Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mini Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-baked potatoes were so popular back in the 80's. My mom made them for dinner quite often and they were the side dish at the two steakhouses in town. Then, all of a sudden they disappeared and became somewhat forgotten. I suppose they fell out of favor because they were time-consuming and slightly fussy, or maybe it was the calorie craze of the 90's. Of course, if you ask me, it was also right around this time that things became all about being fast. Microwave meals, boxed meals, and woks became the thing. Everyone was talking about how fast they could make their meals in the microwave or how fast they could throw together a stir fry. The dreaded convenience factor....and well, it's pretty much been the same way ever since.

I have to admit that I fall into the same trap. Even though I love to cook, I convince myself that I don't have time to spend the whole day in the kitchen. Truth is, I know full well that we make time for the things we want to do. So today I did just that. I made something that has been on my list forever...these cute little mini twice-baked potatoes.

Not only were they heavenly, but everyone was very pleased with the cute little package on their plate. My daughter said, "I love these. This reminds me of the kind of food you used to cook before you started working." Her comment made me smile because she hit the nail on the head.  I told her "Grandma used to make these for dinner all the time when I was little, but you're right....she did that before she started working. Once she started working she rarely made things like that anymore."

We had a really good Sunday dinner, but the whole thing left me feeling kind of sad. We get so caught up in doing, going, and running that we let life pass us by. Why do we feel so guilty when we can't get to everything? Why can't we make time to read a book or spend a day in the kitchen? 

So, yes, maybe I didn't get to store or finish all the laundry today and you know what? No one will notice. But, I did manage to make these absolutely delicious twice-baked potatoes that made my daughter's eyes light up and I'm gonna call that a win.

Do yourself a favor and waste the day away in the kitchen. Make something time-consuming and fabulous and serve these cute little mini twice-baked potatoes on the side. I guarantee you won't regret it!

Mini Twice-Baked Potatoes
Adapted from Food Network 
by Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 12-14

1-1/2 pounds baby potatoes (12 to 15 potatoes) - big enough to stuff
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
salt, to taste
6 bounces bacon, chopped fine
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup sour cream, at room temp*
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoons heavy cream, at room temp

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Place the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until a knife inserted into the potatoes goes in with little to no resistance, about 30 to 40 minutes (of course this depends on the size of your potatoes - mine were 3 to 4 bites big).

In a medium skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy, about 10 minutes.  Drain well and place half of the bacon in a bowl. Add the panko, 2 tablespoons chives, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Mix to combine and set aside.

In another bowl, combine the sour cream, butter, heavy cream, the remaining bacon, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 2 tablespoons chives, and salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm, cut off the top third of each potato. Remove the skin from the tops.  Using a melon baller, or very small spoon, scoop out some of the insides of the cooked potatoes, leaving 1/4-inch borders around the edges. This creates little boats. Place the scooped insides and the peeled tops of the potatoes in a medium bowl and mash using a potato masher or the back of a fork. Add the reserved bacon and sour cream mixture. Using a rubber spatula, mix together the filling until well combined.  Spoon the filling back into the potato boats slightly overfilled and mounded on top. Top with a sprinkling of the panko mixture and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake until the filling is heated through and the topping is golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Theme: February Potluck!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Julia and Jacques's Chocolate Roulade

I found a video of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin making this Chocolate Roulade on Martha Stewart's show. The two of them made this roulade look completely effortless; so much so, I wondered why I hadn't made it before. I should've known better.

My hand blender is broken so I thought I would whisk the 7 egg whites to stiff peaks with my own two hands. Haha! Major mistake. I'm convinced that no amount of arm power can do this. It simply wasn't going to happen. I had my daughter go down and borrow my neighbor's hand mixer. I must've whisk the heck out of the egg whites with my hands, because they never would turn into soft peaks or stiff peaks, so I had to crack 7 new eggs and start all over again. This time, with the help of the hand mixer, the egg whites turned to soft peaks rather quickly.

The cake batter baked up quickly in ten minutes and didn't take long to cool.  I spread the chantilly creme on top and said a silent prayer before attempting to roll the roulade into a spiral. This is going to be easy I thought. The parchment paper is going to do all the work. Wrong again. It rolled up alright, after it broke and split and everything else.

I managed to get the roulade onto the serving tray and decorated it for the pictures.  Then I read the part where I had to slice a piece off of each end to reveal the swirl. %*&^! So I sliced off each end, cleaned up the dish, and took the pictures. Naturally, the way things were going, this recipe was also hard to photograph and the sun wasn't behaving either.

Finally, I sliced a piece for myself so I could give it a try. It didn't matter to me that it had cracked. I just knew that it would taste delicious. I mean chocolate cake and whipped cream can't go wrong. Right?

......Wrong again. Surprisingly, the chocolate cake is simply way too rich and dare I say it, too chocolatey even for me (and I do love me some chocolate)! Since the cake itself is flourless, it is very moist, but also extremely rich and intensely chocolatey. Perhaps using a bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate was the wrong choice for me? Maybe it would be less chocolatey using a milk chocolate? Regardless, this is a cake that you can really only eat a few bites of, but it is pretty and I am glad that I finally gave it a try. And, you know what? It really doesn't hurt my feelings to know that there is a dessert that I actually don't like, because far too often I make desserts that I love and we all know how that goes.

Julia and Jacques's Chocolate Roulade
Serves 12

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for pan
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
7 egg whites, room temperature
3-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoons Cognac
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
seasonal fruit, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center. Butter an 11x17 jelly roll pan or a 12x17 inch sheet pan, and line with parchment paper

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup cream to a simmer. Add chocolate, reduce heat, and whisk until chocolate is melted. As soon as mixture is a uniform dark color, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, whip egg whites and 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff, glossy peaks, about 1-1/2 minutes. Whisk one-quarter of the egg-white mixture into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold chocolate mixture back into the original egg-white mixture, and mix until smooth and well combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan, and spread it in an even layer with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake is set and puffy, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Lift parchment paper to remove cake from pan, and set iton a work surface with long side facing edge of table. Using a fine-mesh sieve, lightly dust cake with cocoa powder.

Make the creme chantilly:  Whip the remaining 1 cup cream with the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar, the vanilla, and cognac. Spread evenly over entire surface of cake.

Roll the cake lengthwise, starting at a point 2 to 3 inches over the creme chantilly. Roll cake another few inches, pressing against the parchment paper to make a tight spiral. Gently peel parchment paper off as cake layer rolls away. Complete the roll, stopping at the far edge of the parchment paper. Tuck the loose parchment paper around and underneath the cylinger so it is well wrapped and can be removed easily. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours.

When ready to serve, transfer roulade to serving platter. Remove parchment paper, gently rolling cake into center of platter, with seam on bottom. With a sharp knife, trim both ends of roll crosswise or on a diagonal. Dust top with confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder, and garnish with seasonal fruit. To serve, cut the roll into 1-inch thick slices, and lay flat on dessert plates; top with additional creme chantilly, if desired.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Heidi Swanson's Cherry Smoothie

Cherries are one of my favorite fruits, so when I saw this recipe for a Cherry Smoothie over on 101 Cookbooks, I jumped at the chance to make it. Not only is it packed full of nutritionally-dense sweet dark cherries, but it is also loaded with all sorts of fruity goodness, including an orange, a banana, and pineapple.  You're nearly getting your five a day all in one delicious smoothie!

When cherries are in season it's safe to say my hands are usually stained dark red. I buy them, and eat them, like crazy. Not only are they sweet, juicy, and nutritious; but, they are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and also are a natural source of melatonin, which aids in sleeping. Since I need help with both sleeping and inflammation, cherries are a win-win for me!

Since cherries aren't usually in season, I buy them frozen and stock them year-round. Needless to say, I used frozen cherries for this recipe. However, since we like our smoothies thick I almost always use frozen fruit, even if fresh is available. In fact, all of the fruit in this recipe, with exception to the orange, was frozen.

I was making this smoothie for my whole family, so I used regular milk and omitted the nut butter because my son is allergic to all nuts. Since I was using mostly frozen fruit, my smoothie was a little too thick so I needed more water to help thin it out. The addition of water is completely fine, but next time I would probably use apple juice or grape juice to sweeten things up a touch. This smoothie had no additional sugar added to it, and I noticed that a little dose of sugar, in the form of juice or honey, would send this smoothie over the top. Just enough sugar to make the flavors stand out a bit more and sweeten the smoothie up a touch.

The incredible thing is that the entire family loved this smoothie, which is a good thing because this made 48 ounces! I can see us enjoying this smoothie over and over again and I think it's a wonderfully nutritious way to start your day!

Cherry Smoothie
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Serves 2-3

1-1/2 cups sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 cup water, possibly more depending on desired consistency
1 banana, peeled
1/3 cup milk (cow, almond, coconut)
1 orange, segments and flesh only
1 cup cubed pineapple
Optional: 1 heaping tablespoon almond (or nut) butter

Combine all the ingredients in an upright blender and process until smooth. If you find the smoothie too thick, carefully add more water, slowly, through the feed hole on the lid with the motor running. Pour into glasses and enjoy! 

Theme: Something To Sip!