Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole…

For years I bought boxed potatoes to make potato casseroles to accompany a meal. The boxes contain a sleeve of freeze dried potatoes that look like petrified potato chips with a pouch of powdered cheese and flavorings, depending upon what kind you purchased (scalloped, au gratin, sour cream and onion, etc). To that you add some butter, water and milk, mix the conglomeration together and bake it in the oven. I never really thought about it, I just did it for the convenience of it all. NEVER AGAIN!

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned how over time I’ve begun to realize that there are many things you can easily make from scratch versus buying them pre-prepared at the grocery store. Things like applesauce, cranberry sauce, rouxs, pickles, soups, gravies, macaroni and cheese – the list can go on and on. The point is when you make something from scratch you control what goes into it. You control the sugars and sodium. You control the color naturally versus using dyes to achieve the desired affect. I’ve never made anything from scratch that included ingredients I could not pronounce much less spell, but I see them all the time on the packages at the grocery store.

I think we’ve come to believe that in the name of convenience it is ok to use prepackaged pre-prepared foods. And I am not one to point a finger at them, I’ve used them all my life. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that as I’ve become more adept in the kitchen I realize how easy it is to make things from scratch and in the end how much better that is for you. Don’t worry, I am not a purist. I’m sure in the name of convenience I will use a pre-prepared item myself from time to time. But more and more I’ve moved away from them and haven’t noticed a big difference in the time it takes to make certain things. Hence this recipe I am about to share.

oxo-hand-held-mandolineWhat makes this recipe so easy to make is a simple tool known as a mandolin slicer. There are tons of varieties out there, and the one in the picture to the right is what I use. When I publish something like this I always have to use the disclaimer that I work at Crate and Barrel. We carry a few varieties of mandolin slicers and this one is pretty affordable. I like it because it gives you a couple of different slicing widths, works well and it has the hand protector. But you can get a mandolin slicer just about anywhere and they can range in price from being extremely cheap to very expensive. If you invest in one, just make sure you at least get one that has some sort of hand protector.

One thing I have to stress here – if not used properly a mandolin slicer can be VERY DANGEROUS. You can slice a piece of your finger off just as easily as a piece of potato if you are not careful. Even with a hand guard you have to be very mindful when using one. The blades on these slicers are very sharp and before you know it, if you are not careful, you can really hurt yourself. So always use a mandolin slicer with the utmost care.

That being said, it is a great tool for quickly slicing things like potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. and getting even slices all the time. The key to success in this potato casserole recipe is the thin evenness of the potato slices. A mandolin slicer can give you that in no time flat (see the picture below). It would take much longer to do this by hand and the discs would not be nearly as precise in width.  So let’s talk a little bit about the lessons I learned developing this recipe.

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Lesson Learned 1 – Always use the mandolin slicer with the utmost care: I can’t help it, this just bares repeating. You won’t believe how easy it is to hack off a chunk of skin with this device. Please be careful using it. But when you use it safely, you will be amazed at how quickly you can produce nice even sized pieces of whatever you are slicing.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe is adaptable to a wide variety of cheeses: Normally some sort of cheddar cheese is a staple for this recipe. But over the holidays I had a disc of brie that I’d bought to make a holiday appetizer and I just mixed some of the remaining brie with the cheddar. Divine is all I can say about that. Gruyere is also a good cheese to use as well. Any good melting cheese or combination of compatible melting cheeses will do.

And speaking of melting cheese, don’t use prepackaged grated cheese. Those cheeses have an ingredient in them that keeps the grated pieces from sticking together. That ingredient also makes those cheeses difficult to melt. Grate the cheese yourself. You’ll get a much better consistency and much better flavor

The consistency of a roux

The consistency of a roux

Lesson Learned 3 – The formula for making any roux: Making a roux is the key to almost any homemade sauce or gravy. And you won’t believe how easy it is. All you have to do is remember one simple formula: equal parts butter and flour. This particular recipe uses three tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour to create the roux. The amount you use can vary based on the size of the recipe. But remember it is always equal parts of each. The picture on the left shows what the consistency should look like, almost that of a thick, creamy paste.

I could not believe how simple this was to make and so much better than the boxed varieties. Play around with this one to see if you can create the flavor of cheese sauce you prefer the most. Right now I’m a cheddar and brie girl so that is how I am writing the recipe. But don’t be afraid to experiment with this one. I promise anything you do will be so much better than the boxed version of what you make. Enjoy!

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2-3 large white russet potatoes, unpeeled

3 Tbs. butter

3 Tbs. flour

3-4 green onions, diced (use the green parts of the onion as well)

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp garlic powder

1 1/2 cups milk

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup brie cheese, cut into small pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Remove the skins from two cloves of garlic and drop them in a pot of cold water. Bring the pot of water to a boil on the stove, making sure the water is well salted. While the water is heating, cut the russet potatoes into 1/8 inch slices and put them in a bowl of cold water so they do not begin to brown. Slice the green onions and set aside. Grate the cheddar cheese and cut the brie into small pieces. Set both of them aside.

Once the water is boiling, put the potato slices in the water and cook them for about 5 minutes or until they just begin to soften.  When the potatoes begin to soften, gently remove them from the pan, drain them and pat them dry removing as much excess water as possible. Remove the discard the garlic cloves.

In a saucepan under medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir for about a minute until the mixture becomes a creamy paste (make sure to cook for about a minute so that there will be no flour taste). Add the milk and raise the heat to medium high. Once the milk begins to bubble you will notice it starting to thicken. Keep stirring the milk until it becomes thick. Once it thickens, add the garlic powder and cheeses. Stir until the cheeses are completely melted. Add the green onions and combine. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove the mixture from the heat.

Place the potatoes in a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish that was sprayed with cooking spray. Pour the cheese mixture over the potatoes. Bake at 375 for 50-55 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. For a finishing touch, at the end place the casserole dish under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the cheese.

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Turkey Pot Pie…

For some reason I am not a big fan of having turkey on Thanksgiving but I LOVE having turkey  on  Christmas Day. This year we had three guests for Christmas dinner and that precipitated making a whole turkey versus just a turkey breast. I had plenty of practice over this past year making bone-in turkey breasts but I never really had a lot of luck making a whole turkey, that is until this year…

I found two tricks that finally rendered me a perfectly cooked bird. One, making sure that the bird was completely defrosted (and I found it takes longer than what is written which is one day in the refrigerator for every four pounds –  plus the importance of removing the guts as soon as possible so you don’t harbor an ice ball in the cavity) and second to roast it at 350 when conventional wisdom says to roast the bird at 325. Needless to say, my bird turned out perfectly this year – the very first time I’ve ever done a whole turkey the right way. So if you are struggling with making a whole turkey, have faith. It only took me several years to finally get it right!

But, this blog is not about roasting a turkey. It’s about what you can do with the leftovers. And for me, one of the best comfort food recipes you can make with leftover turkey is turkey pot pie. And believe me, you will have greater success making this than learning how to roast the perfect turkey.

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I like this recipe because you can use just about anything you have leftover in it. I had some mushrooms that I cut up and sautéed and had a bag of frozen vegetables that had green beans, corn, peas, carrots and celery. But you can use frozen peas and carrots, or a broccoli cauliflower medley – really any bag of frozen veggies you have will do the trick. It really takes no time to put together the filling and within 25 minutes after that you have a delicious meat pie that no one will ever consider a leftover. Here are some lessons I learned while making this recipe:

Image 1Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t take the easy way out and use canned soup for the filling: Have you ever read the labels of many canned soups? The amount of sodium in them is unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a proponent of no salt, but when you use processed foods sodium is used as a preservative as well as a seasoning. It is so easy to make the filling from scratch and you can use unsalted chicken stock which has only 5% sodium in it versus the 36% sodium you get in a canned soup! That’s a big difference.

One thing I learned as I became more adept in the kitchen is how easy certain things are to make that I had been, out of habit and lack of knowledge, using previously as pre-prepared or processed. True sometimes they can be very convenient, but when you look at what you may be putting into your system on a regular basis it makes you take pause. Making a simple roux and using unsalted chicken stock creates the same creaminess and flavor as a canned soup, and I would venture to say it gives even greater flavor. I also know that time is a factor for most people and therefore convenience is important. But believe me, in this case, making a simple roux and using unsalted chicken stock takes no time and in the end is much better for you.

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Lesson Learned 2 – If you really want convenience, use prepackaged pie crusts: I am still in the process of mastering the homemade pie crust but must admit that part of my reluctance to do so is based on the fact that the ones you can by pre-made are so darn good. If you are a purist, then make your own pie crust. There are tons of recipes out there to choose from. But for me, I like the convenience of the pre-made dough. The trick is to let the dough come to room temperature before using it. Don’t just let it sit in the fridge and then pull it out and use it. Let it sit on the counter for about an hour and the dough will not only be easier to work with but also will give you the best results.

Lesson Learned 3 – Working with pie crust dough: I unrolled the pie crust dough and put my pie dish on top of it.  I used small individual pie plates six inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep (I had to use both pieces of dough), and cut out a piece of dough that was one inch longer than each dish all the way around. Don’t be fooled into thinking your pie crust needs to look pretty. Once you have the filling in the dish, put the pie crust on top, fold the edges under and crimp them. Cut a couple of slits in the center to let out the steam. Be prepared, you will probably have some mixture dripping out of the sides while it cooks. That is the beauty of the pot pie. What I did to mitigate the mess was to put both dishes on a foil lined baking sheet that was sprayed with cooking spray. That way any dripping during the cooking process did not stick to the baking sheet or prevent me from removing the dishes from the baking sheet.

This is a pretty basic recipe and one most cooks, even the novice ones, can master the first time around. And it is so darn good. I like the idea of making individual pot pies, but you can also adapt this recipe by putting it all into a 10 inch cast iron skillet and topping the skillet with the pie crust. Then you’ll have one big pie that you can proportion out.

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Turkey Pot Pie…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3 cups diced cooked turkey

1/2 tsp. dried sage or poultry seasoning

1 tsp. sweet paprika

3 – 4 Tbs. butter

3 – 4 Tbs. flour

I 16 ounce bag of frozen vegetables, a vegetable medley preferred

1 cup pearl onions, frozen or jarred

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

I package store bought pie crusts

1 egg, slightly beaten with a dash of water

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large deep pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the pearl onions and frozen vegetables and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika and sage. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. (At this point look at the amount of butter you have in the pan. If there is hardly any, add another tablespoon and melt it. Just make sure you use equal parts of butter and flour). Sprinkle the flour all throughout the pan and whisk it with the vegetable mixture for about a minute. Add the chicken stock and stir until it starts to thicken. (You will notice it thickening once it begins to get hot and bubbly. If it does not thicken, you can always add an additional amount of a little flour and water whisked together to get it to thicken). Once it has thickened, add the heavy cream and turkey and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Take the mixture off of the heat.

Lightly flour your counter and unfold one pie crust disc. Place a 6 x 1 1/2 inch individual glass pie pan on the crust. Cut the crust so that the edges are 1 inch longer than the outer edges of the pan. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough and pie pan.

Spoon the prepared filling into each pie pan. Place the dough over the top of each pan, tucking the excess edges under themselves. Crimp the edges with your fingers.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the crusts evenly with the egg wash. Using a sharp knife cut two vents in the center of the crust.

Place the pie plates on a baking sheet that is lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the inside mixture is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

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