Tag Archives: Easy Entertaining

Twice-Baked Potatoes/From Appetizers to Entrées

Twice-Baked Potatoes/From Appetizers to Entrées

Yes, I said I’d put this recipe up before, but I had a quick request for my Codfish Cake recipe by people who missed the Gorton canned codfish cakes,(no longer available.)
Twice Baked Potatoes can be made with many ingredients, but I serve them often with seafood for Lent.

Twice-Baked Potatoes are also one of the tastiest ways to stretch your budget and leftovers. They are very convenient, and can be made well ahead of time and even frozen, ready in your oven or microwave in short order.

From appetizer to entree, an easy and delicious budget-stretcher

From appetizer to entree, an easy and delicious budget-stretcher

[The ones pictured above are made with tiny shrimp and spinach]

Twice-Baked Potatoes can be made with many ingredients, used as a side dish or as an entrée. They can even be made with mini-potatoes and used as finger-food, appetizers or placed on a buffet. They can be made with meat, seafood or vegetables and they can be made completely vegan.

You start with a nice, firm potato, any size. (For an entrée, I suggest russets.) Bake the potato to very soft in the middle. Times will vary according to the size of your potato, and, if using a microwave, the power of your unit. (Use 400F oven for baking 45-60 minutes or microwave on high for about 5-7 minutes for good-sized potatoes.)
Microwaves make perfectly acceptable Twice-Baked Potatoes, and makes them much more quickly, but when done in an oven, the potato skins become nice and crispy and the tops brown. One compromise is to first bake the potatoes in the microwave, (saving up to an hour) and then finishing them off in the oven, or even more quickly, under a low broiler.

If you are unused to baking potatoes, wash them first under running cold water and brush them with a vegetable brush or rub them using a clean cloth. If you usually wrap your potatoes in foil to bake them in the oven, omit for this recipe. Pierce the potato skin with a fork, just once. This will release enough of the pressure from the steam that may build up when the moisture in the potato get heated. If there is enough steam build-up and it cannot escape, potatoes can explode all over your oven or microwave!

When the potatoes are done, (a fork can easily slip all the way into the center of the potato), remove and, using a clean towel, oven mitt or pot holder, carefully cut through the potato length-wise. The potatoes will be very hot and the escaping steam may burn you if you are not careful. Allow to cool slightly, (but don’t let them get cold) and gently scoop out the inside of the potato, leaving the skin intact. (You may want to leave up to ¼ of an inch of the pulp all around the inside so that your potato skin does not break.) Place the pulp in a bowel, and now the creativity begins!

Here is where your taste, what is available and the season challenges you.

From appetizer to entrée any of the suggestions or your own ideas will determine your finished potatoes.

Start by mashing or even whipping the insides of the potatoes with any of the ingredients below, or a combination: [*See Note for easiest suggestions]

Butter, margarine or coconut oil

Cream cheese, sour cream or vegan sour cream, (made from tofu)

Small amount of cream or milk,{rice, soy, coconut or almond can be used

I usually use tiny shrimp, but have used crab meat and imitation crabmeat,(see ‘Seafood Pasta Salads’; Feb 2013 archive for guidelines), but I have used any pre-cooked fish.
You can also use minced bacon, ham, roast beef, or no meats at all. (For roast beef, you can add a little horseradish to the mix.)

You can add cheeses, (or vegan cheese substitutes); cheddar is the best choice here.

Use salt and pepper of any type.

You can add cooked, minced onion, green onion or onion powder, a little garlic or garlic powder;

Sautéed shallots, leeks, celery carrots, sweet peppers;

Cooked, (or frozen and well-drained), spinach is very good in these, as are canned or jarred asparagus

Parsley, paprika, celery salt, chives, sage

Dehydrated vegetable mix

A couple of drops of sesame oil and sesame seeds

Mix & match the above to taste.

* Note: I suggest you start out simply if you are unused to cooking. Add sour cream or cream cheese, salt and pepper, a little onion of some sort and vegetables, cheese, minced ham or tiny shrimp.

After you have mixed all the ingredients, spoon the filling or pipe it with a pastry bag,( or from a zipper-lock bag with the corner cut off), into the potato skin “boats”; they should be heaped in the middle, as there is more to the filling than what you scooped-out. Place the ‘boats” back in the oven, preferably under the broiler on low setting for a short time or placed back in the microwave until heated all the way through. These can then be cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen in a zipper-lock bag, (with as little air trapped as possible), for months. They are great to have on hand as a quick meal or for an addition when having unexpected guests. You can make the little ones ahead of time for a party or gathering.

I hope you try these.

Christmas Cookies While We Wait

 

I have been negligent again. I have been very tied up and while we are waiting for a special guest blogger, I thought I’d post pictures of the few Christmas cookies I made this year. I usually add half a dozen more types, but like I said, I’ve been busy!Xmas cookies

Clockwise, starting with the front are my Cocoa-Gingerbread Men,(with Angels, and new this year, Teddy Bears.) Next are Peanut Butter Stamped Cookies,(Santas), above them are the not-so-pretty-but-delicious Pineapple Date Nut Cookies, (sprinkles help a little!).Next to them are Cherry-Nut Cookies,(with a few Basic Cookies).I see that some candy sneaked into the picture,(Nut Clusters, in the round bowl in the back).The white, sprinkled cookies to the right are Date-Nut Meringues; in the jar are Basic Cookies, dressed up for Christmas and in the middle are Spice Cookies.(The recipes for the last two  are in the October archives).

 

So, if you are doing last-minute baking, or looking for new recipes for your New Year’s celebrations, I have these here for you. Round cookies made with clock faces, or star-shaped are particularly fitting for New Year’s Eve, as would be any cookie with plenty of sprinkles… Ring in the New Year!

Of course, you don’t have to just make these for the holidays, but it is always nice to have a few that people look forward to, to make holidays special. Since the Date-Nut Meringues have no flour, they would be appropriate for Passover and for people who need a gluten-free diet.

 

The Date-Nut Meringue recipe came from an old magazine insert that my mother had. I adapted it just a bit.

 

Whites of 2 large eggs

Dash of salt

1/3 cup of sugar

1 tsp.vanilla, (or a dash of vanilla powder) OPTIONAL

1 8oz. package of dried dates, chopped

1 cup  of walnuts, chopped

 

Decors or sprinkles, if desired,(or sprinkle with ground nuts)

 

Preheat oven to 210F. Spray with cooking/baking pan spray or grease/ oil cookie sheets.(Even if using parchment paper; these babies want to STICK!)

 

Make meringue, not too dry. To do so, beat egg whites until foamy, add salt and vanilla, (if using). Beat on high speed and add sugar slowly. Beat until stiff peaks form when beaters are lifted.(If you had any accident, a little egg yolk was in the whites, the bowl or beaters were not completely grease-free, your meringue will NOT  peak. Don’t despair; your cookies should still work, as long as your ‘meringue’ is not runny).

Fold in the walnuts and dates,(mix gently).Drop by spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for approximately 1 ½ hours. Turn the oven off and allow the meringues to sit until the oven is cool,(or overnight).You want the cookies dry, but not hard. Trust me, even if they get brittle, they are still good! Remove from the cookie sheets gently.

 

My mother always made me use a long, thin decorating spatula to remove cookies from the sheets, never  a ‘pancake turner’. Now that Mom is gone, feel free to use one, but don’t pick up more than one soft one at a time; they’ll become misshapen.

 

Another thing I will do is pass along Mom’s carefully-guarded Cherry-Nut Cookie recipe. I was sworn to secrecy on this one, but I had promised one woman who begged and begged that I would give it to her after my mother left us. When Mom died, I had to track the woman down over several states, but I followed through. My mother was an incredible cook, no one, not even I, to whom she taught everything, can duplicate her touch. (If yours come out as good as hers did, more power to you!) My mother taught me everything  because I could keep a secret. Mom would have me continue to be the keeper of the keys to the locked food cabinet. I realized some time ago that I have no  intention of keeping that family tradition. My grandmother took very many recipes to her grave; it makes no sense.(More on this when we discuss Spaghetti sauce in the future).

 

So, please eat these with love.

 

Cherry-Nut Cookies

1 cup minus 1 Tablespoon sifted all purpose flour(I don’t know why, but it does make a difference)

½ tsp. salt

½ cup butter or margarine

¼ cup sugar

1 egg , divided (separate white and yolk)

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1Tbsp. grated orange rind (fresh)

 

¾ cup minced walnuts

Candied or Maraschino cherries * see note

 

Cream the butter or margarine and sugar,(beat until fluffy)

Add salt and egg yolk; mix well

Add vanilla, lemon juice and orange rind, mix well

Add flour and mix well; dough will be soft

Refrigerate until cold and firm

(Do you realize I grew up doing all this creaming and mixing by hand? They were worth it, but a mixer is easier!)

Beat the egg white slightly, with about a teaspoonful of water. When the dough is firm, shape it into small balls and dip them into the egg white, then roll them in the nuts. Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets. Press half of a cherry into the middle of each cookie. Bake at 325F for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms as slightly browned.

 

  • *Note:My mother insisted on using candied cherries, despite the fact that none of us could stand them; we ate all around them and threw them away. My sister came up with the idea of using Maraschino cherries and told me to suggest it to Mom. If looks could kill, you wouldn’t be reading this now. She thought it was an abomination; but I always only use Maraschinos.
  • By the way, she would also do some in red cherries and some in green; I don’t always bother. My nieces used to call them “Stop and Go Cookies”; it seems the Christmas color idea was lost on them and they saw traffic lights!

 

 

Cocoa-Gingerbread Men/Angels

(Adapted from Hershey’s Old-Fashioned Christmas)

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

½ cup light molasses,(do not use dark or Blackstrap)

½ cup light brown sugar, packed** (see note)

1 egg

½ tsp. baking soda

3 cups flour

¾ cup cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp. brandy,(or vanilla )

 

Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar and add molasses. Beat in the egg and baking soda. Slowly beat in the cocoa; then slowly add the flour. Chill. Roll out on lightly floured board to about ¼ inch and cut into desired shapes. Place on greased or parchment-covered cookie sheets 1 ½-2 inches apart and bake at 350F for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch,(do not over-cook).Remove to cookie sheet and cool. Decorate with Royal icing,(October archives).

 

 

Pineapple Date Nut Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1  tsp. baking powder

dash of salt

1/3 cup butter or margarine

2/3 cups well-packed light brown sugar**(see note)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 large cans crushed pineapple or finely chopped other canned pineapple,(approx.2 cups), drained.(I used the one packed in juice, then simply drink the juice)

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup minced,(finely chopped) dates

¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Sprinkles, jimmies, decors, etc. (if using)

 

Mix the drained pineapple with baking soda in a non-aluminum bowl; set aside.(it will fizzle or bubble.)

Cream butter with egg and sugars until light and fluffy; add baking powder, mix well.

Add pineapple mixture; add the flour, mix well.

Add the dates and nuts, mix well.

Drop onto greased or parchment –lined cookie sheets by spoonfuls 1″apart. Apply sprinkles,(if using). Bake at 325F for about 30 minutes,(start checking after 20). These cookies need to dry, as they are very wet. Allow them to become browned on the bottom. If they are still wet in the middle, allow them to stand in the warm oven for longer. They may seem to become a bit chewy, but they are good. Cool completely before storing loosely covered,(or they will stick together). Store in one layer or with parchment or wax paper in between layers in a closed container.

These are often many people’s favorite cookie.

 

**Note:Brown sugar is measured ‘packed’, that is, pressed into a measuring cup , compressed as much as possible with the palm of your hand or knuckles.

 

I hope all are having fun preparing for the holidays and that they are stress-free. I stressed-out over all of it for too long. I did plenty this year, even though I cut back, and yet, all are eating well, (too well!), and enjoying the decorations, while the CD’s or Christmas movies play away!

 

 

 

 

I have not yet taken the time to investigate the possibilities of these recipes using vegan egg substitutes. I have, however, found a site that is a wealth of  information:

The Best Vegan Egg Substitutes for Vegan Cooking and Vegan Baking

 

I have every intention of making a sincere effort to find the time to check these out and do some experimenting in the coming year.

Otherwise, all of the recipes are ovo-vegetarian friendly.

You Can Do It…Breakfasts/Potatoes and Leftovers

To continue with the Breakfast theme I started, (and the uses for Parsley Potatoes from the previous posts), I have found that I can turn nearly any leftover into an omelet, scrambled eggs, or casserole, which is helpful when you have guests staying.

The Parsley Potatoes, or any leftover/pre-cooked potatoes, are a good way to diversify breakfasts. Leftover hash browns, Potatoes O’Brien,(recipe below), baked or mashed potatoes are easily cooked in an egg mixture, with or without added meat or cheese and can be made into breakfast.
All it takes is a little pre-planning to have leftovers in the first place.
Use sausage, bacon or ham, or any leftovers in your refrigerator.
Do you have steak or a roast? Ham or pork roast? Chicken? Whatever the form, if you can chop it, you can add it to eggs and if you have potatoes, all well and good. Pot Roast? Stew? Go ahead and add whatever veggies are left over; if there is gravy, add some as well. Believe me, especially if you have males in for breakfast, they will love it.

Want to wow them? Scramble eggs with spaghetti sauce. Go ahead, add potatoes,or serve with toast.

If it seems daunting, (or you can’t stay over the stove stirring), butter or oil a casserole dish, or pie plate and layer the beaten eggs and fillings,(preferably browning the potatoes first).
If you are not adding meat, or the meats are not very flavorful, please add cheese and/or your favorite sauce…hot pepper, soy, Worcestershire, chili, picante’ ; whatever you like. If you know your spices, (I’ll be talking about spices in the future), add some of what you like and bake until the eggs are set.

Want to go vegan? Fry or bake the potatoes with leftover vegetables, vegetable ragut or other leftover, flavorful dish, with added sauces. Zola’s Zucchini or Italian Baked Tomatoes,[October Archives], work well. (Ovo-vegetarians, these also go well with eggs.)

You can use mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes.

If you are truly unused to cooking and entertaining; let’s start with the basics:

Mashed Potatoes

Wash firm potatoes, [I like to use russets]
Peel and cube (approx. 1 inch squares; no larger. Make them as uniform as possible, except for a very few, which should be a bit smaller)
Place in a large pot; f ill with cold water and add at least 1 Tbsp. salt
Boil just until all the larger pieces are soft enough for a fork to easily slip into them; do not overcook.
Drain and immediately add butter or margarine and a little cream or milk,(almond or rice milk can be used).Mash, preferably with a hand-held mixer, until it is completely smooth.
Add more salt if needed.

Potato Pancakes from Mashed Potatoes

For each cup of mashed potatoes , add:

one egg ,(optional)
1 Tbsp flour (all –purpose or rice flour, if you have it)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. sautéed onions, chives, scallions, leeks (or 1 tsp. dried chives)

Drop large spoonfuls onto hot, oiled skillet, flattening with the back of the spoon.
Fry until the bottom is browned. Lower the heat, flip gently and fry slowly until the bottom is browned and the insides are semi-firm.

These are also a good side dish.

Potatoes O’Brien

Wash, peel and slice potatoes very thinly; you can use a mandolin slicer, the large or medium side of a grater a food processor or you can use frozen hash browns from your grocery store.
In a large frying pan, brown the potatoes in oil with ¼ cup of diced onions (or scallions), and 2 Tbsp. diced green pepper for every cup of potato. Add salt and pepper. Fry until the potatoes are crispy on one side. Flip and brown until crispy on the other side.(It does not matter if it breaks apart.) Use as they are, or add to eggs or vegetables.

Any questions?

With a little ingenuity you can be a hit with family and friends…and entertain well on a shoestring.

Have fun; entertain and don’t stress out. You can do it!

Breakfast Burritos

Sorry that I have taken so long to get back…extenuating circumstances! This is the first of several posts I where I wish to give advice on breakfasts for family and that you can show-off with to feed guests with little effort.

When we lived in Colorado our church held a Mexican Breakfast every year to benefit the religious education program. It started slow and then grew every year as the Mexican/Americans in the parish rallied to show their best. It went from being (just) the wonderful breakfast burritos to homemade anise cookies on every plate, with entertainment of dancers in varying traditional dress and a Mariachi band in full costume…and full volume.
The star, however, were basically the Smothered Breakfast Burritos I give you today. Although I take a short-cut with the sauce, the outcome is worth the slight further effort.Breakfast Burritos

Smothered Breakfast Burritos

[To serve 4]

Take approx. 1 ½ cups very lean pork (traditional) or chicken breast, cube it and brown in 1 Tblsp. Oil or butter. Remove from pan and add to a pot in which you have your green chili sauce.
If you can make a nice green chili, go for it, if not, pick up a nice brand of basic tomatillo green chili sauce in mild or medium, or as I prefer, a mixture of both.(Warning: the medium runs pretty hot, but if you want and can take it made traditionally, go medium).

Pour off the fat from the frying pan and add a Tablespoon or so of water and deglaze the pan.(Place the pan over med-high heat and ,using a spatula or wooden spoon, loosen the pan drippings). Add to the chili mixture and simmer for at least 10 minutes.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Using 1-1 ½ cups of the Parsley Potatoes (previous post) or other pre-cooked potatoes,(boiled or baked and cubed), or if need be,frozen hash brown potatoes, cook over med-high heart until slightly brown and slightly dry. Add 4-5 eggs with 1 tsp salt and scramble with the potatoes until set firm.

Warm 4 large or 8 small flour tortillas. Place some of the egg and potatoes in each tortilla and roll, after folding and tucking the ends in. Place on dish and spoon the chili mixture over the burritos.

Breakfast Burritos were popular with my restaurant clientele, but since most were bought ‘To-Go’ and eaten while driving to work, smothering was out of the question. I added the pork, chicken,( or more often), sausage or bacon to the egg and potato mixture as it cooked, (made fresh, per order. With pre-cooked potatoes ready, it is very easy and quick.).

One of our regular customers, a real Santa Claus look-alike, came back from a trip to New York City. He said,”I was walking near Times Square and thought, ‘Those burritos need sour cream’.” You can bet the next order from our supplier was individual packets of fresh sour cream to go with every burrito.

(Want to go meatless? If you use eggs and cheese, fell free to leave the meat out and enjoy.)

I hope you try these and join me for the continuation of Guest/Family Breakfasts.

Caramel Whipped Cream…and More/Food Gift Idea

Serendipity: the discovery of something valuable by happenstance, unexpectedly, without searching for it.
That’s what happened this weekend. I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a great holiday, even if it was simply quiet peaceful for you.( I read that even a fellow blogger in Ireland got in on the spirit with a turkey and trimmings!)

 

 

My husband and I had a great Thanksgiving with my cousin who came in from out-of-state with her husband and two kids. We gathered at my sister’s with her two daughters, son-in-law, grandson; my brother, our two sons, a son’s girlfriend and our three grandkids. We missed our daughter-in-law, who had last her father a couple of weeks ago, and her sister had a baby a couple of days before, but we readily accepted that her family needed her presence.

The next day , my cousin & family and we with our grandson, went over to my sister’s to see her, her daughter and my brother; I took a buffet over to her place…(I won’t even attempt to go into the dynamics of why they just didn’t come to my place.)

I’ll be putting up more about the foods over the holiday, but two new and concurrent discoveries are dancing in my mind.

Despite the fact that we had homemade pumpkin, pecan and apple pies at my sister’s house, made by my former restaurant/bakery partner,(my niece Jennifer), along with her incredible cherry-nut bread and biscotti-to-die-for, my sister had made two kinds of pound cake and a small batch of cookies. I had Banana Bread, Corn Muffins, Chocolate Chip Muffins, Blueberry Muffins and Pineapple-Coconut mini Cakes. I also had Greek Yogurt Cake, Greek Apple Cake,(no,I’m not Greek; those recipes, more and the story of them will be future posts), but I caught my cousin eating a store-brand chocolate chip cookie from the stash I bought to keep the grandkids happy while I painted the walls before the guest arrived. I knew I had Lemon-Pecan Shortbread cookies in the freezer,(which can stand alone), and I also had some of my Basic Cut-Out Cookies there, uniced, but out they came.

I had mentioned around the thanksgiving table that I had seen a fantastic idea in another blog; Cookie Dip. At Kitchen Addiction they made a Ginger Cookie and a Pumpkin Dip; you could go as basic or as sweet as you’d like. What a wonderful idea! [See it here: http://www.a-kitchen-addiction.com/soft-baked-ginger-cookies-with-pumpkin-pie-dip/%5D

Since I did not have the time to hunt-down the recipe,(it is one a zillion I have bookmarked), and did not know if I had the time or the ingredients, I decided to quickly whip cream with a little caramel sauce.( I almost always have a jar of Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel in my fridge.) It was delicious and everyone loved the dip the cookies.

Caramel Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon thick caramel or butterscotch topping
Place in a bowl and whip.

Could it be easier?

Instead of caramel, you could use honey, or a little sugar, with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg or a small amount (1/2 tsp.) vanilla, almond or other extract of your choice.

Now, for the serendipitous part:

With all the talking and visiting and food on the buffet, I lost track of the whipped cream dip. If you are only used to using whipped cream in a can, well-whipped cream will last for a couple of days in your refrigerator. [No one is allowed to use the words Cool Whip to me when speaking of food, especially in a recipe. It has no business in anyone’s life and I will not tolerate it…do you hear me????!!! Ok,I’m cool now.]
If whipped cream starts to loosen in texture, it can be re-whipped quickly. I actually have a little hand-held plunger device that ‘whips ‘ and serves cream, but I had forgotten all about it. The cream stores in it and you can re-plunge it if it starts to separate. I am glad I not remembered it because…you’ll see.

When I started to close things down, I saw that the whip cream had started to ‘weep'(separate),I felt the bottom of the bowl and it was still cool, but not cold. I put the cream into a jar and being groggy from excitement, work and too much food, I shook it, thinking it would likely get into a whipped-like state again.

Are you ahead of me? Do you know what happens to cream that is shaken? It churns.
I found myself with a solid lump, surrounded by thin milk. I had caramel butter and buttermilk…and they were delicious.

I have made flavored butters by softening sticks of butter and adding roasted peppers and/or spices; when my sister made broccoli that was very doused in butter ,I made a stick of broccoli butter as a joke,(she used it). But I may try my hand at more flavors using this method. The texture of this was out-of-this-world!

Caramel Butter:
Same as for Caramel Whipped Cream, but let stand until the chill is off and whip or shake vigorously in a wide-mouthed jar until you have a solid lump.(If you put it in a narrow-mouthed jar, you won’t be able to get it out.)
Pour off the milk,( add to regular milk or put it in your coffee; you’ll thank me.)

Take a clean kitchen towel and press all the remaining liquid from the butter.
I considered pressing the butter into a mold;(most of our ancestors had butter molds and the antique ones are quite collectible). I was going to use a silicone candy mold, a seashell or even a small, deep cookie cutter but I didn’t. I kept the small amount I had accidentally made from the left-over whipped cream and made it into a flattened ball and chilled it.

And, after letting it sit at room temperature to spreading consistency, the flavor really came out and it was wonderful with a cup of tea, a Cornbread Muffin and Whole wheat crackers:

Caramel Butter is easy, delicious and makes a lovely gift.

This would make an excellent homemade gift for those with little confidence in their abilities. (Keep reading here, People; I’m here to help.) Team it with a batch of muffins, an assortment of nice crackers, (with tea, in a basket would be lovely; with a nice teacup, even better); or even a package of good-quality muffin mix and you there you have something nice to give.

Feel free to freeze the butter before giving, if you think it will not become immediately refrigerated, or if you are traveling with the gift.

Let me know if you give this a try. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. I sure was!