Balancing Out the Cookies

Raise your hand if your calendar is often crammed with activities. I don’t know about you, but our social calendar seems to revolve around food. In December, for example, I had three separate events centered around cookies. From cookie exchanges to cookie Fridays at the office, I was slightly overloaded on the sugar. Earlier this month, we hosted the dessert portion of a progressive dinner, and then, I decided to bake some cupcakes for our small group just because it had been a while since I’d made some.

I firmly believe that life (as far as food goes, anyway) is all about balance, so when our social life became all about dessert, I started looking for something to offset all the sweetness.

I wanted something that would be easy to put together. Bonus points if I can make it with whatever was in my pantry / fridge. I remembered Annie’s white bean dip, and I thought it’d be perfect for the occasion. Plus, it’s healthy, and it takes all of 5 minutes to make. Cutting the veggies for serving takes longer than making the dip!

And, even better, it’s a dip that Andy truly enjoyed, which is saying something.

garlicwhitebeandip

Garlic Rosemary White Bean Dip

2 15 oz. cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Place the garlic and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely minced. Add the beans, salt and water to the bowl and process until the mixture is coarsely pureed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

With the food processor running, pour the olive oil into the bean mixture and process until it is fully combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then process another 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Taste the dip and season with pepper and salt if needed.

Serve with sliced vegetables and crackers. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From Annie’s Eats, originally from A Couple Cooks

Click here for a printable version.

Toast: Not Just for Breakfast

I first tried this recipe in an attempt to use up some ricotta cheese before it went south. I had all of the ingredients on hand, and it seemed better than letting the cheese mold in the back of the fridge. I didn’t know how Andy would feel about them, but I went ahead and served them for dinner anyway. (Yep, my kitchen is a dictatorship. I like to think of it as a benevolent dictatorship though…) Turns out, we both loved them.

I can’t decide what takes these things over the top. Maybe it’s the caramelized onions. Or the cheese. Or the bread. Maybe it’s everything put together. Either way, this is our new favorite appetizer. I may never make soup again. (Just kidding, Andy. Mostly.) 

I like to tell myself that, as far as appetizers go, this one is relatively healthy. Yes, there’s cheese and bread, but it’s buried underneath a hearty serving of squash and onions. Which meant that cramming several of these in my face on New Year’s Eve was perfectly acceptable.

It’s best on fresh, homemade bread, but it’s not bad on crusty Italian bread from the grocery store bakery. I’ve garnished it with mint (per the recipe) and with parsley (after my mint was done for the year), and we’ve liked it with both. And, as you can see from the picture, it’s just as good if you forget to buy something green.

I’m not sure how Deb figures that four slices of bread is enough for all of the squash. Maybe her bread is bigger than mine, or she heaps the squash more heavily. I’ve also given up measuring the ricotta for the toasts. Instead, I just take a spoon and smear a generous scoop of cheese on the warm toast before piling the delicious squash-onion mixture on top. (Of course, this means my “instructions” will be more like guidelines. Oh well.)

squashtoasts

Squash Toasts with Caramelized Onions and Ricotta Cheese

olive oil
1 loaf of Italian bread
1 2-1/2 to 3 lb. butternut squash
pinch red pepper flakes
coarse salt
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 – 1 cup ricotta cheese
finely chopped parsley or mint, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450° and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and the cut each half into slices that are about 1″ thick. Toss the squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes. Spread the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender (usually 25-40 minutes, depending on how thick your squash slices were). Remove from the oven and let the squash cool until you can handle it (about 20 minutes).

Scrape the squash from its skin and put the roasted squash into a large mixing bowl. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. (I use my 12″ Lodge.) Add three tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and then add the onion slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften and turn brown. Reduce the heat and let the onions cook until they are golden brown and delicious. Add the vinegar and maple syrup to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is jam-like.

Remove the onions from the heat and add them to cooked squash. Use a fork to mix the squash and onions together. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Slice the bread into 1″ thick pieces. Heat a large skillet (again, I use the cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Toast the slices of bread in the skillet until they are golden brown on each side. Depending on how many slices of bread you have, you may need to add more olive oil to the pan. Place the bread on paper towels to drain while you finish cooking the bread.

Spread a generous spoonful of ricotta cheese on each piece of bread, and then top with a scoop of the onion-squash mixture. Garnish with the chopped mint or parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have them) in the refrigerator.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, via NYTimes Cooking

Click here for a printable version.

Spontaneous Success!

Let me start by admitting that I did not plan for this one. Aldi had a sale on mangoes last week, so I violated grocery shopping rule #1 (STICK TO THE LIST!) and put one in the cart. I had no idea what I’d do with it, but 69-cent mangoes are not to be passed up.

Not only did I go off-list at the grocery store, but I also slacked off on the meal planning for the week. I put the fun important things down (dinner with friends Monday night and tacos with friends on Friday night), but that left me with three dinner-less days, and man cannot (or should not) live on Christmas cookies alone. (Not that we aren’t giving it our best shot… 😉 )  And then Andy went on a last-minute work trip, which kind of killed the meal-planning motivation. I would just scrounge up something with what was in the house.

Hmm. One mango. Roughly half of a head of Napa cabbage from our last CSA share (Don’t be grossed out by that. I promise it was still good. Those produce saver bags are AMAZING.) Limes. Onions. Hmm.

Smitten Kitchen to the rescue again! This slaw was incredibly addicting. It was sweet (from the mango), sour (from the lime) and spicy (not sure if it was the red pepper flakes or my red onion) all at the same time. I subbed green pepper for the red pepper (because that’s what I had in the fridge). I didn’t have mint or cashews, so I toasted some almonds and chopped up some cilantro instead.

I was going to cook some shrimp to go with it, but, as I said before, my motivation was dwindling. Plus, I was kind of going to town on the slaw, so I decided to make a meal out of just that. And then I ate the rest for lunch the next day. Like I said, addicting. Good thing Andy was gone so I didn’t have to share. 😉

MangoSlaw

Cabbage & Mango Slaw

1 pound of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 mangoes, thinly sliced (Deb’s recipe calls for 2 mangoes. I only had one on hand, but I would definitely go for 2. More mango is never a bad thing.) 
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
1/3 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Combine the cabbage, mangoes, green pepper and red onion in a large bowl.

Whisk the lime juice, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and oil together in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and add the cilantro to the bowl. Toss the salad a few times to make sure the dressing is well-distributed.

Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Click here for a printable version.

Our Kind of Coleslaw

As a kid, I was staunchly opposed to mayo. I knew it had its place in tuna salad, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would want it on a sandwich or a burger. And those people who dip their french fries in mayonnaise? Ugh. Not for me, thank you very much.

Of course, this meant that I avoided coleslaw like the plague. Soggy, shredded cabbage and carrots drowning in a mayonnaise bath? Umm, no thanks. When I finally grew up matured, I realized that mayo isn’t nearly as terrible as my 10-year-old taste buds had feared. (Not that it’s my favorite condiment – that spot is reserved for mustards of all types.) But I didn’t hate it anymore, and I could appreciate a traditional coleslaw for what it was.

Andy on the hand? Not so much. He still hasn’t outgrown his distaste for mayonnaise (and at his age, I’m guessing that it may never happen), which meant that for the first few years of our marriage, I didn’t make coleslaw. Not that this was an issue – after all, neither of us had a burning desire for the stuff. Then we joined a CSA, which meant that all kinds of vegetables ended up in our kitchen. And when your CSA cabbages regularly come in weighing more than some newborns, you realize that you’d better come up with something to do with ALL.THAT.CABBAGE. (Besides the ever-popular cabbage and noodles, that is.)

Thankfully, friends of ours introduced us to fish tacos, and with them, a vinegar-based slaw. I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but that’s when I realized that coleslaw could be more than just mayo and soggy veggies. And Andy liked it! So, I asked Josiah for his recipe, and I started making slaw whenever we had fish tacos. Pretty soon, I was making slaw just because we had a cabbage in the house. No problems, right?

Well… I kind of get bored if I make the same thing over and over again. Not that you’d ever guess that, right? 😉 I needed a new slaw in the rotation, and thankfully, my favorite cookbook came through for me. Again.

It’s like coleslaw and my favorite “quick pickles” got together for a party.There’s the tang from the vinegar and the crunch of the fresh cucumbers and cabbage.  I made it for a work picnic earlier this summer, and then I made it again just because we had all of the ingredients in the fridge. It’s crisp and refreshing, and it goes well with brats and burgers, making it the perfect summer side. It’s easy to put together, which means that I can make it in the morning before work and have one less thing to do at the end of the day when I’m making dinner. It keeps well in the fridge, and I also think it would travel well in the cooler, which means I need to buy some more vinegar before our camping adventures at the end of the month.

CucumberVinegarSlaw
This is all that was left 24 hours after I’d made the coleslaw, thanks to Andy sitting down and eating it straight from the serving bowl while I prepped the rest of dinner. 😉

 

Vinegar Slaw with Cucumbers and Dill

1 medium head of cabbage, about 2 pounds, thinly sliced or shredded (I used about 2/3rds of a CSA cabbage clocked in at 3+ pounds.)
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced (Deb says to use English cucumbers; I used the regular seeded ones that came in our CSA.) 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used half fresh and half dried, since my dill plant isn’t as prolific as I’d like.) 
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt*
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup cold water

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers,dill and shredded cabbage together.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the vinegar, salt and sugar together. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, add the cold water to the mix. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss the salad with a pair of tongs.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour, tossing occasionally to distribute the dressing. Serve cold.

*Deb recommends the Diamond brand kosher salt and says that other brands are going to be “more densely salty.” I used a heaping tablespoon of my Morton brand kosher salt, so I’d recommend starting with a tablespoon and seeing how it tastes from there. 

From the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Click here for a printable version.

Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.

LemonAsparagusFetaPasta

 

Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

Garlic + Parm + Potatoes

Mashed potatoes. Come on, who needs a recipe for mashed potatoes? You cook the spuds, add some butter and milk (and sour cream and cheese, if you’re feeling indulgent), and season with salt and pepper. What’s to know?

A lot, according to my latest copy of Cook’s Illustrated. I was reading the article about a French apple tart (looks beautiful, but I think it will take all day just to slice the apples for it!) when I noticed the recipe on the preceding page: Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The potato recipe looked significantly less involved than the tart recipe, plus, I had everything to make it. On the menu it went!

It goes without saying that since it’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, it’s more involved than your standard potato recipe. I did question some things in the recipe (such as why I have to cut the butter into chunks when I’m melting it anyway…), but since CI has tested for practically every scenario, I stuck to the recipe. For the most part, anyway. I saw no reason to pour the melted butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese from the saucepan into a separate bowl before then pouring it into the potatoes. They may have a dedicated dish crew, but I am not that lucky. 🙂 (I do appreciate all of the testing and science behind their recipes though. I definitely learn something from each issue – even if I don’t get around to making all of the recipes.) 

Extra steps or not, it was worth it. The recipe says it feeds 4-6 people as a side dish, but I could have skipped the rest of dinner and just had potatoes. I hoarded the leftovers. (Sorry to all of my coworkers for making the office smell like garlic!) I licked the spatula and the potato masher clean. (OK, so I do that anytime I make mashed potatoes… let’s not get hung up on the details…) If I were making the potatoes for Thanksgiving, these would definitely be on my short list. But since I’m not in charge of the spuds (to my knowledge, anyway), I’ll just make these for other special occasions. You know, like Tuesday dinners. 😀

Garlic Parm Mashed Potatoes

Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ thick chunks (CI recommends Yukon Golds; I just used the white potatoes from my Grandma.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water
1 1/4 teaspoons garlic, zested/minced into a paste, divided
2/3 cup warm milk
1 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
parsley, for garnish (optional)

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water until potatoes are covered with 1″ of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes) and pierce easily with a paring knife. Remove from heat and drain the potatoes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic powder/water mixture and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic to the butter and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of garlic and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Place the potato saucepan back on the stove over low heat. Add the potatoes to the pot and mash them. (Cook’s Illustrated recommends using a potato rice, but since I don’t own one, I just used my hand masher.) Stir the butter-Parmesan mixture into the mashed potatoes. Pour the milk into the potatoes and stir until combined. Taste the potatoes and season with salt, if necessary. (I added a scant 1/2 teaspoon to the mixture… significantly less than the 1 1/4 teaspoons that CI recommended.) Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish and top with parsley, if using. Serve immediately. (Unless the rest of your dinner isn’t ready yet. If that’s the case, simply cover the potatoes with foil and place in a warm oven.) 

From Cook’s Illustrated, December 2014

Click here for a printable version.

Weekend Food

Let’s face it. There are some dishes that I will never make during the week (at least, not as long as I’m gainfully employed full time). Roasts (unless they’re hanging out in the crockpot). Yeast bread. Short ribs. Let’s add risotto to that list.

It’s not like any of these foods are particularly hard to make; they’re just time consuming. And since we’d rather not sit down to dinner at 8 p.m., I’ve just accepted the fact that some things are better saved for the weekend, when I can take my time and make a complete mess in my kitchen. In fact, that’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially if the weather isn’t the greatest.

I’d had my eye on this recipe ever since Annie posted it, oh, FOUR years ago. I kept waiting for that magical moment when asparagus, leeks AND peas would all show up in my CSA delivery at the same time. No such luck. I finally decided that I’d just suck it up and buy the veggies I needed. Except that I refuse to pay almost three dollars for a tiny clamshell of chives, so I decided to use green onions instead. Which I forgot to add when I finished the risotto. Oh well. Such is life.

Whenever I make risotto, I do my best to have things chopped and prepped before I get going, which makes it easier to focus on stirring the pot. I rinsed the leeks, blanched the asparagus, shredded the cheese and measured out the frozen peas first. That way, I can give the risotto the attention that it deserves. (It’s such a needy dish… “Stir! Constantly!” Ha.) 

I was a little short on the amount of asparagus (because we had been roasting it for dinner), which worked out okay, since Andy didn’t love the texture of the asparagus in the risotto. I did add extra lemon juice to cut the richness of the cream cheese. Next time, I think I’ll omit the cream cheese altogether – we thought that it was rich and creamy enough with just the Parmesan cheese. All in all though, it was an afternoon well spent.

Asparagus Risotto

Spring Green Risotto

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used a combination.) 
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
3 cups chopped leeks, rinsed and spun dry
1 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
2/3 cup dry white wine (I used my favorite wine, mostly because it’s what I have on hand most often.) 
1 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends removed
10 ounces frozen peas
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired (We forgot about that…oops.) 
1/3 cup cream cheese, optional (I’ll leave this out next time, but that’s just me.) 
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and keep the stock warm.

Chop the asparagus into inch-long pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus until it’s crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Immediately drain the asparagus and place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once the asparagus has cooled, drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan (I use my stainless steel Dutch oven because I don’t have a saute pan that I love). Saute the shallots and leeks until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the rice to the leek/shallot mixture and cook for about a minute, stirring to coat the rice with the butter and olive oil. Add the wine to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is almost all absorbed.

Ladle two scoops of stock from the saucepan into the pan with the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice. Continue adding the broth, two scoops at a time, cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding more stock. When the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes, add the cooked asparagus to the rice. Stir in the lemon zest and the frozen peas. Continue to add stock and cook the rice until it is creamy and tender but still slightly firm.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and cream cheese (if using). Stir until the cheese melts and the risotto is creamy. Taste the risotto and then season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm, garnished with Parmesan if desired.

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Click here for a printable version.

Sunshine in a Bowl

I’m almost afraid to say it, but I think spring may finally be making its way to Wisconsin! Just this morning, I discovered our daffodils poking up out of the ground, and it even looks like our garlic experiment is working out! (I will be thrilled if the garlic cloves we tucked into the garden last fall actually grow into full heads of their own!) I even went barefoot (in the driveway) today – something that hasn’t happened since, oh, probably September.

After months of snow and polar-vortex temperatures, any sign of spring is more than welcome. Even if that sign is just a bowl full of bright, happy mango chunks. I made this salsa a few weeks ago, when we were still covered in snow and feeling insanely jealous of everyone who was planning trips for spring break. It’s ridiculously easy – chop, mix, eat. We enjoyed it on our favorite pork chops, and it took our rice from average to “I’ll have some more of that.” And now that I think about it, I’m sure this would be equally tasty with grilled fish, shrimp or chicken as well. Things to keep in mind now that our grill isn’t covered by several feet of snow. 🙂

MangoSalsa2

 

Editor’s Note: I’m guessing on the measurements here, since I made this up on the fly and didn’t bother getting out the measuring cups. Feel free to add more (or less) or something as it suits you! 

Simple Mango Salsa

1 mango, diced small
1/3 cup diced green pepper
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced jalapeno pepper, seeds removed if you don’t like too much heat
juice of one lime
small handful of cilantro, chopped
coarse salt

In a small bowl, combine the mango, green pepper, jalapeno and onions. Add the lime juice and stir until the ingredients are fully coated. Add the cilantro and season to taste with salt.

Serve over pork chops, chicken, fish or rice. Store leftover salsa in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

A Beth’s Blue Plate Original

Click here for a printable version.

Twice Baked Awesomeness

Did you have big plans for Valentine’s Day? A fancy dinner somewhere, or a romantic weekend away? Not us. Andy firmly believes that it’s a holiday engineered by Hallmark and FTD, and he’s lucky he married a girl who doesn’t get hung up on stuff like that. 🙂 

Instead of an overpriced dinner out, we had a great dinner in with some of our favorite friends. Karen picked out the wine, made salad and baked an awesome chocolate cheesecake. I volunteered to bring steak and sweet potatoes. The steak was easy – I turned it over to the guys and let them work their magic on the grill. (Yes, the grill. It warmed up to about 20 degrees last weekend… hello grilling weather!) 

I went with the twice-baked sweet potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated. I’d made them once before, and they earned five stars on the Andy scale. I mean, there’s a crispy, buttery breadcrumb topping and a filling spiked with Parmesan cheese. But as I was making them again, I started to worry that they weren’t going to be quite good enough for our Friday night feast. What if the first time was just a fluke? 

My concerns were completely unfounded. They were just as good the second time, and the four of us devoured every crumb. In fact, I *might* like them a little more than regular twice-baked potatoes, and that’s saying something. 

Amazingly enough (especially for a CI recipe), this one is easy enough for a weeknight. I made these after I got home from work on Friday, and we were ready to leave for dinner in less than an hour. The microwave gives you a head-start with the potatoes, and once they’re stuffed and topped, they only bake for 20 minutes. So while they look (and taste) like a special occasion dinner, there’s no reason not to make them tonight. 🙂 

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 8-ounce sweet potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed (nicely shaped, if you can find them)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4-6 slices of French bread, cut into 1/8″ – 1/4″ cubes*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (one ounce), divided
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt

Lightly prick the sweet potatoes with a fork, then place in the microwave. Cook potatoes until they’re easily pierced by a toothpick and the sides of the potato yield to a gentle squeeze. This takes about 9-12 minutes, depending on your microwave and sweet potatoes. Flip the potatoes about every 3-4 minutes while they are cooking. Set them aside to cool slightly. 

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the bread crumb topping. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet. (I love my cast iron one for this.) Add the shallots to the melted butter and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are lightly browned and tender.

Mix the breadcrumbs, thyme and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Pour the butter and shallot mixture over the breadcrumbs and gently mix until the breadcrumbs are all coated in butter. 

Preheat oven to 425. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop the sweet potato flesh out and place in a large mixing bowl, leaving about a 1/4″ margin around the edge of the sweet potato skin. Place the empty potato skins on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until shells are slightly dry and crispy. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 375. 

Mash the sweet potato with a potato masher until smooth. (I used both my hand masher and my hand mixer.) Stir the beaten egg, remaining Parmesan cheese and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the potato. 

Choose six potato skins to fill. (That’s probably all of the filling you’ll have, but I wait to choose my shells until after they bake. That way, I don’t end up short if one gets a little too crispy in the oven.) Divide the sweet potato mixture between the skins, and top them with the breadcrumb mixture. 

Bake for 20 minutes, or until filling is puffed and the breadcrumbs are golden. Remove from oven and enjoy. 

From Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2013

*CI calls for two slices of “hearty white sandwich bread,” something that I don’t have on hand and didn’t buy. I used several slices of French bread instead, since they were smaller than a standard piece of sandwich bread. It worked just fine.

Click here for printable version. 

Comfort with a Kick

I don’t know about you, but I am in major “comfort food” mode. I’m not sure if I should blame the weather or all of my cooking magazines, but I just want warm, cozy foods. Soups. Stews. Cheesy, baked potato dishes. Or baked mac and cheese. (Look, there I go, gravitating toward the carbs. Again. Shocking.) 😀

I am also in “easy dinner” mode, since our evenings have been pretty busy the last few weeks. I used canned beans this time because I wasn’t organized enough to have some cooked ones in the freezer. In fact, the most time-consuming part of dinner was chopping the onion! (Well, that and doing the dishes…) 

The original recipe barely serves two people, so I always double it. After all, we like our leftovers! I also added more corn and pumped up the spice with a little jalapeno. And there you have it. Easy comfort food with a little kick. Who wouldn’t want this? 😉

BlackBeanCornChowder
Why yes, that IS dessert hanging out in the background. Chocolate whoopie pies with marshmallow filling, in case you were wondering.

Black Bean Corn Chowder

2 15-ounce cans of black beans, divided
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 cup of salsa
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 avocado, cut into chunks
shredded cheddar cheese, fresh cilantro, sour cream and tortilla chips for serving

In a blender, combine 1 1/2 cups of black beans and the half-and-half. Puree until smooth and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeno to the pan and cook until tender. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the reserved black beans, salsa, corn, lime juice and cumin to the pot. Bring to a simmer.

Stir in the pureed beans and half-and-half. Cook over medium-low heat until heated through, and then stir in the avocado chunks.

Serve with cheese, sour cream, cilantro and tortilla chips.

Adapted from Cooking for Two, Spring 2007

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