Mashed Potatoes with a Twist

There’s almost no better comfort food than mashed potatoes (except maybe gnocchi mac ‘n cheese!). Creamy, buttery, delicious, YUM.

Seriously, who doesn’t love mashed potatoes?

Horrifying flashback to my childhood — I used to make and eat instant mashed potatoes all the time. Sure, it was easier, but it definitely doesn’t taste as good as the real deal. Plus, after the potatoes have been through so much processing, they lose some of their nutritional value. Potatoes have nutritional value, right?

OK, so maybe potatoes aren’t that great for you, but I still love ’em. I assembled this easy little recipe one night with random ingredients found in my fridge.

Exhibit A: Random ingredients that really need to be used up.

Exhibit B: my growling stomach. Sorry, don’t have a picture of that.

Sadly, I was without milk, so I thought I would just use a little bit of veggie broth for a little flavor and that creamy texture. I figured the broth mixed with some cream cheese would make a good enough consistency.

I only had two potatoes on hand, but you can make this with as many taters as you wish. I apologize for the lack of precise measurements. Mashed potatoes is just one of those things where you add a little bit of this, taste, and add a little bit of that. Go with your gut. And your growling stomach.

Rosemary, Leek, and Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes (2 servings)
2 large potatoes, scrubbed clean (and peeled, if you prefer) and cut into 1 inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp. cream cheese
1-2 Tbsp. veggie broth
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance butter substitute. (Feel free to use real butter.)
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop up your leeks and rosemary. Be sure to put the leeks in a colander and rinse thoroughly after chopping — dirt could be stuck between the layers.

Dice up your potatoes and stick them in a saucepan. Add cold water until potatoes are completely covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes or until done. Done = you can easily stick a fork through the potatoes.

While your potatoes are cooking, get a sauté pan and add a little bit of olive oil, or whatever oil you’ve got laying around. Turn heat to medium and add leeks and rosemary. Sauté, stirring frequently, until leeks are soft (just a few minutes). Remove from heat.

When your potatoes are done, drain the water from your pan and transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. each of the broth, cream cheese, and butter, and mix with a hand mixer or mash with a potato masher — whatever floats your boat. I like to use the mixer because I’m lazy like that. Possibly the reason why Michelle Obama-like arms are always out of my reach. Sorry — tangent. Seriously, though, I would kill for those arms!

Anyway, back to the potatoes.

Once you’ve mixed everything, taste to see if it is creamy enough and flavorful enough. Feel free to add more of the cream cheese, broth, or butter — whatever it needs. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper.

Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency, add your leeks and rosemary, and mix in with a fork.

Serve piping hot, and enjoy this satisfying dose of comfort food.



Baby Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts

If you read the title of this post and were turned off by the idea of brussel sprouts, you’re probably not alone. But wait, let me convince you to try them!

For some reason a lot of people have this idea that brussel sprouts are really disgusting. And they can be — if they’re overcooked. If you overcook them, they release a nasty sulphurous odor, and I assume, don’t taste very good. Oh, and according to Wikipedia, they’re actually called “brussels sprouts” not brussel sprouts. Who knew?

Anyway, if you’ve never actually tried brussels sprouts, you really should! I tried them for the first time last year, and I love them. They have this delicious, nutty flavor, and taste good cooked a number of different ways. Also, they contain something called sulforaphane, which is supposed to have anti-cancer properties. Bonus!

A couple months ago Ric concocted a little somethin’ somethin’ using fingerling potatoes and b-sprouts. Trader Joe’s actually calls the potatoes “teeny-tiny potatoes,” and they are! They’re so cute. This recipe is so yummy and easy, and all you need are 3 main ingredients.

If you’re at the store looking for brussels sprouts, check to see if they have them available on the stalk. This is a crazy-looking alien-like beast of a vegetable (Google “brussels sprout stalk” and you’ll see what I’m talking about), but don’t be scared. The sprouts that come on a stalk are so much fresher and yummier. Look for tight, bright-green heads. Avoid yellowing or loose-leafed sprouts.

If you can’t find them on the stalk, don’t worry about it. You can buy them in a bag, too. But make sure you buy fresh, not frozen!

Before I get to the recipe, let me say that I don’t have exact amounts for how many potatoes or sprouts you should use. When we make this, it’s just for the two of us, so we probably use about 10-12 sprouts cut in half, and maybe 15-20 potatoes cut in half. Use as many or as little as you think you’ll need.

Baby Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
Fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
Brussels sprouts, stemmed and cut in half
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. light-colored oil (canola, olive oil, grapeseed – whatever you’ve got)
Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the brussels sprouts, cut off the stem, and remove outer/bruised leaves. Once you cut the stem, the outer leaves will fall off pretty easily on their own.

Once you’ve de-stemmed them, rinse the sprouts in cold water, drain, and set aside.

Now rinse your potatoes and chop them up.

Pour oil in a large sauté pan and arrange potatoes face down. Set heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook until golden brown. (About 3–5 minutes)

Once your potatoes are nice and golden brown, push them to the side and set your brussels sprouts face down in the middle. You might want to add a bit more oil to the pan at this point, but remove the pan from the heat before doing this! Otherwise it will splatter, and this is not fun. Trust me.

Cover the pan. You might want to turn your heat down a bit. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until browned. Be careful not to burn them! As you can see, some of mine got a little bit charred. Oops.

Once they’re cooked, add in the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and cook for one or two more minutes on low heat.

Serve hot from the pan, and enjoy your brussels sprouts experience! I hope you like them as much as I do!

Penne with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese

One of my favorite cheeses of all is goat cheese. I love it. So creamy, tangy, and delicious. Mmmm… yummy.

So when I saw this recipe from Giada at home, I knew I was in for a treat. A friend requested that I post a recipe with sweet potatoes and goat cheese, and this is not that, but it’s close, right? Sweet potatoes, butternut squash — same diff. Kind of. I’ll have to think up a recipe involving sweet potatoes and goat cheese later. Any excuse to incorporate goat cheese into a recipe!

This was an easy recipe to put together, but it is a bit time consuming. The squash takes a while to roast, so make sure you give yourself about an hour and 15 minutes of prep. and cooking time, or more if you’re peeling and cutting the squash yourself. (I bought pre-peeled and cut squash to save some time.)

Penne with butternut squash and goat cheese (4 to 6 servings)
Cooking spray – vegetable oil or olive oil
2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 lb. penne pasta
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (chop walnuts after toasting)
1 packed cup chopped, fresh basil
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan

Put an oven rack in the top third of the oven, and set your oven at 425° F.

Spray a baking sheet liberally with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the squash and onion. Drizzle with olive oil and mix thoroughly so that everything is coated in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet and cook for 40-45 minutes until squash is tender. Keep an eye on the onions — I wound up with a few burnt pieces because they were in the oven for a bit too long (Confession: I got distracted watching the Vampire Diaries on Netflix. Hey, what can I say? I’m a sucker for trashy TV shows). Once the veggies are done cooking, remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash and onions are cooling, toast the walnuts. This can be done in the oven or on the stovetop. I prefer the stovetop so I can keep an eye on them. Heat walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for one two minutes, tossing or stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.

Make pasta in a large pot, following the directions on the package. When it’s done, reserve about a cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

In a large serving bowl add pasta, goat cheese, and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted and formed a creamy sauce. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of water but I thought this would be too much. You can add as little or as much water as you like, depending how thin you want the cheese sauce.

Add squash and onions, walnuts, and basil. Toss well, and season with salt and pepper. Top it off with parmesan and you’re good to go. The end result is a creamy, flavorful, and filling pasta dish packed with veggies. Enjoy!

Candy Cane Joe-Joe No-Bake Truffles

If you do not live near a Trader Joe’s, my heart goes out to you.

Each year around Christmas, Trader Joes’ everywhere get the most amazingly delicious cookies you will ever taste. It’s a holiday twist on their regular joe-joe cookies (which are basically like oreos), except there are crushed candy cane pieces in the cream filling. Stop reading, get to your local Trader Joe’s, and buy these. Right now. You will not regret it.

Hopefully they are not sold out yet. Let me tell you something — people go crazy over these cookies. Ric works at TJ’s and he tells me stories of people coming in and buying boxes and boxes and boxes. They hoard them. And then, after the Christmas season is over — get this — they sell them on Ebay. I kid you not.

All of this to say, these cookies are so incredibly delicious. I. love. them.

Last year I had the genius idea of making these babies into truffles. I got the easiest no-bake truffle recipe from a friend awhile ago. That recipe called for regular oreos, and I thought ‘Hmm… this would be 100 times better with candy cane joe-joes and crushed candy cane pieces sprinkled on top.’ And I was right.

If you are in need of a ridiculously easy christmas dessert that people will go crazy over, this is it.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe Truffles (Makes 35-40 truffles)
1 box candy cane joe-joes (or use oreos and add some crushed up candy cane and a bit of peppermint extract to the mix)
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (I use 1/3 less fat)
1 bag of white or dark chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli, but whatever works)
Crushed candy canes for topping (or Williams Sonoma makes pre-crushed candy cane sprinkles)
A toothpick

Add half the box of cookies to a food processor and pulse until completely crushed. Repeat with the rest of the cookies. (If you don’t have a food processor, you could probably crush the cookies using a plastic bag and a hammer/meat tenderizer/anything heavy, but I’ve never tried. You really do want a consistent, well-crushed mix, so a food processor is probably best.)

In the past I’ve just added the cream cheese into the food processor to mix, but I’m pretty sure I broke my food processor doing this last time. (I’m too scared to test it and find out) The mix is so thick and heavy that the motor gets bogged down, and you don’t want that. (*Update: My food processor isn’t broken! Hurrah! But save yourself the heart attack, and just mix by hand)

This time I poured the crushed cookies into a bowl and mixed it up by hand. It worked just fine. I would highly suggest doing this so you don’t break your beloved food processor. 😦

Use your hands to combine until it is all the same consistency. It will be very sticky and a bit greasy.

Once it is thoroughly mixed together, take a bit of the mix and roll it together between your palms to make a little ball. You can make them as big or as small as you want… I make them so that they can be eaten in one or two bites. Put them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper or wax paper.

When you’re all done, pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, before taking them out to coat in chocolate.

Now for melting your chocolate. This part can be a bit tricky if you’ve never done it before. Chocolate can be difficult because it burns very easily, so be careful.

To prevent it from burning, I do not put the pan with chocolate directly over the heat. You can use a double boiler and add a couple of inches of water into the bottom pot.

I do not have a double boiler. If you’re in the same boat, get a skillet or a pyrex bowl that can rest on top of/in the pot. Your chocolate will go in there. Bring the water to a light boil and then turn heat down to low.

Set your skillet or bowl on top of the pot with the water. (It should not be touching the water. The steam from the hot water is what will melt the chocolate). Add about half the bag of chocolate to the skillet/bowl. If it’s not enough for all the truffles, you can add more later. I also add a tiny bit of canola oil to thin it out a little bit — maybe 1 tsp.

Stir the chocolate constantly until melted. Keep an eye on it and make sure it’s not bubbling. If it starts to bubble, hold away from the heat for a minute, and turn your heat down.

Keep stirring your chocolate and set the pan of truffles nearby. For the next step, it’s best to have someone to help you.

Add in a couple of truffles at a time and coat with chocolate. Have your helper stick a toothpick in each truffle to get them out, and place them back on the parchment/wax paper. Sprinkle the crushed candy cane on top to hide the hole that the toothpick made.

Repeat with all the truffles and then put them back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving, so the chocolate can harden.

Simple Thanksgiving Side Dish

Seeing as Thanksgiving is in just a few days, I thought I would do some extra posts this week and share a couple of ideas for what to bring if you’re not hosting, or what to make if you are. If you are looking for a super easy side dish, look no further.

Since becoming a vegetarian, sometimes people assume I’m missing out on all of the Thanksgiving delicacies, but this is just not the case. Trust me, I can fill my plate with side dishes galore, and I enjoy my meal every bit as much as others enjoy their turkey. I can also enter into a food coma without the turkey tryptophan. Impressive, right?

There are so many delicious vegetables and fruits that are in season right now: sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sunchokes, rutabaga, winter squash, pomegranates, pears… and these all make for some incredible side dishes.

The other night I wanted to make something quick and easy for dinner, so I thought I would glean some inspiration from my ugly lentil soup recipe, and use some of those ingredients for a side dish. I combined sweet potatoes, onion, apple, and spices for a really yummy side. I’m not actually making this for Thanksgiving, but you could!

Sweet Potato Side Dish (Serves 3-4)
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 onion, diced into small pieces
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cumin
A few pinches of cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh grated ginger
A sprinkle of chili powder
Salt & peper to taste

Preheat oven to 375° F. Mix all ingredients in a baking dish, cover and bake for 30-40 minutes (until potatoes are soft).

I chose to eat it as is, but I bet it also would be good if you mashed it up. I think I’ll do that next time. Let me know how yours turns out!

Winter Squash Quesadillas

I’m back, y’all. I’ve missed you.

I could make lots of excuses for being gone for two. whole. weeks, but really I just need to plan my time better. Story of my life. I have realized that if I don’t plan ahead for a recipe to post each week, it may not happen. So, barring a natural disaster, or me getting pregnant* or something, get ready for posts every week. Hopefully.

Anyway. I am really excited about this recipe. Last week my dear friends and I decided to have dinner together before heading out to a Halloween party. I assessed the situation in the fridge. Hmm… tortillas, squash… umm?

Then I had a stroke of pure genius. OK so maybe it wasn’t genius, but it was pretty good. I thought, let’s make squash quesadillas! So I gathered what I had: a buttercup squash, garlic, shallots, tortillas, mexican-blend cheese, some spices. And hey, it turned out pretty good.

But I didn’t feel like taking pictures that night, so tonight I made it again, except I made it even better, because I actually followed a recipe. I remembered my friend had made these yummy sweet potato quesadillas last year, so I decided to go off of that recipe, modifying it a bit. My friend found this recipe in the awesome Mennonite cookbook: Simply in Season.

Disclaimer: I totally messed up at the store tonight. I meant to buy flour tortillas and I bought corn instead. I was too busy paying attention to the labels: whole grain or white flour, high fiber or low carb, blah, blah, blah. I saw this one that had “whole grain and flax,”  and I thought, hey, that sounds good. So I bought it and then I got home and realized they were corn tortillas, which aren’t really good for quesadillas, because you can’t fold them over — they just kind of break in half. So I made sort of a tortilla sandwich. As you will see, they don’t look as good as a real, flour-tortilla quesadilla would look. My apologies. (They still taste good, though!)

Winter Squash Quesadillas
1 1/2 cups minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. each dried basil, marjoram, chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
A pinch of ground red pepper or to taste
4 cups winter squash (roasted and mashed)
8 FLOUR(!) tortillas
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
Serve with salsa

For this recipe, I used an acorn squash. I think you could pretty much use any type of winter squash. (Like I said before, I used a buttercup squash when I originally made this.) Whatever floats your boat. The original recipe called for sweet potatoes, which is also delish. To roast the squash, cut in half and stick face-down on a baking sheet with a rim. Roast for about 50 minutes at 375° F. The time will vary depending on the size of your squash. It’s done when you can easily stick a fork through the skin.

Scoop the squash out of the skin and mash it up. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Saute the garlic and onion with 1 Tbsp. olive oil (or light-colored oil of your choice) in a large sauté pan, until they are translucent. (I made R chop that onion. Muahahaha!)

Add the spices, and cook for another minute.

Add squash and heat through. Stir frequently. When it’s all heated, add some more salt & pepper if needed.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the squash mixture onto half of the tortilla. Sprinkle some cheese on — as little or as much as you’d like. Fold tortilla in half. Place on lightly oiled baking sheets. Brush tops lightly with oil.

Or if you have corn tortillas, get creative.

Bake at 400° F until golden brown, about 15-20 min. Serve with some yummy salsa. (I regretfully did not have any salsa on hand.)

Look at that gooey, cheesy, squashy goodness. (Sorry vegans).

*Please do not read into this that I think getting pregnant is equivalent to a natural disaster. But it would be sort of bad timing. Let’s finish up grad school first, shall we? Yes, thank you.