Friday, May 30, 2014

Leek-Stuffed Twice-Baked Potatoes

 There are a lot of people who find potatoes uninteresting. I know this because I happen to live with one of those people. Me?  I love potatoes. My good friend, Betty, considers the lowly potato to be her favorite vegetable. Me too!  Can you think of another vegetable that is so versatile or universally appealing?  It's not Lima beans, I can tell you that. 

Sometimes, though, the cook can get a little bored with making the same baked or mashed potato dish again and again. Enter the genius combination of both of these styles - the twice-baked potato - a pleasing, yet company-worthy side dish. 

Generally, most people tend to bake potatoes, scoop out the hot insides, season with salt and pepper, and maybe a little cheese, whip them up with a little hot milk and butter, fill the empty shells with the whipped mixture and bake again. There is nothing wrong with that. But!  If you want to be a bit more special, then try my leek-stuffed version. It is not overly leek-y, it just has the little hint of something delicious that will have your guests wondering what you did, while scraping the skins clean. 

Leek-Stuffed Twice-Baked Potatoes
Serves 4

6 medium russet potatoes
1 large leek
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup grated Fontina
1/2 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Scrub potatoes, prick four or five times with the tines of a fork, and rub with about 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt each, if you have Kosher salt. If not, do not bother, they will still be fine. I just find that the addition of Kosher salt, baked into the skin, makes eating the skin much more desirable for those who care to do so. 

Place potatoes directly onto the center rack in the oven and bake for 1 hour. 

Meanwhile, cut the root end off of the leek (set aside for replanting), cut off dark green section, discard in the compost bin (or save for making stock). Then split down the middle and give it a good rinse, looking under folds for dirt, sand, and grit. When leek is thoroughly cleaned, slice it into 1/4"-1/8" slices. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium sauté pan, add leeks, and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside. 

When potatoes are finished baking, remove from oven and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes. Using a sharp knife, slice them in half, lengthwise. Use a rounded spoon to scoop out the soft baked interior, placing it into a medium bowl. When scraping skins, leave about an 1/8" of flesh still adhered to the skin. You want them sturdy enough to hold your whipped potato mixture. After the skins have been removed of their potato, check them over and save the best four. Discard the other two (or use for another purpose).  In order to mound each potato skin high enough, you need extra potato mixture, but not the extra skins. 

In a microwave safe dish, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter along with the milk. Pour this over the potato mixture.  Add grated cheese, and beat with a hand mixer (or vigorously with a whisk) until smooth and creamy. Fold in leeks until fully incorporated. 

Carefully mound potato mixture equally into the four baked potato skins. Sprinkle with paprika. At this point they can be refrigerated 
(up to 24 hours) until ready for the second baking.

If baking immediately, turn the temperature of your oven down to 350
°F, and bake until puffed and slightly golden, about 25-30 minutes. 

Garnish with paprika and fresh chives.

I keep a soil-filled plant pot on the deck for re-planting leeks.  Here are two of them (two shoots are coming up from one base) after four days growth.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Culpeppers’ Meatloaf

I love Wednesdays, would you like to know why?  I love them because it is the day that the Food Section is published in the newspaper (for me that is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Forget the hard news, sports, and editorials, on Wednesdays it is all about food. My favorite column in the weekly food section is called Special Requests where locals write in requesting favorite area restaurant recipes. Some of them are not at all to my liking, but last week it featured a recipe from a long standing favorite restaurant (that serves the best chicken wings), and one near and dear to my meatloaf-loving heart: Culpepper's Special Meatloaf.

Of course I had to try it. I collect meatloaf recipes like people collect teacups or DVDs. This one was different from all others that I have as it included an ample amount of cream cheese. I made it last week for friends who came to watch the Ballgame and it got thumbs up all around. Cream cheese!  Who knew?

Culpeppers’ Meatloaf
Yield: 9 servings

2 large eggs
½ c. chopped onion
3 T. Knorr beef base
2 t. black pepper
2-1/2 t. minced garlic
1-1/2 t. Worcestershire
1-1/2 t. paprika
½ t. cumin
1 c. unseasoned bread crumbs
6-1/2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
Ketchup, to cover

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cover a wire rack with foil, place inside a larger roasting pan.

In a large bowl, gently whisk eggs without adding air, then stir in onion, beef base, black pepper, garlic, Worcestershire, paprika, and cumin until well blended.  Stir in bread crumbs, cream cheese, and ground beef, really working and compacting the mixture until color is uniform and no pockets of seasoning or air remain.

Flip mixture onto the foil-covered rack and form a rectangle about 3 inches high.  Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Coat meatloaf with ketchup on all sides.  Bake for 15 more minutes.

Let cool slightly, then cut into 9 slices.

To serve Culpepper-style, serve with green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy.
If you are ever in the neighborhood, give Culpepper’s a try.  It’s located at:

3010 West Clay
Saint Charles, MO 63301
(636) 916-3102

  I’ll meet you there!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Deck Potager

 I have been planting potagers before I even knew what the term meant. From little on, I got no end of thrills from planting seeds from my breakfast melon into the yard and waiting for them to grow. As I got older I expanded into growing herbs, and then, once I had a place of my own, created a potager. A potager is a small French kitchen garden that generally consists of edible plants, both beautiful and functional, that are used with frequency in the kitchen. It is planted close to the house (kitchen) for convenience and, ideally, it is a garden from which you can harvest three out of four seasons.
My former house sat on an acre of land, an acre of shady land with only a sliver of it touched by the sun. It was during my tenure there that I learned the French way of kitchen gardening: to plant the things I used the most, to not run wild planting just one item (like 20 tomato plants just because I could not resist the end-of-the-season clearance sale), and plant herbs that would benefit me daily.  Every garden, I find, is a learning experience.
My new house has a small yard that I have yet to draw into quadrants to create four, individual, but dazzling gardens, complete with stone pathways connecting them all, and a small koi pond and secret garden in the back. While I wait for the time and money, not to mention energy to create my dream space, I continue to plant my potager, but this year it is in containers and on the back deck.
I generally get quite out of control at garden centers, overbuying and then getting completely stressed trying to figure out what to do with everything. So now, I shop at local markets that only take cash, bless them, and, as when I'm in the grocery store, I shop from a list.
I mixed things up a bit this year intermixing vegetables with flowers. I love to see the look on people's faces when they peer into the flower boxes to admire the flowers, only to find cauliflower growing in the corner.
An advocate of re-growing kitchen scraps, I have my usual containers of scallion roots and leek bases growing, along with sprouted garlic, but this year I decided to experiment, and shoved a ginger root into the grow. It's growing!  I'll have a blast watching this all summer long (which, I suppose, just goes to show how starved I am for real entertainment).
Another new addition to the garden is this artichoke plant. In years past I have tried, unsuccessfully, to grow them from seed. This year I found a plant at the local stand and nearly knocked an elderly woman over lunging for it. It is growing like a weed (most probably because, as a member of the thistle family, it really is sort of a weed).  But hopes are high that by summer's end, I'll be eating my own home grown artichokes.
Mr. O-P thrilled me beyond words by gifting me with a Calamondin orange tree and a Meyer lemon tree. I've had limited success growing these in the past, but these look hale and hardy, and I've been given detailed instructions from a friend who grows these as easily as some grow dandelions, so I am hoping to not only enjoy the literal fruits of my labors, but be able to overwinter them and enjoy citrus for many years to come.  I’ll keep you posted.

What do you have growing?

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Favorite Ways with Mangos

Did I tell you that I have never liked mangoes?  Hated them, in fact.  I just could not get what all of the fuss was about.  I tried them fresh, dried, and pressed into juice.  Uh uh.  Nope.  Didn’t like them.  And then one dayI DID!

I have no explanation for this change.  There is scientific evidence that most of the cells in our bodies are renewed every 7 years. This change concerns emotional, physical, and mental changes, which is my only explanation for why I like things today that I never could abide in the past.  Well, viva el cambio!  (Long live the change), because today I find these juicy, nutritional wonders absolute heaven.

In the hope that, like me, you either love, or will eventually love mangos, here are some favorite ways to enjoy them.  Click on the name of the dish for the complete recipe.  They are, clockwise, l-r:

Nothing says summer like a light, refreshing, colorful dish. Try one, or more of these recipes, and let me know what you think!

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Leek and Morel Gratin

I am a big fan of the side dish.   I have always felt that the simplest of main dishes can be company worthy when accompanied by a sumptuous side dish.  This recipe is perfect company fare as it is make ahead, tasty, and rather easy to put together. Plus, anything with morels is sure to wow.  Don’t let the passing of morel season prevent you from making this dish (adapted from one found in the April 2014 issue of St. Louis’s own Feast Magazine, and courtesy of Cassy Vires of Home Wine Kitchen), Melissa’s Produce has saved the day with their dried morel mushrooms that, really, are so close to fresh ones (without the dirt) that no one will be the wiser.

I wandered from the original recipe a bit, placing the leek-morel mixture into an oval crème brûlée dish, then topping it with thyme, cheese and breadcrumbs, and baking it at 350°F for about 10 minutes, until hot and bubbly.  In addition to being an elegant side, it would make a great vegetarian main dish.

Leek and Morel Gratin
Serves 2

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons leeks, sliced
1 .5-oz. pkg. Melissa’s dried morels
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry sherry
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 tablespoons Gruyere cheese, grated
¼ cup plain breadcrumbs

Place dried morels in a medium bowl and cover with lukewarm water.  Set aside to hydrate for 30 minutes.  Drain mushrooms (saving liquid for other uses), and rinse mushrooms, then spread out onto a paper towel-covered plate to dry.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter.  Add leeks, and cook until soft and fragrant.  Add morels and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until soft. Increase heat to high and add sherry.  Cook for 1 minute to allow alcohol to burn off.  Add cream and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Pour into individual ramekins or crème brûlée dish. Top with thyme, Gruyere, and breadcrumbs.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until hot and bubbly.  Serve immediately.

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