Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I can take or leave a baked potato. Certainly I’ve never been attracted by the classic version with all the fixin’s; as a child I had a distinct aversion to toppings, and I still dislike big dollops of sour cream. But apparently I’m attracted to soups topped with bacon, cheddar, and green onions, because when I saw this recipe in the October issue of Cooking Light, I immediately flagged it. (Later I realized that my pictures of it look almost exactly like the photos of CL’s identically garnished summer squash and corn chowder from last month. I am nothing if not consistent!) I thought the soup looked like a basic, quick, comforting, A-friendly weeknight meal, nothing more, but I was surprised by how good it actually was—so flavorful for such a simple ingredient list, and if I may say so, way better than a dry and flaky baked potato.

I used to be a diehard faithful recipe-follower, but so often lately I find myself rebelling against the dictates of CL. I know the magazine has strict parameters for healthiness and, in many sections, speed, and I support both of those concepts in theory, but not when they run counter to good sense. I guess it means that I’ve grown as a cook, that I’ve seen enough recipes to look at one and instantly see how I’d adapt it to my style. So: no prechopped onions for me, and no microwaving the bacon—why let all that delicious bacony goodness go to waste? Instead I crisped up the bacon (I used one slice extra, because A is a relentless bacon lobbyist and I am weak) in the pan, removed it, and then cooked the onion in the bacon fat—for much longer than CL’s oddly precise “3 minutes,” too, because there is nothing like tender, caramelized onion with potatoes, and besides, I was still getting the other ingredients ready before I could proceed. This ended up adding so much flavor to the soup that I think it’s well worth the small amount of extra time. My adaptation for the potatoes was less successful. Our microwave is old and temperamental, and cooking anything in it for longer than five minutes usually makes it overheat and temporarily burn out. Luckily, I rarely have cause to microwave anything that long—the only times I’ve made it burn out are times when I’m desperately zapping frozen chicken broth that I forgot to defrost in the refrigerator ahead of time), but CL wanted me to do the potatoes for 13 minutes. Instead, I peeled them and then boiled them—a rookie mistake. They were so moist that when I added them to the pot and (instead of “mashing them into the soup,” which sounded like a lumpy pain) pulsed them briefly with my immersion blender (second rookie mistake), they merged with the white sauce and the sour cream (which I may claim to dislike, but I gotta say, it added a wonderful zing to the soup) to create a super-thick mixture that hovered on the verge between “incredibly rich and creamy” and “rather paste-like.” It still tasted great, and A (who normally fears creamy things) said he liked it the way it was, and I could have thinned it with more chicken broth if I’d had any, but it would have been better if I’d just baked the potatoes in the oven. With that caveat, I’d definitely make this again. Even with my stubbornly less convenient changes, it was a fast, easy, and satisfying weeknight meal. (We had roasted broccoli on the side, highly recommended to complete the loaded-baked-potato theme.)

Oh, and I increased the other topping quantities a bit, too. I can never resist cheese, and maybe I’m not chopping my green onions finely enough, but the 1 teaspoon CL wanted me to put on each serving equaled about silly little four pieces, so I upped it to 1 tablespoon per bowl. Childhood plain-potato me would be shocked!

4 6-ounce red potatoes
½ cup chopped onion
1¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 1% milk, divided
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon, diced
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

1. Pierce potatoes with a fork. Microwave on high 13 minutes or until tender (or bake in the oven at 350 degrees until tender--30 minutes, maybe?). Cut in half; cool slightly.

2. While potatoes cook, cook bacon in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. To the bacon fat in the saucepan, add onion and sauté until softened. Add broth. Combine flour and ½ cup milk; add to pan with remaining 1½ cups milk. Bring to a boil; stir often. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream, salt, and pepper.

4. Peel potatoes and discard skins. Coarsely mash potatoes into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and top each serving with cheese, green onions, and bacon.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 to 80 minutes, depending on how you cook the potatoes
Leftover potential: High; even tastier the next day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


A tasty and amazingly fast (if you roast the garlic ahead of time) quinoa recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the quantities, as recommended by the CL commenters, because I wanted to serve it as a main dish--and also because roasting a head of garlic and then only using half of it (“save the other half for another use”) is just silly. I swear, there is a certain proportion of silliness in every CL recipe. However, it’s still definitely a petite main (although it was pretty satisfying, the bowls looked awfully meager as I dished them up—only about 1 cup per serving), and might be more fulfilling as a hearty side with some chicken or fish or something as the entrée…or maybe it just needed to be served with a side salad? I liked that this is basically constructed like a risotto, because I enjoy the flavor and texture of quinoa so much more than rice. I’m always tempted by risotto recipes and then I make them and remember I am decidedly MEH ricewise. I briefly got excited about the idea of converting all (er, both?) of my existing risotto recipes to use quinoa instead, but A gently discouraged me. He liked this meal fine, but he’s definitely not a true quinoa believer yet.

1 whole garlic head
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian)
1 cup baby spinach leaves (I probably used more; it shrinks down so much anyway)
⅔ cup chopped seeded tomato (I used halved cherry tomatoes)
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt

1. To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the outer papery skin from the head of garlic and cut off the top ¼ inch of the head, so just the very tops of the cloves are exposed. Drizzle a little olive oil over the garlic, wrap it loosely in foil, and place the foil package in the oven for about 1 hour, until the cloves are soft. Let cool slightly, then squeeze the soft cloves out and roughly chop them, discarding the skins. (Roasted garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for several days.)

2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and red pepper flakes to pan; cook 1 minute. Add quinoa to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in garlic pulp, spinach, tomato, cheese, and salt.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour for roasting the garlic