Oatcakes are very versatile and take such basic, simple ingredients. A cross between a cookie and a cracker, they are savory bites and are not overly sweet. In fact, I would describe these artisan cookies/crackers as having a nice short, crisp texture. Scottish in origin, oatcakes probably made their debut in Canada when they arrived along with Scottish immigrants.
Oatcakes can be eaten as plain cookies or sandwiched together with jam or date filling. They can be consumed as crackers served with various condiments such as tangy gourmet preserves and marmalades alongside cheese, such as Brie. Here I am serving them with J.J. Stewart’s Cranberry Champagne and Crystalized Ginger Preserves made in Stratford, PEI. You can read the story I wrote earlier on J.J. Stewart’s products by clicking here.
This product is a bit sharp and tangy and goes particularly well with a plain oatcake and Brie cheese. Whatever preserve, jam, or marmalade you serve with these, make sure it is not runny. It needs to be fairly thick consistency so it will stay in place atop the oatcake. Choosing a bright red jam makes these colorful savories!
Oatcakes can also be dipped in chocolate. And, yes, they can even find their way onto an afternoon tea table because they taste especially good with a fine cup of tea. In fact, I served them at my Tartan Day Afternoon Tea this year.
Old-fashioned Savory Oatcakes
1 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 cups oatmeal (not instant)
Preheat oven to 350°.
With electric mixer, cream shortening and sugar.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla.
In separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt.
With mixer at lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture until combined.
Remove bowl from mixer and, using a wooden spoon, add the oatmeal. Stir well.
Roll out dough thin – between ⅛” and ¼” thick. Cut into 2” circles or squares.
Place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven an let set on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Oatcakes freeze very well. They are a great staple to have on hand along with a good quality preserve or marmalade so, when company drops in unexpectedly, it is quick and easy to pull together some refreshments. Set out the bottle of preserve, a stack of oatcakes, some favorite cheese, and fresh fruit and you have a savory snack food!
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I’m not sure if there is one meal menu at Easter on Prince Edward Island that is more common than another. Some families have the tradition of a roast beef dinner while others enjoy a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Others say it just isn’t Easter dinner unless baked ham is on the table.
This year, for my Easter dinner, I featured a glazed baked ham studded with whole cloves. When I have ham, I traditionally boil it and add all the veggies to the same pot in the last 30-40 minutes and let them cook in the broth. You can find my recipe for this comfort food meal here.
However, for Easter, I decided to make it a bit more special by baking and glazing the ham. Hams are very economical when bought on sale and they yield a good amount of meat if you are serving a crowd or wanting leftovers — I love leftovers because it means a few days of little meal prep!
For this baked ham, I started out with an uncooked ham (bone in). I scored the surface of the ham in a diamond pattern, cutting in between 1/8″ and 1/4″. At the intersection of each diamond, I inserted a whole clove.
The oven was preheated to 325F and the large roaster was lined with tin foil to make clean up easier. The ham was placed on the roaster’s wire rack. I then poured 1 1/2 cups of root beer into the roaster, ensuring that the ham was not sitting in the root beer.
I brushed a very thin, light coating of the sweet and tasty glaze on the ham (recipe follows).
The cover was placed on the roaster and the baking began as the steam from the root beer infused the ham with additional flavor as it baked. About 50 minutes before I estimated the ham to be baked, I applied a thicker coating of the glaze, making sure it penetrated into the ham meat through the scored lines and I returned the ham to the oven to continue baking. About 25 minutes later, I reapplied the glaze. When the ham was cooked, I removed it from the oven and let it rest about 15 minutes before carving it. This makes it much easier to carve clean slices that stay whole.
I presented the ham with a raisin sauce and a slice of pineapple which added both flavour and color for plate presentation.
The ham was served with scalloped potatoes and a medley of stir-fried colorful vegetables.
My favorite lemon cream cheese dessert was a fitting finale to the meal. The recipe for this Layered Lemon Dessert comes from the Company’s Coming Desserts Cookbook.
What are the foods you traditionally serve at Easter?
Glaze for Baked Ham
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tbsp mustard (I used JJ Stewart’s Maple Mustard Sauce with Cranberries)
1 tbsp pineapple juice
2 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp ginger
Combine brown sugar and cornstarch together. Add all remaining ingredients into a small saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar-cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until slightly thickened.
Brush very lightly over uncooked ham. About 50 minutes before ham is estimated to be baked, apply a thicker coat of the glaze to the ham, ensuring it penetrates into the diagonal cuts in the surface of the ham. About 25 minutes later, apply another coat of the glaze and return to oven to finish baking. Allow ham to rest for about 15 minutes before carving.
There is nothing that says pampering more than breakfast in bed! In fact, there doesn’t have to be a special occasion to serve a special someone a breakfast tray. And, it doesn’t have to be overly fancy. Toast or a croissant along with fresh orange juice and coffee will somehow seem much more special when served on a pretty tray in bed.
Today, however, because it is Easter and eggs are synonymous with the season, I prepared baked eggs as the main component for the breakfast tray. A recipe I often use is the one I shared in the story last summer about the Burns Poultry Farm. To add some color to the baked eggs, today I added some grated cheddar cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, onion, and green pepper.
Coffee always tastes more special when served in a fancy cup and saucer. A single-serving sized coffee butler keeps the replenishment coffee hot.
Colorful spring tulips were specially selected to match the entrée. Pretty good match, I’d say!
Add some fresh fruit and toast and the breakfast was complete. A great way to start someone’s day!
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It has been awhile since I have shared a tablesetting so I thought Easter would be a good opportunity to show you how I have designed my Easter tablescape this year.
I have opted to use my formal china for this setting. The pink and lavender floral design fits in with the traditional shades of Easter. I have charger plates in various colors for different seasons and events. This year, I am using a soft shade of pink that compliments the china well. This, of course, sets the color scheme for the tablescape.
For the tablescape, I am using a couple of squares of faux grass as the base. I have added a few small Easter ornaments and sprinkled some decorative Easter eggs here and there.
A number of years ago, I did a lot of decorative painting and painted designs on these wooden eggs.
I like to bring these eggs out every year and incorporate them into my Easter decorating.
At the head of the tablescape, I took a china bunny from my collection and presented her on a pedestal cake plate surrounded by Easter eggs. She commands the table, don’t you think! An easy-peasy tablescape.
Because the tablescape itself is somewhat busy, I have kept each place setting relatively simple so as not to compete with the table’s focal point.
This tablescape was quick and easy to pull together and, best of all, cost nothing since it was constructed using materials I already had. I am a big proponent of repurposing decorations from my existing seasonal collections of ornaments.
The other great thing about this tablescape is that, with no real flowers involved, it can be prepared several days in advance and enjoyed in the lead-up to Easter instead of for just a day or two. While I do love my floral arrangements, it’s not always necessary that they be in every tablescape. Also, this tablescape works well if any guests have scent allergies that can be worsened by the presence of scented floral arrangements.
So, there we have it….my Easter dinner table for 2014.
What are the elements you usually incorporate into an Easter tablesetting?
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Even though Easter is late this year, we still have a lot of snow on PEI. Last week’s moderate temperatures (and no new snow, thankfully) saw the snow settling and starting to melt away. However, we still have plenty in stock!
After such a long, arduous winter, I am so ready for spring and some color other than white snow. My Easter Afternoon Tea this year has yellow as its theme color. I have this Gibsons (England) vintage teapot that I have been wanting to use for a long time and its colors seem to suggest a yellow theme. I like its oval, elongated shape. I also have my Easter tablecloth square with yellow chicks and purple eggs and flowers so yellow it is with some hints of purple.
I have a little growing collection of teacups and saucers. I am featuring a couple of newer acquisitions in this afternoon tea, both of them spring-themed.
The first is my daffodil cup and saucer manufactured by the Rosina China Co. Ltd. in England. I love the shape and floral design on this cup including the design carried through to the inside of the cup.
The second cup and saucer features little purple violets (one of my all-time favorite flowers) with yellow accent flowers. It’s a Royal Albert china cup and saucer and also carries the floral design to the inside of the cup.
My tea selection today from my wee table-sized tea box is Bentley’s Lemon, Honey & Chamomile Herbal Tea.
Yes, even the tea has a yellow cast to it, in keeping with today’s yellow color scheme!
One of my grandmothers gave me this [now vintage] Withernsea England Eastgate Pottery vase when I wasn’t very old. It’s now part of my Easter collection and today it holds bright yellow and white daffodils for our afternoon tea table.
I have folded plain white napkins into bunny ear shapes for each place setting and added a chocolate to each plate because chocolate is so popular at Easter!
I have prepared three kinds of sandwiches for this afternoon’s tea. The first is a triple-decker sandwich with egg filling on potato and green onion bread. The second is honey glazed ham sandwiched between slices of Chia bread. And, the third is a cucumber sandwich on flax bread.
I like to use different breads on my sandwich trays, not only for their unique flavors and how well they enhance the fillings I have chosen, but also for their appearance.
The old question is …. are crusts removed or left on? I think this is really a matter of preference and also how dark the crusts are. I prefer to remove them because I think the sandwiches plate more attractively if the crusts are removed. I save the crusts and make them into crumbs to use for other purposes such as the stuffing for a roasted turkey as I am not one to waste food.
Even though I have a featured dessert for my Easter afternoon tea, I have included a selection of some sweets on the tiered server.
A closer peek? Raspberry Jam Squares, spring- and Easter-shaped shortbread, and chocolate peanut butter balls.
These are the jam squares I featured in my story recently about JJ Stewart Foods and Soda Company. You can get the recipe here.
So, about that featured dessert ……..
I like decorating cakes so I made a vanilla cake, sandwiched it together with lemon filling (keeping the yellow theme going!), iced it in the basket weave design, and decorated it with sugar Easter lilies that I made with royal icing (yes, they are tedious to make and extremely fragile).
Whenever possible, I like to present my decorated cakes on pedestal plates as it gives them more prominence and elegance.
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my Easter afternoon tea.
My family has a long history of planting Vesey’s seeds. I well remember my grandmother receiving, by mail, the white envelope bearing the Vesey’s seed catalogue.
She would spend many an hour perusing the catalogue, marking an “x” beside the seeds she planned to order and turning down the relevant pages.
Now, this might not seem strange to you but what is ironic about it is that this woman never ordered a different variety of beans, peas, lettuce, or any other seed from one year to the next! Nevertheless, she sure enjoyed those little catalogues (particularly when they started to have photographs in them) and, each spring, she would mail off her seed order (on an order form much like the one in the photo below) and, a few weeks later, the much anticipated small white box of seeds would arrive in the mail from Vesey’s in York, PEI.
Today, we either order the seeds online, by phone, mail or, for many of us Islanders, we simply drive to the Vesey’s store to pick up the seeds. However, in my grandmother’s day, this would have been about an hour’s drive from her house and her way of doing much business was by regular postal service.
Planting a garden was of particular importance to my grandmother’s generation because the produce from the garden was what sustained a family through much of the year. In-season, families would enjoy fresh produce from their gardens but they also ate from the gardens for the rest of the year, too. Cucumbers were grown for pickles; beets would be canned; parsnips, onions, and carrots were stored in cold cellars for use over the winter. Pumpkins and squash joined them and were used for jams and pies through the long, cold winter months. You see, in my grandmother’s time, there were no big supermarkets with imported produce and, as far as farmers markets were concerned, they weren’t an item in rural PEI because most everyone had their own vegetable gardens in which they grew the produce they needed.
Once the frost was out of the ground in June, out would come the Vesey’s box of seeds and the planting process would begin. My grandmother’s garden was always large. She and my grandfather would debate over the straightness of the drills because, if they weren’t in proper line, people driving by would think they didn’t know how to plant a garden! And, she wanted to make sure the garden looked full and lush because no one wanted to be known for having a “poor” garden. That’s why she relied on Vesey’s seeds that she trusted to produce a good garden. I think my grandmother got great pleasure out of tending her garden and harvesting and processing its products. Today, we plant a smaller garden but still use Vesey’s seeds because we know we can trust them as they have been tested to ensure they will grow in PEI’s short growing season.
This year marks the 75th Anniversary that Vesey’s has been in business. I recently sat down with Heidi Carmichael, horticulturalist at Vesey’s, to talk about the seed company’s operation. Heidi has been with the company for five years and supervises the seeds that are brought in for trials and monitors how well they do in the vegetable trials. Every seed that appears in Vesey’s catalogue has been grown in a trial plot at Vesey’s to ensure it will grow in our Island climate.
Vesey’s Seeds was started in 1939 by Arthur Vesey (now deceased). The current owner, Bev Simpson, began working with Mr. Vesey when Bev was just 16 years of age. Today, he is joined by a son and daughter who also work at Vesey’s, a company known for its excellent seed quality products, loyalty to customers, and good customer service.
Vesey’s seeds come from all over the world. However, before a seed variety will be offered for sale, it will be grown and tested in Vesey’s trial plots, usually over a couple of years so the seeds can be tested over different summers with different growing conditions. It is important that imported seeds pass the germination test as well as a purity test for no diseases or weeds. The company has two acres of trial plots for regular vegetable seeds and one acre for hot field crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It’s not uncommon for 90-100 tomato varieties to be under trial at the same time.
Both new and existing varieties of seeds in the annual Vesey’s seed catalogue get tested every year. Today, Vesey’s markets over 700 varieties of seeds and some are not vegetables that you might think would grow in cool Maritime climates, like avocados and watercress, for example.
Vesey’s sell both conventional as well as organic seeds to respond to the growing demand for organic products. Heidi tells me that, each year, Vesey’s adds more organic seeds to their offerings.
A long-time mail order company, I asked Heidi if the popularity of online shopping in recent years has impacted their operations. She says internet sales have grown and, while the paper copies of the catalogues still remain popular, they are seeing more web orders for seeds. In fact, they ship their seeds all over North America and shipping orders make up the majority of their sales.
Seventy-five years is a significant milestone in any company’s business. I asked Heidi to what Vesey’s attributes their ongoing success and longevity. She believes, first and foremost, it is Vesey’s customer service. Second, the availability of good quality land to test seeds to ensure that what they offer for sale will actually grow in our climate. Third, the long-time experience of seed-testing and growing means gardeners can trust that Vesey’s seeds are credible. Fourth, the company has carefully and intentionally grown and kept up with the times. As Heidi says, Vesey’s is “not just seeds” – you can buy everything you need to garden at Vesey’s because they have different departments like rototillers and lawn tractors, landscaping needs, and flowers and bulbs, for example.
Heidi says Vesey’s is continually searching out new vegetable and seed varieties and they remain current on what customers are looking for. For example, as Canada becomes more culturally diverse, Vesey’s is looking at the foods immigrants to Canada are likely to be seeking. This year, the company is currently testing vegetable seeds like Chinese greens because there are a number of Asian immigrants in the country.
Something that Vesey’s has started doing is putting together convenient theme garden packages of seeds. For example, they offer a salsa seed package that will contain the seeds you need to grow all the vegetables and herbs for making salsa. This makes it easier for the customer who doesn’t have to go in search of individual seed packages and put together their own seed package combinations. Vesey’s also offers a tomato-themed seed package that will contain a collection of several different kinds of tomatoes from early to late varieties, including beefsteak, plum, and cherry tomatoes.
Before we ended our chat, I asked Heidi if she could offer some advice for the first-time gardener thinking about starting his or her own garden. Here are her tips:
1) Get a soil sample analysis. Take a small sample (about 1½ cups) of your garden soil to a government-run lab that will do a soil analysis for you. There is usually a nominal fee involved but the analysis will tell you what you need to add to your soil for nutrients. For example, it may indicate you need to add lime and/or peat moss to make more acidic nitrogen to help your plants grow better.
2) Start with a small plot so it won’t be overwhelming and be sure you are up for the challenge and have the time to weed, water, and maintain the garden.
3) Plant the garden close to your kitchen for convenience and also for ease of regular watering purposes. If your garden is planted too far from your kitchen, it will make it more of a challenge to tend to it and to harvest and use your produce. Make sure the garden is planted in full sun.
4) Grow what you like to eat and know that you will use. Plant some seeds that will quickly yield produce, such as greens like spinach, so you’ll see some quick results. Tomatoes and peppers are good suggestions, too, because they can be eaten on their own as well as used in many recipes. Herbs are also good for first-time gardeners because they are easy to grow and are very versatile in their usage and can be dried for winter use.
5) If space is limited, consider growing pole beans and trellised cucumbers and beans as this will leave more ground space to grow other vegetable varieties.
Vesey’s trial plots are located behind their main building in York, PEI, and are open to the public. Heidi tells me each plot is marked to indicate what is being grown so you will know what seeds Vesey’s is currently testing and that may make their way into a future catalogue. In case you are wondering what happens to the produce from the trial plots, Vesey’s donates it to the local food bank.
When you are visiting the trial gardens during peak growing season, be sure to also stop by “Arthur’s Memorial Garden”, a garden established in honor of the man who began the seed company 75 years ago.
As the old saying goes, if you want to be really sure where your food comes from, grow your own produce. It’s been a long, cold, brutal winter in the Atlantic Provinces this year and most — particularly gardeners — are yearning to see some plant growth. It may still be a while before any of us can dig around in our gardens or see any locally-grown produce; however, it is not too soon to start planning our vegetable gardens and making our seed selections. So, while blizzards may still be hitting Eastern Canada when the calendar tells us it is spring, why not head over to the Vesey’s website and browse through the colorful photographs of garden-fresh vegetables and dream of summer gardens and fresh produce.
My thanks to Vesey’s Seeds and, especially to their horticulturalist, Heidi Carmichael, for taking time out of busy days to talk with me about gardening.
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Today is National Tartan Day. Tartan Day is celebrated each year on April 6th which coincides with the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence — the Declaration of Arbroath — in 1320.It is a day of observance to recognize and celebrate the Scottish heritage and the contributions of the Scots and their descendents to Canada’s history, development, and culture.In Canada, the day first originated in Nova Scotia in the late 1980s and then later spread across the country culminating with it being proclaimed, on October 21, 2010, by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, as an observance day all across Canada.I understand it is also celebrated in several other countries around the world.Tartans are, of course, synonymous with Scottish descendents.Tartan Day has a particular significance on Prince Edward Island because, according to the PEI Government website, people of Scottish descent make up the largest ethnic group in the Province.
Canada, as a whole, has the Maple Leaf Tartan as its official tartan which became an official national symbol by ministerial declaration on March 9, 2011. Most provinces also each have their own unique official tartan.The PEI tartan was designed and registered in 1959 by Elizabeth Jean MacLean Reed from Covehead, PEI.Through an official tartan design contest, Mrs. Reed’s tartan was selected and adopted as PEI’s official tartan on June 16, 1960.
The colors of the tartan each represent some aspect of the Island:The overall reddish-brown color signifies the redness of the Island soil; the green portrays the grass and trees; the white represents the whitecaps of the waves that lap our shores, and the yellow is said to stand for the sun. If you have ever had the opportunity to fly in over PEI on a beautiful, clear, sunny day in spring, the landscape of the Island does look like a tartan checkerboard with green fields and trees and the red land. The traditional PEI tartan is a very good depiction of the colors of the Island.
In addition, the Island also has an official dress tartan.
This tartan was designed by Ben Taylor, Scott MacAulay, Barbara Brown, and John (Jock) Hopkirk.Unveiled on June 25, 1992, the dress tartan is a different design from the official provincial tartan although it maintains the overall reddish-green color scheme. The PEI dress tartan substitutes white blocks for one of the darker colors in the traditional tartan.
I recently spoke with Barbara (Brown) Yorke, one of the designers of the PEI dress tartan, to find out when the dress tartan would be worn. Ms. Yorke tells me that the dress tartan is often worn by highland dancers who favor the lighter color (than traditional tartans which tend to be darker) because the kilts, with matching socks, made of the lighter tartan makes the dark shoes of the dancers stand out.
The following photo shows the comparison of the traditional and dress Prince Edward Island tartans with the dress tartan (on the left-hand side of the photo) being much lighter in color.
My celebration of Tartan Day involves an afternoon tea using, of course, my Prince Edward Island tartan teacups and saucers. My tea selection today is Bentley’s Lemon, Honey & Chamomile Herbal Tea.
On my menu for Tartan Day are egg salad sandwiches with dill, along with fruit cake, coconut roll dates, and Scottish oatcakes, of course, to represent my Scottish heritage.
I am using my small ivory and gold-colored teapot this afternoon since it fits in with the rich tones of the Island tartan.
Let’s take a closer look at the elements on the tea table and the significance they bring to a Tartan Day afternoon tea.
One of my favorite tea sandwiches is the traditional egg filling sandwich which is particularly good flavored with dillweed. The yellow egg salad filling represents the yellow in the tartan. The dill and green grapes depict the green in the tartan.
Scottish Oatcakes seem appropriate for my tea table today along with some fruitcake which, incidentally, has the colors of the Prince Edward Island tartan (you’d almost think I planned that but I didn’t!). I added a couple of coconut roll dates to round out the sweet tier.
I used my small two-tier server today. It’s ideal when I am only serving two courses at afternoon tea and it doesn’t take up much room on a small tea table as I am using today.
And, when it all came together, here’s what my tea table looks like today.
My choice of flowers for the tea table are these bright and colorful tulips, grown on PEI in the Vanco Farm greenhouses in Mount Albion. It has been such a long miserable winter, with blizzard after blizzard for the past four months on the Island, that I need colorful flowers to brighten my life! The colors of these seemed to work with my color scheme for today’s afternoon tea.
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into how My Island Bistro Kitchen celebrated Tartan Day today. Do you celebrate Tartan Day? What are your traditions for the day?
Happy Tartan Day!
 Source:The Government of Prince Edward Island website. http://www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=1526
Today, I am sharing a recipe for one of my favorite ways to serve pork chops. It’s very simple and easy to make and uses very few ingredients, none of them uncommon or hard to find. In fact, many cooks likely already have the ingredients in their kitchens.
I find this is a good recipe to use to tenderize pork chops and it works with any cut of the meat, boneless or with bone in. The soup sauce also keeps the pork chops moist.
The recipe is quick and easy enough for a weeknight meal but can also be served as company fare. Make a simple bread stuffing (be sure to use fresh, soft bread crumbs). Brown the pork chops quickly in a frying pan, then transfer them to a baking dish. Top each chop with a generous amount of the stuffing. Mix a can of cream of mushroom soup with a small amount of milk and pour over the pork chops and stuffing. Dinner in about 1 hour. This can be served with your choice of potato or rice but baked potato goes particularly well with this meal along with a side of your favorite vegetable(s).
Pork Chops with Bread Stuffing and Creamy Mushroom Sauce
2 cups soft bread crumbs 2 tbsp finely chopped onion 1½ tsp summer savory 2 tbsp finely chopped celery 2 tbsp finely chopped apple 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon 2 tbsp melted butter 1½ tbsp water Salt and pepper, to taste
1½ tbsp butter 4 pork chops, boneless or bone-in
1 – 10 oz can cream of mushroom soup ⅓ cup milk
Combine bread crumbs, onion, summer savory, celery, apple, chicken bouillon, melted butter, water, salt and pepper.
Stir stuffing mixture well. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Over medium-high heat, melt 1½ tbsp butter in large frying pan. Brown pork chops, turning each once to brown on both sides.
Transfer to greased casserole dish.
Combine the cream of mushroom soup with the milk and stir well. Set aside.
Using an ice cream scoop, place ¼ of the bread stuffing mixture on top of each pork chop. Pour the soup mixture over the stuffing and pork chops.
Bake, uncovered, for approximately 45-60 minutes (depending on size of pork chops), until the chops are tender.
Serve with baked potato and your favorite side vegetable(s).