Poor Man's Potato Cakes

Several readers lately have asked Edwin or myself about how they can use what they have on hand – either learning new ways to use a specific ingredient that they happen to have an abundance of, or ways to improvise with what’s available.

potato cakes_oven ready

Tonight was a bit of an improvising night for me and my husband. We had a great time on Saturday morning at the Arlington Farmer’s Market, which means we brought home various produce that looked good but that we didn’t know what we’d use it for. Among these items were two small to medium sized Russet potatoes.

I’d been eying a recipe for Potato Latkes lately; however when I started making them last night I quickly realized that I didn’t have Yukon potatoes or an onion (how could I not have an onion?). I decided instead of throwing in the towel that I’d, well, improvise!

The result of my improvisation should not be referred to as latkes. To anyone who has had latkes or knows what they are, I’m sure I’m not fooling you! Latkes are typically a Jewish tradition, and it’s really just a simple potato pancake fried until crispy with some grated onion and an egg.

potato cakes

Yeah… that’s not what I made!

I located a red pepper in the fridge that was almost past its prime – in the “latkes” it went! Joining the red pepper were my favorites – frozen spinach and a bit of garlic. And for my final insult, instead of using 6 tablespoons of olive oil and frying my little cakes, I axed the oil completely and simply broiled them!

In the end I was left with potato cakes that were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, brimming with healthy veggies and a nice kick of salt and pepper. My adventure was a success, and I was able to use some quality produce that we didn’t want to go to waste. There are really endless combinations that you can create!

My husband and I ate these potato cakes on their own, but a side of baked beans would make a nice compliment. Enjoy!

potato cake halves

Poor Man’s Potato Cakes

2 small/medium sized potatoes, cut into 1 inch squares
1 small red pepper (or 1/2 large), diced
1 package frozen chopped spinach (10 oz.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
1 square of matzah, crushed
1 tsp kosher salt
dash of black pepper and cayenne

Steam cubed potatoes in a colander, covered, over boiling water until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Cool and mash.

Cook spinach according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine mashed potatoes and diced red pepper. Add in spinach, garlic, egg, crushed matzah, 1/2 tsp of the salt and some black pepper. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Form mixture into patties and place on the sheet. The mixture should stick together without sticking to you. Sprinkle remaining salt over the potato cakes along with some more pepper and a dash of cayenne on each.

Broil (remember to keep your oven door partially open) at the top of the oven for 9 minutes, then carefully turn patties over with a spatula (don’t burn yourself!) and broil for an additional 4 minutes.

Serve, sprinkling with more salt and/or pepper as needed.

I was asked to bring something to a superbowl party once and decided to post my dish on popular vote (I selected the nominees). This little baby won by a landslide and I attribute that to the mesmerizing power of peanut butter and chocolate.

This sucker is incredibly to make with no actual cooking required. You can find the recipe where I did at, over at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy (what a name). Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cornflake Balls

Taco Salad with Drunken Black Beans

So remember back when I said I had seen a great recipe for a layered tortilla pie, but then I lost it? Well a few weeks ago I found the recipe and wow it was good. What really made it different and delicious was the way the black beans were cooked – soaked in beer!

black beans

It occurred to me on Friday that this style of cooking beans would be amazing in a taco salad. I’d never actually made a taco salad before, and without the assistance of a giant taco shell to throw everything in I’m not sure how authentic it is, but I thoroughly enjoyed the final product. The husband loved it, I loved it, it got me to eat lettuce (even if it was only iceberg lettuce) and all was right with the world.


This is also one of those meals that I think you could stretch to feed any amount of people. I’ll warn you that the two of us had a lot of leftover black beans, but I knew that going in to it and actually wanted leftovers to throw in tortilla shells and try other things. If you’re serving one or two people and you don’t want leftovers, just cut the black bean recipe in half. Of course, if you do this you’ll have to finish off half a can or bottle of beer on your own instead of using the whole can for the beans… hopefully this isn’t a problem for anyone.

taco salad with guac

The chicken plays a relatively minor role here, and if you’re a vegetarian or just not that into meat I think you could leave it out and still have a great dinner (or very large lunch!). The black beans really make up the main flavor. You can definitely taste the beer that they’re soaked in, and I think it’s excellent. I’m actually tempted never to make black beans again unless they’re cooked in beer. You don’t even need to use a fancy one – we just used a can of Bud Light. It works; trust me!

taco salad

Taco Salad with Drunken Black Beans
(black bean recipe adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast)

1 head of ice berg lettuce, rinsed and shredded
1 can refried beans (15 oz.), heated in a small saucepan
bag of tortilla chips
1 lb. chicken, marinated in some lime juice, salt and pepper, then grilled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces

For Guacamole:
1 medium Haas avocado, peeled and sliced
1 chili, minced with seeds removed (or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon sweetened lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
dash black pepper
dash cayenne

For the Black Beans:
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (use less for less heat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
dash of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cans black beans (15 oz. each), drained and rinsed
12 oz. beer
1 can whole kernels of corn (15 oz.), drained

To make the black beans – Add onion, red pepper flakes, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper to a large skillet on medium for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add rinsed and drained black beans and beer to the skillet and bring to boil. When boiling, reduce to medium-low and simmer until most of the beer evaporates; approximately 15 minutes. Stir in corn and remove from heat.

To make the guacamole – Peel and slice avocado and place in a medium size bowl. Add minced chili or red pepper flakes, sweetened lime juice, salt, minced garlic, black pepper and cayenne. Mash avocado with the back of a fork while combining ingredients. Don’t mash too much, you want it to be a little chunky.

To put the taco salad together – Create a layer of tortilla chips on the the bottom of several dinner plates or one very large serving plate. Next smooth heated refried beans over the tortilla chips. Add a layer of shredded lettuce, followed by the black bean mixture and chicken, then topped off with another layer of lettuce. Add dollops of guacamole to the sides of the plate or in separate bowls for serving.

It was a bit of a scorcher this past weekend; up to the low 90’s. I have a simple test for determining whether or not summer is here: if at any time my steering wheels burns me, it’s summer. I took full advantage of the great weather with a good deal of climbing and running. Man, I love Spring and Summer.

Saute the Spices

As I mentioned earlier, a change in season means a change in diet. Salads, cold sandwiches, etc. Something too cool you off is a plus, and not heating the home from your kitchen is just gravy. However, sometimes we just want what we want; screw the season.

I’m not that skilled in cooking indian style, but I’m a fan of this soup (the ease in preparing helps). The lentils and chickpeas mix well with the tomato and spices. The cayenne and red pepper flakes give it a bit of a kick, so feel free to temper with lemon juice if so inclined.

Spicy Tomato Soup with Red Lentils and Chickpeas

Spicy Tomato Soup with Red Lentils and Chickpeas

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic; minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup dried red lentils; rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked chickpeas (half a can); rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

Bring a medium-sized pot to medium heat and add butter, garlic, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. Saute for 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Enjoy.

It occured to be a few days after posting my last Kitchen Tips that chocolate would have been a great topic to go with the easter theme. Alas, hindsight. Today we’ll talk a little about chocolate and the ways to classify it. Below are some of the most common types of chocolate.

Milk Chocolate is the only chocolate with milk solids and also contains a large amount of sugar (usually 50%). These two together often outweigh the actual amount of cocoa, so it tends to be softer than most. This is the mildest of the chocolates and can be eaten out of hand or used in cooking. To be classified as milk chocolate in the United States, it must contain at least 10% cocoa.

Dark Chocolate is chocolate with no milk solids added. Because it’s not competing with milk solids, it has a more intense chocolate flavor. This also means it’s dryer and has a more noticable bitter aftertaste. Sweet, semisweet and bittersweet should be considered types of dark chocolate (none of these contain milk solids additives). It’s worth noting, though, that the United States has no official requirements for the label “dark chocolate.”

  • Sweet chocolate is the sweetest of the dark chocolates. The United States requires all sweet chocolate to have at least 15% cocoa but says nothing on the amount of sugar. Traditionally, the amount of sugar is around 60%. 
  • The difference between bittersweet and semisweet is a bit blurry. Semisweet chocolate should be between bittersweet and semisweet on the sweetness scale, but there is no requirements on distinguising them. Both require 35% cocoa and the sugar usually ranges between 30-50%. Often, semisweet is considered to have half the amount of sugar as sweet, putting it at 30%. 

Unsweeted Chocolate is your “purest” chocolate, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. It contains no addition of sugar, cocoa butter or milk solids. Keep in mind that there is cocoa butter in it naturally; usually 50-55%. Due to it’s strong, bitter taste, this chocolate is never eaten just out of hand.

White Chocolate is not chocolate at all, as it contains no cocoa. It was invented in Switzerland in the 1930s and is made from purified, usually deodorized cocoa butter, milk and sugar. It tastes very little like chocolate

Well, I wasn’t entirely sure about posting this recipe since Edwin had just posted an asparagus and pasta dish earlier in the week, but then I thought, “DinnerCakes face-off?”


Of course I didn’t consult Edwin about this, so perhaps later today we’ll have a DinnerCakes rumble. Maybe all the Ghost Baker recipes will suddenly disappear! Maybe my photo over in the right sidebar will be replaced with a Lolcat! Actually the Lolcat thing would be sort of awesome.

cut asparagus

In any event, a few short weeks ago my good friend’s boyfriend was in town on business. My husband and I went to dinner with him and his co-worker at Clyde’s in Georgetown. The wait was a lot longer than what they originally said and the food didn’t knock our socks off, but I liked the idea behind my dish – I ordered mini ravioli with spinach and asparagus.

peascream sauce

As you know, I have to take any opportunity that tricks me into eating more vegetables than I normally might, so I decided to adapt this dish at home. In addition to spinach and asparagus, I also threw in some peas. The ravioli has just enough cheese so that I’m slightly less aware of the massive amount of veggies present. I also found that I could get away with using only the tiniest amount of cream sauce, just enough to keep the ravioli moist and the veggies flavorful.


I really enjoyed this! I’ve had instances in the past where asparagus doesn’t cook quite right, but for this dish I decided to steam them and they were perfect! The cream sauce is really barely noticeable; this is not one of those dishes you get at a restaurant where you have to wade through the sauce to find noodles. *If you’re not a big fan of garlic you may want to use one clove instead of two, as the sauce does have a more noticeable garlic flavor (which I like).

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

I’d have to say that any dinner that results in me happily eating THREE different kinds of vegetables is a success! It also received the seal of approval from my husband.

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

1 package of light four cheese ravioli (9 oz.)
13 asparagus, cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 package frozen chopped spinach (10 oz.)
2 cloves garlic*
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper, to taste
dash onion powder
dash marjoram
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon shredded parmesan cheese

This dish isn’t time consuming, but it does take a little maneuvering to cook each item separately. You may want to frequently check your vegetables while they’re cooking to make sure you get your desired consistency.

Cook spinach according to package instructions. While spinach is cooking, slice your asparagus and get your other ingredients ready. When spinach is done, drain and set aside. Boil ravioli according to package instructions; steam cut asparagus in a colander (covered) while pasta cooks.

While pasta is cooking, combine cream, garlic, salt and pepper, onion powder, marjoram, parsley flakes and shredded parmesan in a small sauce pan. Stir frequently to prevent a film from forming over the cream sauce. The peas should only take a short amount of time to cook – so start peas when pasta is about halfway cooked. When the peas are done, combine them with the spinach. The asparagus will likely finish steaming just a minute or two before the pasta is done. When done, remove asparagus from colander and combine with spinach and peas.

Drain ravioli when cooked. Return to pot and toss with a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Gently add in the spinach, asparagus and peas, then pour hot cream sauce over pasta and vegetables. Toss just once or twice to incorporate the cream sauce.

This recipe yields enough for two people to have seconds.

Make It Quick! – Ginger Sesame Dressing

They say that variety is the spice of life, and is true on so many levels. Variety on my place is the key to Edwin’s happiness; especially when he’s had a long day at the office. When I have a long (late) day at the office I find myself turning quite often to salads. I suppose I could resort to leftovers, but since I’m often relying on these for lunch, twice in one day does not a happy Edwin make.

Minced Garlic and Ginger

I know quite a few dressing recipes and today’s is in my top five. I really love sesame oil as an accent to a dish and the salad is no exception. With just a little chopping, you can have a dressing that goes great with lettuce, sliced bell peppers, julienned carrots and sliced celery. Of course, when I’m feeling especially lazy I’ll just do the lettuce!

Sesame Ginger Dressing with Lettuce

Ginger Sesame Dressing
I like the thicker effect of dark soy sauce for this dish, but by all means go for regular soy sauce as well.

1 clove garlic; minced;
1 teaspoon minced ginger
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar or agave nectar

Combine all into a small mug or bowl and whisk until well combine. Add to salad and enjoy.

Food Photography – "What Have You Got There, Tom?"

This past Monday would have been my friend Jeff’s 28th birthday.

I thought about saying or making something special here on Monday, but it just didn’t feel right. My husband and I did honor Jeff that night by eating some giant cheeseburgers and root beer on tap from Ray’s Hell Burger, and I made a Coca-Cola cake. We ate entirely too much and skipped our trip to the gym, just as Jeff would have wanted. Several of his friends as well as his parents also took the opportunity to eat or drink in honor of him.

Ray's Hell Burger

We’re all trying every day to keep his memory, spirit and bad jokes alive. I’ve been told it gets easier with time, but in a lot of ways it’s harder. We’re realizing that we do actually have to carry on the rest of our lives without him; it’s confusing, infuriating and painful.

Ray's Hell Burger

Thankfully we’re not alone, and we do have one another to share the burden with. Jeff had a lot of wonderful, compassionate friends. We keep in touch, reminisce about the great and sometimes completely bizarre stories and remind one another how lucky we were to have had his friendship.


The title of this post is a quote from the greatest Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode ever, frequently quoted by Jeff.

We’re smack dab in the middle of asparagus season, so chances are you’ll find a good deal at your local super market. As a kid I was never too fond of asparagus and I have a feeling I was not alone in this mindset. Of course as one matures so does one’s taste. In the end, I think it matters less what you’re cooking than it does how you’re cooking it.

Asparagus and Peas

This is a quick simple dish for a hungry person in spring. The garlic is faint, the lemon works will with the cream, and peas are a nice complment. I enjoyed it.

Asparagus and Pea Pasta in a Lemon Cream Sauce

Asparagus and Pea Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce

1 bunch of asparagus
2 tablespoons white wine
juice of two lemons
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves; minced
zest of one lemon1 cup heavy cream
1 cup of peas; fresh or frozen (and thawed)

Boil your pasta in salted water as per the packages instructions. Steam your asparagus until tender (3-5 minutes for thin, 6-8 for thick) and immediately submerge in ice cold water to stop cooking.

While your pasta is cooking, reduce your wine and lemon juice in a large pan under medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add butter, salt and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Garlic should be fragrant. Add the heavy cream and continue to cook, reducing, for an additional 10 minutes. Add the asparagus, pasta and peas and toss to coat. Enjoy.

Twice Baked

Twice baked potatoes are probably my favorite way to eat potatoes. I think I was first introduced to them by my father-in-law several years ago. If you’ve never had them before, twice baked potatoes are made by cooking a Russet potato, cutting it in half longways, scooping out the insides and mixing them with delicious things, and then spooning it all back the potato and cooking them just a few minutes longer.


Back in March I shared a recipe for mashed potatoes and rutabaga that several of you seemed interested in. I also enjoyed that one a lot, so I decided to work with rutabaga again – this time combining the mashed rutabaga into twice baked potatoes.

scoopingTwice baked

I know rutabagas are mostly a winter vegetable; I guess I’m having trouble letting go? I think I may even miss rutabagas during the summer! Please keep in mind for this recipe that I tend not to load up my potatoes with hefty amounts of sour cream, butter and cheese, so if you think you might want more of something feel free to add it!

Twice baked potato and rutabaga

Twice Baked Potatoes with Rutabaga
makes 4 twice baked potatoes

1 medium rutabaga
2 Russet potatoes
1/4 cup sour cream (I used fat free)
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1/4 – 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (plus a little more to sprinkle at the end)
salt and pepper, to taste
paprika and chives for garnish

To bake the potato, preheat oven to 400°F. Wash potatoes and poke holes in each with a fork (to prevent exploding!). Lightly brush with a little bit of olive oil and place in the oven for about one hour, or until you can insert a fork into the potato without much pressure.

Alternately, you can cook the potatoes in a microwave for about 10 minutes on high. Remember to still poke holes and brush with olive oil.

While the potatoes are cooking you can cook the rutabaga. Wash and peel the rutabaga and cut into one inch pieces. I’ve cooked rutabaga either by boiling for approximately 30 minutes (again until you can insert a fork into them without much pressure) or steaming them. Feel free to use whatever works best for you.

When Russet potatoes are done, slightly cool and then cut in half longways. Scoop out the inside and mash using a potato masher in a medium sized bowl. When rutabaga is cooked, add to the bowl and mash with the Russet potato. Stir in sour cream, milk, butter, cheese and salt and pepper. Mash and stir until you reach your desired consistency.

Spoon back into potato skins and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Garnish with paprika, chives and cheese.