The Humble Baked Potato … Gets Dressed Up

The classic baked potato with sour cream and butter. Delicious. But it can be so much more.

Like twice baked potato skins. Which I’m going to make too. In the meantime, here are some other toppings for that baked potato.

Broccoli and Cheddar Baked Potato – A simple bechamel (white sauce) becomes a mornay sauce when you stir cheese into it. Sharp/old cheddar cheese adds a nice punch but you can use whatever kind you prefer. Microwave some broccoli florettes just until tender, chop them up coarsely and then stir them into your cheese sauce.

The result … like having a bowl of cream of broccoli and potato  soup but with a lot more substance. Makes a tasty side dish to a pork chop or a piece of roasted chicken.

Dress up a pan of baked potatoes with various toppings for game day.

Chili Baked Potato – chili con carne, sour cream, shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese, green onion

I was going to make and post each of the toppings below but I got distracted by other things so I’m sending this out into the LJ/blogging world. I may make and post pictures at some point … but I’m not making any promises.

Other Baked Potato Toppings

1. Pulled Pork – bbq sauce, shredded pulled pork, coleslaw, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions
2. Breakfast Sausage and Gravy – pork sausage gravy
3. Tex-Mex – spiced meat (ground beef or turkey) mixture, salsa, queso fresco (or paneer cheese)

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Romanian Cozonac, Hungarian Kalacs/Beigli or Ukrainian Babka

Whether you call it cozonac, kalacs/beigli, or babka, this sweet bread filled with ground nuts (usually walnuts), poppy seeds, raisins or even rahat/lokum (a gummy middle eastern candy known in the west as ‘Turkish delight’) is served at Easter and Christmas in many eastern European countries. I can’t remember my mom ever making this though, knowing her difficulties with yeast based baking, it’s unlikely. However, I HAVE eaten it at Romanian and Hungarian church and community center bake sales.

Poppy seed isn’t a filling I’ve used often so I thought I’d give it a try for a change of pace. I bought a fresh, one pound bag at the grocery store, even though I’ve got a couple pounds, at least, in the freezer downstairs. I’m not quite sure how long it’s been there. Several years at least, I think, so I didn’t want to take a chance that the poppy seeds were stale.

I followed the shaping instructions on one of the web sites I researched which said to fold in the ends of the roll but I wasn’t happy with the ‘knobs’. Next time, I’ll risk the filling oozing out and leave them open.

The end piece … dough is nice and fluffy, or as they say in Romanian, pufos.

Cozonac cu Mac (Cozonac Filled with Poppy Seed) – 1.14 kg (2 1/2 lb) of dough, makes 2 11 by 14 inch rolls

For the Filling

200 gm ground poppy seeds
100 gm of sugar
150 ml of milk
1 tsp butter
1 pkt vanilla sugar
1 tbsp of lemon zest (reduce to 1 tsp)

For the Dough

4-5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk, warmed to 80 deg F
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 eggs, 1 egg divided
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest (optional)
1 tsp salt

NOTE (12/10/2017): used ~2 tsp grated lemon zest, increased butter to 4 tbsp, used close to 5 cups of flour

Making the Filling

Mix the ground poppy seeds, milk, butter and sugar and bring to the boil over medium heat. Cook until a creamy composition is obtained, about 5 min, while stirring constantly. Add vanilla and lemon peel and leave to cool.

Making the Dough

In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cup of flour, warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Cover the mixture and place it in a warm place for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly.

Separate ONE of the eggs, placing the white in a separate bowl and setting it aside. (White is whisked until frothy and used later to brush the bread before it goes into the oven.)

Once the flour and yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, mix in the 2 eggs and one egg yolk.

Add 2 1/2 cups of flour, the soft butter, vanilla, lemon zest and salt. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Then, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes, adding only as much of the remaining 1 cup of flour as is necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands.

(Alternately, you can mix the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the sides of the bowl.)

Place the dough into a clean, well greased bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft free place until it has roughly tripled in bulk, about 1 1/2-2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times. Divide the dough in half.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured working surface and roll out into a rectangle about 11 inches by 14 inches. Spread with half the poppy seed filling to 1/2 an inch from the edge.

Roll the dough and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the second portion of dough and filling.

Cover with a lightly oiled sheet of food wrap or a damp towel and let rise until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375 deg F.

Beat the reserved egg white and brush over each of the two loaves. Bake for 45-50 minutes until set and the top is golden brown. Check after 15-20 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, cover with a large sheet of aluminum foil and continue baking. Rotate the baking sheet half way through the bake.

Let cool completely before cutting.

Leek Duo … from the Sublime to the Ridiculous

The first time I ever tasted leeks was in soup made from a packet of “Knorr Cream of Leek”. It was creamy and subtly flavoured and became my ‘standard’ of a leek soup. This soup surpasses that in flavour, nutrition and, time wise, it’s not bad either.

Cream of Leek and Potato Soup

I didn’t use any thickeners (cream, cornstarch or flour) to make this soup, other than the two diced potatoes. Although I was tempted to use bacon fat to sautee the 1/2 cup of diced onions, one clove of minced garlic and one large sliced leek, I decided to use 2 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp white pepper to highlight the subtle flavours of the leeks. I wish I had had some home made chicken stock, but I didn’t, so I used a tablespoon of low sodium “Better than Bouillon” to 4 cups of water, which isn’t bad at all. The thickness of the soup was perfect for me, but if you find that as your soup cools, it gets too thick, you can thin it out with some extra chicken stock, or even just some water, in a pinch. Check for seasoning before serving, in that case.

I often make pizza dough from scratch but, having a package or two of flatbreads or flour tortillas, in the freezer, is convenient for quick, last minute meals.

Shiso Pesto, Roasted Leek and Paneer Flatbread Pizza

I ran across some tasty pizza topping ideas using leeks in my recent web search and adapted them to what I had on hand so the leeks sauteed in white wine and cream became leftover roasted leeks with a base of shiso pesto, from the freezer. And, instead of goat cheese, I crumbled some home made paneer cheese, also from the freezer, over the leeks. A sprinkle of green onion for a fresh touch was added, about half way through the baking process and, before serving, grated Parmesan cheese was sprinkled over the top.

Leeks (Roasted) … A Versatile Veg

My Saturday grocery shopping had been skipped and there wasn’t much chance that I was going out on Sunday either. I had chicken drumsticks marinating in a spicy Korean mixture with gochujang, garlic, ginger, honey and some other goodies for a type of ‘stew’. And, I had some leftover plain white rice that I could serve them with. But what veggie dish could I include, was the burning question?

A recent purchase of three beautiful leeks meant that after making a pot of mapo tofu, I had two more leeks to use up.

So I went net surfing and found great ideas for using leeks. Some weren’t useful immediately, because I was lacking critical ingredients (or I wasn’t in the mood to go outside and grill on the bbq) but I COULD adapt others. I’m writing down a a few ideas and links from the former category, by the way, for the next time I have leeks. This is the simplest vegetable side dish with leeks that I could find. Simple is GOOD, yes?

Yes, leek soup WAS one of the recipes I found but I don’t have any potatoes for thickening.

Roasted Carrots and Leeks with Fresh Thyme

It’s cold outside but my hardy little thyme plant is still alive so I went out and cut a few sprigs. Salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil over the top, then the carrots were roasted in the oven, while the chicken drumsticks were braised. I only removed one of the outer layers of the leek, so it was a bit “chewy” like with unpeeled older asparagus stalks, but still very tasty.

Ready to roast at 350 deg F for 45 min or until tender and slightly caramelized.

Spicy Korean Braised Chicken Drumsticks – thighs are good too, skin on or off

Sushi Rice Creations … Cream Cheese and Lox Onigirazu, Philadelphia Roll and Okaka Onigiri

My favourite starch sides are potatoes, pasta and rice … in that order. Since I haven’t had any potatoes in the house for almost two weeks, I’ve been relying more on the other two in my cooking. Especially rice.

Whether long, medium or short grain, rice is quick to prepare and a fitting neutral base for many flavours and add-ins.

Sticky, short grain rice brands, like the Nishiki ($2.20 / lb), Calrose and Kokuho Rose varieties, available locally, are something I’ve only been eating for about five years, mostly in sushi dishes, though you can make a great sweet rice pudding with them too. And risotto, usually made with Arborio and Carnaroli, can also be made with ‘sushi’ rice brands.

To switch things up, I decided to make “onigirazu”, a type of sushi rice sandwich wrapped in a full sheet of nori. Like the rice balls, “onigiri”, I posted a while ago, this is a portable sushi food item often found in bento boxes.  Depending on the fillings, the onigirazu may be served cold, room temperature or warmed slightly.

Okaka Onigiri and Cream Cheese and Lox Onigirazu

I’ve been putting off making this dish because I made the mistake of buying a package of (400) half sheets of nori, a while ago, and am too ‘frugal’ to buy more before I use them up. However, I’ve made thicker sushi rolls using two overlapping nori half sheets, so I thought I’d use that technique and attempt this dish.

Another variation/adaptation of the regular onigirazu is that instead of making a square block of rice on top of the nori sheet, placing the fillings on top, then covering it with the same amount of rice, shaping that into a square block and wapping the whole with the nori sheet, I used a mold into which the sushi rice would be placed etc. This is similar to the technique I used to make the Spam “musubi” some time ago. Since I didn’t have a square mold, I thought I’d use a short tin can with the top and bottom removed. An English muffin ring may be used if you have one. About 1/3-1/2 cup of rice is used for both the top and the bottom of the ‘sushi rice sandwich’.

A few pictures of how to assemble the onigirazu … start with a sheet of food wrap over your assembly area then lay down your sheet of nori and center your mold on the sheet.

Cream Cheese and Lox Onigirazu

    

    

I really like smoked salmon so I went with two layers.

Philadelphia Roll – there are several versions of this roll but they all include smoked salmon and cream cheese. Other ingredients include sliced avocado or julienned cucumber.

 

Okaka (dried bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce) Onigiri – ingredients needed for this include about a cup of cooked sushi rice, 2 tbsp of bonito flakes, enough soy sauce to moisten, a 1-1 1/4 inch strip of nori and a large pinch of salt to flavour the rice.

Add the soy sauce a few drops at a time to your bonito flakes and stir them in, repeating, until most of the flakes are moistened.

 

Baker’s Dozen of Onigirazu Filling ideas

… as found on various web sites especially “Just One Cookbook”. Nami makes her many Japanese recipes accessible to the western home cook and her website is a valuable resource for new ideas and adaptations of classic dishes.

1. Spam, fried egg, iceberg lettuce (for crunch, you may also use the more tender butter lettuce)
2. Chicken or pork katsu, finely shredded lettuce, mustard and tonkatsu sauce
3. Beef bulgogi, sauteed mushrooms and shredded carrot, blanched spinach and bean sprouts, and fried egg
4. Sliced ham, cheese and Japanese sweet rolled omelette (tamago)
5. Tofu – plain or marinated (sweet teriyaki, spicy BBQ, dijon mustard and garlic or honey mustard, lemon herb) and grilled
6. BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato)
7. Western Omelette (diced ham, green bell pepper, and onion)
8. Clubhouse (sliced cooked chicken or turkey, fried bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise)
9. All Veggie – romaine lettuce, julienned carrot, thinly sliced English cucumber, tomato, red onion, avocado, red cabbage, mustard and mayonnaise
10. Chicken, egg or tuna salad sandwich
11. Teriyaki salmon and grilled asparagus
12. Avocado and lox (smoked salmon)
13. Hot dogs and lettuce

Pork and Leek Mapo Tofu Ramen … and other Porky Dishes

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, pork is one of the most inexpensive proteins available in Ontario. At less than $2 a pound, on sale, you can get a lot of good meals out of a pork butt (transformed into pulled pork) or a brined loin (peameal bacon roast).

Lean ground pork sometimes goes on sale as well, but other than pork and shrimp wontons/potstickers (wonton wrappers needed and more time than I wanted to invest), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make. And then I remembered that I hadn’t made mapo tofu in some time. So, I bought a package of tofu (silken for a change) and a bundle of leeks and made a pot. I used some of the meat/veggie/tofu mixture for ramen soup and then thickened the remainder and topped plain long grain rice with it.

ETA: Instead of pork, ground chicken or beef may be used in this dish. Or just leave out the meat entirely. Mushrooms, broccoli or bok choy may be substituted for the leeks.

Mapo Tofu Ramen – Not sure how to deal with this gorgeous bowl of soup? Pile some of your noodles, meat and veggies into your little spoon for eating neatly and then sip the broth. Repeat until it’s all gone.

 

For ramen soup … you need ramen noodles. And those cheap (2 for $1) individual dry noodle soup packages are convenient. Throw away the seasoning packet inside.

I mean it.

Throw it away!

If you’re not planning on having leftovers, feel free to use silken tofu, which practically melts into your hot soup, for the mapo tofu. However, if you’re going to have some left for a second meal, use medium-firm or firm tofu which stands up to reheating in the microwave. Only a few changes are needed to turn your mapo tofu into mapo tofu soup. Use 3 cups of chicken stock instead of only one. And, you won’t need that cornstarch for thickening your meat/veggie/tofu.

Omurice – One or two egg omelette wrapped around pulled pork fried rice and garnished with ketchup. The pulled pork came from the freezer.

 

Peameal bacon roast – I haven’t roasted one of these tasty lean cuts of pork for quite some time. Sliced and served for supper it’s delicious. Leftovers may be quickly pan seared to reheat/brown and served for breakfast along with fried eggs, hashed browns or whatever you prefer.

 

Home Made Bagels and Lox

I got a craving for bagels and lox when I saw smoked salmon on sale in this week’s grocery flyer.

There’s nothing like fresh, home made bagels so I made a batch. But, since it had been about five years since I last made them, I forgot a few things. Like DON’T make a larger size than this particular recipe calls for. Don’t crowd the bagels when boiling cause they grow and deform each other. And use the ball/poke method for shaping. The sealed rope method has a tendency to come undone while you’re boiling your bagels … no matter how well you think you sealed the two ends.

Large sized (75-80 gm) bagels using the sealed rope method (8 inch long rope)

   

 

Small size (50-55 gm) bagels, poke your floured index finger into the center of the ball of dough and then stretch the hole in the middle to create a hole that’s about 1/2-3/4 inch in diameter. The holes will close up a bit while boiling.

 

The results were worth the effort.

I let the larger bagels bake a bit too long, I think.

Technique: No Churn Ice Cream (Cranberry Sauce)

I’ve posted this recipe/technique of making ice cream, without an ice cream maker, before. However, I thought I’d give it another look before the holidays, when an easy make-ahead dessert might be just what you want. Especially if you have some leftover cranberry sauce. You may even want to make some cranberry sauce just so you can make this.

All you need is whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk (though you CAN use sweetened cream of coconut as well), alcohol (about 1 tbsp per batch) and flavourings. And at least six hours in the freezer.

Small Batch No Churn Ice Cream – recipe makes ~ 3-4 cups of ice cream, more depending on the bulk of add-ins

3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp alcohol**
1 tbsp flavouring**

** If using an extract with an alcohol base, like vanilla extract or limoncello, as I have in the past, one tablespoon of the extract is all you need.

Variations:

Fruit – fruit purees or preserve, shredded coconut, curd (lemon, lime, orange, raspberry etc), fruit liquer ie Kirsch, Cointreau/Grand Marnier
Chocolate – cocoa powder, chocolate or fudge sauce, Nutella, chocolate liquer ie Bailey’s, Bols, De Kuyper, chocolate bars
Coffee – espresso powder, coffee liqueur ie Tia Maria, Kahlua, Patron for a tequila base
Nuts and seeds – coarsely or finely chopped, peanut butter, Nutella, sesame seeds (tahini), chocolate bars
Cheesecake – softened cream cheese or mascarpone may be combined with the sweetened condensed milk for a denser ice cream

Special Category:

Seasonal favourites – pumpkin pie, egg nog, cranberry sauce

Cranberry Sauce No Churn Ice Cream Ingredients – 3/4 cups whipping cream, 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk, 1 tbsp brandy, 1/2 cup home made cranberry sauce, plus another 1/4 cup cranberry sauce to swirl through the ice cream.

Reader Challenge:

Replicate your favourite chocolate bar (ie Thin Mints, Cadbury creme egg), cookie (ie Samoas, Oreos) or other dessert (ie tiramisu, apple pie) in ice cream form, like the Ferrero Rocher chocolates I made a while ago. Share a link to a picture on your own site.

Easy Bacon Fat Salted Caramel Sauce

Fat is fat …. usually. It helps if what you’re substituting is tasty. Bacon fat in place of butter is pretty good. The ‘easy’ part of the recipe title refers to the alternate method of making caramel which doesn’t require melting/caramelizing sugar by itself first. It also refers to the use of brown instead of white sugar which makes it similar to a butterscotch sauce.

Easy Bacon Fat Caramel Sauce – makes ~1 cup

1 packed cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp bacon fat, or unsalted butter **
Pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract

** This amount of bacon fat has the same calories as twice the amount of butter.

Mix the brown sugar, whipping cream, bacon fat and salt in a medium saucepan. Put the lid on and cook over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture comes to a rolling boil, checking periodically. The lid helps contain the steam, lets it condense and roll down the edges of the saucepan, washing sugar crystals down into the sauce reducing/preventing crystal formation.

Remove the lid, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring gently, for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture gets thicker.

Add the vanilla extract and cook another minute so that the mixture thicken further.

Take the saucepan off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into a jar.

Refrigerate until needed.

Túrós Csusza (Hungarian Pasta with Cottage Cheese and Crispy Bacon)

A quick and simple noodle dish with few ingredients, and, if you already have some egg noodles in your pantry, you just have to cook the pasta and assemble the dish.

Túrós Csusza (Hungarian Pasta with Cottage Cheese and Crispy Bacon) – serves 1

3-4 strips of crispy bacon, coarsely chopped
1 tsp of bacon fat, melted
1 serving of cooked egg noodles
1/4 cup cottage cheese, room temperature
salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Cook your pasta according to package directions. Drain and combine the hot noodles with the melted bacon fat, then stir in the cottage cheese. (If your noodles have cooled, you can add the cottage cheese and warm them in the microwave just long enough to warm up the cottage cheese. You DON’T want to cook the cottage cheese.) Stir in the chopped bacon leaving some for garnish.

Season with salt and pepper and serve, sprinkling the last of the bacon over the top.

I had the day off so I decided to make fresh egg noodles rather than cooking dried ones from my pantry.