Cook’s Illustrated Oven Homefries

I saw this recipe on one of my favourite cooking blogs, Kitchen Simplicity.  They mentioned that they’d found the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which always has interesting explanations of why to use a certain technique, so I checked out the original recipe.

True to form, I was mystified by Cook’s Illustrated’s inclusion of  baking soda in the potato cooking water – but they had an explanation:

We discovered that boiling the potatoes with baking soda quickly breaks down their exterior while leaving their insides nearly raw, ensuring home fries with a crisp, brown crust and a moist, fluffy interior.

I wanted to try out their assertion, so I thought I’d share the recipe and the result.  I used a different seasoning, smoked hot paprika, with the salt.

Cook’s Illustrated Oven Homefries

6 -8 potatoes, cut in 3/4″ cubes – they recommended Russet – not sure what I’m using!
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, cut into ½-inch dice

Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

Bring 10 cups water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add potatoes and baking soda. Return to boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain potatoes.

After boiling in soda solution.

Return potatoes to Dutch oven and place over low heat. Cook, shaking pot occasionally, until any surface moisture has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, 1½ teaspoons salt, and paprika; mix with rubber spatula until potatoes are coated with thick, starchy paste, about 30 seconds.

Mixing seasoning and butter into potatoes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet and spread into even layer. Roast for 15 minutes. While potatoes roast, combine onions, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in bowl.

After 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Using thin, sharp metal spatula, scrape and turn potatoes. Clear about 8 by 5-inch space in center of baking sheet and add onion mixture (I had no room for mine, so I did the onions in another dish!). Roast for 15 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

Scrape and turn again, mixing onions into potatoes. Continue to roast until potatoes are well browned and onions are softened and beginning to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.  Try not to eat them all yourself.

Result:  Not the simplest method but so worth it if you have time – they were not at all greasy, and the baking soda really did something to the potatoes to fluff them up – you did not detect the soda in the taste of course.  I served this as part of a weird dinner, with half of a small squash, roasted along with the potatoes.


Clean-Out-The-Fridge Slow-Cooker Coconut Curry

This type of slow-cooker curry is one I often make to use up sad-looking vegetables in my fridge.  I also had this odd coconut product – It was in a vacuum plastic bag, and was pretty much solid – quite solid actually – like butter in the fridge.  I normally use a can of coconut milk, this was called coconut cream.  I threw it in the crock to warm up and melt (I hoped) with about 1/2 cup of water and it did melt and tasted fine.

The high amount of turmeric was used since I learned how effective it is at reducing inflammation, and I’m cooking for someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis, which involves a lot of inflammation – you could use less to taste.

Clean-Out-The-Fridge Slow-Cooker Coconut Curry

Ingredients, minus a few I forgot in the picture – I always do that!

1 can coconut milk (or 1 pack coconut cream + 1/2 cup warm water)
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/8 cup turmeric
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (chili garlic paste)
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp corriander
6 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
sesame oil
1 inch ginger, roughly chopped
palmful of cumin seeds
2 large onions, diced
1 can rinsed lentils or 2 cups cooked lentils
vegetables necessary to fill crock pot 3/4 full – I used:
1 head green cauliflower
2 rainbow peppers
1 handful cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas

Dump coconut milk/product in crock along with fish sauce, turmeric, curry paste, sambal oelek, thyme and corriander and turn crock on high to meld the spices and coconut while you prepare the rest of the curry.

Garlic, ginger and cumin seed sauteed in sesame oil.

Saute the garlic and ginger in sesame oil – when they are golden, add the cumin seed and cook until fragrant.  Let the mix cool a bit then run it through a small processor with a few tablespoons of water and add to the crock.

Garlic, ginger and cumin seed puree.

In the same pan, add a bit more sesame oil and saute the onions until browned.

Meanwhile prepare your vegetables, cut to your taste, I did mine in small chunks.  Add the vegetables and lentils to the crock and stir to coat with sauce.

Add the onions to the crock, then add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan to remove any flavour from the bottom.  Mix this water into the crock as well.

Curry ingredients in the pot and ready to cook.

Cover and set the crock to low – cook for about 6  hours, or to your taste – it doesn’t really matter how long as there is no meat to worry about, but I don’t like to let mine go too long – this one still had a bit of bite left in the cauliflower at the end.

Curry after is slow-cooking.

Result:  This is a really rich and delicious tasting curry, you won’t miss the meat – but if you do and you have some leftover meat, that could be added as well.  I served it over whole wheat penne.

Homemade Rice-a-Roni

I always loved rice-a-roni as a kid, but when I became aware of chemical additives, food dyes, and that fact that paying 3$ a box for something which contained food that cost less than 50 cents didn’t make sense or fit my budget, I gave up on it.  Then one day while reading through a “make-it-yourself for cheap” type cookbook from the library, I found the idea for making your own rice-a-roni.

One benefit of making your own is that you can choose the rice, noodles, and salt in the broth.  I used brown rice, and I would use wholewheat pasta if I had it on hand.

Basically you mix half rice and half broken spaghetti together, using that as the base.  Then you use twice the rice-noodle amount of broth (stock, homemade, powder, whatever!) in your flavor (chicken, beef, veg) and cook!  I thought the noodle part would get super soggy as you only cook pasta for 8 minutes, not 20 like rice – but it works – at least for me!

Toasted rice and noodles.

I always toast rice (this helps with cook time, especially with brown) before cooking for about 5-10 min in a 375’F oven on a tray.  I did the noodles and rice mix this way too.

Homemade Rice-a-Roni

1 cup brown basmati rice (toasted)
1 cup broken spaghetti noodles (toasted)
4 cups beef bouillion from a tetra pack
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
garlic onion oil for pot

Heat some oil in a good rice-cooking pot, and saute the onion and garlic until golden.  Add rice/noodle mix and continue to saute until rice is fragrant and coated with oil.

Just before adding broth.

Add broth to pot, bring to a boil, then cover pot with a clean dishcloth, and then the lid.  Let simmer for 25-30 minutes at a very low temperature, remove from heat, let stand for 5-10 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.

Simmering rice with a cloth under the lid – not sure why this works so well, but it does!

Voila, its almost the San Francisco Treat!  I hope Rice-a-Roni doesn’t sue for copyright violation!

Marinated Roast Chick Peas with Vegetables

This is a side dish to go with our leftover samosas.  It’s really more of an idea than a recipe, I often do roasted vegetables this way.

The vegetables can sit overnight in the fridge with the marinade or for however long you have time for before dinner.

Marinated Roast Chick Peas with Vegetables

2 cups (or 1 can) cooked chickpeas
2 cups broccoli florets and stems (or cauliflower, or brussle sprouts or what have you)
1-2 handfuls cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)
fresh ground pepper
2 -3 tablespoons flavoured or plain oil (I used my garlic and onion oil)

Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle, or in a small food processer.  Add salt, pepper, herbs and anchovy paste and continue to grind until pasty.  Add oil and stir.

Vegetables ready to marinate.

Pour marinade over the prepared vegetables and let sit in the fridge overnight or for as long as you have.

When you are ready to cook, roast on a lightly greased baking tray at 400’F for about 20 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes have burst and the vegetables are slightly browned.

Marinated Chickpeas and Vegetables as side dish!

Result:  These were really good, and could be a meal on their own – which they probably will be when I eat the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow!

Sweet Potato Roasties

This was part of an easy dinner along with some Samosas we had made up one weekend and frozen for baking when needed.

I’ve seen and even tried to make the traditional roastie potatoes that go along with an english roast dinner – the kind made with fluffy white potatoes par-boiled, then roasted in some fat, preferably roast drippings.

Unfortunately I’m fresh out of both roast drippings and white potatoes, so I thought I’d try out the technique with sweet potatoes and some of the garlic onion oil I’d made using the Garlic in Oil technique I’ve written about previously.  These will no doubt be healthier than the white potato beef fat version.  Tastier?  I guess that is a matter of personal preference!

Sweet Potato Roasties

4-5 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (about 2 bites a chunk is good)
garlic onion oil (plain olive oil or other vegetable oil would be fine)

Preheat the oven to 400’F.

Put the potatoes in salted water and bring to a boil, then parboil for about 5 minutes.

Potatoes ready to boil and a good layer of grease on the tray.

Meanwhile, heat a shallow roasting pan with about 1/4 cup of oil in the oven for about 7 minutes – you want the oil and pan to be very hot.

Drain the potatoes very well in a colander then toss them around in the colander or throw them back in the pot, put the lid on and shake them up – the point is to get the potatoes a bit bruised up, not broken or mushed.  The fluffy edges rather than smooth cut sides will be what makes the potatoes brown and roasty.

Steaming sweet potatoes, bashed and bruised!

Carefully place the potatoes in the hot roasting pan in the fat and stir them around to coat.

Bashed potatoes tossed in the oil and ready for the oven.

Bake for 45-60 minutes until the potatoes are browned- you can stir once or twice during cooking.
Result:  I think next time I would parboil the potatoes less – sweet potatoes are so soft anyway – these were really good though.  The sugar in the potatoes caramelized so much that it reminded me of having little sticky bits of toffee.  These are very rich and filling!

Roasted Squash Soup

I had a squash and several sweet potatoes to use up, and decided to go with the orange theme and make a soup.  I stuck the squash with a few knife-piercings into the slow cooker when I got up this morning, in a few inches of water, turned it on high and waited for it to get soft enough to cut.  You can do this with your preferred method, some people use the microwave, but I always end up turning one end to mush while the other stays hard that way!  I was helped by my taste tester, who is stronger and a much better hard-veg cutter.

This is an odd slow cooker recipe because you don’t just dump the ingredients and go, but you could do it in stages (vegetables roasted beforehand).  I think most places also sell pre-cut squash and maybe sweet potato too.

I like recipes like this because I am at home doing school work a lot and I can take a break to fiddle with something then forget about it for hours.  If you are out of the house this obviously won’t work!

Once the squash is quartered with the seeds removed, you are ready to start the soup:

Roasted Squash Soup

1 squash, quartered, with seeds removed (mine was buttercup)
1 head garlic cloves, peeled
2 onions, peeled and quartered
3 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut in chunks
6 cups chicken broth (roughly, mine was one large ice cream container of homemade chicken broth, powdered is fine, as would be veg broth or even water)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sage
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp coriander
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (chili garlic paste)
1 can black beans, rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
other vegetables of your choice
leftover meat if you want, chicken, turkey, or maybe sausage would be nice

Vegetables ready to roast.

Place all the vegetables on a greased baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Bake at 350’F for 50 minutes, until the vegetables get some brown colour.

Fresh from the oven!

Meanwhile, pour the broth in the slow cooker, add the spices, and taste – my broth was salty enough, but some might not be.  Turn the cooker on high to warm the broth while the vegetables roast.

You can add some broth to the roasting pan and scrape up the yummy brown bits!

When the vegetables are browned and a bit softened, remove the peel from the squash – you will probably be able to scoop the flesh out with a spoon.  At least that’s what I’m hoping.  Obviously you want to cool them a bit first!

Roasted veg in the broth, ready to simmer.

Place the vegetables and peeled squash in the cooker and cook on high for X hours.  When they are very soft, blend with an immersion blender until smooth.

Add the corn and beans (and optional meat) and then cook on low as long as you like.  If the soup is too thick for your taste, add more broth or water.

If you have lots of leftovers you could add a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to a bowl for a peanut-squash soup!

Food styling by William.

Result:  Really tasty, with lots of vegetables!  I can’t decide if I like the with or without peanut version better.

Slow Cooker Cider-braised Pork Shoulder, with Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower

I came up with this dish to use up the last of the cider leftover from our apple butter making.  I’ve also been eating and making a lot of spicy food lately,  and wanted something simpler and more fall-like.  Apple and pork seemed perfect.

I usually brown everything before putting it in the slow cooker – I think it really improves the flavours if you have the time.  If you don’t I wouldn’t hesitate to just dump the ingredients in and go from there – I would reduce the liquid to 1 cup in that case, as you won’t be reducing it and you don’t want pork soup!

I always have the time to brown my ingredients, thanks to my feline wake-up specialists, who ensure I’m up by at least 5:30 am (pictured below).

Our Motto – “Dependable Pre-Dawn Wakeups, Whether You Need Them Or Not.”

You could brown everything the night before, put it in the fridge, and turn on your cooker in the morning – again, just be sure you take the insert out of the fridge as soon as you wake up and let it warm up so you don’t crack your insert in the cooker!

I used up all the mushroom stems from my box of mushrooms in this dish, and saved the caps for other things – I’m always hearing about discarding them, but I love mushrooms too much, and they will be so cooked in this dish they won’t remember they were once “tough and woody.”

Slow Cooker Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder

pork shoulder (whatever will fit in your crock – mine was 1.7 kg/3.75 pounds)
2 tablespoons white wine/apple cider vinegar
2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple butter (if you have it, you could use apple sauce)
OR 2 peeled chopped apples (instead of apple butter or in addition to!)
3 roughly chopped onions
8 mushrooms roughly chopped (or a rough equivalent if you’re using stems!)
8 large cloves garlic, crushed under knife blade and roughly chopped
equal parts salt, pepper, thyme

Brown mushrooms in a large frying pan, then add garlic and cook until golden and fragrant.  Dump in crock pot.

Using the same skillet, cook onions (and apples if you are using them) until browned and translucent. Dump in crock pot.

Dry surface of pork and season with salt, thyme and pepper.  Brown very well on all sides  in the same skillet you used for the onions.

Meanwhile, mix togther cider, dijon, and apple butter(if using).

Place roast in cooker, return pan to heat and deglaze with vinegar.

Pour cider mixture into pan and simmer until it is somewhat reduced and all the brown bits are dissolved.

Pour liquid over roast in cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

And this is what you will end up with:

Though it looks like it, I swear, this pork roast did NOT receive a spray tan!

I’m serving this with brussel sprouts and cauliflower, two of the world’s most maligned, and my most favourite, vegtables (when you roast them they are a whole different beastie than when you boil them!).

Brussel Sprout – like a lil’ baby cabbage or lettuce – how could anyone dislike it!?

I was checking time and temp. online and came across this bit about brussel sprouts, that will make you feel super virtuous and healthy about your dinner, from The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, in a post o n How To Roast Brussel Sprouts

“The sulphur compounds have been shown to alter the function of liver enzymes allowing for beneficial metabolism of hormones and other fat-soluble substances that the liver may perceive as toxic. These magical compounds also up-regulate the gene expression of antioxidant compounds in our bodies. Cancer researchers have determined these substances to be so important that they are recommending at least 2 to 3 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week with some suggesting as much as 1 to 2 servings per day (the more per day, the better).”

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower

Bag’o’Sprouts and Veggi-tray section of cauliflower.

brussel sprouts (One bag, 2lbs)
cauliflower (1/3 of a discarded veggie tray weighing 2.5 pounds total – obviously accurate measure is not important here folks!)
3 tablespoons garlic oil/ olive oil/ other cooking oil

I trimmed the ends of the sprouts and halved them, and trimmed the cauliflower of questionable bits. If I had a head of cauliflower, I’d cut off the florets then chunk up the stalk too, 1/4″ pieces so they roast evenly.  In my experience this is key to roast veg – relatively uniform thickness, for even cooking.

Toss in garlic oil, or plain oil, season with salt and pepper, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 400’F for about 40 minutes, or until the veg are tender with toasty brown bits.  Additional flavour could be added with herbs and spices.

I would be tempted to use some chopped garlic in this recipe as well, but my reading suggests this would result in burnt garlic taste, which is not recommended.  I’ve burnt garlic and still liked it, but, overall, I’d suggest garlic powder if you want the flavour in this recipe!


Result:  Yummy!