Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes

These are the mashed potatoes I love. These are the only ones that I serve at my Thanksgiving table, and they are the creamiest mashed potatoes I have ever had. All other mashed potatoes pale sadly in comparison. Why? Because they are smooth, unbelievably creamy and just salty enough to taste scrumptious. They are so good that I don't even bother with gravy. (My picky husband says that the gravy ruins them anyway, because they are perfect as is.) These truly are remarkable, but the taste and texture are not the only reasons why I have a love affair with these taters. It's also because they can be made ahead! I'm talking like days ahead. Do you know how valuable that is? To be able to make something when you have the time, and then serve it up when you don't? Well, I do, and it's my secret to getting everything done for any big holiday (especially Thanksgiving!).
   I saw The Pioneer Woman make this on the FoodNetwork a while back and I just had to try them. I have been making them ever since and wouldn't dream of doing anything different. I usually tweak recipes a bit, but this one was perfect as written, so I didn't change a thing. As a result, I just copy and pasted her recipe and instructions at the bottom of the post, so that nothing got lost in translation. :)
   Ok, enough chatting, let's get to the taters.

You'll need 5 pounds of taters. Yes, that seems like a lot, but if you have a mashed potato loving family like mine, or you are making these for a crowd, then it is the perfect amount. Yukon Gold potatoes will give you a more buttery texture and flavor, but Russet potatoes work well too.
Just wash, peel and dice them up. The smaller the dices, the faster they will cook so I usually dice them about 1 inch thick, but if you had the time you could just quarter the whole potato up. The main objective is to get all the potato pieces about the same size, so that they cook at the same time.

Put all the chopped potatoes into a large pot, and cover them with cold water.

They need to be completely submerged in the water.  Add some salt and crank up the heat.

While the potatoes are cooking, you will notice the starch rising to the top and looking kind of foamy. I grew up in a house where the foam was rarely scraped off, so you can leave it if you want. It won't hurt you, it's just not pretty.

If you do scrape it off, just use a large spoon and gently skim the top of the water to remove all the starchy bubbles.

When the potatoes are fork tender, drain off ALL the water and then return the potatoes to the hot pot. Turn the heat on low, and start mashing. You want to get as much water out of the potatoes as possible, while getting them nice and smooth.

When the potatoes are mostly smashed, turn the heat off.

Now comes the good stuff. Butter, and lots of it. If I have it, I like to use this Danish butter because it tastes extra creamy; but any salted butter you have is fine. (You could also use unsalted butter, but you will need to adjust your seasoning later on.) You need 1 1/2 sticks.

The cut butter and 1 block of softened cream cheese go into the potatoes. I know. Cream cheese is not the most conventional ingredient in mashed potatoes, but I really believe that this is the "secret ingredient" that makes these potatoes so good.

Mash in all the butter and cream cheese until it's melted.

Then comes the half and half. (I never said this was a low-fat recipe. This is the holidays after all.)

Seasoned salt gives these potatoes a special flavor that just plain salt can't replicate.

Just mash and stir everything together until they are smooth and combined well. See how dreamy they are? It's takes everything in me not to just grab a spoon and have at it right now. (Don't think that I let that potato masher go untouched, though. It gets licked so clean that you'd be hard pressed to realize I used it at all.)

Now, if you are making these for dinner right now, and you don't need to put them away for later, then by all means just serve them up. However, if you (like me) are making them in advance, then get out a casserole dish and generously butter that sucker. Don't be shy. We already loaded up the mashed potatoes, why skimp with buttering the baking/serving dish?

Scrape all the potatoes into the buttered dish, and even it out. (This spatula also becomes my personal mashed potato lollipop when I'm done using it to get the potatoes evenly into the dish.)

When the potatoes are sufficiently smoothed out, just dot the top with a little more butter (to keep the top moist and also because it tastes good!). At this point it can be wrapped up and refrigerated for a few days.

When I'm ready to heat them up, I take them out of the fridge at least an hour before (TPW recommends 2-3 hours ahead), so that they can get to room temperature. I leave them covered with foil and put them into a 350F oven. I bake them for about 10 minutes with the foil on, and then take the foil off for the next 20 minutes. (You could leave the foil on for the whole time, but then the top doesn't get any sort of crust.)

Heads up, if your casserole dish is as full as mine, you might want to put a cookie sheet underneath it while it bakes, to catch any butter that may dribble out of the dish.

When the potatoes are hot and butter is bubbling, it's time to serve! (If you are thinking about your Thanksgiving time table, I usually put the potatoes and my other casseroles in the oven while the turkey is out and resting. Depending on the size of your bird, you will want to rest it for at least 45 minutes - even up to 2 hours if you have a huge bird. That's plenty of time to heat up anything you have made ahead of time, so that all your food can be hot at the same time.) Happy Eating!!
Here's the recipe:
from The Pioneer Woman

Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes

  •  5 pounds Russet Or Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 3/4 cups Butter
  • 1 package (8 Oz.) Cream Cheese, Softened
  • 1/2 cup (to 3/4 Cups) Half-and-Half
  • 1/2 teaspoon (to 1 Teaspoon) Lawry's Seasoned Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (to 1 Teaspoon) Black Pepper
Peel and cut the potatoes into pieces that are generally the same size. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 to 35 minutes. When they’re cooked through, the fork should easily slide into the potatoes with no resistance, and the potatoes should almost, but not totally, fall apart.
Drain the potatoes in a large colander. When the potatoes have finished draining, place them back into the dry pot and put the pot on the stove. Mash the potatoes over low heat, allowing all the steam to escape, before adding in all the other ingredients.
Turn off the stove and add 1 ½ sticks of butter, an 8-ounce package of cream cheese and about ½ cup of half-and-half. Mash, mash, mash! Next, add about ½ teaspoon of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and ½ a teaspoon of black pepper.
Stir well and place in a medium-sized baking dish. Throw a few pats of butter over the top of the potatoes and place them in a 350-degree oven and heat until butter is melted and potatoes are warmed through.
Note: When making this dish a day or two in advance, take it out of the fridge about 2 to 3 hours before serving time. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until warmed through.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ruth's Mile High Biscuits

It's pretty chilly outside. If you are warming up with a bowl of soup, or just want a warm bread to have with any meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) you should really try these biscuits.
    These are my husband's favorite biscuit. I, myself am not a huge biscuit fan (I'd rather have a homemade Parker House Roll or No-Knead Rich Dinner Roll any day) but these biscuits are pretty amazing. They are slightly sweet, with a nice buttery flavor. I found them on Pinterest a few years ago, and my hubby hasn't found a recipe that he likes better. So, when I make biscuits now, this is it.
They are so light and flaky with a crunchy exterior that is really something wonderful. They are called Mile High Biscuits because they rise so tall. Don't they look delicious?
Here's the recipe:
from Deals to Meals

Ruth's Diners Mile High Biscuits

3 c. flour 
1 1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 stick cold butter, cubed
3/4 c. cold buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 c. cold water

Whisk together the dry ingredients, and then cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two knives. Whisk together the egg, buttermilk and water and mix the wet ingredients with the dry until the dough just starts to come together. Turn out the dough onto a well floured work surface and fold it over on itself until it comes together (at least 4 times). DO NOT overwork your dough, or the biscuits will be tough. Press the dough flat until it's about 1 to 2 inches thick. (The thicker it is, the taller the biscuit.) Using a biscuit cutter, or an upside down drinking glass, cut the biscuits into rounds. Bake @ 425F 12-15 minutes (depending on size), until golden brown.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and butter until crumbly. Mix in buttermilk, egg and just enough water to make a workable dough. Mix the dough until it is just barely combined (don't over mix). Roll the dough onto a floured cutting board about 1 inch thick. Cut with a 2 inch biscuit cutter, or a 2 inch round cup. Place on a greased baking sheet (touching each other) and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 12-15 biscuits, depending how thick you make them. - See more at: http://www.dealstomealsblog.com/2012/02/ruths-diners-mile-high-biscuits.html#sthash.y8GVZ3Pm.dpuf

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and butter until crumbly. Mix in buttermilk, egg and just enough water to make a workable dough. Mix the dough until it is just barely combined (don't over mix). Roll the dough onto a floured cutting board about 1 inch thick. Cut with a 2 inch biscuit cutter, or a 2 inch round cup. Place on a greased baking sheet (touching each other) and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 12-15 biscuits, depending how thick you make them. - See more at: http://www.dealstomealsblog.com/2012/02/ruths-diners-mile-high-biscuits.html#sthash.y8GVZ3Pm.dpuf

Monday, November 10, 2014

Corn Casserole

It's that time of year, when everyone starts thinking about what they will be serving (and eating) for Thanksgiving. While I could never choose a favorite dish I do have some holiday dishes that are near and dear to my heart. I will be sharing them with you (as often as I can) in the next few weeks. (That being said, I am about 37 weeks pregnant now so we'll see how things go.) :)
   This corn casserole is a recipe that I recieved from church a few years ago, and haven't changed much since. (I did reduce the amount of butter and added an extra egg.) If you are looking for a low calorie side dish, this is definitely not it, but if you are looking for something quick to put together, and delicious with some hidden veggies then this is the ticket. It's like a very moist cornbread with little bits of corn running throughout. Some people call it corn pudding, but I was given the recipe with the title "corn casserole" so that's what I call it. If you haven't tried it at your holiday table (or even as a nice change up to a weeknight meal) try it out and let me know what you think!

As many good recipes do, this one starts out with a stick of butter. I prefer salted, but you can always use unsalted and then add a little salt later.

Melt the butter,

and then stir in all of these lovely ingredients.

When it's all smooth and combined, like this:

pour the mixture into a 9x13 or 11x13 inch casserole dish. (I usually don't grease the dish because the mixture has plenty of butter in it, but if you are worried about it sticking then you can go ahead a grease the dish a little.)

It bakes for a little less than an hour and it comes out like this:

Unassuming, and not very impressive looking, but let me tell you. The taste is amazing!

It holds its shape nicely, but is so incredibly moist. Definitely one of my top ten holiday side dishes.

Incidentally, I served it up with a weeknight meal of pork chops and a side salad. Yum, yum!
Here's the recipe:

Corn Casserole

1 stick (half cup) butter, melted
1 (8.5 oz) box of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 (15 oz) can of creamed corn
1 (15 oz) can of whole kernel corn
3 large eggs, beaten
8 oz sour cream 

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients and pour into a casserole dish (lightly greased if you want). Bake 45-60 minutes (an 11x13 dish will be done in about 45 minutes, where as a 9x13 dish might take up to 1 hour) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall Lasagna: Turkey, Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

This is a recipe that I concocted when thinking of how to use things in my fridge. I had lean ground turkey, organic baby spinach (which I always have), and some sweet butternut squash that I roasted the night before. I held it all together with some cheese and a bechamel (white sauce), and it was a big hit. The kids all raved about it (even my Handsome man who is not a big fan of butternut squash on it's own), and even had seconds. My amazing husband got back late last night from fighting a fire for the last 2 weeks, and he got the last piece. He gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up, and said it was really good. So, needless to say, this recipe is a big hit in our family and I hope it becomes one in yours too.

I started by getting some hot water going to boil my lasagna noodles. I like the no-boil kind too, but I didn't have any of those on hand. If you use whole grain noodles this recipe would be even healthier!
(When the water cam up to a boil, I salted it generously and then added my noodles one at a time. I used about 15 noodles which was 8 less than my 1 lb package had in it. I only cooked the noodles about 1/2 way, since they will finish cooking in the oven.)

While the water heated, I got out my biggest skillet and started browning my ground turkey. I mash it with a potato masher while it cooks, to help break it up into small pieces.
When it was almost done, I added 1/2 of a large onion, diced, 2 tsp of minced garlic, some Italian seasoning, basil, salt and pepper. Then I stirred it all together and let it continue cooking.

When the onions were soft and the was meat cooked completely, I set it aside for later.

In the same pan (because who wants more dishes to wash?), I melted 1/2 stick of butter. I always use salted butter, but use whatever you have.

When the butter was melted, I added 1/2 cup of flour.

I whisked it all together. It should look like wet sand.

I let the butter and flour cook for a minute and then I slowly poured in my milk. I do this part over low heat, so that I have more time to get the lumps out before the sauce thickens. Make sure to constantly whisk, to get all the lumps out before you add more milk. If you add all the milk too quickly, you will have a lumpy sauce; and no one likes that.

When all the milk was added, and the sauce smooth, I grated in a bunch of fresh nutmeg. I would say at least 1/2 tsp. Probably closer to 1 tsp.

I also added some salt and pepper until it tasted good (probably about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper). Then I continued to cook the sauce, whisking occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce bubbled and began to thicken.

Then I added the finely chopped baby spinach. My kids don't mind me putting spinach in everything, but it needs to be chopped finely. They are not big on trying to chew a whole spinach leaf. Even the baby ones.

I stirred the spinach in and then cooked the sauce for another 5 minutes or so over low to medium low heat (again, stirring occasionally so it didn't lump up or scorch on the bottom), and then turned off the heat. (I also tasted the sauce again, to make sure it didn't need any more salt and pepper.)
This was about the time that my noodles were done cooking, so I drained them and set them aside.

Next, I turned my attention to the butternut squash. The night before I had roasted an entire medium butternut squash. I just cut in in half horizontally, and then each of those halves I cut again, but vertically. I scooped the seeds out, then salt and peppered the squash and put it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I roasted it @ 400 for about an hour, flipping each piece half way through. I let it cool, and then used a spoon to scoop the soft flesh of the squash out of the skin. The squash went into a bowl with a little brown sugar, butter and salt and pepper (to taste). Then I just mashed away until it was smooth. This is my husband's favorite way to eat butternut squash, but the texture is not one that my son cares for at all. So, I put it in the fridge and left it for today.
For the lasagna, all I had to do was warm up the squash and it was ready. If you don't have mashed or pureed butternut squash, you can substitute pumpkin or sweet potato. Just make sure it tastes good before you add it to the lasagna. Each layer should taste great by itself.

Oh, assembly time.
I put down a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

Then I put down some noodles. (I used 4 on the first layer and then 5 on all the other layers. No rhyme or reason, that is just what I did. You can use 4 or 5 noodles per layer. Your choice.)

On top of the noodles, I spooned about 1 cup of the squash. Then I spread it out into an even layer.

Then I sprinkled on 1/3 of the meat mixture, into 1 even layer.

On top of the meat went the cheese. About 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. Just spoon some sauce over that (sorry no picture), and you can start again.

See, this time I used 5 noodles. I like to change the direction of my noodles for each layer, so that it holds its shape better when cutting.

Repeat all the layers 3 times. On the last layer, instead of adding more noodles on top of the sauce, just cover the top with cheese.

A lot of cheese! This is the best part of any baked pasta dish! I used probably 2 cups of mozzarella and then grated about 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese on top of that. (The Parmesan gets more brown in the oven, so it always goes on top.) FYI: You can totally cover it and freeze it at this point for a make ahead meal at a later date.

Now, do yourself a favor and place about 6 toothpicks in the top of your lasagna. They need to be secure, but not pushed down into the dish. Think "birthday candles."
Why? Because the toothpicks will keep the foil off the top of your lasagna, and save your beautiful cheesy crust you are going to create. If the foil just rested on top, then it would meld with the gooey cheese and when you removed the foil, the cheese would come right off with it. Not good! So, listen to me and use this kitchen hack. Use toothpicks!

Cover the dish with foil, and then place it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. (You'll see why.) It goes into a preheated 375F oven for 30-35 minutes - until the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

This is what mine looked like after 30 minutes. See that lovely saucy/cheesy mess bubbling out of the dish and onto the parchment paper? Now do you understand why it goes on the parchment paper lined baking sheet? Yes, you could just use a baking sheet, but then you would have to scrub it like crazy afterwards and who wants that? Not me! I'm all about easy clean up.
O.K. So, at this point, the lasagna is hot and all, but it's not that pretty. It needs the crusty brown curb appeal that makes people want to dig right in. How do we get that? The broiler, of course. :)

I leave mine on the center rack in the oven and then broil it for 8-10 minutes, until it is nice and brown. Unfortunately, I didn't hear my timer go off, and mine broiled for probably 11 minutes and it got a little too brown. Not burnt, just extra brown. :)

My son says this shot looks like a pizza, and I have to agree. The yummy cheesy crust does make me think of a pizza.
Now, this is where I'm going to ask you to do probably the hardest thing you have done all day . . . . wait. Yes, I said wait. Walk away from the piping hot, heavenly smelling lasagna that you just took out of the oven and occupy yourself with something else. Anything else, but DO NOT cut into it for at least 20 minutes (30 is better), or it will be a gooey runny mess. I chose to make a nice side salad (Cucumber Tomato Salad) to eat along side. It was the perfect accompaniment. A crispy tangy side dish to cut through the richness of this divine casserole.

OK When the waiting is over you can dig in. See how nicely it cuts when you let it set up? It's so pretty, and it tastes even better.
Here's the recipe:

Fall Lasagna
about 15 lasagna noodles cooked (or the no-boil kind is o.k. too)
1.25 pounds lean ground turkey
1/2 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dry Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp dry basil
salt and pepper (to taste)
3 cups smashed butternut squash (Roasted, and smashed with butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste. **Can substitute pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potatoes)
1/2 stick of butter (4 Tbsp)
1/2 cup of flour
4 cups of milk
freshly ground nutmeg (1/2 to 1 tsp)
salt and pepper (to taste)
shredded Mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound fresh, organic baby spinach, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375F. If using traditional lasagna noodles, boil them to 3 minutes shy of the package directions (very al-dente; they will continue cooking in the oven). 
Over medium high heat, break up and brown the meat. When it is almost done, add the onions, garlic, Italian Seasoning, basil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper. When the onions are soft and the meat is browned, taste for seasoning (add more salt and pepper if needed), turn off the heat and set aside. 
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in the pan and add the flour. Whisk together until it looks like wet sand and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, as you whisk vigorously to remove any lumps. Grate in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste (I added about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper). Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add the spinach and cook about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and set aside.
In an 9x13 baking dish, spread out a thin layer of the spinach sauce so the noodles don't stick. Then, in a single layer, place 4 or 5 noodles. On top of the noodles, spread out 1 cup of the squash. Then sprinkle on 1/3 of the meat mixture, and then about 1/2 cup of Mozzarella. Top the cheese with a layer of spinach sauce, and then start the layers again. (There will be 3 noodle layers when you are done).
Cover the last layer with the remaining Mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese. (You could cover and freeze it at this point for later use.) Cover with foil, being careful not to let the foil touch the cheese. (I like to use toothpicks to help keep the foil off of the top of the lasagna.) Place the baking dish onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake @ 375F for 30-35 minutes (until the sauce is bubbling around the edges). Remove the foil and broil until browned. (I leave mine on the middle rack, and broil for 8-10 minutes, but keep an eye on it.) Let sit for 30 minutes before cutting so the slices retain their shape. Serve warm.