Sweet Potato Tots and Cinnamon Dipping Sauce

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Almost three years ago, our family took a trip to Savannah, Georgia to meet up with dear friends. I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Lexi and in the throes of morning sickness. We spent a lot of time in restaurants, which means that I spent a lot of time hiding my face in my shoulder trying to block out the smells of food. In fact, about the only thing I ate that whole weekend was sweet potato fries with a vanilla-cinnamon dipping sauce. It was delicious.

I’ve bought sweet potato fries often since then (the Alexia brand is my favorite), but I was at a loss on where to begin making the dipping sauce. Until yesterday. My darling cousin, Kim, posted a picture of Alexia sweet potato tots with a sweet dipping sauce on Facebook and I knew I needed the recipe stat.

Kim said that she made a simple combo of marshmallow fluff and cinnamon (with just a pinch of sugar) for the dipping sauce. I swung by the store on the way home today to pick up the marshmallow fluff and set out to make it for myself.

Now, marshmallow fluff is not something that I normally eat, but with only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons and 6 ingredients (corn syrup, sugar, water, egg whites, xanthan gum and salt), it wasn’t nearly as lethal as I was envisioning when I was on my way to pick it up from the store. Mind you, I wasn’t to be deterred, but I’m happy that it wasn’t the kryptonite that I thought.

I wanted the consistency to be a bit thinner than straight marshmallow fluff, so I heated up the fluff in a ramekin for 10 seconds and added a splash of half and half. I also added a healthy amount of cinnamon (maybe a 1/2 teaspoon) and then I whisked it for a good 60 seconds. At first, it’s going to look like the fluff and the milk won’t incorporate, but just keep whisking. I promise it will!

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The best part is that after the dip returns to room temperature, it will thicken up slightly and turn into a delicious, creamy dip. This dip is so insanely delicious that I plan on serving the sweet potato tots and dip to the kids for dessert from now on. Enjoy!

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Chopped Salad To Die For

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Back in February, I went to my friend Kristin’s house for a girls night. She served us gals a bunch of delicious things, but none of them was as notable as this chopped salad. I literally paused after my first bite to exclaim, “Holy crap – what is in this? It’s delicious!” After that, I scarfed down the rest of the salad (and got a second helping) in record time.

She sent me the link to the recipe originally found on cookitallergyfree.com (you can find that original recipe here), but I’ve since modified it to suit my tastes. In fact, that’s the best thing about this salad – add in what you like, leave out what you don’t and I’d bet my favorite hat that it’s delicious. The secret is in the homemade dressing, which is the real gem of this recipe.

Dressing:

1 cup buttermilk*
1 cup mayo (I use Vegannaise)
1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce (I use the jarred one from the pasta isle)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

*I never have buttermilk on hand, so I just add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Presto – you have buttermilk!

Now, just add all of the dressing ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. I mix mine together in a large glass measuring cup that has a rubber lid (I think it’s made by Anchor and I got it from WalMart). I like the easy pour spout of the measuring cup and the lid is helpful because you can stir it, pour it and cover it for next time. I know this dressing lasts for at least 5 days because that’s how many days in a row I ate it when I first got the recipe.

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Okay, now for my preferred salad ingredients.

Salad Ingredients:

Mixed lettuces (usually whatever is at the Farmers Market)
Diced tomatoes
Diced carrots
Diced onions
Diced baby bella mushrooms
Chopped broccoli
Sunflower seed kernels
Chopped walnuts
Chopped dried cherries
Roasted corn*
Chopped smoked salmon (for me) or diced chicken (for the Irishman)

*I only add the roasted corn if I’m feeling fancy. To roast it, I just buy the organic frozen corn kernels, put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them for 30 minutes in a 300 degree over. They need to cool completely for the salad, so you can make them ahead of time easily.

Okay, the key to this salad is that the chopped lettuce (which you should chop pretty finely) is only about 1/6 the volume of the total salad. For most traditional salads, the lettuce is the main event and the sides just briefly make an appearance. For this chopped salad, every ingredient gets equal billing.

The original recipe’s website has an awesome presentation where everything is lined up beautifully. I’d probably take the time to do that if I wanted the WOW factor, but since I’m mostly just serving this for myself, I just throw all of the ingredients in a bowl, drizzle a healthy amount of the dressing on top, toss it really well so that everything is coated and call it a day.

For me, the best thing about a chopped salad is that every single bite has dressing on it. I mean, don’t you just hate when the top of your salad is saturated with dressing, yet the sad little lettuce leaves on the bottom of your bowl are bereft of any dressing love? Why did it take me over 3 decades to figure out the beauty of a chopped salad?

The important thing is that I now know and I’ll never go back to whole lettuce leaf salads.  If you’re looking at this and thinking, “That looks great, but I don’t have the time to chop all those ingredients up every single time I want this salad!” Have no fear – here’s what you do.

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1. Chop all of your lettuce finely and put it in an extra large mason jar (or other airtight salad04storage container).

2. Chop your veggies (I usually do everything but the tomatoes, which can be runny) finely and put them in a separate container. *Hint – I layer the veggies as I chop them so that when I shake the mason jar, they distribute easily.

3. Combine your dry ingredients (nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries) and put them in a third container.

When you’re ready to assemble your salad, just shake out some lettuce, some veggies and some of your dry mix. Chop up your tomato and your protein (smoked salmon or cooked chicken), throw it in there and add in as much of the dressing that you want. With everything thing pre-chopped you can eat this every day of the week with virtually zero additional prep time.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Briam

Briam is a dish that my yiayia Stella used to make all the time. It has a Turkish name, but is familiar to Greeks around the country. It’s simple to make and it’s a great healthy side dish that is loaded with veggies. Even better, all of the vegetables are things that I can regularly find at our local farmer’s market so that it’s truly garden fresh.

Here’s what you need: one large zucchini (or two small zucchinis), three Cubanelle peppers, three large potatoes, two small onions, two cloves garlic, one can diced tomato, half can of water, half cup olive oil, one cup fresh parsley and one tablespoon salt.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice all of the veggies into thin rounds and put them in a large roasting pan.

Chop your garlic and your parsley and add them both to the pan.

Add in your diced tomatoes…

…and a half can of water.

add in your olive oil and salt, toss everything together until it’s well coated (your hands are best for this task), and pop it into your preheated oven.

This dish needs a good two hours to cook, but it doesn’t need any more touch time from you. Even though this makes a lot of food, it’s so delicious, it didn’t last more than two days in our house. In fact, I’ll probably be making it again this week.

Enjoy!

Irish Soda Bread

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Whenever I get back from Greece, there are two things that I miss the most: bread and feta cheese. It’s not that we don’t have these things in the states, it’s simply that they have a less central role at the dinner table here. In Greece, the acquisition of bread is so important to meal time that one of us generally makes a trip down to the bakery first thing in the morning and picks up a loaf before they sell out, which is usually around 9am. Of course, the bakery also sells sweets, so they are open for the remainder of the day….you just won’t be able to find any bread. While that sounds a bit odd, purchasing anything other than bread baked that same day is unheard of. In contrast, I think of the packaged loaves that we buy here in the states and maybe it’s not so hard to understand why bread isn’t a staple in my house. It just isn’t worth the calories.

This year, I decided that instead of just daydreaming about fresh baked bread, I’m going to learn how to bake it myself…not in a bread machine, but the old fashioned way. I mean, if my ancestors have been baking bread for centuries without even the aid of a stand mixer, then certainly I can figure it out as well, right? So, I’m officially a bread-baker in training. At least the birds will profit from my “failures.”

Since I’m new to this, I decided to start with the absolute simplest recipe I could find. It just so happens that last week, my friend Katie turned me onto this site called The Gracious Pantry and on that site, they had a recipe for Irish Soda Bread. I researched a lot of other Irish Soda Bread recipes and they included things like sugar, raisins, eggs, etc… This one was basic, rustic and pure. Here’s what you’ll need:

3 cups flour (white, whole wheat or a combination)
1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup buttermilk

Now, I never have buttermilk on hand, so I just add a tablespoon of white vinegar to regular milk and let it sit for 10 minutes. Once that’s done, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Pulling the bread together is very simple. Just mix the dry ingredients together, create a well in the center and add in the buttermilk.

I usually add all but 2 tablespoons of the milk because it’s easy for the bread batter to get too wet. Just knead it with your hands and if it’s too sticky, add a touch more flour. You don’t even want to know the shenanigans that went on the first time I was trying to get the consistency right. It was a sticky mess! However, you’ll know it’s ready once it easily forms a ball (if it’s too dry and falls apart, add more buttermilk) Then, just put it on an ungreased pan (I use my pizza stone) and score an X into the top of the bread to allow steam to escape and put it in the preheated oven. That’s it. You don’t need to wait for it to rise or punch it down twice or do the hokey pokey with it. Just bake it for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and at 325 for another 10-15 minutes.

Let it cool enough to handle and serve. Now, I will tell you that this is traditional soda bread, so it isn’t sweet at all. It does have a wonderfully rustic flavor and the texture is lovely – crunchy on the outside and soft and dense on the inside. The Irishman said that it was exactly as he remembers it from his trip to Ireland. I can’t wait to bake and serve this alongside some Shepherd’s Pie. In the meantime, I’ve been eating it with a schmear of butter and a dollop of honey. Very tasty.

Next up on the bread baker-in-training schedule is a whole grain bread loaf. I can’t wait until I no longer need to buy bread from the market.

*Originally posted 7/12/10

Make Your Own Taco Seasoning

Keeping with my Mexican craving theme, we made quesadillas last night. As I was browning the ground beef for the boys, I realized that we were out of the packaged taco mix. Uh oh. Not willing to give up my Mexican fix for the night, I scrambled to find out how to make your own taco seasoning. I scanned a couple of recipes and came up with my own combination of spices based on what I had in my cabinets. This was the very tasty combo that I ended up with:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

I mixed all of the ingredients together in a ramekin and added it to 1 lb. of beef. The Irishman said that the level of flavor was spot on. My next step is going to be making a large batch of this and storing it in a mason jar. With God as my witness, we will never buy packaged taco seasoning again! Now please, go forth and join us in our rebellion of the packaged stuff. Your tummy will thank you.

Beet Salad

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The first time that my husband had this dish at my mom’s house, he looked at it and said out of the side of his mouth, “What is that?” I encouraged him to just taste it and naturally, he liked it. To this day, this is the only way that he’ll eat beets. And eating beets is definitely a good thing because they are great for you. They are loaded with iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Beets also have many blood cleaning properties.
This recipe is incredibly simple. For 2 cans of beets (drained), add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Mix it well and let it hang out for an hour or a day (depending on how much time you have). That’s all there is to it. I usually make four cans at a time and it only lasts me a couple of days.
If you’ve never tried beets before, I recommend taking the plunge. Oh, and just be careful when you drain the cans because beet juice stains. I have a number of shirts now relegated to “house clothes” that can attest to this.

Sweet Cornbread

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When I was 9 months pregnant with Parker, I had an intense craving for cornbread. So, a group of us went to Smokey Bones, a rib joint that served a scrumptious skillet cornbread with honey butter, so that I could get my fix. Well, the unthinkable happened. They were out of cornbread. I believe my exact words were, “What do you mean you are out of cornbread?” It wasn’t a rational response, but I was hugely pregnant and quite ornery. I sighed in exasperation and told the server, “I guess that I’ll have donuts instead.” The server took off to fill our order and then timidly came back to your table. Virtually hiding behind the pad she was holding, she quietly informed me that they were out of donuts too. It was almost too much for me to handle. I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or throttle the poor girl who had nothing to do with their inventory. I would have walked out right then and there if it wasn’t a big group of us. Instead, I sat and sulked. Pleasant company, huh?
I tell you that story not only to further confirm my spastic nature, but to convey that when I want cornbread, I generally want it bad. Since there isn’t a Smokey Bones within an hour of me, I’ve learned to make my own. It’s probably safer for their wait-staff this way.
Here’s what you need:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup of milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Mix all of the ingredients together and pour the batter into a 9″ round cake pan. bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. I generally serve this with a pad of butter and a healthy drizzle of honey (Parker likes his with apple butter). It is so incredibly good when it’s still warm out of the oven that I generally heat up individual pieces in the microwave before serving the leftovers. It makes my tummy happy.