Tag Archives: cooking

“Montreal” Spicy Potatoes and Onions

3 Aug

I like short recipes with very few ingredients. I own a cookbook called “The Best Ever Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook” but I rarely use it, because I often make up my own recipes.

One of my simplest personal recipes is a potato and onion dish. It has four ingredients.

Before it cooks, it looks like this:

“Montreal” Spicy Potatoes and Onions

potatoes (unpeeled)

onions (any color)

olive oil

Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning (by McCormick ‘Grill Mates’)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the potatoes and onions in slices or chunks. (Thickness of the potatoes will determine the cooking time. Leave the onions thicker than the potatoes because they cook faster and you don’t want them to burn.) I like a mix of approximately 3/4 potatoes and 1/4 onion. Use a baking dish large enough to allow for stirring without overflow.

Mix the potatoes and onions in the baking dish with enough olive oil to coat them. Sprinkle generously with the Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning and mix well.

Bake, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes. The time depends on the thickness of the potato pieces and the size of the baking dish. I have found that a convection oven works well and takes about 40 minutes, but the potatoes are less browned than they would be in a traditional oven.

Skipping Through Life (quick potato soup)

4 May

I have set a new goal for myself.

Each week, I want to find at least one way to simplify my life — by skipping something.

I might skip an entire task, or just one step from a complicated one.  I might skip an ingredient in a recipe, if I don’t have it and I don’t feel like driving to the store.  Frankly, sometimes I find that a recipe is better without the missing ingredient!

I already thought of something to skip this week, but I promptly forgot it again.  Forgetfulness doesn’t count as simplification, in case you were wondering.  Now I need to think of something else to skip…

In the meantime, I will share an example from the past.

I love potato soup; my mother made some great soups, and that was one of her specialties.

Please note:  My mother is alive and well, but she doesn’t cook as much these days, which is why I am speaking of her in the past tense in this particular context.

My mother used a fairly long process to make her potato soup, including using an old hand cranked food mill to break down the potato pieces.  This food mill was some kind of antique; as an adult I combed antique stores until I found one like hers.  I believed that this device was somehow key to the potato soup making process.

In recent years, it occurred to me that my food mill took too long to use, and far too long to clean.  I got rid of the food mill.  First, I switched to my modern electric food processor… now I use only a spoon! 

What could be easier to clean than a spoon?

I skip a step in the potato soup making process, thus making a spoon as useful as a food processor.  I cook the potatoes directly in the chicken stock, instead of combining the two after cooking the potatoes, as my mother did.

I slice the potatoes, chop some onions, and dump them all into a pot with some chicken broth, salt, pepper, and whatever other seasoning I may be craving on that day.  Then I boil until the potatoes are just soft enough to crush and crumble with a wooden stirring spoon.  I add a little bit of half-and-half  for creaminess (if this ingredient is not handy, I might skip it!  Who needs the fat?) and serve the soup with a topping of cut chives.  Sometimes, I substitute green onions for chives, but chives are really the best for potato soup.

My methods can alter the texture of the soup, leaving it a little starchier, but it tastes just as good.

By skipping steps, I can make a quick batch of soup for one or two people, in only one small pot, using only a vegetable peeler, a knife, a cutting board, and a wooden spoon.  The clean up is a breeze.

The cold, hard truth is that if I had to make the soup the way my mother made it, I probably would not make it at all. 

I would skip it.

No wonder my mother doesn’t cook as much as she once did…she’s skipping it, too.

Warning: Don’t Talk to The Chef

29 Dec

My favorite muffin recipe lends itself quite easily to experimentation, which is why it has long been my most oft-used recipe.  I frequently mix and match ingredients, making spontaneous changes to the fruit and nut properties.

While originally calling for zucchini and pineapple with raisins, the recipe has also worked with various combinations of bananas, peaches, carrots, applesauce, strawberries, raspberries, pears, and orange juice.  Sometimes, leftover peanut butter, sunflower seeds or wheat bran have been involved.

In spite of all my baking whims, the only time the recipe didn’t turn out well is the time I had altogether forgotten two crucial ingredients… fruit and flour.

Without flour, the end result was more of a brittle than a bread.

What can I say?

I was distracted…very distracted, and not for the first time.

I am a good cook, but I am not a good multi-tasker. I am not able to divide my attention that way.  In fact, I recently hung a small sign over the stove-top reminding my family members not to speak to me (and most especially not to ask me any questions) while I am cooking.  My high susceptibility to distraction has led to various kitchen calamities and this warning must be heeded, for the protection of innocent foods.

The ever-changing muffins are frustrating for one of my boys.  He doesn’t share my appreciation for the element of surprise, at least when it comes to baked goods.  He likes a muffin to taste the way he expects it to taste.  I know this, but I can’t stop playing with the recipe, so it’s almost never what he expects.  The poor kid has to live with disappointment, batch after batch.

I almost accommodated him this week.  I was sticking to my basic banana bread formula, the one he likes.  Suddenly, I was overcome with a strong desire to add plump, frozen blueberries; I succumbed once again to the sweet temptation of recipe tampering.

As I folded in a big gob of the half-thawed berries, the blueberry juice seemed rather…aggressive.  I added another banana to try to balance the color of the batter.  No change.

The batter was such a solid, deep blue-green, I honestly feared that these banana-blueberry babies would come out looking like they had been baked from Play-doh. Worse yet, no one had distracted me, so it would be exclusively my fault.  Uh oh.

To my relief, the muffins came out a perfectly normal color, and were quite delicious, if a little flat on top.

One of these days, I might try adding pumpkin, or lemon, or dried cherries and chocolate…and I’m sure the muffins will be delicious, as long as nobody talks to me while I make them.

A Tale of Two Measurements

25 Sep

I have a small machine designed to make frozen desserts.  I enjoy using this fine appliance, but I do occasionally encounter some problems.  I must admit that each difficulty has been what my father would call An Operator Problem, rather than a problem with the appliance itself.

The most common Operator Problem occurs when The Operator forgets to store the freezer bowl in the freezer overnight before using the machine.

Not frozen.

In case you are unfamiliar with the idea, a freezer bowl is a container into which one pours a liquid mixture, so that while churning, it may freeze.

Surprisingly, in my boundless enthusiasm for the production and consumption of chilled desserts, I have forgotten this crucial step on more than one occasion…okay, three times.

In other words, I’m a slow learner, and rather easily distracted.  To the amusement of my family, I have mindlessly switched on the machine, set a timer, and returned after thirty minutes–to an embarrassing realization, and a bowl full of liquid.

Not today.  Today…something else happened.

To be honest, today was the third day I had planned to make strawberry ice cream.

On Day One, the children had already gobbled up most of the strawberries…and the freezer bowl wasn’t frozen.  No go.

On Day Two, the strawberries were in full supply, and the bowl was actually frozen! Conditions seemed to be in my favor.  Unfortunately, I had neglected to read the recipe fully.  The strawberries would require an additional two hours to “macerate” ahead of time, before being added to the mix in the last five minutes.  No time.

Today, I carefully allotted time in my busy day to prepare the strawberries, and macerate them for two hours.  This “maceration” business was new to me, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and as I guessed, it is just a fancy term meaning that my strawberries would get soft and come apart easily from soaking in sugar and lemon juice for a long time.  No problem.

Day Three took a wrong turn when I added the macerated strawberries–as directed– to the semi-solid ice cream base, for the last five minutes of the freezing process.  At this point, the ice cream quickly lost its frozen texture… and continued to gradually increase in volume.  I became suspicious.

You can probably guess where this story is headed.

Initially, the pale pink ooze was just around the top edges.  When it began slowly dripping down the sides, my suspicion turned to concern, but I remained cautiously optimistic.  The drips seemed to freeze against the side of the bowl.  There were only a few moments left on the timer.  It would be fine.

After less than four minutes, The Operator turned off the machine, conceding that melted ice cream dripping inside the motorized base might result in the demise of a useful appliance, not to mention a tragic waste of ice cream.

Today would have been an excellent day for detailed photographic documentation, but I was a teensy bit busy, and I didn’t want my camera to get sticky.

In the end, the machine was saved from Mount St. Strawberry, the dessert was stored safely in the freezer, and The  Operator was left to wonder how she ended up with too much ice cream.

Conclusion:  A conversion problem.

I am certain the milk, cream and minor ingredients were measured correctly.

The strawberry requirement, on the other hand, read as: a pint of strawberries, stemmed and sliced.  My strawberry container said 16 oz, which translates to two cups, and two cups is a pint.  However, the amount of strawberries in the container will not fit into a two cup measurement…and whether I slice before or after measurement, a pound of strawberries is not a pint of strawberries.  Of course, I didn’t measure at all, since I read the 16 oz label and decided it was what I needed, without considering the relationship between weight and volume.  Oops.

I actually minored in math, believe it or not– but I never did like conversions!

All’s well that ends well.  The ice cream has a lovely strawberries-and-cream flavor, and as an added bonus, I can now spell the word macerate, and use it in a sentence.

Less is More: Part Two

26 Jul

As I continue to find ways to simplify and get more results from less effort, I begin to wonder if I am being clever, or just very lazy.  Maybe both.

Recently, I made a baked peach dessert that looked very promising on paper,  but sadly it failed to live up to its promise.  My kitchen was a sticky shambles, I had spent a lot of time, and all I had to show for it was a high calorie dessert that I didn’t really like.

Leaving that experience behind, I found a delicious baked fruit dessert that takes less time, less effort and fewer ingredients.  The original recipe (from a British cookbook called Best Ever Three and Four Ingredient Cookbook, by Jenny White and Joanna Farrow) calls for apricots, sugar, cream cheese and gingersnaps.  It’s easy enough.  And yet, I wanted to make it “less”.  Apricots were not handy, so I went for peaches.  Cream cheese is fattening so I went for the 1/3 less fat variety.  I also cut the sugar in half, and I didn’t use the special superfine sugar called for in the book, just some regular grainy sugar from Costco.

I loved the flavor contrast, but it must be eaten fresh from the oven or it separates, leaving the ginger crumb topping a soggy mess.

So, outside of party planning, I will opt for reducing it to cut fresh peaches with crumbled gingersnaps, straight to the plate.  Less time, and a cleaner kitchen will result.  No cooking, no mixing, no fat…  Okay, maybe a small scoop from a tub of whipped cream cheese if I feel decadent.