Sweet Potato Chips

It is nearly fall.  Really, this just means I am excited for the return of pumpkin spice lattes and caramel pumpkin latte candles.  And of course, yummy sweet potatoes!  Between you and me, this is just a sneaky way to eat sweet potatoes outside of an official meal.

These are really easy and super healthy.  For those of you who are concerned about health or follow Bob Harper, you know he has published his book Skinny Rules, which gives 20 guidelines to help with overall health and wellbeing.  One of his rules is to say goodbye to white potatoes.  Though I did not usually keep white potatoes in my pantry, this was enough for me to embrace sweet potatoes and blue potatoes.  That combined with the fact that my household runs on chips – tortilla chips, pita chips, falafel chips, pretzel chips, oh my – inspired me to try baking a new, fresh twist on a chip.  And I love that it has very few ingredients!

Sweet Potato Chips

makes 2-3 servings

2 medium sweet potatoes

2T olive oil

1/2t paprika

1/2t chili powder

1/2t sea salt

1/4t cinnamon

1/4t nutmeg

Check out the seasonings and spices.  These could be switched up if you’d like, but I love this combination for sweet potatoes!

First preheat the oven to 400 then wash and scrub sweet potatoes, then slice thinly and evenly.  A mandolin would work well for this, but since I didn’t have one, I resorted to cutting them by hand with a knife.  I tried a potato peeler for really thin slices, but it only worked on the skinny ends of the potato, so I used the knife primarily.  This didn’t result in the most perfectly even cut, but I was pretty close.

You’ll want the slices as even as possible so they cook as evenly as possible.

Once the potatoes are cut, combine them with oil in a bowl or plastic bag and toss well to coat.

I used my fingers to ensure every piece had a light coat of oil on them.

Then, in the same bowl or bag add the spices and toss well to evenly coat.

Place slices evenly onto a baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then flip them over.  This is how they look after about 10 minutes.

Continue baking for 10-12 additional minutes.  Some pieces were crispy after that, others needed up to an additional 10 minutes.  When they’re finished, they’re delicious hot or room temperature!  Store in a covered container for a few days – if they last that long.

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Quinoa Salad

I feel like quinoa popped up overnight.  One minute I’ve never heard of it, the next it’s all over the internet.  I have grown very fond of quinoa and it is now a regular part of my diet.  It is known as an ancient grain and isn’t considered one of the “bad grains” I’ve written about earlier.  Quinoa has twice the fiber and protein of brown rice or any other grain.  It also has a nearly perfect blend of amino acids which helps keep stabilized blood sugar, etcetera, etcetera. I’m probably boring and not as qualified as the rest of the internet, so do your own googling!

This is one summer salad that is so easy to make and it’s light, healthy, and delicious!  The ingredients are easily interchangeable so the flavor profiles are endless.  It also packs well so it’s great on a picnic or the next day at work or school.

I used a tri-color quinoa of red, black, and white, but using simple white quinoa is just as tasty.  I love that quinoa is easily made on the stovetop or a rice cooker, with water or vegetable stock.  It is a great rice substitute and it goes well with so much.  I have given approximate portions of what I used, but this is the type of recipe that doesn’t need exactness, you just put a little bit of what you like and a lot of what you love.

Quinoa Salad

serves 2-3

2C cooked quinoa

1.5C cooked black beans

1 mango

1/2 bell pepper

2 scallions

zest from 1 lemon

3T lemon juice

5-6T olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

First, cook the quinoa if you haven’t already.  This would be a good time to make the dressing.  Simply combine the oil, lemon juice and zest, with the salt and pepper in a small food processor to combine.  Then, chop all the fruits and veggies of your choice.

Once the quinoa has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the black beans in a large serving bowl.

Toss the veggies and fruits in.

Look at the lemony yellow dressing.  It’s BEAUTIFUL!

Pour it over the salad and toss thoroughly to combine.

Rest for at least an hour to let the dressing soak into the quinoa and serve chilled or at room temperature.

 

Stir Fry

I apologize for the delay.  I’m changing my posting days to Mondays.  And also, my husband and I were recently leading 150 youth at camp.

There’s this game my husband and I play at various times.  One main time is when we’re about to go out of town.  It’s called: Use only the ingredients on hand and make it work!  This often leads to culinary genius!  But a lot of times it leads to stir fry.  We love Asian flavors, and we can basically whip up stir fry any day of the week at our house.  I always keep rice, sesame seeds, and various Asian spices and oils in the pantry, and there’s always some teriyaki and soy sauce in the fridge – though lately I’ve switched to Braggs Liquid Aminos which is much healthier than soy sauce, and I pleasantly have not noticed the difference.  No complaints here!  The beautiful thing about stir fry is that the veggies you include can be whatever you’d like, so use whatever you have.

Stir Fry

serves 2

2C rice, cooked and chilled I used brown rice

1 egg, optional

1C broccoli

1C mushrooms

1 small zucchini

1/2 bell pepper

1/2 onion

1T of butter or margarine or sesame oil

2T Bragg’s or low sodium soy sauce

1-2T sesame seeds

I’m not gonna lie.  I don’t remember if I read this somewhere, heard it on a cooking show, or if I straight up asked the hibachi chef one day, but I found out that Japanese hibachi grill restaurants make fried rice with cooked, chilled rice.  It apparently cooks better, takes on the flavor better, and doesn’t become mushy in this state.  So I cooked my rice the night before – gasp – in a rice cooker.  Hey, I’m human, too.  I chilled the rice in a covered container in the fridge over night.

Then, everything is pretty simple.  Chop all your veggies in about bite size portions.  I like to switch up the shapes, so diced onion, pulled apart stems of broccoli, matchstick zucchini, chopped carrots, sliced mushrooms, etc.

Once all the vegetables are prepared, I heated my wok with a small bit of sesame oil inside.  Cooking in order of the hibachi restaurant, I started by scrambling the egg,

then added the rest of the sesame oil (or butter if you choose) and the chilled rice on top.

Once the rice begins to cook, add the Bragg’s or soy sauce to taste.

Once it was cooked through, I set aside the rice mixture

and cooked the vegetables, starting with the thicker, or longer cooking ones first.  I sautéed the garlic and onions together, then added the broccoli.  If you’re using carrots or mini corn this would be a great time to throw it in.  I added a bit more sauce as the liquid was either cooking in or evaporating.  (Look at the steam!)

Next zucchini, and peppers, and whatever else you’d like.

Once all the vegetables are cooked through, add the rice back in and a little more sauce if you’d like.

Stir well.

Top with sesame seed and serve.  I actually have genuine wooden chopsticks that I received as a souvenir after my mom had a trip to China.  Thanks, Mom!!!

Guacamole

Chips are a staple in our house.  The first time I crumbled them up and sprinkled them over my husband’s breakfast omelet, he nearly fainted in joy.  To accompany chips, you need something good.  Guacamole fits the bill.

I did not like avocados or guacamole for the longest time.  Perhaps I just had bad experiences with both.  The first time I tried guacamole and loved it was in Manhattan at Mama Mexico.  They made it fresh right in front of you, and you got to pick the ingredients that went in.  I had an aha moment: Guacamole is only great fresh!  The canned, tubbed, bagged stuff you can buy at the store does not hold a candle to homemade guac.  This converted me to be an avocado lover as well.  I’m grateful that food buds evolve as adults!

Homemade Guacamole

Makes 4 cups

4-5 ripe avocados

2-3 tomatoes

½ C scallions I’ve also used Spanish onion & red onion before

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 jalapeno

1 lime

Salt to taste

Because avocados brown quickly after air exposure, I saved those for the end and diced all my ingredients.  A note on the tomatoes: remove the seeds and liquid parts- they will water down and discolor the guacamole.  Thankfully, guacamole doesn’t require precise measurements, so if you like yours more spicy or garlicky or whatever, you can adjust as necessary.

Roll the lime under your palm before cutting it open to release the juices.

Then cut your avocados open.  Ripe avocados should be soft to the touch, but not mushy.  It’s ok if the skin is black, so long as there isn’t mold growing out of the peel.  I cut them in half first,

then slice squares without puncturing the peel behind it.

Then scooped the flesh into the bowl.  This can be done with a spoon or fingers.  To get the pit out, you can scoop it out with your fingers as well, or smack a knife into it and wiggle it out of the avocado flesh.

Toss avocado into a bowl.  You can mash with a large spoon or potato masher, but I usually use a fork so I can get the guacamole to the exact consistency I like.  If you’re in a hurry, or don’t mind really smooth guacamole, you could always toss the ingredients into a food processor.

Add the remaining ingredients and mash until it is a consistency you like.  I usually keep a pit or two in the guacamole mix – it keeps the guacamole from browning!  (I learned this at a party, thanks Kim!)

Refrigerate (either with the pit in and/or in an air tight container with parchment paper pressed down onto the guacamole to remove all air) for 30 minutes and serve!  This guacamole is great for dipping, topping quesadillas, or stuffing in burritos!  You can always store extra guacamole the same way you refrigerated it, though in our house there are rarely leftovers.

Tangy Vinaigrette Chopped Salad

Years ago I cruised to the Bahamas with my husband and some close friends.  While ashore, we dined in the Atlantis Hotel at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill restaurant.  I fell in food-love!  Not only was the restaurant gorgeous itself, but the food presentation and flavor was unlike anything I’d ever seen or tasted.  Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that the small town I live in only has a Chili’s and an Outback….ahem.  Moving on.  I loved the style of food at the Mesa Grill which is perfectly described as “explosive flavor from the southwestern kitchen.”  I could eat quesadillas every day, so when I ordered the Smoked Black Bean & Corn Quesadilla with Avocado and Toasted Garlic Creme Fraiche I was in quesadilla Heaven.  The way Chef Flay combines spicy chilies with sweet notes in his food instantly made me a fan.  I talked about it so much that one Christmas, my sweet mother & father-in-loves (yeah, better than in-laws!) bought me the Mesa Grill cookbook!  I was ecstatic!

Though several recipes are quite fancy – as in, I’d never have the guts to cook, or eat, duck – there are many that I’ve made several times for both casual dinners and special occasions.  This salad is so simple, yet delicious!  The secret is how you make the dressing.  Now, I respect a chef. But, there’s still something in me that urges me to try things a different way.  So, normally I don’t mess with a good thing, but this is my interpretation of Chef Flay’s “Sophie’s Chopped Salad.”

And yes, maybe I am referring to him as Chef Flay just in case he reads this and wants to hire me.

Tangy Vinaigrette Chopped Salad

adapted from Bobby Flay

Serves 4-6

For the vinaigrette you’ll need:

1/4 C balsamic vinegar

1T Dijon mustard

1t salt

1/2 t pepper

1 C canola oil, divided in half

For the salad you’ll need:

3 C chopped romaine lettuce

2 ripe tomatoes of your choice seeded and diced

1/2 C canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 C canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 C chopped stems of scallions

3/4 C 1/2-inch-cubed white Cheddar cheese

3/4 C 1/2-inch-cubed Monterey Jack cheese

4-6 corn tortillas

With a salad like this, you really don’t need to measure the ingredients exactly, you just want an even blend of the beans, cheeses, tomato, and scallions.  No worries if the measurements aren’t perfect.

After washing and drying the veggies, chop the lettuce to bite size pieces.

Next, add the beans and cheeses!  Try not to eat too many on their own.  I know it’s tough.

Chop the scallions.  I only used the green parts because though I love onion, I didn’t want that to be the predominant flavor of the salad.

And the tomatoes.  I waited to put them in the bowl until after the vinaigrette and tortillas were ready so their juices didn’t run around all cray cray.

Now it’s time for the vinaigrette!  This is one of the first home-made salad dressings I tackled, and it showed me there’s no need to be intimidated by salad dressings!  They’re not too hard to pull off.  This one can be made in a blender, in a bowl with a wisk, or as I did, in a small food processor.

Add salt & pepper,

Dijon mustard,

And add the vinegar.

Blend together until smooth.

Once it’s all blended slowly add 1/2 cup of oil to the mix.  If using a whisk, this will be easy, and if your food processor has an opening on top this will be easy.  Since mine does not, I would stop, add a little then blend.  Stop, add a little more then blend, and so on until all the oil had been encorporated.  This is the tricky part!  I’ve made this dressing before and once I dumped the oil in all at once and it did not blend correctly and separated afterwards.  It wasn’t right.  Make sure you add the oil slowly a little bit at a time.

When it’s done right, you get this!

The last component to this delicious salad is the crispy element.  Heat the remaining oil on medium-high heat.  Once the oil is ready, lightly fry both sides of each tortilla.

Once all tortillas are finished, add the tomatoes to the salad and mix well.  Plating is fun since the tortillas acts as a “plate.”  The tortillas tear easily with the fork to add a bit of crunch in the salad.  Garnish with freshly ground black pepper, dried parsley, or anything else you’d like!  It’s soooo delicious.  This might just become your new favorite salad.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts & Cauliflower

I never had brussel sprouts as a child.  And due to everything you hear about them as a child, I determined to never try them if I was given the opportunity.  The opportunity never really presented itself until about two years ago, where I tried them at a lovely restaurant called J. Alexander’s.  I had never had anything at J’s that I did not like, so I recklessly thought, why not!  Well, I don’t know about all brussel sprout preparations, but these are good!  I was determined to always make brussel sprouts this way and make vegetable converts of those around me!

My husband liked them the first time I made them, and convinced his father – who claimed to not like brussel sprouts either – try them.  Dad liked them. Yes!  My veggie revolution had begun!  The secret is in the panko breadcrumbs.  They’re bigger than usual breadcrumbs and give a crunch to the dish that could otherwise be another pile of limp vegetables.  I carefully studied the simple looking recipe and came up with this copy cat version.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts & Cauliflower

a lovely side dish serving 4-6

1 head cauliflower

1 bag of brussel sprouts, I prefer smaller ones

Panko breadbrumbs

Olive oil

Rosemary

Salt & pepper to taste

Parmesan, shaved, shredded, or powdered, optional

I used two types of breadcrumbs this go around, but usually I only use one, the one that makes J. Alexander’s so wonderful.  The lovely panko breadcrumbs.  You can even get them in whole wheat, so no guilt required!

Preheat the oven to 400 then wash and cut the veggies into bite size chunks.

I sliced the brussel sprouts in half, lengthwise, so they’re bite-size, but don’t fall apart completely.  I also chopped any dark end pieces and peeled off any wilty leaves.

Then I threw the vegetables into a bowl that had a lid like so…

added a tablespoon of olive oil, some salt & pepper, and some Italian breadcrumbs.  I used these breadcrumbs for the spices it had, but if you’re using plain panko, you could also add italian seasonings, garlic powder, or anything else that you’d like.

Then I put on the lid tightly and shook all the stuff around to evenly coat the vegetables.  And dumped them onto a baking sheet with sides.

Shake the rosemary over the whole pan, and add more salt & pepper if you wish.

At this point, liberally shake the panko breadcrumbs onto the veggies, and drizzle with more olive oil to coat the breadcrumbs.

I make this recipe a lot and have to switch it up now and then.  Though J. Alexander’s does not do this, sometimes I’ll add some freshly grated Parmesan before popping them in the oven.

Place on the top rack in the oven and roast for about 15-18 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Then, broil for 3-5 minutes.  You’ll need to watch the broiling process carefully as seconds too long could scorch the entire pan.  You want some outer leaves of the brussel sprouts to be crispy, and some cauliflower pieces to have browned, but what you don’t want is vegetables that taste like coal.  Bleck!

Serve immediately!

You, too, can prove that brussel sprouts are good!  Enjoy!