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Counter Intelligence: Double-duty recipes stretch holiday hours

By April Hamilton
April Hamilton
Serve chipotle cheddar broccoli dip with crostini.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I personally adore recipes that do double duty, especially in the time-crunch bustle of the busy holiday season. As the to-do lists grow longer and longer and the days literally get shorter, who has time to cook? You do. Check out these dazzling recipes that work overtime and use just a few simple ingredients.

For a tasty twist on a traditional side dish, trim a head of fresh broccoli into spears. Steam it and top with a subtle or spicy chipotle cheese sauce. Pop it under the broiler and you'll be serving a culinary masterpiece that didn't make you sweat. Do the work ahead of time and heat the dish on your terms. Your guests will be pleasantly surprised by the smoky kick of the chipotle, and you don't have to let them in on your "it's so easy" secret.

Better yet, employ your food processor and pulse the broccoli, stems and all, into coarse florets. Blend it with the cheesy chipotle magic and bake until bubbling. This version makes a delicious dip for a festive starter. Again, you can prepare it in advance and it's ready when your party guests arrive. Serve with crostini that you can quickly toast from the baguettes in your freezer.

Baked potatoes are an easy yet unexpected finger food. Roast tiny whole potatoes and serve them with classic toppings. These darlings disappear quickly, so be sure to reserve some to make a bonus Spanish tortilla.

A favorite tapas dish from its namesake country, the tortilla is not the familiar flatbread, but a savory potato omelet. Though the traditional preparation is slightly tedious, you can make it with your reserved baked potatoes for huge time savings. Serve it in garnished wedges for brunch or in tiny squares for tapas.

If guests drop in and you're not at all prepared to feed them, break out a can of black beans and your secret stash of crunchy tortilla cups. Add some spice to the beans and some cubes of ripe avocado (note: keep on hand at all times) and you have crunchy party goodness in minutes. This black bean salad doubles on its own as a delicious and satisfying lunch dish, so you'll never go hungry, even when time is really tight.

Happy holidays, everyone! Happy cooking!

Chipotle Cheddar Broccoli Gratin

Broccoli goes uptown with this luscious sauce. For a fabulous dip, coarsely chop the trimmed broccoli (the food processor makes quick work of this) and stir it into the hot cheese sauce. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and heat until bubbling. Serve with crostini (a baguette from Charleston Bread is a freezer staple -- stock up for crostini, soup-dipping or sandwiches). Makes 8 servings.

1 large head broccoli (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into spears

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour 

1 cup milk (skim works great)

1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

1 teaspoon (or more if you love spicy) minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo (see note)

STEAM broccoli spears until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Arrange them in a buttered shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish and season with salt.

MELT the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the milk and stir constantly until thickened and bubbling. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 cup of the cheddar and the chipotle. Add salt, to taste, and more chipotle, if desired.

POUR the cheese sauce over the broccoli. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

BROIL about 8 inches from the heat for 5 minutes until the gratin is bubbling and brown in spots.

To make the dip:

CHOP the raw broccoli and stir into the hot cheese sauce. Transfer to baking dish and bake at 350° for 20 minutes, until heated through, then top it with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, slide under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.

Note: Chipotle chilies in adobo are smoked jalapeños, available in the ethnic section of most grocery stores.

Baby Baked Potatoes

These tiny potatoes are an exciting finger food. Top as desired -- bits of crunchy bacon would definitely work. Bacon from Sandy Creek Farms is locally raised and cured and is exceptionally delicious. Makes 8 servings.

1 1/2 pounds tiny tan-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and pricked once

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Toppings: bacon, fresh lemon zest and wedges, sour cream, snipped fresh chives

HEAT oven to 450° with rimmed baking sheet in oven.

TOSS potatoes with oil, salt and pepper in medium bowl to coat. Carefully remove baking sheet from oven, and lay a sheet of parchment paper on it (careful!). Transfer potatoes to hot baking sheet (to fit in single layer).

ROAST 35 to 40 minutes, until tender when pierced with a thin sharp knife.

REMOVE sheet from oven and let potatoes cool until just cool enough to handle. Cut a large slit in the top of the potatoes (reserve 8 whole potatoes if making Spanish Tortilla -- recipe below) and gently squeeze as you would a baked potato. Squirt with wedges of zested lemon, pipe in a little sour cream and sprinkle with chives, bacon and reserved lemon zest.

Spanish Tortilla

This bears no resemblance to the flatbread of the same name. It is actually a potato omelet and is the most commonly served dish in Spain. We "cheat" a little here, using the roasted potatoes rather than "frying" sliced potatoes in tons of olive oil. Buen provecho! Makes 8 servings.

8 reserved tiny roasted potatoes, thinly sliced

8 large eggs, whisked to blend in a large bowl

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

HEAT an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl skillet to coat. While oil is heating, whisk salt and pepper into beaten eggs and stir in thinly sliced potatoes.

POUR the egg/potato mixture into the skillet. As soon as the edges firm up, after a minute or so, reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes (see note 1).

INSERT a rubber spatula all around edges of tortilla to make sure it will slide from pan. The top will be runny. Carefully slide out onto a plate. Cover with another plate, and, holding plates tightly, invert them (see note 2). Add another tablespoon oil to skillet and use the spatula to coax the tortilla back in.

COOK 5 minutes and slide from skillet onto a clean plate. Serve warm, or at room temperature. (Cut into pie-shaped wedges for a brunch plate or into squares for tapas.)

Note 1: Time is a guideline --- the top of the egg mixture will be wet but not completely liquid -- depending on your stove, it may need an extra minute or two. The key here is not to let the first side get too brown -- a perfect tortilla is "golden like the sunshine" and a delicacy.

Note 2: If the flipping activity seems too extreme, the tortilla can be finished in a hot oven to cook the top through (as a frittata).

Tiny Black Bean Tostadas

Serve this in crispy tortilla "scoops" for finger food or in lettuce cups for a lunch dish. Add a bit of your chipotle to spice these nicely. Makes 36.

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 small tomato, finely chopped

1 15-ounce can low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 ripe avocado, finely diced

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

36 baked tortilla chip cups

COMBINE all ingredients and spoon mixture evenly into tortilla cups. Serve.

CHILL remaining black bean salad for up to 2 days for later use.

April Hamilton has always said, "Cooking is fun!" She shares her easy, practical recipes for delicious food through her cooking classes for kids and families. April's husband and three daughters help with testing and tasting in their Charleston kitchen. April would love to hear from you: Email aprilskitchencounter@gmail.com.


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