Monday, January 31, 2011

gimme some skin!!

Super Snacks for The Big Game!

Whether you actually watch the football action, or just tune in for the commercials, everyone can agree that the Super Bowl is one of winter's finest foodfests.

What is it about football that encourages such gastronomic indulgence? True, I've been to some major league baseball games where there was tailgating but nothing like football games, or the incredible spreads at home parties everywhere. Fire up some pork chops before the big golf championship? Whip up a giant cauldron of chili for the gymnastics tournament? Not likely but who knows, maybe football's savory spirit will someday infiltrate other sports as well.
While you're cursing the quarterback or laughing at the newest Snickers commercial, feast on a few of these luscious bacon and cheese potato skins. You can bake the potatoes in advance to save time; quickly remove the foil from the potatoes after baking to reduce any "wrinkliness" in the refrigerator later.

If you're using bacon for your skins, I highly recommend the flavor and quality of Applegate uncured "Sunday Bacon." As a card-carrying Team Bacon! member, this product is one of my favorites. You will not believe the hardwood smoke aroma of this bacon! It does not shrink up into shriveled little strips, and there is very little excess grease to pour off. Truly a quality cured meat!

On the Lonesome Road, we generally try to use low-fat dairy products; however, there are some instances when this isn't the best option or doesn't produce the best results. Potato skins are one of those instances; I prefer to use full-fat cheese for its melting qualities and it generally seems to brown better.

When you're ready to assemble the potato skins, cut each baked potato in half and scoop out the insides so there is about 1/4 inch of potato in each shell. Then, the shells will need to "dry out" a bit so that they will be crispy when finished. Sad truth: frying the skins before filling them really does taste better, much like a McDonald's apple pie. However, if you're trying to cut down on a few fat calories you can bake the shells first. I've done this by putting them on a foil-lined pizza pan in a 450 degree Fahrenheit oven for ten minutes face-up, then flip them over and bake another 15 minutes or so. Potatoes will be ready when they no longer stick to the foil when they are face-down.

Now the fun part! The fillings are entirely up to you but I like a classic combination of Cheddar cheese, bacon and green onions or chives.

For a change, try some of these ideas:
  • herbed cream cheese
  • blue cheese
  • chili
  • taco meat
  • chorizo
  • chopped smoked ham
  • Canadian bacon
  • hot or sweet Italian sausage
  • broccoli
  • mushrooms
  • chili pepeprs
  • olives, green or black
  • giardinera
  • black bean and corn salsa with Jack cheese
  • your favorite pizza toppings + marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese
  • fresh spinach, garlic and feta cheese
When your masterpieces have been created, simply broil until the cheese is bubbly.

Depending on the size of the potatoes, plan on at least two skins per person but if the potatoes are small or if I am at the party, do allow more!

Friday, January 28, 2011

the weekend baker - the boozed up edition

so this banana walks into a bar...
and made a little bread!
Got a couple of bananas laying around with more age spots than your grandmother? Don't just toss them out (well, maybe in your compost pile), try this luscious, rather grown-up Lonesome Road version of banana bread.
As most of you know, the secret to a really good banana bread is to let the bananas ripen to the point where the skins are black. Underripe bananas will not give you that rich flavor and moist texture. What some of you may not know is that a little splash of booze makes a pretty tasty banana bread. I've used whiskey in the bread pictured, but rum (try banana-flavored rum!) is also an excellent addition. Also, be sure to try the raw sugar in this recipe; you'll love the way it tastes in coffee and tea, hot or cold cereal, or just about anything!
Bottoms up!

1 1/4 cups raw sugar (like Sugar In The Raw)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons good-quality whiskey
2 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 2 to 3 large ones)
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan (not necessary for a non-stick pan).
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine raw sugar and melted butter.
Add milk, eggs, whiskey, and bananas.
In a separate large bowl, combine dry ingredients.
Add this to butter-banana mixture and combine until JUST mixed- do not over mix.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake at least 1 hour or until pick inserted in center comes out clean.
I also like to make mini-muffins and the smaller individual-sized loaves (pictured); adjust baking times accordingly; I check the small loaves after 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool in the baking pan.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

cheap eats - National Soup Month edition

Baby, It's Cold Outside ...
What better month than January to shine the spotlight on soup? Cold blustery days that chill us to the bone, seemingly never-ending snow, and days that grow dark too soon.
A hot pot of soup is just the remedy for all of that. A Lonesome Road favorite is potato leek soup with bacon - it's simple and satisfying, and relatively inexpensive. In this version, I've pureed the soup ingredients without the addition of milk or cream, using the potato cooking water to do some of the thickening (and also adding vitamins that you would have just tossed down the drain). This soup is also a great way to use up a big bag of potatoes that are all looking at you with the beginnings of little eyes everywhere. By all means do not use rotten potatoes! But while peeling potatoes for this soup, just trim off the eyes and save money by not tossing out half a bag of potatoes when they all at once become past their prime.
When I created this soup I was lucky enough to find leeks on sale - a bundle of three for just over two dollars; other than the leeks this recipe is very cost-effective (although I like to splurge on center-cut bacon, a much better deal for the money spent).
The recipe makes quite a bit of soup; you will have enough for a nice light supper and for some nice warming leftover lunches as well, saving you even more money.
  • 10 to 12 medium to medium-small russet potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 3 medium leeks, white and part of light green, rinsed thoroughly and sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 to 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (depends on how thick you like your soup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 10 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cook chopped bacon in a large soup pot until thoroughly cooked. While bacon is cooking, peel and quarter the potatoes and boil them in 4 cups of water until tender (about 10 to 15 minutes).
When bacon has cooked completely, remove with a slotted spoon to a plate with paper towels to drain thoroughly and reserve.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat in the soup pot. If potatoes have finished cooking by now, set them aside; do not drain. Saute chopped leeks and onion in the bacon fat until translucent. Add potatoes and their cooking water (which should be partly evaporated). Add 4 cups of broth and thyme, and continue cooking mixture together for another 30 minutes.
Puree mixture in a blender or food processor then return to the soup pot. If you prefer a thinner soup, add more broth. Stir to combine then add crumbled bacon (reserve some as a garnish for the soup) and flat-leaf parsley. Simmer together another 20 to 30 minutes and serve, garnished with more cooked bacon crumbles.
For something a little different, try using Yukon Gold potatoes. Their buttery yellow color will produce a very pretty soup with a slightly different flavor. Of course, if you have leftover ham, substitute that for the bacon if you like but you will need to saute the leek/onion mixture in a bit of butter. A sprinkling of cheese or chopped chives also makes a nice garnish, and if you like, chopped green chiles are also an ingredient to consider.


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