Monday, January 31, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato Coins with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

Last Friday, I was able to go home for lunch when a meeting ended and I didn't need to be back in the office.  Since I usually pack leftovers in some form for lunch, it's pretty exciting for me to actually get to cook myself lunch on a weekday.  I started daydreaming about what I could make as soon as I pulled out of the parking garage.

A few days earlier, I had seen a recipe on The Jey of Cooking for a fancied-up spin on potato skins.  The combination of sweet potatoes, bacon and sour cream, with orange juice and chives to provide some brightness, grabbed me right away.  Luckily, I had the ingredients, or at least items that could stand in, plus some caramelized onions, hanging out in the fridge.  Thank goodness, because these little sweet potato stacks were as tasty as I'd hoped!

Roasted Sweet Potato Coins with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

What's in them:

1 small sweet potato
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 clementine, juiced
2 slices of bacon, diced
1/4 cup caramelized onions
1/4 cup sour cream
1 scallion, sliced

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut sweet potatoes into thick rounds and toss with clementine juice and brown sugar.  Spread the potato slices in a glass baking dish, and bake until soft, about 45 minutes, flipping once halfway through.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium low heat until crispy.  Set on paper towels to drain.

When potatoes have about 5 minutes left, top each slice with some of the caramelized onions and return to the oven.

When potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.  Transfer to a plate, and top each with a dollop of sour cream, and sprinkle with bacon and scallions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: How far do you drive for groceries?

Browsing the other day, I came across this article from, about rural food deserts.  I don't know about you, but I've always heard the term "food deserts" applied to inner-city areas with few to no grocery stores.  But with changes in the agriculture industry and the economy, there are more and more rural areas seeing the same problem.  It's a little mind-boggling that the areas that supply the raw materials for our food don't always have access to the final product.

Quick trip to the Giant near our house

I'm lucky.  I have not one but three basic grocery stores within a mile of home, and could walk to any of them if I had to.  There's also a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods within a 20-minute drive, and numerous farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, and farmstands in the area.  I aim for grocery shopping once a week, but if I forget or run out of something, no big deal, the store is right there.

How far do you go for groceries?  Do distance and time affect how you shop?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter

Do you like nuts in your brownies?  I don't.  Not that I have anything against nuts, I just don't think they belong in brownies.  It's a texture thing- I feel like the crunch is out of place with the chewiness of a good brownie.

When I saw the cover recipe of this month's Bon Appetit, I thought "Mmmm, brownies.  Too bad they ruined them with nuts."  But then I read the recipe, and the words browned butter jumped out at me.  I knew I had to make these brownies no matter what their stance was on nut-inclusion.

Since I was making these for a weekly get together with friends and not for myself, I had originally planned to just make the recipe as written.  But I was out of walnuts, so it was going to have to be pecans.  And then I tasted the batter (I know you do this too- don't judge!).  It didn't need nuts.  Any nuttiness requirements were already filled by the browned butter, and have you ever seen anyone pass on a brownie simply because it didn't have nuts?  I know I haven't. 

To make up for the deletion, I did add some chocolate chips, mostly because I found part of a bag while hunting for the walnuts.  The final brownie was fantastic, and a hit with the friends I made them for- intensely chocolatey, dense and fudgy, but with a slightly salty, caramelly taste that balanced it nicely.

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter

What's in them:

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

How to make them:
Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2" metal baking pan (I used a 11x7x1.5" with no problems) with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot).

Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes (uh, I didn't count- just go until it looks like brownie batter). Stir in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes (the slightly larger pan only took 22 minutes). Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan and cut into desired size.  I cut approximately 2x2" squares, and really, they're so rich that they don't need to be bigger. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Roasted Eggplant Soup

My husband is out of town this week.  I miss him a lot, of course, and the day to day grind is a little trickier without him around to help out.  An active and curious toddler, a full-time job, and a household to run can make life pretty hectic at times.  But on the bright side, it means I can make whatever I want for dinner.  Now, don't get me wrong, he's not picky, and happily eats pretty much anything I cook.  But there are definitely things that just aren't his style, like this soup.

Adapted a bit from the original Bon Appetit recipe by Smitten Kitchen, I followed Deb's suggestion to add more spice, and I am so glad I did.  Smoky and filling, but still on the light side, this was a great meal for a chilly Sunday evening, paired with some freshly grilled garlic naan.

I've also submitted this to Branny Boils Over for her Charity Souper Bowl for the ASPCA.  We don't have any pets ourselves, since we're not sure we have the time these wonderful animals deserve, but friends have adopted through the ASPCA and it's a great organization!

Roasted Eggplant Soup

What's in it:

 3 medium tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggplant
1 small onion, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp cumin, divided
6 cloves roasted garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tsp smoked paprika
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup feta cheese

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tomatoes, eggplant and onion on a large baking sheet. Brush or drizzle vegetables with oil, sprinkle with 1 tsp cumin, S&P, then roast them for about 40 minutes, until the
vegetables are tender and brown in spots. Remove from oven and scoop eggplant from skin into a heavy, large saucepan or soup pot. Add the rest of the vegetables, the rest of the cumin, the garlic, the thyme
the smoked paprika and the chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until onion is very tender, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly.

Puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender. I left mine a little chunky.  In the pot, add the cream and bring the soup back to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in four bowls, sprinkled with feta.