Monday, September 29, 2014

What's For Dinner: Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

I tend to pull out my slow cooker to make chili, but this is a quicker stove-top chili recipe. Like last Friday's Middle Eastern lamb stew, the recipe for this sweet potato and black been chili also comes from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Although the original recipe calls for cooking the sweet potatoes in the broth, I chose to roast the sweet potatoes to pull out some more flavor. Doing so adds about 20 minutes to the cooking time, so if you're in a hurry, you can always just follow the original recipe's instructions by simmering the diced sweet potatoes in the broth for about 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

I like to play around with the spices every time I make chili, and aside from the obvious use of chili powder, some of my favorite go-to additions include oregano and unsweetened cocoa powder (something I say has to do with my Cincinnati upbringing, though I must admit I probably ate more Hormel chili than Skyline or Gold Star chili whilst an Ohioan). Playing around with the spices also helps you to control the heat; if you prefer a bit more spice you could add in more cayenne pepper, add a sprinkle (or more) of red pepper flakes, or shake in a dash of hot pepper sauce.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
makes 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1" pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, divided
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil
2. Place the diced sweet potato in a small bowl. Add in the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, and a dash or two of salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Spread the seasoned potato pieces onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, flipping the potatoes after 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a Dutch oven or large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, garlic, chili powder, salt, oregano, cayenne pepper, and cocoa powder. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the vegetable broth, beans, tomatoes, and lime juice. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the roasted sweet potato, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. Before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve with your favorite chili fixins' such as plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), shredded cheese, crackers, or chopped scallions.

(recipe adapted from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen)

Friday, September 26, 2014

What's For Dinner: Middle Eastern Lamb Stew with Couscous

Fall officially arrived on Tuesday, and with that came my sudden desire to make stew for dinner. I recently picked up a few new-to-me cookbooks from the library, and among the titles were two focused on one-pot meals. This Middle Eastern Lamb Stew recipe comes from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen.

This cookbook, from the publishers of EatingWell magazine (of which I am a fan and subscribe to on my Kindle), features over 100 healthy dinner recipes that don't require a lot of muss and fuss to make. (Hence the one-pot title.) I have to admit I am particularly drawn to cookbooks that have gorgeous photographs to match each recipe (I find it helps to know what the end result is supposed to look like), and this cookbook does not disappoint. I earmarked a number of pages in this cookbook, and this recipe for Middle Eastern Lamb Stew was the first that I tried. Spoiler alert: the stew was delicious.

I've never cooked with lamb before, but we recently picked up a package of lamb stew meat from Half Moon Hill, a small family farm located in Hamburg, Wisconsin. Half Moon Hill focuses on sustainable farming practices and raises their grass-fed sheep on pasture. We've visited their farm as part of Slow Food Marathon County's Farm Days and we've gleaned a lot of great information from Half Moon Hill owner's Sadie and Gerrid Franke (as well as other small family farmers in the Marathon County area) as we consider adding livestock to our little Northwoods farm.

The stew required only 15 minutes of prep time and then the slow cooker worked its magic. (Have I mentioned how much I love set-it-and-forget-it meals? Because, I really, really do.) The resulting stew was full of flavor and, when served over couscous, made for a perfectly satisfying and filling meal.

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew
makes 8 servings

1 pound boneless lamb stew meat
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground sumac [optional]
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large white onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2 cups baby spinach freshly ground black pepper and fine sea salt, to taste
1 box couscous, cooked according to the manufacturer's instructions

1. Pat the lamb meat dry and place in a 4-quart slow cooker bowl.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, cumin, coriander, cayenne, sumac, and salt. Spoon the spice paste onto the lamb, and toss to coat. (Using your clean hands to rub the spice mixture into the meat is the simplest way to do this.)
3. Top the lamb with the chopped onion, crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, and minced garlic. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 5/12 - 6 hours or on high for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is cooked through and tender.
4. Once the cooking time is complete, use a large spoon to remove any fat from the surface of the stew if necessary. Place 1/2 cup of the garbanzo beans in a small bowl and crush them with a fork. Stir the crushed beans along with the remaining whole beans into the stew. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season the stew to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Serve over couscous or your favorite grain.

(recipe adapted from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's On the Side: Coconut-Lime Cilantro Rice

We probably eat some form of tacos or burrito bowls at least once a week -- they are our go-to meal option when either nothing has been planned for dinner or evening plans require a quick meal. I typically serve rice with our Mexican-inspired meals, either plain or lightly jazzed up with the addition of taco seasoning (my favorite is from Penzey's) or fresh cilantro.

Last week we had another round of fish tacos for dinner (baked sans breading this time), and to make things just a little more interesting I opted to make a more flavorful rice to serve as a side-dish. This rice gets its flavor from the substitution of coconut milk and veggie stock (or you could use chicken stock if you prefer) for some of the water that it cooks in, and then it gets an extra flavor boost with the addition of fresh lime juice and zest along with fresh cilantro, which gets stirred in once the cooking period is complete. The resulting rice dish has a hint of tropical flavor, but it isn't overwhelming. I wanted the rice to complement the flavors of the fish tacos without competing for attention, and this dish fit the bill perfectly.

What are your favorite sides to serve alongside tacos?

Coconut-Lime Cilantro Rice
makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 cups white rice
1/2 cup lite organic coconut milk (or you could use full-fat for a richer flavor)
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
2 cups filtered water
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped fine

1. Add the rice, coconut milk, vegetable stock, and water to the rice cooker. Cook according to your machine's instructions (I used the regular rice setting.) If you do not have a rice cooker, cook the rice as you normally would on the stovetop.
2. After the rice has cooked, stir in the lime zest, lime juice, and cilantro.

(adapted from this Melissa d'Arabian recipe)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Made From Scratch: Tart Cherry Jam (Small Batch)

Picking blueberries in Bayfield wasn't our only fruit-picking experience this summer. D and I also packed up the car (along with the dogs) and day-tripped to Door County back in July, with the main goal of picking tart cherries. 

The tart cherry season is relatively short; it lasts from late July just into early August. So if you miss the window, you're out of luck. And since tart cherries are rather delicate, they don't get shipped very far, making fresh tart cherries a fairly rare treat to find outside the areas where they are produced.

After doing a little research online, I decided our cherry-picking destination would be Cherry Lane Orchards in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Once there, D and I each grabbed a pail and headed into the orchard. Since the season had already been open for more than a week, we had to grab ladders to pick the cherries from the upper branches. It was hard work I tell you -- particularly with the hot summer sun shining down through the branches. D proved to be a more efficient picker than me, and filled his bucket in no time. Eventually I filled my pail, too, and we headed back to settle our account. In all, we picked about 20 pounds of cherries.

And let me tell you, pitting 20 pounds of cherries is no joke! I managed to pit about half of them myself (with those cherries ending up in cherry pie filling, recipe to come) and I let D pit the remaining 10 pounds of cherries. Some of those cherries made their way into this recipe for tart cherry jam. This recipe makes a small batch of tasty tart cherry jam. If you don't have access to fresh tart cherries, I bet frozen cherries would also work (though I have not tried this myself). You can keep the recipe simple and stick with a straight cherry flavor, or experiment with the addition of other ingredients, such as vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, or amaretto/almond flavoring.

Small Batch Tart Cherry Jam
makes 5 half-pints

16 cups (4 pounds) pitted and mashed tart cherries (this should yield about six cups of jammable fruit)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 packet liquid pectin (half a box)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Add the fruit and sugar to a large non-reactive stock pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to boil for 20 minutes, skimming and removing foam from the surface occasionally.
2. Stir in the pectin packet and boil for an additional five minutes. Stir in the vanilla. When the jam is ready to can, it will appear thick and viscous. You can use these tips to ensure your jam is good to go.
3. Fill your (sterilized) jars, leaving about a 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (Add 5 minutes processing time per 1000 feet in elevation above sea level; I processed our jars for 15 minutes.)
4. Carefully remove the jars from the water bath and let cool on a towel-lined counter or tabletop. After 24 hours, test the seals to ensure each jar sealed correctly.

For additional canning tips, check this guide from the USDA.

(adapted from this Food in Jars recipe)

Friday, September 19, 2014

What's For Dinner: Penne alla Vodka

Back in my vegetarian days, I used to joke that I was really a "pastatarian" as I ate pasta for dinner more often than not. Eventually I realized that there were plenty of other delicious options for a vegetarian dinner (you know, with actual vegetables), and my pasta-eating habits fell to the wayside.

While these days we eat pasta now and then, it isn't in the main dinner rotation. So I decided to shake things up and made penne alla vodka for dinner the other night. It was a huge hit.

The vodka adds a bit of complexity to the flavor without overwhelming it (the key is cooking it down). Although the original recipe called for tomato puree, I used diced tomatoes, as I prefer a more rustic-style sauce. If you don't like a chunky sauce, I'd recommend blending the sauce (an immersion blender is my favorite tool for this) a bit before adding in the pasta. 

When served with a hunk of buttered Italian bread on the side and a glass of wine (I paired the pasta with this Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel from Sonoma County), you've got yourself a particularly fancy (but not fussy) weeknight meal.

Penne alla Vodka
makes 2-3 servings

2 cups penne pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup vodka
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
1/4 cup organic heavy cream
1 pinch red pepper flakes
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmesan, for garnish
chopped fresh basil, for garnish

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the penne according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. While the pasta is cooking, add the butter and olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30-45 seconds.
3. Remove the pan from the heat (if cooking over a flame) and add the vodka. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the vodka has reduced and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the diced tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the heavy cream. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the red pepper flakes. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the drained penne to the sauce and stir to combine.
6. Garnish each serving with freshly grated Parmesan and chopped fresh basil.

(adapted from this recipe from The Pioneer Woman)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What's For Dessert: Blueberry Chia Jam Bars

So, it turns out I made a lot more fresh jam than I could reasonably eat myself. Jam bars to the rescue! While most baked goods are best eaten within a few days, I've found that these bars get tastier a couple days after baking, as the flavors really start to meld together. Not that they are at all bad on day one, however, particularly if you prefer a crisper texture.

If you didn't happen to make up a batch of blueberry chia jam featured in a post last week (why not?!), just go ahead and substitute in your favorite jam (and you don't have to limit yourself to blueberry, either). I also made my version gluten-free by using an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix. This recipe is quite forgiving and easy to make -- hallmarks of a good recipe in my book.

Blueberry Chia Jam Bars
makes 9-12 bars

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (you can also sub in a gluten-free AP flour mix)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup butter, softened and cut into cubes
3/4 cup blueberry chia jam (or use your favorite jam)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 square baking dish with parchment paper so that it overhangs opposite sides and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the cubes of butter and incorporate it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your (clean!) fingers until it resembles large crumbles.
3. Reserve 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture. Then spoon the rest of the dough into the prepped baking dish. Use your fingers or a spatula to pat the dough into an even layer.
4. Use an offset spatula to spread the jam onto the dough layer, leaving about a 1/4-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the reserved crumbles evenly over top the jam layer.
5.  Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the baking dish and cutting into bars.

(adapted from this Savory Style recipe)

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I'm Bringing to the Game: Vanilla-Bourbon Brown Butter Caramel Corn

Friends of ours invited us over to watch the Packers game yesterday afternoon, and I of course could not arrive empty-handed. So along with a six-pack of Oktoberfest beers, I brought a large bin of freshly-made caramel corn. This caramel corn is ideal for sharing, as it is super-delicious and easy to eat up all on one's own. Not that I have ever done that before, or anything.

Browning the butter adds a bit of complexity to the flavor. Don't be scared if your butter and sugar don't seem to get along at first; after boiling for five minutes, everything should meld together quite well. The addition of vanilla and bourbon at the end of cooking lends a subtle sweet and smoky flavor to the caramel corn.

In the end, the caramel corn was a big hit amongst our game-watching pals, and the Packers pulled out the W, even if it wasn't the prettiest of wins. (Hooray for terribly/perfectly timed timeouts called on the sideline by the opposition!)

Vanilla-Bourbon Brown Butter Caramel Corn
makes 8+ servings

12 cups popped popcorn (~1/2 cup unpopped kernels)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup (or dark corn syrup)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon bourbon [optional]

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
2. Pop up 12 cups of popcorn -- I used 1/2 cup mixed-color corn kernels in my air popcorn popper. Pour the popped popcorn into two large bowls.
3. In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking the butter until it is foamy and the butter begins to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar and golden syrup. Add in the salt and stir to combine.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture begins to boil, let it continue boiling for five minutes without stirring.
5. Remove the sugar mixture from the heat carefully stir in the baking soda, vanilla extract, and Bourbon -- the mixture will be very foamy.
6. Working quickly, pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn in each bowl. Stir to combine, then turn the contents out onto the greased baking sheet.
7. Bake for 30 minutes in the oven, stirring after 15 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven, spread the caramel popcorn into a single layer on a large piece of parchment paper, and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container (if you can handle not eating the whole panful of caramel corn in one sitting!).


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