Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chili Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges


I don't know about you, but for me and for the longest time, "sweet potatoes" conjured up images of mushy orange lumps poured out of a can, topped with a molten layer of charred mini-marshmallows. The only time I ever came in contact with a sweet potato was during the thanksgiving meal (their traditional venue), so I didn't really have to work hard to avoid them either. Like many of the other "scary" foods in the produce section (rutabaga anyone? Jicama?) I gave sweet potatoes a wide berth, and went straight for the more familiar Idaho potatoes.


This was, of course, a huge disservice to a totally delicious vegetable, because sweet potatoes, fresh (not canned) and not topped with high fructose corn syrup? Delicious! Nutritious! In addition to tasting wonderful (really), they pack a powerful nutritional punch. They are full of all kinds of healthy goodies, like beta carotene, vitamins C and B6, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Compared to white potatoes, they are a superfood! And add to that their low glycemic index, and you have one very body-friendly food, and did I mention how great they taste? Oh, I did. Well, just in case you forgot already, THEY TASTE REALLY GOOD.

This particular recipe is what got me turned onto sweet potatoes in the first place, and let me warn you: these are not your mother's sweet potatoes! Rich, sweet, smoky and spicy, these make a great snack or side dish. Try them with burgers, tacos, or grilled steaks, or try them as an afternoon snack.


Chili Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges
Adapted from Everyday Food

Tis the season for sweet potatoes, so they are at their best right now. Look for ones that are crisp and firm, without bruises or soft spots. Store them on the counter, and don't keep them around too long. Unlike white potatoes, they store for weeks, not months, and once they get old they will get tough and lose their flavor.

If you want this recipe to be even lower on the glycemic scale (or you don't eat sugar, etc. etc.), I am sure you could substitute agave nectar, honey, or even grade A maple syrup for the sugar. The chili isn't actually very spicy, so if you want your potatoes to have a little more kick, you can also add in 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper.

3-4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbs olive oil
1 tablespoon fine sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshy ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut 3-4 medium sweet potatoes into wedges, and arrange on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon fine sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk with a fork, and drizzle over sweet potato wedges.

Toss to combine, and until potatoes are completely covered in the chili sauce.

Bake in preheated over for 15- 20 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven, and let cool.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Ina Garten's Italian Wedding Soup • Gluten free! Or not.


This blog is seriously turning into a Barefoot Contessa fan page, isn't it? And two soup recipes in a row? But I can't help it! Ina's recipes are SO GOOD. They are exactly my favorite kinds of food: classics that have been updated to be lighter and brighter, and which pack a powerful punch of flavor. And of course, this soup is no exception.


Being a Californian (and not an Italian or from Ohio/Pennsylvania, where this soup is apparently very popular), I had never had Italian Wedding Soup before making this recipe. The most I had to compare it to was plain Jane chicken noodles soup, and may I say that this soup absolutely blows chicken noodle soup right out of the water? It's like everything that chicken soup ever wanted to be, it's so deliciously perfect. Not to mention that it's ridiculously easy. I love that the meatballs are baked in the oven; it's so much less work than frying them, and they are much less greasy and heavy than traditional fried meatballs. This isn't Nate's favorite chicken soup (go figure. Probably the dill), but it sure is mine. Next time I come down with a cold (or I just get a hankering for something warm and comforting) this is going to be the first thing I ask for.


Ina Garten's Italian Wedding Soup • Gluten free! Or not.

I had a dickens of a time finding chicken breakfast sausage, and I had to go to four (yes FOUR) grocery stores before I could find it. I finally found some at Trader Joe's, which is the only place I know of that carries it. If you can't find it anywhere, I think turkey breakfast sausage (as well as ground turkey) is much more widely available. Alternatively, you might use chicken/turkey italian sausage and even pork sausage if you really can't find anything.

The second difficulty for me was that the recipe calls for 1 cup of very small pasta, like stars. I haven never seen any gluten-free pasta that small, so I wasn't sure what to do. Finally (brilliantly, if I do say so myself), I gave some uncooked rice spaghetti a whirl in the blender, and it came out perfect! If you don't eat gluten-free then don't worry about it, but if you do end up using this method, keep in mind that rice spaghetti is much starchier than wheat spaghetti, and all that starch may thicken up your soup. To avoid this, you can use less pasta, or cook the spaghetti separately, strain and rinse it, and then add it to the soup. Or you can do nothing, if you don't mind a thicker soup (I don't).

For the Meatballs
3/4 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
1/2 lb chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup bread crumbs (I like to pulse up leftover gluten-free bread in the blender, and then store it in he freezer until I need it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (the kind that comes in a green can works great. Save the expensive fresh stuff for grating over the hot soup)
1 extra large egg, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons milk
kosher salt and freshly ground black Pepper

For the Soup
olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely diced carrots (2-3 carrots)
3/4 cup finely diced celery (2 stalks)
2.5 quarts chicken stock (10 cups, preferably home made)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta, such as stars or broken up spaghetti (precooked or not)
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 oz baby spinach

freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together ground chicken, chicken sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, egg, milk, and salt and pepper to taste (all the meatball ingredients). Using a teaspoon, scoop meatball mixture in even measures, placing each scoop on the prepared pan. Don't worry about making the meatballs round, just scoop and plop. Bake meatballs in preheated oven until firm and browned, about 30 minutes.

2. In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil, and saute onion and garlic until softened and translucent. Add carrots and celery, and saute another 5 minutes or so, until vegetables begin to brighten in color.

3. Add stock and wine, and bring soup to a boil. Add (precooked or not) pasta, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 10-15 minutes, until pasta is al dente and vegetables are soft.

4. Add meatballs, and dill. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove heat from pot, stir in baby spinach. Serve, top with freshly grated parmesan, enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, two ways


Before James was born, I thought that a baby would have zero impact on our food budget. After all, babies are so tiny! They couldn't possibly eat more than a few tablespoons of food at a time.. right? Well, maybe some babies don't eat much, but my baby has an appetite the size of Manhattan. I cannot fill that kid up! I feel like I spend most of my time roasting, steaming, and sauteing food for that kid, because, number #2945 of things-they-don't-tell-you-before-you-have-a-baby, BABIES EAT A LOT. You think that a person who only weighs 20 lbs would eat less than his parents, but sometimes I think he eats more than the both of us put together.

If you are new here, I can't eat gluten (wheat protein), and James can't eat casein (milk protein) or soy, and James isn't old enough to eat eggs or meat yet, which means, essentially... I have a voracious infant vegan on my hands. Who is also gluten-free and soy-free. Oh my. (I would like to point out that we eat this way for legitimate medical reasons, not as an affectation or because it happens to be the fad right now. Why people think diet restrictions are hip or sophisticated is beyond me. After three years of eating gluten free, I would kill for a chocolate croissant or a slice of sourdough bread that wouldn't, you know, kill me.)


In the beginning, I had no idea what to feed him, and so for the first couple of weeks we ate quite a lot of bananas, rice noodles, apple sauce and steamed carrots (and oh, how that child needed more fiber in his diet. Whoops! Sorry baby.) But after a while I started to get my groove on and got smart to some excellent vegan alternatives: coconut oil for butter, almond milk for cow's milk, coconut milk for cream. After a while, it actually got a little fun, and to be honest, this whole "feed a vegan baby" has turned out to be quite a good thing for all of us. We are cooking lighter and fresher, and it has forced me given me the opportunity to try all kinds of new vegetables. Scary vegetables. Vegetables I have been putting off trying for about 20 years. Things Like kale (yummy), brussel sprouts (so fun!), beets (stains everything pink), and squash (FAAAB!). I can't believe that until now I have never even tried butternut squash. If you like pumpkin flavored anything, you'll like butternut squash. It's got the same rich buttery taste and smooth texture, but is pumpkin's sweeter, lighter cousin. It's great roasted, steamed, mashed, sauteed, slathered in butter, sprinkled with kosher salt etc. etc. I love it and we have been eating one or two a week all month.

The following recipe can be made two ways: soup for mama, and soup for baby. Vegan, and not vegan. Mama's way includes butter and half & half, baby's vegan way includes coconut oil and coconut milk. Both ways are delicious!


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup • Vegan and Not-Vegan

Butternut Squash is in season right now and tastes its best this time of year. Roasting it is my favorite way of eating it; it really brings out the flavor and adds in all these delicious caramel notes. Look for fruits that are very firm with smooth waxy skin, and are heavy for their size. Those ones taste the best!

1 medium butternut squash
1 medium brown onion, diced
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh thyme, minced (2-3 tablespoons)
4 cups stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken)
2-3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
1/2 cup half & half or coconut milk
kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise, and roast, cut side down, on a baking sheet, until skin is browned and flesh is soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool. Scoop out seeds.

Scoop and scrape the flesh from the skin, and reserve in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat butter (or coconut oil) in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, and thyme, and saute until softened and beginning to brown.

Add stock, scraping up any browned bits that cling to the pan. Add squash, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you stir. Bring to a boil.

Lightly puree soup in a food processor to taste - some people like it more chunky, some like it less. Just don't over-puree it so that it has no texture at all! Return soup to pot, add 1/2 & 1/2 or coconut milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Depending on the thickness of the soup, you can add more stock (or some water) to thin it our, or if it is too thin simmer it down to the desired consistency. Adjust seasonings, serve, and enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake - gluten free! Or not.


So it's mid-October and we are finally getting some "weather" here in Southern California. And by "weather," I mean that it has been overcast all morning, and last week it even rained a little bit for two days!.

If you live, well, anywhere else, I don't know if you can understand how exciting this is for us. It is sunny and hot here almost every day of the year. And while that sounds nice on the face of it (no blizzards! No hurricanes!), after a lifetime of perfect sunshine, you start to get sick of it. You crave days where it's appropriate to wear closed toed shoes, or a sweater. You wish it were cold enough to enjoy a mug of hot cocoa. You long to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book while the rain patters outside. You start to get resentful of the cheery weather, and are deeply disappointed by another perfect sunny day in November. You shake your fist at the sky, and grumble about how it's supposed to be autumn, not summer.


So when it actually rains here, people are so excited that get just a little bit hysterical. Every freeway is gnarled up with enormous traffic accidents. People keep their kids home from school and celebrate by putting on thick socks and drinking hot cocoa. There is a mad rush for umbrellas. And it's not uncommon to see people standing outside, just looking at the rain with awestruck wonder. When it rained last week we were so excited about our "weather" that we bundled the baby up and sat out on the patio, just to watch the water fall from the sky. When Nate and I lived in England, I used to walk around in a constant state of elation, because it rained almost every single day.. Every single day felt like a gift to mankind, as though every day were Christmas.

This cake is the perfect complement to the rare and precious Southern California rainy day. It is delicious, rustic, warm and comforting, and infused with the flavors of tart apples, warm sticky caramel, butter, almonds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It's yummy.


Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

This cake can be made 2 ways: gluten-free, or not. Whatever way you make it, I encourage you to try it with the almond meal and the almond milk. The almonds really bring along a light, nutty flavor that really complements the apples and the caramel.

4 tart green apples, such as granny smith, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vanilla flavored almond milk (you can substitute cow's milk)
1.5 cups gluten-free all purpose flour (I used Pamela's and we LOVE it! I totally recommend. Or substitute 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup almond meal)
2 pinches salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a heavy bottomed skillet, melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter. Add 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, and bring to a bubbling boil, whisking vigorously until the sugar and caramel are incorporated and smooth. Add 4 peeled, cored, and sliced green apples, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring ocassionally, until apples are coated in caramel and beginning to soften. Turn off heat and set aside. You can cook the cake in this skillet, or divide the apples between ramkins for individual servings.

1. A a stand mixer, beat 1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature butter with 1/2 cup white sugar until pale in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 2 large eggs one at a time, and mix until fully incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1.5 cups flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 pinch salt.

3. with mixer on low, Add 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk to stand mixer, followed by flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated. scrape down sides of bowl, mixing in any little bits that may be clinging to the side of the bowl. Pour batter over apples, and spread gently to cover the apple mixture. Top with 1/s cup toasted almonds.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove when cake has puffed and is golden on top. When cake has cooled, run a knife around the edges of the cake pan and invert onto a serving platter. Scrape any apples or caramel that cling to the pan onto the cake. Top with a scoop of vanilla icecream. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rustic Basque Chicken Stew with Tomatoes, Potatoes, and other Yummy Things


Blog, I've missed you. And I am so tired of explanations and excuses, so I'm not going to go into it. Honestly though, I needed a break. The last six months of my life have just been so crazy, so full of crisis, sleeplessness, and borderline hysteria, that now that things have finally begun to settle down I just needed to chill OUT and get my life back together.


Now I'm back! And I have so many yummy autumnal recipes to share with you! And so many cute pictures of this little one! I love him so, even if he has turned my world upside down shook it within an inch of its life.


This recipe is very special to me. It was one of the very first things I learned to cook when I was about 16, and the first taste of it floored me. I had never tasted something so good, and truth be told, I didn't even know food could taste so rich and wonderful. I'm not going to lie to you - my mom is not exactly the most inspired of cooks, and it was normal for us to eat the same thing every night for dinner for YEARS. My sister and I still joke about the "stuff on rice" years, where we ate sauteed chicken and vegetables on rice every single night for about 6 years. That's 2190 consecutive dinners of the same thing. By the 2189th dinner, we were really tired of it. This stew was SO good, and it still is. It's not as mind-blowing to me as it was back then, seeing as how I eat different things for dinner all the time now, but it's still mighty good. BECKS RECOMMENDS. You may cook now.


Basque Chicken Stew With Tomatoes, Potatoes, and Other Yummy Things
adapted from Paul Williams

The secret ingredient in this stew is BACON. Bippity Boppity Bacon! Don't leave it out. It's important. And so tasty.

2 large chicken breasts
1/4 lb bacon
2 medium yellow onions
2 red bell peppers (or 1 red and 1 green)
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups small new potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 cup white wine
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
1 pinch cayenne pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush olive oil over 2 chicken breasts, and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in over 15 - 20 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the oven, and let cool.

Dice Chicken.

Cut 2 red bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the stem and seeds. Roast in the oven until tough skins are blackened, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

remove skins for peppers, and slice into long strips.

Cut 1/4 lb bacon into small strips. Saute in a heavy bottomed skillet until crispy. Remove from pan, reserving the bacon grease.

Chop two medium onions into long strips. Saute in the reserved bacon fat until softened and translucent.

Place bacon and chicken in a large pot.

Add sliced pepper, sauteed onions, and 2 cups chicken stock.

Add 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes...

...1 cup white wine...

...1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley...

... and 2 cups peeled, roughly chopped new potatoes.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer 1-2 hours, until potatoes are soft. Tastes even better the second day. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Little Owl's Italian Meatballs: for Sandwiches, Spaghetti, Sliders, Whatever!


This is, quite possibly, the best meatball recipe ever. Ever. EVER! Um, see that all caps? I must really mean it. BEST EVER, EVER, EVER. EVER! Ok, ok, I don't know for certain if this is the best meatball recipe ever due to the simple fact that I haven't tried every meatball recipe in the whole wide world, but this one is pretty darn good. In fact, this recipe is now the recipe I measure all other meatballs by. It's tasty, folks.

In my experience, meatballs are usually a disappointment. Salty and tough, or mushy and bland, meatballs tend to be the ugly stepsister at the party. You can dress them up in fancy sauces all you want, but the awful is still there underneath. Most of the time, I just avoid meatballs altogether.

But this recipe is different. It's a revelation. It's a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. I think the secret to why this recipe tastes so amazing is the trio of meats. The first time, I only used two kinds, and I thought this recipe was ok. The second time, all I used was one, and they were a major dissapointment. But the third time, the third time being a charm, I followed the recipe to the letter, and behold, a choir of Angels appeared as I took my first bite, and a light shone from heaven, and I was rewarded with meatballs from the Italian section of the celestial city. I was, in short, in meatball paradise. Are you persuaded yet? Will you try them? Will you?


In case you are wondering, this recipe did not descend directly from heaven, written on a golden scroll. It came through a much more mundane source: my local library. Every week I've been trying to get the baby out of the house, and we go the the library every Tuesday. They have an ongoing book sale at the Huntington Beach library, and I've become somewhat, er, addicted, to cheap books and magazines. Can you believe I bought a first edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for only 50 cents? The treasures that are buried there! It's hard to limit myself to only $5, and only once a week.

One of my favorite things to buy is back issues of home and cooking magazines, and I have amassed quite a collection of Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appetit. This particular recipe was the cover of the September 2007 issue of Bon Appetit, and it's pulled from a little restaurant in New York called "The Little Owl." If I ever make it to New York, and to the Little Owl (you know, if Little Lord Thunder Thighs ever lets me out of the house again), I'll do my best to kiss the cook on behalf of everyone in the whole wide world.


The Little Owl's Italian Meatballs: Just About the Best Meatball Recipe EVER

At The Little Owl, these are served as sliders, but you don't have to eat them that way. They are great with spaghetti, and they make a mean meatball sandwich as well (or so Nate tells me). And honestly? They are pretty darn good all by themselves.

This also includes a recipe for sauce to go along with the meatballs if you want to make sliders or a meatball sandwich. If you want to make the sauce, make it first, before the meatballs, because it needs a good 20 minutes or so of simmering, and it can cook away by itself while you are making the meatballs.

For the Meatballs
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Romano Cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup fresh, fine bread crumbs
(I just take a piece of gluten-free bread, rip it up into pieces, and them give the pieces a whirl in the blender. You can use Panko if you want, but you need the crumbs to be moist, so be sure to rehydrate them with 1/2 a cup of water when you mix them into the meat).

If you want to make a meatball sandwich: For the Sauce
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, packed (use 2-3 tablespoons dried if fresh is not available. Maybe 1 tablespoon of Oregano too).
1 + 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds (so essential! Don't skip!)
3 cans fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (14.5oz each)

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 lb ground beef, 1/2 lb ground pork, and 1/2 lb ground veal.

Add 1 large egg and the yolk of 1 large egg.

Then add 1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (These are easy to make, just take a piece or two of bread, gluten free or not, tear it into pieces, and give it a whirl in the blender. So easy, by baby could do it. Blindfolded.) If you opt to use panko, be sure to also add about 1/4 cup of water to the mixture to moisten it, so your meatballs don't come out crunchy.

Now for 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan/Romano cheese...

... and 1/3 cup finely chopped italian parsley.

And FINALLY (home stretch!), 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper.

Now mix it all up together... until it is mixed. Do it with your hands. You know you want to.

Form the mixture into balls.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet (cast-iron is great!). Cook meatball in batches, turning every 4-5 minutes, until meatballs are brown all over. Serve in the manner of your choosing. Enjoy!

For the Sauce/ Meatball Sandwich

In a heavy bottomed pot or skillet (I like to use my enamel cast iron Stew pot) saute onions, garlic, and fennel seeds until onions are softened and beginning to brown, 5-10 minutes.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to the onions, as well as basil/oregano. Reduce heat and let simmer about 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened. Puree in a food processor until smooth, but not TOO smooth. We wouldn't want it to be a beverage :)

Return to pan, and simmer Meatballs in sauce 5-10 minutes.

Mm... tasty looking, yes?

Lay some arugula on a toasted bun.

Top with meatballs. But we're not done!

Add some more sauce. You'll be glad you did.

Oh, and don't forget the cheese. Never, ever forget the cheese. Forgetting the cheese makes baby Jesus cry.

This is my favorite part. Enjoy!