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Sometimes, trying to figure out what to make for dinner is harder than actually making it.  There are endless possibilities!  I usually surf the web, or peruse my cookbooks.  I always try to make something that I’m “in the mood for”, but sometimes, I just don’t know what that is.  Then, there are times, when I find a recipe & just know I have to try it!  That is what happened when I found this recipe for Tex-Mex Chili Topped Sweet Potatoes.  I knew I had to make it.  Adam and I love chili and sweet potatoes, so how this not be love?  It was hearty, spicy, colorful, and tasty.  It was everything I hoped it would be.  Trouble is, we had leftovers…

It was so hearty and flavorful, we each only had one serving.  The problem being, I had two already cooked sweet potatoes on my hands, and a good amount of chili leftover. The next day I had sudden realization of what I was going to do!   Soup!  I cut up the leftover sweet potatoes, threw in the chili, added water, adjusted the spices, and the result was a delicious, comforting soup!

I, again, have succeeded in using up leftovers!  I am feeling pretty proud of myself.

Chili-Topped Sweet Potatoes
adapted from A Year in the Kitchen
Printable Recipe

4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, diced
Salt and pepper
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (with green chilis, lime, cilantro, etc. if preferred)
1 heaping tsp. chili powder
1 heaping tsp. cumin
1/2 heaping tsp. coriander
1/2 heaping tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 – 1/4 chipotle powder (or 1 chipotle pepper diced)
Sprinkle of cayenne powder
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used pepper jack)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Pierce potatoes with a fork all over and place directly on oven rack.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size.

Heat a pot over medium heat, add 1 TBS olive oil.  Add onion and red pepper, season with salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic, and saute for 1 minute until fragrant.  Add tomatoes, spices, cilantro, and kidney beans.  Bring to a simmer, stir and cook for about 20 minutes.  Taste, adjust seasonings.  Cut potatoes in half, plate, and top with chili, a sprinkle of cilantro, and cheese.  Enjoy!

Spicy Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup
by Anne
2 cooked sweet potatoes
1/2 recipe for chili (from Chili-Topped Sweet Potatoes)
1-2 cups water
Cut sweet potatoes into cubes.  Place sweet potatoes, chili, and water in a pot.  Cook until some of the liquid has cooked off.  Taste, adjust spices, and enjoy with cheese or a sprinkle of cilantro.

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This last week has been particularly crazy – we’ve been moving.  I haven’t cooked anything blog-worthy in a while, and I just unpacked our computer today.  There are boxes everywhere!  Oh, the joys of moving…

I made this Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin and Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken at our friend, Robert’s, house.  He described the gratin as “Potato Magic”.  I used red swiss chard which gave this dish an amazing color.  It was creamy, sweet, and packed with good vitamins and minerals!  The chicken was slightly less healthy, but incredibly flavorful, and scrumptious.

NOTES: I found this recipe for the gratin on Smitten Kitchen, and I ended up halving the recipe.  It worked just fine, except I also forgot to account for the decreased cooking time.  The cheese on top browned a little longer than I would have liked, but it did not affect the taste.  I will include the original recipe, and if you decide to halve it, like I did, decrease the cooking time to about 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin
from Smitten Kitchen
Printable Recipe

1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 pounds Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into 1-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Prep greens: Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a wide 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender but not browned, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper then transfer greens to a colander to drain well and press out liquid with back of a large spoon.

Make sauce: Combine cream or milk and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, whisking, one minute, then slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, one minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter deep 9×13 baking dish. Spread half of sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a 1/4 cup of the cheese. Distribute half of the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and 1/4 cup of the cheese over it. Pour half of béchamel sauce over the first two layers then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs and cheese and then the remaining greens, salt, pepper and herbs. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin, pressing the vegetables slightly to ensure that they are as submerged as possible. Sprinkle with the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake gratin for about 1 hour until golden and bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken
adapted from Closet Cooking
Printable Recipe

4 -6 chicken breasts (pounded flat)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon thyme (chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.  Set up dredging station – flour, egg, Panko.  Season all 3 with salt and pepper.  Dredge the chicken in the flour, then the egg, then the Panko.  Heat the oil in a pan, add the chicken and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.

Mix the maple syrup, Dijon mustard, whole grained mustard, brown sugar and thyme in a bowl.  Place the chicken on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and brush the maple mustard mixture onto it heavily.  Bake oven for 10-12 minutes.  Enjoy!

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Quinoa is a grain that I have never cooked before.  Our local grocery store here in New York does not carry quinoa, but I found a box a little while ago at Trader Joe”s.  I thought, “What the heck”, and bought it without knowing what I was going to do with it.  A few weeks went by with it sitting on the shelf looking at me, crying for attention.

I finally stumbled upon a recipe in, none other than my The America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, for quinoa pilaf with apples and pecans.  I had all of the ingredients, plus a few tilapia filets, and voila…dinner!

It was delicious.  I was surprised how much texture the quinoa actually had.  When you bite down on the grains, it feels similar, I think, to the “pop” or “crunch” of caviar.  Yummy little bursts of wholesome goodness!  The nuttiness of the pecans complimented the quinoa, and the apples were little bits of a sweet surprise.

Quinoa Pilaf with Apples and Pecans
from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Printable Recipe
3 TBS unsalted butter
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled cored, and chopped fine
1 onion, minced
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
Salt
2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse
2 TBS minced fresh parsley
Pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the apple, onion, sugar, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the drained quinoa and cook until it is just beginning to turn golden, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the quinoa is tender with a slight crunch, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cover from the saucepan, and continue to cook the quinoa until the remaining of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Off the heat, let the pilaf stand for 5 minutes.  Gently stir in the toasted pecans and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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I haven’t worked with spaghetti squash since living in Los Angeles.  There is an amazing recipe from Better Homes and Garden’s cookbook for a spaghetti squash bolognaise that I used to make.  I wanted to try something different with the squash that I picked up at Trader Joe’s.  I remembered seeing this recipe from Pinch my Salt, and knew I had to make it!

Spaghetti squash is a funny veggie.  It looks like a regular squash with seeds.

But when cooked and scraped out with a fork, looks like spaghetti!

I didn’t have any dried or fresh thyme in the house, so I opted for the Greek Seasoning my sister gave me for Christmas.  It has thyme, rosemary, and a whole bunch of other things that made the gratin taste lovely.

I don’t have individual gratin dishes, however, my cake pan worked just fine.  The cheese browned up like it was supposed to, and the squashed remained cheesy, creamy, and flavorful.  This gratin was delicious!  We enjoyed ours with some chicken sausages.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin
adapted from Pinch my Salt
Printable Recipe

1 spaghetti squash
1 large (or two small) shallot(s), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tsp dried Greek Seasoning (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Puncture spaghetti squash several times all over with a skewer or sharp knife.  Place spaghetti squash in an aluminum foil lined baking dish.  Bake for 1 hour.  Let squash cool slightly.  Cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and fibrous tissue.  Using a fork, scrap out the flesh of the squash, and place in a large bowl.  Discard shells. Set aside.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.  In a skillet, saute shallots in butter over medium-low heat until softened.  Stir in garlic, cook for a minute longer.  Scrape shallots and garlic into bowl with squash.  Add thyme, heavy cream, sour cream, and half of the cheese to the squash.  Toss together well until ingredients are evenly distributed.  Pour into a greased casserole and top with remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered in a for 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  Serve immediately.

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Braised Cabbage

I found this recipe for braised cabbage on simmer down! (a food lover’s blog), and I knew I had to make it.  I know, it is strange that I would go gaga over cabbage, but it’s true. Imagine, cabbage so tender and buttery that it just melts in your mouth, onions and carrots so sweet you forget that they are good for you, and then the heat of the red and black pepper making sure that your taste buds are still paying attention.

I grew up eating cabbage around holiday times in the form of halupki (stuffed cabbage roll), haluski (cabbage and noodles), and sauerkraut.  My mother’s side of the family is Ukrainian with some Polish influences.  For Christmas Eve, every year, my mother makes traditional perogies from scratch!

There are a variety of cabbage types:  Savoy, Napa, Chinese (Bok Choy), Red, and of course Green.  The green cabbage is quite dense and compact, and the cabbage of choice in my family.  The green cabbage is a gorgeous shade of green, but when cooked, transforms into buttery yellow, and becomes almost translucent.

Braising is a wonderful way to display cabbage in all of its glory, and the carrots and onions balance out the flavors.  It would be great as a side dish to any meal.  I served mine mid-week with an easy grilled chicken breast and a glass of white wine.  Enjoy!

Braised Cabbage
from simmer down! (a food lover’s blog) (adapted from Molly Stevens’  All About Braising)
Printable Recipe

1 green cabbage, approx. 2 lbs (ok if it’s over)
1 carrot
1 medium to large onion (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water for vegan version)
sea salt, pepper, & dried red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Core your cabbage; if it weighs over 2 lbs, remove a wedge or two and reserve for another use.  Cut the remainder into 8 wedges.  Peel carrot and cut it into coins.  Peel and slice the onion into ¼-inch-thick rings.

Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little of the olive oil.  Season the cabbage wedges with salt & pepper on both sides and place into the baking dish, overlapping them slightly.  Scatter the carrots and onions over the top.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Drizzle the remainder of the olive oil over the vegetables, and pour the ¼ cup stock or water into the bottom of the dish, tilting slightly to distribute.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after an hour or so to make sure the pan is not dry; if it is, add a small amount of water or stock.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and increase the heat to 425°.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to caramelize and brown a little on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt on top and serve.

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Each year for Hanukkah, Adam and I make potato latkes.  For weeks, I thought Hanukkah started on the 12th (today).  My calendar says so.  Yesterday, however, in the late afternoon I got a text message from Adam telling me that Hanukkah actually started that day the 11th at sundown.  No potatoes in the house, no oil, no candles, no apple sauce, nothing.  Frantically, I ran to the grocery store to pick up the necessary items.

Latkes are potato pancakes.  Potato pancakes can be found in traditional Polish, Ukrainian, German, Irish, and Yiddish cuisines.  Latkes are eaten during Hanukkah and fried in oil.  The oil for cooking the latkes is reminiscent of the oil from the Hanukkah story that kept the Second Temple of ancient Israel lit with a long-lasting flame that is celebrated as a miracle.  This is also the reason for lighting the menorah.

Our wonderful friends let us borrow their menorah for Hanukkah this year!

I have had to learn how to make latkes over the years, as I was raised Catholic.  Adam’s grandmother gave us a recipe, but alas, it too is in storage.  I remember most of the ingredients and improvised the rest.  They turned out really well.  The outsides were crispy while the insides stayed nice and moist and flavorful.  Latkes can be served with a variety of condiments – from savory (sour cream) to sweet (apple sauce and  sugar).  We like ours with a sprinkle of sugar and apple sauce.

Happy Hanukkah!

Latkes
by Anne
Printable Recipe

2 1/2 pounds russet, or baking potatoes (about 4 large), scrubbed, peeled, halved
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 large egg
2 TBS flour, or matzoh meal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Mazola Canola Oil for frying

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with two layers of paper towels; set aside.

Using the grating disk of a food processor, shred the potatoes and onion together.  Transfer potato and onion mixture to a large colander set over a bowl.  Using both your hands, squeeze the potato mixture vigorously, trying to get as much of the liquid out as possible, letting the liquid drip through the potatoes and colander into the bowl underneath.  Once you have finished squeezing, let mixture stand over the bowl for a minute or two.

Lift colander out of the bowl.  Pour off the watery brown liquid in the bowl, but save the layer of pale beige paste at the bottom. (This chalky-looking stuff is potato starch, and you need it to help your latkes stick together.)  Scrape up the paste, dump in the potato mixture, and mix together with a spatula.

Mix in flour or matzoh meal, salt, pepper, baking powder, and egg until it is evenly incorporated – you may want to use your hands.

Pour oil into a large skillet  to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Over medium-high heat, heat oil until a shred of potato mixture instantly sizzles when dropped in.  In batches, pack potato mixture in a 1/4 cup measuring cup and place carefully in the oil.  Repeat, with 2 or 3 others – do not overcrowd the pan.  After 1 minute of cooking, use a slotted spatula to flatten out into a small disk.  Let fry until deep golden brown, about 4 or 5 minutes, then flip over and continue frying until both sides are well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes for each batch.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer latkes to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet.  Place baking tray in the oven to keep latkes warm.  Once all of latkes are cooked, serve immediately with your favorite condiment (apple sauce, sugar, or sour cream).

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Spanish Tortilla

A few years ago, I began receiving Real Simple magazine as a gift.  I love this magazine almost as much as I love Martha Stewart’s Living magazine.  Earlier this year, there was an article about hosting a tapas party.  There were recipes for marinated mushrooms, sangria, some sort of crostini, and Tortilla Espanol.  Adam became very excited when I was telling him about this idea for a tapas dinner party.  He recalled a story of how he ate a very similar dish called, Spanish Tortilla, while he was in Spain and how much he loved it!  Adam exclaimed that he wanted to help make it.  I was completely baffled – this man rarely cooks, so when he is excited about cooking, I gladly let him take the lead!  However, I always chop the veggies!

DSC00982

Since the Great Bagel Incident, I always handle the knives in the kitchen.  The Great Bagel Incident happened several years ago.  It innocently began with a shopping trip, that I did alone, to purchase a wonderful meal that I had planned for Adam.  The store was already very busy, and it was a frustrating trip.  I bought bagels for breakfast with cream cheese and smoked trout, like he likes it.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I had to do in the kitchen to get the ingredients in the slow-cooker, and Adam requested repeatedly for me to make breakfast.  I told him to help me and make his own bagel.  Well, sure enough, he cut his finger and I had to take him to the emergency room.  If Adam told this story, he would say that since I knew that the likelihood of him cutting himself was so high, I effectively cut him myself.  Luckily, and unfortunately, he was unable to get stitches.  The emergency room tech said that bagel cutting injuries are one of the most common injuries they treat.  We purchased a bagel guillotine, and Adam hasn’t wielded a knife since then.

We have made Spanish Tortilla many times this year.  It has become so routine that we don’t need to follow the recipe.  We have always used 2 more eggs than the recipe calls for, because it just didn’t seem to cover the potatoes.  It is a great dish, and is basically a frittata minus the cheese, and you don’t have to flip it.  The eggs and potato are reminiscent of breakfast, but paired with bread and white wine, very elegant.  The simplicity is amazing!

DSC00986

Spanish Tortilla (adapted from Real Simple magazine)
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 russet potatoes (approx. 1 pound), peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
1 onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper
8 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350° F. Heat the oil in an ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes.
Pour the eggs over the potatoes; stir to distribute the ingredients. Transfer the skillet to oven and bake until brown around the edges and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.

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