The popularity of sweet potato fries has reminded people that this root vegetable is not just a Thanksgiving side dish. They can be eaten and enjoyed year-round.
The last time I made this quick and easy dish, it occurred to me that pistachio nuts would be an excellent addition. It was! Just make sure you sprinkle them on each serving rather than blending them into the mash – you want the nuts to retain their crispness.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES – makes about 3 cups
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes
- 2 T heavy cream
- 4 T butter
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- optional topping: chives, chopped toasted pistachio nuts
Peel sweet potatoes, then cut into 3/4″ cubes. In a saucepan over low heat, melt together the cream, butter, sugar, and salt. Add in the sweet potatoes and stir to coat cubes. Cover pot and cook over low heat until easily pierced with a fork, stirring now and then. This should take about 17-25 minutes, depending on the type of sweet potato. If the liquid is almost absorbed but the sweet potatoes are still not completely cooked, turn off flame and leave covered to complete cooking.
Mash sweet potatoes until they’re the consistency you like. Adjust for seasoning – I usually add another 1/8 tsp salt. If desired (and I do desire!), top with chives and toasted pistachio nuts.
Picnics and potlucks nearly always have a macaroni salad or two. Often it’s store-bought and kind of a watery mush. People eat it because it’s there.
But I believe if you’re going to eat something, you should really enjoy it. Here’s a flavorful macaroni salad that’s easy to prepare.
MACARONI SALAD – makes about 6½ cups
- 1 lb small elbow macaroni with ridges (the ridges hold the dressing)
- 1/2 cup shallots, minced
- 2/3 cup celery (1 good-sized stalk), chopped
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1 T Dijon mustard
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1½ cups mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to full boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes – until al dente. Drain and cool by running cold water over it. Pour into a large bowl.
Stir in the shallots, celery, parsley, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic powder, and cayenne. Let sit for 3 minutes to absorb flavors.
Mix in the mayonnaise, cover, and refrigerate until mayo is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, adjusting as necessary.
Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.
Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty. Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!
Note: I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.
Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)
CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups
- 2 T butter
- 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
- 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
- 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
- 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
- 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
- 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 oz jack cheese, shredded
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil. Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges. In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.
Cooked spinach is not a looker. It wilts down from a giant amount to a small, dark green mound. On its own it tastes…okay. But doctor it up with some flavor, crunch, and color and now you’ve got something.
If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach, prepare for a surprise. You’ll bring home a mass of leaves and think, “this is way too much”. It’s not, believe me.
Note: I like to buy bundled spinach and wash it myself. But that can be time-consuming and is often hard to find. Stores seem to prefer to carry pre-washed spinach in plastic tubs. If you do buy the bundles, make sure you weigh them – some are larger than others.
SPINACH & FETA – makes about 1 cup
- 8½ oz fresh spinach leaves (about 2 bunches)
- 1 T + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 T shallots, chopped (about 1 large)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 T water chestnuts, chopped (I get them canned, in the Asian section)
- 1 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 T red wine vinegar
- 2 T pistachio nuts, salted, toasted
- 1 Roma tomato, chopped
Steam spinach over boiling water for 1 minute – set a timer! Place spinach in a towel to absorb excess water. Roughly chop. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium/high. Add in shallots and sauté a few minutes, until browned. Stir in the spinach and salt – sauté over medium/high about 2 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. Reduce heat to low and add in the water chestnuts, feta, 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, and pistachios. Stir over low heat, just to warm everything. Add in tomatoes and serve.
Why spend a lot of money on store-bought granola when you can make it yourself? You won’t believe how easy it is! Plus you can fine-tune it to suit yourself.
Paired with plain yogurt (homemade, of course!), it’s a great way to start the day or subdue those mid-afternoon hunger pangs.
Note: This recipe makes 11 cups. If you don’t want to make this much, use a smaller rimmed cookie sheet – the granola should be a certain thickness when baked or it tends to burn around the edges.
Additional Note: This recipe calls for a total of 2 cups nuts. I prefer half almonds, half pecans. Substitute, if you prefer.
MAPLE/NUT GRANOLA – makes about 11 cups
- 1 cup slivered almonds chopped
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (the real thing, NOT Log Cabin, etc.)
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4½ cups (13½ oz) old-fashioned oats (NOT the quick cooking kind)
- optional: 2 cups dried fruit, such raisins, cranberries, apricots
Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit.
Lightly toast the almonds and pecans to bring out their flavor. I do this in my toasteroven. If you don’t have one, use your regular oven. Make sure to keep an eye on them wherever they are so they don’t burn!!! In a very large bowl, mix together the maple syrup, brown sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, and salt. Blend in the oats and toasted nuts. Pour onto a parchment paper lined rimmed 16½” x 12″ (inside measure) baking sheet. Spread out and, using a flat implement (such as a potato masher or measuring cup), firmly press down granola evenly. I like to start in the center and work my way to the sides so that the edges aren’t too thin, or they’ll over-bake. Bake in the upper third of the 325º F oven until medium browned – about 32-45 minutes. (Mine take 32 minutes.) Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour on baking sheet. Break apart and add in dried fruit, if using (I never do). Store in airtight container.
I love roasted vegetables! Their flavor comes to life, enhanced by the sweet caramelization process. Add to that the slight crispiness. Yum!!!
This ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH recipe is very easy to prepare…but does take about an hour in the oven. So plan ahead. That time is hands off, so you can use it to prepare the rest of your meal…or, decompress from the day with a glass of wine.
Note: If you don’t like hazelnuts, try another nut such as almonds or pecans.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH HAZELNUTS
- 2½ – 3 lbs butternut squash
- 4 T butter, divided
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts, skinned
- 1 T water
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1 T chives, chopped
Preheat oven to 425º Fahrenheit.
Wash and dry whole squash. Place in microwave for 3 minutes. (Don’t worry, it won’t explode – this is just to soften it enough to make peeling easier and safer.) Flip and zap it for 30 more seconds. Place squash on a cutting board, taking care not to burn yourself. Cut off both ends and discard. Dissect the neck from the body (I know, this sounds ghoulish!) Standing these halves on end, remove the peel down to the deep orange color with a sharp knife. Slice the body and neck in half lengthwise (yikes!) and remove seeds and fibres. Cut the four halves into 1/2″ pieces. Place pieces in a mixing bowl. Melt 2 T butter and pour over squash. Stir in the salt and pepper. Lay butternut squash pieces in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until bottoms are browned. Flip pieces and bake another 10-15 minutes, until well browned on both sides. While squash is baking, coarsely chop hazelnuts. In a small skillet or saucepan, melt remaining 2 T butter. Add in chopped nuts and sauté over medium/high heat. Stirring constantly, cook until nuts are browned – about 2 minutes. (The butter will be bubbly at first.)Remove from heat and stir in the 1 T water. Let cool a little, then add in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. When squash is cooked, place slices into a mixing bowl (I use the same one from before). Gently stir in the hazelnuts and butter. Sprinkle on chives. Serve while hot.
We’re all familiar with the POTATO GNOCCHI – awhile back I even posted a recipe for POTATO GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER:But gnocchi are merely dumplings that are made from various things besides potatoes, such as wheat flour, cheese, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and semolina flour – the basis for this Roman Gnocchi recipe.
Roman Gnocchi are fast and easy to make and can be formed ahead of time – I love make-ahead recipes! They can be served as a first, side, or main course, depending on how many one eats.
Note: I store my semolina flour in the freezer since I don’t use it that often.
ROMAN GNOCCHI – makes 12
- 2½ cups milk (use whatever you have)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 4 T butter, divided
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
- 1/3 tsp dried crushed rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh chopped)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated
- topping sauce of your choice (marinara, cheese sauce, butter sauce)
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk up to simmer. Add in salt and nutmeg. Very slowly pour in semolina, stirring constantly to prevent lumps (a whisk is best for this). Once all the semolina in mixed in, decrease heat to low and cook 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very thick and pulls away from the sides of pan. (Don’t undercook or the gnocchi will taste floury.) Let cool 4 minutes. Cut 3 T of the butter into pieces and stir them into the dough until all butter is melted and incorporated. Mix in the beaten egg, Gruyère, rosemary, and baking powder. With the remaining 1 T butter grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or one of equivalent size). Dip a 1/4 cup measuring cup into water to wet it, then fill it with dough. Empty onto the pan, using your fingers to fix the shape, if needed. Dip measuring cup into water each time – this helps release the dough. You should get around 12 gnocchi. Chill at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Sprinkle Parmesan on top of gnocchi and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.