Crooked Cleopatra and “Gandalf’s Cold Chicken and Pickles”

I just finished reading Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. It was okay; I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, then put it in my book bag as a donation to wherever, since I don’t plan to read it again. My takeaway was this:

1. Politicians were incredibly corrupt.

2. The 1% ruled the world and didn’t give a shit about the remaining 99%.

3. A truly powerful woman will certainly not be a saint, but she will undoubtedly engender all sorts of opposing, distorted, and often blatantly mendacious stories about her conduct. These will generally be written by men who are threatened by her very existence. Cleopatra had a virtual squadron of conservative male writers who gleefully set about writing whatever they could to bring her “reputation” down.

Hmm. This sounds familiar.

Nihil sub sole novum.


From “The Hobbit”—Bilbo’s Pantry

I guess (mostly) all of us have a sweet spot for Gandalf in our hearts. He’s wry and witty; magical and majestic—the archetypal wise old man. If you had to hang out with such a person in real life, however, he might be kind of annoying. He’s certainly annoying to Bilbo, who later has to console himself with some biscuits (check out my next post). Gandalf rather condescendingly asks Bilbo to “Put on a few eggs (future post!), there’s a good fellow!” then requests “cold chicken and pickles.” Next thing you know, he’ll be patting Bilbo on the head. Insufferable, don’t you think?

You can use chicken (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey) from your own roast or use prepared grilled chicken strips. As you can see below, this is a low-carb recipe, unless you make a sandwich out of it all.

“Gandalf’s Cold Chicken and Pickles


  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seed
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ cup English (seedless) cucumber, peeled or not; sliced thinly
  • ½ cup radishes, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup celery, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup red onion, cut into ¼” slivers
  • ½ pound cold cooked chicken
  • ¼ cup light sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

In a 1½ quart saucepan, combine the first 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil and stir just to dissolve the sugar. Turn off heat and add the 5 vegetables. Cool ½ hour. Put in a covered 3-cup container and refrigerate for 1 hour; stir a couple of times. Drain to serve.

Shred, slice, or dice the chicken. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings, if desired. Dollop sour cream sauce on chicken or combine as a salad. You may serve this plain with the pickles on the side or as a sandwich with the pickles as a relish. Cover and refrigerate leftovers separately. Vegetables look best the first day; the color fades afterwards. Both keep about 3 days. Serves 2-4.



Out of the Closet and “Over the Hill and Across the Water Salad”

Yes, I came out of my closet and concluded that I hate all of my clothes.

ALL of them, every single item.

Pretty much every item.

Well, I guess I can live with a few pieces…

I suppose this stems from a rather chronic dissatisfaction with my body in general. But perhaps this is how every woman feels? Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck and I can certainly sympathize, especially now that I’m past 50. She also could remember nothing and I’m sympathizing with her here, as well… I’m not sure whether the whole body acceptance movement is working or not. I mostly feel okay with being 30-35 pounds overweight (at the moment… or is it closer to 40? Guess it depends on the weekend binge…), but I wish I could fit my fat hips into a pair of real jeans (not jean-leggings, though I do like those) that fit my skinny legs. I mean, I have the hips of a size 14-16 and the legs of a size 8-10. It’s annoying.

Body acceptance. I could accept my body just the way it is but then my doctor will tell me to lose 50 pounds, because 30 isn’t enough. I could get my neck tightened, get some liposuction, lift my boobs… Or I could ADD 12 years to my age, as Téa Leoni suggested she does on a recent Late Show with Stephen Colbert. People will think I look fantastic!

I know I (most likely) won’t do any of the procedures listed in the previous paragraph. I just wouldn’t want to spend the money on any of it, I’m too lazy, and I really don’t like to volunteer for any sort of surgeries. I’m not sure if I’ll even bother to dye my hair back to brown, when I turn gray—too messy to do yourself; too time-consuming and expensive to bother getting it done. The only thing I’ve added to my mostly non-existent beauty regimen is to paint my nails more often after I noticed my nails getting kind of ridgy-looking. And why do you get ridgy-looking nails? Because you’re getting older. Alas. I also moisturize more than usual, but that’s probably only benefitting the body butter industry, not necessarily my skin.

Well, if that’s all I can manage doing, then maybe I’m more comfortable with my physical appearance than I thought. It’s not like I’m posting selfies on Twitter or anything.

I know Bob will read this and say, “Why don’t you go out and treat yourself to some new clothes?” However, the only thing worse than looking at your tired old clothes is going shopping for new ones.


From “The Hobbit”—Bilbo’s Pantry

As promised, here is a healthy salad for Bombur. A nice short post this time, with relatively few ingredients—perfect for summertime!

I’m imagining that Bilbo’s father liked to dabble in gardening and specialized in salad creations, so I’ve imagined this salad was one of his specialties. Bungo Baggins built Bag-End for his lovely bride Belladonna Took…and very little is otherwise known about him. In Letter 214, Professor Tolkien mentions that Bungo became “‘head’ of the family of ‘Baggins of Hobbiton'” at the ripe age of 70, but he died rather prematurely at age 80 (prematurely for hobbits, that is); his mother Laura Baggins (née Grubb) apparently didn’t want to surrender her position too soon. It’s a little reminiscent of the current situation in England with the queen, perhaps…

Dried cranberries or blueberries will work, too. Make your cheese extra stinky with a Bleu, or make it mellow with some Feta, if desired.

“Over the Hill and Across the Water Salad”


  • 5-6 cups light green lettuce, torn into large pieces (such as Bibb, Boston, Butter, or living lettuce)
  • 2 ounces sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • 2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled into small bits
  • 1 cup celery, cut diagonally into ¼” slices
  • ¼ cup almond oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon Savory Seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, almonds, cherries, cheese, and celery. In a shaker jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the remaining ingredients and shake well. Adjust seasonings, if desired. Pour over the greens and toss. Serve immediately. You can make the dressing in advance and mix your greens, but don’t toss together until right before serving because these types of lettuce are fragile. Not recommended as leftovers. Serves 4.


Veni, vidi, coxi…

…or in your native tongue, I came, I saw, I cooked. I used to teach Latin at UNM for a few years, yet I never had any reason to know the word for “cook.” Until now, that is. Like so many Latin verbs, coquo refers to just about anything you might do in the kitchen (at least with preparing food, I mean—get your mind out of the gutter!), so it refers to cooking, baking, roasting, frying, boiling, steeping, melting. Plus it has more figurative meanings such as concoct, devise, harass, torture, torment (well okay, back in the gutter).

But don’t worry; that’s about it for your Latin lesson. I had an excellent supervisor in the Foreign Language department; at least, I got along with her well. Every spring, she and some of her cohorts would organize an event designed to generate interest in majoring in any of the foreign languages UNM offered for study. The event hosted local high school students, as well as students from all over New Mexico.

The best way to generate true interest in your particular language’s table/booth was to put out some food or drink. Now, this was fairly easy if you were from the Spanish, German, or French departments—a bit of food and the practicality of learning currently spoken languages would almost guarantee a few students joining your department for a major or minor study. This could even be easy if you were with any of the Asian studies programs, especially since these displays were always eye-catching and colorful—some sushi samples might help students gravitate to the Japanese department, even if you had the difficulty of learning not only to speak, but also to write in a completely different manner from English.

How do you get rather apathetic teenagers to come over to the Classics table, where one could revel in rather dry, old, and definitely dead languages? My fellow TAs made up grammar games and handouts with modern usages of Latin phrasing. Here’s a good one:

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

Translation: “Never tickle a sleeping dragon.”

(This is sage advice from J. K. Rowling and is the motto for Hogwarts.)

My own contribution was always these two dishes I invented, based on some research into what Romans ate. This week, I’ll share the savory dish; next week, it’ll be the sweet one. It always amazed me how some teenagers were so reluctant to sample either of these dishes, but perhaps it was the fact that I insisted they try both dishes in true Roman fashion—meaning, they had to sprinkle a few drops of garum on top of it.

What is garum, you might ask? A modern equivalent is your typical fish sauce, or nam pla, found in the Asian department of pretty much any grocery store. Ancient Romans used this like we use ketchup or salt; they’d sprinkle it on anything and everything—sweet and savory. Next time, I’ll go into more details about this condiment.

For now, just try this tapenade. You might find it hard to believe, but there are only 4 ingredients in this recipe! Shocking. You are under no obligation to use any sort of garum. I’ve got some pepperoni and pepper-encrusted salami on the plate in the photo—yum!


Sapor Olivarum Caseique

(a.k.a. Relish of Olives and Cheese)


Roman Olives

  • One can of extra large pitted black olives (6 ounces dry weight or 170 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic flavored olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dry Italian seasoning
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely shredded (the saltier the better; you could also use a good quality Parmesan, or a combination)

Drain the olives well. Chop them rather finely and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well. Cover and chill leftovers. Makes about 2 cups. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serve with herby, garlicky crackers or bagel chips, pita chips or pita wedges. Sprinkle with garum if you want to do as the Romans do (or did…).

Have you ever heard of Watergate Salad?

Besides obsessively playing Candy Crush Saga, I occasionally play this bizarre role-playing/trivia game on my phone called Quiz RPG: World of Mystic Wiz. You roam around sort of medieval/fantasy settings and collect spirits, all of which are beautifully drawn. You encounter enemies/bosses and have to answer trivia questions in order to proceed. Yes, I know it’s goofy, but it’s good for distracting your mind from other more important concerns, such as the sometimes exasperating levels in Candy Crush…

Playing Candy Crush is the only time I DON”T LIKE CHOCOLATE!!!

Okay. I’m better.

So anyway, I was playing Quiz RPG, and I got this question: “Which of these nuts is usually in a ‘Watergate Salad‘?” The answers were: walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, or Brazil nuts. I had no idea what the hell a Watergate Salad was, but I figured it was an American invention so I went with peanuts. This was the wrong answer; apparently pistachios were the correct nuts. I demolished the boss in the game, then I did some research on this mysterious salad.

It’s amazing how American cuisine likes to attach the word “salad” to various obviously unhealthy items. Perhaps this stems from potlucks; you know, you get stuck bringing a “salad,” but you really want to bring something that guests will enjoy, not just a bunch of greenery. Perhaps if just one ingredient is a fruit or vegetable, it could qualify as a salad. Even if your fruit is a maraschino cherry, it would count as a salad. With this logic, you could concoct pretty much anything and then assign your new recipe to the salad section of the menu.

The Watergate Salad’s origins are hard to pinpoint. Apparently it is not definite that it was invented by a chef at the eponymous hotel, nor can we pin down whether it originated in the Midwest or the Deep South. Perhaps Kraft Foods invented it merely to market their pistachio pudding mix. The name was attached in the mid-70s, however, and most likely is related to the scandal that took place at the time. It is also known as “green stuff,” or “pistachio fluff.” Most cooks who write about it love it—it is a great dish to bring to a potluck or to serve at a holiday. It definitely falls into the “Seventies Food Trends” category, but before you go all snobby/foodie and relegate all old-fashioned foods to the discard bin, remember that every decade has food trends that fall out of favor eventually. What will be ridiculed as the trends of the early 21st Century?

It is generally composed of these particular ingredients: Cool Whip, miniature marshmallows, pecans, pistachio pudding, and canned crushed pineapple in juice. Then there are many variations on this theme. You could add (or substitute) items such as: sliced almonds, maraschino cherries, fruit cocktail, chunky pineapple, sour cream, etc…

My automatic response to this salad was “blech,” mainly because I really don’t like marshmallows (just the actual candy’s texture; I’m okay with marshmallow creme, such as what you would put in a Rice Krispies Treat), but I was intrigued by the combination of flavors. Bob would probably love it, except for the canned pineapple. At first, I came up with the concept of an alcoholic beverage, which I was going to call “Deep Throat Delight.” But then I had trouble finding pistachio liqueur locally and I’m reluctant to order it through the mail; I’d hate to receive a broken bottle of booze. It’s probably expensive stuff, too. I’m keeping it in the back of my mind, however, so maybe you’ll see a future post about my seductively-named cocktail—we’ll see.

My other thought was a main dish/salad, so I came up with this—I hope you’ll like it.

Post-Watergate Salad

  • ½ tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ounce pecan halves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 ounce dry roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup light sour cream
  • ¼ cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ pound cooked chicken, coarsely chopped
  • 3 ounces dried pineapple, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup scallions, thinly sliced

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and the cayenne. Add the nuts and sauté over high heat for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Combine the remaining sugar and the sour cream through the white pepper in a large bowl with a whisk until smooth. Add all the remaining ingredients and combine well. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. 

Works on a bed of lettuce, or served on crackers or bread.

Post-Watergate Salad

Just in case you want to make the original salad, here’s a link to a typical recipe with a lovely photo of a pile of green fluff: Authentic Watergate Salad. This blog claims the recipe originated at the Watergate Hotel, but again, I’m not sure anyone can back up that assertion.

This other blog is not exactly enchanted with the dish: The Alien Landscape of Watergate Salad.

Food is so subjective, don’t you think?

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Bob Can’t Stand Cooked Cabbage…

When I first got married to Bob, I had to get used to all the vegetables he didn’t like. These dislikes were informed by a childhood spent with pressure-cooked, often smelly vegetables, which his grandma or his aunt seemed to prepare always when they knew he and his brother would be visiting. So—turnips, rutabagas, okra, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and summer squashes are definitely NOT welcome in our house. I love cauliflower, so I occasionally cook some. I love summer squashes and Brussels sprouts as well. I can live without turnips and rutabagas, though I don’t hate them. Bob has begun to tolerate zucchini, but only if it is cooked in an Asian stir-fry or deep-fried. I have just started working on a hearty gumbo, so I’ve been able to deal with okra, though I still find the texture…well…sometimes problematic… I’m picky about eggplant and I just don’t cook with it often.

Granted, so many vegetables that were overcooked and mushy in the past certainly benefit from newer cooking techniques, or by judicious spicing and/or saucing. Bob does like many other vegetables, so it’s not like we only eat potatoes around here.

However, he can’t stand cooked cabbage. I’m talking about your typical type of cooked cabbage that you’ll see around this time of year, when everyone is putting out the greenery for St. Patrick’s Day.

My mom used to get a corned beef and throw it in a pot with chunky carrots, onions, potatoes, and the obligatory cabbage, which was usually cut into large wedges—you know, your standard menu for the beginning of spring. Actually, I’ve never really cared for such a simple, boiled dinner myself. Even now, I hardly ever throw a roast of anything in a pot; I’m always more inclined to stir-fry or sauté.

Bob could handle everything in the dish above except for the cabbage part. He LOVES sauerkraut. He LIVES for my particular recipe for coleslaw, which I prepare for him usually once a month. Sometimes I’ll chop leftover cabbage really finely and add it to soups or stews, because I sometimes just can’t face making the coleslaw so often. Maybe I shouldn’t let him read this posting…

Anyway, I figured with the upcoming holiday, I’d share a different cabbage recipe with you from my Halflings Cookbook. I came up with this recipe one of those times when I had cabbage leftover from making Bob’s Special Coleslaw. I like cooked cabbage, but it has to have some sort of stuff on it, it can’t just be boiled. This is a great side dish for pretty much any sort of entrée—fast and easy to make! Turn this into a more substantial dish by adding a cup or two of cooked, leftover proteins.

You can find Savory Seasoning in the Miscellaneous Recipe Section above.

Herby Cabbage Sauté

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 – 4½ cups green cabbage, cut into slivers (this is usually a half of an average cabbage, cored)Herby Cabbage Saute
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
  • ½ teaspoon Savory Seasoning

Melt the butter in a medium deep skillet over rather high heat.  Add the cabbage and sauté for about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients; cover and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.  Uncover and raise heat to high.  Sauté for 1-2 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates.  Cover and refrigerate leftovers.  Serves 4.

green chile iconA tablespoon or two of drained green chile can be added right at the end of cooking. 

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Sex. Chocolate. Asparagus Pee.

Now you’re paying attention.

I was wondering, just why is chocolate sexy? Why are women usually the only ones pictured eating chocolate in commercials? Why are women sent into almost orgasmic states when they consume it (in commercials, I mean, I don’t recall ever being sexually turned on by chocolate…well, never mind…). Sometimes you’ll see a man in chocolate commercials, but I’ll bet 90% of the time, it will be a woman eating chocolate, and inevitably it will be something like a gorgeous, ridiculously slim woman nibbling at a 1″ square of chocolate, closing her eyes, and swooning. Who eats like that?

An article from the New York Times a few years ago says it’s all psychological (Is Chocolate an Aphrodisiac?). The sexy chemicals inherent in chocolate are too small to have any sort of substantial effect on one’s libido. Perhaps if you ate a few pounds of chocolate in one sitting, those chemicals might make you feel more amorous; however, it’s more likely you’ll just end up in a coma. Not sexy. I suppose it’s all about feeling free to consume some of that chocolate silkiness without worrying about anything else (like weight gain or tooth decay)—that chocolate bliss moment.

If you happen to make the previous recipes from the two previous blog posts, you should have a nice portion of filet mignon leftover after your Valentine debauchery (I hope). Now that you are over trying to impress each other and the stress of Valentine’s Day is done, maybe you’re now able to settle into the real aspects of maintaining a relationship; i.e., letting yourself be yourself, with stinky asparagus pee and garlic breath. You’re also probably ready to purge yourself of all the sweets and the carbs, so here is a slightly spicy salad that will make you feel healthy again. I like using pencil-thin asparagus, if I can get it. And if you don’t have any steak around, you can substitute your proteins.

I have another poll for you! Check it out, after the recipe.

The Evening-After Salad

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 ounce pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ⅓-½ pound cooked leftover filet mignon (see “Steaks with Benefits”)
  • ¼ pound lettuce (any type; spinach or arugula would also be fine)
  • 8 grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 4 average radishes, sliced thinly

Line up your washed asparagus evenly on a cutting board. From the heads, cut the stems off so they are about 6-7″ long. Place in a 9 x 5″ metal loaf pan. Add the water. Bring to a boil, then cook 3-6 minutes, until fork tender (cooking time will depend on the thickness of the stalks). Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the pine nuts and set aside. Combine the oil through the cayenne in a small food processor or blender and mix until smooth; set aside. Thinly slice the cold steak and place on a plate. Microwave 30 seconds; set aside. Tear the lettuce into 2″ pieces and place in a medium bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the prepared dressing. Arrange on 2 plates. In the same bowl, toss an additional 1 tablespoon dressing with the asparagus. Arrange on the plates. Toss another 1 tablespoon dressing with the steak (same bowl) and arrange. Combine the remaining ingredients with the remaining dressing in the same bowl and arrange on top of all. Sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve immediately. Serves 2; not recommended as leftovers.

This can stretch to serve three or even four, if you add some bread or other sides. Any other cooked, leftover protein works nicely here, as well. For a vegetarian option, you could certainly omit the meat and substitute cheese, beans, tofu, lentils, etc… Serve all on a platter for a buffet presentation.

The Evening-After Salad

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Let’s get set for a Valentine’s Day at HOME…

…at home, because Bob and I are farty old married folks who don’t like crowds very much (mostly Bob). Of course, when we were dating and newly wed, we used to go out for a fancy dinner. Bob usually felt obligated to buy flowers for me, or some sort of chocolate, or some sort of jewelry. Later on, we realized that I don’t really care that much for fresh flowers in my house since they only last a few days and they end up smelling rather stinky (something in the water?). It seems like I’m perpetually on a diet, so even though I love chocolate, I will eat it (and love every single bite of it), but then I’ll feel bad about it. And fortunately, Bob has given up on giving me jewelry; I’m just too difficult for him to figure out. Now, I might sound like I’m sad or bitter about this supposedly non-romantic state of affairs, but actually I’m relieved that years ago we started staying at home and I often cook this particular dinner I will present to you over the next couple of posts. We usually buy some exotic chocolates together for both of us to consume. Since this is primarily a food blog, other aspects of our romantic life will remain a mystery. I can just hear my daughters groaning from embarrassment, rolling their eyes in an exaggerated Liz Lemon fashion…

I think we (now, what do I mean by ‘we’? Do I mean women, or Americans, or just people in general? Hmm.) fall into the trap of believing that ‘romance’ must follow some sort of formula that involves intense pressure to buy the perfect gift, or make plans to go on the perfect getaway, or stage the perfect ‘popping of the question.’ Shouldn’t romance be found in the routine experience of simply sticking around in a relationship, whether married, living together, or merely dating on a steady basis? I’ll choose day-to-day romance, rather than a once-a-year demonstration—I mean the kind of romance that laughs at your stupid jokes, puts up with your cranky moods, and helps with cleaning, laundry, and any other boring or messy chore that might need to be done. Is it just greeting card and chocolate companies, Hollywood, and women’s magazines which fuel the Valentine’s Day Romance Machinery? All holidays end up excluding someone for various reasons (we can’t all be veterans or grandparents), but Valentine’s Day seems crueler than most other holidays because of its own particular exclusivity. Sometimes I just wish certain holidays would just settle down, you know what I mean?

In case you are frustrated by my middle-of-the-road attitudes about this holiday, check out the related articles below for unbridled enthusiasm and jaded realism regarding this sometimes annoying day…

Anyway, I like to purchase a gorgeous tomato, either beefsteak or vine-ripe, to slice and serve on the side. Next time, I’ll share my “Steak with Benefits” to accompany these loaded potatoes, so stay tuned.

Valentine Potatoes for Two

  • ¾-1 pound small red potatoes (do not exceed 1 pound!)
  • 1 ounce premium precooked bacon
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 2½ ounces garlic/herb cheese (such as Alouette or Boursin)
  • 2 tablespoons light sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons 1% milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup finely chopped scallions or fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned bread crumbs

Microwave the potatoes until tender. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Fry the bacon until crispy in a medium skillet. Set aside on a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 425°. Coat 2 1-cup ramekins with cooking spray and place on a medium baking sheet. In a medium glass bowl, microwave the 2 tablespoons butter until melted. Add the cheese through pepper and whisk thoroughly. Break the potatoes into small chunks and add to the bowl. Crumble the bacon and add this to the bowl, along with the scallions or chives. Mix well. Divide evenly into the prepared ramekins.* Sprinkle each with ½ teaspoon of the bread crumbs. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in half and place one portion on top of each. Bake 15 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 2; cover and chill leftovers.

* You could make these in advance up to this point: set in fridge for an hour or two. Let stand at room temperature ½ hour before proceeding.

This is like a deluxe baked potato in a bowl. It’s very easy to double this to serve 4-6. Place in a 1½-quart casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes.

Valentine Potatoes for Two

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