Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks

A while back I was lured in by a glossy picture of Parmesan and Herb Potato Stacks in an retailers Instagram post. The recipe seemed straight-forward, the image looked inticing and I’m always seeking a new way to present potatoes at Saturday night dinner.

While the result was good I thought of several ways to improve the recipe. Here’s the result with my update ingredient list and rewritten in my own words. Enjoy.

Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks
Servings: 8-12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45-50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, very thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch)
  • 6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Place the sliced potatoes win a colander set over a bowl and set aside while you melt the butter. Transfer the butter to a large bowl and allow the butter to cool for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Add the Romano cheese, garlic, thyme and cream to the cooled butter and whisk together until combined.. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potato slices and gently toss to coat evenly.
  4. Divide the potato slices among the prepared muffin cups, stacking them in layers.
  5. If using them, arrange a sage leaf on top of each stack.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the potato stacks. Bake for another 10 minutes. The potatoes should be tender with crispy edges and the Parmesan should be fully melted. If not cook for another minute or two.
  7. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove the stacks from the pan and serve warm.

Notes:
Don’t be tempted by the cheese in a plastic jar which is found in the pasta aisle of your local megamart. You should find a wedge of Romano, and another of Parmesan, in the “fancy” cheese case near the deli counter. Yes, you’ll pay more than you will for that plastic jar however the flavor will far exceed the price difference.

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Basic Polenta (or Grits)

Cooked coarse-ground corn meal, whether you call it polenta or grits, is tasty stuff. It is can be served just after cooking or allowed gel into a flavorful brick that can be grilled, pan seared or deep fried. It is infinitely alterable just be swapping out an ingredient or two.

Polenta does require supervision and a fair bit of stirring. The results are worth the effort.

Basic Polenta
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (often called corn grits or polenta)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 Tbsp. cubes
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Crush the dried thyme between your finger tips and it, along with the salt, to the water. Allow the salt to dissolve then sprinkle the cornmeal over the water, stirring frequently.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. I stir for about 10-15 seconds out of every minute for the first 15 minutes and then constantly for the last 5.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the butter, cheese, and pepper. Stir until the butter has melted and incorporated.
  4. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the savory topping of your choice (mine is often shrimp).

Notes:
Polenta solidifies fairly quickly, creating a solid that can be sliced. It can be served cold or pan-seared before serving. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and transfer the hot, cooked polenta into the pan. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the polenta to keep it from drying out and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

To prep it for cooking just remove the plastic wrap, slide a knife around the edges of the polenta loaf and upturn it onto a cutting board. Slice into 1/2″-3/4″ rounds and fry in a non-stick skillet for 2-3 minutes per side.

Farro with Mushroom and Thyme

This recipe hails from a 2013 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I made it shortly after first buying a bag of farro. In the Cook’s recipe they cook the farro as part of the recipe, in only 20 minutes. Ha! I found it took twice that time to get to an al dente texture. I now prepare my farro in advance, store it in the fridge for a day or two and have it ready to go.

Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced evenly
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
  • 2 cups prepared farro
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • kosher salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the mushrooms, shallot, and thyme; sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and 10 grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables have started to brown. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Add the sherry to the pan and scrap up any browned bits (aka fond). Cook until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the farro and toss until the ingredients are well combined. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until the farro is heated through.
  4. Stir in the parsley and vinegar. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Notes:
I’ve had good success by microwaving mushrooms in a covered bowl for 2-3 minutes on high. Drain the liquid, add to the hot fat and saute until browned, another 2 minutes. It can save 10 minutes or so on the dish.

Foil-pack Potatoes, Carrots and Onions

This recipe comes from my teenage adventures in Boy Scouts. Weekend camping trips often featured a Friday night foil dinner. Before leaving home we arrange thinly sliced potatoes and onions with a hamburger on top inside an aluminum foil pouch. We’d hike into the campsite, start a fire, set-up our tents and then place the foil packs on top of coals. 20-30 minutes later you had dinner.

I make this in the summer, when I don’t want to heat up the house any more than necessary. Some of the veggies get a little burn along the edges; folks jostle each other for those tasty bits.

Foil-pack Potatoes, Carrots and Onions
Servings: 8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Special equipment: 2 40″x18″ heavy duty aluminum foil

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1/4″ slices
  • 1 or 2 lg. onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3-4 springs fresh thyme
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Light your gas grill so that you have a hot side and cool side. Allow it preheat for 15 minutes (about the time it takes to assemble to foil package).
  2. Combine vegetables, oil and thyme in a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and black pepper. Using hands toss ingredients until well coated with oil.
  3. Overlap the 2 pieces of foil to make a large plus-sign. Transfer the coated vegetables to the center of the foil plus-sign. Bring the two ends of the one piece of foil together and crimp the ends tightly around the vegetables. Repeat with the second piece of foil. You should now have a large foil package.
  4. Place the foil pack on the hot side of the grill. Close the cover and allow it to cook for 5 minutes. Flip the foil pack, cook again on the hot side, covered, for another 5 minutes.
  5. Move the foil pack to the cool side of grill, flipping once again. Cook for 20 more minutes, flipping the foil pack after 10 minutes.
  6. Now, if you are a trusting individual, transfer the foil pack to a large serving bowl and bring it inside. Let it rest for 5 minutes before opening and serving. Remove the thyme and, you know, a dollop of butter never hurt the taste of veggies.
  7. If you aren’t that trusting then carefully uncrimp the foil pack and check the donness of the vegetables. Then bring the foil pack inside cause you just found it was done. 🙂

Notes:
The number of onions you use depends on your preference.

You can leave out the carrots if you like or throw some other 1/4″ sliced root veggies in there instead.

Be careful when opening the foil pack, there will be a fair amount of steam built up inside. At a minimum it will fog your glasses, it could give you a nasty burn if you aren’t diligent.

Chicken with Turnip and Apple

I found the basis for this recipe while poking around the Interwebs looking for something to do with chicken thighs and turnips. The original recipe, from Bon Appétit online, introduced the dish with the following, “Finishing chicken thighs in a quick pear and turnip compote creates a rich, sweet and savory sauce.” I’m not sure I’d call this quick however the results of my modified dish were tasty to me.

The skin on the chicken thighs I had was anemic at best so I pulled it off. Apple replaces pear and vermouth subs in for white white because that’s what I had on hand. Enjoy!

Chicken with Turnip and Apple
Servings: 3-4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed and excess fat trimmed
  • 1 onion, 1/4″ dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 Gala apples, peeled, cored, 1/4″ dice (about 1 cup)
  • 2 small turnips, peeled, 1/4″ dice (about 2 cups)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine

Directions:

  1. Pat chicken dry and season with kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken, skin side down, until skin is well browned, 4-5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and continue to cook until the second side is also nicely browned. You may want to lower the heat to medium after flipping to reduce the risk of burning the fond. When the chicken is well browned on both sides transfer it to a plate.
  3. Evaluate the fat left in the pan; if you have less than a tablespoon then make up the difference with more vegetable oil. Return the pan to medium heat. Add onion, pear, turnip, and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Toss to coat in the oil, distribute in the pan and ignore for 5 minutes. Toss and distribute again and ignore for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and thyme. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the vermouth. Stir into the other ingredients and return the pan to medium heat. Nestle the chicken into the apple/turnip/onions; add any juices the leaked onto the plate.
  6. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Check the check temperature; if it is 165° or above then remove the cover and allow the liquid to evaporate; about 5 minutes. Otherwise recover and cook for an additional 5 minutes for every 10° short of 165.
  7. Taste the apple/turnip/onions and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve with braised greens or a green salad.

Notes:
You can toss the apple and turnip with 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar to help prevent browning while you prep your other ingredients. Really any vinegar or even lemon juice will work here.

Crown Roast of Pork

[Crown Roast of Pork]

Crown Roast of Pork with Wild Rice, Apple and Dried Cranberry Stuffing.

This year we splurged on our Christmas Eve main course and had a local market put together a crown roast of pork. Their minimum size was larger than we needed however it made for an impressive center piece on our holiday table.

The crown roast is formed from two regular bone-in pork loins. The butcher removed the chine bone, cleans up the tips of the ribs and formed the crown with butcher twine. I chose to roast it without stuffing, adding a separately baked stuffing once the roast was sitting on the serving platter.

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Toasted Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts, Parsley and Thyme

Couscous is just about the simplest side dish you can make. If you can boil water then you can make couscous. It can be customized in dozens, maybe hundreds of ways. I get amused when I walk down the aisle in the grocery story and see the section with couscous mixes. These mixes add some extra flavoring (and a heap of sodium) in exchange for doubling the cost of the base ingredient. Free yourself from the preboxed couscous mix; it’s so easy.

By the way, don’t confuse couscous with Israeli (or pearl) couscous. Couscous is made from semolina and water and, uncooked, looks a bit like course sand while Israeli couscous looks a bit like those hard white balls they decorate cakes with and is more akin to pasta. I have a recipe using Israeli couscous elsewhere on this site if you are interested.

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