Photos by Zachary Cross
This recipe is possibly the fastest this month. It’s a twist on tacos or burritos, a Mexican-style filling in sweet potatoes instead of a tortilla.
Sweet potatoes have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and are not merely the ingredient in a holiday casserole topped with marshmallows. Followers of the Paleo diet use them in place of Irish potatoes or cut into various types of noodles, among other uses. Unlike traditional white potatoes that are members of the nightshade family (which include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), sweet potatoes are related to morning glories. Also different from the Irish potato, sweet potatoes have edible greens. And though the sweet potato roots have a long storage time, the greens have a pretty short shelf life, so look for them around harvest time in fall - or ask a farmer about availability.
Sweet potatoes are not only the familiar dark orange “yams” (they’re not yams at all, but that’s a common name for them), but are also white, purple, and a more yellow-orange. I find the flavors all different but similar and have a hard time describing the differences. Note that a white sweet potato tastes very little like an Irish potato. It seems sweeter to me than an orange one, and drier, though still more moist than a regular potato.
This recipe was originally published in the October issue of Real Simple, probably reaching subscribers in September. It’s a time when summer and fall vegetables overlap. So this recipe has not only sweet potatoes but it also has zucchini in the filling. I made this in December when zucchini is long gone. I did not want to replace it with a squash such as butternut; that seems too similar to the orange sweet potato to me. Acorn squash are pretty neutral, both in color and flavor so I went with a half an acorn squash to replace the zucchini. It worked well, though it was a bit more prep to peel and seed.
Real Simple says to be sure to save any leftovers for future tacos or nachos. This is a yummy recipe but if you want any leftovers be sure to double the recipe at least! We ate it all for supper and could have used some more.
To make this a quick supper Real Simple recommends cooking your sweet potatoes in the microwave. I find they cook unevenly and dry out in the microwave. An excellent alternative if you don’t have time to cook them in the oven is to use a slow cooker. Both Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes cook well all day on low in a slow cooker. Some of my family members prefer regular potatoes over sweet so I put sweet potatoes in the bottom of my slow cooker and white potatoes on top. I figured the sweet potatoes would create the most juice and it would be preferable for them to be on bottom. Some suggestions I found online said to poke holes in them or wrap in foil but I did neither. At the end of they day they were perfect! I think I prefer them that way to baked in the oven. If you have multiple slow cookers you can also cook black beans instead of using canned, making it possible to use another product I see at market sometimes: dried beans. There are also tricks and tips online for using one slow cooker to make more than one dish at a time, usually using foil or slow cooker bags, but alternately oven-proof dishes.
However you cook your potatoes and beans, the rest of the recipe is a quick sauté. I snubbed cayenne and chose cumin instead - and added a little more. All-around this a pretty basic, simple recipe.
Adapted from Zucchini and Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
4 medium sweet potatoes (about 8 oz. each)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ acorn squash (about 8 oz.), peeled and chopped
1 cup sliced yellow onion
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (add or substitute ½ tsp ground cumin, to taste)
1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 ounces white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about ½ cup)
sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges, and green salad, for serving
Photos by Zachary Cross
I was pretty disappointed in this recipe at first. It seemed to make a potentially simple recipe way too hard and the taste was so-so as well. I was sad at the thought of having a fail!
It didn’t help that I did not have a whole chicken to work with like I thought I did. Part of the appeal of the original recipe I worked with, Chicken “Under a Brick”, is to butterfly the chicken and brown it nicely in order to speed up the cooking time - not necessary with the chicken drumsticks and thighs I did have. I did go ahead brown the chicken in the skillet before adding the veggies, then baked as directed. I suppose because I had browned it the chicken was done but the vegetables were not quite done. It was okay, but not more than okay and overall result was definitely not worth the effort of butterflying a chicken and browning it. Also, I loved the flavor of the coriander but it was not enough.
When it came down to it the recipe is pretty similar to a Chicken Broccoli Bake I’ve made before. The Chicken Broccoli Bake is definitely quick, easy, and in one pan (though not a skillet). In fact I think my daughter was the first person in our house to make it. I had all the ingredients on hand, planned to make it for supper, then came down with a virus. My daughter came to the rescue and we were still able to eat a good supper that night. I’ve made it several times since then, though it’s a very basic recipe and I’ve wondered how I could improve it while keeping things simple.
I tried again by combining elements of both recipes - it seemed like it had the potential to be tasty that way. I doubled the coriander and used a bit of garlic olive oil (olive oil with roasted garlic stored in it). I used melted palm oil for the rest of my oil. I didn’t bother browning the chicken but I did rub it with the salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon coriander. Including broccoli as well as mushrooms made for a nice color contrast. I mixed the veggies separately with oil and remaining seasonings, spread them in a large jellyroll pan, and placed the chicken drumsticks and thighs on top. I baked a little longer than directed and this time both the veggies and the chicken were done at the same time.
The flavor was so much better! Using a jelly roll pan instead of a skillet or 9 x 13 pan (as in the Chicken Broccoli Bake) let the juices evaporate - but not too much. This helped the vegetables caramelize nicely instead of steaming as they did in my other attempts.
Mushrooms were scarce at the market when I made this so I used the baby portobellos called for. I think other types of mushrooms would work well and I hope to get to try it with shiitakes soon.
This recipe also works with one to two pounds of tofu in place of the chicken. Start with a pound, see if it looks like enough to suit you, then cut up your second pound if it’s not. Jeffrey preferred less tofu over more. Use more oil, up to ½ cup total, and season the tofu separately to keep it from breaking too much. I also tried sautéing the tofu version and that worked well. You’d need to halve the recipe or use more than one pan for a stovetop version but if you’d prefer working with a stove rather than the oven know that’s an option.
This is such a pretty recipe with all the color and shape contrasts. Arrange the vegetables in a lovely pattern or mix them up willy nilly - it will all taste good and still be attractive.
Inspired by Chicken Under a Brick from Real Simple
And Chicken Broccoli Bake from Our Paleo Life
8 chicken legs and/or thighs
¼ cup olive or melted palm oil, divided
2 teaspoons ground coriander, divided
½ teaspoon pepper, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 large onion, divided into 12 wedges
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
4 oz baby portobello mushrooms, halved
1 small head of broccoli, divided into florets, stalks peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Preheat oven to 400°. Rub with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon coriander, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.
Toss together the onion, sweet potato, mushrooms, garlic, and the remaining oil and salt. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer in a 16" x 12" jellyroll pan. Place the chicken skin side up on the vegetables. Bake in oven until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about one hour. Serve sprinkled with the oregano.
Photos by Zachary Cross
Frittata is a great dish to make with holiday leftovers and I can nearly make one in my sleep. I like trying new things, though, and this recipe for Kale and Goat Cheese Frittata was an opportunity to expand my frittata repertoire.
As long as you are not allergic, or eating a vegan diet, eggs are a marvelous food source. They are a complete source of protein and good source of many vitamins and minerals. Hens that are pasture raised have an even higher level of nutrition than those raised conventionally. Eggs are also an excellent value, even at prices that are perhaps higher than you may be used to at the grocery store.
One thing to be careful about with market eggs, at least for certain recipes, is size. If it’s a new to you recipe, or one whose structure is dependent on eggs (for instance, a cake) I advise weighing your eggs. Most recipes use large eggs and the weight range for large eggs is 2-2.25 oz. When I was making this recipe I decided to weigh my eggs, despite it not being crucial for the recipe, and found I only needed 9 eggs instead of ten! So weighing them can save you money as well as the final product.
Another thing to keep in mind is availability. It can vary at the market from week to week. The dark days of winter and the hot days in summer are two times that egg production can suffer but availability does not always follow logic or weather. If you have refrigerator room stock up when your farmer has them to tide you over weeks that they are not available. Although I have heard that eggs are safe up to six months refrigerated the narrower 4-6 weeks recommended by most sources is plenty for most people. If you need more time or space cracking the eggs and freezing them keeps them for up to a year.
As I mentioned above, frittatas are great for using up leftovers. Cooked, especially roasted, veggies; meats; and cheeses are all good for flavoring your frittata and filling out your meal. Generally at our house we think that a frittata must include potatoes. I wasn’t sure if there would be a revolt since this one didn’t! I played it safe and made baked hash browns (recipe in a future post). Although the hash browns were appreciated I did not hear any comments or complaints about potatoes missing in this dish, either.
Another unusual thing for us in a frittata is the inclusion of milk. We use milk and/or cream in quiche but not in frittata. A half cup is just enough to make it a lighter, fluffier frittata than one made only with egg. Feel free to substitute your favorite non-dairy milk, replace with another egg, or leave it out altogether.
We usually use hard cheese to top our frittata, so goat cheese was an interesting change of pace. My family members are big fans of goat cheese, too, so they were very excited to see it topping their slices. When I was sprinkling it on top 4oz seemed as if would be too much. I only used about half that and served the rest on the side.
The seasonings were new to us, too. I had never put mustard in a frittata before but when my youngest took a bite she said “It tastes like deviled eggs! In a good way,” so I’ll call that a success. I’m embarrassed to say I completely forgot the dill. Even though it’s not my first choice of herbs (probably why I forgot it) I can see how it would work well with this dish.
Although kale is called for and certainly yummy, other greens will work fine, too. I think arugula or broccoli rabe would be especially good. Just don’t expect all greens to have the same volume as curly kale. Here’s another use for your kitchen scale.
Frittata is thick and full of veggies and has to be cooked carefully to be done all the way through without burning. Our first attempts at frittata were pretty comical as we slid them out on a plate, flipped them over, and slid them back into the pan. Or just flipped them directly into another pan to finish cooking. As you might guess, this could go wrong and get very messy. (I blame Martha, but at least she got us cooking frittata.) The oven is the easiest way to finish off the cooking. However, Real Simple and I part ways slightly on cooking method. After the greens are cooked I take all the vegetables out of the pan and begin cooking the eggs with a little butter. I scramble them a bit as I go, then when a solid bottom layer is firm I turn off the heat on the stove, evenly distribute veggies and cheese, and pop it under the broiler. Why bake for 20-25 minutes when you can broil for five to ten (depending on the size and thickness)?
We don’t have a non-stick skillet that can go in the oven. We use a stainless steel pan instead. The advantages are that it’s dishwasher safe and we can use a knife on it. The disadvantage, of course, is the sticking. I used some butter with the eggs and tried to cook them quickly but not too long. I need to give my cast iron skillet a try as that is well seasoned and may work better. If you use non-stick be sure to use a non metal spoon or spatula for scooping out your supper.
From Real Simple October 2016
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (from 1 medium onion)
4 cups chopped curly kale (about 3½ oz.)
10 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 ounce (1 cup) goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh dill leaves
Photos by Zachary Cross
December is a busy time for many people. If you have children in school there are the extra holiday school activities, exams, and projects. Those without children may find themselves attending more get-togethers, shopping, and having extra time with extended family, travelling or hosting guests. So I’m planning on presenting meals that are quicker but still use whole foods from the market. I will provide gluten-free and vegetarian options with each meal and suggestions with some on how to use holiday leftovers.
Three of December’s meals will be one-skillet meals, so that at the very least, you will only have one pot to wash at the end of the meal. They’re taken from Real Simple’s October issue which has six recipes for “Skillet Dinners.” I highly recommend Real Simple for recipes that are quicker to make but still use real and seasonal ingredients. The easiest way to search for recipes is to Google the recipe and/or ingredient(s) plus “Real Simple recipes.” Real Simple’s own search engine on their site is not that great. For example Googling “real simple recipes brussels sprouts,” brings up a page of results, the first being “11 Easy Recipes for Brussels Sprouts” (this includes a variation on last week’s roasted Brussels and grapes).
Real Simple’s recipes often serve four. If you are serving more people and/or hungry teens or athletes there are simple ways to round out the meal. Salad or bread are obvious choices. Adding a steamed vegetable, while also adding another pot to wash, takes little time (made while the main dish finishes in the oven) and doesn’t dirty the pot much. With this meal I served fresh, raw, snap peas I bought at market. They were a nice green contrast to the pot pie. And super easy!
The first meal I’m presenting this month is probably the longest one to make, depending on the options you choose. The time it takes is more about the prep time which in the original recipe includes cutting up a chuck roast, rolling pastry dough, peeling and chopping butternut squash, and prepping leeks. You can save time by choosing meat already cut up (e.g., CoLyCo Farms often has “stew meat” at market), using onions instead of leeks (though I love leeks and think they are usually worth the prep time), choosing root veggies instead of butternut squash, and by using a different topping for the pie.
I made two pies to accommodate my semi-vegetarian family and my own wheat allergy. I could have made one vegetarian pie with a wheat-free topping but I really wanted to try the beef. It’s just as well; there were no leftovers of the vegetarian pie and few of the beef! This recipe was well rated by my family overall.
To make the beef pie wheat-free I used leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes for the topping. And, yes, the color in the photo is correct: they are pink. Jeffrey nearly always includes roasted beet puree in his mashed potatoes, at least for special occasions. I think this started as a way to use up the abundant beets in our CSA share (we like beets, but not in the quantity we received that year) but was so well received that he’s made it a tradition. I used the same water/egg mixture to brush on top of the mashed potatoes before baking. I divided the egg mixture into two cups and used one on each pie. I’m not sure it helped the browning like it did on the pastry but perhaps it would have with a longer cooking time. I was ready to eat it rather than wait and find out!
I also replaced the flour with arrowroot flour for thickening. I’ve read both that arrowroot holds up well to long cooking but also that it does not. I decided to play it safe and add it last, just before adding the topping. I used a proportion of 1 teaspoon arrowroot for every tablespoon of flour called for total (I did not coat the beef with any at the beginning of the cooking process). I mixed it well with a little cold water, then stirred it into the meat and veggie mixture. The arrowroot held up fine with the final cooking time in the oven.
For the vegetarian version I replaced the meat with a pound of mushrooms cut in cubes and used a couple of tablespoons of palm oil to make up for the lost beef fat (more olive oil should be fine, too). The beef stock I replaced with homemade veggie stock . I used arrowroot powder in this version, also, so I could enjoy a little of the filling, too. Otherwise I made it according to the original recipe, including the puff pastry on top. I used a purchased, frozen puff pastry, though there is a recipe on the blog that is supposed to be simple to make, and can be made ahead of time.
If you are making this gluten-free you will want to make sure your beer is gluten-free or otherwise replace it. One option is to include more broth. Tasty homemade broth is easily made from scraps you might otherwise discard. My favorites are mushroom stems, leek and celery trimmings, carrot ends, and parmesan rinds. Bones, cooked or raw, add flavor and gelatin to meat stocks. If I’m not ready to use them right away I save my scraps in small bags stored together in a larger, labeled bag in the freezer. These scraps defrost quickly when I want them for a stock.
Another alternative to the beer is cola. I’ve not tried it and it sounds awfully sweet but the soda is supposed to tenderize the meat and I can see how the dark flavor would work well. Reeds and Blue Sky offer naturally flavor, cane sugar-sweetened options (as opposed to corn syrup based). Other options include red wine vinegar (perhaps use ¼ cup vinegar and ¼ cup extra broth) or red wine. I tolerate wheat-free beer so I used Chattanooga Brewing’s Chestnut Street Brown Ale. It’s not a stout but it’s dark enough, it’s yummy, and it’s local!
If you are feeling adventurous (or, more likely for me, lazy) use leftovers to replace the original recipe ingredients. This could range from a whole pie made from leftovers, such as in the pot pie recipe the puff pastry recipe came from, one ingredient replacement as I used, or somewhere in between. Adjust the cooking times as necessary.
From Real Simple
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless chuck roast, fat trimmed, cut into ¾-in. pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1½ cups chopped leeks (from 2 medium leeks)
1 cup chopped carrots (from 2 large carrots)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
½ cup stout beer (such as Guinness)
2½ cups beef stock
1 cup chopped butternut squash
½ (17.3-oz.) package of frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water