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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spectacular Side Dishes, Part II

I'm so sorry for the long absence.  Apparently, I have a knack for bad timing...the last couple of times I logged on to blog, the site was down for "maintenance."  I could view, but I couldn't post.

During my blogger-induced hiatus, there were two side dishes that I prepared and feel are worthy filing in the "spectacular side dish" category.

The first is from Rachael Ray's "365: No Repeats" cookbook.  It's a warm salad that is heavenly.  Roasted tomatoes and wilted spinach may not sound too exciting but when Mr. Terrific (who cringes every time he hears the word "spinach") is filling his plate with seconds while my 15-year-old is proclaiming "the salad is superb," I know that this is a keeper.

The second is my version of potato skins.  They're very easy to prepare and a nice departure from the mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes I usually serve.

Rachael Ray's
Roasted Tomato Salad with Pine Nuts and Blue Cheese
  • 6 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 8 oz baby spinach*
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese*
*confession time: the original recipe calls for 12 oz baby spinach and 3/4 cup blue cheese.   As usual, I changed the recipe to suit my family's preferences.....

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

I toast the pine nuts in the oven while it preheats.  Just arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

Please don't skip the pine nuts!  I would never just eat pine nuts as they are........I think they taste funny.  But toasted, in this salad, I love them.

They can be hard to find (or expensive!).  One of the smaller local supermarkets sells them for $14.99 for a very small jar........yikes.  I usually buy them in bulk so that I can buy just the amount that I need, or I buy the Diamond brand prepackaged pine nuts, found in the baking aisle of the larger supermarkets.   Still not inexpensive, but at around $5 for 1/2 cup, I can get two recipe's worth out of this package.
Cut the tomatoes in half.  I lop off the top....nobody likes to bite into that stem end of the tomato and then have to spit it out because it is unchewable.  So lop it off, discard it, and then slice the topless (ooh-la-la!) tomato in half.

I place the tomatoes into a bowl, drizzle them with about a tablespoon of the olive oil and add the thyme and garlic, and some salt and pepper.  Toss them in the seasonings......

.......and then arrange them on a baking sheet.  I make sure they are all cut-side up and I spread them with any remnants of the seasoning that might be left in the bowl.

By now, your oven should be preheated and the pine nuts will look like this, all nice and toasty-brown.

Remove the pine nuts from the oven to cool.  Place your tomatoes in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Juice your lemon--squeeze it, ream it, press it.  By any means necessary.

You may remember reading about how much I love my citrus press in this previous post .

While your tomatoes are roasting, place the spinach and pine nuts in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil (about 1 tablespoon).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss lightly.

Remove the roasted tomatoes from the oven.  I chop them into quarters, so they are roughly sort-of kinda bite-sized, more or less.

Add them to the salad and toss.  The hot tomatoes will perfectly wilt the spinach.

Serve immediately, with blue cheese crumbled on top.

Potato Skins
  • 12 baby potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar (or cheddar jack)
  • 4 cooked bacon slices, crumbled
  •  sour cream
  • fresh chives

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

After scrubbing and washing your potatoes, poke each one with a fork a couple of times.  This will let out the steam as they cook, so they don't explode.

I missed one once when I was poking, and it did explode.

Arrange them in a circle around the perimeter of a plate (they just seem to cook better that way).  Cook them on HIGH in the microwave.  I put them in for 5 minutes, then I flipped them over and cooked them for 4 more minutes. 

You may need to adjust your cooking time, depending upon how powerful your microwave is.  I think 5 minutes is a good starting point, then when you take them out use your judgement as to how much longer you think they need.  If you can easily stick a toothpick into them, they are done.
Cut them in half and place them on a baking sheet.  Interesting, there were some yellow potatoes mixed into my bag of baby white potatoes. 
They will be hot, hot, hot, so give them a couple of minutes to cool down.  You don't want to burn your fingers.

Scoop out a little bit of potato from the inside.  As much or as little as you like.  They are so small, there really isn't a lot of potato to them.  On my lazy days, I have made them without scooping anything out at all.

Today, I used a measuring tablespoon to scoop out a little bit (a melonballer also works well), because I wanted them to look special for you.
Brush a bit of olive oil around the rim.  Melted butter also works well.  This prevents them from drying out when you put them into your oven.  (Don't forget, the potato skins you get in a restaurant are usually deep-fried.  They don't have to worry about drying out because they were totally immersed in frying oil.  Even when you prepare them this way by brushing them with a smidge of oil or butter, you're waaaaay ahead in the calorie count!)

Please disregard the way it appears as if I'm brushing the entire potato with oil.  Okay, it doesn't just appear that way, I guess I did brush this particular potato inside and out.  Brushing the potato with my left hand (and I'm not left-handed), holding the camera with my right hand and trying to take a picture really stretches the limits of my coordination.

You really don't need to brush the inside of the potato 1. because it will be filled with cheese and therefore will not dry out and 2. the oil will collect in the bottom of the potato, and if that happens? Well, then, you're not so ahead in the calorie count after all, are you?  Not that these are low-calorie.  Just that there's not a lot of additional oil added, unlike the deep-fried ones you get in a restaurant.  I'll stop rambling now.

After you've scooped out the innards.......

Fill 'em up with the shredded cheese and sprinkle them with bacon.  It will take about 1 to 2 tablespoons of cheese in each one.

If you buy the "pre-cooked" bacon all you have to do is chop up the slices since the cooking has been done for you.

I did not have pre-cooked bacon.  I chopped up the bacon before I cooked it, that way the pieces were uniform in size.  When I cook it first and then try to crumble it, I end up with some pieces that are too large, and some that are essentially just crumbs.

I should have taken pictures for you, but I forgot.  Pretend that you are looking at a picture of 4 strips of bacon cut into 1/2" pieces.  Now pretend you see them frying in a pan.  Then visualize them draining on a paper towel.

Put the potatoes into your preheated 400 degree oven for 8 minutes.

If you happen to be preparing any other food items that require your oven (and you don't have a double oven that enables you to prepare multiple dishes at different temps), these potato skins are very forgiving and easy to prepare at whatever temperature your oven is set at.  You have essentially cooked them, you're just reheating them so that the cheese can melt and the edges can get a little crispy.

In a perfect world, they would be in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes.  But if your oven is already in use at a lower temp, you can just put them in for a longer period of time.  If your oven is set to a higher temp, then you will shorten their cooking time.

While the potatoes finish cooking, prepare your sour cream and chives.

I was so happy to be able to use chives from my herb garden.
If I were making these potato skins for a party (in which case I would have prepared a lot more potatoes), I would prepare the sour cream and chives in a larger bowl.  But because this time I am preparing them as a side dish with dinner, and there are only four of us here, everyone will get their own individual bowl of sour cream and chives.

And I am the only one here who actually likes sour cream and chives on my potatoes.  So I only did one individual bowl.

Put a dollop of sour cream (just like the commercial says, a dollop) into a small bowl and snip some chives all over it.

Remove the potato skins from the oven and serve immediately.
Don't forget the sour cream.  Enjoy!!

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