Home Fries…

I love my cast iron skillet. It only cost me about $20 and it’s one of the best skillets I have. But there’s a reason for that. Cast iron produces even, sustained heat and that’s the best for cooking just about anything. The only drawback to cast iron is it’s so darn heavy. But I just think of it as an upper body workout and move on from there.

This recipe uses the features of a cast iron skillet to produce the tastiest home fries. And making home fries is not all that complicated. The flavor of homemade sure beats the taste of the frozen kind.

So without further adieu, let’s talk home fries…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure to cut the potatoes to the correct size: For the purposes of this recipe you need to keep the pieces close in size (approx. 3/4 inch pieces). Here’s a little trick to help you achieve that. Using your chef’s knife cut a thin slice off of one of the longer sides of a peeled potato. Set the potato on the cut side and slice crosswise into even planks. Stack several planks and cut crosswise. Then rotate and cut crosswise again. This will give you evenly sliced potatoes.

Lesson Learned 2 – You can cook the pieces of potatoes two different ways, on the stovetop or in the microwave: (I will include both methods in the recipe printout). I chose to cook them on the stove. The process is not much different than making mashed potatoes. The only difference is you want to monitor the potatoes as they boil to make sure they don’t get overly soft, otherwise they’ll break apart. You want them to hold their shape. I would boil them for about 7-10 minutes and check their consistency. If they are still hard, check every couple of minutes until they are just becoming fork tender.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you choose to boil your potatoes first, let them cool a little in the strainer so they are as dry as possible when you put them in the cast iron skillet: In order to get your potatoes nice and brown you want them to be as free from water as possible. I would boil the potatoes first, strain them and let them sit in the strainer while you saute the onions and garlic. That way most of the moisture will drain off before you put them in the skillet.

Lesson Learned 4 – Once you saute the onions and garlic remove them from the pan and set them aside. The first time I made this recipe I kept them in the cast iron pan while I was browning the potatoes. Big mistake! They didn’t stand up very well through the browning process and wound up getting burned. Once you saute the mixture remove it from the pan and add it back in at the last minute just to get it warmed through again. That way you won’t get browned potatoes and blackened onions and garlic. Lessons learned from the cook who never could…

Lesson Learned 5 – Don’t continuously move the potatoes once they are in the skillet: In order to get the potatoes nice and brown you have to let them sit for a while in the skillet. The whole browning process can take about 20 minutes and you don’t want to be flipping the potatoes continuously during that time. If you want to check to see if they are ready to flip, turn one of the pieces or look on the sides of the pieces to see if the bottoms have started to to turn color. You’ll get a much better result if you are patient during the browning process.

And that’s it, couldn’t be any easier. I like these so much better than the frozen kind. Try them and see if you agree!

Home Fries...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3/4 inch cubes

2 – 3 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 small-medium size onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. fresh chives

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a high rimmed pot, boil the potatoes until they just fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside. (NOTE: you can also microwave the potatoes. Put 1 Tbs. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a covered microwave safe bowl along with the potatoes. Stir. Cook 7-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Drain the potatoes well).

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Start with 2 Tbs. of oil (you may or may not need to add more later) added to the skillet and heated until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Salt and pepper the onions. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.

If needed, add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the potatoes and gently pack them into the skillet using the back end of a spatula. Cook, without moving for 7-10 minutes or until they begin to brown.

Flip the potatoes and lightly repack them into the skillet. (check to see if you need to add oil during this process). Continue flipping process until the potatoes are browned on all sides. Add the onions and garlic back to the pan, mix with the potatoes and heat until warmed through.

Season with salt and pepper, garnish with chives and serve immediately.

Potatoes during the browning process

 

 

 

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Basic Bruschetta…

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the most simple or basic recipe can be the most impressive. I remember making my Cream Cheese, Spinach, Bacon and Scallion Pinwheels and almost not publishing that recipe because I thought it was too remedial and people would laugh. To this day it is one of the most popular recipes on my blog. I will never second guess a recipe again.

This recipe came out of my desire to finally tackle making bruschetta and my need to bring an appetizer to a community event. Since I’d never made it before I decided to start out with a basic recipe that included only tomatoes, onion, sautéed garlic, garlic infused olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and fresh basil. It was divine! You can tell your appetizer is a hit when it’s completely gone while others still remain. This one was eaten up quickly.

The process for making bruschetta is relatively simple. You spend most of your time chopping and dicing, which I love. It can be a little more labor intensive than other appetizers, but the result is so worth it. This particular recipe is bright, fresh and natural, a killer combination for an appetizer.

So let’s talk basic bruschetta…

Lesson Learned 1 – Finding fresh basil at the grocery store: This probably sounds silly but I had a hard time finding fresh basil at the grocery store. Now I know it’s Winter, but fresh basil is pretty much a staple that’s available almost any time of year. So there I was looking through the refrigerated packages of various herbs and bemoaning the fact that the store did not have basil. I got so frustrated I went to the service desk to ask if there was a reason why the store had no fresh basil. The associate called someone in produce and they told her where it was located. It was not with the other refrigerated herbs.

BUT, what I found out and didn’t know is that basil does not do well with refrigeration and is better kept at room temperature and that’s why it’s not kept with the other refrigerated herbs. That was news to me. I decided to test that hypothesis and sure enough, when I looked for basil at other grocery stores it was kept at room temperature and not with the refrigerated herbs. Since I planned on using most of the basil right away I didn’t refrigerate it when I got home.

I did a little research on keeping basil fresh and here’s what I found. To keep basil fresh, trim the stems and place them in a glass or jar of water, just like cut flowers. Loosely cover the basil with a plastic bag and leave it on the counter. Although certain herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, can be stored this way in the fridge basil does better at room temperature. Live and learn, right?

Lesson Learned 2 – Browning the garlic: You use a lot of garlic in this recipe and it’s a key flavor component. But garlic can be tricky and easy to burn. Saute your chopped garlic in some olive oil until it has a light golden brown color (see the picture below). Stir the garlic regularly while it is sautéing to prevent any burning. Remove it from the heat and immediately put it in a bowl so  carry over cooking is minimal. Make sure to include the oil from the pan with the garlic as you need to add that to the tomato mixture as well.

I’m often asked if using prepared cloves of garlic from a jar is ok. Yes it is, but be aware that those cloves are not as potent as fresh garlic so you may need to use more of them for a good garlic flavor. The jarred cloves are very convenient, but I prefer using fresh garlic whenever I can.

Lesson Learned 3 – The tomatoes used in this recipe are very important: Using the wrong kind of tomatoes can make your bruschetta soggy. You need a tomato that is ripe but firm. Any tomato will be watery so you want to minimize that as much as you possibly can.

I used small campari tomatoes. You can also use vine ripe tomatoes that are more firm. Stay away from over-ripe soft tomatoes. You will wind up with a mixture of mush if you use them. Once you put together the tomato mixture let it chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour. That way the ingredients get better acquainted and some of the water drains out of the tomatoes. I drained the water from the mixture when I took it out of the refrigerator and used a slotted spoon when I was putting the tomato mixture on the bread to eliminate as much moisture as I could. Doing this also prevents the baguette from getting soggy.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use a good olive oil: I used a garlic infused olive oil in this recipe. I’ve also seen basil infused olive oils and that would be good as well. Olive oil is also a key ingredient in bruschetta so you want to make sure it’s flavorful and not bitter.

The real work in this recipe is chopping up the ingredients in the tomato mixture, slicing and baking the baguette. Once that’s done, the assembly goes pretty quickly. This is such a good looking, refreshing and healthy appetizer. It will make a great impression at your next gathering. Try it and let me know what you think.

Basic Bruschetta...

  • Servings: 20 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 6oz. French baguette loaf, sliced in 1/4 inch slices

Garlic infused olive oil (approx. 3 Tbs. plus some for drizzling)

2 large vine ripe tomatoes or about 10 small campari tomatoes, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small white onion, diced

2-3 Tbs. fresh basil, chopped plus some for garnish

1/2 small lemon, juiced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Shredded romano cheese for topping

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Saute garlic in 1 Tbs. olive oil until fragrant and golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine tomatoes, onion and basil in a mixing bowl. Add the garlic along with the olive oil from the pan. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Chill in the refrigerator.

In a small bowl season 2 Tbs. of olive oil with salt and pepper. Lay baguette slices on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Using a silicone basting brush baste the slices with the olive oil mixture. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.

Remove the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and drain any liquid from it. Using a slotted spoon put some of the tomato mixture on all the baguette slices. Top with a small sprinkle of shredded romano cheese. Add some additional chopped basil for garnish. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on all the slices. Place slices on a decorative platter and serve.

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Slow Cooker Ground Beef Stew…

It seems that lately I’ve been obsessed with my slow cooker. You have to admit it is a major convenience, especially when you have a busy day planned. Which was the case with me last week. But even when my calendar is full I still want to have something good and home made for dinner (unless I’m so exhausted I suggest we just go out to eat). The beauty of the slow cooker is that you get it ready early in the day when you have energy so that later in the day you go home to amazing smells and a dinner that is ready to serve without a lot of time and effort on your part. I just love my slow cooker!

I’m always experimenting with basic ingredients and I’ve really never used ground beef as the main protein in one of my slow cooker meals before. So I thought, what the heck, why not give it a try. And I have to say I really, really liked this meal. It’s hearty, flavorful and all you need do is serve it with some crusty bread, or corn bread or a salad and you’re done.

So let’s talk slow cooker ground beef stew…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use a lower fat ground beef in this recipe: I used 93% lean ground sirloin for this recipe. There are some recipes that I prefer a larger fat content but for this one you don’t. You don’t want the crock to be swimming in grease when it’s done. Believe me, it’s worth it to go higher end on the ground beef for something that is cooking for 7 hours.

Lesson Learned 2 – Partially cook the ground beef before putting it in the slow cooker: Many times I’ve talked about the importance of browning meat before you put it in the slow cooker. Slow cookers do not brown meats and so your meat can wind up looking grayish if you don’t brown it first. If that doesn’t bother you then just dump the meat in. But I say you eat with your eyes first and so you want the dish to look pleasing as well. Just cook the meat so there’s only a little pink left. The slow cooker can then handle the rest.

Lesson Learned 3 – Cut your veggies and potatoes into large chunks: I know I’ve said this over and over but it’s worth repeating. If you don’t you cut your veggies into large chunks they will turn into mush. Think about it. The veggies are cooking for 7 hours. Unless they are of substantial size they will break down. Below is the picture of my potatoes and veggies before I added the meat. You can see they are nice and chunky and that’s what you need in order for them to stand up to the cooking process.

Lesson Learned 4 – You can use any kind of potato you like: When I made this I used yukon gold potatoes. Yukon golds have a very thin skin so you don’t have to peel them. I always peel them because my husband has a hard time with the skins. Whether you do or not is totally your preference. You can use red potatoes or russets. I would suggest peeling either one of those if you decide to use them.

Lesson Learned 5 – Seasoning is very important when using a slow cooker: If you don’t season the ingredients well your food can turn out bland. You’ll want to salt and pepper the ground beef when you’re browning it. You’ll want to salt and pepper the onions, carrots and potatoes after you put them in the slow cooker. After you mince the garlic sprinkle it over the veggies and potato.  Add the oregano to the tomato sauce. Making sure you season this way will give you a flavorful result.

I will admit I wasn’t too sure about this recipe and I was very pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. Plus it provided some delightful smells in the kitchen will it was cooking. For a simple, no fuss, easy meal the recipe more than fits the bill. Try it and let me know what you think.

Slow Cooker Ground Beef Stew...

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds 93% lean ground sirloin

2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced in large chunks

3 large carrots, cut in chunks

I medium yellow onion, sliced in chunks

2 garlic cloves, minced

1- 6 oz. can of tomato paste

1 15 ounce can tomato sauce

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dried oregano

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper

Olive oil cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium skillet, brown the ground beef until there is only a slight bit of pink left in the meat. Set aside. In a large bowl combine the tomato paste and sauce. Stir until completely combined and smooth. (This should give you a nice thick sauce). Add the Worcestershire sauce and oregano and stir to combine.

Spray the inside of the crock with cooking spray. Add the potatoes, carrots and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the vegetables and potatoes. Add the meat on top. Pour the tomato sauce over the meat. Stir to combine.

Cover and cook on high for 7 hours. Do not lift the lid during the cooking process. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread.

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Slow Cooker Turkey and Dumplings…

We are still in the midst of a major kitchen renovation and although I have a brand new stove sometimes it’s just easier to throw things into a slow cooker and let it do all the work. And that’s what I did the other night.

I am particularly proud of this recipe for a variety of reasons but mainly because this was the first time I actually experimented with a process in a slow cooker and it turned out great. In the past I had been the type of slow cooker girl that would never open the slow cooker during the cooking process. But I found that you can and still achieve great results, probably even better results if you are not afraid to walk on the wild side.

By itself, this recipe is pretty traditional using canned soup for the liquid that braises the meat. But by thickening the soup with some flour and water it made the juices turn into a thick creamy gravy. The other trick I used was taking store bought biscuits in a can and using them for the dumplings. I just cut them up and put them in the slow cooker for the last hour. They cooked to a perfect dumpling consistency much to my surprise.

So let’s talk slow cooker turkey with dumplings…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use flour and water to thicken your sauce: At the 4 hour mark I took out the turkey tenderloins to shred them. I noticed that the liquid in the slow cooker was very thin. Right before I added the meat back in I mixed together about 2 tablespoons of flour with about 1/8 cup water and stirred it into the liquid. Then I added back the shredded meat and the biscuits, stirred the mixture, covered the slow cooker and cooked the turkey and dumplings for another hour. The result was fabulous. I guarantee you I would not have gotten such a thick sauce had I not added the flour and water.

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

One clarifying point – it is extremely important that you mix the flour and water together thoroughly before adding it to the juices. I normally mix flour and water in a glass measuring cup. Once I think I’ve gotten the mixture correct I put my finger in and scrape it along the bottom of the glass. If I can feel any clumps of flour at all I continue mixing until they are all gone. That is very important. You don’t want to wind up with a clump of flour in your gravy.

Lesson Learned 2 – Adding whole garlic cloves to the slow cooker: I discovered that if you add whole garlic cloves at the beginning of the slow cooking process you infuse garlic into your ingredients. And, since slow cooking on average takes 4-6 hours, the garlic literally breaks down into the food so there is no worry of biting into a garlic clove. And if by chance a clove survives, it would be nice and tender, just as if you had roasted it. It’s a great trick to use in a slow cooker.

The VeggiesLesson Learned 3 – Cut large slices of your veggies: Whenever I slow cook I always cut my veggies on the larger side. I find that after cooking for 4-8 hours I’m left with veggies that still have texture and flavor versus veggies that have been completely broken down by the long cooking process.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using refrigerated biscuits for your dumplings: What a great surprise this was. I took butter flavored refrigerator biscuits, flattened them out with the palm of my hand and cut them into slices. I added them during the last hour of cooking and voila, I wound up with dumplings. This is a great trick. Try it!

Refrigerated Biscuits Cut Into Strips

I am really excited about this recipe on a variety of levels. First, it tasted great. Second, it looked great (remember you eat with your eyes first). Third, I experimented with some new techniques and they worked out fabulously. You’ve got to try this one. You will love it!

SLOW COOKER TURKEY AND DUMPLINGS...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 large onion, cut into quarters and separated

4 carrots, cut diagonally in 2 inch slices

2 large garlic cloves, whole

2 large turkey tenderloins

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup frozen peas

1 can refrigerated biscuits, separated, flattened and cut into slices

2 Tbs. flour

1/8 cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Line the bottom of the slow cooker with the onion slices, carrots and garlic. Place the turkey tenderloins on top of the vegetables. Salt and pepper the ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine thoroughly the soups, parsley and poultry season. Spread over the tenderloins. Pour the stock over the top of the tenderloins. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

At the 4 hour mark, remove the tenderloins and cover the slow cooker. Shred the tenderloins using two forks. Open the refrigerated biscuits. Flatten each one with the palm of your hand and cut them into slices. (depending on the length of each slice you can also cut the slices once again in half). Mix together thoroughly the flour and water.

Uncover the slow cooker. Pour in the flour/water mixture and stir until combined in the liquid. Add back the shredded turkey and sliced biscuits. Gently stir to break up the biscuits. Cook for another hour on high, adding the frozen peas during the last 15 minutes of the cooking process.

Turkey Tenderloins

Turkey Tenderloins

Gravy Mixture

Gravy Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Slow Cooker Turkey With Dumplings

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Crock Pot Turkey And Dumplings