Accidental Iron Chef? #HurricaneSandy

Hurricane Sandy has left me isolated in my own home. No work, no businesses open, no friends or family or boyfriend to hang out with. Just me and whatever I got here at home. I’ve been wanting a day off to reorganize some closets in my home, particularly my pantry. Most of today with the crappy weather I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything besides lay in my pajamas and watch food network and play words with friends and play on Facebook and Twitter.

For a few hours it was fun, but I’m not really the type of person who can stay still for too long, so after a couple of cups of coffee, I got my second wind and decided to clean out my pantry and a kitchen cabinet that also had some pantry items. This sums up my non perishable items, sans spices:

I have now deemed myself a culinary hoarder. I have so much food all I can really do is have a party and find creative ways to cook it off, Iron Chef style. What are you inspired to make?

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Caramelized Onion and Bacon Mashed Potatoes

Another reason I love fall…mashed potatoes! True, you can enjoy them any time of year, but there is something particularly enjoyable about this comfort food in the colder months. When I used to cater, the company I worked for had a caramelized onion mashed potato that guests loved. I developed my own version, cutting back on the butter and cream and instead using BACON. This is one of my favorite fall side dishes, I made them for Thanksgiving last year and have served them at multiple dinner and dinner parties. Guests are hardly ever disappointed.

It’s hard for me to give you an exact recipe as I always wing this one, but I think I have pared it down for you to try and replicate in your own kitchens.

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CARAMELIZED ONION AND BACON MASHED POTATOES
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 ounces thick cut maple bacon, or any thick cut bacon
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Boil potatoes in salted water until fork-tender, drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a nonstick skillet, remove from heat when done. Using a set of tongs or a fork, remove the pieces and drain on a paper towel, reserving the bacon grease. Once cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon into pieces and set aside.
  3. Turn the heat back on the skillet with the bacon grease and add onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until browned, constantly moving the onions around, whether by hand flipping or with a spoon, careful not to burn.
  4. Add sugar to the onions and saute until sugar is incorporated and mixture is almost syrupy – the added sweetness is important to the dish. Remove from heat and set aside with bacon crumbles.
  5. Add milk, butter, and more salt and pepper to large sauce pan. Heat until butter is melted. Add potatoes and using a potato masher, start mashing by hand. Texture should have some pieces of potato – the desired effect is more rustic than whipped. Mix in bacon and onions, adjust seasonings as desired.
  6. Potatoes can be served immediately or cooled down and refrigerated. When reheating, additional milk may be needed to reconstitute potatoes to desired texture.

Remember this recipe is not an exact science – play around with more bacon, less bacon, more potatoes, more liquid, etc.

Apple Cheddar Empanadas

Fall is one of my favorite times of years to cook. I love all the flavors of the season – pumpkin, sage, butter, apples, pears, cinnamon, nutmeg, butternut squash, etc.

A couple of years ago I went apple picking up in Warwick, NY and I definitely overdid it. 25 pounds of apples later, I had to come up with fun and creative ways to use them so they would not spoil. This was also the first time I delved into canning.

Desserts and baking, with the exception of working with chocolate, have never been my forte. The past few years my capabilities have improved, but I cannot help but use cooking style improvisation in my baking, especially combining savory and sweet.

One of the recipes I developed was Apple and Cheddar Empanadas – a sweet and spicy apple pie filling enrobed in a cheddary empanada crust.

This week I revisited the recipe and forgot how much I liked it. I cannot take full credit for the dough part, as I used a recipe from Kraft, but I’m still proud to say it’s all from scratch.

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APPLE CHEDDAR EMPANADAS
For the Dough:
Kraft Empanada Dough Recipe (consider substituting lard for shortening)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Egg wash (one egg mixed with 1/4 cup water or milk)

For the Filling:
3 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ~1″ cubes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup burbon or whiskey
1 teaspoon each – white pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon flour

  1. Prepare dough according to recipe, set aside
  2. In a large saute or frying pan, melt the butter and add the apples, saute about two minutes as they start to brown
  3. Add brown sugar, bourbon, and spices. Continue to saute about five more minutes. Apples will start to decompose.
  4. Sprinkle flour over the apples, continue to heat and mix in about two more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Divide the dough equally into 12 pieces, roll into balls. Roll each ball into the shredded cheddar to coat, and knead the cheddar into each piece.
  7. Roll out each dough ball into 6 inch circles, add about 1 rounded tablespoon of filling to the center ( do not overfill).
  8. Fold each circle in half, seal the edges closed by crimping with a fork. Pierce the top of each empanada to allow filling to vent while baking.
  9. Arrange empanadas on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Brush the top of each empanada with the egg wash.
  10. Bake empanadas for 18 – 23 minutes or until golden brown in color. Enjoy hot or allow to cool. Empanadas can be stored at room temperature in a sealed bag for up to a week.