The Perfect Food?? – Twice Baked Potatoes!!

Twiced Baked PotoatoMy mother, rest her soul, was a lovely, giving woman generous with her time, love and affection.  She could burn water.  Did it! Saw her!  Boiled that pan dry.

I remember one holiday dinner  as a young man when I offered to help in the kitchen. She asked me to please cook the green beans.  Of course, says I and troddled off to the freezer I did. Fresh and local were not watchwords of the 70’s.  A box of frozen green beans in hand, I prepared a pan of boiling water and placed the frozen brick gently amongst the bubbles. After a few minutes the block had thawed and the green beans were heated through and through.  “Mom, I think the green beans are done.” Their pale green pallor being a dead giveaway. “Let’s give them a few more minutes just to be sure.” came the loving, generous reply.  My career path was set that day – Learn to cook – by people who know how to cook.

Now please don’t think of me as an uncharitable son. I loved my mother mightily and miss her to this day.  I have a great many reasons to thank her and my father.  One of those reasons is Twice Baked Potatoes!!

As a family we would often have regular baked potatoes.  They were easy for mom to make, just through them in the oven for and hour and put some margarine, salt and pepper on the table.  Feeding five rambunctious little monsters was no mean feat but my mother pulled it off every night.  One night in particular I noticed that the baked potatoes looked a little different.   As soon as the blessing was said I tucked right in and was pleasantly surprised.  If mothers receive validation for the efforts in the kitchen, from the praise of the family, my mother got free parking for a year that night. “Twice baked potatoes, Tom, that’s what they are.”  Yummmitty, yum yum.  All filled with cheese and bacon bits and  . . .  YUM!!

In honor and memory of my loving mother I share with you my approach at:

Twice Baked Potatoes

2  each       Large Russet Potatoes, bake at 350F for 1 hour

1/2 cup      Small Onion, diced and tossed into a saute’ pan with a little olive oil
3  each      Cloves of Garlic, smashed and minced – toss into saute’ with onions
1/2 cup      Diced Prosciutto – toss into saute’
1/4 cup      Dried Figs, diced – toss into saute’

Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes then deglaze with

1/2 cup     Dry white wine

Reduce about 1 minute then add

1/2 cup      Sour Cream

Grate and add

1/2 cup      Manchego cheese – add to mix
1/4 cup      Parmesan cheese – add to mix

Cook for 1 minute then remove from heat

Salt and pepper as desired

When potatoes are done baking remove from oven and set a side to cool.  When cool split open tops and remove the flesh into a bowl. Reserve the skins intact. Add the contents of the saute’ pan to bowl and mix.  Spoon mixture into reserved potato skins and bake at 350 until brown on top – about 15 minutes.

Serve hot!!

Eat well and Smile Often,



p.s. I believe that was the night I uttered those now infamous words, “Food is my habitat!”

p.p.s. Well it is!!






Golden Pepper Jelly!!

Golden Pepper JellyI love me some pepper jelly.

One of the very best things about having your own backyard garden is the overabundance of fresh produce.  When those little plant guys start to pop they just go crazy. Even last year with low yields it was bucket after bucket of – small – but tremendously flavorful produce. I had tomatoes galore, some eggplant, more than a few spaghetti squash and peppers, lot of peppers.  There were green bells and red bells and yellow bells and many, many, many of those spicy little serranos. (I actually took a bite out of a fresh one, right off the vine. One word: Tears!)

These were not tears of pain, but ones of joy . . . and pride, of a parental nature.  My life has been one lived in the pursuit of wanderlust.  I have enjoyed many careers, traveled to distant lands doing many things.  My experiences range from mushing sled dogs in the Yukon to spending 10 weeks cooking on Easter Island to traveling Europe by – very small – car with my best friend.  I’ve worked with amazing people from around the world and have learned that I only need enough for food, shelter and a pint at the pub with friends.  One joy and adventure I have not had is in becoming a parent.  I see many of my old high school classmates sharing stories of amazing children, many of whom are now graduating from college. Wow!! I’m not that old!!

While I have chosen not to have children I still recognize that desire to protect, to nurture and to share with the world the pride I have in my offspring.  So I garden. And when the garden bears fruit . . . I can.  Yes I can. That is to say, I preserve.


I take my little pride and joys and stuff them into jars.  All boiled and pickled and put up when they are just right and ripe. I slap a label on them, show them off to my friends and enjoy their goodness into the cold winter months of my old age.  Such good thoughtful children they are.  Never forgetting a birthday or Father’s Day.  Always there when I need a little pick me up, never complaining and always at their best.  Hmmm . . .

Pepper Jelly

4 yellow, orange or red bell peppers, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
5  large red serrano peppers, seeded, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1  cup cider vinegar
1  pkg. SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
5  cups sugar, measured into separate bowl (See tip below.)

In a large pot place canning cars, opening up and lids and cover completely with water.  Jars must be full of water. Place on stove over medium heat and bring to a slow boil. Boil for about a minute then turn off heat leaving jars in the hot water.

Place all the peppers in a blender with 1/2 of the cider vinegar and blend to a rough puree.  Pour peppers in to a 6 – 8 qt spot, add , pectin and remaining vinegar and bring to a slow boil then add sugar. Return to a boil and skim foam as needed.   Cook for  5 minutes then reduce heat to a slow simmer.Turn off heat when starting to fill jars.

Turn off heat to jars and lids but leave them in the hot water.  Dip a clean ladle in the hot water and let sit for 30 seconds.  Remove one jar at a time from the water and place on a baking sheet on the counter.  With the clean sanitized ladle, scoop the very hot pepper jelly into the very hot jar to within 1/2″ of the lip of the jar.  Remove a lid from the boiling water with tongs and seal the jar immediately.  Repeat until all the jelly is put up.

Eat Well and Smile Often!!


p.s. My hat is off to all the parents out there who have given so much of themselves tot he lives of their children.  And to my old friends, I invite you over for some freshly roasted coffee, a slice of freshly baked bread smeared with Golden Pepper Jelly in my garden.  And if you stay long enough I’ll break out the whiskey and you can tell me the real story about parenting!!

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!!

Herbed ChickenIn this corner, weighing in at a plump 3 1/2 pounds the current heavy weight roasted chicken champion of the world: Madeline Kamman’s Herbed Butter under-the-skin.
A traditional French technique for chicken that can be used for roasting or Sous Vide cooking. This mighty dish has charmed royalty the world over and stands as the pinnacle of simple poultry preparation.

Mahogany ChickenAnd in this corner, weighing in at a firm 3.25 pounds, the Contender, Jessica Cogan’s made-by-mom-at home Mahogany Chicken. The pride of the borough, this friendly approach to adding flavor should not be underestimated; stylish, smart and sassy. Who will be the winner is anyone’s guess.  Kamman’s herbed champion has the breasts to put up a great fight.  But Cogan’s Mahogany contender has got the legs to run away with it all.   Marquis of Queensbury rules apply!

Round 1

Round 1 In the left corner prepped with just a rub of salt and pepper on the skin: The Mahogany Contender.  In the right corner with an herbed butter rubbed under the skin directly on the breast: The Herbed Champion.

The judges score this round evenly. An equal effort from both birds.

The Contender’s basting marinade is 1 part brown sugar, 1 part balsamic vinegar and 1 part dry vermouth applied after the first 45 minutes of cooking then every 15 mins after that until done.The Champion’s herbed butter is 1/4 cup butter, salt, pepper, garlic. rosemary, thyme and basil.

Round 2

Round 2In the left side of the oven The Contender holds its own against The Champion.  But don’t count out the slippery moves that Herbed Butter can bring to this fight.  The heat is up for both of them and so far neither is backing down from a basting.

Uh Oh! The Champ is showing signs of melting down while the challenger, showing great poise under all this heat, is just crackling away.  The crowd is silent watching these to birds go head to head in headless combat. Never before have we seen such fancy footless footwork.  Ding!  Saved by the bell.

Round 3

Round #The final round and The Contender is putting on a show.  Evenly browned after multiple bastings She’s showing no sign of legging off.  The Champ, a little unevenly used from the butter directly under the skin, is still in the fight. Her delicious herbs giving off the airs of a true champion, one who never quits.


The Fight is Over!!

End of FightAmazing!! Never before is the history of Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner have we seen anything like this before.  Who would have guessed it?  Folks, just who could have foreseen the outcome of today’s match up? Not you, not me, nobody could have predicted this!!  After 1 hour and 25 mins in a 350°F oven the judges score the final numbers equally at 170°F. I still can’t believe it. My hats off to both of these plucky fighters.  I guess we’ll just have to wait until after they cool down before we can get a taste of what happened here today.  My oh my! I’ve never seen anything like it before.  No sir- ee.


Judge’s Decision

In a 2 to 1 vote the new Roast Chicken Heavy Weight Champion of the World is . . . . an upset!!

Madeline Kamman’s age old classic recipe proved feisty but it’s moves were a bit outdated and predictable.  The Contender, Jessica Cogan’s Mahogany Chicken takes the title with it’s even browning and moist marinaded flavor.  Our hat’s off to both the fighters in this matchup.  What?  What’s that I hear?  A rematch??  That’s right folks you heard it here first.  These two birds aren’t done flapping their wings yet.  Until next time . . .

Eat Well and Smile Often,


p.s. Run Chicken Run!!

Bloom, Bloom, Ka-Boom!!

Squash BlossomThe first of my harvest has arrived with a bloom and ka-boom!

About 6 weeks ago I planted a number of tender little shoots.  Some tomatoes, some peppers, an eggplant, a few watermelon and a handful of squash; zucchini, yellow crook neck and patty pan to be precise. This last week these little charges bore the fruits of MY labor.  In my post Organic IS Marketing Hype you will see the early photos of my garden and my very first squash blossom of the season (as seen here).  This beautiful little flower yielded the rather rotund patty pan you see below.

Patty Pan

Now every Second Sunday of the Month my friends and I gather around a large table where we drink too much wine, eat too much food and tell each other too, too may lies. Inevitably in this raucous Bacchus caucus, a voice of dubious authority will pipe up and say something like, “These tomatoes taste great but the ones my grandfather grew in his garden were amazing!!”  Now while I am not a grandfather I do have a garden and I can state with some authority that the freshly-grown-in-my-own-backyard vegetables do taste amazing!! Luckily I live in California where fresh really is fresh and the quality and variety of produce it truly remarkable. But even they can’t compare to the incredible difference in flavor, color and texture that home grown, fresh-off-the-vine vegetables have. And I must tell you there is something tremendously cool about going out to the garden every night and harvesting my own dinner.  In my own little mind I hear the plant gently offering up its fruit that I might live another day. “Dear Mr. Tom, You have been so kind to me. You’ve taken me in and given me this wonderful planting bed to lie in.  You feed me, water me, and protect me from vile pestilence.  Please accept this offering in small exchange for your love and protection.”  or something like that.  Out of respect for these noble plants I vow never to waste their efforts.

Sizzling Saute PanSo right after harvesting the mother of all Patty Pan squash I tucked in to it with my 10″ chef’s knife dicing it in to  3/4″ cubes.  The remnants of an onion waited patiently in my fridge for just this opportunity.  A quick chop put this savory bulb into 1/4″ pieces. This onion, with 3 cloves of garlic smashed, hit the hot olive oil soaked pan with a sizzle. On their heels went my darling Patty Pan.

Sitting beside this purple read onion of mine I found a tail-end chunk of prosciutto.  I sliced off a fat inch and trimmed it into lardons.  Into the pan they leapt to join their sauteing brethren. A big fat tablespoon of tomato paste, a cup of white wine, add a big spoon to stir and Voila!  Dinner is served.


I topped this luscious Ratatouille with a heavy hand of grated Parmesan cheese and a chop-chop of basil.  I couldn’t get a fork into it fast enough. Who’s got two thumbs and a mouthful of goodness?  This guy!

Eat Well and Smile Often,



p.s. Why is it Rat-atouille?  Wouldn’t it sound better being Cat-atouille?  (maybe not)