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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

Recipe facts: Wheat-free, Meat-free, Dairy-free. NOT peanut free. Total time: about 45 minutes. (Though Betty says 10 min prep, 23 min cook.) Serves 6 (but that is probably an underestimate); Recipe at end of post

I was enjoying dinner so well I forgot to take a picture of the meal until I'd already started chowing down.

I was enjoying dinner so well I forgot to take a picture of the meal until I'd already started chowing down.

Sweet potatoes are good for far more than the (in my opinion) sickeningly sweet sweet potato casseroles drowned in brown sugar and marshmallows many of us grew up on. Here’s an easy, weeknight sweet potato dish I made on Tuesday that went pretty fast, was extremely inexpensive to put together, and was absolutely delicious.

My friend Shara, who I had over for dinner, liked it so much that she asked for a copy of the recipe. One other guest who partook of leftovers gave it a big thumbs up. It’s vegan and gluten-free, but you’d never know it from tasting it. It’s again out of Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking (1 ed. — there’s a new ed. out now that may not have it). The great thing about this cookbook is it gives optional meat additions for families where some are vegetarian and some are not. You can just divide your recipe in half if necessary, or add the meat in at the end for the carnivores. This recipe has such an option.

The setup for West African Sweet Potato Supper

The setup for West African Sweet Potato Supper

I chose this recipe because I was looking for ways to use (yet more!) sweet potatoes that had gone on sale for 79 cents a pound at King Soopers. It caught my attention because it incorporates the rich flavor, protein, and good fats (primarily poly- and mono-unsaturated) of peanut butter with the protein and fiber of beans (I subbed black beans for the great northerns because I thought they would be prettier) and colorful tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. There’s also some wonderful ginger and chili powders thrown in, with a little bit of cayenne for kick. Add it to taste, especially if you are heat-sensitive.

Jen’s version: I made a half recipe, because it supposedly serves 6. Even at half size, this recipe made enough food to feed an army. I’ve already had three meals from it (including 5 total servings so far), and it looks like I’ll get at least 3 more. I didn’t want to halve a can of corn, so I used  about 3/4 c. frozen. As for the beans, I just threw the whole can in and figured it’d work out. I found that one large sweet potato yielded the requisite two cups of cubed sweet potato. Sadly, I did not notice the tip about peeling the sweet potato (see below) until AFTER I’d availed myself of the vegetable peeler. C’est la vie.

The finished product in situ

The finished product in situ

Since I had some leftover cilantro in my fridge, I threw that on as a garnish. That proved a good move (although check with your guests/family; some people think cilantro tastes like Joy dish soap). Finally, to top it all off, I made coconut rice using some leftover coconut milk that I had frozen. More on that in a subsequent post. The rich peanut flavor coupled with the tropical coconut of the rice made this dish really satisfying.

West African Sweet Potato Supper

Notes from Betty: To make peeling the sweet potatoes easier, microwave potatoes on High for two minute first. For a nice color contrast, try a can of black beans instead of the great northern beans.

1 T. vegetable oil
1 med. onion, sliced and separated into rings
1/4c. creamy peanut butter
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. ground dried ginger
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2in cubes (about 4c.)
2 cans (14.5 oz ea) diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, undrained (if you can’t find ones with garlic, just get plain and add a couple cloves of crushed garlic)
1 can (15oz) great northern beans (or black beans), undrained
1 can (15oz) corn, drained (you can also use 1 1/2c. fresh or frozen corn)

Rice or couscous

1. Heat oil in 4qt dutch oven over med-high heat. Cook onion in oil, stirring frequently, until tender.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to med-low. Cover and cook about 20-25min, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Serve over couscous or rice.

1 serving: Calories 340 (Calories from Fat 80); Fat 9g(Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 870 mg; Carbohydrate 62g (Dietary Fiber 11g); Protein 14g.

Meat option: Add 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, with the onion in step 1. Cook until chicken is no longer pink. Continue as directed.

p. 123 of Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking, 1st ed.

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So as you’ll recall from my last post, I mashed sweet potatoes to make risotto. The question arose: what’s the best way? Two possibilities occurred: my dowdy, old-fashioned, hand-held potato masher:

potato masher

Or my new hotness food processor, the Cuisinart KFP-7TM.

I pulled out the machine’s manual (yes: miracle I could still locate it) and to see what I could find on the subject. There was a warning against mashing (white) potatoes (they get “gluey” — likely from the lysis of the starch cells by the blades) — but what about sweet potatoes? Toooootally unrelated species, right?

Well, I’m a scientist. Why not do an experiment? After cooking the sweet potatoes as peeled, cubed chunks per instructions, I threw them in the food processor and hit go. In no time flat, they were mashed sweet potato smithereens, but instead of the homogenous, fluffy cloud I’d been hoping for, they were more like gooey, mini-sweet potato shards.

processed sweet potatoes

Oh, what the heck, I thought. Cooked butternut squash cubes dissolve in risotto. Why not sweet potato shards? So, I packed them in the measuring cup and dumped them in. In the end, my hypothesis was incorrect: the shards didn’t dissolve entirely, though they did so well enough to color my risotto a lovely shade of yellow. And the risotto still tasted great!  In the mean time, I whipped out my hand-held potato masher and went to town. That helped some:

mashed sweet potatoes

I scooped some out for part of my lunch today, mixed in a little salt and pepper and dusted it with cinnamon. But still: potato shards.

sweet potato lunch

America’s Test Kitchens advises using a food mill — an old fashioned apparatus with a hand-crank on top — to mash sweet potatoes. I used one of these with my Grandma when I was a little girl and to help her process her home-grown tomatoes and applesauce for canning. I don’t own one now, but I think next time I’ll try starting with the potato masher and see if that corrects the problem.

But there’s another lesson here: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes are OK! Even failures make good lessons (I wouldn’t be writing this blog today if I hadn’t learned from countless ones I made), and 9 times out of 10, the finished product still tastes great. Even Julia Child once said something like if you screw up in the kitchen, just keep going and serve it. Most times, your company won’t even know the difference. Don’t miss this blog by Mark Bittman at “Bitten” on this very subject.

The home cook, especially the aspiring home cook, needs encouragement — not befuddlement. Show people what actually happens in the kitchen, show people that mistakes are made (”The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes” — Julia Child), show people that, just as you need not be Rafael Nadal to play tennis, you need not be Gordon Ramsay to cook a decent meal.

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The blogger's faithful servant -- with display styling inspired by Vanna White

The blogger's faithful servant. Display inspired by blogger's favorite gameshow: The Price is Right. 'That's right, Bob, it's the Sharp Carousel 1500. . . "

I love my microwave — it’s a trusted member of the Frazer household (unlike certain oven timers I could mention). There’s so much more to the microwave than nuking leftovers, popcorn, and frozen dinners. In spite of the somewhat dubious reputation the microwave enjoys (my mother insisted I not stare directly into the microwave as I was attempting to boil water growing up, but the metal grates you see in the front window are smaller than the wavelength of the microwaves, thus making it impossible for them to pass through), it is a busy cook’s best friend.

The New York Times picked up on this in an excellent, must-read article they wrote last year:

For any vegetable you would parboil or steam, the microwave works as well or better, and is faster. Put the vegetable in a bowl with a tiny bit of water (or sometimes none), cover and zap.

It seems that the microwave is a genius at cooking vegetables, but there are two other fantastic things about the microwave.

1. It’s faster than most other cooking methods. No oven to preheat. No heating element to warm up.

2. It’s more energy-efficient than most other heating methods. That means you save $$$.

Most of your standard cookbooks like Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker have a vegetable cooking table, and within in is a column for microwaving. Familiarize yourself with this section and remember it next time you’re grabbing vegetables for dinner. Even better, nuke your vegetables and then add a simple sauce to jazz them up. I’ll post more on that later, but if all else fails, a little salt, pepper, and butter will do the trick. Never serve steamed vegetables without some adornment. Unseasoned cooked vegetables (and particularly unseasoned over-cooked vegetables) are a major reason people don’t eat vegetables. Just say no.

In addition to the methods covered in the NYT, here are some specific uses I find the microwave excels at:

  • (Pre-)Cooking potatoes — Many recipes call for cooked potatoes. Don’t mess around with a pot of boiling water. Pop open your microwave. One potato pricked with a fork, covered with a paper towel, microwaved for a few minutes, turned, microwaved again, will be cooked well enough for most uses. Then you just slice it in half and cut or flake with a fork as desired. That’s a few minutes in the microwave versus 30-60 minutes on the stove or in the oven. You do the math. I do this all the time when making potato masala, otherwise known as samosa filling. The skin should peel off pretty easily, but be careful — it’s gonna be one hot potato. One other caution: don’t peel the potato until after you’ve microwaved it. If you do, the whole potato gets a tough exterior shell that’s almost impossible to remove. Trust me — I’ve done this.
  • Rice and grains — I haven’t done this very much yet, but America’s Test Kitchens Family Cookbook has a whole table on cooking grains and they heartily endorse microwaving. I tried it with wild rice but I pretty much never got the stuff cooked. I don’t blame that entirely on the microwave, though. I live at about 5,430 feet. Water boils at like 200 degrees here.
  • Heating water for tea — I know I probably seem like a super-Scrooge here, but I don’t even own a teapot for boiling tea. I heat all my cups in the microwave. It’s faster, it turns itself off when the water’s done, and it saves me money on energy. I find 2:15 does the trick in my microwave. I realize, however, this method lacks the sensory appeal of the whistling kettle. I present it as an option.
  • Making boiled custard/puddings — The NYT says that microwaves are great for making pudding. I haven’t done that yet, but our family’s southern Christmas treat “Boiled Custard”, which used to be made by slaving over a hot stove for hours, was converted to a microwave version that has been perfected by my Great Aunt Ethel, culinary genius. (Coincidentally, if you want to check out my Great Aunt Ethel’s cookbook, “From Pilot Knob to Main Street”, you can do so here. And yes, the boiled custard recipe is in the book.)

And I’m sure you, dear readers, have others. What ways have you used a microwave to save you time/money/sanity?

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