Archive for March, 2011

I have a mixed history with sweet potatoes. I don’t remember eating them much growing up – except at Thanksgiving when they were steamed, sliced, and fried in nothing but butter and brown sugar. The responsibility of cooking the “sweets” usually fell to my uncle or dad. They are the two not afraid to use as much butter as necessary to appropriately create a thick, sweet, buttery syrup.

My next introduction to sweet potatoes was probably sweet potato fries. And curried sweet potato soup. Then in Chicago, I had my first sweet potato in a vaguely-Mexican-American-style dish. My sister took me to an unappetizingly named cafe in Chicago called Earwax. This was several years ago, and I don’t remember the exact components of the dish I ordered, but I know it contained black beans, mashed sweet potatoes, and was topped with pesto – maybe cilantro pesto? I was so excited for what sounded like a promising, delicious lunch. It turned out to be a bland mess badly in need of a little bit of salt, at least.

Despite this disappointing lunch – I remained intrigued and hopeful about a successful combination of sweet potatoes and black beans.

Since then, I’ve made black bean and sweet potato stir-fries with quinoa, a couple different kinds of black bean and sweet potato burritos (one of which my dear brother and dad declared inedible), but I had not yet tried another incarnation of the sweet potato and black bean quesadilla. Until last week.

Last week I wanted the sweet, earthy, spicy combination of sweet potatoes and black beans with salty, creamy cheese. So I turned to a recipe I had found in one of my library cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. But I wanted more protein than just sweet potatoes and a little cheese, so I decided to add a can of beans to the mix. Thinking I had black beans on hand, I came home from the grocery to find kidney beans instead. So instead of recreating a spiced-up version of the black bean and sweet potato quesadilla at the cafe-that-will-not-be-grossly-named-again, I made a perfectly satisfying and tasty kidney bean version. Much spicier, much more flavorful, with just the right amount of salt, minus the Wicker Park pretense.

Here’s what you do, adapted from “Sweet Potato Quesadillas” from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.

Makes 3 over-stuffed quesadillas

1/2 of a medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T. vegetable oil

1 large sweet potato, grated

1/4 t. dried oregano

1/2 t. chili powder

1 t. grown cumin

generous pinch of cayenne

1 15 oz. can of beans (kidney, black, or other), rinsed and drained well

salt and pepper

cheese of your choice – Cheddar or Monterrey Jack would be good choices

Tortillas – I used medium, whole-wheat tortillas.

Saute the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil  over medium heat, just until onions are translucent. Add the grated sweet potatoes, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the mixture from sticking.

When the potatoes are tender, and the beans, salt and pepper, and cook until the beans are heated through.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet. Divide the filling between the three tortillas – keeping it on one half. Sprinkle with cheese. Fold the tortillas in half and bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until browned and heated through.

Note: You can also cook these in a skillet on the stove top – or even pop in the microwave just to quickly melt the cheese. However, cooking these in the oven, especially using whole wheat tortillas, results in a flaky, crispy, final dish. Try it. It also requires no extra oil – as the stove-top method would.

Serve with guacamole, salsa, and/ or sour cream… these are quesadillas. Be creative and do whatever suits your tastes.

An easy guacamole that tastes great with an assertive dish like this, is just a perfectly ripe, mashed avocado with a little salt and lime juice stirred in.

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Hmm. This casserole doesn’t look too appetizing does it?

Don’t let the above picture fool you.  This grayish, brownish, messy-looking plate was one tasty dish full of good things, like mushrooms, brown rice, and cheese and it comes from my newest cookbook (which I have mentioned before), Not Your Mother’s Casseroles by Faith Durand.

My earlier complaint about some of these dishes taking a lot of steps remains. First you chop and saute, simmer rice, then mix in a bowl before adding it all to a casserole dish and baking. It seems they are pretty time and energy-intensive. But still really delicious, healthful, and comforting. And this one was great and reheated well for leftovers. I do have one complaint – and that is the rice was still a little crunchy in the end, but the rest of the casserole was cooked through. I needed to parboil the rice longer than I did… a good thing to remember in the future. I also used medium-grain brown rice, rather than short-grain white, which also would have required a longer cooking time. I suppose I was in too big of a hurry.

Mushroom Casserole with Cheese and Onions, from Faith Durand’s Not Your Mother’s Casseroles

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 c. short-grain rice (I used medium-grain brown rice)

2 T. butter

1/2 pound white mushrooms, chopped

1/2 pound portobello mushrooms, chopped

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small spring rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped

1 t. salt

1/2 t. black pepper

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

1/2 c. dry white wine (like chardonnay)

4 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese (I used ricotta made from skim milk)

1/2 c. sour cream (I used reduced-fat)

1/2 c. grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Heat several cups of salted water to boiling a medium-size saucepan. Add the rice and cook for 12 minutes (or longer for brown rice, maybe 15 or 16 minutes). Drain in a sieve and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When it foams, add the mushrooms in a single layer if possible.

Let them cook without stirring them for 5 minutes. Flip them and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer all the mushrooms to a large bowl and set aside. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until they are fragrant and soft.

Stir in the rosemary, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook for another minute or until fragrant.

Add the onion mixture to bowl with the mushrooms. Turn the heat to high and add the white wine, scraping and stirring up any bits from the pan. Add this to the bowl. Add the drained rice, eggs, ricotta, sour cream, and cheese. Combine well.

Spread the mixture in the oiled baking dish.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until set and golden. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


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It finally feels like warmer weather might be sticking around for a bit in Louisville – which means I will be making fewer and fewer casseroles and baked dishes (probably, maybe).

While I originally made this casserole back in January, when it felt bitterly cold, it would still be a good candidate for not-quite-spring evenings. This dish does not come together quickly, however. If starting from scratch, it takes  a bit of time to thinly slice all of the sweet potatoes an onions. I ended up using my food processor to do both – and grated the mozzarella by hand. If you like sweet potatoes, the final results are worth it. Filling, flavorful, tasty, unusual – this is great and reheats wonderfully for leftovers throughout the week.

“Italian Sweet Potato Gratin” from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

1/4 c. olive oil

1 t. dried oregano

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

2 T. chopped fresh basil (I think I used 1/2 t. dried instead)

1/2 t. red pepper flakes

1/4 t. salt

1/8 t. black pepper

4 c. very thinly sliced, peeled, sweet potatoes (I used 3 large)

4 c. very thinly sliced onions (about 2 large)

3 c. of your favorite tomato sauce (I used Lotsa Pasta’s marinara sauce)

1 1/2 c. grated mozzarella

1/2 c. whole wheat bread crumbs

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, oregano, garlic, basil, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Spread 1 cup of the sweet potatoes in a lightly oiled 9 X 13-inch pan.

Spread about 1 cup of te onions over the potatoes. Drizzle with about one-quarter of the oil mixture, and top with 1/2 c. of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with about 1/2 c. of mozzarella and then about 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs. Repeat this layering three more times. Use any leftover tomato sauce or mozzarella on the top layer. Finish by sprinkling Parmesan on the top.

Cover with foil and bake until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let stand for five minutes before serving.

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Everyone has heard someone say: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Some heed this advice, some don’t. I for one, never fail to eat breakfast. As my loved ones and close friends will tell you – I can get extremely grumpy when hungry and I try to eat something substantial before heading out the door in the morning. Whether it is something as simple as toast or more elaborate, like these breakfast bars, breakfast for me is a must.

With a little chopping and mixing, these bars come together pretty easily. They are perfect for making on a Sunday morning for yourself and your family and then reheating throughout the week.

This recipe is from the newest addition to my cookbook library: Not Your Mother’s Casseroles, by Faith Durand, the managing editor of theKitchn.com (for other food blog enthusiasts). The book provides a nice collection of things baked in your oven, including breakfast, appetizers, vegetable dishes, meat, beans, grains, and desserts. I’ve made a couple of things now (mushroom casserole with cheese and onions, baked baby onions with Parmesan, and salted caramel walnut slice), all of which will be featured in blog posts eventually. All have been either good or great. I have been deterred by some recipes that require lots of steps or dishes… but some take less time than others.

Here’s the recipe for “oat and raisin breakfast bars” from Faith Durand’s Not Your Mother’s Casseroles

2 1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats

1/3 c. brown sugar

3/4 c. raisins

1 apple, cored and chopped

1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground ginger

1 t. salt

2 large eggs

3 c. milk

1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease or spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with oil or cooking  spray.

In a large bowl, combine oats. sugar, raisins, apple, nuts, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs well. Stir in milk and vanilla. Add to large bowl with the oat mixture and mix well.

Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, spreading out the mixture evenly.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes, until the center is set and firm to the touch.

Let cool for at least ten minutes before slicing into long thin bars (cut lengthwise four times, and cut in half width-wise once).

For a convenient breakfast, cut and wrap the bars individually. Then reheat throughout the week.


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Hi all – sorry for my absence. Last weekend, I just returned from a five-day trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I ate my way through various restaurants and cafes there and in Santa Fe.

I’m now back and ready for some more healthful, home-cooked meals (that is until my parents and infamous brother, Michael visit next weekend, and we patron restaurants around Louisville).

The main recipe today, honolulu skillet beans, might sound unusual and strange, but it is so simple and flavorful. The beans are spicy, salty, tangy, slightly sweet, and aromatic (from the orange peel). It also tastes great served right beside the cabbage slaw. It comes together quickly and when combined with a vegetable side, like the cabbage slaw, makes for a satisfying dinner and excellent lunch leftovers.

Here are the recipes for “Honolulu Skillet Beans”  and “Asian Cabbage Slaw” both from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

First, the beans:

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 t. vegetable oil

2  15.5-oz cans small, firm pink, red, or white beans

2 T. hoisin sauce (can be found cheaply in the Asian section of your grocery store)

2 t. yellow mustard

2 t. ketchup

1 T. soy sauce

1 t. sesame oil

1 t. ground cumin

grated peel of 1 orange

In a saucepan or skilled, saute the onions in the oil until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. While the onions cook, drain and rinse the beans in a colander or strainer. Let drain.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients: hoisin sauce, mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, sesame oil, cumin, and orange peel. When the  onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the beans and the sauce. Stir gently to mix the sauce evenly with the beans. bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Serve warm.

Now the cabbage slaw:

2 1/2 c. shredded cabbage

1 c. grated carrots

1/2 cup diced red or green bell pepper


2 T. vegetable oil

2 T. rice vinegar (I used white wine vinegar because I do not have rice vinegar)

1  T. soy sauce

2 t. brown sugar

1/2 t. grated fresh ginger

dash of Tabasco or chili oil

Combine cabbage, carrots, and bell pepper in a serving bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss well. Set aside to marinate at least 10 minutes before serving.

Mix again before serving.


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