Tag Archives: Lenten meals

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.

Last Minute Dinner Salads/Lent or Anytime

Last Minute Dinner Salads

One Ash Wednesday Husband came home late as he went to Mass after working overtime. Our sons and I had eaten our Twice-Baked Potatoes(next post) and the one good thing about them is that it is easy to make just enough, if you don’t care for leftovers. (Although they do freeze quite well for a short term, like 4-6 months).
When Husband came in, he informed me that his boss had been at Mass as well and he had invited the man to dinner.
Husband has done this to me a few times. When we got married I had never cooked for less than six people and we ate a lot of leftovers,(fortunately, I learned to freeze things well.) Let me make a couple of steaks, or a couple of chicken breasts and, used to having too much food, that seemed to be exactly when the Husband would invite someone to stay. I was always last-minute hustling!

I had to stow the baked potato and put together a salad with what I had on hand. I added small shrimp which I fortunately had left over from making the potatoes and I put in some diced cheese. I served rolls and crackers and the men ate well…the boss was none the wiser!

If I have posted on salads before, it bears repeating: Almost any vegetable can go into a salad, as well as fruits and not all of them need to be fresh. I have had someone break up a head of iceberg lettuce, pour on bottled ranch dressing and call it salad and I have had salads that included everything imaginable. You can put together a nice salad with many things you should already have on hand. Hopefully, you have some greens, a lettuce or spinach. Even if you don’t, you can wing it. Here is a list, although not complete, of what you can include in a nice dinner salad:

Any type of ‘greens’, iceberg or leaf lettuce, spinach, parsley, mustard greens, turnip greens
we all know:
carrots
tomatoes
cucumber
radishes

but how about:
celery
shredded parsnips
fresh pea pods
broccoli
cauliflower,
sweet peppers
bok choy
grated zucchini or squash
thinly sliced onions or leeks
diced green onions

Use your imagination

You can add fruit in with vegetables as long as they are firm, such as :
Pears
Apples

If you know your guests can tolerate seeds and nuts, you can add:[*See Note]

Almonds/Hazelnuts/Walnuts/Pine nuts, etc.

Peanuts

Sesame seeds

Sunflower seeds

Pumpkin seeds (roasted)

 

And, especially in a pinch, these canned items do a good job in rounding out sparse fresh veggies:
corn
peas,
beets
green beans
wax beans
chick peas/black eyed peas/
kidney/navy/pinto/black beans
black or green olive
pineapple
sliced apple rings
pearl onions

And I always keep pickled vegetables,(giardiniera ) on hand.

Mix and match, pick and choose. Add tiny shrimp/ crab or imitation crab meat, shredded or diced cheese,(Cheddars, Swiss, Provolone, Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, Havarti Muenster); you can also do a great job with diced ham, chicken, roast beef or turkey cold cuts, (or ‘Tofurkey’). Diced hard-boiled eggs can be added at the last minute,(they will break up in the tossing and it isn’t pretty.)You can use leftover roasts, chicken or whatever flavorful meat you have on hand.
With this type of salad, you may find that you don’t need dressing. If you have guests, allow them the option. On the other hand, I have found that if the flavors are a bit bland, I add some that I like to whip up quickly on my own using Olive oil and pomegranate molasses, which is bitter, contrary to it’s name, so I add honey or a syrup. I also have several vinegars on my shelf to use. However, there are perfectly good bottled dressings out there, and several flavors are in my refrigerator as I type this; use them.

As I did, serve with crackers, fancy beads or rolls. You can add prepared rice, couscous, barley or small pasta for a one-bowl meal, or serve a simple couscous, rice or pasta dish on the side.

[*Note]The real beauty is that these can be made for Lent, pescaterian, vegetarian or vegan.It is gluten-free, (without  cheese), dairy-free and can be served with meats, cheeses, fish, seeds/nuts, grains and  pasta on the side, if you are unsure of your guests’ needs.

I hope this gives you some ideas…and I hope you try some of the ideas, not only for Lent,(meatless), but throughout the year. These are wonderful in hot weather for a light but filling and nutritious meal that anyone can be proud to serve…quick and praise-worthy!

Dinner Salads/Meat/Vegan/Pescaterian

Last night Number One Son stopped in and while here, grabbed a fruit and grain bar. I asked him if he was hungry, hoping he wasn’t, as he chooses not to eat pork and what I had ready was breaded boneless loin chops and polenta topped with sauce that contained Italian sausage.{We’ll be discussing Italian sauces in the future.]
But he was hungry. Fortunately, I had just made a salad to which for him I added wagon wheel pasta that was in the refrigerator and Italian-style chicken breasts which I had just removed from the freezer. I had made and frozen them a month or so ago when I hit a big sale on chicken. I have found it easier and much more convenient to freeze cooked food than raw.

Some years ago on an Ash Wednesday I had made shrimp-stuffed, twice-baked potatoes,

. One of the few times I made ‘just enough’ for all of us, but, as luck would have it, my husband invited his boss for dinner on a whim.
He had worked overtime and the boys and I had eaten. Fortunately, he arrived at home before the boss. He suggested that the boss be given his potion but there is no way one can let a guest be that uncomfortable.
I quickly made salad and added pre-made rice I had in the refrigerator , cubed cheese and tiny shrimp I kept on hand in the freezer. The boss was none the wiser and the men ate well.

You’re thinking, “All well and good, but I don’t always have enough (or any) fresh vegetables on hand” and that is a good argument, many people don’t or get caught off-guard. I have been to dinner where the my hostess broke up iceberg lettuce, poured ranch dressing on it and called it salad. I had a friend who had invited me to lunch and then lost her cool when she found that she had no cucumbers,(which I don’t particularly care for, anyway). There are many ways to make a salad and I seldom make any of them the same way twice.

Fresh veggie salad is extremely healthy, if the vegetables are clean and it actually gets eaten. The best way to insure that you actually eat the salad is to have it made with flavors you like. You don’t like cucumbers, tomatoes or radishes? Leave any or all of them out, add what you like, for instance: green peppers, carrots, fresh cauliflower. Non-traditional ‘salad’ vegetables are good, like slivered parsnips, celery, bok choy. There is a very wide variety of fresh vegetables out there, mix and match as you like.

Most salads start with a base of something green and leafy, often lettuces. There’s more than iceberg out there. There is endive and leaf lettuces. There are spinach leaves, kale, mustard and collard greens, (these are strong-flavored). But salads don’t have to be only ‘fresh’ vegetables. I suggest that you try out some styles and flavors, but in a pinch, you can probably come up with a salad if you have any staples on hand.

Hopefully , you have some fresh vegetables in your refrigerator. If you don’t, please do yourself a favor, buy and taste some. Learn what you like; you will not like them all, I sure don’t.

A salad can be made with whatever vegetables you have. With any fresh ones, you can go to your cabinet and add any reasonably firm canned vegetable. For example: cut green , wax or Italian beans, peas, sliced carrots, beets,(shoestring work best), and beans, (garbanzo, canelli ,lima, great northern , black, pinto, kidney; drain and rinse before adding to the salad). Even corn kernels, fresh or canned, will work, but I do like to use canned baby corn on the cob.

I always keep a jar of gardiniera around; these a pickled vegetables, which usually include peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Right now I have a huge jar that is half-full in my refrigerator as my husband loves it in his salad, as I use it when I don’t have a lot of veggies on hand. One company makes a nice canned garden salad but I can’t get it where I now live. Their ‘Three Bean Salad’ is good and makes a nice addition to salads. Roasted peppers are easily found in stores these days to add to salads and also sandwiches; pickled peppers will help in a pinch. Black or green olives are also a common addition I make especially when short on fresh vegetables.

To make a dinner salad, one must make it a complete meal , which mean that you need to add a carbohydrate and make sure there is a protein. Beans and corn will add carbs, plus that is in itself a meatless protein combo. [See Meatless Protein Combinations, July Archives]. You can add cooked pasta,(vegetable pasta is great), couscous, barley, re-hydrated Bulgar wheat, cooked rice, lentils or cubed potatoes, (the last three for gluten-free).

If you have guest and are not sure of their preferences or dietary restrictions, you can make your own ‘salad bar’ with multiple bowls, divided serving dishes or a platter. It is always a good idea as just within our little family, (even between just me and my husband), our tastes are radically different, especially when it comes to veggies.

If you are then inclined, you can add or offer cooked cubed meats, anything from, (as I had last night), chicken breasts precooked in your favorite recipe, (or rotisserie chicken),to leftover roasted meats , to sliced lunch meats,(turkey, ham, salami). You can add crab meat, imitation crab meat or shrimp. You can add nearly any kind of reasonably firm cheese, from Velveta, (I don’t recommend it), Muenster, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Havarti, whatever suits your taste. I am still working on my trials, but if Tofurkey or seitan is your thing, then toss it in.

[Note: You really don’t have to be caught unaware to make a nice dinner salad; you can actually plan for it!]

Here is a recipe which has been a big hit for me. I served it in my bakery/restaurant and used it for our special boxed lunches. If you really can’t deal with fresh veggies, this one is for you; even non-salad-eaters like this, so it would be good for a Sports buffet.(I hope to start on Super Bowl and March Madness foods next.) If you need something for a pot luck, you can have these things on hand. If you can open a can , a jar and boil water, you can make this.
(The little extra effort in making it a day ahead or the night before and adding another pasta shortly before serving is worth it if you can afford the time, trust me.)
The garbanzos and the pasta make a complete meatless protein.

Vegetable Pasta Salad

one can cut green beans,(preferably ‘kitchen’ or short-cut)
one can wax (yellow) beans
one can sliced beets (pref. shoestring)
one can sliced carrots,(pref. crinkle-cut)
one half-cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas), add more if you really like them
1/3 cup thinly sliced onion,(pref. red)
½ cup sliced black olives
one bottle Italian salad dressing,(not ‘creamy’)
2-3 cups cooked, firm pasta, divided in half, (or use two types; *see note below)

Open and drain all canned vegetables. Place in a large bowl and add the onion, olives , half the pasta and the dressing. Toss gently and refrigerate, preferably over night. If the lid is tight, rotate the bowl a few times or toss the salad gently a few times.(Fold with a large spoon or spatula). Add the rest of the pasta up to two hours before serving.

*Note: Please use a strong type of pasta; radiatore, wagon wheels, fiore, penne, shells, or  even elbow macaroni. (.Noodles, bow ties and other flat pastas will break apart after absorbing the dressing and are stirred; do not use these.) Please under-cook the pasta(s) slightly. The term ‘al dente’ is over-used and often misunderstood, but you need to have the pasta firm and separate for several reasons:
The pasta added in the beginning will absorb not only a great deal of moisture from the dressing ,
it will absorb flavor from it and from the vegetables
and it will turn pink from the beets,(as will the garbanzo beans).
The ‘new’ pasta, (which should have been also pre-made and chilled, whether it is the same type as added before or a different style), will not have absorbed the moisture,
flavors or color,
so it will add contrast in color, texture,(it will still be quite firm) ;
it will also add a ‘clean’ taste, since the strong flavors have not been absorbed.

I hope you try this. Enjoy!