Category Archives: Vegetables

Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes

Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes​

Carbs and cheese are the name of the game this week. Wednesday was all about French Onion Grilled Cheese, and today has Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes written all over it.

This recipe is a comfort food mash-up for the ages. Tender, salt-rubbed baked potatoes overstuffed with a rich pimento cheese filling? Sign me up!

Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes​

If you’re unfamiliar with pimento cheese, it’s a popular southern dip/condiment made of cheddar cheese, sweet pimento peppers, black pepper and mayonnaise. It doesn’t sound great when I lay it out like that, but when combined it’s salty, spicy, creamy, tangy, a little sweet—in short, it’s delightful. And that’s coming from someone who despises mayonnaise and is weird about creamy things, so do with that what you will.

Here, we’re ditching the controversial mayo in favor of potato-friendly cream cheese and butter, combining them with pimento cheese staples like extra sharp cheddar, jarred pimentos and a lot of black pepper. Scoop out the innards of some warm baked potatoes, mash in all those creamy, cheesy ingredients along with garlic and onion powders, load that glorious filling back into the empty potato skins and bake again. Top ‘em off with a little more cheese and maybe some more pimentos, if you’re feeling kicky, then serve them up with the sides of your choice and dig in!

Spicy, cheesy, and filling, Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes make a great vegetarian main (or even a side, depending how hungry you are). They’re extra cheesy with plenty of spice from the pepper and some optional cayenne, and that classic pimento cheese tang from the chopped pimentos. In short, they’re what I’m craving as we head into a snowy weekend here in NYC, and that’s a good thing because I have a lot of leftovers.

Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes​
Pimento Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes
makes 4 servings

2 medium-large russet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (or to taste), divided
1 4-ounce jar pimentos
1 8 ounce brick extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided (I used Tillamook)
2 ounces (1/4 brick) full-fat cream cheese (or sour cream)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scrub and dry potatoes. Prick each several times with a fork. Massage 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt onto each whole potato. Place on prepared pan and bake about 1 hour, or until I small knife meets no resistance when inserted. Let potatoes cool 7-10 minutes, or until they can be handled.

While potatoes are baking, prepare the filling ingredients. Drain pimentos and blot as dry as possible on paper towels. Remove to a cutting board and dice into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.

Use the large hole side of a box grater to shred cheese. Set aside.

When you can handle the potatoes (they should still be very warm), remove them to a cutting board. Slice them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving behind the potato skin “boats.” Set the skins aside.

Make the filling. Place potato flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Use a potato masher (or two forks) to break up the large pieces. Add cream cheese, butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and optional cayenne and continue to mash just until combined. Do not over-mash. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in pimentos and 3/4 (6 ounces) of the shredded cheddar. Taste a small bite of filling and adjust seasoning as needed.

Place potato skins on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Divide filling mixture among skins (1/2-2/3 cup each); they will likely be heaping a bit. Bake uncovered for another 20-25 minutes at 400F, or until the filling is puffed in places. Top with remaining cheese and return to the oven for 3-5 minutes, just to melt. Add more pimentos if desired. Let potatoes cool a few minutes before serving.

Twice-Baked Potatoes are best eaten the day they are made, but leftovers can be reheated in the microwave, if desired. I’m sure they can also be reheated in a toaster oven or oven, although I have not tried it myself. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

French Onion Grilled Cheese

French Onion Grilled Cheese

When I was in college, I thought French Onion Soup was pure luxury. That may have been because I lived in a very small town at the time, or perhaps because caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, and well-browned croutons are delicious and feel inherently fancy. Gruyere, at least, has the price tag to prove it. This classic and an extra saucy order of Strawberries Romanoff were my meal of choice at a local chain every time I went to Dallas for solo dinner & a movie during those years. It always hit the spot and felt like a treat.

(For those of you wondering what kind of college student drives an hour each way to get chain restaurant soup and see movies by herself, know that I was 85 years old at birth. Thirty six years later, I am still 85 years old.)

While things have changed since college—you won’t find me eating at many chain restaurants and I live in the largest city in my country of origin—I still dig French Onion Soup. I’ve made Julia Child’s recipe several times and it’s pretty perfect, and there are many good versions around NYC too. It’s simple food, made of caramelized onions, herbs, beef stock and cognac, and finished off with a crouton and some blistered gruyere cheese. It’s so good!

All that said, may I suggest that you leave the soup for another day and make French Onion Grilled Cheese instead? Think about it: herby caramelized onions and gruyere stacked on buttered sourdough and then seared to golden brown, crunchy, cheesy perfection. I mean, what’s not to love?!

French Onion Grilled Cheese

The most time consuming step of this whole recipe is caramelizing the onions. Some cooks will tell you that you can do this in 15 minutes over medium-high heat, but they are wrong. What they’re doing is sautéing, which is a great technique, but that’s not what we’re after in our French Onion Grilled Cheeses. Nope! We’re going the low and slow route, watching the onions collapse and then take on color as their natural sugars are drawn out little by little. This will take anywhere from 45-75 minutes, but I assure you it will be worth the investment.

Yes, caramelizing onions takes time, but it’s easy as can be. I frequently put a pan on the back burner while I’m working on another dish, occasionally reaching over and giving them a stir until they are browned to my preference. While caramelized onions need no help to be delicious, I like to add some French Onion flavor here so I finish them off with thyme, dijon mustard, beef (or vegetable) stock, salt & pepper. I don’t drink, so I leave the cognac out of the equation, but feel free to add a splash to the mix.

Once finished, you can use your onions right away or cover and refrigerate for later. I like to think of this as having French Onion Grilled Cheese on demand.

As for the sandwiching, it’s Grilled Cheese 101. Low heat, lots of butter, and time (about 8 minutes) are all that stand between you and crispy, cheesy, savory French Onion perfection. Pure luxury, indeed.

French Onion Grilled Cheese
French Onion Grilled Cheese
makes 4 sandwiches

For the Onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium Spanish or white onions, 1/2-inch thick half moons
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon dijon or grainy mustard
1/4 cup beef or vegetable stock
freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste

For the Sandwiches:
8 slices sourdough
dijon or grainy mustard
8 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
few pinches of Kosher or sea salt, as needed

Make the onions. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and deeply caramelized; this will take 45-75 minutes. Do not rush this step.

When onions are caramelized, stir in thyme, mustard, and stock, stirring until incorporated, but not soupy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. At this point, you may either use the onions immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Lay all slices of bread on a surface. Spread four of the slices with mustard. Top mustard slices with ~2 tablespoons caramelized onions each, spreading to cover. Sprinkle each one with 1/4 of the gruyere. Top cheese with plain slices of bread, “closing” the sandwiches. Use a knife to spread 1/2 tablespoon softened butter on both sides of each sandwich (1 tablespoon butter per sandwich). Sprinkle butter with salt if using unsalted butter.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches buttered-bread-side-down. Let sandwiches cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3 more minutes.

Remove to plates and serve immediately.

Easy Cumin Roasted Beets

Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsI have never been a particularly picky eater, but I have spent the majority of my 35+ years hating beets. Hating them. My mom used to serve pickled beets at least once a week, which meant I had to choke down (and I do mean “choke”) one or two with some regularity until I grew up, moved out, and lived a blissfully beetless existence until three years ago. I’d still be beet-free today if it weren’t for a request for them for a birthday dinner.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsAs I prepared for this party (remember parties?), I looked online for beet roasting methods and mostly saw the same one: wrap beets in foil, roast them whole, let them cool, rub off the skins with your hands, and slice. It seemed like a lot of time and work for something I couldn’t stand. Instead, I took a gamble and did things the easy way: giving my beets a really good scrub, lopping off the root and tip, slicing them into thick wedges, and roasting them with olive oil, cumin and salt until caramelized.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsBeing a careful cook, I had to taste the finished beets for seasoning regardless of personal preference, so I scrunched my nose, closed my eyes (?), took a tiny bite and…they were delicious. Earthy and sweet, yes, but also salty, smoky and crisp-edged. I couldn’t believe it—one of my top five all-time least favorite foods! Delicious! Sometimes it just takes the right preparation to change someone’s life (er, palate).Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsNow, I don’t know if I’ve actually changed—you won’t find me eating pickled beets out of the jar anytime soon. But these? I’ve made them at least once a week for the last three years and I freaking love them. They’re so easy and so good, the perfect low-maintenance side dish. I’ll throw a pan of Easy Cumin Roasted Beets in the oven alongside a chicken, serve them with fresh hummus on a casual night in, or pair them with feta and greens for a killer beet salad.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsDid I just say “killer beet salad”? Maybe I’ve changed after all.Easy Cumin Roasted Beets

Easy Cumin Roasted Beets
makes 6 or so servings

4-5 large beets or 6-7 small-medium beets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
chopped cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scrub beets and dry. Some may have a matte brown portion of their skin–wiping them dry with paper towel or lighter-colored towel is best for differentiating between this and remaining dirt. Do not peel.

Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to trim off the roots and tips. Slice them into wedges (I did 8 each on large beets). Pile on a prepared pan and top with olive oil, cumin and salt. Toss with your hands until everything is evenly coated, then scatter them evenly across the pan, taking care to keep them apart. Wash your hands.

Roast 20 minutes. Use a thin spatula to flip the beets over before roasting for 20-25 minutes more. Remove them to a serving dish. Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley, if desired. Serve.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted Beets

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Although I have never publicized it this way, I have privately referred to this time of my blogging year as “Savory January” for some time now. You see, every January since starting this site, I (mostly) switch focus from sweets to weeknight meals, sides and other savory pursuits. It’s not for weight loss, “cleansing” or any reason beyond keeping things interesting—I cook as much as I bake, and those recipes deserve their moment in the blogging sun, too. Is switching up my blog POV for one month a year weird? Sure. But I like variety, and also this is my website and I can do what I want.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli has been one of my favorite recipes for years and years. At its most basic, it’s a vegetable soup with pasta and beans, but it’s so much more! It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s hearty, and it’s dang delicious. Oh, and it’s vegetarian—vegan without the cheese, gluten-free depending what kind of pasta you use. Yesssss.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}I made this Italian staple all the time when I first moved to NYC, but moved on to other things because that’s just how cooking goes for me. I make something regularly for a few weeks/months/years and then I completely forget about it for a few more weeks/months/years. In this case, I remembered Pasta e Fagioli on the last night of our Maine trip this past October. We had some produce to use up, and we had some tomato paste, beans (aka fagioli), pasta and cheese ends lingering…and well, when life gives you lemons, you know.

Long story short, I used up ingredients, was able to feed my people in under an hour start-to-finish and also became obsessed with Pasta e Fagioli again. We’ve been back in Brooklyn for three months and I’m still over here making this every couple of weeks. The heart wants what it wants.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Making Pasta e Fagioli is super simple and you probably have most of the ingredients already. The method is nearly identical fo the way I make Sausage, White Bean & Kale Soup because why fix what isn’t broken?

Start by cooking the mirepoix (French term for carrot, celery & onion) for about ten minutes. You’re not going to get any color on it, but this is where the flavor building begins. Add some garlic, and then coat it all in tomato paste and let it caramelize for a few minutes. Add some herbs (fresh or dried), vegetable stock and water, and let that all simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft. Finish it all off with a couple of cans of white beans and a bunch of kale (or any hearty green) and let them warm through, then combine the soup with cooked pasta in individual soup bowls. All that’s left to do is grate some parm over the top and call it dinner.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}If you’re wondering why I cook the pasta separately from the rest of the soup, it’s because I’m a single lady who eats a lot of leftovers and hates mushy pasta. I do this with chicken noodle soup as well—by keeping the two components separate, the pasta doesn’t overcook or get waterlogged and sad. If you have a group to feed or will otherwise not have leftovers (or maybe like your pasta really soft?), feel free to toss it in the pot with the beans and kale.

Pasta e Fagioli takes less than an hour start-to-finish and keeps like a dream. I made a big pot on Sunday night and have been reheating it for quick dinners when I get home from work. Let me tell you, it’s taking the edge off the post-holiday blues.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}
makes 4-6 servings

For pasta:
water
Kosher or sea salt
splash of olive oil
1 1/2 cups small pasta (farfalline, ditalini, elbows)

Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled, sliced into thin half-moons
3 ribs celery, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 medium-large yellow onion, diced small
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or chard, stemmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 15-ounce cans cannelini or other white beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for topping
grated parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)

Fill a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil. Salt well and add pasta, cooking according to the package directions. Drain pasta and return to the pot. Drizzle lightly with olive oil to keep it from sticking together whil you prepare the soup.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion and a pinch of salt to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until starting to soften (about 10 minutes). Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, until tomato paste begins to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flakes, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are soft (but not mush).

Remove bay leaves. Add beans and kale and let cook 5-7 more minutes, until greens have wilted a bit. Stir in parsley. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

For serving, place about 1/2 cup of cooked pasta in each bowl. Top with soup and stir together. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.

Soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Sweet PotatoesI’ve wanted to make Thanksgiving for years and years, but my family usually travels for this holiday. That said, I guess next Thursday is my lucky day…or something. Yes, since traveling is inadvisable at the moment, I am staying put and taking this excuse to make the whole turkey dinner in my apartment. This is obviously not how I imagined my first time making Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s what’s happening. And it might be a little messed up to say this, but I’m kind of excited about it. I mean, I’ll be bummed not to be with my parents, older sister and sister-in-law (and the dogs), and I would definitely like for this period of world history to get over and done, but I am really excited to make Thanksgiving.

The menu is still in the tentative planning phase, but I know for sure that I am making J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Turchetta and smaller batches of the cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and caramelized Brussels sprouts from my archives. Oh, and the best dang Mashed Sweet Potatoes you can get anywhere.Mashed Sweet PotatoesI can’t believe I’ve made it this many years without posting this recipe.

Creamed Kale? ✅
Dinner rolls? ✅
Two kinds of stuffing? ✅✅
Every cheesy appetizer under the sun? ✅✅✅✅✅
Mashed Sweet Potatoes? ❌

Truly, it’s bonkers. When I first moved to New York a thousand thirteen years ago, these were my go-to contribution to various Thanksgivings and holiday dinners, and they were a hit on every table they graced. These are seriously the *best* holiday sweet potatoes ever. Marshmallows be damned. (But not really.)Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet PotatoesMy mom got the original recipe from her friend, Amy, and then passed it on to me. I’ve twisted the it a little since then, but only a little, because they were already pretty dang perfect. The secret? An entire brick of cream cheese and an entire stick of butter. Yes, I know that’s a lot of dairy and a lot of dense calories, but this recipe also makes a lot of sweet potatoes. Please resist the urge to cut back or use low-fat ingredients—it’s just not worth the effort without the real deals. This is holiday food, not everyday food (although I would never judge you for eating them with every meal for four days straight…ahem).Mashed Sweet PotatoesAs you might imagine, these Mashed Sweet Potatoes are…beyond. Beyond creamy. Beyond delicious. So beyond that it’s simply beyond me why anyone wouldn’t throw these on next week’s menu right now.Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
barely adapted from my mom’s friend, Amy
makes 10-12 servings

4 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed & peeled, diced into 1-inch pieces
cold water, to cover sweet potatoes
2 1/2–3 teaspoons teaspoons Kosher or sea salt, divided
1 8-ounce brick full-fat brick-style cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish

Place diced sweet potatoes in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add salt and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-high and let simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender. Remove from heat.

Carefully drain water by pouring sweet potatoes through a colander. Return sweet potatoes to the hot pot. Use a potato masher to begin to break up sweet potatoes. Add all pieces of cream cheese and butter, along with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mash to combine, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to scrape down the sides of the pot as necessary. Do not over-mash. Taste for seasoning, then stir in more salt by the 1/2 teaspoon and pepper as desired.

Remove to a serving dish and serve immediately with chopped parsley, if desired. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If you’d like to make Mashed Sweet Potatoes ahead, spread them into a medium-sized casserole dish. Let cool completely, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove them from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Then place covered dish in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot. Serve.Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes