Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

As some of you know Jamison is a pick eater. On top of this, a few years back, we found out he can’t really tolerate gluten. Not a big deal, but when the majority of your diet is in some form of gluten, you’ve got problems. Every once in a while, I go out on a limb and try to make something different for him to eat, though he’s not much of a “Let’s try something new!” sort of person. I get bored with his food. He suffers through, but I’m completely bored to tears, and this is how this came about.

He’ll eat bacon, he’ll eat cheese, he’ll eat potatoes, why not toss them all together and make something new. I knew it was a crap shoot whether he’d eat it or not, but hey, I like all those things too, so it was all good, and that’s exactly what this was…all good! Jamison even liked it, and Jamison liking something, especially food, well that’s not a common occurrence.

The great thing about this, is there are no wrong answers. A little more of this, a little more of that, it all works. This is also a good dish for using left over baked or mashed potatoes. I always like something that takes leftovers to a new level. It’s a win, win, win, win situation! 😉

What You’ll Need:
10-12 potatoes, baked and peeled (Note: Just fill up most of a 13 X 9 inch dish with potatoes.)
1 package of uncured, natural bacon, chopped and cooked and drained
1 cup of half and half or heavy cream, divided
1 stick of butter, melted
Sea salt (Note: If you want to just go crazy use season salt instead!)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 – 8 ounce block of cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

First you want to bake your potatoes and let them cool. Or you can use left over potatoes. It’s all up to you. You want enough potatoes to basically fill a 13 X 9 inch dish with mashed potatoes when it’s done. This go around I baked them for the recipe specifically.

Bake those potatoes, let them cool, peel the skin off. Set aside.

While the potatoes are baking, chop up a package of bacon and cook until crispy. Drain and set aside.

Next shred your cheese. I can’t stress this enough…take the time and shred it yourself. The stuff you buy pre-shredded is weird and has stuff in it to keep it “separate” and from molding. You want cheese, not fillers. It’s so much better when you start with a block of cheese and shred it yourself.

Trust me.

After your potatoes are cooled, and all of your ingredients are ready, turn your oven on and start mixing!

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl mash the potatoes with butter, 1/2 cup of half and half or cream, salt, pepper, 1 cup of cheese and sour cream. You want the consistency of mashed potatoes. If you need to add a bit more dairy or sour cream to get it right, go for it. Once you hit the right consistency stop adding. Just add a bit at a time. Sometimes you won’t need to, others you might. Sometimes potatoes are more dry than others.

Spray a 13 X 9 inch dish with non-stick spray. You can use the dish you baked the potatoes in if you like, that’s what I did. Spread potato mixture in to the dish. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the rest of the cheese and all of the bacon. Then pour 1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream over the top of the cheese and bacon evenly.

Bake for for 25 minutes covered. Uncover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until slightly golden and bubbly.

Let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

Notes: You could serve this by topping it with a bit of sour cream and some chives or green onion if you wanted, but trust me, it’s good just as it is!

Triple Bread Stuffing

Triple Bread Stuffing

One of the main reasons the holidays are my favorite time of the year is stuffing! Stuffing (or dressing, depending on what you want to call it) is often neglected during other times of the year and it really is a fabulous side dish no matter what the season.

There are many different ways to make stuffing. My mom makes a really fabulous corn bread stuffing that brings back memories of my childhood. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to like one made with various types of bread instead. Some people add oysters, some people add fruit…In short there is no wrong or right way to make stuffing. What matters is whether YOU like it or not!

To me stuffing needs some basic ingredients and you can’t forget the sage! Lots of sage is key! This stuffing is a very simple, yet fabulous side dish that is perfect for any meal. Stuffing…It’s not just for the holidays anymore!

What You’ll Need:
1/2 loaf of French bread, cut into cubes
1/2 loaf of Callah bread, cut into cubes
12 buttermilk biscuits, cut into cubes (Note: I make these. See below.)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
6 stalks of celery, chopped
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 large carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons of crushed dry sage
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 quart of chicken broth, at room temperature (Note: I make my own, but store bought is fine.)
2 eggs

I usually buy the Callah and French bread, but I make the biscuits. They’re simple. In a large bowl mix 2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 tablespoon of baking power and 1 tablespoon of organic cane sugar until completely incorporated. Using a pastry blender or a fork cut in 1 stick of softened butter until mixture is pebbly. Add 1+ cups of buttermilk to this mixture and stir to make your biscuit dough. Sometimes you need more buttermilk, sometimes less. It all has to do with humidity and such. You want a dough that you can handle without sticking to your hands. Roll dough out on a floured surface and cut into biscuits. Bake in a preheated 425 F oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Simple and delicious! If you don’t want to make the biscuits you and purchase them at the store. Most freezer sections have frozen buttermilk biscuits these days.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Cut all three breads into bite sized cubes. Toss with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and bake for 4-6 minutes until golden brown and crouton like.

Remove bread from the oven and let the cubes cool to room temperature.

When you’re ready to make the stuffing preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large stock pot saute onion and celery in a little extra virgin olive oil with the sea salt and pepper until just tender. Add the carrots and cook for an additional 1 minute and then remove from heat.

Once the vegetable mixture is off of the heat add the chicken broth, sage and thyme and stir to mix. Slowly add egg and stir until incorporated.

Place cooled bread cubes in a very large bowl and pour the liquid mixture over them and toss to coat.

Pour coated mixture into a 13 X 9 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Serve immediately or you can let it cool and freeze for use later.

Notes: You could add mushrooms in to this for an added treat. You could also use other kinds of bread. It’s a mix and match sort of dish.

Cheesy Mexican Rice

Cheesy Mexican Rice

Who can believe it’s already September? The years seem to go faster and faster every year. Alexis started third grade today. How is it possible that she’s even old enough to be in third grade?

But I digress…

On Sunday afternoon we had some friends over for a Tex Mex feast. We had spent the Sundays before Memorial Day and the 4th of July together, so I decided we needed to make it a trifecta with Labor Day and invited them over for an early dinner. The kids played, we talked, we ate, we had fun! That’s what friends are for.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the recipes from Sunday. You’ll see queso, sour cream enciladas and a fabulous Triple Chocolate Ganache Cake that is so sinful you might just gain five pounds looking at the screen! I’ve also got a roasted vegetable enchilada recipe that I made a month ago or so, along with Cheesy Potato skins and honey butter. You’ll want to stay tuned for the queso and Chocolate Ganache Cake alone, but the other recipes are lovely too!

I love Mexican themed foods. My dishes are most likely labeled more Tex Mex than Mexican, but I use the terms interchangeably depending on my mood. This dish is the very epitome of comfort food…It’s warm, hearty and extremely satisfying. Plus it’s a little spicy, which is always a good thing in my book! It makes the perfect side dish to a Tex Mex/Mexican feast. Try it, you’ll like it!

What You’ll Need:
2 cups of uncooked rice (Note: You can use whatever kind of rice you like. I usually use jasmine or brown rice. I used jasmine this go around)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bell pepper, chopped (Note: Use what ever color you like.)
1 onion, chopped (Note: Again what ever type you like. I usually use red onion, but this go around I used Vidalia instead.)
3 cups of creamed corn (Note: I used some I had made myself, but you could substitute two cans of creamed corn if you like.)
1 can of Rotel, undrained
1 – 6 ounce can of fired roasted peppers, chopped
1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, cut in to cubes and softened
1 cup of Colby or cheddar
1 cup of Monterrey Jack
Sea salt
Finely ground black pepper
More cheddar, Colby and/or Monterrey Jack Cheese for topping

In a large stock pot cook rice according to package directions and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large skillet saute bell pepper and onion in a little extra virgin olive oil until tender.

Once onions and peppers are tender stir in a generous pinch of sea salt, some finely ground black pepper, creamed corn, fired roasted peppers and Rotel and stir until mixed.

Add cream cheese, Colby or Cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese to the vegetable mixture and stir until melted and thoroughly combined throughout the vegetables.

Pour vegetable and cheese mixture in to the stock pot with the cooked rice and stir until combined.

Spray a 13 X 9 inch dish with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil. Pour the mixed vegetable mixture into the dish and spread it out to fill the dish. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with shredded Colby, cheddar and/or Monterrey Jack cheese(s) and place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Remove dish from oven and let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.

Cheesy Mexican Rice

Notes: If you can’t find Rotel you could use a small jar of salsa instead, but the Rotel gives it a better over all flavor. This makes great leftovers too!

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes

I have always loved scalloped potatoes. I mean what’s not to like? Potatoes, cheese? It’s the perfect comfort food! I always had this impression that they would be hard to make. It’s another one of those things I just assumed was difficult and well you know what they say about assuming….

Lately I’ve grown tired of mashed potatoes because Jamison eats way too many of them so I thought I’d play around with this mixture and see what I came up with. The result? The result is a creamy, savory bite of fabulousness! Even Jamison liked these and that’s saying something!

This dish is simple, quick and makes a really great side dish that is just perfect for a holiday or even a weeknight dinner. Try it and see!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
Sea salt
Black pepper
Cheddar, shredded
Half and half or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Brush a baking dish with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Add a layer of potatoes to the bottom of the dish:

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes: Potatoes

Next sprinkle with sea salt and finely ground black pepper:

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes: Sea Salt and Pepper

Top with a layer of cheese:

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes: Cheese

Repeat this process until you reach the top of your baking dish and top with a thick layer of cheddar.

Next pour half and half or heavy cream over the entire mixture until 1/4th of the dish is filled with the liquid. Makes sure you spread it out all over the top as you pour.

Place on a baking sheet to prevent spills and bake for 35-45 minutes until fork tender:

Sinfully Easy Scalloped Potatoes

Let sit for 5-10 minutes and then serve.

Notes: You can use a mix of different cheeses if you like. Monterrey Jack, Gruyere, Parmesan, Gouda, etc. I like to bake this in individual serving dishes sometimes.

Easy Peasy Mexican Rice

Easy Peasy Mexican Rice

Usually when I make Mexican rice it’s more of an entailed sort of experience. (I’ll share that recipe with you later this summer!) The other night I really wanted some Mexican rice because we were having fajitas, but I was pressed for time so I decided to make something a bit more quickly and this is what I came up with!

This recipe is quick, easy and delicious. It’s just perfect for a weeknight when things can get a bit hectic!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup of uncooked rice
1 – 10 ounce can of Rotel
1 – 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 – 4.25 ounce can of green chilies
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of chili powder

In a large pot saute onion in a little olive oil until tender.

Stir in rice and cook for 1-2 minutes to “wake it up” a bit.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix. Cook for 20-25 minutes until mixture thickens and rice is tender.

Sinfully easy, but oh so delicious! I like recipes like that!

Notes: You can use brown or white rice. Wild rice even works.

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are one of those quintessential sides dishes that often grace dinner tables across the world. Don’t get me wrong, a basic mashed potato has its place, but it’s also fun to shake them up a bit! Jamison is a strictly plain mashed potato sort of guy and Alexis actually doesn’t care for mashed potatoes, so I don’t shake them up often, but when I do oh my!

Rosemary is one of my favorite all time things. I can’t even begin to explain to you my adoration for rosemary. I like it dried, I like it fresh and oh my the smell of rosemary can just perk me right up on the weariest of days! In other words rosemary is good!

By pairing two simple ingredients garlic and rosemary, with a little Parmesan, you end up with a really fabulous, really delicious side dish that really hits the spot. What is better than that?

What You’ll Need:
1 bulb of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds of red skinned potatoes
2 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of fat free half and half (or any other type of dairy)
1 tablespoon of crushed Rosemary or 2 tablespoon of freshly chopped rosemary
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese (the kind you shred yourself)

Preheat oven toe 425 F.

Cut the top of the bulb of garlic off and place on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and then wrap up the foil around the bulb. Place in a preheat oven for 20-30 minutes, until garlic sticks tender.

Let cool and then squeeze the roasted cloves of garlic out of the skin. Set aside.

Cut red skinned potatoes into chunks (don’t remove the skins) and place in a pot with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.

While the potatoes are cooking place butter and half and half in a large glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or so until butter is melted and half and half is warm. Add roasted garlic, rosemary, a generous pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and stir until incorporated. If your garlic is chunky then mash it a bit to make it a bit more smooth.

When potatoes are done drain well and add them to the bowl with the butter mixture along with the Parmesan. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes and stir to mix in the ingredients from the bowl. I like the texture to be a bit chunky, but you can mash them as fine as you like.

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Serve immediately.

Notes: The garlic can be roasted and stored in the fridge for up to a week. You could also sprinkle on some chopped parsley on top if you liked.

Eggplant Fries with Creamy Onion Dip

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip

I love eggplant. I wasn’t always smitten with this lovely plant, but over time it is one of those things that has grown on me and then some! It’s amazing how tastes change over time.

There are many ways to prepare eggplant, but I have to say this version has to be my all time favorite! These “fries” are just perfect and I seriously think I’ve found a new addiction! If you want something a little different, and a little bit healthier than your average fry, then look no further…You’ve found exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for!

What You’ll Need:
1 eggplant, cut into strips
1 cup of plain bread crumbs
1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Extra sea salt for sprinkling
Extra finely ground black pepper for sprinkling
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Cut the top and bottom off of your eggplant:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Top and Bottom

Cut the eggplant in half:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Halves

And then cut the halves in half:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Quarters

Next cut the eggplant quarters into slices roughly 1/4 of an inch thick:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Slices

Now cut the eggplants pieces into strips roughly the size of french fries:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Strips

Continue cutting strips until you run out of eggplant. Place all of the strips on a plate:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Eggplant Strips Ready to Dredge

Sprinkle strips with sea salt, finely ground black pepper and drizzle with olive oil:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Sea Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil

Toss around to coat. It’s easiest to just use your hands for this step.

Set aside for a few moments.

Now you are going to mix up your breading. In a shallow dish, such as a pie dish, stir together bread crumbs, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon each of sea salt, finely ground black pepper and oregano. Mix well.

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Breading

Roll sticks in breading mixture:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Ready to Dredge

Until coated on all sides and then place on a baking sheet that has been lined with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Ready to Bake

Make sure the “fries” are mostly not touching.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Eggplant "Fries": Baked

Serve immediately with Creamy Onion Dip (see below).

Notes: You can use this method with mushrooms, zucchini or yellow squash as well. You can store any left over breading in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a month. It’s good on chicken too.

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Creamy Onion Dip

What You’ll Need for the Creamy Onion Dip:
1/2 cup of light sour cream
1/4 cup of chopped dried onions
1/4 cup of boiling water
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder (Note: You can use garlic salt if you like, but if you do omit the sea salt below.)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

While the “fries” are baking make your dip.

Place dried onions in the bottom of a glass bowl:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Creamy Onion Dip: Dried Onions

Pour boiling water over the onions:

Eggplant "Fries" with Creamy Onion Dip: Creamy Onion Dip: Onions Soaking

Let sit until water is all or mostly absorbed by the onions.

This will take 1-3 minutes. Don’t worry if all of the water isn’t absorbed. A tablespoon or so at the bottom isn’t a big deal and actually helps the dip come together.

Stir in seasonings and sour cream and mix until completely incorporated. Chill or serve immediately.

Notes: If you don’t have, or can’t find dried onions, then you can caramelize 1/2 of a small onion and use that instead.

Smash Potatoes

Smash Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the quintessential side dishes that you often see on the menu. Most people like potatoes so they are a safe bet in most cases. Mashed, roasted, boiled, fried, the ways to make them are endless, yet perfect!

This version uses boiled new potatoes and takes them to a whole other level! Herbs, garlic and olive oil combine to make an interesting, yet delicious take on a classic side dish. Who says potatoes can’t have a little pizazz??

What You’ll Need:
1 pound of new potatoes, cooked to fork tender
Extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
Fresh chives, chopped
Fresh Rosemary, chopped
Sea salt
Finely ground black pepper

In a large pot of water boil new potatoes with a little sea salt until fork tender. Drain potatoes and set aside:

Smash Potatoes: New Potatoes

Chop herbs and garlic and have them ready to go:

Smash Potatoes: Herbs and Garlic

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Place cooked new potatoes on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper:

Smash Potatoes: Ready to Smash

Using a heavy cup or glass smash the potatoes flat:

Smash Potatoes: Smashed

Drizzle with olive oil:

Smash Potatoes: Olive Oil

Add garlic:

Smash Potatoes: Garlic

Sprinkle with herbs, sea salt and pepper:

Smash Potatoes: Herbs

(Note: I actually forgot to add the salt until AFTER they baked, but this is where you should add it, before you put it in the oven.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown:

Smash Potatoes: Baked

Serve immediately.

Left overs also make the perfect addition to a big salad:

Smash Potatoes: Leftovers in a Salad

Notes: You can use any herbs you like. You could also add some grated Parmesan cheese if you liked.

Bow Tie Pasta Salad

Bow Tie Pasta Salad

I love pasta salads. They are so easy to throw together and you have something fabulous, yet delicious that is so easy to share! Pasta salads are just perfect for cook outs, picnics or even pot luck dinners.

This is the pasta salad that I ultimately sent to the shelter a few weeks back. It combines pasta, fresh vegetables, a few canned items and dried herbs to make the perfect all around dish. Easy and delicious…Now I like that!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 1 pound box of bow tie (farfalle) pasta, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 – 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 – 3.8 ounce can of black olives, drained and sliced
1 cucumber, speared and chopped
1-2 raw ears of corn, stripped
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese

Cook bow tie pasta, drain and set aside to cool. (Note: If you want to speed up the cooling process you can run cool water over the pasta and it cools almost immediately.)

Bow Tie Pasta Salad: Bow Tie Pasta

In a large glass bowl toss together diced tomatoes, black olives, cucumber and corn until well mixed:

Bow Tie Pasta Salad: Vegetables

Next up is mixing your dressing. I like to use a canning jar and shake it all together, but you can whisk it in a bowl if you like.

Add olive oil, vinegar, oregano, basil, thyme, sea salt, pepper and Parmesan to a glass jar and place the lid on tightly. Shake until ingredients are well mixed:

Bow Tie Pasta Salad: Dressing

Add cooled bow tie pasta and dressing mix to the bowl with the vegetables and toss to coat:

Bow Tie Pasta Salad

Chill for at least 2 hours to overnight and then serve.

Notes: You could add chopped onion and or bell pepper. Since this doesn’t use fresh tomatoes you don’t have to worry as much about the vinegar breaking down the tomatoes. I would still eat it within a day or two or making it though.

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

A couple of weeks ago I was testing out pasta salad ideas trying to decided what I wanted to take to church for them to bring to the shelter. This was one of the dishes that I came up with and I loved it! You know me and Old Bay…It’s one of my favorite things!

I really loved how this turned out, but not everyone is a fan of Old Bay and some people think it’s a little hot, so ultimately I went with something a bit more “tame”, but I wanted to shared this with you anyway! The vegetables are just the right cool bite, while the Old Bay gives it some zing! This is just perfect as a side dish or even as a main course on a hot summer day!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 14.5 ounce package of macaroni noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled (Note: I used a whole grain variety, but you any kind will do.)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 a large red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, cut into spears and then chopped
1 carrot, shredded
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1-2 ounces of sundried tomatoes, chopped (Note: I like to use the ones that are not packed in oil for this, but either would work.)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of light sour cream
1/4 cup of light mayo
1 tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning

Cook your pasta, drain and cool. If you want to cool it quickly rinse it with cool water.

Old Bay Macaroni Salad: Macaroni

Place cooled pasta in a large glass bowl. Add bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, carrot and sundried tomatoes and toss or stir to mix. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together sour cream, mayo and Old Bay seasoning until well mixed:

Old Bay Macaroni Salad: Dressing

Add Old Bay mixture to the pasta/vegetable mixture and stir to mix:

Old Bay Macaroni Salad

Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for several hours before serving.

Notes: Squash or zucchini would be a nice addition, or perhaps some sauteed mushrooms or peas. Some shredded Parmesan would be fabulous too!