Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Over the weekend, my parents were in town.  It was rounding about 11:30am, and my husband asked, “What are we going to do for lunch?”  I thought for a minute, then got up to go searching in the kitchen to see if we had anything I could throw together (that wasn’t a processed meal).  As I searched through the freezer and found some sweet and sour meatballs I made from scratch and stuck them in there until they were needed.  Next, there were whole potatoes in the pantry and fresh broccoli in the fridge.  Done.  There was my menu.  So, I got to work.

creamy mashed potatoes

I’ve made mashed potatoes SO many times throughout my life, and in so many different ways.  One of the techniques I learned in culinary school though was in our vegetables and starches class, because we made several batches of mashed potatoes…and throughout the other classes as well for a side dish.  Especially in the meat class.  As I threw everything together, I explained to my mom about the technique I learned from school.  When adding your milk and butter to your mashed potatoes, heat them up FIRST.  So, melt the butter and heat the milk (I always do this together in a small pot on the stove while the potatoes are cooking).  When you add cold milk and cold butter to the potatoes, it brings the temperature of those hot potatoes down…but that’s not all.  Adding the hot milk and melted butter to your potatoes also gives them a creamier texture, and throw some sour cream in there…you’ve got the lightness.  I used to use cream cheese in my potatoes, but that made a more dense and heavy consistency.  When it comes to salt though, everyone is different.  So, add about how much salt and pepper you think you would like, then take a spoon and test it out to see if you think it’s salted enough.  As we’re eating lunch, my parents, aunt, and hubby were going on and on about the potatoes, and we all went back for seconds.  I’ve finally found a mashed potatoes recipes that I’m going to stick with…oh, experiments are so much fun.  😉

Mashed Potatoes Recipe:

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 oz. sour cream

1 stick butter, melted

1/2 cup milk, hot

salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add potatoes.  Cook for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are tender (you’ll notice the color of the water starting to get foggy and the potatoes are slightly breaking apart around the edges).  Drain water from potatoes, then mash with a potato masher as much as you can.  Add butter and milk, beat with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy.  Add sour cream, salt and pepper, continue mixing until reaching desired taste and consistency.

**TIP:  If you like your potatoes even creamier, reserve some of the hot potato water after potatoes are done cooking.  This way you don’t have to add more hot milk or melted butter to the mixture (unless you want to!).

Crock Pot Mac ‘n Cheese

Alright, so here we are.  The ultimate take-along dish that everyone asks me to bring to potlucks.  Seriously, this is what I make almost every single time I’m supposed to bring a dish to a gathering, because it’s so highly requested.  I got the original recipe for this about 8 years ago, but over the years, I’ve been tweaking it on how to figure out how to make it just a little bit better.  Well, here is the end result.  The original recipe was made with bagged cheese, but after realizing how much better the freshly grated cheese is, things started changing.

mac n cheese

When my husband’s grandmother asked me for this recipe on Christmas, the first thing she asked was if it was on my blog.  “Hmmm…You know what?  It sure isn’t.  I need to add it.”  But in the meantime, I wrote it down on a recipe card for her to add to her collection.  The smile on her face when I handed her that recipe was priceless.  Forget the presents for Christmas, just give your family some awesome recipes of things they love so much.  Everyone seems to love macaroni and cheese, and here is a great way to make it from scratch, low and slow in the crock pot…and it stays nice and warm as long as you have it on the warm setting.  A quicker way to make it would be in the oven, and you could do an upscale tasting (as my brother put it) with the Three Cheese Baked Mac ‘n Cheese that I’ve made before as well.  Either way, mac ‘n cheese always shows up at a potluck or large dinner gathering, so let’s make it count.  😉

Crock Pot Mac ‘n Cheese Recipe:

16 oz. macaroni noodles

2 sticks unsalted butter

4 eggs, beaten

2 cans evaporated milk

3 cups milk

8 oz. block sharp white cheddar

16 oz. block sharp cheddar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cook macaroni noodles according to package, drain.  While noodles are cooking, grate cheese.  Place butter in microwave safe bowl and melt.  When butter is melted, whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper until blended.  Reserve 1 cup of the grated cheese to use as a topping.  Combine all ingredients in crock pot, sprinkle reserved cheese on top.  Cook on low for 3 hours.

Mushroom Risotto

I started culinary school last week, and our instructor was talking about a restaurant that he went to in Houston a while back.  When he was looking at the menu and was in the mood for risotto, he asked the waiter about a couple of different flavors.  When the waiter asked him what flavors he wanted, or what he was in the mood for, my instructor said, “Play with me.”  Well, in the culinary world, when you have some crazy creative chefs and very open-minded and appreciative customers, that’s like recess for them.  The waiter smiled sadistically and walked away…only to come back with a large plate of risotto for him.  Apparently, he had used some pan drippings from another meat they used for another dish, along with some other incredible ingredients and flavors.  Our instructor was so impressed, that he was joking about how he told this guy to make sure he reproduces so the world can have more people like him.  Ha!

mushroom risotto

Well, after hearing that story, I started looking for risotto recipes, and came across one. Mushrooms, butter, wine, garlic, and parmesan?!  YES!!!  Well, actually I threw in the garlic, because I personally love how garlic, mushrooms and onions all go together.  It’s a trio of incredible flavors that mix together so well.  I made some chicken parmesan as the main dish with this recipe, and it was a heavenly Italian meal.  But, the next time I make this for my mom and mother-in-law (they were both wanting to try this), I’ll make the parmesan chicken the same way, but with a garlic parmesan cream sauce on top, rather than the traditional tomato sauce.  Oh boy, now I’m already getting excited to make this again.  Geez.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe:

4 cups chicken broth, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 small onion, diced

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.  Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the pnions. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.  When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and parmesan.

Four Cheese Ravioli

Okay, so I have a confession to make if I haven’t already made it before…  I’m in love with pasta.  So, naturally, when Italian food is involved, I start foaming at the mouth.  Recently, I started watching “Giada at Home” with Giada De Laurentiis.  I just love her.  She is Italian and grew up with Italian food, so guess what she makes a good bit of on her show?  You guessed it…cheeseburgers.  Just kidding.  Well, she made this ravioli using won ton wrappers, and I was floored at the thought of making my own homemade ravioli without having to make the actual pasta itself.  I made a couple of slight variations, but this is my favorite pasta dish right now.  I even made some for lunch today.

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First, you mix all of the ingredients for the filling.  You can do this easily with a fork, since the cheeses are soft and easy to mix without having to use an electric mixer.  Personally, I prefer fresh grated cheese because the quality is so much better, but if you’re looking to save time…get the pre-grated cheese.  It’ll still be yummy.  😉

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I used a mini cookie scoop to plop the filling on each won ton.  It’s much easier than using two spoons to scrape it off, or even your finger.  Plus, you know that you’re distributing the same amount of filling into each ravioli.

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Brush all of the edges with egg yolk.  This keeps the edges from coming apart when you boil them.

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Fold the won ton wrappers over and seal with your fingers.  Try to make sure that you get the air out of the pockets before you seal, this allows the cheese to spread more throughout the middle while cooking.  You can pre-make these and pop them back in the fridge, since they can be time consuming if you’re making them for several people.  **MAKE SURE TO SPRAY THE SURFACE YOU’RE STORING THEM IN WITH COOKING SPRAY!**  I made the mistake of not doing that, thinking they wouldn’t stick to parchment paper.  I was wrong, and ended up losing several of the ravioli from the edges tearing apart from sticking to the surface.  Not a happy experience for me to lose ravioli.

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These literally only take two minutes in a pot of boiling water.  Make sure to add salt and a little bit of olive oil to the water so the ravioli don’t stick together.  Here they are, all finished and ready to be eaten…which is exactly what I did.  Happily.  Here, you see them with alfredo sauce…typically, they’re served with a tomato based sauce, but since I’m alfredo sauce nut, this was my topping.  Enjoy, because I certainly did, will continue to do so…

Four Cheese Ravioli Recipe:

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 package won ton wrappers

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a fork.  Scoop filling with a mini cookie scoop into 1 won ton wrapper.  Brush all sides with egg yolk.  Folk wrapper over, and secure by pressing together with fingers.  Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, cook for approximately two minutes.  Serve warm with favorite sauce.

Zucchini Boats with Creamed Corn

A couple of months ago, I came across a recipe for zucchini boats.  Since zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables, the thought of having an entire half of a zucchini stuffed with whatever I decided to put in there was very, very tempting.  The first time I made them, I stuffed them with a combination of onions, green bell peppers, the zucchini pulp, and mushrooms…then topped with mozzarella cheese.  Although they were delicious, my husband made a suggestion.

zucchini boats with creamed corn

“You know, I think they’d be even better if they were stuffed with homemade creamed corn.”  I looked at him and gasped.  “That sounds AMAZING!!” and I patted him on the back.  “Good suggestion.  I’ll get on that.”  Sure enough, two days later, his suggestion was put to the test…and got an A in my book.  I look forward to more experiments of what can be stuffed in these delicious zucchini.

Zucchini Boats:

2 large zucchini (makes 4 servings)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice zucchini in half, lengthwise.  Chop of ends, and scoop out center of zucchini, leaving about a 1/2 inch edge around sides and bottom.  Brush zucchini with olive oil, sprinkle with desired salt and pepper.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.  Top with creamed corn, garnish with your choice of cheese (optional).

Creamed Corn

12 oz. package fronzen corn kernels, thawed

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon flour

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a skillet over medium heat, combine the corn, cream, salt, sugar, pepper and butter.  Whisk together the milk and flour, and stir into the corn mixture.  Cook stirring over medium heat until the mixture is thickened, and corn is cooked through.  Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese until melted.  Spoon into zucchini boats after they are done cooking in the oven.

Homemade Cinnamon Honey Butter

When hosting dinner parties, I usually pick up a small container of honey butter to go along with our dinner rolls…and always get a good response.  Well, there are some restaurants that serve cinnamon butter, and I see a similar response to that as well…so why not combine the two?  Exactly.

Folks, it doesn’t get any easier than this, either.  Your guests will not only be happy that you have the two flavors in a butter for the dinner rolls, but also be impressed that you made it yourself.  Just don’t tell them how incredibly easy it is, it might spoil it for them.  😉

Cinnamon Honey Butter Recipe:

1 stick butter, softened

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl.  Beat at medium speed with electric mixer under blended, spoon into airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Three Cheese Baked Mac and Cheese

Ahh, yes.  Macaroni and cheese.  One of the most beloved, yet common, side dishes that is used to bring to pot lucks, family gatherings, cookouts…you name it, and it’ll probably show up for most any occasion.  I do have a crock pot mac ‘n cheese recipe that everyone always polishes off at any gathering, but I came across a really good baked mac ‘n cheese recipe that desperately needed to be experimented with.  Normally, I just use the standard cheddar, but went with some different cheeses along with even some different pasta.

This time, I used white cheddar, Gruyere (which is a type of swiss) and parmesan.  Yumdiddles.  Grating the cheese was certainly a task, but the freshly grated cheese was absolutely beyond delicious.  The baking dish I used with this recipe was one that I ordered from Pampered Chef, and it’s the Deep Covered Baker.  And just in case you didn’t already know, it’s fabulous.

I couldn’t wait to try this out, and was very happy with the end result.  It was different and delicious, but my brother put it the best way…  He said, “It tastes like the kind of macaroni that you’d order in an  upscale restaurant.”  That description hit the nail right on the head!

Mac & Cheese Recipe:

1 lb. uncooked small shells pasta

1 stick butter

1/2 cup flour

5 cups 2 % milk

2 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

10 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded

7 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups Cheese and Garlic croutons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.  Meanwhole, melt butter in pot and add flour, whisk until smooth.  Slowly add milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly until smooth.  Add mustard, salt and pepper.  Simmer 14-17 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally.  Add cheeses, one at a time, whisking constantly until sauce is smooth.  Remove sauce from heat.  Meanwhile, coarsely chop croutons in food chopper or processor.  Mix sauce and cooked pasta in bowl until combined, then pour into baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, 25-35 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and croutons are golden brown.  Remove dish from oven, let stand for 10 minutes before serving