Potato Skins with Crispy Cheese

When we rolled out of bed this morning the outdoor thermometer told us that it was -1 degrees. Minus 1. Having lived  in Connecticut for a while, I’m always a little shocked when it actually gets cold in January. We’ve had some warm spells and it was looking like we might have another mild winter. But apparently it was not meant to be. I am slightly comforted by the snowman recently built by my six year old.

Today was not a day to serve up the usual crudities after school. Today we are having soup for dinner while sitting as close to the wood stove as possible. Anything other than a warm snack was not an option. So I decided to put some leftover baked potatoes to use.

I’ve posted a  potato skins recipe before. But I’ve since been educated by the likes of America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and Simply Recipes. These are better. They could be made in advance too and the glorious melting of the cheese could be saved for the last minute.

Potato Skins Recipe

This healthy (ha!) baked potato skin recipe is as good as its restaurant counterpart because of the crispy cheese. While your sprinkling the cheese on the potatoes to bake, don’t be sad if a big clump misses a potato. That’s the best part.

4 medium leftover baked potatoes
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups grated cheese such as mozzarella, cheddar, and/or parmesan
Fresh chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the majority of the inside of the potato. Set the potato insides aside for another use. Cut the potatoes up into child-sized pieces.

Arrange the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to douse the potatoes with the melted butter. Bake the potatoes for 10 minutes or until they have browned on the edges. Sprinkle the cheese over the potatoes and bake them for another 5 – 10 minutes or until the cheese is properly melted.

Yield: serves 3-4 as a hearty snack
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes

 

Dried Nectarines

To know Belltown Hill Orchards is to love the back corner of their farm store. During the summer, the shelves are loaded with baskets full of seconds that are a fraction of the usual price. The greedy home preserver in me always opts to get too much while visions of tarts and jams dance in my head.

Fresh nectarines are one of my favorites. They are easily my favorite stone fruit. All the brilliant sweetness of a peach without the medical aftertaste or the too-thick fuzzy skin.

Drying nectarines is super easy. The key is to cut along the crease and twist the fruit away from the pit. Slice, arrange on a tray, and dehydrate for 8 to 12 hours.

Store in an airtight container. Nibble on them in the dead of winter. Smile.

Romesco Dip

The people of Spain who originally came up with this concoction are clearly culinary geniuses. I’m in love with this dip right now. I usually have all the ingredients on hand and it takes no time at all to make. Plus it’s vegan and doesn’t feel as heavy as the usual diary-heavy party fare.

Romesco Dip Recipe

This recipe is minimally adapted from Allison Fishman’s You Can Trust a Skinny Cook. Love this cookbook. Everything I’ve made from it has kicked some major arse.

1 slice bread, whole wheat or otherwise
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup jarred roasted red pepper, dried with a paper towel
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water

Place the bread, almonds, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and whiz until the almonds are finely ground – about 30 seconds.

Add the red pepper, vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes, and olive oil and process until smooth. Add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube with the processor running.

I find that this dip thickens up nicely if refrigerated overnight in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature with bread or vegetables. Spread it on sandwiches. Serve it with grilled chicken, fish, or vegetables.

Yield: 2 cups
Prep-time: 12 minutes

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Jammy Fruit Leather

[donotprint]The sad specimen pictured above is the result of one of my first attempts at jam. Apparently, I was going for broke with my first batch because I always manage to find another jar of it in the cupboard even when I thought I finally used it all up.

I remember that the jam recipe was pretty high in sugar (like most traditional jam recipes). After this batch I started using Ponoma’s Universal Pectin. In addition to the oxidization (browning on the top), the jam never really set so it’s more of a thick sauce. It’s great for yogurt, but I needed more than one way to use up all the jars we have. So I made some fruit leather. And even though my kids are probably going to have a mouth full of cavities the next time they go to the dentist, I still love this snack because it is easy easy easy.[/donotprint]

I still have about six jars of this stuff. I’m all ears if you have any other ideas for using it up.

Homemade Jammy Fruit Leather Recipe

3 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 pint of jam (scant 2 cups)

Mix the applesauce and jam together in a medium bowl until well blended. Divide between three 15-inch square dehydrator trays lined with lightly-greased plastic sheets. Spread the mixture over the sheet to about 1/4-inch thickness. My favorite tool for this job is a large offset spatula. Run your dehydrator according to the manufactuer’s directions. Mine was set to about 135 degrees Farhienheit for about 10 hours.

When it is done, the leather may be slightly tacky, but should not be gooey or sticky. Peel the leather off of the liners. Slice into desired widths and roll up with wax paper. Store in an airtight container. They should last for a couple months, if not longer, as long as they have been dried out properly.

Note: If you’d rather use your oven, a good looking tutorial/recipe can be found at Simply Recipes – How To Make Fruit Leather.

Yield: 18 3-inch wide strips
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Drying-time: 10 hours

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Sunshine Smoothie

One of my newest measures of snack recipe success is how messed up my four year-old daughter’s face gets when she eats. A good snack should leave behind some tell-tale signs of having been consumed with gusto.

Here we have Exhibit A which was the aftermath of our latest Sunshine Smoothie. Her face isn’t actually that messy. But the sprinkles on her chin make it a winner, non? The sprinkles were entirely her idea, by the way.

Sunshine Smoothie Recipe

1 fresh mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 medium ripe banana, peeled
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup orange juice

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve.

Yield: 3 cups
Prep-time: 5 minutes

Cheese Crackers

I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for this blog and the whole healthy family snack thing that I’m supposed to be investigating, I wouldn’t be making crackers at all. But this is definitely one of those times that the genius of blogging shines through. I love these crackers.

Despite what you may think, these are pretty darn easy to make. The food processor makes blending all the ingredients a snap. The only tricky part is rolling out the dough after it’s had some time to relax in the refrigerator. But if you’re willing to take on that little challenge, you could have a batch of warm cheesy crackers fresh out of the oven. So completely worth it in my book.

I’ve gradually made a some relatively significant changes to the original recipe I posted a year ago. Things have changed enough that I’m thinking it’s about time I shared how I’m baking up cheese crackers these days.

Cheese Crackers Recipe

I highly recommend using a silicone baking mat for cracker-making. From what I gather, parchment paper will work. But the silicone baking mat is sturdier and is a lot less inclined to slide all over the counter while you’re rolling out the dough.

This recipe is easily doubled. My standard-size Cuisinart food processor seems a little cramped, but turns out a perfectly good dough with a double recipe. But unless you have a double oven, remember you’re looking at two rounds of cracker babysitting by the oven window.

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash ground pepper
3 ounces coarsely grated orange sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
4 tablespoons cold butter, sliced into chunks
3 – 4 tablespoons water

Place the flours, cornmeal, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the cheeses and pulse for 10-15 seconds.

Distribute the butter over the top of the flour mixture. Run the processor for 10 seconds or until the butter is mostly incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Occasional larger chunks of butter are more than okay.

With the processor running, add the water one tablespoon at a time through the feed tube. Continue to run the processor until the dough starts to lightly clump up or form into a ball (about 30 – 60 seconds).

If you take a bit of the dough out of the processor and give it a squeeze, if it looks like this, you’re all set:

Give it a squeeze

If it doesn’t add a little more water and pulse until it does.

Remove the dough from the processor. Divide it in two and form into flattened rectangles and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place the rectangles in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight. If you leave them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, let the dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes or so to soften.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove plastic wrap and place rectangle in the middle of a non-stick baking mat. Roll the dough out evenly with a wooden rolling pin until it covers almost the entire (11 x 16-inch) mat. This takes a little muscle, but gets easier as the dough warms up. I find it impossible to roll the dough out completely evenly. But the closer you get it, the easier they will be to bake.

Cut the dough into 1″ squares with a straight edge, lattice cutter, or pizza wheel. Move the baking mat  onto a baking sheet. (The squares do not need to be spread apart as they shrink and puff up during baking and are easily broken apart afterwards if they do not separate on their own.)

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough, or until the bottoms of crackers are puffy and golden. Start checking on them often after 15 minutes. The crackers on the outer edge may brown more quickly. I’ve been known to remove some of the crackers from the baking sheet in order to save them from burning and put the rest back in the oven for a few more minutes. Check the bottom of the crackers to gauge how close they are to being done. They should be golden crispy perfection. They will crisp up a bit when they cool, but not much.

Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or freeze.

Yield: 100 crackers
Prep-time: 30 minutes
Inactive prep-time: 1 hour to overnight
Bake-time: 20 minutes

Halloween Mush

I used some sweet and juicy Garnet Spy apples for this recipe today. Try to use fresh apples as I can see a mealy grocery store apple really ruining the party.

Adapted from “Apple and Sweet Potato Puree” in the Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier.

DSC03220

1 small sweet potato (yields approximately 1 cup of cooked potato)
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground ginger (optional)
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch salt
1/4 cup plain yogurt

With a knife or fork puncture the skin of the sweet potato a few times. Microwave on high for approximately 4 minutes or until soft throughout. Test by inserting a knife into the potato. If there is little resistance, it is cooked. Set aside and allow to cool.

Microwave apples in a small bowl for 3 minutes or until well cooked. Transfer apples to a blender along with any juices that were released while cooking. Slice the sweet potato in half lengthwise and remove most of the skin. Put the potato plup in the blender along with the apples.

Put the remaining ingredients in the blender (butter, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and yogurt) and puree until smooth. Allow to cool 2 minutes and serve in small bowls. If you feel like pulling out all the stops top with chocolate sprinkles. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Yield: 4 servings (approximately 2 cups)
Prep time: 15 minutes

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Sweet Potato Chips

If you don’t have a mandolin, don’t bother with this recipe. This is one of those times when a fancy kitchen gadget has actually proven itself necessary.

1 sweet potato
Salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Slice potato very thinly with a mandolin (less than 1 millimeter or thereabouts).

Arrange slices individually on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with fine salt, if desired.

Bake for 10-30 minutes until chips are curling and almost entirely dried out, rotating at least once. When ready, the chips will slightly pliable, but not wet. They will crisp up more as they cool. The trick is to allow them to dry out almost entirely in the oven, but take them out soon enough so that they don’t start to brown which seems to start happening the instant they dry out (see Note).  The size and thickness of the chip plays a large role in baking time.

Allow the chips to cool on the baking sheet or on a cooling rack. Serve or store in air tight container.

Note: The potato I used today was kind enough to give me some visual clues as to when it was dry and ready to be removed from the oven. It turned from an reddish orange to more of a yellowish orange as it dried.

In the photo above the top of the chip is still a little wet and the bottom is dry.

In this photo the left side of the chip is a little wet still and the right side is crispy and delicious. Sometimes parts of the chip will brown a little bit before the entire chip is dry. Sometimes I flip them on the baking sheet, but I don’t think it makes a difference.

Yield: depends (around several handfuls)
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Bake-time: 10-30 minutes

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