Tater Tot Casserole

Okay, okay…everyone has a terrible for you beloved comfort dish. This one is my wife’s. I like it okay too.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 package tater tots (I like Ore Ida Extra Crispy or Onion)
1-2 lbs of hamburger
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
1-2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
Lawrey’s Season Salt to taste

Brown the hamburger and set aside.  Add the oil to the pan and sautee the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic starts to smell nutty. Mix the onion & garlic, and hamburger together and sprinkle with Lawrey’s Season Salt.

Put the tater tots in the bottom of a 13×9 dish. Cover with the hamburger mixture. Cover that with the mushroom soup.

Bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 40-50 minutes…the tater tots should be turning brown.

Pork Tenderloin Marinade

Pork tenderloin is reasonably cheap (at least here, in hog country). And it doesn’t take that long to cook. But, it’s also bland as bland can be. So I like to marinate it for a while before cooking it. I’ve tried lots of marinades over time, but I have settled on this one for the umami and sweet that permeate the pork.

Pork Tenderloin Marinade

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 cloves of minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
hot sauce to taste

It’s pretty simple. Dissolve the brown sugar in the soy sauce and add the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly. I use 1 dash of Tabasco in mine, but 2-3 dashes of Franks or other good hot sauce is fine. Don’t get too carried away with the hot sauce, though. This isn’t meant to be a spicy marinade. The hot sauce is to add another level of flavor and you don’t want it to dominate.

Put the port tenderloin in a plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Marinate for up to 6 hours. Recipe makes enough to marinate 2 tenderloins.

Cook your tenderloins in a shallow dish or on a wire rack over a sheet pan in the lower half of your oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking time is 35 to 50 minutes depending on how done you want your pork – at 35 minutes, they should be around 140 degrees F. Rested for 15 minutes under foil, they will hit 145 to 150 degrees.
I tend to cook mine longer because I was raised to not eat pink pork and that conditioning is hard to over come. At about 50 minutes, the tenderloin will hit 155 to 160 degrees F and be completely done. But some people find it a little dry at this level of doneness.

Beer and Cheddar Soup

I don’t know when I tried the Food & Wine version of Jonathan Erdeljac’s Beer-and-Cheddar soup. But it sure was tasty. I’ve been futzing with this recipe off and on ever since, probably 2 years or more.  It’s great for any cold winter night and it doesn’t take terribly long to make. I love the smoky undertones in this soup.

1/2 of smoky bacon, cut into 1/3 inch dice
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme (use 1 teaspoon if you use dried thyme)
One 12-ounce bottle of lager or ale (Erdeljac recommended lager or pilsner, but I think tend to use either Honey Brown lager or a smoky ale of some sort)
2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
8-12 oz sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz smoked cheddar cheese (Look for a good smoked cheese. I would skip the ones that are artificially flavored with smoke flavorthe smoke tends to be out of balance with those).
salt and pepper to taste

In the pan you are going to use for the soup, cook the bacon over moderate heat until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crisp. (Don’t let your bacon burn!) Transfer the bacon to a bowl.

Add the celery, onion, jalapeno, and thyme and cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add half of the beer and cook until reduced by half. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned and the roux starts to smell nutty. Whisk the roux into the soup, then rinse the skillet into the soup with the remaining chicken broth. Stir until the roux is completely dissolved and cook until thickened.

Add the cream and remaining beer. Stir the cheese into the soup a handful at a time, waiting until the cheese is completely melted before adding the next handful. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the soup is thick and creamy. Add the bacon and season. You can thin the soup with a few more tablespoons of chicken broth if it seems too thick.

Serve with garlic toasts or grilled cheese sandwiches for a satisfying winter meal.

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Sweet Potato and Spinach Lasagna

Sweet Potato and Spinach Lasagna

White Sauce:
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
(or 4 cups half-and-half)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper

8 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes
1/2 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz fresh baby spinach
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
8 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 package no-cook lasagna noodles

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
Toss sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle salt over sweet potatoes and bake art 425 for 30 minutes, stirring half-way through to ensure even cooking. Set aside.

Make white sauce – Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until golden, about 3 minutes. Add milk & cream (or half-and-half) and stir until roux fully dissolved and sauce begins to thicken. Set aside.

In a skillet, add remaining olive oil and sautee green onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add spinach a big handful at a time and cook until wilted.

Reduce oven to 350.
In a 9×13 pan pre-sprayed with cooking spray, layer lasagna noodles, 1/2  of spinach mixture, 1/2 of cooked sweet potatoes, 1/3 of the white sauce, 1/2 of the mozzarella, and half of the Monterey Jack cheese. Repeat layer. Top with lasagna noodles, white sauce, and the grated parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

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Broccoli Cheddar Soup

It’s winter in Illinois. That should surprise no one.

That it has been a cold January should also surprise no one.

What do I like to eat when it’s cold out? Well, I like stews, braises and soups.  My wife is fond of Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar soup. So, as I am want to do, I try to recreate these things at home, because even though I am well employed, I’m also going back to school and, as everyone knows, going to school is expensive.

I’ve made this soup three or four times this year, and it has always had the same problem… Not cheesy enough.  So, each time I amp up the cheese. This last batch is pretty close. I should probably have it next time. It’s a tasty, filling soup that goes well with winter nights.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup flour
6 cups chicken  broth (ovo-lacto vegetarians can use vegetable broth)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
8 cups broccoli florets
2 large carrots, finely diced
24 oz shredded extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
6 oz shredded gruyere
2 tbsp salt
pepper to taste

Over medium heat:
Melt the butter and sautee onions until soft, 6-8 minutes.
Add garlic and sautee for about 60 seconds, until the garlic starts to smell nutty.
Sprinkle the flour over the pan and stir to form a roux.  Cook until golden.
Pour in chicken/vegetable stock and whisk until the roux is dissolved. Add milk, cream, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and nutmeg,  and simmer until thickened, stirring regularly. When thickened, the liquid will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
add broccoli and carrots, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
remove the bay leaves.
Add the cheeses, one handful at a time, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Once all the cheese is melted, taste, and correct seasoning.
You can, if you wish, run a stick blender through the soup to puree some or all of the broccoli. I don’t. My wife thinks it pushes the broccoli flavor too forward in the soup. And, well, Panera’s soup doesn’t have the broccoli pureed;).

Makes about 8 servings.

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