Snakes and Maggots Couldn’t Drive Me Away: Roasted Potatoes

A lot more than she bargained for

A lot more than she bargained for

WARNING: THIS POST ISN’T REALLY ABOUT THE RECIPE.

There’s a story today on Yahoo! about some woman who found a snake, yep, snake, in a bag of potatoes she purchased at Walmart.

This got me thinking about the unwanteds I have found in foods over the past 100 years. I had an infestation of small brownish bugs in my kitchen once – by once I mean for about 2 weeks a year for 3 years I would find them creepy crawling up my cabinets or sneaking around in my breadcrumbs…eww. Blamed the flowers a male suitor had sent me. Anyone who has ever dated me since knows never to send me flowers. Take note.

sidney place brooklyn heights potatoes roasted

26 Sidney Place

When I first moved to NYC and my age was my salary – which we all thought was pretty cool at the time – I lived with about 1,000 other kids in an amazing brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. I didn’t really cook, and by ‘really’, I mean not at all. So, many nights I existed on fried rice from the local Chinese place on Montague Street – $4.75 and I could make it last for three meals.

Sure, I dabbled. There were tuna melts, grilled cheese and Raman noodle nights (I could fry stuff and boil water!). But, mostly when I didn’t have any left over fried rice, dinner was cold cereal. That’s right, ‘ready-to-eat’ cereal that we would purchase at the bodega between the Borough Hall Subway Stop and our house.

One night, my roommate/ BFF and I were walking home together – a rarity as she was an I-banker (read, worked late and made a lot more money) and I was in publishing (read, left work between 5 – 6pm and, well, we already discussed my salary). We stopped at the bodega to get some ‘dinner’. Jane, as she prefers to be called these days, selected a lovely box of Raisin Bran. I…it doesn’t matter what I got – the story is about her cereal.

Anyhoo, we trekked home, poured our cereals into bowls and topped with milk. We were hungry – growing girls – and stood together in the kitchen, shoveling it in. At about bite three, Jane started frothing at the mouth…literally spitting the tasty bran and raisins back in to the bowl.

‘What!’ I shrieked ‘Are you doing?’

She slammed the bowl on to the kitchen counter, continued spitting, wiping her tongue with a paper towel and just pointed her shaking finger at the bowl.

So…I looked….Still wish I hadn’t…But, I looked. How could I not? And, there it was…the cereal was….uhmmmm…moving. Yeah….Her cereal was moving. Like totally moving. Like horror movie moving.

I looked more closely and the cereal was alive with maggots. Still makes me shiver. Haven’t eaten raisin bran since…OK, no big sacrifice cuz this blogger hates the raisins. But, still…uhmmmm…ewww.

Roasted Potatoes Recipe food

Uhmmmm…EWWWW

So, after what I went through with the maggots and then with the floral delivery bug invasion…you might think that the Walmart-Snake-in-the-Potatoes story might scare me off of a starchy potato treat. Au contraire…It would take a truck load of maggots to move me off of potatoes.

Here is my go-to simple, crowd-pleasing, snake and maggot-free roasted potato side dish.

Soup Packet Roasted Potatoes (Serves 4-6)

Tiny apartment tips:

  1. Buy tiny potatoes – not just because they’re tiny like your kitchen, but because they cook more quickly, they’re cute and mostly because you don’t have to peel them or do much chopping
  2. When you buy the french onion soup mix – Lipton, of course – take the packets out of the box and store upright in a cabinet – the box takes up too much space.
  3. No…you can’t make these ahead of time. So, stop asking 🙂
  4. Heed the Parchment Paper lining tip – or you will ruin your baking pan

Ingredients

  • lipton soup dinner recipe side dish vegetarian

    Side Dishes Don’t Have To Be Difficult

    Like a pound of small potatoes – new potatoes or purple potatoes are good or if you’re fancy those bags with the three colors of potatoes…maybe not Yukon gold potatoes – they’re too soft.

  • 1/3 Cup of Olive Oil – IG would say ‘really good olive oil’
  • 1 Packet of Dry Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 TSP of Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt

Preheat oven to 425…or 450 doesn’t really matter

(I wish this was more difficult…but, like deciding to eat or not eat maggots…it’s not – I did warn you that this post wasn’t about the dish)

1. Wash the potatoes

roasted new potatoes dinner vegetarian

I might have chopped first and washed second…whatever. It’s all good

2. Quarter or halve the potatoes – you want bite size pieces – so depends on how big the taters you bought are

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the packet of french onion soup, Krazy Mixed Up Salt and Olive Oil

4. Pour the potatoes in to a Ziplock baggie – gallon style. Pour the olive oil mixture over the potatoes in the baggie

french onion soup lipton roasted potatoes recipe

Taters covered in EVOO and soup mix

6. Zip the bag…mix it around – with your hands move the contents –  making sure you cover all of the potatoes

7. Line a rimmed baking dish with parchment paper

8. Pour the potato, french onion soup / olive oil mix on to the lined baking dish making sure the potatoes are in a single layer

Roasted potatoes side french onion soup lipton dinner vegetarian

Single Layer! Very Important!

9. Put in the oven and bake for :45 – :60 minutes tossing a few times during the cooking process. Cooking time depends on how crispy you like ’em.

10. Serve immediately

roasted potatoes lipton soup side dish vegetarian

Piping Hot, Crisped And Ready

I like my potatoes crispy. My favorite late night fry is the one that is actually void of any potato flesh. Truth.

I like potatoes. Is there a support group for that? Even though there was APPARENTLY a smallish snake in one particular package at one particular Walmart – I will continue to eat the potatoes. I might even buy them at Walmart. When it comes to potatoes – even maggots couldn’t drive me away.

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Care to Prepare For Those Who Don’t Share: Individual Potatoes Au Gratin

potatoes au gratin recipe melissa d'arabian

Farmer’s Market Russet Potatoes

A wise five year-old once told me that ‘sharing is caring.’ OK, maybe he heard that somewhere, but it was wise nonetheless. Seems like a pretty good and simple message.

When it comes to food, however, we’re not always great sharers. My loyal reader(s) know that I have an irrational fear of starving to death. No reason I should feel this way, but I get nervous when food is presented and meant to be shared that I won’t get enough…and that I will immediately starve and die.

Shun Lee West NYC

Shun Lee West Love

My friends and I were all out at Shun Lee a while ago – ok, it was in the ’90’s – and even though the old school waiters at Shun Lee plate each diner’s portion, two of our dinner group refused to share. Actually, and you know who you are, they announced what they would like from the menu followed by ‘and we’re not sharing‘. OK, good to know this up front. And, to be honest, I respected it.

Growing up, it wasn’t unusual to see someone else’s fork wander over to my plate and steal a piece of whatever it was that we were eating. Coming up with clever ways to distract a family member while grabbing food from his/her plate became yet another family competition. So…maybe my fear isn’t totally irrational.

So, as a matter of survival, I love to serve individual portions of traditionally casserole created meals. And, apparently, so does Melissa D’Arabian.

Individual Potatoes Au Gratin adapted from Melissa D’Arabian (Serves 6)

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  • If your space provides for either cupcake OR Texas tins…opt for cupcake tins. Popovers and these individual potatoes au gratin will be fine in the smaller tins
  • While slicing your potatoes on a Mandolin will, indeed, make each potato slice uniformly thick…you might not have room for this kitchen equipment…plus, having personally lost the tip of a finger, I can tell you that the mandolin is just too risky. Use a sharp knife, you’ll be fine.
  • MA’s recipe calls for heavy cream…but, really, you can use anywhere from 2% to whole milk and it’ll work out. This way you don’t need to overstock on dairy

Ingredients:

  • melissa d'arabian potatoes au gratin

    She knows not to share

    3 large Russet Potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

  • 1/2 cup of Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup of Shredded Swiss Cheese
  • 12 TBSPs whole milk or 2% or cream
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh Chives
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Tons of non-stick cooking spray

Preheat Oven to 375 Degrees

1. Wash and Peel the potatoes and slice as thinly as possible. Put the slices in a bowl of water with ice cubes to keep them from browning. You can do this hours ahead of time and store in the fridge to save counter space needed to prepare the rest of your feast.

potatoes au gratin individual

Immersing the slices in water to keep from browning

2. Spray your non-stick cupcake OR Texas tins with a ton, like a ton, of non-stick cooking spray. Yes, I’ve used butter…but, the spray works better here

3. Place a slice of potato (cut to fit if necessary) in the base of each pan well

4. Layer some cheddar cheese on top – about a tsp or so

5. Place another slice of potato on top of the cheddar

6. Layer on some Swiss cheese

7. Place another slice of potato on top of the Swiss

8. Repeat until each cupcake or muffin well is well-filled and end with a potato slice. Don’t be afraid to slightly overfill, the potatoes will shrink and the cheese will melt during cooking

individual potatoes au gratin melissa d'arabian

Oven Ready Sides for One

9. Drizzle about 1 TBSP of milk or cream over each potato-cheese-filled well

10. Throw some chives onto each

11. Add salt and pepper

12. Tent with tin foil and bake for :20mins

13. Remove tin foil and bake an additional :20mins

14. Remove from oven and use a spoon to flip the potatoes au gratin over and on to a serving tray. You’ll know the gratins are done when the edges are well browned.

au gratin potatoes in cupcake tins recipe

Not so Rotten Au Gratin

15. Don’t share

Sharing might be caring…But caring might be preparing for those who aren’t sharing.

NOPCME And Other Vanity Plates: Peas and More Pea Soup

pea soup with bacon and creme fraiche

Pretty Pea Soup – With Homemade Creme Fraiche and Bacon Bits

I sorta love vanity plates. I was driving a ton for a job – with a colleague/friend – up and down the west coast training people to sell fragrance. The countless hours in the car led to some in depth conversations….But, by about week 2, we already knew pretty much everything about each other, each other’s families, lives, histories, first loves, last loves, secret loves etc.

So we needed another way to pass the time. And, we were in California – land of the vanity plate. Coming from NYC and without a car of my own at the time, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with deciphering vanity plates. So, this became one of our favorite driving games. It’s like figuring out what text abbreviations mean now.

On our journey, we ran into some great plates including:

LXN1RLND:  Owned by my friend, Alex, who lived on Wonderland Drive

NA HE DNT: no explanation needed

8MPG: A Hummer owner making no excuses

L8ASUSL: For the terminally tardy

4RCEBWU: For the Star Wars junkie

One of my favorites, though, read simply ‘NOPCME’. Nopcahmah? Nopchemey? We spotted this one in the parking lot of a hotel and struggled to determine what it meant. And, then we found out that the owner was a urologist….And, his license plate advertised his business: No Pee? See Me!

So I thought about making Pea Soup…and realized that I had a ton of other vegetables that needed using. And I made…

Peas and More Pea Soup (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • leeks

    Fresh and Dirty Leeks

    2 slices of Bacon cut into small pieces

  • 2 Cups Chopped Leeks – 2 leeks, whites and light green parts – they’re usually pretty gritty, so wash them well
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, chopped and roasted until soft (see below)
  • 2 10oz packages of Birdseye or 365 Brand Frozen Peas – I used a combo of both
  • 5 Cups of Chicken Stock- I use Whole Foods 365 brand, it’s very well priced, rich and delicious
  • 1 TSP fresh Thyme leaves
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • leeks soup pea recipe

    Submerge Leeks to Clean

    1 TSP Pepper

  • Olive Oil
  • A tad of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce – to taste
  • Creme Fraiche for garnish

Sweet Potato Prep:

  • sweet potatoes super food

    Super Sweet Potatoes

    Preheat Oven to 425 degrees

  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining paper – parchment side up
  • Spread the Sweet potato dices in a single layer on the parchment and gently sprinkle with Olive Oil – do not salt!
  • Bake for :08 mins, then toss and bake an additional :07-:08 mins until softened but not browned
  • Remove from the baking sheet and set aside

1. In the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot (my 6qt Le Creuset, for example), heat 1 TBSP of Olive Oil over medium heat

2. Add the bacon pieces and render until crispy

smithfield farms bacon

BCN: Bacon Render Render Render….Crispy

3. Remove the bacon and set aside

4. To the bacon fat add a TBSP of olive oil and then add the carrots and stir – about :04 mins.

whole foods vegetable soup

KROTS: Carrots First

NOTE: You want to add the carrots first because they take longer to soften

5. Add the leeks and onion to the carrots and cook until softened – about :10-:12 mins stirring occasionally

pea soup recipe with sweet potatoes

OLC: Onions, Leeks and Carrots

6. Add the chicken stock, sweet potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil

pea soup chicken stock whole foods

CHXSTK: Chicken Stock

7. Reduce to a simmer and add the frozen peas

365 frozen peas birdseye

+PS: Stir in the Peas

8. Simmer until the peas are softened – about :04 mins

9. Turn the heat off and allow the soup to cool – while it’s cooling, you can wash all of the prep bowls, knives and cutting boards you may have used

10. Set up a Puree Station: In my case…A KitchenAid blender and a second empty heavy bottomed pot on low

all clad puree kitchen aid station

PUR A STN: Puree Station

11. Transfer a few ladles of the soup to the blender and puree

pea soup vegetables

<PUR A: Pre-Puree – Needs to Cool

12. Pour the pureed soup into the second pot and repeat until all of the soup is pureed

365 chicken stock whole foods

> PUR A: Post Puree

pea soup recipe

PP N ACP: Post Puree in Pretty AllClad Pot

13. Serve with a garnish of Creme Fraiche and Crispy Bacon Bits

NOTE: Making your own Creme Fraiche is super easy – mix equal parts heavy cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on a counter over night. In the morning, put it in the fridge and chill for about 4 hours. Done and done.

Years later, I do now have a car…But, no vanity plates. Instead, I allow the DMV to assign me a plate and then I make up a meaning for the letters I get. My first license plates read:

911 URE = Emergency! You Are Excellent.

My next was:

411 XPC = For Your Information. You’re Extra Pretty-Cute.

You can really interpret them anyway you want. Maybe, on my car NOPCME would mean: Numerous Organic Produce Creates More Elegance…in a Peas and More Pea Soup.

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.