Archive | October, 2010

Maple Sweet Potato Wedges

14 Oct

I roasted a chicken last night and first thought I’d make some maple mashed sweet potatoes to go with it. But I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like dirtying both a pot and my mixer bowl. So this recipe was perfect–all the flavor in my favorite mashed potatoes with only one dirty dish.

I found this one at Eating Well’s website and couldn’t resist fiddling with it. They called for a few tablespoons of butter, and I used one of olive oil. I also used a lot less salt than they wanted, skipped the pepper entirely, and found this took longer to roast than they said (which could be because I didn’t use butter, which browns quickly).

Verdict: Delicious. I’ll definitely make this again. It was really easy to make these while the chicken rested post-roasting, and everyone loved them. The maple flavor is subtle but definitely there, and these weren’t overly sweet. And the maple mixture thickened as this cooked, turning into a wonderful glaze by the end of the cooking time.

Give ’em a shot. You’ll need:

Three or four medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces

1/3 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, please)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13″ Pyrex baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray. Place the potato chunks into the dish.

Whisk together the other ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over the potatoes. Use a spatula to stir and coat the spuds with the maple mixture. Cover with foil.

Bake covered for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, and bake another 45 minutes or so, stirring every 15 minutes.

12-Minute Fall Oatmeal

13 Oct

Yes, you can have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast.

This took 12 minutes, start to finish, pan-out-of-the-cabinet to breakfast-on-the-table. Twelve. I timed it. And even if you don’t have 12 minutes in the morning, you probably have it at night, while dishes are being done or dinner’s being made. And this keeps in the fridge overnight and nukes up really well. No artificial anything. No ingredients you’ve not heard of before. Creamy and comforting and filling. It’s not the most original idea in the world, but if you thought a healthy hot breakfast was impossible…well…try this.

You’ll need:

1 cup milk (I used 1%)

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 sprinkling cinnamon (probably 1/4 tsp)

Small handful sliced almonds

Small handful dried cranberries or raisins

In a small pan over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer. Add oats, sugar, and cinnamon, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for seven or eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s creamy and soft.

Pour oatmeal into a bowl. Stir in fruit and nuts. Eat and be satisfied until lunch.


Sweet White Bread

12 Oct

You know that tomato basil soup I made yesterday? Perfect with that is a slice of this sweet white bread, with just a whisper of butter smeared on top.

This is actually perfect just about anytime you need a little snack. The name doesn’t lie–it’s sweet. And rich, like challah. And airy and melt-in-your-mouth good. And it keeps for several days without getting hard.

We prefer this un-toasted. Toasting it takes away its sweetness, quite honestly. My daughter likes some for breakfast with butter and grape jam; the boy likes it first thing in the morning, but he’s a purist and goes with just butter. I, quite honestly, like it plain as a snack or with a bowl of soup, and my husband eats his with a gentle drizzle of honey. It’s also a huge hit at bake sales, so file this one away if you’ve got a fundraiser coming up. Wrap it in cellophane with a ribbon and watch people ooh and aaah over how tall it is. It vanishes right off the table.

I make this in my breadmaker, using the dough setting, and then finish it in Pyrex bread pans in the oven. You can use your stand mixer’s dough hook to knead it or do it the old-fashioned way on the counter. They all work beautifully. Strangely, this doesn’t halve particularly well, but it does freeze nicely so you can stash away that second loaf if you want to. Ours never lasts that long–our family will eat a loaf in a day–but whatever works in your house.

This is one of our favorites. I hope it’s yours too. You’ll need:

2 cups of warm tap water (slightly warmer than body temperature–it should feel hot on your hand)

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

6 cups bread flour

In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, and then sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for about five minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

Mix salt and oil into the yeast mixture.

Put flour into your bread maker or electric mixer bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix until blended, or set your bread maker to the dough cycle and let it go. If you’re using a mixer, either switch to your dough hook or turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and knead it until it’s smooth, which usually takes five or 10 minutes. In a greased bowl and covered by a clean kitchen towel, let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk.

Once it’s risen, punch down the dough and divide it into two bread pans that have been oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. Let it rise about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Just Like That Famous Tomato Basil Soup

11 Oct

I was blessed at my second real, post-college job to make three wonderful friends. Jocelyn, Aimee, Kate, and I spent many a lunch and happy hour giggling and chatting, wandering the city, flirting with boys, and mapping out where our lives would go. Those girls knew me better than almost anyone. They threw my bachelorette party when I got married and were the first to send little onesies and Mickey Mouse T-shirts when my son was born.

We kept in touch for years, the four of us, in drips and drabs, stops and starts, ebbs and flows. The way old friendships go when everyone has families and careers and starts juggling soccer practices and field trips and the next phase of life.

Kate and I stayed especially close, probably largely because we lived close to each other. I was her maid of honor; she was my confidante when life got overwhelming. When she called me three years ago to tell me she’d been diagnosed with cancer, I cried for awhile and then sucked it up and tried to be there for her, going out to lunch and dinner while she could, and then bringing lunch to her when she tired too easily.

I didn’t do it as much as I should have, I know now. There was always work to do and kids to shuttle and life in the way, you know? But all the way until our last visits in a hospice facility, she made me laugh. We laughed together. And we cried and we talked about everything, from the fish in the pond outside her room to what happened when this life ended.

My friend died in June, a few weeks short of her 38th birthday. The rest of us reconnected and came together to mourn her, and this past weekend, I met up with her family in a two-mile fundraising walk sponsored by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Wearing our purple T-shirts with water bottles in hand, we applauded those fighting the disease and those surviving it, and we all choked back a tear or two for Kate, whose name we proudly wore on our backs.

The walk was a sort of closure for me. It was a beautiful day and her husband and my daughter and I spent the two miles talking and laughing. We’ve healed, her friends and family and me. Just like Kate would have wanted.

I came home and made a batch of tomato basil soup, because that’s what our foursome always ordered when our lunch hours found us at the La Madeleine restaurant up the street from our office. Rich and creamy and comforting, it’ll always remind me of my friends and the blessings they’ve always given me.

This came from the internet. Randomly. Like a lot of copycat recipes, it’s posted everywhere with credit to a bazillion people. I cut the whole recipe in half, substituted evaporated skim milk for the heavy cream it called for, cut the butter in the original, and used frozen crushed basil instead of fresh; my grocer carries it in little cubes near the frozen veggies. If yours doesn’t, substitute dried or finely chopped fresh.

This really does taste like the famous soup we loved so much back in the day, without the calories or price tag. Every time I make a batch, I make a point to call a friend and just say hi. And then I look skyward and raise a spoon to Kate.

To make this, you’ll need:

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (freeze the rest if you’re using a big can)

2 cups of tomato juice (I bought an 11-ounce can at the store and made up the difference with water–just as good)

1 tbsp sugar

4 tsp crushed or finely chopped basil (use 2 tsp if you’re using dried)

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk

3 tbsp butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the tomatoes and juice to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Add basil and simmer another five minutes. Stir in milk and butter. Salt and pepper to taste and serve. This is also delicious the next day.

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

8 Oct

I was all set to head to Starbucks this afternoon when it hit me that I was about to pay something like $4 for a cup of coffee and deal with my two hyper kids inside their lovely shop, which is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. But I really wanted a pumpkin spice latte (told you I was on a binge).

So I made one.

This isn’t my recipe, although I did cut the sugar in it. It’s all over the Internet–g’head and search it and you’ll see. I have no clue who first wrote it. But it’s really good, and gave me enough pumpkin spice cream mixture for at least two big cups of coffee.

I’m about to say something that I’ll never repeat so long as I live. If you’re making a big batch of this, go ahead and use imitation vanilla.

I know.

You just fainted.

I threw up in my mouth a bit typing it, but I don’t think you’ll notice the difference in a coffee, and a tablespoon of vanilla per two cups is a whole lot to be doling out if you’re using the real, expensive stuff. So grab a bottle of the el cheapo fake stuff at the grocery store–hide it under a magazine on the belt so your neighbors don’t see–and make sure you only use it to make this.

Besides saving money, you’ll save muchos calories over the Starbucks blend. And I hear their pumpkin lattes aren’t gluten-free (don’t hold me to that, but that’s what I hear). Assuming you check your vanilla, this has no gluten. Awesome if that’s a concern.

I used the leftover pumpkin from my scones recipe the other day–it was in a little plastic container in my fridge. If you need more motivation to make those tasty treats, there it is.

To make yourself a cup (two, but who’s counting?) of pumpkin spice coffee, you’ll need:

1 cup of milk (I used 1 percent, but whatever you have will be fine)

1 tablespoon canned pumpkin

1 scant tablespoon of sugar

1 scant tablespoon of vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 cups of strong coffee

In a small pan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, and spice until well combined. Let it come to a simmer, stirring every few minutes so the spices dissolve.

Prepare your strong coffee however you normally do that. Pour it into a mug and add the pumpkin mixture. Mmmmmmm.

Pumpkin Steel-Cut Oatmeal

7 Oct

Yes, I’m on a pumpkin binge. I have one more idea in the works for the orange wonder and then will move on. Promise. But for today, a delicious breakfast packed with vitamins and fiber and calcium and yum.

If you haven’t tried steel-cut oats (sometimes labeled as Irish oats), all I can say is that you really should. They’re the less-processed cousin of our friends, the old-fashioned oats, and have a wonderful crunch to them–nothing at all like instant oatmeal, which we’ve already decided is not our favorite. They take a little longer to cook and need a little more stirring, but are really worth it, and you can always make them at night, stick them in the fridge, and nuke them in the morning if time’s an issue. (You can also make them in your slow cooker–we’ll chat about that really soon.)

This recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice. I am not a fan of this for actual pumpkin pie. You don’t get the same depth of flavor as you do using individual spices. But for a bowl of oatmeal, it makes perfect sense–you’d use such a miniscule amount of the individual spices that the flavor is the same and this is much easier. The first time I tried this, I used far too much spice and just about burned my uvula out. So this recipe is conservative. You now know why. Up the spice to your own liking, at your own risk.

I make this with milk, but you can use water or another non-dairy milk if you have issues with the kind from cows. I’d probably stir some non-dairy half and half into the finished oatmeal if I were using water, to give it a yummy creamy consistency, and I did stir some extra milk into mine when it was cooked (after taking the above picture). I also tossed some glazed walnuts on top. They were yummy, but are optional. Raisins, dried cranberries, or banana slices would also be good, I think.

This should double or triple just fine if you want to make a bunch for the week. To make it, you’ll need:

1 cup milk (or water or an alternative kind of milk), plus more for eating.

1/4 cup steel-cut or Irish oats

1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

2 tsp brown sugar (or 1 tsp brown sugar Splenda), or some honey, to taste

In a small pan (I used my 8-inch saucier), stir together all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then lower the burner to low, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes or until oats are still crunchy but the pan looks creamy and delicious. Stir in your extras and serve.

Crockpot Spanish Chicken

6 Oct

I hopped (stumbled…whatever) out of bed this morning, brushed my teeth, and checked my toes for frostbite. Holy sudden winter, Batman! My friend and I went out to exercise and as I thawed my fingers and ears afterwards, I plundered the freezer in search of ingredients. Because there was no question that tonight was the night for the year’s first batch of Spanish Chicken.

Before chili, before soups comes this recipe in our house. It is so full of flavor and so comforting and warm that I whip it up as soon as the weather turns in the fall. Everyone eats it and the best part is that it’s super light and healthy.

I use light sausage in this–I used to use Healthy Choice until that vanished from my supermarket, and have moved on to any lowfat brand on the shelf. Turkey or chicken sausage works well in this too. And searching for the “big chunks of hot dog” means my kids chow down an entire bowl without complaining once about vegetables. You do what you gotta do, right?

This is a true dice-and-dump crockpot dish. I make some rice in the morning while I’m cutting and tossing into the crock and serve it over a warmed portion later that night. I dirty one knife and one cutting board and that’s it (I eyeball spices). Which makes me very happy. This also freezes really well, which is a huge bonus. And it’s one of those meals that gets better the next day.

My friend came over tonight as this was simmering away, asked to see the recipe, and said her family wouldn’t eat artichoke. Which is really no problem. Leave them out. Ditch the olives. Switch out the veggies. This is a very forgiving dish–customize it to fit your tastes. But give it a shot. It’s just delicious.

To make this, you’ll need:

1 pound of chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 pound Italian (or any) sausage, sliced

1 red or green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 a medium onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (boost this up if you want yours  hotter)

28 oz diced tomatoes

6o oz tomato paste

2 dried bay leaves

14 oz quartered artichoke hearts, drained (get the ones packed in water if you can)

4 oz sliced black olives

Coat a slow cooker with cooking spray or olive oil. Dump in everything but the artichokes and olives, and stir well. Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high 4 hours.

Add the artichokes and olives for the last half-hour of cooking. Fish out bay leaves and serve alone or over rice. Feeds about eight people.

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