Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greetings from LA

I've been keeping busy on my little vacation.  Wait, is it still a vacation if you're not employed?  Semantics.

We went down to Panama City the Saturday before the 4th.  By we I mean Will, his parents, sister, niece, and nephew.  Yup.  We had a crew!  Will's parents have a boat they keep in Panama City, and it's a beaut.

Know what else is beautiful?  The colors of the water you get in the Gulf of Mexico.  And the white sand beaches.
I'm still partial to the beach I grew up on, but water clear as glass and soft white sand sure is purty.  We set up shop a little ways from the beach in the picture.  

On one side was the bay and a short walk across the sand took you to the Gulf.  You can see everything that swims around you, which is helpful when you see something that might like a nibble of your toe.  

Luckily, we didn't see anything like that.  Will would've been the first one out of the water.

We went to the water park here in Dothan with the kiddies on Monday.  It's on the smaller side, which is a big help when you're chasing after two kids who have more energy than that silly pink bunny with the drum.  Needless to say, we had fun.

I also got a pedicure that was way overdue.  Usually I do my toes myself, but every now and then I like a little treat.  Plus my tootsies were particularly out of sorts after walking around Waterworld.
I realize feet are not particularly attractive in and of themselves, but I love this color!  It's OPI's Cajun Shrimp.  I love nail polish names, and how could I not get it once I saw what it was called?

In other news, I might be a little late to the party, but I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  
I've been meaning to read this for about a year now, and I finally had the sense to buy it.  It's utterly captivating.  I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but it centers around three women in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Oh, you wanted food?  Well I made twice-baked potatoes last night.  They're an easy go-to meal in my family because it's hard to improve upon a potato with bacon and cheese.

Twice-baked Taters (serves 4)

First things first, you'll need:
  • 4 medium/large potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

I figure about one tater per person, especially if you've got big taters or you're serving a protein.  Really though, these can be a meal unto themselves if you serve them with a salad.

For the inner goodness:
  • 5 strips of bacon (one per potato, plus one for garnish)
  • Sour cream
  • Extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions (chives may be substituted)
  • Parmesan
  • Black pepper (not shown because I'm a nerd)

Let's take a closer look at the bacon.
It's applewood smoked, the pigs were sustainably raised, and it was the same price or cheaper than the other center-cut bacons.  So I got it.  I love Publix.

First, oil up your potatoes on a baking sheet.  Oh and preheat your oven to 400º.  I sorta forgot because I forget to preheat 80% of the time.
You don't have to drown them, just make sure they're good and coated.  The olive oil makes the skin crispy later.

Take a fork and poke the tops a couple of times.  This will help ensure the taters don't 'splode.

Salt your taters a bit.  

That's a salted tater right thar.

Bake them at 400º for an hour.

You can prep some of the other ingredients in the meantime.  
You gots to fry dat bacon.  Get it crispy and let it drain on some paper towels.
Of course there's an extra slice for tomorrow's breakfast.

Chop dem onions.

Looks like a lot right?  Well the thing about a lot of the cooking I do is you can adjust just about anything to taste unless it's a baking recipe.  So if you only want a hint of onion flavor, don't put a bucketload of onions in there.  Or you can leave them out entirely if you hate onions.

Grate the cheddar while you're at it.  I'd show a picture, but I didn't have a cheese grater.  I used a vegetable peeler, and they turned out fine.  I did use about half the block though.

When your potatoes are ready, pull them out of the oven and cut a slit in the top.  I like to think they cool faster that way.
When they're good and cooled off so that you can handle them with bare hands, start scooping out the innards into a bowl.  Make sure it's big enough to hold everything.
Now you can add the sour cream.  Again, this is one of those things you can adjust to suit your tastes.  If you like it super-creamy add more.  I used about 1/3 cup.  Feel free to add some softened butter if you have it out.  I didn't, and there's no way I'm trying to mix in cold butter.
Moral of the story, don't be afraid to eyeball measurements.  Also, you can always add, but you can't take away.  If you're unsure about how much to use, add it in increments until you get the texture you desire.

Now we can add the cheeses, bacon, and green onions.  Be sure to reserve a few green onions and bacon for garnish.

Once it's good and mixed together, scoop it back into the potato skins.  It'll bulge out, and that's perfectly okay.
Sprinkle some more parmesan on and top with more grated (or sliced) cheddar.
Put 'em back in a 350º oven for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is browned a bit.

Enjoy a beer for all your efforts.
I recommend Sam Adams' Summer Ale.  The Coastal Wheat is tasty too.

When the taters look good, take them out of the oven and serve them!
We ate these last night with a rotisserie chicken and Caesar salad.  They also freeze well and make good leftovers.  Just heat them in the oven and enjoy all over again!

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