Sweet Potato Cottage Pie

If a sweet potato were to come alive I bet it would be the nicest, most genuine little spud to everyone it meets.  There isn’t one bad aspect about sweet potatoes. They taste delicious, have a decadent texture and awesome color, can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, are very nutritious, and they have a fairly long shelf life. And to think I grew up not knowing one sweet potato- I shudder at the thought.

I’m always looking for recipes that include the awesome potato breed, but this one came to me by none other than Rachel Ray during one of her Halloween specials. I call my version cottage pie (it is also known as shepherd’s pie) because it sounds homey and then I can say “I’m hibernating in my cozy condo with a cottage pie.” Doesn’t that sound like a delicious evening?? It also seems to me like a friendly dinner, as if Sweet Potato Cottage Pie wants nothing more than to make you happy.

My knife must have a thing for sweet potatoes because it slid from a section and shaved off pieces of my nail polish. I kid you not, I have two little circles where nail polish used to be. Its as if the knife was saying “No! Don’t make me do it!” Close call, and believe me I’m more than happy to have only ruined my manicure. At this point I find it necessary to warn you that while cutting sweet potatoes make sure you have a firm grip because your kitchen tools are against you.

Last night I accidentally used all the butter for the butter-flour mixture, so make sure you do not do the same. I ended up making double the sauce and using half so the mixture had correct measurements.

Sweet Potato Cottage Pie  Adapted from Rachel Ray’s Turkey Shepherd’s Pie recipe

Ingredients:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken (I recommend using a mixture of dark and white meat)*
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • Several slices of a ripe banana
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, can use mild, medium or sharp
  • How To:

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

    In a deep skillet or a Dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add ground chicken and break up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper and poultry seasoning.

    Place sweet potatoes in a large por and cover with water. Cover pot and bring to a boil, add a sprinkle of salt and cook 15 minutes until tender. While those are cooking…

    Add onions, carrots and celery into the turkey. Stir and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add flour to melted butter and whisk 1 minute then whisk in stock and season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire. Let it begin to thicken (this will take a few minutes).

    Stir the gravy into the turkey mixture. Stir peas and corn into the meat mixture and turn the heat off.

    Drain potatoes and return pot to heat. Add remaining butter and melt over medium heat. Add slices of banana and add potatoes back to the pot. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Mash potatoes and banana to combine and now is the time to adjust the seasoning. Top the meat with the potatoes (or, if you are like me and are waiting for your Dutch oven to be marked fulfilled on your wedding registry, put your ground chicken into a glass baking dish at this point). Cover potatoes with cheese and set in oven. Bake to melt cheese, 5 minutes.

    *You could use leftover turkey for this! Just a small dice will work great.

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    Seven-Layer Salad

    I am a salad fan. I love the crunch, the freshness, and the infinite possibilities of lettuce, vegetables and anything and everything. We put lettuce in a taco shell and call it a salad. Cook pasta and combine it with tuna and call it a salad. Mix three different beans and oil & vinegar and call it salad…now I give you salad in a trifle bowl: the seven-layer salad.

    The seven-layer stands right up there in my top five go-to salad recipes because it’s both pretty and delicious, if even a bit healthy. Oh, and it’s incredibly easy to make, can be made a day ahead of time and is great in both the summer and winter- cooling at a barbeque and a perfect addition to a Holiday table. There is one downside. It doesn’t last in the fridge as leftovers (meaning once its been mixed) for more than a day but in my house that is because it has been plotted against since the click of the Tupperware (and hence eaten).

    Seven-Layer Salad

    Ingredients:

    • 6 cups lettuce
    • 1-10 ounce package frozen peas (thawed)
    • 2  cups (8 ounces) shredded natural swiss or cheddar cheese
    • salt, to taste
    • pepper, to taste
    • sugar, to taste
    • 16 ounces bacon, crisp cooked – drained and crumbled (1 1/2 cups)
    • 1 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/4 cup sliced green onions with tops or small rings (I leave these out)
    • 2 pints cherry tomatoes – halved, a blend of colors looks awesome
    • 1 can sliced water chestnuts

    I guess it should be called the eight layer salad…there are eight main ingredients. The lettuce must not count?

    How To:
     
    Place 3 cups lettuce in bottom of large bowl; sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar.
    Layer in order peas, onion, lettuce and chestnuts. Spread mayonnaise over the top, sealing it to the edge.
    Sprinkle with sugar, then top with cheese and bacon. Place tomatoes on top. Cover and chill 24 hours.
    Makes 12-15 servings

    Pumpkin Bread Two Ways

    If only the internet could be scratch n sniff…

    I’ve been on a real pumpkin/squash kick lately as evidenced by prior recipes. Why not keep going? This past weekend I attempted and methinks succeeded in baking pumpkin bread with chocolate [for good measure]. The “two ways” title alludes to the two different types of chocolate used- semi-sweet and white. I am making this into a competition because I made two loaves and each had a different chocolate. The winner is…pumpkin bread with white chocolate! The two go together incredibly well and makes the bread into more of a treat than a breakfast loaf. I only have pictures of the chocolate pumpkin loaf because…the white chocolate went really fast.

    The chocolatey bits evenly melted into the bread leaving the loaves almost marbled throughout. You don’t really need any butter or jam, the chocolate does it all while not being over-powering. I added a fruit element to the original recipe, so if you don’t have oranges in the house you can definitely go without the zest. This might just be the best gift you can bring to Thanksgiving if you aren’t doing the whole shebang yourself.

    Pumpkin Bread

    Ingredients:

    • 2 1/2 cups pumpkin (canned or fresh puree)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon safflower oil
    • 1 tablespoon apple sauce
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon orange zest
    • 2 cups spelt flour (you can use all-purpose, whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour)
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • pinch salt
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (or semi-sweet chocolate chips, but seriously, the white chocolate is where it’s at)

    How To:

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease about three small loaf pans or one large loaf pans with non-stick spray or safflower oil.

    Mix pumpkin, sugar, egg, milk, oil, applesauce, vanilla and zest until combined – no electric mixer necessary! . In a separate bowl mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add to dry mixture into wet until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter evenly into loaf pans (or dump into large loaf pan). Bake for approximately 30 minutes (40 minutes for large loaf pan) or until tester comes out clean. Enjoy the scent while your loaves bake!

    Rustic Squash Ricotta Pizza

    Rustic Squash Pizza

    I’m not going to pretend as though I knew all along what was going to happen with this recipe. What I did know is I had roasted an acorn squash earlier in the week and I had frozen pizza dough lounging in the freezer. I recently discovered what appears to be fresh ricotta (whether it is I’m not sure, but it tastes awesome) at Whole Foods in their fresh cheese refrigerator section. After reading a story on CooksIllustrated.com I discovered there is a vital difference between regular grocery ricotta and homemade ricotta, so I’m hoping I found a decent variety. These ingredients were my starting point.

    Pizza before

    A day in the refrigerator wasn’t enough to defrost the dough so I ended up trying both the toaster oven and the microwave on defrost and neither really worked (the micro started to cook the dough). I was impatient; waiting a half hour just wasn’t going to happen. I basically beat the dough with a rolling-pin until it did what I wanted. Next, I put a layer of ricotta and used it as you would a pizza sauce. Most recipes call for the ricotta to be dolloped on, but I really like smoothing it onto the dough. Next was a layer of diced/mashed roasted acorn squash that had been lightly sprinkled with kosher salt. The next few ingredients I threw in because I had them. About fifteen minutes later I had a very rustic looking pizza, thus the name (and yes, I stole a piece of the crust to taste- I had to make sure it tasted and good as it looked…and it did).

    Pizza out of ovenPizza

    YUM. It was so ooey gooey delicious that I had to make myself eat a salad to stop from eating the whole thing. I’m glad I did because now there are leftovers in my fridge (not for long!). The crust was cracking a bit and I blame the defrosting process. However, I like how it turned out going with the rustic theme and all. In every bite you get a taste of the cheese-squash-garlic-basil combination. The ingredients were so substantial they basically stood an inch high atop the crust. I have to say, it was amazing.

    Rustic Squash Ricotta Pizza

    Ingredients:

    • 1 medium acorn squash
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 pizza crust (homemade or pick up at Trader Joe’s)
    • 3/4 cup ricotta
    • 3/4 cup carmelized onions*
    • 1 garlic clove,  minced
    • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
    • 2 tablespoons shredded basil

    How To:

    Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

    Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment (optional) and roast for 50 minutes or until just tender. Let the squash cool for 20 minutes.  Dice one half of the acorn squash and mash the other half and sprinkle with kosher salt. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.

    Roll out pizza dough. Spread top with ricotta cheese as if you were spreading pizza sauce. Layer roasted, mashed and diced acorn squash. Top with garlic, mozzarella and basil. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

    Serves 2 with a salad.

    *To make carmelized onions: Slice 1 large, preferably sweet [vidalia] onion. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a small or medium skillet. Add onions and cook until light brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

    Salmon with Green Lentils

    Some nights I have a plan; a plan to make three or four dishes and while it seems crazy (even to me) I feel the need to do it. It’s a challenge I can’t resist. I come home and delve into my kitchen, perhaps to find a bit of escape. Even while cooking one of four dishes I’m thinking to myself  “can I get this all done? I can do it all…just have to do this one while that simmers and then I will need to check on a few things so yes, I can get it all done.” Seriously, that is what is going on in my head while reading a recipe simultaneous with making additions/deletions. I admit it’s chaos. I think I like it.

    That was last night. I had returned home from the grocery (after returning from a class after returning from getting the tire fixed after picking up my glasses after work *Yikes*) and had bags of ingredients just waiting for me to touch. I had defrosted some salmon fillets and bought the remaining ingredients necessary to make a hot lentil side dish of deliciousness – it had to be made THAT NIGHT. The option of throwing in the kitchen towel was non-existent. I had to press on. On top of it, the other ingredients I purchased were staring at me, pleading with me to make them now! I have a new recipe book and when you have a new recipe book, you have a thirst that can’t be quenched until you make a recipe…then another…then another until all of a sudden you’ve got a newer recipe book. On my list along with Salmon with Green Lentils I wanted to make coconut-date balls (from “The Kind Diet” and they are really called Raw Balls), cauliflower and brussel sprouts braised in the oven, and blondies with white chocolate chunks. Whew. Maybe I take on all these tasks because I’m forced to think about only cooking instead of everything else; I’m in the moment…like yoga.

    I started with the Green Lentils- they had been soaked and went into a pot to boil and simmer. While they were working, I cut up the rest of the vegetables for the lentil stew. After the lentils finished they drained and I started on softening the onions, added the veggies, and pre-heated the oven. (picture  cook whirling around the kitchen looking crazed) I took out the cauliflower and brussel sprouts, trimmed and added them to a small baking dish with some water, salt and pepper; into the oven they went. I stirred veggies and added lentils, broth, etc., put a top on pot and let the mixture simmer for 20 (more like 30) minutes. Then I went to work on the blondies. They were actually super easy to mix up and pour in a pan. Into the oven they went and it was time for the salmon. Got the fillet over heat, stirred the lentil mix, put the salmon in the oven to finish cooking. I made the coconut-date balls; a snap because it all mixes in the food processor. The only issue with doing all these projects was the amount of dirty dishes left in a heap around me. Finally, the dinner was done, the blondies set, cauliflower and brussel sprouts soft and yummy, and the coconut-date balls chillin’ in the freezer. Just reading this makes me tired but last night I was like a three (four?) ring circus and loving every minute of it.

    Salmon with Green Lentils is an awesome dinner and entertaining worthy. It is healthy, colorful, delicious, and satisfying. I love searing salmon first in a saute-pan then finishing it in the oven. This method gives it an incredible golden crust while keeping it moist. Set atop a bed of the lentil mixture, you get salmon and lentils in every bite and the combination of flavors is perfect. I served dinner with the cauliflower and brussel sprouts (and a small salad), but roasted sweet potatoes would be great as well.

    Salmon with Green Lentils  Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup dried green lentils
    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1 cup chopped sweet onion 
    • 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (See How To’s for directions on how to prepare leeks)
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 3 stalks celery, chopped
    • 1 parsnip, chopped
    • 3 medium carrots, chopped 
    • 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • 2 (8-ounce) salmon fillets, skin removed

    How To:

    Place the lentils in a bowl and add 4 cups water. Let soak for one hour. If box directions say otherwise, follow. Place into medium pot and bring to a boil, reducing to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. While lentils are cooking chop vegetables, keeping each separate. Drain lentils and set aside.

    Heat three tablespoons oil in a sauté pan, add the onions, leeks, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and stir mixture. After a minute or two, add the drained lentils, celery, parsnip, carrots, vegetable or chicken stock, water, and tomato paste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Add the vinegar and season to taste.

    Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    For the salmon, heat a dry oven-proof sauté pan (usually any stainless steel pan) over high heat for 4 minutes. Rub both sides of the salmon fillets with one tablespoon olive oil and season the tops with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, place the salmon fillets seasoning-sides down in the pan and cook over medium heat without moving them for 2 minutes, until very browned. Turn the fillets and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the salmon is cooked rare. Spoon a mound of lentils on each plate and place a salmon fillet on top. Serve hot.

    Serves 2, with lots of lentils leftover! You can always double the salmon if you are entertaining for 4.

    Best Ever White Chicken Chili

    This chili will overpower your craving for traditional red chili anyday. In fact, it kicks red chili’s behind. Why? Becuase its creamy, but not a “too decadent for a Saturday afternoon” creamy. It’s filling on an autumn/winter day. It makes your entire house (or apartment) smell like something good is about to be eaten. It makes you feel as though snuggling on the couch with a nice bowl of chili watching tv is exactly where you are supposed to be at that moment. The world becomes a perfect place with white chicken chili.

    I made this special chili last week, when the temperature was starting to drop. The weather is now back in the upper 50’s-low 60’s, but somehow this chili still sounds amazing. The base is chicken broth and at the end of the recipe you add shredded Monterrey jack cheese- and what the cheese does is magical. It makes the broth rich and silky and adds just the right amount of excess one searches for in a chili, since you would otherwise be prone to missing ground beef normally in a traditional version.

    White Chicken Chili  Adapted from Food & Wine

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cans Great Northern beans,* drained and rinsed
    • 1 ½ pounds chicken breast
    • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 large onion, finely chopped
    • 2 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 teaspoons cumin
    • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
    • dash red chili pepper flakes
    • 3-5 cups shredded Monterrey jack cheese, plus more for serving
    • Sour cream for serving

    How to:

    Poach chicken breasts by bringing the broth to a simmer, add chicken and cook over low heat until opaque. Transfer the breasts to a plate to cool, shredding once you are able to handle them. Boil the stock over high heat until reduced to about 2 ½ cups.  You can also poach the chicken breasts in water and start the chili fresh (next paragraph) with 2 ½ cups regular, non-reduced broth. It won’t be as robust a flavor, but I’ve done this and the chili still turns out great. I also add more chicken broth (around 4 cups total) because I like more of a broth base.

    In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add the canned chiles, garlic, cumin, and cayenne. Stir for about 3-4 minutes. Add the beans, chicken, reduced stock, and 3 cups of the cheese and simmer for 10 minutes. The mixture will become somewhat creamy, but not heavy. Add another cup or two of chicken broth, if desired. Season with salt and pepper. If you want more cheese in your chili, now is the time to add, letting it melt in before serving.

    To serve, ladle chili into bowls and top with cheese and sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips.

    *If you are using dried Great Northern beans, which is an option, put 2 ½ cups (about 1 lb.) in a large saucepan cover the beans with 2 inches of water and let soak overnight. Drain and return them to the saucepan and add enough water to again cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over moderate heat and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Drain the beans and they are ready for use!

    p.s. I just thought of a nice addition- 1/2 cup of frozen (or fresh) corn kernels when adding the cheese…just a thought/suggestion.

    Peanut Butter & Jelly Cupcakes

    The epitome of brown bag lunches in my opinion is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made correctly. By made correctly I mean has a layer of PB on both bread slices so the middle layer of jelly doesn’t seep out and onto the other lunch goodies. It has happened and it can happen again, but I hope it doesn’t- so some poor little kid is saved from soggy jelly ridden bread and gooey lunch accoutrements.

    But I’m here to speak about something much more than the standard sandwich and that is Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes. Sweet, salty peanut buttery cupcakes with peanutty icing and drizzles of non-seeded strawberry jelly (or grape if you prefer; I know people have a thing about jelly flavors just as they have a type of bread all pb&j’s must have. To each their own).

    This is not one of those faux recipes that leaves you wanting the real thing- it leaves you wondering how pb&j got so famous as a sandwich and not as a cupcake.

    The only labor intensive parts of this recipe are measuring the peanut butter and de-seeding the strawberry jelly. As for the first issue- I recommend rinsing your measuring cup with warm water and not drying it- go ahead measuring the peanut butter and it will come out easier. Alternately, you can spray the measuring cup with non-stick spray and the peanut butter will give you little resistance coming out. For the jelly- simplest way to de-seed is to put the jelly through a sieve and smash it through with a rubber spatula. Of course, you can always leave the seeds in to avoid this step all together.

    Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

    Ingredients:

    for cupcakes

    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • pinch salt
    • 1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy but smooth is recommended
    • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) softened unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1 large egg at room temperature
    • 2/3 cup whole milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon good-quality vanilla

    for frosting

    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
    • 1 cup peanut butter
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    • 2 teaspoon good quality vanilla

    for garnish

    • 1/2 cup strawberry jelly

    How To:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Combine milk and vanilla in a small bowl, set aside.

    Using an electic mixer beat butter, peanut butter and brown sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until blended. Add egg and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, at low speed beginning and ending with flour mixture, then mix until just combined. Take care to not over mix.

    Spoon batter into 12 lined muffin cups (about two-thirds full) and bake 18 to 20 minutes until pale golden and a tester inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Set cupcakes on rack and allow to cool completely.

    While cupcakes are baking, process jelly through sieve so seeds are removed. Place jelly into small pastry bag or ziploc bag. Set aside. For the frosting, place the butter and peanut butter into a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in the milk, vanilla and sugar. Add more milk if necessary.

    Put frosting into pastry bag with 1M Wilton tip (or use whatever tip you like!). Pipe onto cupcakes. Next take strawberry jelly filled pastry/ziploc bag, snip end with a scissor (or use a small round tip) and make swirl or zig zag patter or whatever pattern you want on top of cupcakes. A lot of kids will want to trade for your PB & J.