Musings on Twice-Baked Potatoes, Books, and Restorative Acts of Kindness

Saturday night I was part of a band of merry revelers who joined forces to throw our friend a potluck birthday party. I was charged with making the birthday girl’s favorite side, Twice-Stuffed Potatoes––a classic.

This path of aging has its drawbacks but it carries with it a suitcase filled with wisdom. I’m at a stage where life is about surrounding myself with people I respect, those I love and who love me back––hiccups and all.  Above all, I like hangin’ with folks who make me laugh.

Tacking on the years, as well, is liberating. I’m far better adept at shrugging off negative energy.

One of many random ego-bashing examples: A decade or so back, after selling my specialty food store and beginning to write for the newspaper, a negative comment from a reader shattered me. And they were right. I wasn’t a trained chef; how dare I write a food column. Maybe I was, indeed, a poseur.

On the other hand,  I’d been in the trenches of the food industry most of my life. Maybe I should go online and defend myself. I kept quiet yet fantasized ways of retaliation that only hurt my spirit in the end.  When writing The Welcome Home Diner, it was easy to channel that angst when my protagonists were faced with damaging Yelp reviews.

Random Tip: If a recipe calls for a half a cup of onion or less, I purchase a large shallot––Avoids a leftover onion half rolling about my fridge.

Coping with negative book reviews is a topic that often comes up in writing circles as misery loves company––alongside a glass of Cabernet. More seasoned authors have helped me adjust. If one publishes a book, one must expect public scrutiny and take the positive with the negative.

OK. Easy to say. But this is what truly works for me: When feelings of negativity and doubt step in: I step out of the strangeness and do a kindness for another.  Then, my energy is re-balanced. A bit woo-woo, perhaps, but the gesture is manna for my soul. Do any of you have special ways of coping when the dark forces invade?

Sure, negative reviews still sting (and drop ratings), but my psyche is better armored to shrug them off. Even learn from them. What a concept (-: I write from my heart, fingers crossed my books will be matched to my reader’s taste, and damn the torpedos.

Yesterday, the very first review of The Ruby of the Sea was released by the woman behind Novels & Latte (on Facebook) and Wild Sage Book blog (on Instagram). My cast and setting found its way into just the right hands. Here’s an excerpt from her review:

“Allow me to begin by saying~ very few books will wake me in the middle of the night and whisper, “It’s time to experience more.” This book was more than whispering to me, it was touching my heart. Truly.”  For the full review, link to my FB Author Page.

Which leads me to my latest Book News. Ta-da! The Kindle version of The Ruby of the Sea is, at last, available for preorder, to be released on Feb. 5.  Note the nifty little preorder button in the right sidebar. Not a Kindleite? Physical copies will be available on pub date, as well. 

But I digress. back to the recipe.

These are forgiving spuds. Not only did they allow me to make them a day in advance, by accident I froze them overnight in our malfunctioning cellar fridge. Oops. I was concerned about the texture of the skin when thawed and then reheated, and worried the creamy interior would be compromised. Would a graininess emerge? Alas, they were delicious after the abuse, and perfect alongside the grilled lamb chops and roasted asparagus. I enjoyed them cheesy, but feel free to reduce or omit the cheese, if desired.

Here’s a link to another stuffed potato favorite, which incorporates spinach into the recipe.  They are both, truly, yummy, make-ahead sides.  I’m quite sure one of them will show up again–maybe I’ll sub them for the expected sweet potatoes over Thanksgiving? Perhaps not. At my Thanksgiving table, expected is the operative word, guarding tradition with a razor-sharp eye.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more festive, seasonal recipes, tap the Holiday Ball on the side.

Recipe: Make-ahead Twice-Stuffed Potato with Bacon and Cheddar

Ingredients

  • 6 strips raw bacon
  • 12 medium-sized russet potatoes
  • Olive oil as needed for rubbing potatoes
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half
  • 2/3’s cup finely chopped shallots (2 large shallots)
  • 3/4 cup plus ¼ cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup snipped fresh chives

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚.
  2. Arrange bacon on a foil-lined sheet pan, and bake on the middle rack until crispy, 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of bacon. Drain on paper towels, reserve bacon drippings, and finely chop.
  3. Rub olive oil over potatoes and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt, if desired. Place on middle rack of oven and bake 30 minutes. Prick each potato with a fork and continue cooking until potatoes are tender, about 15 additional minutes.
  4. While potatoes are cooking, sauté shallots in 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon drippings until tender and fragrant.
  5. When potatoes are just cool enough to handle but the interior flesh is hot, slice off 1/4 piece from the top of each potato and, with a melon baller or spoon, scoop flesh into a large bowl. Leave about 1/4-inch-thick shell on the potato “bowl” and place potato shells on a baking sheet.
  6. With a potato masher (it’s important to do this while potatoes are still hot), mash potato flesh with butter, sour cream, half-and-half, shallots and chopped bacon. If desired, with an electric beater, whip on lowest speed until just silky smooth. If you overwhip, your potatoes will likely become gummy.
  7. When mixture has cooled down a bit, stir in ¾ cup of cheese and chives, and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  8. Stuff potato mixture into potato shells and sprinkle each potato with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. (This can be done up to 24 hours in advance at this point.)
  9. Thirty minutes before serving, bake on middle rack in 400˚ oven until heated through, 20-30 minutes.

Active time: 70 minutes

Baking time: apx. 90 minutes, including time to cook bacon

Number of servings (yield): 12 SERVINGS

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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The Ruby of the Sea

Today I’m revealing the title and cover of my third novel, THE RUBY OF THE SEA. Perhaps not as food-centric as THE PROMISE KITCHEN or THE WELCOME HOME DINER, food lovers will not be disappointed. Especially if you enjoy a bit of Cuban heat in your recipe repertoire.

The novel is about the indelible bond between three sisters, a historic Key West lighthouse they once called home, and the secrets, passions and lies of the past, which collide with the present in a most harrowing way. Of course, all of my characters LOVE to eat!

Here’s an excerpt in the second chapter that one of main characters, Delphina, is enjoying a Cuban specialty that her mother-in-law just made. I hope this will whet your palate:

“…First, she ladles a mound of steaming white rice upon a plate. Then, long-simmered beans and sauce are spooned over the top. The color of henna, a deep reddish-brown, they appear to be flowing down a mountain. She embellishes the dish with a garlicky, bell pepper sauce–a beautiful contrast of color, texture and flavor.

I dig my fork into this masterpiece and stir everything up until the rice, beans, pork and sweet peppers lose their individuality, morphing into a singular bliss. Bringing the fork to my mouth, I inhale the scent of cardamom and oranges, Lita’s secret ingredients. My baby in my arms, comfort food at my side, why do I continue obsessing over that silk?”

The link for the recipe she is eating (Slow-Cooked Pork, Black Beans and Rice) is here.  Delicioso! The pre-order link for this latest will be added to the site in a couple of weeks!

Cuban Pork and Beans

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Farmer’s Market Succotash

In my part of the world, September welcomes an excess of riches at Farmers Markets across the state. Whenever I see lima beans, I’m reminded of a traditional stew of the Indian-Americans made from corn kernels, lima beans, and tomatoes. Living in the wintry climate of Ann Arbor, it’s a luxury using all fresh vegetables for this particular recipe and I try to make a batch each September.

Carrots with Issues.

Recently I had a friend of 30-plus years come to visit, which included a trip to the Farmers Market. We revel in the ridiculous, and these dysfunctional carrots kept us laughing through the day.

I also purchased a couple of bunches of fully functioning cauliflower with intentions of making Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Grapes and Almonds.

The carrots with issues are slated to be used in a recipe for Carrot Soup with Thai Flavors.  Maybe the heat will help them sort through their angst.

But back to the following recipe. Not a fan of okra? Substitute it with some fresh sliced Japanese eggplant (the long skinny variety) or squash– just don’t cook those vegetables as long as you would cook the okra. No fresh lima beans or okra? Just use frozen, following packaging cooking times.

Recipe: Farmers Market Succotash

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 medium sweet onion chopped
  • 2 cups fresh okra, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups freshly shucked lima beans
  • 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2-2 cups water, stock or wine
  • 4 cups (4 ears) fresh corn kernels cut from the cob
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon, reserve, and add onion to bacon fat. Sauté over medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add okra and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Then add tomatoes and lima beans and simmer mixture until vegetables are just tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add stock, wine or water in 1/2 cup increments when mixture becomes dry.
  3. When vegetable are just tender, stir in corn and garlic and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Crumble reserved bacon over the top and serve.

Active time: 15 minutes

Simmer time: 40-45 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 6 SERVINGS

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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