Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

My turkey may have been a little dry and overcooked, but the sweet potatoes were a rousing success. After making a test batch Thursday for my own little celebration, I made them again yesterday evening for Beth's Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone seemed to like them, except for the kids. But I don't know many kids who like sweet potatoes in any form, so I wasn't too disturbed by that.

I put aleppo peppers in my test version but wasn't sure about bringing something spicy to Beth's so I left them out of yesterday's batch. They were really good both ways.

I used dried cranberries (an impulse buy on Wednesday night when I stopped at Treasure Island to make sure I had everything I needed for Thursday) and orange juice to flavor the potatoes. A little cumin cuts the sweetness and gives the dish a subtle smoky flavor.

In the past I would just cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave before mashing them up with a little orange juice, salt and pepper. But roasting them really intensifies their deep rich flavor and gives them a soft, velvety texture that the microwave just can't duplicate. Baking them after they're mashed smoothes out their texture even more and allows all of the flavors to combine and fully develop.

Toasted walnuts and cacao nibs are the perfect garnish to make this a festive holiday dish.
Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8
4-5 medium-sized Red Garnet or Jewel sweet potatoes
2 honey tangerines
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 tsp dried aleppo or any other pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted caco nibs, crushed, for garnish
1 Tbsp chopped dried cranberries, for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the sweet potatoes and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook until tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

At least an hour before the potatoes are done, zest the tangerines then juice them. Combine the zest and the juice in a bowl with the brandy, the chili peppers and the dried cranberries. Leave at room temperature so the cranberries can rehydrate in the liquids.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool until they can be handled. Peel them and place them in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and, with a potato masher or a fork, mash the oil and potatoes together. Add the orange juice mixture, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything well and transfer it to an oven-proof 4-quart casserole dish. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the toasted walnuts, chopped cranberries, and cacao nibs on top and serve warm, or add them to each individual portion before serving.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Day after Thanksgiving

It was absolutely gorgeous today here in Chicago. The sun was shining and it was in the upper 50s. In other words, the perfect day to go outside and walk off some of yesterday's Thanksgiving turkey.

I was running low on a couple of spices so I decided to trek over to my favorite spice shop. I didn't buy anything new, just replenishing. For someone who's accumulated as much spice as I have over the past couple of months, it's always a little surprise to me when I run out of something. But I ran out of their sweet curry powder and, while I'm totally getting off on making my own curry blends, their sweet curry blend is spectacular so I figure why play around when what's already there is outstanding?

For not getting anything new, I did end up buying a lot. I got the sweet curry powder, whole Croatian sage leaves, Spanish smoked sweet paprika, Saigon cassia cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, French thyme, cumin seeds, more cacao nibs, and some tomato powder for my friend Melinda. I love going to the spice store. My bag always smells so good on the way home.

From there I walked down North Avenue to the Container Store to get some more hanging sweater bags so I can do some more organizing. I got a good start cleaning up my apartment for my brother and nephew and this year I'm determined to keep it that way. I'm going to be throwing out a ton of stuff.

And now for the turkey. Doesn't it look beautiful?
Unfortunately, this isn't the final product. I took it out of the oven when the temperature was right, then let it sit for about half an hour before I started cutting it. In the middle of the process, which was getting pretty messy (19.65 lbs. of turkey is a LOT of turkey), I realized it wasn't completely cooked. So I had to put it back in for another half hour. It ended up a little dry and not so pretty so there aren't any more pictures.

Most of it is already in the freezer. I've got a beautiful carcass and some wings for soup, and plenty of cooked meat for which I'm already starting to come up with some leftover ideas.

I did create one dish that's a keeper. I made a test version of it yesterday, elaborating on a theme I started here. I'm going to make it again tomorrow to take to a friend's house for a weekend Thanksgiving dinner.

So even though it wasn't the best turkey, it wasn't bad for the first time. Next year I'll have a little more experience behind my belt, so it will be better.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Say Hello To My Little Friend

This little turkey came home from work with me last Friday and has been thawing in the refrigerator since then. It was still a little frozen when I opened it up this morning. Right now it's roasting in the oven for about 3-1/2 hours. Did I mention that it's a 19.65 lb. turkey? This sucker is huge!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope there's lots of good food and good company, whatever you're eating.

My friend Mary is in Hong Kong with our friend Yam right now. I can't remember if they'll be celebrating later today, or if they already celebrated yesterday. I can't wait to hear all about it.

I had a great time with my brother and my nephew last week. We managed to make it down to Milennium Park this year (last year it was so cold we turned back before we had walked a mile). I have to say, it was pretty cool. I managed to take some pictures from inside the bean.

That's the very top of it. My brother, nephew and I are smack in the middle of the line of 7 people at the bottom of the circle. I'm in the middle. Recognize me?

After admiring the inside, I went outside and became fascinated with the skyline as viewed from the bean.

Pretty cool, huh? Those are all from the north and west sides. The line of people at the bottom of the last picture are watching ice skaters in the plaza down below. They were taking a break (maybe to sweep the ice?) just then, so I didn't get any shots of the skaters. I was getting really annoyed at the cheesy music they were playing while we were walking around until I realized it was the skating music. It was just as annoying, but at least there was some context for it.

Oooh. I can already smell the turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It's That Time of Year. . .

. . . and the days are flying by. As I write this post, my brother and nephew are somewhere on the Oklahoma Turnpike making their way to Chicago for a pre-Thanksgiving visit. The only bummer is that this year I won't be going back to Austin with them. Not with the new job. Maybe next year.

I've been busy getting ready for them so I havn't had much time to post since last week. But I have been cooking.

Like this tomato salad I made out of the leftover cucumber sauce I had made to go with the Tandoori-Style Chicken I made for Danielle's Spice is Right event. I had some left over and I wasn't sure what to do with it, and I had bought some tomatoes to go with a Turkey-Walnut Meat Loaf recipe review for Fitfare. I had too many tomatoes and was trying to decide what to do with the extras when I remembered the cucumber sauce. I just chopped up the tomato and added the sauce and it was delicious. It's worth making the cucumber sauce just for this purpose.

Speaking of Fitfare, this Friday will be my last post. I'm having enough trouble keeping up with my knitting, my new job, and this here blog so I've decided to take a break. But it looks like they're doing some interesting things, so you should continue to check them out every now and then.

I'm so excited. My brother and nephew will be here in less than 24 hours!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

TSIR 8: Wouldn't That Be Good with Cacao Nibs?

The minute I read Danielle's theme for this month's Spice Is Right event I knew what I wanted to do. I've been infatuated with cacao nibs ever since I brought them home with me, as you know from my posts here and here. I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about them and dreaming about with which foods they would go best. So far, I haven't thought of anything that wouldn't taste better with a little chocolate. Well, apparently liver wouldn't, but that's another story.

But there was one dish I knew they belonged with before I had ever tasted them. In fact, I mentioned it when I wrote about it. The warm toasty aroma of the Tandoori Masala I made for Barbara's Back to School Spice Is Right event was already suggesting chocolate and coffee to me.

So when Danielle said to use a spice with a dish from a cuisine that doesn't usually use that spice, my choice was obvious. Why not go ahead and add ground toasted cacao nibs to my Tandoori Masala and cook me up some chicken? So off I went to (surprise, surprise) and found a recipe for Tandoori style chicken. That recipe listed the spices separately, so I used it as more of a springboard than a recipe and used my lovely Tandoori Masala, to which I added a healthy dose of ground cacao nibs.

It made such a lovely, delicious chicken. The cacao nibs have a dark, warm toasty flavor that complements the tandoori spices to perfection. I am so glad Danielle chose this theme for this month's event. If she hadn't, it would have just been another great idea I had that I never tried. And that would have been a true shame because it's so good I will be making it again and again.

The chicken is the all natural chicken I've been getting at the Apple Market. I can't say enough good things about it. I've been shopping there often enough now that they recognize me, which is a nice feeling. And it was also really nice to be able to ask them to quarter the chicken for me, rather than my having to deal with it when I got it home.

Yogurt is an amazing tenderizer. This is the third time I've used it as a marinade for chicken, and each time the chicken has come out juicy and incredibly tender. Even though this bird was in the oven for a long time, it came out tender and flavorful and the white meat had not dried out at all, as it sometimes does when it's roasted for a long time. This easy dish comes out with a rich, complex, layered flavor that tastes like it took long hours and hard work to prepare.

Tandoori-Style Chicken with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

1 cup nonfat yogurt
1 Tbsp Tandoori Masala
1 Tbsp cacao nibs, toasted and ground
3-1/2 lb. chicken, quartered and skinned

1 cup nonfat yogurt
1 med cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp salt

Thinly sliced limes
Fresh mint sprigs
Ground toated cacao nibs

The day before you plan to cook the chicken, mix the Tandoori Masala and cacao nibs into the yogurt. Combine chicken and marinade in a bowl or sealable plastic food-storage bag and refrigerate overnight.

To cook, heat oven to 500 deg. F. Place chicken in large roasting pan, brushing with the remaining marinade. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue baking 45 minutes to an hour, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with fork.

While chicken is cooking, prepare Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce. In medium-size bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, lime juice, mint and salt. Transfer sauce to serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Transfer chicken to serving platter. Cover with cucumber-yogurt sauce and garnish with mint sprigs, lime slices, and ground cacao nibs.

Adapted from recipe at

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gemelli with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

What could be better than a baking sheet full of roasted tomato goodness?

A baking sheet full of roasted tomato and baby eggplant goodness. I bought them both last week with the idea that I would cook up some kind of sauce with them but never got around to it. By this morning, the baby eggplants were pretty much now or never so I knew I had to do something with them today.

I was just going to throw them into the microwave and cook them there. But it's a cool enough day that I got it in my head that I might as well roast them in the oven. And since the oven was going to be on for the eggplant, I might as well throw the tomatoes in there as well, right? So I cut the eggplants in half, brushed some olive oil on them, and laid them cut-side down on a baking sheet. Then I halved the tomatoes and seeded them. After coating them with olive olive oil as well, I laid them cut-side down on another sheet. I put them in a 400-degree oven and left them there for 40 minutes. Within 15 miutes I started to smell them and it made my apartment all warm and roasty.

I made a sauce out of them with garlic and onions, seasoned with the greek oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. The ratio of tomato to eggplant was a little light, so I added some tomato powder.

What's tomato powder, you ask? Oh, just something the spice geek picked up quite a while ago at The Spice House. I had never seen anything like it, but it seemed like a good thing to have on hand. I put it in the fridge when I got it home and kind of forgot that I had it. But a couple of weeks ago I needed just a little tomato sauce and didn't have any (!) and I remembered it sitting in the door of the fridge. I took it out, put a four-to-one ratio with water into a little bowl, and lo and behold I had me some tomato sauce that smelled and tasted as if it had just been squeezed out of the tomato.

I can't recommend this stuff highly enough. A three-to-one ratio makes paste; four-to-one makes sauce. And it's just tomato powder. Nothing else. And it keeps forever. At least I know for a fact it lasts more than a year.

I served this over gemelli. The result? Fahbulous, dahling.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 large tomatoes, halved and seeded
4 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise
4-6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and sliced
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 Tbsp tomato powder
4 Tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to brush the cut surfaces of the eggplant and tomatoes. Place them cut side down on separate baking sheets and bake in a 400-degree oven for 40 minutes. While they're cooling, prep the other ingredients. After they've cooled enough, scoop the insides out of the eggplant and skin the potatoes. Put them in separate bowls. Make tomato sauce by mixing the tomato powder and water in a small bowl.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Add oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for a minute or two longer. Add eggplant and break it up, cooking until it's thoroughly heated and the pan is sizzling again. Add the tomatoes and the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve over gemelli or other short whole what pasta.

Yesterday I went with some knitting friends to a Dulaan Project knit-in that Franklin Habit of Panopticon coordinated, along with some help from Bonne Marie and a couple of other folks. It was a lot of work and there were a lot of people there all knitting wonderful things for a good cause. I'm in one of those pictures, but I defy anyone other than Melinda, Louann or Mary to find me.

And now I have to go get started on my dish for the latest Spice is Right event.
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