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Monday, September 23, 2013

Fantastic Fall: Pear, Sweet Potato and Fig Crisp

Because thinking outside the box pays off.  [At least I hope it will!]

This week's recipe contest theme at Better Recipes is "Best Crisp or Cobbler Ever."  Now, if you follow my blog regularly, you will note that I don't have many dessert recipes on here.  Why? you ask.  Because... science.  Specifically chemistry.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a smart girl. I passed all of my college chemistry classes.  But that doesn't mean I get it.  I'm just really good at following directions.  Which is why I usually stick to following other people's dessert recipes rather than create my own.  [OK, so maybe I'm afraid of failure.  Don't judge me!!]  Baking requires chemical reactions between the baking soda and salt and sugar and other stuff (maybe pixie dust and unicorn hair???).  I don't know.  It's too complicated for me.

However, I can totally handle making a fruit crisp.  I mean, really, you only need fruit and oatmeal and stuff, right?  So yeah, I read about 1,000 crisp recipes online and in cookbooks to get an idea of what I needed to do.  But I did it!!!  I came up with a magical, fall-ish, unique dessert that made my kitchen smell like love and tasted like unicorns prancing over rainbows!  [what???]  I was going for a one-of-a-kind combination of fruit, and I think (in my humble opinion) that I really knocked it out of the park.  (Really, Deanna?  Really?  You just used a baseball reference?  Who are you???)

What I'm trying to say is, get creative with your crisp!  You aren't limited to just apples or berries or cherries.  The sweet potato-pear-fig combo was inspired by my desire to use classic- yet under-appreciated- fall produce.  And I'm quite pleased with the results.  I submitted this recipe to the contest and will be your friend forever if you hop over there and vote for me.    Thanks, friends!

2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
8 oz dried figs, quartered
2 cups canned sweet potato in heavy syrup, chopped, 3 Tbsp syrup reserved
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp allspice

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine pears, figs, sweet potatoes, lemon juice, heavy syrup (from the sweet potatoes), maple syrup, and allspice.  Stir well to combine.  Pour the filling into the prepared baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine oats, pecans, flour, brown sugar, allspice, and cinnamon, and stir to mix well.  Add the oil and maple syrup and stir well to combine.  Topping should be crumbly but not too dry.  Add in a dash of salt.  Pour topping mixture over filling and pat down.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, until pears are tender when pierced with a fork.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream, or just by itself!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Creamy Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Casserole

Because I love being right!!!

Hey, so remember last week when I speculated that Swiss chard would be tasty paired with sweet potatoes?  Holy happy taste buds, was I right!!!  By baking the chard in a casserole, the bitterness of the chard mellowed right out, and paired with the sweet potatoes, you get a hearty, slightly earthy, slightly sweet dish.  And it's simply magical!

The sauce I made for this is based on the cashew sauce I've used before, with a few variations.  I actually think I could have used less sauce (I may have gotten a little carried away).  But hey, I'm a saucy gal.  I don't mind mopping up the excess goodness with toast.  This casserole would also be excellent served over rice or quinoa (check the update below!).

I kept the ingredients pretty simple, although I had considered adding in a few extras.  If you have a large enough casserole dish (of course I couldn't find mine...), feel free to add in beans (garbanzo or white beans would be lovely), corn, zucchini, or anything else you see fit.

So, two Swiss chard posts in a row isn't a bad thing, right?  I hope not, because we're going to have a repeat again next week.  Not another chard recipe, but another sweet potato recipe.  I have a dessert idea [which, I admit, are few and far between] that I'm hoping to get to tomorrow.  Stay tuned for more sweetness!

*UPDATE:  This casserole is fantastic with rice, and much more filling than just some saucy veggies.  I would suggest mixing in 2 cups cooked brown (or your preferred) rice to the veggie mix before pouring on the sauce, and cook at the same temp for the same amount of time.  Delish!

3/4 cups cashews, soaked*
3 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
4 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp rubbed sage

1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled; cut lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
1 bunch Swiss or rainbow chard; stems removed, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces; leaves chopped
2 cups cooked rice, optional (but delicious!)
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

*To soak the cashews:  Place nuts in a microwave safe bowl and cover with water.  Microwave for two minutes.  Set aside while you get the rest of the sauce ingredients together.

In a high speed blender, combine the veg broth, nutritional yeast, cornstarch, olive oil, and sage.  Drain the cashews and add those as well.  Blend on high until cashews are well blended.  Set aside.

In a large skillet pan, saute onion, garlic, and chard stems with 2 tablespoons of water for about 5 minutes on medium high heat.  Add the potatoes and continue to cook, partially covered, for another 5-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the potatoes are starting to soften, remove the pan from heat.  Arrange veggies in baking dish, stirring in the chard leaves (and rice, if using).  Pulse your sauce in the blender, (in case the ingredients have started to separate), and pour evenly over the veggies.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and has set (meaning it's not runny in the middle).  Remove from oven and let sit for 5-7 minutes.  Serve hot with rice, quinoa, or bread.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Farmer's Market Soup

Because it's totally appropriate to make soup on a 96 degree day!

I went home last weekend for a visit.  Actually, I've gone home the last four or so weekends, but this was the first time I was able to head down to the farmer's market while there.  Sure, there's a market here in Kalamazoo, but the one in Muskegon is bigger, near the lake, and holds with it much nostalgia of going to the flea market with my mom as a kid, and doing my "grocery shopping" with a certain boy every Saturday during the last summer I lived there.

As expected, the market was everything I hoped for and more!  My first stop was at the Laughing Tree Bakery's booth for a vegan Treehugger cookie (an absolute must!).  Then I roamed around for about an hour, walking up and down the rows about three times, admiring all the beautiful produce while eating my cookie and drinking coffee.  [How magical is that???  I half expected to see unicorns prancing by!]  I ended up spending more money than I had expected to, but hey!  What better things to splurge on than fresh produce???  I brought home with me corn on the cob, green beans, red-skinned potatoes, an onion, garlic, and some absolutely beautiful swiss chard.

I hadn't a clue what I was going to make with all these goodies, but I didn't care.  I knew I'd come up with something.

Well, between the heat and the 1 1/2 hour drive back to my apartment, my chard got pretty wilty.  And since I've been so busy with work and school, my dreams of making a fancy, complicated sort of dish were shot down and I was forced to make a one-pot meal.  Actually, these veggies blended together quite deliciously in the soup I made.  The chard had more of a bitter flavor than I remembered, but my favorite bites of soup were when the sweet corn and chard were together.  I bet swiss chard and sweet potatoes would be a lovely combination.  Hmmm....

So yeah, it was stupidly hot on the day I decided to make this, but this soup kicks butt.  The creaminess comes from the potatoes blended with milk and veggie broth, so it's hearty without being high in fat.  And I was able to use all of my veggies before they went bad!  OK, so the yield was enough to feed a small army.  Maybe you should cut the recipe in half?  I'll leave that up to you.

2 lbs red skinned potatoes, quartered (or cut smaller if they're large potatoes)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, trimmed, and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces; leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 ear of corn, cut from the cob (or 1 cup of corn)
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups non-dairy milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast, optional
1-2 cups water, if needed
2 tsp dill
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp thyme
Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil.  Oh yeah, toss some salt into that potato water, would you?  After about 5-7 minutes, remove about half of the potatoes and set aside for a bit.  Continue cooking the rest of the potatoes in the water until very soft, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium heat and add onion, garlic, and chard stems.  Saute for about 5-6 minutes until onions are starting to get soft.  Add the green beans, corn, and reserved potatoes, and cook for another 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, checking that the potatoes don't get too mushy.

When the potatoes in the pot are soft, drain the water and return the potatoes to the pot.  We want to blend the potatoes with the broth and milk and nutritional yeast, if using.  If you have an immersion blender, you can do this right in the pot.  If not, you can use a blender or food processor for this step.  If the potato-broth-milk mixture seems too thick, add water, one cup at a time, until the soup has reached your desired consistency.

OK, your potato broth should be in the soup pot now.  Take the skillet off the stove, and dump those veggies into the potato mixture.  Add the dill, poultry seasoning, and thyme, and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the chard leaves and cook the soup for 5-8 minutes, until leaves are soft and everything has heated through.

Yield: So. Much. Soup.
    I don't know, maybe 10 servings?  Perhaps you could invite some friends over.  Or freeze half of it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vacation Party Food Part 2: Super Low-Key Bachelorette Party

Because... life.  It happens.

After recovering from the black lung I developed in Texas, I spent the following week working a ton to make up for the fact that I had just taken a week off.  Plus, I was with my family for the holiday weekend (yay!!!) and I started school yesterday.  These are all of my excuses for not writing this blog post last week.  Take it or leave it, friends.

OK, so let's rewind back to that time I was in Texas.  So, I didn't get a lot of pictures.  In fact, I didn't do a lot of sight seeing.  That is to say, I didn't actually do any sight seeing.  [Unless you count sleeping in a different room of the apartment every night I was there.]  But I'm not complaining, honest!  I was just happy to be with the Officer and her family.  And I was able to be helpful, making place cards for the reception, making cocktails coffee for the bride-to-be in the morning, playing personal assistant to the lovely couple while they had pre-wedding photos taken at the historical museum.  Also, I helped the Officer shop for wedding shoes and got to see this outside the mall:


Anyhow, Thursday before the wedding, the Officer's sister threw a bachelorette party at the apartment. It was insisted (by the bride) that the party be kept low-key and involve watching corny 80's movies.  So, while the group watched Dirty Dancing and ogled over the ever-so-handsome Patrick Swayze, I kept myself busy in the kitchen making party food (of course, stopping occasionally to admire the... dancing).

I wanted finger foods, and most of what I prepared was, except for the stuffed zucchini boats which is the only recipe I'm going to share (or not).  The party food also included chickpea sandwiches, tortilla roll-ups, chips and hummus, chocolate, fruit, and Oreo's.  Because classy girls eat Oreo's for dessert at fancy parties.  Trust me, I know these things.

But, the zucchini boats were the star, by far.  I made a sort of sausage and peppers filling and baked it into zucchini halves with a little Daiya cheese on top.  I didn't actually write this recipe down, as I was multitasking [drinking, giggling, and snacking on chocolate-covered almonds definitely counts as multitasking], so how about if I just tell you what I put in it, and I'll promise to make it again?

 So, I took 5 medium zucchini, cut them in half the "hamburger" way, and then in half again the "hot dog" way.  (Still following?  Good.)  I scooped out most of the inside flesh to make room for filling.  I actually chopped up the zucchini insides and added them to the rest of the stuffing, because I hate wasting food.  I sauteed some Italian-style vegan sausages, onion, and bell pepper, added some tomato sauce and salt and pepper.  There may have been some oregano tossed in, but I honestly can't remember.  After all the filling ingredients were heated through, I stuffed the zucchini halves, sprinkled with some vegan pepper jack cheese, and baked them for I don't remember how long.  And they were awesome.

Speaking of awesome, the Officer has already been married for a week and a half now!!!  Congrats again, my friend.  I'm so happy I was able to be a part of this oh-so magical time of your life.  :)