Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roasted Sweet Pototoes, Carrots and Turnips

The recipe that I use the most in my kitchen is not a recipe at all. It's more of a formula: chop vegetables, toss with oil and herbs and roast until tender and slightly caramelized. A wide variety of vegetables can be thrown into the mix: winter squashes and potatoes, carrots and onions, turnips and garlic. The herbs vary as well: rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, basil. The mixture depends on my mood, the contents of my pantry, and the accompanying dishes. Roasting is easy, always satisfying, and always at my fingertips for a last-minute dish.

This particular combination is a real winner. The addition of some tiny hakurei turnips to my planned dish of carrots and sweet potatoes provided variety in color and texture, as well as adding a little  zing. The carrots remained firm and lightly sweet through the roasting process, while the sweet potatoes became soft and dissolved into an almost candy-like sweetness. Throw them all together and you have seriously good eats - something appropriate for a Thanksgiving table as well as a Monday night dinner.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Turnips

1 1/2 lb sweet potato, cut into 1" chunks (you don't need to peel them - the best nutrition will come off with the skin - but my sweet potato looked a little mangy, so I did this time)
1 lb carrot, cut into 1" chunks
1/2 lb turnip, cut into 1" chunks (I used several small ones, but a large turnip or rutabaga would be fine as well)
1 tsp dried thyme (fresh would be better - I didn't feel like stumbling around my herb garden with a flashlight to find some!)
1/2 tsp dried winter savory
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Combine the sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips in a large bowl. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and mix to combine (I prefer to toss the mixture with my hands). Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven (my batch took 35), stirring once or twice to keep the vegetables from sticking to the foil. Serve hot!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Braided Pesto Bread

I find myself making a lot of yeast bread lately. Now that I've gotten a feel for things (and don't end up with scary yeast monsters anymore), bread-making is a snap.

This bread has quickly become one of  my favorites. It's soft and delicious on its own and the filling adds an amazing touch. I want to experiment with other sorts of fillings (tomato paste? mozzarella and pepperoni? did I just blow your mind?), but so far I keep coming back to the pesto. It's salty and cheesey and basily - exactly what this fluffy bread calls for - and the green looks so pretty leaking out of the dough. My only problem is with the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top - absolutely necessary in my opinion, but it has the unfortunate habit of burning really quickly if not watched. Don't worry - it's not a deal-breaker. Burned cheese or no, you'll be all over this bread.

I'm not sure I can look at pictures of this bread any longer. I might need to go make some now. Good thing I have so much frozen pesto!

Braided Pesto Bread
Slightly adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride.

1 c warm water (105-115° F)
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 c flour plus some for dusting
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2-3/4 c pesto (the original recipe called for 1/2 c of a very liquidy pesto - since my homemade pesto is more pastey, I needed to add more)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan

Measure warm water into a bowl, sprinkle on yeast and let sit ten minutes until frothy (a tiny pinch of sugar can be added to help the yeast get going). Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, oil and salt and mix on low with the dough hook attachment until well blended.

Increase speed to medium and knead with dough hook for five minutes, until smooth and elastic. Remove the dough to a floured counter top and knead by hand, adding a little flour if necessary, until smooth and unsticky (the dough should be a bit tacky, but not stick mercilessly to everything it touches). Form the dough into a ball and transfer into a bowl coated in cooking spray. Put in a warm, undrafty place and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to an hour.

When the dough is doubled, flour your counter top again and pat and roll your dough into a rectangle, about 18x12 inches. Spread the pesto over the top of the dough, leaving a clean 1/2" border (ok, so mine's closer to an inch - even with my ruler, I can't measure).

Carefully roll the long side of the dough toward you, making sure your roll is tight and the end remains pinched closed. Once the dough is totally rolled, pinch the seam closed (if your ends are too floury to be properly pinched, pinch from a bit further back, where the dough is stickier).

Transfer your roll to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You could do this after you've formed the ring, but it may be difficult to transfer to the baking sheet - perhaps doing it on the counter with a sheet of parchment under it would solve both problems, but I haven't tried it yet. Next time.) Carefully slice the dough in half lengthwise (my enterprising husband discovered that a dough scraper works far better than a knife for this job).

Quickly and carefully, pinch the top ends of the dough halves back together and twist them into a braid, trying to keep the cut ends facing up (so they look pretty and don't spill out pesto in the oven). Twist your braid into a ring and pinch the ends together. (If your ring looks kinda funky - fat in some places and thin in others - take some time to plump and poke at it to make it into a prettier shape.) Set it aside to rest and rise for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425° F.

When the ring has risen, bake for about 22 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese, then return for another 2-3 minutes until melty and golden. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce

I was invited by Cathy Elton of What Would Cathy Eat? to participate in her Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. I first found Cathy's blog earlier in the year, after I'd been diagnosed with high cholesterol and was frantically looking for heart-healthy recipes. There are some totally delicious recipes on her blog - I definitely recommend checking it out. I may even be making her Caramelized Onion Tart with Greens and Cashew Cream to bring to my in-laws for Thanksgiving!

As my family has learned over the past several years, dealing with my dad's heart condition (and now my cholesterol), making a fantastic, healthy holiday meal isn't as difficult as it sounds. Of course you should treat yourself - no Thanksgiving table is complete without pie - but you don't have to make every dish a special (read: diet-busting) treat.

Fall vegetables should be at the center of every holiday meal. Sweet potatoes, winter squash, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts are some of my favorite things and all quite delicious without much adornment. Naturally, I had a very difficult time deciding what to make for this challenge. How could I choose? What ultimately happened was my CSA chose for me. Last Friday, part of my last farm share of the season was a bunch of gorgeous baby carrots - adorable, delicious and photogenic. This was the inspiration I was looking for. They brought to mind this recipe I'd pulled out of Better Homes and Gardens back in April. While this recipe was meant to grace an Easter table, it will do just as well for Thanksgiving.

The carrots are soft and delicious, the honey-curry glaze sweet and savory all at once, and the yogurt sauce adds a creamy finish. Jeff and I sat down and nearly finished off the platter by ourselves (of course, they'll go farther at a Thanksgiving table with several other side dishes - the original recipe claims it serves 8-10). I just hope I can get my hands on some more of these sweet babies to make for my own Thanksgiving dinner!

Sweet Curry Carrots with Yogurt Sauce
Better Homes and Gardens April 2012

1-1 1/2 lbs baby carrots (the tops should be trimmed down but still on)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, divided
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp curry powder (a heaping tablespoon, if you know what's good for you!)
2/3 c plain fat free Greek yogurt
1/4 c thinly sliced green onions (darker green ends only - reserve the white parts for something else)

Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the carrots on the baking sheet, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Roll the carrots around with your hands to coat them in oil. Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the honey in a microwaveable bowl and heat for about 30 seconds, until nice and runny. Whisk in the curry powder. When the carrots are done, remove the tray from the oven and drizzle with the honey. Roll the carrots around in it to coat. Return to the oven for 10 minutes, until all the carrots are tender.

While the carrots finish roasting, combine the yogurt, green onions and remaining 1/4 tsp salt in a bowl. Serve alongside carrots for dipping.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Recap

We survived Superstorm Sandy (or hurricane or Frankenstorm or Nor'easticane - whatever you want to call her). Three days without power, heat, landline or internet. As temperatures dropped, we holed up in our bedroom with the dog every night, trying to conserve heat and do bedtime reading by candlelight. The house dropped to 53 degrees on the last day, which is far too cold for me. How do people survive power outages in the actual winter?

Everything wasn't terrible, though. Jeff and I agree that we ate like kings all week. Our gas stove worked, although it was difficult to truly cook by candlelight. We learned to do most of our cooking, or at least the prep work, during daylight hours. Washing dishes, too - I normally feel like we're constantly washing dishes in this house, but that's nothing compared to when the dishwasher isn't operating. And that had to be done during daylight as well (please, don't try to wash sharp knives in the dark).

I already had a meal plan in place for the week and only the sequence needed to be altered to fit our new unplugged lifestyle. On Monday, during the storm, we ate delicious sausage, kale and white bean saute from Simply Recipes alongside my favorite Indian-spiced cauliflower and tomatoes. We finished cleaning up just before the power went out that night. On Tuesday we ate the leftovers for dinner. For breakfast and lunch, we began clearing the fridge - Cherry Grove Farm's Chili Jack cheese went into omelets and later grilled cheese sandwiches. On Wednesday we made a giant fried rice that served for lunch and dinner, with a pile of vegetables from our crisper - bok choy, kohlrabi, carrots, a leek and some other odds and ends (that's what you can see in the above picture). We also grilled some chicken pieces that came out of our freezer (most of its contents had been sent to a neighbor's house that morning, but some things were too warm already) and tossed some on top.Thursday saw an awesome breakfast/lunch hash featuring sausage, spinach, some scrambled eggs, red onion, white beans and Parmesan cheese. For dinner, we finally made the amazing tortellini soup with chard and white beans from Annie's Eats that had been planned for earlier in the week. I'd been putting that one off because it made too many servings and I didn't know how well they'd keep overnight. But it turns out that I planned things perfectly, because the power came back later that night and the soup was saved through the magic of refrigeration.

This was the first time in my life I'd ever had to deal with a sustained power outage. It was a stressful experience, though not as terrible as it could have been (let that never happen to us in the winter, please!). Next time such a storm comes through, I won't do my regular grocery shopping mere days before (and buy extra cheese - what was I thinking?), but will stick to less perishable items. Still, despite my inexperience, we didn't lose much, and nothing we really cared about (like the freezer full of produce we'd been laboring over for two months).

I am glad we've recovered and things are pretty much back to normal. My heart goes out to those who had, and are still having, a much harder time, particularly all those who lost their homes in this catastrophe. Let's just hope the Nor'easter projected for next week decides to miss us - we've had enough weather drama for a while!