tell me what you think.

Download or print the recipe here.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, approximately
Salt
Cinnamon, black pepper or cayenne powder, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and set aside.

Peel the sweet potatoes, if desired, and cut them into long strips, like French fries. Try to make them as uniform in size and shape as possible, but don’t make yourself crazy over it.

Arrange the fries on the baking sheet in several rows, lining them up side by side. Try to leave a little space between them. This will help them to cook evenly and make turning them easier later. Put any smaller fries toward the middle of the sheet where they will cook more slowly.

Drizzle the fries with olive oil. Don’t drown them, but do use a couple of tablespoons. Sprinkle the fries with salt.

Place the pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn fries over with a spatula or tongs and return them to the oven. Bake for another 10 minutes. Check the bottoms to make sure they aren’t getting too brown. Turn them again and bake for another 5 minutes if they aren’t crispy and browned. Stay in the kitchen at this point, as they can go from brown to black in minutes. Bake until the fries are well browned and crispy. Sprinkle fries with cinnamon, black pepper or cayenne powder, or all three. Or leave them plain. Serve hot.

Roasted Parmesan Potatoes

I don’t fry things; in fact I have never deep-fried anything. Don’t get me wrong, I eat fried foods, but I am not a fan of working with large quantities of hot oil. I will do it one day, but when I do, it is going to be a doughnut, not a potato. Roasting potatoes that are coated with olive oil is about the closest I am going to get to making my own French fries. Roasted Parmesan potatoes will make you forget all about fries, and maybe even the rest of the meal.

You can’t get much easier than this recipe. Scrub and chop potatoes, toss with a little (or a lot) of olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and a little rosemary (or not). Spread on a baking pan, add a little more cheese and roast for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. You end up with golden brown potatoes, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Another addition of cheese and you will be in potato eaters’ heaven.

Download or print the recipe here.

Roasted Parmesan Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

4-5 medium potatoes (I used Yukon Golds, but any kind will do)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese (use the real stuff, not the green can), divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and set aside. Scrub potatoes and peel, if desired. I didn’t peel them this time. Cut potatoes into approximately 1-inch cubes.

Toss potatoes with olive oil, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread in single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

Roast undisturbed for 15 minutes, then use a spatula to gently turn and stir potatoes. Roast for another 15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Bake a few extra minutes if potatoes aren’t golden brown. Top potatoes with remaining Parmesan cheese and serve while hot.

Crunchy Rice

It has been a while since I have posted a recipe for a side dish, and I thought it was time. Cookies and homemade ravioli are all fine and good, but weeknight dinner dishes deserve some time too. I don’t usually put a lot of time into my side dishes, which sometimes leads to boring dinners (maybe I should look for some new side dish recipes). Crunchy rice is super easy to put together, but a lot more interesting than plain rice or baked potatoes (my fallback starchy sides).

This is a variation on a rice dish my mom made when I was a kid, with cream soup and butter. I skip the cream soup in favor of chicken broth, and the butter in favor of olive oil. Rice and one clove of garlic and it’s ready for the oven. It bakes up crunchy and browned around the edges and lightly browned on top. The toasted edges provide a nice contrast to the moist, fluffy rice in the middle.

I love dinner dishes that can go in the oven and do their thing while I prep the rest of dinner, clean out the sink or fold the last load of laundry for the day. I usually make this rice to have with pork tenderloin or roast chicken that can bake at the same time. Sometimes, when I’m really on the ball, I’ll throw sweet potatoes in 30-45 minutes before the rice so they will all be done at the same time. Depending on the size of the chicken, I’ll put it in at the same time as the sweet potatoes and set a timer to remind me when to start the rice.

As with most of my recipes, feel free to adjust the recipe to suit your tastes. I usually use chicken broth, but you could use vegetable or beef broth. I don’t use bouillon cubes or granules because they are mostly salt, but I have found a concentrated broth paste called Better Than Bouillon that I use often. It is still pretty salty, but as long as I don’t add any extra salt, it works. I use a small amount of olive oil, but you could use more, or use melted butter. And you can get all crazy and add things like mushrooms, onions, shallots or any other sautéed vegetables you like if you want something that goes beyond the simple version I have here. Be sure to post in the comments if you come up with a variation you want to share.

Crunchy Rice
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Use a smaller dish for more fluffy rice and fewer crunchy parts; use a larger dish for more crunchy parts and a smaller amount of fluffy rice.

1 ½ cups jasmine or basmati rice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the broth to boiling. Grease a 9 by 13 inch, or slightly smaller, glass or ceramic casserole dish. Spread the rice in an even layer and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste (you may need little or no salt, depending on how salty your broth is). Pour the hot broth over the rice and stir gently. Bake rice for 40-45 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is lightly browned on top and brown and crispy around the edges. Serve hot. This is best the day you make it.

Download the recipe here.