New Year’s Resolution – Finish What You Start: Bleu Cheese Mashed and Potato Pancakes

whole foods yukon gold potatoes

Light Fluffy and Bleu Cheesy

Some people have a hard time finishing things. I, myself, have added ‘finish the books I start’ to my list of New Year’s Resolutions. It just happens – maybe you grew bored of the thing you’ve started or maybe you think it’s taking too long to get to the good parts of 50 Shades of Grey – whatever the reason, certain tasks just aren’t completed.

It’s hard to believe that this could happen with something as delectable as mashed potatoes. But it does. You made too much of the stuff. You didn’t know that some of your dinner guests are strict carnivores or veggie-free. They don’t eat side dishes. They didn’t show. Or, God forbid, they just don’t like potatoes!

Regardless of how it happened, you might find yourself left with a bowlful of cold, rapidly aging mashed potatoes in your fridge following such a party.

If you’re like most Americans…You’ve probably had a mashed potato or two in the past four weeks. One way to avoid having leftover mashed potatoes is to doctor them up a bit – make something unexpected out of the expected.

Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes (Serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes – washed and quartered…no need to peel
  • 1/2 Cup of Breakstone’s Sour Cream at room temperature
  • 1/2 Cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 6 TBSP of butter
  • 8 oz of crumbled bleu cheese
  • Salt and Pepper

1. Place the potatoes in a large stock pot and cover with water – enough water so that the water is at least two inches higher than the potatoes

Note: If, like most of us…You want to get ahead and cut the potatoes early…Just keep them in a large stock pot covered with ice water – this will keep them from turning an icky brown color

2. Bring the pot of potato filled water to a boil

Whole Foods yukon Gold potatoes

Bringing to a boil

3. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender – about 15 minutes

4. In a separate saucepan, heat the cream and butter

bleu cheese mashed potatoes

Heating the Cream and Butter

5. Drain the potatoes and then place them back into the still hot stock pot. This helps to steam the extra water out of the potatoes so you don’t get watery mashed potatoes

6. Using a masher, ricer or fork, mash the potatoes to your own desired consistency – I like ’em pretty smooth

Williams-Sonoma Potato Masher

This one’s from WS

Potato Ricer

From Wolfgang Puck

7. While mashing, ricing or forking, add the warmed milk/butter and whip in

8. Add in the sour cream and bleu cheese and mix until well combined

9. Add salt and pepper to taste

10. Serve immediately OR (thank you, Rachael Ray) you can put the mashed bleu cheese potato mixture in a separate bowl, cover and place over a bowl of simmering water on the stove top and keep warm for up to an hour or more. Shut the front door!

Now….In spite of how fab and different this potato dish was…it’s the next day and your lame non-mashed potato eating friends couldn’t finish this tasty side dish. Sure, you could toss the extra mashed potatoes…But in the spirit of the New Year and finishing what you start…Get creative and make…

Potato Pancakes (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • Whatever left over mashed potatoes you have, but at least 2 1/2 cups with ratio of other ingredients below
  • 1/3 Cup of Breakstone’s Sour Cream
  • 1/4 Cup of Bisquick Baking Mix
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 TSP of sugar – you can leave this out, but it really helps to crisp up the edges of the pancakes
  • Butter for frying

1. Bring the mashed potatoes, Sour Cream and egg to room temperature

2. To the bowl of leftover mashed potatoes, add the sour cream, egg, sugar and Bisquick and mix to well combined.

bleu cheese potato pancakes

Just eyeball the ingredient amounts

NOTE: eyeball the consistency – you want it somewhat thick – not as thin as pancakes. Depending upon how much of the mashed potatoes you have left over, you may need to add a little more baking mix or another egg.

mashed potato left over pancakes

Not totally smooth, you want to taste the potatoes

3. Heat the butter in a large skillet over med/high heat – you can use vegetable oil/canola oil as well…just not olive oil

4. Drop pancake-y sized dollops of the mixture into the hot skillet and fry until lightly golden brown on one side

bleu cheese mash left over

Browning side one

5. Flip the pancakes and fry the second side

mash potato pancakes

See the crispy edges…that’s the sugar at work

6. Serve warm as a fab day two side dish….Or for breakfast – but, I wouldn’t put syrup on these…Just a little butter, maybe a chive or two would be great.

Some things prove harder to finish than others. But, you can get creative. For me, maybe that means finishing the books I start by watching the movie. Don’t judge, the end result is the same. To finish off your mashed potatoes, try whipping up a day two side dish of potato pancakes.

Rack up Lamb…Not Debt

whole foods lamb chops

Lovely Lamb Chops

I may have mentioned this…but, I’m half Italian. That means a lot of things. And, it also means that I didn’t have a credit card until I was 25. See, the Italians like to have cash; ‘Cash is king’, my dad would say. Once I got stuck for 7 hours at LaGuardia with only $4 (pre-ATM cards) – no proud Italian would ever make this mistake. I learned the hard way that it’s always good to have some cash around.

So, when the credit card companies bombarded all of us in college with invitations to join their elite debt-amassing clubs – I simply wasn’t allowed. OK, sounds odd. Here I am 19 years old and I’m … ‘not allowed’ to have a credit card. Well, yeah. See, parents had to co-sign for the cards and mine refused.

Good thing too.

Very early on, a few of my best friends learned the hazard of credit card debt…Actually, a bunch did. Some had racked up bills by charging things like spring break in Mazatlan or Jamaica or South Padre Island. Others spent their credit fortune on cases and cases of really gross, cheap beer and wine coolers. And, the cards had interest rates of like 25%. I don’t claim to be a math scholar, but you don’t have to be one to realize that the debt grew really quickly for my minimum-only paying pals.

Others waited until after we graduated from college to use credit cards to live well beyond their means.

lucy i love desi arnez

‘Luuuuuuuu-cy!’

One friend who had really over done it…ended up having to declare bankruptcy. Like before declaring bankruptcy was all the rage. Sure, he tried to avoid this.

He had always been inspired by Lucille Ball (chronic over-spender / negotiator), who in one episode wrote on the back of a check she was cashing at the bank: ‘Be a lamb, please don’t process this check until Thursday’. He, like Lucy, tried to negotiate with his creditors…but, alas, to no avail. And, at 24, he had declared bankruptcy. No one would just…be a lamb.

Years later…he’s all fancy, has a big business – But, he had to overcome the bankruptcy to get there. Now instead of asking creditors to ‘be a lamb’ he’s dining on rack of lamb.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb  (Serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 3 8-rib lamb chops – we got ours at Whole Foods and the nice butcher guy trimmed them up for us
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/3 cup fresh leaf parsley chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme – finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp rosemary – finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Progresso italian style bread crumbs
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • salt / pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over high heat.

2. Pat the lamb dry and season generously on all sides with salt and pepper

lamb chops epicurious

Should probably trimmed a little more of the fat..

3. Add the ribs to the hot oil and brown on all sides – about 5 mins per side – meaty sides only

lamb chops whole foods

Searing in the juices and flavor

4. Transfer the ribs to a broiler pan

5. Make the herb coating by mixing together:

  • lamb chops

    Yummy Herb Coating

    Minced garlic

  • Chopped thyme
  • Chopped rosemary
  • 2/3 tsp of salt
  • 2/3 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Progresso Bread Crumbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

6. Coat the meaty parts of the seared lamb with the mixture – you may need to gently press the mixture into the lamb chops

herb crusted lamb chops

Herb Crusted and Oven-Ready

7. Roast uncovered for :15 minutes

8. Cover with tin foil and cook an additional :10 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 120 degrees

9. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest – the internal temperature should rise from 120 to 130 degrees

NOTE: The thermometer may not be your best friend here: The ribs were extremely rare even though they registered at 130 degrees….So, I had to cut the chops and broil them about :02 mins on each side until they were safely cooked through…

10. Serve – I served with bleu cheese mashed potatoes (YUM!) and roasted balsamic Brussels sprouts

whole foods lamb chops

Served with bleu cheese mash and roasted sprouts

As a credit-card free half-Italian college student, I was lucky: When I got my first card at 25, my friends were still paying off bills for beers and, sadly, wine coolers long since consumed. Credit card companies, bank tellers, utilities people probably aren’t gonna just ‘be a lamb’ – so better to rack up lamb, instead of debt.

Avoid the Party Pooper: Serve a Party Popper

bridseye frozen chopped spinach

Every Party Has a Pooper: That’s why we invited you…

Let’s just face it…every party has a pooper. Just the way it is. Sometimes she’s the low-talking dinner party guest seated next to you – You start with a lot of ‘Excuse me?’ and ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ and then at some point you give up and just start nodding and agreeing. You may be agreeing to a 5am yoga class or the absolute NYC No-No: a ride to the airport…But, at a certain point, you can’t hear, give up and resign yourself to the polite nod.

Evertyhing is just TERRIBLE

Bah-Humbug!

Sometimes he’s the bah-humbug type who monopolizes you during the cocktail hour. You know, ‘the city is so crowded with holiday revelers’, ‘the weather is terrible’, ‘I just don’t FEEL like Christmas’ etc.

She’s the food hater. The wine snob. The terrible gifter – the one who brings a clearly despised re-gift or a coffee mug filled with jelly beans – what?

There’s just always one.

One way to avoid being monopolized by the party pooper is to provide yourself with an escape route. Bring an appetizer that needs some care – escape to the kitchen. And, if you really need an out – even if there’s a waiter there – offer to serve the hors d’oeuvres.

One of my favorite passed hors d’oeuvres is the Spinach Party Popper –  much better than a pooper!

Spinach Parmesan Party Poppers (makes 20)

Ingredients:

  • bridseye frozen chopped spinach

    Mise en place…

    1 10 oz package of Birdseye frozen chopped spinach – defrosted and squeezed dry of excess water

  • 3 large eggs gently beaten
  • 1/2 medium onion grated or minced
  • 3 TBSP butter melted
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese – grated
  • 1 Cup Progresso Italian Style bread crumbs
Progresso italian style bread crumbs

Always in my freezer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. In a microwave safe bowl, defrost the spinach – about 6 minutes on high stirring halfway through the process

2. Using a dishtowel – squeeze out the excess water from the spinach

Allow the spinach to cool a bit…

3. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, eggs, onion, butter, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

spinach balls appetizer recipe

Ingredients Mixed and Ready for Ballin’

4. Using a small (melon ball sized) scoop, make balls from the mixture and put onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with Reynold’s Wrap pan lining paper

pan lining paper spinach balls recipe

Shiny on the bottom, parchment on the top

5. Bake for 20 – 22 minutes – just until the balls are firm

vegetarian hors d'oeuvres

Perfectly Firm Party Poppers

6. You can either serve immediately…Or, if you need a party escape: allow to cool, transfer to a travel container and take to your next holiday party. Just reheat for about :10mins on 300 before serving

birdseye frozen chopped spinach appetizers

Could he be avoiding the party pooper by serving the poppers?

Even if you are not expecting a party pooper at your next holiday event, the spinach party poppers are a perfect passed hors d’oeuvre. And, because they are vegetarian, a crowd pleaser: They might even make a Scrooge smile, and, as far as you’ll know, they’re a favorite of low-talkers everywhere.

Infinity is Still Bigger than Google: My Mom’s Christmas Cookies

mom's christmas cookies

Decorated, Baked and Ready for Gifting

Pre-Google, moms could just tell you stuff. Like make stuff up to answer your billions of questions. And we just believed her – because she was the mom. Sure, sometimes she might say ‘Let’s look that up in the encyclopedia’ or ‘I’m not sure, let’s ask your dad.’ But, in our house, there was a point at which with four kids bombarding mom with our questions, she just simply made it up.

google logo

The Google

Now, there’s the Google – a world where we can find anything out in the click of a mouse. The Google (I like to say ‘the Google’) has changed the way we learn and the way we argue. Now there’s no arguing, there’s only The Googling. I mean, why take a side when in just a nano-second you can be proven wrong…or right?

Pre-Google we were led to believe many things…One of the greatest and most delicious lies of my life was that the Christmas cookies we made and decorated every year (back in the day of suburban cookie exchanges…do they still do that?) were created from a recipe handed down for generations on my mother’s side.

A few years ago, when I decided to take a stab at the recipe in my apartment and treat my coworkers to a long-storied family holiday secret…I found out the truth.

I Googled ‘Christmas Cookies’. And ‘decorating Christmas cookies.’ And ‘holiday sugar cookies’….And, there it was. Right there on the screen of my Mac.

Did ‘Annie’s Mom’s Secret Christmas Cookies’ come up? No, no it did not.

As it turns out, what I believed were My Mom’s Secret Christmas Cookies…really belonged to someone named, Mary. Mary. They were Mary’s Sugar Cookies…But, still the best Christmas (or Chanukah or Festivas) cookies out there.

And, if you don’t believe me, you can Google it.

Mom and Mary’s Christmas Cookies (makes 5 dozen)

NOTE: There’s a chilling period of 3 hours … so plan ahead!

Ingredients:

  • Christmas Sugar Cookies

    Decorating Mise En Place

    1 1/2 Cups sifted powdered/confectioners sugar – I sifted using a mesh strainer – but for the sugar, a real sifter would be easier…and quicker

  • 1 Cup softened butter
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 TSP Vanilla
  • 1/2 TSP Almond Extract/Flavoring
  • 2 1/2 Cups Gold Medal Flour sifted – sifting flour through a mesh strainer is actually really easy and quick – much easier than sifting the confectioners sugar
  • 1 TSP Baking Soda – sift this in with the flour
  • Christmas cookies

    Sifting the Dry Stuff

    1 TSP Cream of Tartar – sift this in with the flour and baking soda

  • Colored Sugar Crystals for decorating – I bought India Tree Sugar Crystals, expensive but really fun colors!
  • Cookie Cutters – saved here by buying an assortment box at Bed Bath & Beyond
christmas cookie decorating with kids

Super 7-Year Old

And the most important of all ingredients…One super 7-year old girl – you can substitute any child of any cookie decorating age here. But, my 7-year old sous chef was the best!

1. In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer, mix together the Sugar and the Butter

holiday sugar cookies

I heart my Kitchen Aid

2. Add the egg, the vanilla extract and the almond extract

3. Mix in the Flour, Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar mixture 1/2 a cup at a time until smooth

Mary's Sugar Cookies

Add Flour in Stages – scrape down side of bowl

4. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, divide into same sized balls. Cover each with wax paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

holiday sugar cookies

I doubled the recipe

Go Christmas shopping. Sing carols. Decorate your home. Watch ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’.

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees

5. Remove one of the dough balls from the fridge and allow to warm a bit (about :10mins on the counter)

6. Roll out the ball on a heavily floured surface to about 3/16″ thick. I like them thin and crispy – but this is really your call

christmas cookies

Decorating!

christmas cookies cut out

Decorated and Oven Ready

7. Using cookie cutters – cut out holiday shapes

8. Decorate

9. Put into the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes depending upon thickness of cookies

christmas cookie cutters

This one is an angel..but, looks like MothMan…right?

10. Remove from the oven, transfer cookies to a rack and allow to cool for a few moments

11. Carefully place the cookies into a holiday themed box or cookie tin.

12. You can eat them, gift them, or take to one of those suburban cookie exchanges!

holiday themed cookie box

Boxed and Ready for Gifting

I love the Google. But, ever since its introduction, we’ve all probably been forced to realize the little lies and deceptions our mothers may have told us.

holiday christmas cookies

More Love than Infinity

There are still some things that are immune to the Google. The other day, my 7-year old sous chef asked her mom: ‘What’s bigger…Google or Infinity?’

Her mom didn’t have to Google that one and she didn’t have to lie…She honestly replied: ‘Infinity’…

And, that super 7-year old didn’t miss a beat and said: ‘Well then, Mommy, I love you more than Infinity.’

I don’t know who this cookie baking chick Mary is or was…But, I do know that the cookie recipe is just part of the equation in creating the perfect Christmas cookie. The magic, intangible ingredients come from the family tradition of making the cookies, decorating the cookies, sneaking a slice of the chilled dough from the fridge as a snack. The magic is in the super sous chefs and little helpers who carry more love than infinity. Because Infinity is still bigger than Google.

Baked Salmon, Or At Least I Think So

whole foods baked salmon

Simple Baked Salmon

This week there have been reports that a good percentage – or bad depending upon how you think of it – of the fish we eat, isn’t what we think it is. In NYC up to 39% of the fish tested was fraudulently labeled. Sometimes the labeling was as quasi-harmless as ‘Wild Salmon’ vs the truth that it was actually farmed.

Other mislabeling, however, wasn’t so innocent. In certain cases, tilapia was sold as red snapper. And, in the worst or most dangerous of cases, fish labeled as ‘white tuna’ was actually escolar (what is escolar???) which can cause acute gastrointestinal problems (according to Oceana officials – I’m just guessing that this Oceana is not the same Oceana Airlines from LOST).

We, as New Yorkers, should consider ourselves lucky. In Los Angeles and Boston the percentages of mislabeled fish were much greater. Boston surprised me at 48%…I mean don’t they pride themselves on their seafood? And LA was well worse at 55% – but, really, should we be surprised?…I mean, I love LA and…there’s a ton of fake stuff in LA – ’nuff said.

And, enough about that. As far as I know, I made an easy baked salmon Sunday night for my pescatarian friends.

In an apartment kitchen, baking the salmon is a good idea for so many reasons:

  • Salmon is a fishy smelling fish.
  • If you pan sear it in your tiny NYC apartment kitchen, the smell can linger for days
  • You don’t want to be ‘that fishy smelling neighbor’

So, simply baking it, is probably your best bet.

Here’s how:

Simply Baked Salmon (serves 4)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

1. Buy what you think is salmon…About a 1 1/2 lb fillet for four people. Ask the ‘fish monger’ – or guy behind the counter at Whole Foods – to cut it into 4 equal pieces and to deskin it. This is called ‘deskinification’ – far as you know.

Actually, the NYC Whole Foods generally has pre-cut individual salmon fillets for $5.95 each.

2. Place the fillets in a pan and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil

salmon filets whole foods

Lined Up and Ready

3. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper

4. Bake in the oven for :15 minutes – or until you achieve the desired doneness. I’m not a big fan of rare salmon…and I generally err toward medium doneness

whole foods salmon fillets

Look! It’s a Seafood Themed Platter

5. Remove from oven…Garnish with some lemon wedges and serve – maybe with peas and the vegetarian pie from yesterday’s post…

peas defrosting

Peas – I always have frozen peas

I’m pretty sure what we ate was salmon…either way, it was simple and delicious and didn’t leave me with a fishy smelling apartment.

Plus, after a full day of Christmas Cookie baking (see tomorrow’s post) – and with the vegetarians coming over – simple was definitely the way to go.