Loaded Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have more vitamin A, beta carotene and fiber than regular white potatoes.  Also, my Grandma used to serve them for her and Grandpa, who had diabetes, because it doesn’t spike blood sugar as intensely as a starchy white potato.

This was tonight’s dinner. Yum. My favorite veg, mixed with my favorite starch mixed with my favorite pork product, topped with cheese. What is not to like?

Loaded Sweet Potatoes

Loaded Sweet Potatoes

I was feeling pretty happy, thinking how this looks so pretty with all the colors, and I’m so excited to eat it– and then I realized, I wanted to take a picture.

I haven’t been interested in taking pics lately, or even blogging. Not sure why. Food has been thrown together. I haven’t been feeling inspired to bake.

The one time two weeks ago I made peanut butter brownies with a pretzel crust, the light was so bad and nothing looked pretty on camera I just got pissed off and gave up.

So I grabbed my camera and got ready for taking pics of my sweet dinner. But then, the negative voice. It creeped in. It said nobody cares about a dumb pseudo recipe for loaded sweet potatoes. Stop!

Well, I hesitated but decided to capitalize on my moment of inspiration and take the pictures anyways.  Screw you negative voice.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes

I’m glad I did. They look fine. It was easy. I was inspired to write this post. And now, after a month away from blogging, I’m back and it doesn’t feel weird. For those of you reading, thanks. I did miss you.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 3 pieces bacon
  • 1 small broccoli crown
  • handful of shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash and prick the sweet potatoes all over and then bake for 1 hour. During last 20 minutes of baking, cut the broccoli into small florets and steam for 12 minutes. Cook the bacon until crispy, drain, and chop into pieces. Set aside. When the potatoes are done, remove from oven and slice down the middle, squeeze both ends to pop it open. Stuff the cooked broccoli inside, top with cheese and bacon. Return to the oven for 3 minutes or so, until cheese is melted.

Enjoy!

- Erin

Twice Baked Potatoes

Urgh. I know it is too hot to turn the oven on to make these (in the DC area anyway), but I’ve been needing to post this since Easter, so this is happening people!

Twice Baked Potatoes

These are tasty, the sour cream makes the inner pocket of mashed potato creamy and tangy. The cheese on top is gooey and makes these look homey and inviting.

Twice Baked Potatoes

These are a perfect side dish for a special occasion, or, make a main course out of them by piling steamed veggies on top. Plus, you can make these ahead and keep in the fridge so you can socialize with guests or have a ready-to-go weeknight meal.

Baffled by how to make these without ruining the skins? Don’t get overexcited trying to scoop out all the inner potato flesh. Leaving some potato inside helps maintain the structural integrity of the potato skin. I know, it almost feels like a challenge to see just how much you can get out to turn into the delightful filling– but all it takes is one aggressive scoop with a spoon and you’ve taken a chunk out of the skin.

Structurally Sound!

Structurally Sound!

Not being too aggressive is also important during the stuffing phase. Forcing to much filling in can split the skin, just pile some extra on top like I did!

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • 8 medium baking potatoes
  • 2 cups shredded colby jack cheese plus more for topping
  • 1  tbl Old Bay seasoning, plus more for topping (taste as you go, add more if you like)*
  • 1 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt if you want to ‘healthy’ it up, but taste will be altered)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2/3 c milk (give or take depending on thickness of mixture)

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash the potatoes and prick with a fork. Place on a lined baking sheet and bake until easily poked with a knife, about 50 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool so potatoes are easier to handle.  If you get impatient, fold a couple paper towels together and use that to hold the potatoes.

Meanwhile, dice the onion and cook just until tender and slightly translucent in the 1 stick butter. Save and set aside. Once cooled enough, cut a medium-sized diamond shape out of the top of the potato skin, peel off, revealing a hole large enough to fit a small spoon into. Start scooping out the potato flesh into a large bowl, reserving the whole skins for later.

Once you’ve cleaned out the potatoes, pour the onions and butter, milk, sour cream, and cheese into the bowl and mix well with electric beaters to get the chunks out and render the mixture smooth. Add in the Old Bay and some salt and pepper to taste. Stir to incorporate.

Now, stuff the mixture back into the potato skins. You may have some leftover, just pile it on top of the potatoes or eat it!! Top each potato with a sprinkle of Old Bay and more cheese.

If baking immediately: Preheat oven to 350° and bake the potatoes on a lined baking sheet for 25 minutes until the cheese is melted and potatoes are hot.

If baking the next day: Place the potatoes onto a lined baking sheet and wrap tightly all over with cling wrap. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to baking to allow potatoes to come to room temperature. Bake in 350° oven for 25-30 minutes until cheese melts and potatoes are hot.

*Note: if you are refrigerating these overnight, the taste of the Old Bay will intensify over time and you don’t need as much.

Enjoy!

- Erin

Smoky Chili Popovers

Smoky Chili Popovers

My dear friend’s fiance suggested I make some popovers and enter them into his restaurant’s – BLT Steak– popover competition. Since I’ve had some good luck with food competition, see here and here, I jumped at the chance.

Smoky Chili Popovers

Nom nom nom, this was the first time I’ve made popovers and I wonder where these have been all my life. Why you ask? As my mother-in-law would day, she’s “never met a carb she didn’t like”, and I subscribe to that philosophy. So I love these chewy, crunchy, eggy little puffins, natch.

Smokey Chili Popovers

These popovers are super flavorful with roasted green chilies, sweet corn and Monterrey Jack cheese… think the ‘Southwest’ flavor category.  Serve these steaming hot from the oven with some butter sweetened with honey. Melt. :-)

Smoky Chili Popovers

Smoky Chili Popovers

Thanks to Putney Farm for providing the base for this recipe!  Those folks are baking (and cocktail) experts, please check them out!

Smoky Chili and Sweet Corn Popovers (makes 8)

  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Nearly 2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 4-5 small green chilies, roasted, peeled, de-seeded and chopped (I used jalapeno and a mystery green pepper)
  • 1 small can sweet corn

Preheat oven to 350°. Put your popover pan in the oven at this time to also preheat. Warm the milk over low heat. Don’t boil!!! Beat eggs with a whisk until frothy in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combined the flour and salt.  Remove the milk from low heat and whisk vigorously, slowly adding in the eggs. Be mindful here, if it is too hot the eggs will scramble.  Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the egg/milk mixture. Don’t over mix, just do it until combined, it can be slightly lumpy.

Remove the popover pan from the oven and grease the cups with Crisco. Pour batter into each cup, about 3/4th’s full. Put 1 tsp sweet corn and 1 tsp chopped chilies into each cup. Top with a large pinch of shredded cheese. Bake 50-55 minutes. Don’t open the oven door, just use the oven light to monitor progress.  When the popovers are totally puffed on top and turning golden brown, you know you’ve done it right!

Remove from the oven and quickly take each popover out of the cup. It will start to fall, don’t worry.  Serve warm, with butter. Yum.

How to roast peppers: see this post. Here are some pictures to help guide you. Try to really blister and blacken the skin to get maximum smoky flavor.

IMG_3656

After

Roasted chilies

Before (mystery peppers are the larger, lighter ones)

Slow Cooker Sausage with Cabbage and Potatoes

How do you make up your mind about dinner when the weather won’t make up its mind?

Slow Cooker Sausage, Cabbage and Potatoes

In the 60′s, well that almost seems like salad weather in February.

Oh wait, a couple hours later it’s pouring rain and 35°? Ok, now I want some hot comfort food.

Throw these ingredients into the slow cooker and a comfort meal you will have, in 4 to 5 hours.

Shredded cabbage, onions and red, white and blue potatoes

Shredded cabbage, onions and red, white and blue potatoes

Wait, as I type this, the rain has turned to snow. Ok. I give up. I know I can’t go wrong with caraway seeds, whole grain mustard and Nuremberg sausage! :-) Hearty and yum.

Slow Cooker Sausage with Cabbage and Potatoes

  • 1 1/2 lb potatoes (cut in half if large)
  • 1 small head cabbage, roughly shredded
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 1/2 lb sausage (I used Nuremberg, brats would work too)
  • 1 cup beef broth*
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 tsp whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tbl white vinegar
  • Whole grain German mustard for dipping

In a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker, combine the cabbage, onions, caraway and mustard seeds, salt and old bay. Toss with hands. Pour in the broth and vinegar and then nestle the potatoes into the cabbage mix. If your sausages are not pre-cooked, you can add them now. If the sausage is pre-cooked, add it in after 2 hours cooking has elapsed. Cook for 4 to 5 hours on high.

*Note: As it cooks, the cabbage will wilt and reduce in size, releasing a bit of water, so don’t add more than 1 cup liquid at the start. If it drys out, then you can add more.

Enjoy!

- Erin

Hearty Tortellini Soup with Garlicky Toasts

Quick, go-to weeknight dinners in our house usually involve breakfast or pasta. I love ready-made refrigerated tortellini tossed with garlic, cheese and broccoli but I was feeling pretty burnt out on that dish.

In a moment of unusual inspiration I got the idea for soup.  Crumble and sauté some pork sausage in a large soup pot, toss in minced garlic, and them simmer gently with beef stock and tomatoes. There is no need to let this simmer slowly for hours to get good flavor, that comes from the sausage and stock. Plus, you cook the tortellini in the soup itself so this is literally a one pot meal.

Hearty Tortellini Soup

I paired the tortellini soup with some toasted farmhouse bread, buttered and rubbed with garlic cloves.  Sprinkle the toasts or the soup (or both) with some Parmesan cheese for extra bite.

Hearty, easy and delicious. After work my husband wasn’t feeling well (crabby and ill) but he proclaimed he felt better after two bowls of this and some relaxing on the couch. He thanked me for the ‘delicious Thanksgiving dinner’. An inside joke of ours, but I know it’s a high compliment.  :-)

Hearty Tortellini Soup

Hearty Tortellini Soup with Garlicky Toasts

  • 1 10 oz package fresh refrigerated spinach tortellini
  • 1/2 lb pork sausage (I like Bob Evans)
  • (3) 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 clove whole
  • 28 oz beef stock
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • Farmhouse bread (I like Trader Joe’s brand)

Put a small amount of olive oil, just to prevent sticking, in a large stockpot and add sausage. Turn heat to medium and cook the sausage, breaking into crumbles, until browned. Add in the two cloves minced garlic and saute for a couple minutes. Pour in the beef stock, tomatoes and dried basil and bring to a boil.  Read the package instructions for the tortellini and cook them, in the boiling soup, for the amount of time specified- usually between 2 and 6 minutes. When cooking time is up, immediately remove from heat, add salt and pepper.  Ladle into soup bowl and top with cheese if desired.

For the Garlicky Toasts: Preheat broiler for 400°. Slice the farmhouse bread and butter it. Put on a foil lined baking sheet and place under broiler until toasted and golden brown around the edges (keep an eye on them they burn fast). Remove and rub each toasted piece with the remaining whole garlic clove to impart some delicious flavor. You could add some cheese to these as well, and put back under the broiler for a quick melt.

Enjoy!

- Erin

Question of the Day: Do you like soup for comfort food? If not, what is your go-to?

Butternut Squash Soup

Thick, creamy and satisfying. Not always words you can use to describe soup, but they definitely apply for this butternut squash soup!  I love the slight natural sweetness you get from the squash that mingles with the warmth from fresh cracked pepper and chicken broth.

I paired this with cheese, apples and crackers to make a complete meal.  You could also serve it alongside a warm, gooey-cheesy grilled sandwich.  Or maybe a first course at Thanksgiving? Nom nom nom. :-)

Butternut Squash Soup

  • 4 lbs butternut squash
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cube chicken bullion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven the 375°. Cut the squash into manageable size pieces and roast on a tray, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove and peel off skin. The flesh will not be fully cooked through, that is ok. Cut into 1 inch pieces, along with the celery and put into a large saucepan.  Quarter the onion and add to the pot.

Partially dissolve the bullion cube in the cup of hot water. Pour it into the pot along with the broth, pepper and bay leaf. Bring it to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring often. The squash and celery will start to soften and dissolve into the broth. Remove the bay leaf and any pieces of celery that are particularly stringy. Working in batches, puree the squash and vegetable mixture until smooth. Return all the mixture to the pot, taste, and add salt if needed.

Serve warm and enjoy!

- Erin

Split Pea Soup

My childhood memories of food are strong. Each season had a special dish my mom would make only at that time of year. If you really love something and it only comes around once a year, I guess it makes a big impression on you. :-)

This soup is a signature from my mother’s kitchen every Fall. It gets a punch of flavor from smoked ham hocks. They are a must!  Don’t skip ‘em, not even bacon is a suitable substitute.

It does take a while to simmer on the stove, but it is so worth it.  I remember walking by it several times over the course of what felt like an entire afternoon, checking to see what progress the peas has made. Time seems to crawl when you are young; it definitely doesn’t take a whole afternoon to make this hearty, stick-to-your-ribs soup!

Now in my kitchen, the turkey towels make an appearance between October and Thanksgiving.  I love them very much. It’s my way of welcoming Fall, alongside a bowl of this lovely soup.

Homemade Split Pea Soup

  • 1 lb green split peas
  • 2 large meaty ham hocks (1 1/2 lb)
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots

Place the ham hocks in a large saucepan and cover with 2 quarts of water. Simmer very low for 1 hour, skimming fat off the water occasionally.  Remove the ham hocks and pull the meat from the bones, set aside. Keep the water, and add more to it if it cooked down to less than 2 quarts.

Rinse the peas and add to the water, along with the onions, carrots, celery and herbs. Bring to a low boil, then decrease heat and cook on low, slowly, for 1 to 2 hours- or until the peas, carrots and celery have all dissolved into the soup (minimal chunks left behind). Cook with the lid off because you want some of the water to evaporate, which helps the soup get really thick.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir the meat in 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with crackers, yum!

Enjoy!

- Erin

Skinny Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Chilly weather, falling leaves, a steaming bowl of comforting soup.

This is a soup you can feel good about. It is rich and full of flavor from homemade chicken stock, not from heavy cream or cheese that can weigh down so many other chicken and rice soups.

Pair with a hunk of country sourdough bread.

Heaven.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of making your own chicken stock. It is easy, honestly. Just follow these simple instructions, and you will be so happy you did- the homemade stock is so much richer, darker and flavorful than store bought! Your soups will start tasting even more amazing. :-)

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock (see below)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 chicken bullion cube (or 2 tsp granules)
  • 1 cup turnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 3/4 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked wild rice
  • 3 cups roasted chicken (see below)
  • optional: bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste

Combine the stock, turnips, carrots and celery in a large pot. Boil the water and dissolve the bullion cube in it, add to the pot. Simmer gently over low heat for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare rice- I used 1/2 cup dry wild rice and cooked it in water, salt and butter. During last 10 minutes, add in the chicken. Just before serving the soup, stir in the cooked wild rice.

Homemade Chicken Stock (yield 4 cups)

  • 1 large leek, washed
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 large celery stalks
  • 8 cups water
  • Sprinkle of Herbes de Provence
  • One 5-6 lb roasting chicken (yield 3-4 cups)

To make stock, you need bones. I like to roast a chicken in the oven and use the roasted meat in the soup and the leftover bones to make stock. Prepare a 5 or 6 lb roaster chicken by rubbing with olive oil and seasoning with rosemary and thyme. Roast at 400° for 25 minutes, then reduce temp to 350° for another 30 minutes, total time depends on weight of the chicken. When finished, let cool to the touch, then thoroughly pull all roasted meat off the bones. Set aside for the soup.

Strip any excess skin or large hunks of fat from the carcass and place into a large stockpot, along with the carrots, leek and celery. Pour in 8 cups of water. The chicken and veggies should be mostly covered, add in some more water if they are not.  Set a lid askew onto the stockpot and turn the heat to medium-low. When the water begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low. Cook for 5 hours at this temperature; the bubbling should be very slight, like 1 or 2 bubbles per minute. It will look like it isn’t cooking at the super-slow bubble, but it is.

DO NOT BOIL OR SIMMER.  Doing this will ruin the stock by incorporating the fat, resulting in cloudy greasy broth. When finished, pour the stock through a cheesecloth into airtight containers and refrigerate overnight. The fat will rise to the top; skim off with a spoon or by gently laying a paper towel over the top surface.

Enjoy!

- Erin

Question of the Day: Do you have any tips on how to make good meat or vegetable stock?

A Healthy Answer to A Fat Problem

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like Tommy Boy singing ‘fat guy in a little coat’- but my tune has been more along the line of ”fat girl in tiny pants’.

My pant’s feel that coat’s pain

Why does this always happen to me, I whine wonder? Everything is fine and then bam, one day my pants don’t fit.

It’s no secret I love food so this should be self explanatory. I go to the gym whenever I’m in the office, but unfortunately I haven’t been in the office regularly since July.

Does that mean I can’t eat like I usually do?! (I have shockingly great analytical skills, don’t I?)

This red wine and balsamic vinegar reduction is a healthy answer to my fat problem. It goes well on anything, I drizzled it over figs and a pan-seared chicken breast.

Red Wine, Honey and Balsamic Reduction

  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • generous 1/4 cup honey (probably almost 1/3)

In a small saucepan combine the three ingredients. Bring to a roiling boil, stirring frequently (it can boil over on you if you don’t watch it!). Cook for about 20 minutes or until mixture has been reduced by over half. It will start to thicken as well.

To test it: dip a wooden spoon into the mixture, pull it out and run a finger along the back of the spoon- the sauce will not run into the area where you ran your finger if it has thickend up.

Set aside in a container for easy pouring (I used a gravy boat) and let cool.  Drizzle away and enjoy!

- Erin

Question of the Day: What do you do when ‘the bulge’ sneaks up on you?

Perfect Chicken Breasts, Every Time!

In my last post I mentioned I would be in Ireland by the time this post went up.  Well, as I write this, Lufthansa airlines’ crew is threatening to strike.  Today.  Like today as in the day I’m am flying out!!! AHHH!

So… I guess you’ll have to check back here later to see if there are any angry diatribes against Lufthansa.  Let’s hope there isn’t.

In the meantime, let’s learn how to make a perfectly golden brown delicious chicken breast.

In most meals, GBD is important for two reasons. 1) You eat with your eyes first and GBD looks a lot better than burnt or pale. 2) GBD just tastes better-  food flavors change based on heat applied, length of time cooked, blah blah blah science.  A food scientist would be better at explaining why GBD is best, but you don’t need that- imagine which is better: browned crispy juicy tenderness or limp soggy paleness.  See, easy :-)

The key to searing a GBD chicken breast is a hot pan and dredging the breast in flour.  That’s is. Once you’ve mastered this, you can stop eating bland chicken and enjoy a healthy meal again. GBD chicken begs to be laced with fresh herbs, spritzed with citrus, or smothered in a marinara or marsala sauce.

I served this with tomato-basil sauce, parmesan cheese and a side of orzo tossed with capers. Simple, quick, delicious.  Try it!

GBD Pan Seared Chicken

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 2 tbl olive oil
  • 2 large chicken breasts

Note: This is for two large breasts, you will need to increase the quantities of flour and oil if making more.

Lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and butterfly them by cutting horizontally across the breast. Do not cut all the way through. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture once, shake off excess, and dredge again, shake off excess.

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, place the chicken in (open side down) and cook for about 4-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn, and cook for additional 4 minutes on the other side. Use your best judgement, if the juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink in less than 4 minutes, take it out. Still to pink? Leave it in.

Now pour a glass of wine, admire your work, and start eating.

Sláinte!

- Erin