Christmas Worthy Potatoes (Twice Baked Blue Cheese Sweet Potatoes)

Cooking is as much about intuition as it is skill.  You can master all kinds of techniques, sauces, chopping and such, but at the end of the day you need keen senses to guide you.  To me cooking is an art not a science.  I’m sure Alton Brown (who I adore) would argue with me as well as any purists out there.  But, I am not a chef. I am merely a housewife running a 24 hour cafe for six regulars and a few occasional guests.

As such, I am learning to trust my instincts.  Timing is a big one.  Is the salmon finished? What about the pork?  I know I could use my meat thermometer, but I’m getting quite good at turning out well timed products.  Pairing the right foods requires good intuition as well as a honed palate.  I don’t profess to have this ability but it’s certainly fun trying to make a symphony out of dinner.  Just enough heavy, light, soft, and bold to make the whole experience a delight to the senses.

What I’m really trying to say is that I made Christmas worthy potatoes tonight.  And the individual parts of my Christmas symphony feast are beginning to come together.  I’m not aiming for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus or anything….my ability is more in alignment with the kindergarten school rendition of Jingle Bells.  But I am on the right track nonetheless.

My instincts told me last night that the Boursin Potatoes were wonderful, but perhaps not worthy of a once a year meal.  While a definite crowd pleaser with my children, the mild flavor of the boursin just didn’t hold up to the strong presence of the beef tenderloin.  But tonight’s potatoes my friends were out.stand.ing.

I wish I could attribute these potatoes to the genius who created them.  The recipe comes from The Dallas Dish which is the latest cookbook offering from the Dallas Junior League.  However this modern cookbook has updated itself so completely that names of the women no longer grace the pages of the recipes they’ve submitted.  Isn’t half the fun of reading Jr. League cookbooks looking at who’s best friend’s mother’s aunt makes beef stroganoff?

Since I can’t properly credit Mrs. W.R.U. Soinso IV for these potatoes I will simply encourage you to buy the Dallas Dish Cookbook.   It’s wonderful and tastes like home.

Twice-Baked Blue Cheese Sweet Potatoes

4 sweet potatoes

1/4 c butter, softened

1/4 c sour cream

1/2 c crumbled blue cheese

Jalapeno Maple Cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until tender.  Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into halves and scoop out the pulp.  Reduce oven temperature to 350.

Combine the pulp, butter and sour cream in a bowl and mix well.  Mound the pulp mixture  into the potato shells and arrange on a baking sheet.  Bake for 5 minutes and sprinkle with blue cheese.  Serve with Jalapeno Maple Cream.

Jalapeno Maple Cream

1/2 c sour cream

1 T maple syrup

2 tsp minced seeded jalapeno

1 tsp fresh lime juice

salt to taste

Tabasco sauce to taste

Combine the sour cream, maple syrup, jalapeno chile and lime juice in a bowl and mix well.  Season with salt and Tabasco.

Boursin Potatoes

It’s freezing in the heart of Texas!  Or at least hovering around 50 degrees, which is practically freezing since we had the air conditioner running this time yesterday.  It feels a lot more like Christmas with a shiver in the air.  And that makes my kitchen seem down right cozy.  Perfect weather to start testing recipes for Christmas.

Tonight I made a simple potato dish.  It’s so easy that it doesn’t seem worthy for the special Christmas meal.  But, who am I kidding!??!  I’m all about simplicity this year.  We are hosting family (12 adults and 6 children) for lunch on Christmas Day.  The morning will obviously be a buzz of activity and I want to enjoy the moment with Husband and the children without worrying about orchestrating a complicated meal.  I’m going to serve grilled beef tenderloin as the main course. Husband is the best grill master in the world so he’ll be in charge of the meat which will free me up considerably.  A lesson I learned the hard way two years ago when I decided we’d have a Creole Christmas.  I cooked for two solid days.  I made the best damned gumbo any non-cajun ever made, but it was certainly a labor of love.

After dinner this evening, Sister One was clearing her plate and she said, “Mommy those were the best potatoes I’ve ever had.  Can I have them in my lunch tomorrow?  And can you make that dinner again every night? I really liked everything on my plate!’

That’s my girl.  What’s not to love about beef tenderloin and boursin potatoes?   Just don’t give away the secret that these gems are delicious and sinfully simple to make.

Boursin Potatoes

3 lbs red potatoes, unpeeled

2 C heavy cream

5 oz boursin cheese

Combine cheese and cream in a saucepan and cook until blended, stirring frequently.  Thinly slice the potatoes.

Layer the potatoes and cheese mixture alternately in a shallow baking dish until all the ingredients are used, ending with the cheese mixture.

Bake 35 – 45 minutes or until light brown and bubbly.

Deck the Halls….(Ginger Maple – Glazed Salmon)

My house looks like a Christmas explosion!  We made our annual pilgrimage to Elgin last weekend to chop down the chosen pine.  The tree is wonderfully lopsided and the smell of earthy, crispy pine tickles my nose and tells me Christmas is here.  The children  won and we put colored lights on the tree this year.  I prefer the glisten of all white lights, but I completely understand the thrill of squinting your eyes until all the colors blend together.  It’s all about the children, right?!?!?

The Christmas cards are ready, I’ve addressed most of the envelopes which are scattered across my desk.  In addition to hundreds of red envelopes there are about 50 recipe cards and cook books cluttering my space.  I’m planning lunch for Christmas Day and will begin testing a few promising recipes this week.

Mia took the older girls and I to the Teddy Bear Tea at the Four Seasons today.  It was wonderful and a perfect break away from all the madness in the house.  Brother has been sick, Husband’s back is still bummed and it was nice to be pampered as only the Four Seasons can pamper for a couple of hours.

Since I’ll be spending much of my cooking time this week testing new recipes, I stuck with a tried and true favorite for tonight’s supper.  I make this salmon quite often as it’s one of Husband’s favorites and two out of three eating-aged children like it as well.

Tonight I’ll serve the salmon with brown rice and broccoli — a simple way to begin what will prayerfully be a healthy and festive week.

Ginger Maple Syrup-Glazed Salmon

1/2 c orange juice

1/4 c soy sauce**

2 T minced fresh ginger

2 T maple syrup

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Mix all ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool to room temp.

Place salmon fillets in baggie and pour sauce to cover reserving 1/2 of the mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Grill, bake or broil marinated salmon.  Serve with rice and broccoli spooning remaining glaze over cooked salmon and rice.

** to make this a gluten-free dinner, simply use a gluten-free tamari

Chicken Pasta Something or Other

Every once in a while I make something that everyone at The Schell Cafe really likes.  I don’t mean the meals that are tolerated with rolled eyes or the obligatory ‘thank you bite’.  I mean a meal that produces a clamor for seconds! I can always count on my homemade guacamole and chicken quesadillas to please the crowd.  Spaghetti, meat-loaf and grilled pannini sandwiches are appreciated too.

But my most frequently used fall back meal doesn’t even have a name.  Or a recipe.  One night I just tossed everything together and miraculously it worked!  So at least twice a month, occasionally more, I make this chicken pasta something or other.

My concoction makes a lot of pasta so I serve it for dinner one night and then pack it in school lunches for at least two days.  No one complains and I have more time to think about all the other dishes I would rather cook.  You know, the meals every one rolls their eyes at!

Chicken Pasta Something Or Other

1 lb. whole wheat pasta (I like shells or farfalle) ***

1/2 (mas y menos) package of frozen petit peas

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (I toss mine  in butter for 2 minutes over medium heat)

fresh spinach (as much as I have) chopped

roasted chicken (store bought rotisserie or left over roasted) as much as I have

1 C parmesan cheese, finely grated

evoo to toss the hot pasta

s&p

There is no magic to the amounts I use with these ingredients. I always have these items on hand so depending on how much in the fridge is what goes into the pot!

P.S. I jinxed myself when I prematurely suggested that everyone in the family likes this meal.  The children all like it.  Husband, not so much apparently.  He informed me after I made it for dinner tonight that this was not his favorite pasta.

Tant pis for me, huh?!?

*** Gluten-Free update: The Littles love this dish and I’m happy to say with the substitution of Tinkyada or DeBoles gluten-free pastas this all time favorite is back on our rotation!


Chocolate Chip Cookies for A Bummed Back

Husband blew out his back a couple of weeks ago.  Actually it was the morning we took Baby to have her spinal MRI at Children’s.  He ended up missing the procedure and was flat on his own back in excruciating pain.

He’s battled chronic back problems for his entire adult life.  Sports injuries and a stint as a power lifter in high school exacerbated the problem.  Last year he had major surgery…the last possible option before a spinal fusion.  So now he is frustrated, to say the least.  And worried that since the prior operation seems not to have worked a fusion could be the next step.

Since he’s home and has more time on his hand, Husband has been making requests for various things.  Mostly cookies.  Today he asked if I could stop by the grocery and pick up some pre-made cookie dough.

Slice and Bake?  I don’t think so.  And for a husband who is really down and out? Never.  He needs the real mccoy.  And because he shouldn’t have to choose between chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin I just combined the two.

A friend brought me these cookies after Baby was born and shared the recipe with me.  They are truly delicious cookies.  Hopefully they will brighten Husband’s mood.  If only I could cure his back!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 C (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 C sugar

1 C brown sugar

2 eggs

2 1/2 C flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

2 1/2 C non-instant oats

1 T vanilla

1 pkg. 12 oz chocolate chips

1 C coconut (optional)

Cream butter, add sugar, then eggs, then vanilla.

Add dry ingredients, except oats; mix well.

Add oats.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Bake 10 – 13 minutes at 350 degrees.

Meeting Ina Garten

The Contessa & moi!

The Contessa & moi!

It happened today. I met The Barefoot Contessa.  Yes, that contessa otherwise known as Ina Garten.  My cooking idol.

For this self-professed foodie meeting The Contessa ranks high upon my list of wishes.  Actually, being invited to dinner at her house in the Hamptons ranks higher on my wish list, but if we are dreaming that big I would also like to meet Oprah and be in the audience on the day she gives away all her favorite things.  However, the reality of meeting Ina today was really surreal and very exciting.

The week before Thanksgiving my good friend, who comments here under the pseudonym smelltheroses, forwarded me an email from Ina Garten announcing her book signing at Central Market in Dallas.  I responded immediately that we must make the road trip to see her.

Balls in motion nothing was going to keep me from making the trek north for the day.   I sent Brother to a neighbor’s house after school, cancelled several appointments, and begged the babysitter to pick up the girls from school and stay until Husband could come home from work early.  I prayed Baby would sleep through the night so I would be alert to drive on a highway notoriously known for making knuckles stark white.

And so it was.  Smelltheroses, my mother and I left the house at 7:40 this morning and road-tripped like a food inspired version of Thelma & Louise.  We arrived at Central Market (after a brief detour through Stanley Korshak) around 11:30 and claimed our tickets.  A HUGE thank you to Michael Cox the uber manager of Central Market who made our arrival smooth and seamless.  We even got bumped in line ahead of about 75 eager groupies.  For those of you wondering about the crowd Ina can draw….there were over 500 people.  That’s a lot of Ina lovers.

I had my beloved Barefoot cookbooks with me and bought two more for Ina to sign.  The actual meeting was so fast I can hardly remember our brief exchange.   I mean what do you say in 5 seconds or less to Ina Garten?  Talk about pressure.  So much to say and so little time.  I’m sure she had lots to say to me too.  She probably wanted to give me several of her unpublished family recipes, pass along oodles of cooking and entertaining tips, and even extend that invite to dine with she and Jeffery.  But it all happened so quickly — flash went the camera, squeak went her Sharpie, and in about 10 seconds we were back in the parking lot in which we started.

We giggled like school girls recounting our brief encounter with Ina.  Our bliss lasted all afternoon.  We lunched at Zoë’s in Snider Plaza, picked up a few Christmas treats at St. Michael’s Women’s Exchange and oohed and aahed at several stores along the way. The only mishap of the day was that Kuby’s ran out of knishes.  I had hoped to bring a package of these delicious potato and meat filled baked treats home to the children for breakfast tomorrow.

Home again and hoping Ina is too, I am so grateful for the memories made today.   I’m off to read my newly signed cookbooks which undoubtedly will continue to inspire many a meal at The Schell Cafe.

P.S.  Since I have failed miserably at importing my old blog entries to the new site feel free to visit http://www.theschellcafe.blogspot.com for older posts, many of which pay homage to Ina.