Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

‘Tis the season for quick, simple, and thrifty meals. Potatoes are a great (and cheap) canvas on which to get creative with toppings–pesto; roasted garlic; blue cheese; smoked salmon; wasabi; chili. On this night we thought some chili and pepper-jack would be a satisfying combo. If you have a can of chili in the back of your pantry, this recipe is even quicker, but if you want to make your own famous chili, by all means do so! We like to rub our potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking. It makes the skin much tastier to eat later on (which you should eat, because it’s a great source of fiber).

Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

2 Russet Potatoes, washed and patted dried
Olive Oil
Coarse Salt
1 Can Chili (we used Dennison’s)
1 Heaping handful of grated Pepper-Jack cheese
1 Tomato, diced
3 Green Onions (white and green parts), sliced
Sour Cream (if you have it; we didn’t)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Place the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Rub them with olive oil, covering every surface. Sprinkle with salt. Poke a few holes in the potatoes with a fork. Bake until done, about 1 hour (test by inserting a fork).
  • Meanwhile, heat the chili in a small saucepan over low heat.
  • Place each potato on a plate, make a slit on the top and squeeze the sides to open slightly.
  • Spoon hot chili onto the potato. Top with grated cheese, followed by the tomato, green onion, and sour cream (if using).

    High Hopes 🙂

    Taverna-Style Baked Feta Dip

    Once upon a time, on our first night in Oia on the island of Santorini, we were starving and jet-lagged, walking along the cobble stone streets in search of something to eat. There were many stray dogs and cats wandering the streets, almost all of which appeared to be well fed and taken care of by the many shop owners. One tall dog that came up to my hip started walking alongside of us. Delighted (because I love dogs, especially big dogs), we continued on together, until the dog diverted to the right and bolted inside a small, dimly-lit taverna that was blaring jolly music. We decided this was a sign and followed the dog into the restaurant where we were greeted by a smiling Greek man who didn’t speak much English. We ordered this appetizer from him, along with a basket of crusty bread, and a bottle of local Santorini wine; it was heaven. As we spooned the hot feta and veggies onto our sliced bread, we were happy to see that the dog also received a treat for entering the restaurant. Throughout the meal we talked about how to recreate it at home. Luckily, the ingredients were so simple that it was possible to do so, even in Japan. Now we’ll share it with you!

    1 block of feta cheese
    Extra Virgin oilve oil
    cherry tomatoes, sliced
    green bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
    red onion, cut into bite-sized pieces
    1 clove garlic, minced
    dried oregano, to taste
    salt & pepper, to taste

    • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
    • Place the feta in the middle of a small ceramic baking dish. Add the olive oil to the dish until it almost reaches the top of the feta.
    • Scatter the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic around the dish. Add the oregano, salt and pepper.
    • Bake for 15-20 min. or until the olive oil is bubbling nicely, and the feta is starting to melt around the edges. Let rest for 5 minutes. Place in the center of the table and serve with lots of sliced bread and a spoon for serving.

    Open-faced Chipotle Cheese Steak Sandwiches w/ Avocado, Tomato and Red Onion

    Sometimes just a single store bought ingredient can inspire an entire meal. That was the case here. My parents sent us a jar of chipotle cheese dip in our last package, and I jumped right on it because I have a weakness for cheese — especially the kind in a jar that you eat warm with chips. This stuff looked a little too sophisticated for just chips, so we decided to smother steak sandwiches with it, and what a great idea it was, though extremely messy! And thanks to import produce from warmer countries, we found some really delicious avocados and tomatoes, even in February; perfect for this side salad, lightly dressed with lime juice. Next time a jar of cheese (preferably seasoned with chipotle) entices you, try this!

    1/2 a baguette, sliced lengthwise
    10 strips of sirloin steak, thinly sliced
    1 lime, juice + zest
    chilli powder, about 1 tsp.
    cumin, about 1/2 tsp.
    1 jar of chipotle cheese dip, such as Xochitl
    1 avocado, sliced
    1 large tomato, sliced
    1/2 a red onion, sliced
    salt pepper
    a drizzle of olive oil

    • Season the steak strips with the salt, pepper, cumin, chilli powder and the zest of a lime. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes.
    • Heat your pan or BBQ and cook the steak to your desired doneness.
    • Toast the baguette halves. Top them with the sizzling steak.
    • Heat up the cheese dip for about 1 minute in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Top the steak with the cheese.
    • Serve alongside the sliced avocado, tomato and red onion, seasoned with salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few squeezes of fresh lime juice.

      Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Caramelized Onions & Fresh Basil

      Before heading off to our Christmas party/gingerbread man-decorating-extravaganza, I wanted to jazz up our usual weekend lunch, so I came up with these quesadillas using things that were hanging out in our refrigerator. I’m obviously not the first to come up with this combination, but they were so light and tasty.

      • Spread a thin layer of goat cheese (I used a soft, spreadable variety) onto a flour tortilla.
      • In a frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and throw in some sliced onion. Cook, stirring frequently over low heat until light brown.
      • Remove onion slices and place them on the spread goat cheese. Chop up some fresh basil and sprinkle on top, then cover with a second tortilla. Cook in the same pan that you cooked the onions in, a few minutes per side.

        Fusilli with Sweet Tomatoes, Eggplant and Mozzarella

        Lately I’ve noticed several Jamie recipes floating around the food blog world. Most notably, Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking made a delicious-looking Chorizo Roast Chicken that inspired me to include one of my favorite Jamie-recipes too — a really simple pasta dish that uses ingredients that are all very accessible to us! (Always a plus). We used Japanese nasu (eggplant), which are longer, narrower and have a more delicate skin than their fat American counterparts. About 3 Japanese eggplants equal 1 American one. This recipe serves 4.

        3 Japanese eggplants
        olive oil
        2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
        1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
        2 cans good quality tomatoes
        1 TBS. balsamic vinegar
        salt & pepper
        1 fresh or dried chili, chopped
        a bunch of fresh basil
        4 TBS. heavy cream
        1 lb. pasta
        fresh mozzarella
        Parmesan cheese for grating

        • Slice the eggplant and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Heat about 4 TBS. olive oil in a pan. When it’s hot, add the eggplant, stirring to coat with oil, and cook for 7-8 minutes on medium heat.
        • Add garlic and onion. When they have a little color, add the tomatoes and vinegar. Stir and season with salt and pepper and chilies to taste. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the cream.
        • While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta and drain. Add the pasta to the sauce pan and combine. Tear up the mozzarella and fresh basil and fold into the pasta. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

        Cheese Enchiladas

        We purchased our $7.00 imported block of cheddar with no problem (familiar foods in a land of foreign labels are worth every penny!), but the import food store was out of enchilada sauce seasoning, so we saw this as the perfect opportunity to make it ourselves. Two and a half jars of chili powder later, we were very happy with the results! Serves 2.

        6 corn tortillas
        canola oil for frying
        grated cheese
        diced onions and jalapeños
        enchilada sauce (recipe below)
        — we more-than-doubled the amount of seasonings that this recipe calls for (changes reflected below), added some fresh garlic, and substituted chicken broth for the water to make a more flavorful sauce

        10 Minute Enchilada Sauce

        (adapted from

        1/4 cup vegetable oil
        2 TBS flour
        1/4 cup chili powder
        1 can crushed tomatoes
        1 1/2 cups chicken (or veggie) broth
        1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
        1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
        1/2 teaspoon dried onion
        1 small clove of garlic, chopped
        salt to taste

        • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in flour, fresh garlic, and chili powder, reduce heat to medium, and cook for a few minutes until fragrant, stirring constantly to prevent burning flour.
        • Gradually stir in tomatoes, chicken broth, cumin, garlic powder, and dried onion into the flour and chili powder until smooth, and continue cooking over medium heat approximately 10 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt.

        Assembling the Enchiladas:

          • Briefly fry the tortillas on both sides in oil (to prevent soggy enchiladas). Drain on paper towels.
          • Spoon some enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking pan. Fill each tortilla with as much cheese as you like, some chopped onion, and jalapeño and roll. Place the rolled tortillas in a single layer on top of the sauce. Cover with more sauce, and top with grated cheese.
          • Bake in a hot oven (400 will do) until cheese is melty and bubbly, about 6 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

            A Birthday Dinner at the Tree House

            We have the best of both worlds up in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Ten minutes from the ocean, yet surrounded by beautiful, stately redwood trees. My cousin Nikita turned 21 on August 11th, so we had a family birthday dinner at my parent’s place; aptly named “The Tree House.” These are some of the highlights.

            Ginger Martinis

            • First, make a ginger syrup: Put 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
            • Strain the mixture, add a little lime (or lemon) juice to taste and then chill.
            • For each drink, use a jigger of gin and the same amount of ginger syrup, and some more lime juice.
            • Shake with ice and pour into glasses. Top off with some ginger beer (or ginger ale).
            • Drop a piece of crystallized ginger into the bottom of each class. Kanpai!

            Marinated Shrimp Skewers

            olive oil
            a few cloves of chopped garlic
            a few sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary
            a dash or two of Tabasco sauce
            a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
            shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left intact
            special equipment: skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak in water before grilling)

            • Combine all ingredients (except shrimp) in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup (adjust ingredients depending on amount of shrimp). Microwave until bubbly, about a minute. Assemble shrimp skewers and pour marinade over them. Grill.

            Polenta with Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Cheese

            • Prepare the polenta according to package instructions, stirring until it thickens.
            • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine equal parts Gorgonzola and Mascarpone cheese. Microwave until they’re soft enough to combine.
            • When polenta has thickened, spoon onto plates and top with a dollop of cheese mixture.

            Peach, Fresh Mozzarella & Mint Salad

            • On each serving plate put a few slices of fresh Mozzarella, a few mint leaves, and a few slices of peach.
            • Lightly dress with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkle of cumin.

            Jalapeño-Cheddar Scramble with Hashbrowns

            Yatta! (Japanese for “We did it!”) We made it through a year of teaching English! Break time! California, here we come! What do you do the day before leaving for a month long vacation? You play the “clean out the refrigerator” dinner game . In our case, we had a hunk of sharp cheddar, 3 eggs, and 2 medium sized potatoes. What did we end up with? Breakfast for dinner!

            I just love jalapeños – on nachos, pizza, hot dogs, in quesadillas, and now in eggs! This is sort of a silly recipe to post on a food blog, but I figured why not. It’ll be our last post from Japan for a month!

            We beat 3 eggs in a bowl with some salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then we scrambled the eggs in a little butter (of course!) and added Jalapeños from a jar. When the eggs were just set, we added grated cheddar until it all turned into a melty goodness. (And if we had had them, I would have added some tortilla chips too!)

            For the hash browns, we peeled & grated 2 medium potatoes, heated about 1 1/2 to 2 TBS. of olive oil over medium heat, and fried the potatoes until brown and crispy on both sides. then seasoned with salt & pepper. voilà! Breakfast!

            “Angry” Gnocchi, Fried Mozzerella Salad & Zucchini Sticks

            Arrabbiata is one of our favorite sauces for pasta — it’s a garlicky, spicy tomato sauce and its name means “angry”. But garlic and spice make us happy! That’s why this is our weeknight standby pasta sauce.

            Dustin’s Arrabbiata

            2 1/2 TBS olive oil
            2 cloves of garlic, minced
            1 can of crushed tomatoes
            1 TBS sugar
            2 dried red chilies, chopped
            a few leaves of fresh basil, torn
            salt & pepper

            • Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilies and sauté until garlic is golden. Turn the heat off and let cool one minute (to reduce the tomatoes splattering). Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil, and sugar. Simmer for at least 10 minutes.
            • Cook the gnocchi according to the package directions (until they float to the top), and drain. Spoon on the arrabbiata sauce and finish with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

            To accompany the gnocchi, we tried this recipe for Arugula & Fried Mozzarella Salad with Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette from The Nest and it turned out great! There’s something so satisfying about fried cheese. I just love it. And the spicy arugula was delicious with the sweet vinaigrette.

            And the frying continues! We’re not condoning this as a healthy meal, but when you have flour, egg and breadcrumbs already out (from making the fried mozzarella for the salad), and a wonderfully spicy tomato sauce for dipping, it just cries out for fried zucchini! We cut zucchini into strips, coated them in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, and fried them until just tender inside and golden outside. Mmmm…

            Nostalgic Greek Salmon

            Nothing beats the simplicity of fresh salmon, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and sweet basil, tied together with the flavors of lemon, olive oil, and oregano. This was the perfect light summer dinner. We intended to make it with shrimp, but when we found that our grocery store was sold out, we had to make a plan B, which turned out to be salmon. We were quite pleased to find a new way to enjoy salmon that evoked memories of sitting at a seaside table in Oia, Santorini on our honeymoon, watching the sun set behind the caldera.

            2 salmon fillets

            olive oil
            salt & pepper
            cherry tomatoes, halved
            feta cheese, broken into small pieces
            a few basil leave, torn
            lemon juice (we used about 1/2 of a lemon)
            splash of white wine + more to drink of course!

            • Rub the salmon with olive oil and season both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.
            • Put about 2 TBS of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, cook the salmon until done, a few minutes per side. Transfer salmon to plates. Turn the heat down to low.
            • Add the tomatoes, feta, basil, wine, and a few squeezes of lemon juice to the pan. Toss everything together until the tomatoes start to burst.  Spoon on top of the salmon, and enjoy with a glass of white wine, and if possible, a view 🙂

              Just Peachy!

              A fresh peach is the epitome of summer. Tonight’s menu was inspired by 1) the white peach (finally in season!) and 2) an item on our wedding reception menu, Casablanca Restaurant‘s fried brie. Although they serve theirs with jalapeño jelly, we enjoyed ours with a white peach salsa. We drank the Bellinis with the fried brie and crostini as a “happy hour” before we prepared the salmon and corn. 


              Fried Brie on Crostini
              Baked Salmon with white peach salsa
              Corn on the cob

              For the Salsa:

              2 white peaches, diced
              juice of 1/2 a lime
              1/4 cup diced red onion
              1/2 of a diced red bell pepper
              (If fresh jalapeños were available in Japan, I would have added one too!)

              • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate about 1 hour to let the flavors mingle.

              For the Crostini:

              1/2 a baguette cut into 1/4 inch slices
              Olive oil

              • Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until crispy and brown.

              For the Fried Brie:

              1 6-8 oz. wheel of brie, cut into wedges
              1 egg, beaten
              salt & pepper
              1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
              vegetable oil, enough to fill pan to a depth of 1 & 1/2 inches

              • Cut brie into wedges (Japan individually wraps everything, seriously, including the cheese triangles seen in the picture. So we didn’t have to cut anything). The wedges shouldn’t be any bigger than your crostini.
              • In a small bowl beat an egg with some salt and pepper. Place the bread crumbs on a plate.
              • Dip each piece of cheese into the egg and coat with breadcrumbs. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
              • Fry in vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until golden, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes.  Drain on paper towels. Serve on crostini with peach salsa. Serves about 4 as an appetizer.

              For the Salmon:

              2 salmon fillets
              olive oil
              salt & pepper

              • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
              • Place salmon fillets in an oiled, shallow baking dish. Season salmon with salt, pepper, rosemary, and dot with butter.
              • Bake 10-15 minutes or until done. Serve with peach salsa and corn on the cob.

              For the Bellinis:

              2 white peaches, pureed
              good sparkling wine (we used Italian Prosecco)

              • Fill the bottoms of 2 flutes with about 2 Tablespoons of peach puree.
              • Top with Prosecco.