Posts Tagged With: sweet potatoes

date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 3.16.12 – sweet potato grits with sausage and eggs

image from indibound.com

I don’t yet own this cookbook by Virginia Willis, but have a feeling I’ll have to stroll on over to Avid Bookshop very soon to buy a copy. Several recipes from the book were featured in American Profile a couple weeks back, including one for sweet potato grits.

Yep, you heard me right. Sweet potatoes + grits = Southern food heaven.

So yesterday, when Micah and I were brainstorming brunch ideas to use up the last of some leftover sausage, that sweet potato grits recipe dropped by and said, “Hey, y’all!”

I made a few modifications to Ms. Willis’s recipe because I had polenta in the pantry (but no grits–for shame!), I wasn’t really in the mood to season my already-sweet veggies with cinnamon and ginger, and I didn’t really want to be cooking my breakfast for 45-60 minutes. (Especially since we’d already slept until 11:00. Ah, spring break, I will miss you so!)

We made a meal of the grits and sausage by topping the dish off with a sunny side up egg and some fresh cilantro:

Doesn’t that look tasty? It was. But don’t take my word for it. Or Micah’s. (We both licked our bowls clean.) Try it for yourself! (This will make a reasonably-sized brunch for two, or a big ol’ brunch for one. :))

What’s in it:

  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup polenta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 pound of pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 eggs
  • a little more salt and pepper
  • a big handful of fresh cilantro

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven on warm (about 170-200°F).
  • Ms. Willis grates her sweet potatoes into the grits and then lets them cook for about an hour. I was too impatient for this, and it’s really quick and easy to bake sweet potatoes in the microwave–so that’s my recommendation. Get those tubers nice and tender, squeeze them out of the peel, and then mash them up real good.
  • In a small saucepan, heat your milk and polenta together over medium heat, whisking as it thickens. I’ve always heard that you should boil the cooking liquid first, then vigorously whisk in your polenta. But mine always turns out lumpy when I do it that way, and lumpy polenta ain’t good eats. (Well, actually, I’ve eaten and enjoyed lumpy polenta many times….but it’s even better when it’s smooth and creamy!) Yesterday, as an experiment, I tried whisking everything cold and letting it all heat together, and my polenta was nice and smooth. If you try this, please let me know if it works for you or if it was just a fluke for me!
  • Once the polenta is good and thick (about 10 minutes later), add the mashed sweet potato, butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. (Of course, you can always add more butter, salt, and/or pepper to suit your liking.)
  • Divide the cooked polenta into two oven-safe bowls and stick them in your warm oven while you tend to your sausage and eggs.
  • Brown and crumble the sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Use a slotted spoon to top your bowls of grits with the sausage, then put those bowls back into the oven.
  • Pour off most (but not all) of the sausage grease from your skillet–you want to leave some to cook your eggs in!
  • Crack your eggs into the hot pan and cook them until the whites are cooked through and the yolks are just starting to firm up. To make sure the tops of your whites get done, you can put a lid over the pan for a minute or spoon some of the hot sausage grease over them à la the Pioneer Woman. Make sure to season your eggs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper while they cook.
  • Get your bowls out of the oven and slide the cooked eggs on top of the grits and sausage.
  • Finish with some fresh cilantro leaves on top.
  • Enjoy!

A note about the eggs: there’s some controversy over whether it’s advisable to eat them sunny side up. The odds are slim, but not quite none, that raw eggs could make you sick. And salmonella infections, from what I hear, are no fun. If you’re concerned, or just don’t like your yolks runny, then by all means, flip your eggs and cook ’em a little more.

But, anecdotally, I’ve been eating my eggs sunny side up or soft-poached for years (not to mention plenty of raw eggs in cookie doughs and cake batters), and have never once suffered a salmonella infection. Lots of other people do this, and I’d be willing to bet that the farmers who sell us our eggs are among this group.

Until I’m stricken with terrible salmonella poisoning, I’ll keep eating my lazy brunch eggs sunny side up, because there are few things in life that I enjoy more than piercing a golden egg yolk with the tip of my fork…letting it spill onto the rest of my food as a rich, thick, gorgeous sauce…and scraping up every last drop of that delicious stuff with a hunk of warm bread or (with a Southern-inspired meal like this) a fluffy buttermilk biscuit.

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muffins for Monday – base recipe #2 – sweet potato muffins

I baked these due to a crazy excess of sweet potatoes in my house last fall, but you could easily make some delicious substitutions.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons room-temperature butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 pounds cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • Get 16 muffin cups ready (see my earlier muffin post about this).*
  • In one bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
  • In a bigger bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, then the yogurt, then the sweet potatoes, then the vanilla and orange juice.
  • Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
  • Divide the batter into your 16 muffin cups.
  • Bake for about 20-25 minutes, cool, and enjoy!

This recipe tastes like Thanksgiving to me, but you could substitute other fruits/veggies and spices to make it taste like whatever holiday you like. 🙂

* My apologies for the strange 16-muffin yield of this recipe! The problem with winging it is that you don’t always end up with a “normal” number of servings.

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