Because I bake and cook in bulk, I had the liberty of pretty much taking the week off from the kitchen last week. We were busy with field trips and fun-filled March Break days which included the Maple Syrup Festival at Westfield Heritage Village and bug-eating at the Butterfly Conservatory (no, we didn't count the bugs Ron and Sol ate as part of the food budget). Well, March Break is over and I suppose it's back to business...
Are potatoes your best friend? They should be. These babies are so versatile it is literally amazing. Buy bulk potatoes that you have to wash and prepare - the frozen fries, instant mash, etc. are not only more expensive than they need to be but they're filled with crap you don't want to be eating. A favorite at our house is stuffed potato. These can be as healthy or indulgent as you'd like and can pretty much use anything you've got sitting in your fridge.
Plan on each adult eating one whole potato and each child for a half (if they're nice hand-sized potatoes). You can also make these in bulk and freeze them before they're baked - they're great for company and to throw on the bbq when you can't figure out what to eat with your steak or chicken.
Cut potato in half length-wise and boil until it's just soft enough to stick a fork through easily. Drain potatoes and let cool on a cutting board. When cold enough to handle take a spoon and scoop out the middles, leaving the skins and a bit of the potato "meat" attached to the skin. Place the guts of the potato in a bowl large enough to mash them and add your extras. If you wreck one of the skins by breaking it or scooping it too thin, just get all the potato out of it you can and don't sweat it. I usually end up over-boiling a few and they break apart before I even get the chance to scoop them.
Some people like to whip their potatoes so they're really creamy, some people like to hand mash - I don't care what you do here - just mash your potatoes how you like them!
When they're mashed it's time to add your extras. This is a great chance to sneak in nutrient rich veggies like broccoli, finely chopped asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, etc. Cook or steam veggies before adding them to the mash.
Don't forget to add herbs and spices. Chop up some fresh garlic and throw it in! Sautee some onions. Add a bit of rock salt, onion powder and chives for a traditional taste. Don't go too crazy with salt and pepper as people will more than likely throw it on top of the potato without even tasting it first (grrrr).
I like to add whatever scraps of cream cheese (flavored or not) I have in the fridge, I also like to empty the sour cream tubs that may be lurking in a back corner somewhere. You could add some butter at this point as well. Pick up any cheese on sale? Throw it in! Having cheese in these guys is so very tasty.
So you get it - throw in whatever you want and mix it into the mash.
Arrange your potatoes on a baking tray either lined with parchment paper, aluminum foil or lightly greased. If you're planning on freezing these before baking - still arrange them on a tray so you can individually freeze them before storing them. Take a hearty scoop of your filling mixture and begin to fill each potato skin. Start out by giving each potato a full scoop and add more at the end when you see how much you've got. You will probably end up with more filling than you expected depending on how many extas you added to the mash. Your potatoes will be heaping over the top with the filling mixture, but it looks so pretty and bakes fine like that. If needed, use the palm of your hand to round the filling.
If freezing, place cookie sheet flat in your freezer for a few hours. Don't forget about them or they'll dry out. When solid, transfer to a freezer bag or a box of some kind and you'll be able to take out as many or as little as you'd like.
If baking, place tray in oven at 400F for 45 minutes or until golden brown. You may want to cook them for a longer or shorter period of time depending on how soft your potatoes were to begin with. I really like over-doing mine, so I usually leave them in for an hour.
If you're going to throw these on the BBQ, place them on a sheet of aluminum foil and tent a bit of foil on the top to trap the heat better. Be sure to keep the heat low and steady until they're ready.
Serve with sour cream and ENJOY.
I clearly live in a meat eating
household. We may not have meat every day, but we do have it often and we enjoy it. Zehrs carries a free-from meat that we like to get when it's marked down 30% or 50%. Even at a discount we can't afford the skinless boneless chicken breast, and that's fine with us because the dark meats are tastier and having to eat food from bones is a great way to stay connected to what you're eating (especially for kids).
Chicken drumsticks are most often what is marked down, so that's what we have the most of. I like to think of them as jumbo wings - that way, it's deluxe not discount!
You can prepare your chicken however you please, but I like to toss mine in a bit of vineager and salt and let it sit for a day before seasoning it. Vineager and salt sounds nasty, but it really tenderizes the meat and makes it so very very delicious. After a day of sitting in this brine mixture, I rinse the legs off and prepare to season. Asian food markets are wonderful for many reasons, but a top reason is their spices and seasoning mixes. Most asian food marts will carry a tandoori mix (red powder) and this is a great way to mix up your bbq flavors (getting away from typical bbq sauce, Diana sauce, etc.) I throw a few Tbsp of tandoori in a large plastic bag (leftover bread bag will do) and throw the legs in. Keep some air in the bag and twist the top. Shake the bag until the powder has coated the legs evenly. Throw in a bit of sauce (I use my favorite Polynesian soy sauce and liquid amino) to keep the legs moist and leave in the fridge until you're ready to bbq. If you want to eat them that night, try to get this done in the morning so the tandoori flavor can soak right in to the meat.
Be sure to cook meat that's on the bone long and slow. You'll get a nicer flavor and you won't over cook the outside by the time the inside is done. Keep an eye on meats that have more fat because they'll make your bbq flare up (yummy but keep and eye on it).
Chicken thighs are EXCELLENT for making homemade chicken parmesan. If they're not skinless and boneless when you buy them, simply do that at home (save the bones for soup stock). The dark meat is so forgiving, you can cook these a bit longer than usual and still end up with a delicious meal.
Get three cereal bowls ready - one with flour, the next with egg, the last with bread crumbs. Preheat your frying pan with a bit of oil (not olive oil, it will burn) and let it get really hot on medium heat (keep it on medium for a long time instead of high for a short time). Dip your chicken in the flour, then the egg and lastly the breadcrumbs. GENTLY place in hot oil and cook a few minutes on each side until brown and crispy. The meat should be pretty thin and if you cook these on medium heat you shouldn't have to worry about them being fully cooked. If you want to remove one of the thighs to cut it open and peek at the meat, no harm done - it's better than eating raw chicken.
When the thighs are still hot, place a scoop of either spaghetti sauce or bruschetta mix and place a slice or two of mozza cheese on top. The heat from the chicken should be enough to melt the cheese. If you want to keep them on the pan for this step, simply turn the heat off and place a lid on top to trap the heat. Don't leave it for too long or you'll risk burning the chicken.
Serve with a fresh and delicious salad and you can't go wrong.
I overboiled an awful lot of potatoes and they fell apart before I could stuff them. I used the extra mashed potato to stuff some sort of lunch thingy for the kids. I threw in broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onion, and cheese and made a double batch of my pizza dough. Baked it for 20 minutes and now I have a cool lunch alternative that I wasn't necessarily planning on.