A different kind of baked potato

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Growing up, the only kind of baked potato my family ate was a russet potato. I saw a lot of recipes for baked sweet potatoes on Pinterest last fall, but never tried any. Last week, I had two that I needed to use, so I decided to try baking them.

When I’ve had sweet potatoes in the past, they’ve involved some sort of sweeter flavor and ginger; while baked potatoes have had sour cream and chives. I decided to find a happy medium, so I stirred a bit of powdered ginger and maple syrup into some sour cream to top these baked potatoes. They were delicious. Next time, I might add either some arugula, chives or chopped green onions for some color. But for a first attempt, I was pleased with my creation. It complemented the steak I had with it.

What do you put on your baked sweet potatoes?

Ingredients
Two medium sweet potatoes
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Scrub the dirt off the outside of each sweet potato. Pat dry. Pierce each potato with a fork five times. Wrap each potato in foil. Once the oven has preheated, set potatoes on the rack and set timer for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, check potatoes for doneness. Mine took another 30 minutes before they were done.

Once potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile combine sour cream, ginger, syrup and salt and stir until just combined.

Using a knife, cut potato just through the skin on the length of the long side. Peel skin and toss. Cut potato halfway through with three lengthwise cuts, then make five cuts crosswise. Spoon two tablespoons of the sour cream mixture and one tablespoon of feta over each potato.

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Taking a gamble on taquitos

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I like taquitos. You know those boxes of them that are sold in the frozen food aisle? Yes, those. But I had never thought to try making them from scratch until a few months ago. I had a bag of tortillas and some chicken that I needed to use, so I went forth without looking up any recipes online, just to see what I could conjure up without any guidance.

I knew I needed to cook the chicken so it could be easily shredded, so I chose to bake it just until it hit 165 degrees then let it rest for 5-10 minutes before mashing it with a wooden spatula. Then I added flavors I wanted to be included in the mix, filled the tortillas and baked them. That’s it.

They turned out better than I hoped. While I could have used a couple more tortillas so the six I made weren’t so over-stuffed and hard to keep closed, the flavors were perfect. I’ll definitely be making these again, perhaps trying them with another meat next time.

2taquitos022314Ingredients
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped into small squares
1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.25 pounds)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons jalapeño sauce
8-10 white corn tortillas
Dash of white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of garlic powder or 1 clove minced garlic
Canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Rinse chicken and put in a dutch oven or oven-safe dish. Cook in oven for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked all the way through and temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove from oven and let cool. Keep oven on.

Line a cookie sheet with foil.

Once chicken is cool enough to handle, use a wooden spatula to mash it, until it is nearly completely shredded. Add red pepper, cheese, jalapeño sauce, white pepper, salt and garlic and mix together until blended.

Heat a bit of canola oil in a small frying pan on medium-high heat and briefly cook tortillas, one at a time on each side, until they are soft enough to fill and roll.

Take each tortilla and fill it with about 1/4 cup filling or more, if desired. Roll the tortilla around the filling and put each one seam-side down on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until tortillas are slightly crispy. Serve warm with sour cream or salsa.

Asparagus soup that will warm you up

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I’ve never done much with asparagus other than cook it on a stovetop or bake it. Since the weather has been freezing, I’ve been coming home to make dinners that will warm me up.

This cream of asparagus soup from Joy is a great way to use the vegetable. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and has a nice consistency — it has cream, but doesn’t become too thick. I didn’t have chicken broth, so I used bullion and water. It was saltier than I wanted it to be, so next time I’ll use less than 1 tablespoon of bullion per cup of water.

I garnished the first bowl with shredded Parmesan, but that wasn’t quite right. The bread cubes were a much better choice.

All in all, this was a nice soup that I will be making again because it don’t involve a lot of ingredients, nor does it take too long to make.

Ingredients
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups poultry stock, chicken broth or other light stock or broth
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
Salt
White or black pepper

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

Add onions and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned.

Stir in asparagus. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the asparagus is very tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a food processor or an immersion blender, process until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in heavy cream. Heat through, but do not boil.

Add salt and pepper. Garnish with grated cheese such as cheddar or Parmesan, or add 1-inch cubes of bread.

Banana pancakes to savor for brunch

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I like to take my time getting up on weekends, when my cat lets me, and making a big breakfast before starting my day. I usually go for omelets or silver dollar pancakes, but sometimes I like to try something new.

I had a couple bananas ripening on my counter last week, but wasn’t in the mood to make banana bread. So I transformed them into these banana pancakes from Williams-Sonoma. Of course, just reading the recipe got Jack Johnson’s “banana pancakes” song stuck in my head, so I had to dig it up to play while I got to work in the kitchen. It set the tone for a lazy Sunday.

These were the best banana pancakes I’ve ever made. They were fluffy and — because I chose not to completely mash the fruit — had tiny chunks of banana in them. I used almond milk because I didn’t have regular milk on hand and it worked surprisingly well.

I cut the recipe in half since I was only cooking for myself and it made six pancakes, so I had them for two breakfasts. They were beyond delicious both times.

So get your Sunday started right by heading to the kitchen and making a batch of these pancakes. You’ll be glad you did.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 2 teaspoons if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small, very ripe banana, peeled
1 cup milk (almond milk can also be used)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Maple syrup for serving
Sliced bananas for serving

Cut the butter into 3 equal pieces. Put 2 of the butter pieces in a small saucepan and set the remaining piece aside. Set the pan over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a pot holder, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix with a fork until well blended.

Put the banana in a small bowl. Mash with a fork until almost smooth. Add the milk, eggs and vanilla and stir with the fork until well blended. Pour the banana mixture and the melted butter into the flour mixture. Mix gently with a rubber spatula until the batter is just blended. The batter should still be a little bit lumpy.

Put a griddle over medium heat until hot. To test if the griddle is hot enough, flick a drop of water onto it. It is ready if the drop dances quickly and evaporates. Put half of the remaining butter onto the griddle and spread it with a metal spatula. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle, spacing them about 3 inches apart.

Cook until a few holes form on top of each pancake and the underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully slide the metal spatula under each pancake and turn it over. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is puffed, 1 to 2 minutes more. Using the spatula, transfer the pancakes to a serving plate.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes while still hot with maple syrup and sliced bananas. Makes 12 4-inch pancakes.

Sugary shortbread is perfect for a platter

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For the second cookie in my countdown to Christmas, I bring you Pecan Fingers. I found this recipe years ago in my “Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Brownies!” cookbook. It’s simple and really tasty.

I include some kind of shortbread cookie on my Christmas cookie platter every year because it’s important to have one cookie that’s easy to make and not time-consuming. I save the time-consuming part for the sugar cookie decorating. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is in charge of doing all the Christmas baking is not to commit to cookies that all require extensive amounts of time to make and decorate. Don’t get overly ambitious — making a large amount of cookies is ambitious enough, no matter the type. To do a platter well, you need to choose what you want to spend time on, and what you want to keep simple and delicious. There’s a large variety of shortbread recipes out there to choose from. Shortbread is one of the easiest things to make, which is why I always choose at least one type for my platter.

When I think of shortbread, I tend to think of simple, buttery, and sometimes dry, plain cookies. These pecan fingers are pretty far from that. They are sweeter than your average shortbread, but overall have a warm flavor to them because of the pecans and brown sugar. I will likely bring these back to my assortment this year because my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in flour until just evenly moistened. With hand, press dough together to form ball.

Divide dough in half. On half of an ungreased large cookie sheet, roll half of dough, covered with waxed paper, lengthwise into 12-inch by 5-inch rectangle. On same cookie sheet, repeat with remaining dough, 1 1/2 inches from first rectangle. With fork, prick dough at 1-inch intervals. Press tines of fork along long side of rectangles to form decorative edge. Sprinkle pecans evenly over rectangles; press gently to adhere.

Bake until edges are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, cut each rectangle crosswise into 12 finger-shaped cookies. Transfer fingers to wire rack to cool. Store in tightly covered container up to 1 week.