Warm sweet potato salad

sweet-potato-salad4It’s the time of year that beckons comfort food; hearty pastas, squash of all types, casseroles and creamy soups. With that comes a load of calories as well – and if you’re like me, you’re not at all active in the winter, so chowing on all that yummy food tends to add up and leave you feeling a bit sluggish come spring.

Pace yourself through the season with this salad – it has the best of both worlds. The sweet potato is the star giving substance and when paired with the crunch of pistachios two ways, the tang of goat cheese and the snap of pomegranate, this is a salad that eats like a meal without making you feel like you over indulged.

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Crispy spaghetti squash crepes with mushrooms and sage

The season has officially turned, but this weekend I’ve been enjoying the last few moments of summer-like weather. At this time of year, one never knows how many more chances there will be to have the windows open all day or sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

The fair temperatures have not fooled my palate, however. My brain and taste buds know that it’s nearly October, and therefore I find myself craving hearty, rustic meals. Various types of squash are in abundance right now, so I took advantage of the fall’s bounty and pulled up this recipe I’ve had bookmarked for quite some time.

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Mushroom risotto with tarragon cream sauce

mushroom-tarragon-risottoAs previously mentioned and evidenced by the number of recent risotto postings, I am a bit obsessed with risotto. Even though I made it just last weekend, I tried a new recipe last night. With the dramatic dip in temperatures, I was craving some comfort food and this fit the bill perfectly.

I borrowed the recipe for cream sauce from Real Simple, adapting it to not use the onions, but this sauce is AMAZING and light and would go well over many types of vegetables or fish.

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Caramelized onion and apple risotto

onion-apple-risottoI have a confession to make: I am a bit obsessed with risotto. I love everything about it – the process of making it, all the ingredients that go into it and not least of all, eating it. I love it because it’s versatile and is a dish you can eat year-round, customizing to ingredients and flavors that are in season. It can be made to appeal to any diet preference as well – it works wonderfully with light seafood such as scallops or shrimp and is a great vehicle to highlight seasonal vegetables.

Forever on the hunt for the next awesome flavor profile, I decided that caramelized onions and apples sounded like a good idea to try. I know what you’re thinking – there’s already plenty of onion in the base of risotto, won’t this be overkill? I was worried about that too, but I did it anyway and was glad I took the risk. Caramelizing the onions gives them a different flavor, so this wasn’t overkill with onion. You’re also only going to use a half cup of the onions, so you’ll have some leftover. (Looking for what to do with them? Try this crostini recipe.)

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Asian crepes with peanut sauce

asian-crepes1Crepes are one of my favorite things to make. They’re something so simple but can deliver pretty complex flavors when done well. They’re versatile enough to eat for every single meal of the day. From sweet crepes for breakfast or brunch to savory crepes for dinner, you can do pretty much anything you want with them.

I learned how to make crepes in a class at The Chopping Block about a year and a half ago. The trickiest thing to get right is getting the batter to cover the entire bottom of the pan and not using too much batter because crepes are supposed to be extremely thin. I stumbled quite a bit trying to get the technique of swirling the pan with my left hand while ladling in the batter with my right hand. If you’ve ever tried rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, that’s how awkward it was for me.

Eventually I got it down well enough that I moved on to trying to flip the crepe by just using the pan. Another step in which more than a few crepes suffered from poor technique. I also turned to none other than the master Jacques Pepin for some tips on making crepes. Of course he makes it look as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but that’s why he is the master.

I built this recipe knowing that I was going to try a new peanut sauce that I’ve had bookmarked for a while. With peanut sauce as the main driver, I figured Asian would be the best way to go, so what better than to make a simple stir fry to fill the crepes with. Once I had that in mind, I immediately went to thinking about how I would plate the dish. Sometimes I make decisions on what to cook by starting with the type of presentation I want to do. Is that weird? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, presentation can really amplify a dish, so I’ve always got that in mind.

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Summer risotto

Five weeks into the baking and pastry course and I’m super-ready to move on to the savory side. You’ll notice that I didn’t post a “week five” of culinary school because I’m kinda sort of over pastry. However, I really did enjoy the kudos doled out by my colleagues when I brought in the devil’s food cake with coconut-vanilla buttercream frosting. Yep, that was pretty good – I even had a small piece.

This weekend, I was really ready to get back to cooking what I love the most – savory foods. And what better to make than a season-appropriate risotto? I was anxious to try the Arborio rice I picked up from Eataly a couple weeks ago and this seemed the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it.

I love risotto because you can pretty much do anything with it. There are ingredients that will work with every season of eating and it’s a hearty dish, that when made well, can even work as a light summer dinner. Tonight’s recipe is no exception. Everything that went into this one was acquired at the local farmer’s market and was super delish.

summer-risotto1

Risotto can’t be rushed, so make sure you allow yourself at least 30 minutes cooking time (more to prep your ingredients) to pull this together. It will be well worth the time investment!

Recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

Serves 2-3 (Or just 2, if you’re really hungry and want to have seconds. Which you probably will.)

  • 3 – 3-1/2 cups vegetable broth (can substitute chicken broth)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter (To make vegan, use 2 tbsp olive oil)
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt & pepper
  • 3/4 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 ear sweet corn, kernels cut from cob (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • handful torn fresh basil

Directions:

  1. Bring broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and keep hot.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat then add shallot and garlilc, season with salt and pepper, and then saute until tender, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add rice then stir to coat in butter. Add wine then stir until nearly absorbed by rice. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth then stir constantly until broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed before adding more.
  4. When there’s 1/3 of the broth remaining, add zucchini, season with more salt and pepper, then continue stirring. When there’s 1/4 of the broth left, add corn then continue stirring. Add the tomatoes with the last batch of broth then stir until absorbed.
  5. Take risotto off heat then stir in parmesan cheese and basil. Add more salt & pepper to taste then serve.
  6. Garnish with whole basil leaves, if desired.

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Greek flatbread

I have a feeling that while I’m in school, my weekend cooking will either take a back seat or become substantially more low-key. But maybe not. In any case, this quick and easy meal was just the right thing to make after a busy week. Serves 2.

greek_flatbread

Ingredients

  • ¼ lb Kalamata olives
  • ½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 oz feta cheese crumbles (I use Athenos brand)
  • 4 tbsp plain hummus
  • 3 oz marinated artichoke hearts
  • Fresh oregano
  • I package Udis flatbread (or comparable item)

Instructions

  • Quarter the olives, artichokes and the tomatoes, set aside
  • Chop the oregano and set aside
  • Lay out the flatbread and spread 2 tbsp hummus on each
  • Top each with the artichokes, olives, tomatoes, feta and oregano
  • Cook according to flatbread package instructions, 7-9 minutes
  • Slice and serve!

Scallop binge

scallops-with-tomatoes1It is officially summer and so officially, it’s my favorite time of year. During the summer, I’m most likely to be found in my chair in the back yard, book in hand, drink on the table next to me, soaking in the warm air. It’s quite the contrast to my cold-weather self where egregious amounts of TV is consumed and inactivity reigns.

I tend to crave lighter dishes in the summer, but there is still room for an occasional carb-loaded delicacy and these two dishes serve both purposes. I cooked scallops for the first time about 6 months ago. Nervous that I’d screw them up, (they can be delicate and are very easy to over and under-cook), I took in the appropriate amount of YouTube videos to feel confident enough that I’d get it right. The key is to make sure your pan is screaming hot. Hotter than you think it needs to be – they’ve got to sizzle the exact moment they hit the skillet. A quick test to see if your pan is hot enough is to splash some water in it. If it sizzles, you’re ready to add your scallops.

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Portobello and poblano enchiladas

enchilada2The kitchen is back up and running after taking a little break from cooking the last week or so. Terry had gum surgery, which pretty much left her diet limited to yogurt and anything else that requires little to no chewing. Then Charlie had his teeth cleaned and had a couple benign fatty tumors removed. Needless to say, there has not been a lot of appetite to go around lately.

Since everyone’s feeling better today I pulled out this recipe that I found a while ago. I made a few modifications that I think made it even better. If you wish to keep it vegan, you can follow the original recipe or just skip the jalapeno cream. I’ve never had a cashew-based sauce, but I bet it’s probably not too bad. I’ll put that on the list of things to try another day.

This was goooo-oood. The corn adds a little more color and pop of smoky flavor to the mix. You’ll definitely get a couple different types of heat, but they’re not so overwhelming that you can’t taste the freshness of each of the vegetables. You can have fun with the presentation, too. I put the avocado sauce down first and layered everything up from there.

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Cheese stuffed Portobello mushrooms

You want something easy and flavorful? This is it right here.

I found this recipe from Food & Wine and knew it was what we were going to eat at some point over the Memorial Day weekend. Equipped with fresh Portobello mushrooms from the farmer’s market, I went to work slicing, dicing and prepping.

The recipe is actually for a burger. I say don’t even bother with the burger part. These babies taste so good on their own, adding a hamburger bun seems like a sin. The filling is deceptively rich, and eating this as a burger would likely not leave much room for dessert, if there were any to be had. The filling has a versatile flavor that could be used on its own as a sauce (just add a little bit of heavy cream and perhaps some white wine and reduce it), serve it over vegetables or heck, even pasta. Oooo – or maybe even as a risotto! Now that would be good.

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