Monday, 25 November 2013

Potato and Ham Soup

Lessons learned:
1. Grandpa and grandma's recipes are always the best recipes.
2. Cooking liquid = ...I still don't understand.
3. Onions do make you cry.

I first had this soup in grade 9. That was the year I had surgery to remove my tonsils.
If you've ever had your tonsils removed then maybe you know what trying to find proper food is like. It is hard. For the first week, I ate nothing but ice cream, popsicles, pudding and yogurt. By the second week I was starting to look like a skeleton and I had forgotten what real food tasted like. So my grandpa and grandma, being the sweetest people you could ever imagine, brought me soup. What made this soup so special though, was the fact that its main ingredient, was my favourite ingredient: potatoes!

Naturally, I thought of this recipe for my blog. I had not eaten the soup since the time when I was a starving child so I wanted to see if it really was as good as my memory believes it was.

I don't have a link for this recipe because it has been given to me by my grandma. Aren't those always the best recipes?

3 medium potatoes
2 cups water
1 small onion
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp. Flour
Ground black pepper
3 cups milk
½ tsp. sugar
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup cubed cooked ham

The Process

1. First, I had to peel the potatoes and cut them up into cubes. Once completed, I filled a pan with water and boiled the potatoes for about 15 minutes (until they were tender). I then drained the water and set put the potatoes aside.

2. It was at this point where I called my grandma a dozen times. In my defense, her directions were not nearly as clear as they should have been. I was told to measure 1 cup of cooking liquid, adding water if necessary. What does that mean? Well, it means to get a cup of water and find some way to flavour it. Perhaps with a cube of chicken flavouring, a chunk from a soup mix or anything that has taste really. What?? For someone like myself, who has never cooked and doesn't generally like the taste of food, being told that I need cup of water mixed with something with taste, is like being told to calculate the triple integral relating to the volume of a square--I just don't understand. The answer is \begin{align*} \int_0^1 \int_0^x \int_0^{1+x+y} f(x,y,z) dz \, dy\, dx \end{align*}, by the way.
Furthermore, the directions said to add water, if necessary. Add water to a cup of flavoured water? Sure...
Eventually, I scrounged the cupboards and found a cube of something. I decided that was good enough and dropped it into a cup of water.

3. Next, I peeled and finely chopped an onion.Onions make you cry. I did not know that was a true fact. Imagine my astonishment when my eyes began burning and exploding with tears. It did not help that I don't know how to chop things and so it took me a while to cut up an entire onion. 
I hope my family liked the taste of my tears.
When that drama finally came to an end, I melted butter in a sauce pan and added the onion.

4. As the onion became translucent and tender, I added the flour and pepper. I let this cook for about 4 minutes and then started to add the potatoes, cooking liquid and sugar to the onion mixture.

5. Since this is a soup, I had to mash the cubed potatoes to create a smooth mixture. I then added the cheese and ham that I had so efficiently shredded and cut.

6. While examining the soup, I made the executive decision to add more water. The recipe apparently calls for 2 cups of water but, the directions only mentioned 1 cup. So, I figured it couldn't hurt.

7. Finally, the soup was left to simmer for 30 minutes while I stirred it frequently.

Voila! The soup ended up being just as delicious as I had remembered--despite how it looks! I think I truly am learning! 


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Potato Fans turn into Potato Fire

Lesson Learned:
1. Never buy from Store X.
2. Don't assume that a baking sheet will be more effective than plate.
2. It is not safe to step away from the oven whilst using the broiler.

Potato fans were originally planned as my first meal for the blog. It seemed like it would be the easiest, and so far it has been, besides certain setbacks. The process started off bad and so it seems appropriate that it ended bad. Good--but bad.

Let me explain...

For the sake of privacy and not wanting to bash anyone, I'll refer to a certain store as Store X.
I went to Store X last night after classes to buy 4 russet potatoes for this recipe. I had no idea what russet potatoes were so I simply looked around, confused. Eventually, my eyes randomly fell upon a pack of 4 wrapped potatoes--russet potatoes. Awesome.
So I drove all the way home (40 minutes). I began cooking only to find that the potatoes were rotten! Of course, I didn't figure that out on my own. My dad needed to tell me that. But still, the point was I could no longer cook potato fans which is why my first blog is about potato smashers.

Last night I finally found time to go back to the Store X, get my money back, drive to another store, and buy some proper, healthy russet potatoes. That is how this process started badly.

The potato fan recipe I chose is from You can find it here!

The suggest ingredients that I followed for once!

1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
4 russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
The Process
1. Go to Store X, bring back potatoes, go to another store, get better potatoes.
2. After having learned my lesson during the potato smashers, I remembered to scrub the potatoes clean. At this point I also preheated the oven to 450°.
3. Next, I cut a sliver off the lengthwise bottom of each potato so that when I set them down, they wouldn't roll. I then cut 1/4 inch off of each edge of the potatoes. I could then proceed to cut slices in each potato. These slices were about 1/4 inch apart and about 1/4 inch from the bottom of the potato. Thankfully, there were hardly any mishaps during the slicing portion of my evening. Only a couple edges needed trimming. I swear it's what they needed.
4. Once they were all cut, I ran some water over them, making sure to get in between the slices. This part is important according to the recipe. I then placed them sliced-side down on a plate and put them in the microwave for about 12 minutes. I even remembered to flip them halfway through.
5. After preparing a baking sheet with foil over it, I found a way to put the very hot potatoes, sliced-side up, on it. I was then supposed to brush the olive oil over each potato. Like the last time, I did not have a little brush to do this effectively. And like the last time, I do not recommend the method that I chose to do. With the twice baked potato potatoes, I dropped them on an olive oil filled plate in order to lather them with olive oil. Since that was a lesson learned for what not to do, I did not use a plate. I thought I could simply put pour olive oil on the foil and roll the potatoes around on that since that would be where they need to be cooked anyways. That was wrong in so many ways. Not only could I not get in between the slices of the potatoes, which resulted in me having to pour more oil, it may have been the reason behind the drama at the end of this process. But I digress. After the potatoes had been thoroughly soaked in oil (you don't actually need to soak the potatoes), I added a tad of salt and pepper and placed them in the oven for about 30 minutes.
6. While the potatoes were cooking, I started making the bread crumb mixture. All I needed to do was mix the breadcrumbs, paprika, butter, parmesan, salt, garlic powder and Monterey Jack cheese. This was simple until I came to the cheese. Instead of a block or shredded, I had bought slices of the cheese. But I needed shredded. So, I did what I had to do. I stacked up the slices of cheese so that it was like a block of cheese, and shredded. All we need to establish is that it worked well enough.
7. Finally, the 30 minutes was up and I was able to put the breadcrumb mixture on top of all the potatoes. I didn't even push the mixture too hard in between the slices like the recipe warned me about. Disaster averted!
8. The last part of the recipe: broil the potatoes so the breadcrumb mixture can cook and become crispy. So, I did that and went to set the table. Remember the oil all over the baking sheet and foil? Well, I did too. But, I did not know it was flammable.
I am just going to downplay how dramatic this moment was to lessen my embarrassment and say that luckily, when I arrived at the scene, the oil was the main thing on fire and the potatoes just got extra crispy in some places.

Voila! Another mainly successful meal! Although not as uneventful as my last meal, it was still less eventful than the potato smashers.

Is it possible that I'm getting better? 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Twice Baked Success

Lesson learned:
1. It's better to have a sidekick.
2. Don't drop potatoes on a plate full of olive oil in order to cover potatoes in olive oil.
3. Poke holes in potatoes before baking.
You may recall that I had originally thought that I would only have to make meals for 3 people. However, because of certain circumstances, I had to make supper for 8 people. So, I found something super easy to make--twice baked potatoes. If you've never had them before, twice baked potatoes are essentially mashed potatoes put back into potato skins with a few toppings. Delicious.
The recipe I used was from SimplyRecipes. You can find it here
The suggested ingredients to serve 4-6 people:
4 large russet potatoes, about a pound each
Olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 Tbsp cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
4 strips bacon
1/4 cup chopped green onion
What I actually used:
9 russet potatoes (I did not weigh them)
Olive oil (a lot)
1 1/2 cups of sour cream (this is not because we love sour cream)
1 cup of milk
2 Tbsp butter (melted, not softened)
Grated marble cheese (unknown amount)
Grated marble cheese (unknown amount)
As many bacon bits as we wanted
1/3 of a medium sized onion
2 small tomatoes
Now, as daunting as it seemed to be to cook for 8 people (none of them being forgiving family members), it was actually far less dramatic than my first try at cooking. Why? Well, my boyfriend is a really good cook and he wanted to help. I may have let him take the lead on this one...

The Process

1. After preheating the oven to 400°F, we started by putting olive oil on each potato. Normally, people have a fancy little brush to do so. However, we were stuck simply dropping the potatoes onto a plate layered in oil. Although the potatoes were well lathered, it created quite a mess. I don't recommend this method. I am proud to say that I learned a lesson before a disaster happened for once. Before putting the potatoes on the oven rack, I was told that we had to poke a couple holes in the potatoes so that they wouldn't explode while baking. Who knew? When that potential disaster had been taken cared of, we put the potatoes directly onto the oven rack. We then left them to bake for about 45 minutes. My lesson learned last meal prepared me for the task of checking to see if the potatoes were tender.

2. After the potatoes have cooled, we cut the top third lengthwise off each potato and scooped out the potato inside. The recipe says to leave about a quarter inch of potato around the edges but it's really up to the individual. We chose to scoop out as much as we could while still leaving the potato skin in tact so that we could have more mashed potatoes to eat. As long as you end up with canoe like potatoes you're on the right track.

3. The insides of the potatoes are now all in a bowl. At this point, we added in the milk, sour cream, melted butter, marble cheese and blended it all together.

4. Next we filled our canoe potatoes with the mashed potatoes.

5. This is where we were able to be creative. We added bacon bits, sliced tomatoes and onions, basil and marble cheese to the tops of the potatoes. You can really add anything that floats your boat (Get it? Canoe potatoes.).

6. Finally, we put the potatoes back in the oven at 350°F to let them heat up again. We did this for about 25 minutes.

Voila! They were finally ready!

I'm not sure whether or not to be embarrassed by how uneventful this meal was compared to my last try. Was is this smooth because I had a very skilled helper/leader. Or was my last effort just a dramatic sequence of unfortunate events?

I guess we shall see!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Potato Smashers or Potato Disasters?

Lessons learned:
1. Don’t bother microwaving potatoes.
2. Smashing a potato is not the way to check to see if a potato is tender--despite the name of this recipe. 

I’m usually a pretty smart girl just brimming with common sense. I swear. Apparently though, that is before I was actually put to the test. Last night I chose to make something super simple called Potato Smashers.
It was not simple.
This recipe told me it would take 30 minutes to make altogether.
It took me an hour and a half.  
But let's start from the beginning.

The recipe I chose is from Kraft. You can find it here!
The suggested ingredients:
8 new potatoes
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. Kraft Calorie-Wise Sun-Dried Tomato & Oregano Dressing
1/2 cup Kraft Mozza-Cheddar Light Shredded Cheese
4 slices 33%-less-sodium bacon, cooked, crumbled
What I actually used:
8 white potatoes (I do not know what "new potatoes" means. Do people normally use old potatoes to cook? I just used what we had in our cupboard.)
9 cups water (I'll explain later.)
2 Tbsp. Kraft Sun-Dried Tomato & Oregano Dressing (Calorie-wise? I think not.)
1/2 cup Kraft Mozzarella Cheese (I don't know what "light" cheese is and I think I can manage to shred my own cheese, thank-you very much. Key word: think.)
4 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled (I prefer my bacon with 33%-more-sodium.)
And so, the ingredients have been assembled and I am ready to begin. This is where lesson 1 comes in. I am supposed to microwave the potatoes and water in a 2-L microwavable dish on HIGH for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Now, having to rewrite the ingredients and instructions for this blog, I have realized where my mistake was. I forgot about the "1/2 cup of water" and instead did 2-L of water...
Last night I did not figure this out. I had those potatoes microwaving in 2-L of water for about 30 minutes because they were NOT getting tender!! I finally succumbed to going outside to my dad and asking him how to make them tender.
"Why aren't you just boiling them in a pan of water, Erin," he says to me so matter-of-factly.
Thanks Dad. 
So, I transferred all the potatoes and the excessive amount of water to a pan and started boiling them. But wait! My common sense kicks in for a moment and I realize that I should really have scrubbed the potatoes because aren't potatoes dirty?
After the clean potatoes and new water are put back in the pan, they boil.

This is where my common sense leaves me and the second lesson comes in. I thought that perhaps the potatoes were tender after about 5 minutes of boiling. To check, I took out a single potato, put it on a hard surface, took out a potato smasher...and smashed. Instant regret.     

You may not be able to tell in the picture, but that potato was not tender. What you can tell, is that I can no longer put this potato back in the pan to become tender.

I am down to 7 poor potatoes.
After using Google to establish the proper way to check potatoes, everything went pretty smoothly.
I'm kidding.
When the potatoes are tender, you have to drain the water and flatten them. That ended up turning my potatoes into piles of mini potatoes. But, thankfully the skin managed to keep some pieces together and I was able to  push some smaller pieces back in there. After flattening,
I put them on a skillet with the Kraft dressing and let that soak in for about 5 minutes. Except I forgot to let the skillet heat up first. So, the potatoes didn't end up heating up again and becoming golden brown. All well. I then grated cheese--too much cheese. I should have just bought the shredded cheese like the recipe said. All well. I then topped the potatoes off with my shredded cheese along with the crumbled bacon and voila! My first meal is complete!
This has been an ordeal. I really don't think I could have found an easier recipe. Somehow I made it the most difficult recipe. At this point, there is no time (or patience) to make meat or vegetables. Who needs vegetables anyways?
They don't look so bad right?
I will get better at this.

Wish me luck!

What Did I Get Myself Into...

This is my mom's fault.
It all started back in the early 2000's when my mom decided to go back to school. It took her 7 years because she did it part-time but, she finally got her degree. Then, for years, she had to volunteer her time and continue with mini contracts that gave her a job and then, no job. What occupation could possibly be so difficult to get into? A parole officer. There are a limited amount of parole officers in Canada so, if you want a job as one, it can take a decade.
What does this have to do with me and my blog? Well, as my family and I were sitting down to eat supper back in October, she turned to me and said, "Erin, I'm going to Saskatchewan for 8 weeks to train for a job. How do you feel about taking an 8 week cooking course?" In other words, "I'm going to leave and it's going to be your job to feed the family."
I do not cook.
The extent of my cooking experience is mac n' cheese and possibly mixing the soup as my mom is making it. 
So, I was a little shocked when she dropped this news on me and of course I replied with, "Mom, I don't feel anything towards that opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks."
Well, my mom is gone now and I'm hungry--we all are.
Even though my family consists of 7 people, only my dad, brother, and I live at home right now. At least my meals don't have to be big. Furthermore, my grandparents have taken it upon themselves to cook for us whenever they can. Halleluiah! So, I will be cooking anytime they cannot.
Since I have been left with the responsibility of cooking, I have chosen to cook the only thing I like to eat in this world besides candy: potatoes.
So prepare yourself, you are about to embark on my 8 week cooking course involving everything potato. Enjoy!