Instant Mashed Potatoes (how to make them taste like they aren’t)

More of my musings on how to make convenience foods like instant mashed potatoes into a more elegant, tasty dish.
A short entry today, being Thanksgiving and all.

Instant Mashed Potatoes (serves 8 )

Start with the things you need to bring to a boil:

2 2/3 cups half and half
1 Tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter
1 1/3 cups milk

Bring this to a boil slowly, you do not want to scald the dairy products! Once they are boiling, you can remove your pan from the heat. Give everything a good stir, then add the instant potato flakes slowly stirring them in with a fork, ensuring the mixture does not become too dry. Once all of the flakes are in, whip them up until they are smooth. Add water sparingly if they are too dry. If they are too wet, add more flask about 1 tablespoon at a time.

So now you’ve got all these potatoes, what’s going to make them special?

Well, how about some garlic powder and minced garlic to taste?

Maybe some sour cream.

How about garlic powder, sour cram, and cheddar cheese mixed in, then baked?

A little more butter.

Fresh ground pepper.

Smoked paprika.

Fresh chopped parsley on top or mixed in.

Getting the idea? Try something different, you might be surprised by what you discover.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Extra rich and creamy potato goodness, need I say more?

Au Gratin Potatoes

Seeing this males you wanna jump in. Admit it, it’s OK.

3 to 4 medium russet potatoes, peeled
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons flour
garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoon butter, softened
3 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoon parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the potatoes into 1/8” slices.
Beat together cream, milk, flour, garlic, salt, and pepper by hand until well combined.
Coat inside of large baking dish with softened butter.
Arrange ¼ of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish.
Pour some of the cream mixture over the potatoes.
Repeat this layering step three more times.
Stop adding the cream mixture when it is level with the sliced potatoes in the baking dish.
Cover the potatoes and bake for 20 minutes.
Uncover and bake another 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are starting to brown on top.
Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the potatoes and continue to bake for 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned and the potatoes are tender.
Sprinkle parsley on top and serve.


Slice the potatoes with a mandolin, very thin slices.

You don’t have to use fresh garlic but do sprinkle some garlic salt on each layer of potatoes.

Add a little cheese to the middle layer of potatoes, just to give them a little flavor all the way through. I like to use a mix of smoked cheddar and mild cheddar cheese.

This recipe will feed 2 or 3 people. Use a small baking dish for this amount. Maybe an 8×8. If you want to make more, use a larger pan and be prepared to double the cream mixture (as well as the potatoes). I think I made them in a 7×11” pan and it fed 5 or 6 of us.

I allow the milk and cream to come to room temperature beforehand so that no baking time is wasted warming it up in the oven.

I overlap the potato slices in the pan, alternating the direction so it’s a solid mass of potato goodness.

I increase the cream mixture by at least twice. Letting the dish bake longer with more sauce seems to make it even better. Creamy goodness.

Place four pats of butter between two of the layers.

I increase the initial baking time to 50 minutes and decrease the second time to 40 minutes, it just thickens the whole mixture up more. Make sure you watch how the dish is browning, it can go dark quickly if you’re not keeping an eye on it.

Also, I don’t bother measuring the cheese. I spread most of a 1 lb. bag of shredded cheese on top. Just pour it on until the cheese is level with the top of the dish.

An 8″ x 8″ x 2″ Pyrex dish works great for this and is MUCH easier to clean up afterwards. Use a 15″ x 10″ x 2″ if you’re making a double recipe.

This dish freezes well.

Chicken Stock

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Chicken stock. We use it in many dishes. It’s almost as prevalent as salt and pepper.
So what kind do you use? I admit, the boxed containers with their easy-pour spots are convenient. But are they really the best flavor? I think not.

The Ingredients
3-4 Lbs of chicken parts like necks, wings, backs, etc.
2 whole carrots cut into thick slices
1 large onion, quartered
4 ribs celery, cut in half or quarters
7-8 sprigs of fresh thyme
7-8 springs fresh parsley (use the stems and all, think flavor)
2 whole bay leaves
8-10 whole peppercorns
2 gallons cold water
(please note the complete absence of salt)

Put everything into a big stock pot, mix well.  Bring to a slow boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Check for and remove any scum that appears in the pot a few times per hour. Keep an eye on the water level so all ingredients are kept submerged. Add hot water as needed. Cook for a minimum of 6 hours. More is better in this case. Plan to make this when you have time to devote to it. Saturdays are usually good for this type of thing.

After the stock is cooked, use a mesh strainer to pull out the large pieces of chicken etc. and place in a bowl. After you have as much of that out as you can get, strain the stock thru the mesh into another pot. Then immediately place that pot in a sink of ice water. You can also use a picnic cooler for this. Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature, once it is below 40 degrees, cover the pot and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, carefully remove any solid fat that has accumulated on the top. Store liquid in refrigerator or better yet, in the freezer. Shelf life in the fridge is 2-3 days, in the freezer it’s 3 months. I find it is a good idea to freeze the stock in 1 quart containers so it’s easily used in recipes.

After all that is done, don’t forget to carefully sort through the chicken parts you pulled out. There is a lot of tasty meat there that is great for many things.

Meatloaf: Just Give it a Try

Meatloaf. Some people hate it, “Peasant food!” they cry. Some folks love it. Count me in the latter category.

Meatloaf is one of those unsung dishes, one that some people rail against yet others dare to order when we see it, hoping the chef is inspired enough to make one that will take us back home.

My hope is that this recipe will be the latter type.

1 lb ground beef (can be ground chuck, whatever you would use normally)
1 lb  pork sausage (I like the spicy kind but any kind of breakfast sausage is OK)
1 Tsp garlic powder
1 Tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tsp seasoned salt
1 Tsp ground black pepper
2/3 cup rolled oats
2 eggs
¼ cup tomato ketchup

Combine the beef and sausage in a large bowl, use your hands to mix the two meats together.

Measure in the dry ingredients along with the eggs. Mix everything together , ensuring no small pockets of dry ingredients remain.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3-4 hours.

Put mixture into a standard 9-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the top is a delicious, crusty brown mass.

Variations, Additions, and Notes

Want to make more? Add another pound of meat and an additional egg. Spice to taste.

I like onions. I normally will put a ¼ cup of finely chopped onion in as well. Be prepared to deal with the extra moisture the onion introduces. I’d use breadcrumbs for this. Add them slowly, don’t want it getting dry.

Spice it up Italian style using Parmesan cheese in place of some of the rolled oats. Use Italian-style breadcrumbs for even more flavor. Put some fresh parsley and basil in. Oregano adds even more flavor. Perhaps some garlic in as well. Use this mixture to make meatballs and serve with a good red sauce and pasta.

Put ½ of the mixture into the loaf pan then place slices of mozzarella cheese so they are in the middle of the loaf. Cover with the remaining mixture and bake normally.

Place American cheese or yes, Velveeta, in the center with cooked bacon and cover. Then place raw bacon strips so the loaf is completely covered in bacon goodness. <drool>

Meatloaf mix will make a great burger! Form the meat into patties and grill normally.

(sorry no pictures for this one. will add some next time I make meatloaf.)

Marinated Copper Pennies

a Carrot Salad

Carrot Salad

2 lbs. carrots
1 med. green pepper, thinly sliced
1 med. onion, thinly sliced

Peel and cook carrots. Cool, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Put carrots, onion and pepper in shallow dish.

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can tomato soup
3/4 c. vinegar
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. prepared mustard

Combine the tomato soup with the vinegar, sugar, oil and salt. Mix it together well. Slowly heat the mixture until sugar dissolves, stirring to prevent burning. Add the Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Blend until well mixed. Pour the hot dressing over your prepared vegetables. Allow it to marinate at least overnight. As is the case with all marinated things, the longer it marinates the better. Will keep up to a week in your refrigerator.

Better Tomato Soup

I don’t always cook from scratch. I’d like to but that isn’t realistic. So what do you do when you’re in a hurry but still want to jazz things up some?

Here are some suggestions for tomato soup, one of my favorites.

1) Use half and half instead of water with the condensed tomato soup. This one suggestion will improve your soup so much, you’ll never know why you didn’t try it before.
2) Garnish your soup. Try some oyster crackers and green onions. How about a spoonful of sour cream with some shredded cheddar cheese over it? Be creative.
3) Use it as the base for a heartier soup. Add some frozen vegetables and some leftover meat to it, makes a better tasting soup.

4) Do not be afraid to season your soup. Put in some Tabasco, a shake or two of Worcestershire sauce, maybe some smoked paprika, definitely some salt and fresh ground pepper.

Fried Rice 101

The Recipe

(Or at least some guidelines for making tasty fried rice)

The basic recipe feeds 4 fairly well. Add extra meat and some vegetables and it can easily stretch to 6. The measurements, outside of the rice ones, are very flexible, feel free to improvise.

Part 1: The Rice

4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water + 2 chicken bouillon cubes
Salt & pepper to taste
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce

As I stated earlier, pre-cooking of the rice is key to the success of your fried rice. This section is the one that I feel is most important as the rice is the very foundation of the dish. Duh!

Measure 4 tablespoons of butter and slowly melt it in a sauce pan, one that has a cover. To that, add 1 cup of long grain white rice. Mix the rice and the butter together until the rice is coated thoroughly. Leave the pan on low heat, don’t turn it up yet. Measure 2 cups of cold chicken stock or water + 2 chicken bouillon cubes and add it to the rice. Turn the heat up until the mixture comes to a boil. While waiting for this, you can add some flavor elements. I like using some soy sauce, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, maybe some garlic. Some things that will liven the flavor up. Mix it all together thoroughly as the whole thing heats up. When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, give the mixture a moment or so to stop boiling to prevent any boil over. Set your timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, move the pan off the burner and let it set for about 10 minutes before removing the cover. Then after removing the cover, let the rice cool to about room temperature and place in a bowl suitable for refrigerator storage. As you put the rice into the bowl, break up clumps so they don’t stick together too much. Refrigerate overnight.

Part 2: The Vegetables & More

¼ cup each of green bell pepper, red bell pepper, yellow pepper, and orange pepper

1 medium sized white onion, finely chopped
¼ cup julienne carrots
½ cup sliced water chestnuts
2-3 green onions, chopped
5-6 slices of cooked bacon, finely chopped

In this section you have some flexibility, ingredientwise. Remember, this should be a feast for your eyes as well as your taste buds and belly. That said, I like using green/red/yellow/orange bell peppers, a medium-sized white onion that has been finely chopped, a ¼ cup or so of julienned carrots, some drained/sliced water chestnuts, a couple of chopped green onions, 5 or 6 slices of slow-cooked bacon that  has been chopped finely,

Part 3: Cooking It

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
½ cup frozen mixed vegetables (I like corns/peas/carrots/beans combo myself)
¼ cup cold water
2 eggs beaten together with ¼ cup of milk

Now the fun starts. Using a medium-sized nonstick skillet over medium high heat, pour approximately 2 tablespoons of cooking oil into the pan. Allow the oil to heat until it starts to shimmer. Cook the garlic in the oil until the aroma just starts to hit your nose. Then, put your veggies, the raw ones; onions, peppers, & carrots in and let them begin to cook. Season them with salt and pepper. After the onions have started to become translucent, turn the heat up a tad and add the rice. Make sure the rice is clump free. Once it is in the pan, mix all the cooked vegetables and rice together. Then evenly spread the rice around the pan. Let it cook for about 4-5 minutes, without stirring. You want to let the rice develop some color and stirring will inhibit those efforts. Once the rice has some color, feel free to add some soy sauce to the mixture, stir it throughout, it will permeate flavor through the rice that way. Add water chestnuts, the green onions, and the bacon. Once those are mixed in, take the frozen mixed vegetables and stir them in thoroughly. Add about ¼ cup of water and mix it through. Once you see some steam start to billow from the pan, cover it, wait 3-5 minutes and test the veggies, make sure the raw ones are all fully-cooked; the frozen ones should be hot throughout.

Now clear a small area in the middle of the pan. Add the beaten eggs to the pan, let them set up just a little then mix them in through the rest of the rice and vegetables. Once they are cooked, remove from heat and serve immediately.

You can use pre-cooked shrimp, leftover pork, chicken, or beef in this as well. If you do, fry it at the same time as the garlic in the Cooking it stage. Cook until the meat develops some browning on all sides, and then continue with the vegetable portion of the recipe.

I hope this recipe helps, let me know if you try it.

Italian Beef


Cooks well in a slow cooker!

6 pound beef roast
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 beef bullion cubes
2 cups warm water

Combine spices in small bowl. Rub mixture over all sides of the beef roast. Place roast in slow cooker. Put one bullion cube on either side of roast in slow cooker. Carefully pour water into cooker taking care not to wash spices off the roast.

Allow to cook on slow cooker’s high setting for no less than 8 hours. I tend to let it go longer as it seems fairly difficult to overcook this dish. I’ve also put more water in so there’s more au juis to dip the sandwiches in.

Remove the beef from your slow cooker and use a fork to shred it. The meat should simply fall apart at this point. Once it is shredded, put it all back in to the slow cooker. I like to use a largish hoagie roll for these. I steam them first so they are a little easier to work with. Place a couple of slices of provolone cheese in the bun, then use tongs to put the meat onto the bun. Once the desired amount of meat is on the roll, dip the entire sandwich into the au juis, letting it soak up just a little bit. Remove it and serve.