Sep 2006

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Goat Cheese, Leeks & Turkey Bacon

Piping the filling into the potato shells with a pastry bag makes an attractive presentation. You can also just spoon in the filling and crosshatch the top with the tines of a fork.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 8 6-ounce russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 5 1/2 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), crumbled
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks
  • 4 slices of turkey bacon

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 375°F. Rub oil over potatoes. Pierce in several spots with fork. Place directly on oven rack; bake until very tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 10 minutes. Using oven mitts, grasp 1 potato in hand. Using serrated knife, cut off top 1/4 of potato. Using spoon, scoop out potato, leaving 1/2-inch-thick shell; transfer potato flesh to large bowl. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Mash potatoes until smooth. Mix in cheese, then half and half, butter, and chives. Season with salt and pepper.

In a separate pan saute the leeks and turkey bacon in a bit of olive oil until the leeks are tender. Mix the leeks and turkey bacon with the potato and cheese mixture.

Spoon about 3/4 of mixture into shells, dividing evenly. Transfer remaining potato filling to pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe filling atop potatoes. Place potatoes on baking sheet. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake potatoes until filling is heated through and tops brown, about 20 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2001

Substitutions: The original recipe does not include leeks or turkey bacon and instead calls for chives. To make the potatoes more of an entree rather than side, I decided to add the meat. I did not find it necessary to rub the potatoes with oil. Used 1% milk instead of half and half. Skipped the butter. Instead of baking them for 45 minutes in the oven initially, I put them in the microwave for 25 minutes. I spooned the mixture into the potatoes because I did not have a pastry bag or tip.

Sep 2006

Turning the Tables: Restaurants from the Inside Out – Steven A. Shaw

About: Go behind the swinging doors of the restaurant world with eGullet’s irreverent Fat Guy.

Have you ever wondered how that flawless piece of fish or that rare farmstead cheese reached your plate? Or how to read between the lines of a restaurant review? Or why some restaurants succeed while others fail?

Steven A. Shaw has the answers — and he offers them up with style and humor. More than a how-to guide, Turning the Tables is an exploration and a celebration of the incredibly intricate workings of professional kitchens and dining rooms.

No snooty critic, Shaw has crisscrossed North America in search of insider knowledge at every level, from temples of haute cuisine to barbecue joints and hot dog stands. He has gone undercover in kitchens and dining rooms, trailed top restaurateurs and suppliers, and has the burns, girth, and aching feet to prove it.

In Turning the Tables, Shaw weaves an intriguing tapestry of journalism and opinion to deliver an unprecedented look at every aspect of the world of restaurants. His infectious enthusiasm and penetrating observations make Turning the Tables a joy to read. It is a paean to the cooks, servers, farmers, and restaurateurs who sustain us, and an unrivaled examination of a world that remains hidden to most.

My thoughts: A fun and easy read with some good advice about how to get reservations at uber popular restaurants (“polite but confident persistence” is key). He advises readers to take the information in guides like Zagat’s and restaurant reviews with a grain of salt: remember, they’re just opinions. He also doubts the accuracy of Michelin ratings in Europe and America. This man is really opinionated, which is especially annoying when I disagree with what he’s saying. Case in point, he states that organic produce is not superior to the regular stuff. He also thinks that grass and grain fed animals are nothing special. Steven Shaw needs to read What to Eat and Fastfood Nation.

Sep 2006

What to Eat – Marion Nestle

About: “What to Eat” is a book about how to make sensible food choices. Consider that today’s supermarket is ground zero for the food industry, a place where the giants of agribusiness compete for your purchases with profits—not health or nutrition—in mind. This book takes you on a guided tour of the supermarket, beginning in the produce section and continuing around the perimeter of the store to the dairy, meat, and fish counters, and then to the center aisles where you find the packaged foods, soft drinks, bottled waters, baby foods, and more. Along the way, it tells you just what you need to know about such matters as fresh and frozen, wild and farm-raised, organic and “natural,” and omega-3 and trans fats. It decodes food labels, nutrition and health claims, and portion sizes, and shows you how to balance decisions about food on the basis of freshness, taste, nutrition, and health, but also social and environmental issues and, of course, price.

My thoughts: The most intelligent people are the ones who are able to convey their knowledge simply, which is exactly what Marion Nestle does in “What to Eat.” Her aisle by aisle guide was extremely informative and a pleasure to read. As someone who enjoys exploring grocery stores, her insights gave me a whole new set of nuances to notice.

I really enjoyed her purchasing recommendations for each aisle of the grocery store. One suggestion that I use often are her produce recommendations. Her preferences are:

  1. Organic and locally grown
  2. Organic and not local
  3. Locally grown and not organic
  4. Neither locally grown or organic

The concept of “food miles” (the miles/days/energy that foods travel to arrive at our grocery stores) was something I hardly paid attention to before, but now I make an effort to buy locally grown produce because they are fresher and more fuel efficient. So even though locally grown Jersey peaches are smaller in size than the ones from California, they are more nutritious and better for the environment.

Another aspect of the book that got me thinking was her take on advertising and the science behind the placement of products in stores – marketing and psychology are so fascinating!

This book is really long (611 pages), but is written so that you can seamlessly flip to a chapter that you’re interested in and skip the others. I only skimmed the chapters on coffees and teas because I never buy that stuff.