“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 6 – “Mix and Match Cuisine”)

We are running slightly behind schedule on the Comfort du Jour “Chopped” Challenge, as our Chef Les decided to move a gigantic metal file cabinet by himself and smashed the dickens out of his little finger (ouch!). But, after a few days of wrapping it with ice and working to stay ahead of life in general, he is off the injured list and back into the kitchen action!

Here’s a quick recap of the rules Les and I established for our clear-out-the-inventory challenge:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).

Here we go, with Episode No. 6!

We can always count on Nilla to “nose in” on the action!

The basket Terrie provided me for this challenge was unique in that the only protein was bacon. Now don’t get me wrong. I love bacon. God knows, I love bacon. I mean, I could never keep kosher because I love bacon so much. I like to believe it’s a forgivable sin for a Jew.

But I didn’t think I could create a good challenge meal with bacon as the star of the show. Oh, wait; that’s a different Food Network show.

My point, and I do have one, is that with bacon, polenta, chile morita seasoning (a blend we picked up from a vendor at our local farmer’s market that includes dried chile morita, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, olive oil and garlic) and a spicy, robust red blend wine, I felt I needed to add some ingredients to make a coherent meal.

So here’s what I did: I combined the concept of Italian and Mexican flavors into a red-sauce-over-polenta meal featuring chicken sausages.


Let’s talk about the red sauce first, because that was my idea from the start; I’m in my wheelhouse with sauces, especially those with an Italian feel. I sauteed onions, red bell pepper and mushrooms and threw in some diced garlic. I then transferred it all to a deep stainless pot and added a fat can of San Marzano tomatoes as well as a can of diced tomatoes. Seasonings thrown in (besides the salt and pepper that seasoned every layer of vegetables) were red pepper flakes, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, garlic pepper, bay leaves and about a teaspoon worth of the very smoky, flavorful chile morita. I also added two staples of my typical red sauce: about half a cup of our parm-romano blend and a pinch (well, two, actually, but they were small pinches) of sugar.

There’s a story behind one of the pictures with this post. It’s the image of me below with a very goofy smile, and if you look closely, you’ll see that in my right hand I’ve plucked a bay leaf out of the “Mexitalian” sauce. The reason I’m smiling is that Terrie and I were reliving one of the funny newspaper “headlines” I saved years ago from my former life as a journalist. It was in my then newspaper’s food section, where whoever designed the page left a very long space for a headline on a story about bay leaves. “Bay Leaves Not At All Dangerous Unless You Choke on Them.” One of the great “no s…, Sherlock” headlines of all time. I still have that headline clip in my file of crazy things that made it into print, a collection I started a couple of decades before Jay Leno ever had a late-night show.

Oh, about the sausages. You remember how we set this whole challenge series up to help us rid our refrigerators, freezers and pantry of ingredients as we prepare for our kitchen to be completely renovated? Well, one of the items I happened to find in the freezer was a package of chicken sausages flavored with sundried tomatoes. Score another one gone from the freezer!


I simmered the sauce for 90 minutes to cook it down, and about halfway through started working on the polenta. Earlier, I had cooked up some of the bacon, which I knew I’d add to the polenta. I mean, bacon goes with polenta like (fill in the metaphor of your choice). For the polenta, I followed a recipe of my favorite chef. I think you can all figure that one out. Terrie’s polenta recipe on the website goes with cajun shrimp & garlicky cheesy grits. So I had to adapt to my ingredients, and that was pretty straightforward. Out went the shredded cheddar and Frank’s RedHot Original sauce; in came parm-romano blend and chile morita seasoning. One of the things I’ve learned from my favorite cook and the too-much time we spend watching Food Network is that it helps to do things “two ways” because having flavor profiles in different parts of the same meal is pleasing to the palate.

Judge’s note: Yes, this is called “flavor echoing,” and it is a great way to achieve a composed dish. The judge (meaning Terrie) loves that Les employed this easy technique!


And that’s about it. It came together very well, as Terrie will attest in the video you can watch below.

Yes, I should have used the spoon!

Winner, winner! Mexitalian dinner!

This was another fun experience, watching Les flex his culinary muscles and put a tasty meal on the table. The flavors in his dish worked very well together, and I was pretty impressed to see how well he executed the polenta! We had leftovers from this meal and, as is always the case with tomato-based dishes, the flavors were even better the second time!



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 4 – “Who you callin’ jerk?”)

As the start of our kitchen remodel gets closer, the competition gets tougher! Well, not really, because we are technically on the same team with shared desire for making the clear-out of cabinets and freezer less painful. This is our very own “Chopped” challenge. Thanks for playing along with us!

Before we started our challenge, we established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though we have way too many bags of kitty treats.

We’re tackling more pantry items and pushing each other out of our culinary comfort zones. Please use the play controls to reveal what Les is about to find inside his next mystery basket!

Nilla makes a cameo appearance during the basket reveal!

The basket ingredients in this second challenge gave me pause. After my first challenge, when I made a one-pan dish, I had potential to go casserole. Meaning another one-note dish. After more thought and a web browsing for ideas to use the sliced turkey Terrie gave me, I decided to go with two separate dishes: a jerk turkey wrap and a kugel dessert. Let me tackle the main dish first.

To start with, I love sauces. So when I think about how to use basket ingredients, I’m typically thinking about how to amp up the flavor, and turkey is perfect because it can go in so many different directions. The jerk seasoning rub in my basket was a natural. I added some peanut oil, chopped up the turkey slices and marinated for an hour before browning the previously cooked turkey in a cast-iron skillet.

A website called The Wanderlust Kitchen gave me a couple of cool ideas for dressing up my wrap. Its recipe called for a green cabbage slaw and an avocado aioli. I decided not to include a third suggested sauce, a mango chutney, because, to quote one of my mom’s favorite phrases (I love working her into these blog posts despite her cooking shortcomings), “it’s too much, Leslie.” And I ditched the ciabatta the Wanderlust site favored for a spinach wrap because I believed the bread of a ciabatta (or sub roll or similar) would absorb the flavors of the accoutrements. The green cabbage slaw included scallions, another of my basket ingredients, as well as cilantro, which gave a nice bite to the jerk turkey. The avocado aioli, meanwhile, added a tang thanks to its mayo and lime juice. I kept the recipe’s idea of a slice of gouda cheese, but to be honest, the wrap would have worked fine without it.

This was a relatively easy, healthy dinner, and I was proud to serve it up.

Jamaican Jerk Turkey Wrap with Green Cabbage Scallion Slaw and Avocado Aioli


The crunchy scallion cabbage slaw is the final touch on these easy wraps.

Once I made the decision not to try to force my basket’s egg noodles into the main dish, my heart and Jewish heritage led me to an easy choice. Kugel is a noodle dish popular on Jewish holidays, and although I didn’t exactly grow up having it frequently (if at all; did I mention my mom was most definitely not an adventurer in the kitchen?) I’ve had it enough to know how tasty it is when made well.

I decided to use Terrie’s go-to chef for Jewish foods—Tori Avey. Tori’s kugel recipe is a classic, using egg noodles (my final basket ingredient), six eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, butter, sugar, cinnamon and raisins. I had a couple of add-ins for this dish because in one case I messed up and in another, I decided to empty our pantry of another item.

The dessert is not actually difficult to put together; you just need patience in gathering everything together and you also need to not boil the egg noodles too long; you want them softened but not fully cooked because of the hour they’ll spend in the oven becoming kugel. While adding my wet ingredients to the mixer, I realized I only had about half the sour cream called for in the recipe. And we were out of plain Greek yogurt, my first go-to as a substitute. But what’s this I found deep in the refrigerator? Why, it’s a Siggi individual Greek yogurt, coconut flavor. What a great complement for this dish!

Judge’s note: Technically, Siggi’s is skyr, which is not the same as yogurt but definitely has a texture worthy of this substitution. I am impressed with Les’s quick thinking on this!

In it goes (after first tasting it to make sure the “use by June 6” stamp hadn’t rendered it foul). The raisins, which first get a warm water bath before being added to the final mix of noodles and wet ingredients, emptied our pantry of another item. As I went to put the casserole in the oven, I had another brainstorm. We’ve had the dregs of a bag of brownie brittle from Costco on our counter for a couple of months; the recipe suggested possible toppings, and although brownie brittle wasn’t one of them, it did suggest anything crunchy (like corn flakes, which we don’t keep in our house). So I crushed what was left of the brownie brittle and sprinkled it on top, along with another dash of sugar and cinnamon. Into the oven went the kugel.

Classic Jewish Kugel


A couple of minutes later, I was disturbed by a “ding” sound. Turns out I’d warmed the butter in the microwave and forgotten to take it out and add to the wet ingredients. But not to worry. I opened the oven, poured the butter on top and used a fork to make little trenches and allow the butter to seep through. Problem solved!

This challenge overall made me happy because I used Terrie’s frequent advice to trust my instinct and feel free to substitute (as long as you are not changing ratios in recipes, especially liquid ratios). I also solved problems on the fly during the cooking process, like when I started our KitchenAid mixer and a chunk of product flew out and onto the counter, the floor and me. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, fortunately. And, most important, it didn’t affect the final product. Kugelicious!

This smelled amazing from the oven.

And now, the moment of truth; time for Terrie to judge my effort on this Chopped challenge basket!


Judge’s note: This kugel reminds me of a bread pudding, but with egg noodles rather than bread cubes. It is so delicious, I want to eat it again for breakfast!



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 2 – “One-dish Wonder”)

So here I am, doing my first “Chopped”-like challenge for Terrie’s blog as she and I continue emptying our pantry and refrigerator in advance of kitchen remodeling and who do I wind up stealing an idea from, of all people, on my first basket? My late mom.

Now, I loved my mom dearly, but her cooking was, shall I say, ummmm, well, it fed me. Mom’s favorite dish, and she was happy to share with anyone how “good” it was, was stuffed cabbage. I endured that dish twice a year for years. Bland ground beef balls with white rice (yuck, says 10-year-old me, in recollection) inside steamed (boiled?) cabbage and mom’s secret ingredient, which I’ll share more of later because, quite frankly, I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s slow down and go back to the beginning of this challenge.

Press play on the video below to see what ingredients Les had to work with.

Chef Les seems a little hesitant about his basket ingredients.

The four mandatory ingredients in my basket (thanks, love!) were: hot Italian turkey sausages, dried cranberries, two sweet potatoes and cocktail onions. Now I have to tell you all that I am a decent cook, and I like being creative. But I’m most definitely not Terrie. Creative for me is putting things together in a way that allows me leftovers for lunch during the week.

With these ingredients, my first thought was to pair the cranberries and sweet potatoes in a sweet concoction (think Thanksgiving side or dessert), and then figure out a plan for the sausage and cocktail onions. But the morning of my day to cook, I was struck by one of the signature aspects of “Chopped.” You’re supposed to create a unified dish with the ingredients. Hot Italian sausage and a sweet side or dessert didn’t speak “unified” to me. And I’m both competitive and a stickler for detail; I wanted to get my first basket right.


Judge’s note:

Les is straying from the format a bit here, given that the previously agreed-upon rules for this Comfort du Jour challenge permitted multiple dishes made from the basket ingredients. Let’s review:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer. No sought-out, wacky ingredients for the purpose of stumping each other.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (and we do).

Is Les a bit of an overachiever? Let’s find out, as he digs into his challenge.


Like Terrie, who often studies Pinterest for ideas, I turned to an outside source—Google. I plugged in sweet potatoes and Italian sausage and came up with quite a few recipes. I settled on one that, with some creativity and tweaking, just might work. Plus, it would incorporate all four basket ingredients and even clean out a couple of extra pantry ingredients. And, extra bonus, a one-pan dish! Now that’s my kind of meal: simple.

I peeled, diced and boiled the sweet potatoes (OK, technically, I guess I used a pot and one pan). I removed the sausage from the casings and browned it, setting it aside, and then using the fat left behind to sauté the cocktail onions, some leftover sweet onion (to counterbalance the sour in those cocktail onions), red and orange bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic.


Once the veggies were done, I added back the sausage and sweet potatoes, as well as the last jar of my canned homemade salsa (the recipe called for salsa, which was convenient because it rid our pantry of another item) as well as a can of diced tomatoes (not in the recipe, but that was my intuition, and it worked well). Along the way I seasoned every layer (thanks, love, for that simple cooking instruction that I follow religiously now, thanks to you)* * , also adding cumin. The meal came together in less than an hour.

**Is it me, or does it seem that Les is flirting with the judge for bonus points?


Ah, but I left something out, didn’t I? And I don’t mean the cocktail onions, which I almost omitted (cause for being chopped in the real “Chopped”) except that Terrie reminded me when she saw the jar still in the fridge after I’d started prepping (thanks, love!). Yep, he is definitely flirting. No, the part I left out is the completion of the story about my mom. It turns out the “secret” ingredient in mom’s stuffed cabbage was raisins, which she added to the pot as her dish cooked for hours. I despised those raisins. For me, raisins were meant to be as they came out of the little boxes, not as bloated, warm, soft “things.”


By now, I imagine I’ve done enough foreshadowing that you know I rehydrated the dried cranberries from the basket and as the final touch in my one-pan dish, added them to the sausage, sweet potatoes and vegetables.


The bloated, warm, soft cranberry “things” gave the dish a fine, sweet complement to the spice of the sausage and salsa. I may still have unfortunate memories of her stuffed cabbage, but I’m not embarrassed to say, “thanks, mom.”

Even the cranberries worked their way into Les’s dish!

Press play on the video below to see how Chef Les finished in his Comfort du Jour “Chopped” challenge.



“Hot Italian Sausage-Sweet Potato Slop”

The one-dish slop was not a flop, and that means we are two-for-two!
As the kitchen remodel gets closer, the basket ingredients are bound to get weirder.
Stay tuned for more frolicking fun, and another “Chopped” challenge!


Coffee-rubbed Grilled Tri-tip Steak

My husband, Les, has stepped up into the role of “kitchen boss” as I convalesce after slicing my finger. He is especially good on the grill, and sharing one of our fabulous recent meals. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Terrie

There are few things I like better than cooking and, of course, eating, a perfectly seared steak. Medium rare.

Strangely, loving steak didn’t come easily for me. My mom, forced to stretch a budget in our lower middle class household, didn’t get the best cuts. I remember endlessly chewing and chewing and chewing, dawdling through meals while eventually my two older sisters and parents drifted away into the “den” (which in actuality was a hallway) to watch TV. I would wait until I knew they were occupied and sneak over to drop my gray meat and leftover canned vegetables into the trash. Then immediately volunteer to take the trash out to the incinerator chute down the hallway of our apartment building in Queens, N.Y.

Eventually, two things changed.

First, I hit puberty and suddenly couldn’t get enough of steak. Second, about this same time, I recall my father started to speak out for getting his steak more rare. In particular, my mom started to buy London broil, a lovely cut of meat, which she cooked on the electric broiler, a rare, new “toy” in our household, slathering on some Open Pit barbecue sauce during the process. Best of all, my mom learned to take the meat off the broiler, cut medium rare slices for my father and me (by then my two sisters were both out of the house; the oldest married and the other in college) and then put the meat back on the grill to get it more done for herself.

I’ve never stopped loving a good cut of steak. As a young adult, I became adept at grilling, and London broil was always my favorite, even over a good New York strip. Until a couple of years ago, that is. Terrie and I were in Whole Foods one day and there was no London broil. The butcher suggested we try a tri-tip. “A what?” I recall saying. He pointed to a triangular-shaped piece of meat about 2 inches thick, which except for its shape looked similar to a London broil. The tri-tip comes from the point end of a sirloin, while London broil typically comes from the top or bottom round of the cow. The tri-tip is thus a better cut of meat, more marbled and flavorful.

Terrie suggested using her coffee spice rub, which is interesting because coffee is one of three things I can’t abide (the others being goat cheese and malted milk). But as part of a spice rub, I honestly don’t taste the “coffee” part, and it makes a terrific flavor profile for cooking steaks of any sort. It has become our favorite preparation for tri-tip, and Terrie’s recipe for the rub is included below.

This cut of beef slices easily, and it stays juicy inside with lots of spice and flavor on the crust.

I can’t tell you how easily and perfectly this meat sears. Not only is it delicious fresh off the grill, but the leftovers slice beautifully thin for sandwiches. Tri-tip, provolone, onion and lettuce on one of Terrie’s sourdough breads for lunch? Yes, please, as my better half likes to say.


Instructions

  1. Brush or spray olive oil onto the surface of the tri-tip steak, and rub a generous amount (about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat) all over it.
  2. Let the dry rub sit for a few hours in the fridge, taking the meat out about an hour before grilling time.
  3. Put the gas grill on high (550 to 600° F) and sear the meat on each side for 45 seconds to a minute depending on the thickness, before turning down the temp to about 350° F.
  4. Cook the tri-tip about 7 to 10 minutes on each side, using either a meat thermometer to hit 140° F internally for medium rare, or simply using your eye if you care to slice into it while it’s on the grill.

Reminder: the meat will continue to cook after being removed from the grill, so err on the “rare” side regardless of how you like your meat, as the idea is to let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Slice tri-tip thinly, against the grain of the meat, taking note that the direction changes slightly about halfway into it.

Nilla knows delicious meat when she smells it!

Terrie’s Coffee Rub

Adapted from Bobby Flay’s rub recipe

Ingredients

1/4 cup very finely ground dark roast coffee* (see notes)

1/4 cup ancho chile powder*

2 Tbsp. Spanish sweet paprika

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. mustard seeds

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1 Tbsp. ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. coriander seeds

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. ground cayenne* (adjust to taste)


*Notes

Use a burr coffee grinder on the finest setting to produce the best ground coffee for this recipe. Alternatively, use purchased espresso powder or a good quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand.

Ancho chile is a smoked, dried poblano chile. It has less heat than chipotle, and is more “fruity” in flavor. Seek out ancho chile powder in a specialty store or online, or substitute a lesser amount of ground chipotle. I don’t recommend substituting a purchased, generically labeled “chili powder,” as these products usually also contain a lot of salt and other spices.

Cayenne packs a fair amount of heat, so adjust the amount to your match your tolerance. If you really like it hot, substitute ground chiles de arbol.


Instructions

Place mustard and coriander seeds in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground, but not quite powdery. Combine with all other rub ingredients and keep in a sealed jar for up to six months.

Use about 1 Tbsp. per pound of meat as a grilling rub.



Smoky Guacamole

Terrie and I enjoy surprising each other with gifts that we know the other will appreciate and play to our sense of adventure in the kitchen. So it was a few Christmases back when I opened one of my gifts and unveiled the book Buenos Nachos! by Gina Hamadey. Terrie knew that I already enjoyed making different kinds of nachos and had come to recognize herself how enjoyable nachos could be as a dinner, and relatively healthy, too, if you plan for it. The book is, as the title indicates, a treasure trove of nacho recipes, many of which come from restaurants whose owners shared their secrets. The part of the book I’ve put most to use, though, is in the smaller section on accoutrements such as salsa, guacamole, queso and “refreshments.”

Specifically, I’ve latched onto “Smoky Guacamole” as a go-to offering at parties or pre-dinner snacks at our house. I was a latecomer to guacamole, I have to admit. I moved to Southern California after college and refused to get into the chill, SoCal swing of things and eat a disgusting-looking condiment with a questionable consistency. Instead, I simply expanded George Carlin’s skepticism about “blue foods” to include pasty green stuff. I don’t remember exactly when I gave in and tried guacamole, but I cannot imagine life without it now. The freshness of the lime and cilantro added to chunks of avocado and tomatoes was made for a nacho chip. Or, in the recent case in our household, as a side/add-on to homemade barbacoa tacos.



The reason I like this particular recipe—the very first one I tried from Buenos Nachos!—is the boost guacamole gets by simply adding in a couple of tablespoons (or more, as I like to do) of chipotles in adobo sauce. The smoky spice of the adobo sauce gives guac exactly the kind of “elevate your happy” that my better half talks about so often.

Coincidentally, smoky guacamole also serves as a fine topping or side for any of the nacho dinners I put together. Next up for me out of Buenos Nachos! will be liberating and enhancing a savory cheese sauce from one of the nacho recipes. But for now, I hope you enjoy this smoky guacamole as much as we do.


The usual guac suspects are all here, but the chipotles in adobo is the standout ingredient that puts the smoke in Smoky Guacamole.

Ingredients

3 avocados, halved and cubed

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Juice of half a lime

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. or more pureed chipotles in adobo sauce* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper


*Notes

To make the chipotle puree, empty an entire 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers with adobo sauce into a food processor. Pulse several times until mixture is mostly smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl and keep in the fridge for about two weeks. In this recipe, use as much adobo as your spice meter desires. Add some to your next batch of chili, or use it to kick up a homemade bbq sauce.


Instructions


  1. Put the diced avocado in a large bowl and add the lime juice. Toss lightly to prevent the avocado browning.
  2. Add in the tomatoes, onion and chipotle-adobo puree. Stir with a large spoon or mash with a fork; if you prefer a smoother guacamole, you can mash the avocados first, but fans of chunky texture can settle for just mixing up the ingredients.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add the cilantro and fold again.

Buenos nachos!

Heaven on a chip.

Want to make this recipe?


Garlic Mashed (Terrie’s favorite potatoes)

I can’t remember exactly when I ditched boxes of potato flakes and started making mashed potatoes the real way for Thanksgiving (and every other time I wanted mashed potatoes). But I can say the process has evolved over the years. As my wife, Terrie, creator of this blog often says, cooking is about being inspired, taking chances and elevating your dishes. Just as I continue to try new methods and ingredients on the first dish I ever successfully created (chili), I’ve tweaked these garlic mashed potatoes over the past 20 years. In fact, they didn’t even start out as garlic mashed!

When I was growing up, I would sometimes take the baked potatoes my mother made, scoop out the innards, add margarine (Parkay, to be specific) and mash. It seemed to make them more tolerable.

For the current version, I’ve upped the ante by adding real butter, roasted garlic, our grated parm-romano blend and heavy cream, none of which were in the early year versions of this dish. About a decade ago, I decided to experiment with the potato mix. I loved Yukon Gold and had a hunch doing a 50-50 mix of Yukon and russet would work well. I was right. The garlic mashed I’m serving up here is a silky blend of flavor that kind of melts in your mouth. I usually add more butter than what the recipe calls for. Just because, as Terrie and I say about certain recipes, “There’s too much butter (or parm-romano blend, bacon, bourbon, chocolate). Said nobody. Ever.”


Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

1 large garlic head, roasted

Extra virgin olive oil (or spray)

2-3 medium to large Russet potatoes

2-3 medium to large Yukon gold potatoes

4 Tbsp. (half stick) salted butter (with the option to add more)

4 oz. heavy cream (with the option to add more)

1/4 cup parm-romano blend (with the option to add more)

Salt and pepper to taste


Putting it together

Preheat oven to 350° F. Roast the head of garlic by cutting off the top, adding oil (olive oil preferred) either from a bottle or a spray can. Wrap tightly in foil and roast for about an hour. You can check out Terrie’s post from yesterday for more detail and step-by-step pictures, but it goes like this:

Peel and dice the potatoes and heat stove-top on high. As the water begins to boil, add salt and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork. Drain potatoes and return to pot.

Add butter and heavy cream, add salt and pepper. Squeeze out the roasted garlic bulbs into the potatoes. Use a potato masher and mash by hand if you like. Or use a potato ricer if you like (before adding ingredients) for an even silkier texture. There was a time when I added the blend to a stand mixer, but I’ve since disavowed those years (the potatoes get too pasty).

As you mix, continue to taste, adding salt and pepper as needed, but also adding additional butter and/or cream if it feels too potato-ey. Add the grated cheese blend and continue to mash until it completely disappears into the mix, which won’t take long.

Serve with an additional pat of butter, gravy or your own preferred alternatives. Terrie is already eating it straight from the pot.

Now we have perfection.

Terrie’s note:

The blend of potatoes Les uses makes these so special because the Yukon golds are smooth and creamy, while the russets add a soft fluffiness. The roasted garlic and parm-romano add new levels of savory flavor. They are good for Thanksgiving, but we also make them as a side for more casual meals, such as meatloaf, steaks, pork chops and beer can roasted chicken. I confess that I’m always on the lookout for another new main dish that would be an excuse to make these again. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section. 🙂

Want to make this recipe?


Spinach Balls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Hi, everyone! I’m bustling about this week, putting together plans for Thanksgiving, so my awesome husband is stepping into the Comfort du Jour kitchen to share one of his fabulous appetizer recipes! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂

Terrie

Water logged, salt bloated, mushy.

I think we can all agree that canned vegetables suck. I grew up on them, though, force fed night after night by my mom, who was trying to make a thin budget stretch enough to feed three hungry kids.

Perhaps my mother was worn down by the time I came around after my two sisters, but mom did let me get away with complete rejection of canned peas and asparagus. I choked down string beans and carrots. Grudgingly. I actually liked two types of canned veggies. Corn and, somewhat inexplicably, spinach.

Maybe it was the Popeye cartoons. You remember how Popeye always was getting whaled on by Bluto until, miraculously, he discovered a can of spinach, opened it with a variety of odd devices he would somehow pull out of thin air and, voila, POW! Bluto was punched off the planet.

Maybe it was the fact I could mix spinach, with a liberal amount of margarine, into the baked potato we had every night. The spinach-potato glop was my favorite—until I discovered frozen creamed spinach in early adulthood in the supermarkets of Southern California, where I moved after college.

It was only a matter of time until I discovered fresh spinach. Tasted good in a salad. Tasted even better sauteed in butter. In short, I discovered the world beyond the can. Years later, I had the good fortune to be invited to a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, the Ke’e Grill, where “Spinach Maria” achieved the rank of “best spinach dish ever.” Even more fortunate for me, I have a wife, the inspired, genius founder of Comfort du Jour, who loves the challenge of creating dishes even better than we have out. Hence, I’ve enjoyed Terrie’s Spinach Maria and consider it better than the original. Not unlike her version of New York-style pizza.

But I digress. My point is that tastes change and grow over the years, but I still love spinach, and love using it in dishes that I can do, too. Like spinach balls.

These spinach balls are great as appetizers, or just snacking in general.

I first made these by searching recipes when I was tasked with creating an appetizer dish for an annual holiday potluck at work. First time out of the box, they drew raves, especially from one of the office vegetarians. I guess he enjoyed the savory taste, a blend of seasoned bread crumbs, butter, eggs, cheese and spices. They were clean and neat, easy to just keep popping in your mouth. I’ve been making them, especially around the holidays, ever since, and Terrie has done one of her “elevate” tricks by making use of leftover spinach balls and recasting them as an ingredient, in, say, breakfast waffles. She’s working on a way to incorporate them in some form (Crumbled, sliced? Who knows? That’s the joy of living with a creative kitchen mind) one of her specialty pizzas. I can’t wait.

Enjoy!

Spinach Ball Ingredients

1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach*

2 cups seasoned herb mix*  

2/3 cup grated Italian cheese*

1/2 cup (1 stick) of salted butter, melted and cooled

3 eggs, beaten

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

½ tsp. black pepper

*Notes

Some frozen bagged spinach comes in 12-ounce size, and the extra will not harm the final outcome.

I use a combination of Pepperidge Farm herbed turkey stuffing mix (about 2 parts) and panko bread crumbs (1 part).

I also use our blend of grated parmesan and romano cheeses, but regular grated parmesan would also work.


Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Defrost spinach and dry as thoroughly as possible with paper towels.
  3. Blend dry ingredients, grinding the bread crumbs so they are largely fine in texture. Add spinach, then eggs and butter, mixing until thoroughly blended and dough-like in consistency.
  4. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons worth of the spinach mixture between your palms, pressing it together to help it take an oval form, then gently roll it between your palms to form golf ball-sized bites, spacing each about an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Be careful to ensure the mixture is pressed initially and to roll it gently to avoid crumbling. If the mix itself is too crumbly, add an egg and another tablespoon of butter, remix and start again.
  5. Spinach balls should cook 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the oven. Turn them once midway when one side has a slightly brown coloring.

The red pepper sauce is something new, and it came about quite coincidentally. Except I don’t believe in coincidences. So here’s the story. One Monday, Terrie asked me to make the spinach balls for the coming weekend. The next day, I peeked at my email and there was one of The New York Times’ 12 emails a day (Yes, I have an online subscription. Sue me; I’m a former journalist.) that crowd my inbox. This one said “Giant couscous cake with red pepper sauce.” I didn’t give a hoot about the couscous cake, but “red pepper sauce” caught my attention. I love sauces. Love to try them, love to create my own. I looked at the recipe and immediately thought it would be perfect for the spinach balls, which we typically serve with a marinara. So we tried it. And like Mikey in the old Life cereal ads, “we liked it.”

Pepper Sauce Ingredients

2 medium red bell peppers, quartered and seeds removed

1 medium tomato, halved and seeded

2 full heads of garlic

1 1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

4 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper


Instructions

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Toss peppers and tomato in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and the kosher salt and arrange skin side up on the cookie sheet.
  3. Cut off ends of garlic heads, drizzle with olive oil and place in foil either on the same cookie sheet if there is room or alongside.
  4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven to roast. After 35 minutes, the peppers and tomatoes should show a nice brown. Remove them from oven and allow to cool slightly; let the garlic continue to roast another 15 minutes until the individual cloves are deep golden color.
  5. Once slightly cooled, remove skins from peppers and tomato and put in a food processor. Remove garlic and squeeze bulbs into the processor as well, taking care not to drop the garlic paper in.
  6. Add red wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and solid shake of pepper.
  7. Pulse the processor several times to begin the blend, then leave it on and slowly drizzle in remaining 3 Tbs. of olive oil until mixture is smooth. Additional olive oil can be drizzled on top of the sauce upon serving.
Thanks for letting me share these with you. I hope you enjoy them.

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