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One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato…YUM!

This time of year, I really like stuff you can throw into the oven - it warms the house in the dead of winter, and is easy. I also love potatoes (you won’t see *me* on any low carb diet!). About 9 years ago, I got this recipe from my hubby’s Aunt Roxanne (a really cool aunt, by the way!). It is yummy!

Ingredients

1 stick butter, melted
1 small jar of Cheez Wiz (I use the spicy version, but both are good) - melt in the microwave
8 oz sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup (Campbells, of course!)
2 pounds frozen hashbrowns (cubed, not the shreds)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3 tbsp butter, melted (this is for the topping)
Corn flakes, crushed (enough to cover the top of the dish to your liking)

Instructions

Mix the stick of melted butter, Cheez Wiz, sour cream and cream of mushroom soup together until blended. Fold in the hashbrowns, salt and pepper until the hashbrowns are well coated. Place in a baking pan (9×13). Spread the crushed corn flakes over the top and drizzle the remaining melted butter across the cornflakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Herb’s the Word

Okay, so my hubby will tell you I’m obsessed with Rachael Ray and "30 Minute Meals." Okay, so I am. Isn’t admitting it the first step in the recovery process? Alright…seriously now…

Basil. Basil rocks. I love Italian food and basil is an amazing ingredient for Italian cooking. Need I say more? Bay Leaves. It is rare that I find fresh bay leaves here in the Midwest (not sure why?). The dried ones work just fine - just don’t forget to take them out at the end of preparation - they are not edible.

Sage. This year was the first year I used fresh sage in my turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving (I have always used dried, ground sage). Now, don’t get me wrong. The dried sage isn’t bad, but the fresh sage is just that much better. I chopped it up very fine and added it to my stuffing - the flavor of the sage didn’t overpower the stuffing, but added so much depth to the flavor. I’m hooked!

One thing I’ve learned from Rachael is the importance of using herbs in recipes - in particular, fresh herbs. In my cooking adventures, I’ve discovered a few that I really like and wanted to share some ideas and tips:

Flat Leaf Parsley. Prior to watching "30 Minute Meals" I didn’t know there was more than one kind of parsley. I thought parsley was for decoration on plates of food you got in a restaurant. Flat Leaf, or Italian Parsley, is amazing. Granted, the flavor isn’t intense, but it really makes food taste "fresh." Flat Leaf Parsley looks a lot like cilantro, but cilantro has a strong scent, so you should be able to tell them apart in the grocery store.

Cilantro. Cilantro is a great addition to fresh salsas, or some soups/dishes that have a Mexican flair. It is very strong, and a little goes a long way.

Rosemary. Rosemary rocks. It is really, really good on roasts and is a GREAT addition to oven fries (a Rachael Ray recipe). Rosemary pairs amazingly with garlic. Rosemary has an excellent flavor and scent - woodsy in a way. As a matter of fact, fresh rosemary reminds me of a very young pine tree branch.

Thyme. Thyme is a GREAT addition to a lot of soups and stews. Thyme leaves will easily fall off of the stem, and many cooks will put the whole thing into the dish they are making, and pluck out the stem at the end. I’ve paired thyme with virtually any meat I use (primarily with chicken and beef, but I think it would taste great with any poultry, veal or pork - probably even fish). It is also great in red spaghetti sauces. YUM!

Chives. Chives work great in salads (they add a nice subtle "onion-y" flavor). They, of course, are superb on a baked potato with sour cream. Chives are also great with steamed or broiled fish. YUM!

Dill Weed. Dill is pretty strong - and for a long time I didn’t think I liked it (although I LOVE dill pickles!). I came across a recipe for crab legs on Alton Brown’s show. Crab legs. Cooked in the microwave. My first thought was "no way" but hubby got all the ingredients and we tried it. WOW! The dill added the most amazing flavor to the crab legs. I think a future post will be that crab leg recipe. Talk about amazing - especially for us Midwesterners who don’t have access to ocean-fresh seafood.

I took another tip from Rachael Ray. When I buy my herbs, I wash them right away (and use my small salad spinner to get them as dry as possible) and put them into a food storage bag with the herbs wrapped in a paper towel. Makes it much easier access when you are cooking, and increases the length of time they remain fresh.

Give fresh herbs a try - your guinea pigs, er, family will appreciate it!

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Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Recipe Courtesy of Taste of Home-Quick Cooking

Growing up, my mom and dad could make a mean potato soup. They would mix it up sometimes by including a little bit of sausage (such as little smokies cut up), or would spice it up with some red pepper flakes. I LOVED this soup. At least until I found the following recipe. The Loaded Baked Potato Soup is a blissful marriage of potato soup and a loaded baked potato from the Outback…I don’t know any other way to describe it. It is hearty and thick and so tasty! In the middle of winter (yes, we are expecting upwards of 12-15" of snow by the end of the day tomorrow here in the middle of the good ole U.S.A.), this soup will warm you up!

Ingredients:

6 bacon strips, diced (remember your meat guy - he makes the best bacon!)
3 cups of cubed, peeled potatoes
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1 small carrot, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp each celery seed, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper (or to taste)
3 tbsp flour
3 cups milk (I’ve tried this with skim, and it is still creamy and hearty)
8 oz process american Cheese, cubed into very small pieces
2 green onions, very thinly sliced

Instructions:

In a larger pot, cook bacon until crisp, drain on a paper towel. Add potatoes, broth, carrot, onion, parsley, celery seed, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes).

Combine flour and milk until smooth, add to soup. Bring to a boil; boil and stir 2 minutes. Add cheese, stir until cheese melts and soup is hot. Garnish with green onions if desired.

My 2 cents: There really isn’t an ingredient that I would skip in this recipe - each ingredient provides a nice layer of flavor in this soup. I have substituted celery salt in place of the celery seed with no problem. One HUGE recommendation is on the American cheese. I recommend only using Kraft American Cheese Product (it is a cheese located by the Velveeta, and is in a blue box). I’ve bought American cheese from the deli, thinking it would be more flavorful, but the Kraft product melts so much better, resulting in a smoother soup. The deli stuff tastes good, but doesn’t always melt completely.

Enjoy - if you like potato soup and like baked potatoes with all the fixin’s, you will LOVE this recipe!

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Merri’s Chili for a Chilly Day

Today was a pretty bad weather day - sleet causing very icy conditions - and we’ve got more coming - they are predicting more sleet tomorrow and then 6-12" of snow on Wednesday - UGH! How do I warm up my hubby, the mail carrier, after a long day of carrying mail in this crud? I know what you may be thinking, but let’s stick with food….hehehe. Honestly, chili is one of his favorite meals on a day like today. Here’s my "quick to put together" recipe that tastes absolutely delicious!

Ingredients:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), two turns around a frying pan
1 medium yellow onion, chopped into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 pound of lean ground beef or chuck (or venison, for those of you who have a hunter hubby)
Kosher salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
A couple of glugs of beer (optional)
2 cans of Bush’s Best Chili Beans
1 can of Bush’s "Chili Magic" (I use "Traditional" but any flavor will do)
1 can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon (or to taste) of dark chili powder

Instructions:

Place a frying pan over high heat, coat with two turns of EVOO and toss in the onion and garlic, stirring and cooking until they are slighly opaque and tender. Break up the ground meat into the frying pan and add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Throw in a couple of glugs of beer, if you like (the alcohol cooks out, leaving a nice concentrated flavor). Drain the fat off of the meat and veggie combination.

In a larger pot, put the chili beans, Chili Magic and tomato sauce, gently mixing. Add the meat and onions, as well as the chili powder (at this point I also add more red pepper flake and any additional salt/pepper if needed). Heat through on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

ENJOY - and I hope the weather is treating you better where you are!

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