Friday, January 23, 2015

Chili with Roasted Butternut Squash

As winter continues to chill us to the core, I feel sufficiently protected through my five layers of clothing to break out the food puns. Thus: chili. Because I'm chilly. 

I can hear your giggles from all the way over here. 

We had a perfectly relaxing weekend night at home a couple of weeks ago. It was almost idyllic, actually. We used our fireplace, and I heated up spiced apple cider on the stove with a couple of cinnamon sticks. We added some Fireball (cinnamon liquor) and Red Hots and watched Mops the fire with our slippers on. Ah, the good life. 

But, we cannot survive on cider alone, especially when the cider is spiked with Fireball. Mustering the motivation to get off the couch wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, but dinner must be served.

Husband had been craving chili, I had been craving butternut soup, so a meeting in the middle was necessary. I lightened up the chili by using half ground turkey and half lean ground beef. I also take it easy on the beans; they don't add enough flavor for me to get overly excited about. 

The flavor that is worthy of excitement is butternut squash. Roasting the squash until golden brown with nothing more than olive oil, salt, and pepper adds a fantastic flavor contrast to the familiar tangy tomato and earthy chili flavors. I also think that butternut adds an element of creaminess in the same way that avocado does. 

My flavor preference for rich, creamy taste is probably not unrelated to the fact that I once ate an entire can of coconut milk. That's enough calories for several days. Of note: butternut is remarkably low in calories and high in fiber (as well as many other vitamins). 

Chili with Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne - to taste
  • 1 pound each ground turkey and lean ground beef
  • 2 x 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 14 ounces chili beans or kidney beans
  • To serve (optional): cilantro, avocado, sour cream, grated sharp cheddar
  • Preheat oven to 375. 
  • Toss peeled, deseeded, and cubed butternut squash with two tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until slightly browned. 
  • Meanwhile, add remaining two tablespoons olive oil to a large pot set on medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, and bell pepper for about six minutes, until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. 
  • Stir spices into the onion mixture (chili, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper) and cook for about two minutes. 
  • Add ground turkey and beef, breaking up clumps with a large wooden spoon. Cook until the meats have browned, stirring frequently (approximately 10 minutes). 
  • Pour diced tomatoes (including liquid), tomato paste, and beans (including liquid) into the pot. Stir to combine, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add roasted butternut squash and cook for another five minutes. 
  • Serve hot, with toppings of your choice (my favorite: cilantro, avocado, and a dollop of Greek yogurt on a bed of quinoa).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Blueberry & Macadamia Nut Granola with a White Chocolate-Cinnamon Drizzle

I (barely) managed to stave off a major cookie craving this weekend thanks to some ultra-indulgent granola. Calling this granola "ultra-indulgent" is perhaps a bit strong, but compared to other granola recipes, it's a full-on dessert course. So, "ultra-indulgent, relatively speaking," would probably be more precise. 

My killer craving this week has been white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. But, I am right in the midst of 40 Days to a Personal Revolution, a yoga-meditation hybrid course that focuses on healthy lifestyle (including the food department). The participants log the food that they eat as part of the "presence" component of the course (i.e. do you really think about what you put into your body? or do you mindlessly consume without noticing?). 

In my case, the answer is yes, I do really think about what I put into my body. I think about it much of the time. I think long and hard about exactly how many white chocolate macadamia nut cookies I am going to devour, I think about whether or not I should just eat half of the dough, and I am very much aware and present during the entire process. 

However, I don't think the point of the program is to encourage me to refine dessert recipes. So: healthier options that I don't feel ashamed to confess to a room full of yogis it is! But that doesn't mean I am going to go without a few "compromise" treats here and there (I mean, forty days is a very long time). And the good news is that my arms are way too sore from daily yoga practice to do too much work in the kitchen. Nothing that requires hand-stirring or appliances larger than an immersion blender will occur in the Sparkle Kitch until mid-February.

I loved the contrast between the salty roasted macadamia nuts and pecans with the sweet bursts of blueberry flavor. The real flavor decadence here came from the white chocolate and cinnamon drizzle on top of the entire granola dish. I used just enough; if you are a drizzle-fanatic, you may need to double the recipe to get your fix. 

Namaste, and happy cooking!

Blueberry & Macadamia Nut Granola with a White Chocolate-Cinnamon Drizzle
Yields 4-6 servings

For the granola, you will need:
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 1 cup dried blueberries
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
For the white chocolate-cinnamon drizzle, you will need:
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 4 tsp. milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla 
  • dash cinnamon
  • Preheat the oven to 250. 
  • In a large bowl, stir together oats, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and coconut (if using). 
  • Stir in maple syrup and oil to evenly combine. 
  • Arrange granola in a single layer on a large baking sheet. 
  • Bake for one hour, removing the pan from the oven to stir every 15 minutes. 
  • Once the granola has cooked, remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Scatter dried blueberries onto the pan. 
  • To make the white chocolate-cinnamon drizzle, combine ingredients in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 20 second intervals, removing from microwave to stir after each. 
  • When white chocolate mixture is smooth and evenly melted, drizzle over the granola using a spoon or carefully pouring directly from the bowl. 
  • Allow the white chocolate drizzle to cool on the granola for 20 minutes, breaking up any clumps as desired. 
  • Granola will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sweet Potato Hummus

We were (graciously) given a food processor (a big one, too, I might add!) for our wedding, and I am ashamed to admit that I have only used it occasionally. Until last weekend, I just could not figure out how to assemble the dang contraption without watching multiple YouTube videos, reading articles, etc. I don't have any excuse here. I simply couldn't figure it out without major research. 

This last weekend, though, I decided that I had lived in fear of my appliance long enough. I was going to master the food processor. And I did! Well, I did have to call my mom for help once, but that's a tremendous improvement over past attempts. 

Now I am going to be a food processing machine. What's that food item you have? Let me just blend that until smooth for you. Hand it over. 

The first thing that I made with my newly-found Kitchen Aid hubris confidence is this sweet potato hummus. I have been researching sweet potato hummus recipes for quite some time. I first tried sweet potato hummus at a dinner party hosted by a friend three years ago, and it's one of those flavors that just stuck with me. I have been biting my lip as I read recipes and reviews of recipes, trying to figure out just how I could make this hummus without calling upon my dreaded food processor, until the blessed day when I decided to just give it a whirl (pun intended). 

I think the main concern that people have with homemade hummus is that they can be awfully thick. I used just one sweet potato (many recipes that I've read call for two or three) to keep the sweet potato flavor without making this dish glorified baby food. Adjust the heat (cayenne pepper) to your liking. I also absolutely love the taste of cumin, but I know it can be overwhelming to some. Feel free to play with the proportions. If you have added too much of something, you can thin it out with extra garbanzo beans and olive oil. 

Now that I've conquered the food processor, I can't imagine what's next for this budding home appliance whiz. I'll probably learn how to change my own oil and repair the washing machine figure out how to use my Nespresso without griping so much that my husband just does it for me. Baby steps. 

Sweet Potato Hummus

You will need:
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled
  • 2/3 of a 15 ounce can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. tahini
  • 1 tbsp. garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. each paprika and cumin
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. each sea salt and black pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper to taste

  • Prepare sweet potato by cooking in the microwave until soft or baking, if preferred. 
  • Assemble food processor. 
  • Add all ingredients, starting with sweet potato (mash lightly first for best results). 
  • Blend until smooth. 
  • Serve chilled or at room temperature. The flavor is even better the next day. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Crab Cakes Benedict with Avocado and Asparagus

My contribution to our family's Christmas morning is breakfast. Well, I call it "brunch," but by that all I mean is that mimosas are required. It's still technically early enough to be considered breakfast. 

I make the "staples" each year: a quiche (my sister's very favorite thing that I make) and roasted potatoes. This year, though, while pushing my cart around the grocery store, a profoundly insatiable craving for fresh crab took hold of me. I frantically texted my family to ask if crab cakes would be fine with everyone for breakfast. I waited about two minutes for a response, then decided that I would just make all three dishes: crab cakes, quiche, and potatoes. 

The result was a delicious plate of crab cakes benedict, after an "appetizer" of quiche and potatoes. We really do Christmas right at my house! My sister and her boyfriend used their juicer to make divine mimosas: 

And I got to work with this slightly-altered iteration of a Paula Deen crab cake recipe. I will warn you that these crab cakes don't stick together as well as some versions. This didn't matter at all in the way that I used them (as part of an eggs benedict dish), because you can still layer them on an English muffin with no difficulty, but just as a note to future crab cake makers. 

I wrote up my method for these crab cakes below, then also added how I made my eggs benedict complete. I toasted English muffins lightly with a bit of olive oil on top, then topped half of one with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. I topped the other half with a layer of mashed avocado, then a crab cake, then more Hollandaise. A few pieces of perfectly roasted asparagus (one of my very favorite things, I have to say) on the side, and we have ourselves a delicious little brunch!

Crab Cakes
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen
Serves 6

You will need:
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat
  • 1/3 cup crushed crackers
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. Worcesteshire sauce
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Flour (no more than 1/8 cup, to dust over crab cakes)
  • Canola or peanut oil for frying
  • In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except flour and peanut oil. Stir until consistency is even.
  • Form into patties and dust lightly with flour. 
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high. 
  • When oil is hot, drop crab cakes in and pan fry until browned, about five minutes on each side. Flip each crab cake and cook for an additional four minutes, until the other side is hot. 
  • Remove crab cakes from oil and place on paper towels to cool. 
  • Serve warm,
For Crab Cakes Benedict

You will need:
  • One batch crab cakes (see recipe above)
  • One English muffin per serving
  • One poached egg per serving
  • One bunch asparagus, rinsed and trimmed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Hollandaise sauce (see recipe here, peri-peri optional)
  • Mashed avocado (optional; approximately 1/4 avocado per serving)
  • Prepare the asparagus by heating oven to 350. Toss trimmed, washed asparagus in olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. 
  • Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Top with minced fresh garlic. 
  • Bake until asparagus is cooked and starting to brown (to get a bit of crunch), approximately 30 minutes. Remove asparagus from heat and set aside to cool. 
  • Toast English muffins just prior to serving. 
  • Top one half of the toasted English muffin with a poached egg and Hollandaise. 
  • Top the other half with a layer of mashed avocado, then add crab bake and additional Hollandaise. 
  • Serve with asparagus on the side. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Black bean, sweet potato, ham, and tomato breakfast skillet

Disclaimer: I was given free product to use from Petit Jean Meats. All opinions are my own. 

As we just returned from our big Europe trip last Thursday, we weren't quite ready to venture out for holiday shopping the second weekend of December. That left last weekend - otherwise known as the last shopping weekend before Christmas - for Team Sparkle to hunt down all of the Christmas gifts that we already knew that we wanted. To motivate the troops, I knew I had to pull together a spectacular little breakfast. One that would sustain us* for hours of holiday shopping. 

*When I say "us", I actually just mean "me". Husband loves finding the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on his list. I hate leaving the house on the weekends. He is in charge of morale, I'm in charge of snacks. It works. 

The breakfast that I pulled together was supremely satisfying, but tasted fresh enough that we didn't sink into a food coma afterwards (admittedly, I wouldn't have been too disappointed if we would have had to delay shopping just a bit longer). 

I started with a base of sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, and olive oil. I cook the potatoes first uncovered, then reduce the heat and cover loosely to let them steam a bit. I have no idea if this is an efficient cooking method. I just know that this methodology has been honed over years. 

After cooking the potatoes a bit, I added canned black beans, diced tomatoes, fully-cooked spiral-sliced ham from Petit Jean Meats, and spices including cumin, paprika, and cayenne. I also use a cup of vegetable broth in skillets like this. I find that it helps the flavors blend and also keeps the bits at the bottom from burning. 

I topped the skillet with a soft-fried egg each, plus purchased tomatillo salsa. Mine also had avocado and cilantro, both of which Husband skipped in favor of tortillas. 

Although the total cooking time is about thirty minutes, don't let that put you off. This is an easy dish that requires very minimal supervision. You can easily multi-task while the skillet simmers away. 

Black bean, sweet potato, ham, and tomato breakfast skillet
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

You will need:
  • 1/2 medium sized yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. each cumin and dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. each paprika, sea salt, and black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust down to 1/8 tsp. for a less-spicy dish)
  • 1 cup veggie broth
  • 1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 to 3 cups spinach and baby kale 
  • 3/4 cups diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 1 1/2 cups spiral-sliced Petit Jean ham, diced
Optional toppings:
  • Poached or fried egg (one per serving)
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sliced avocado
  • Tomatillo salsa
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Heat a large cast-iron skillet to medium. Add onion, sweet potato, garlic, and olive oil. Cook uncovered for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Loosely cover the skillet with a lid and reduce heat to medium-low. Let cook for 8-10 minutes, until potato is slightly softened. 
  • Remove lid, add spices and veggie broth. Cook for ten minutes, then stir in black beans, sliced ham, and tomatoes. 
  • Cook for another ten minutes, then add spinach/kale blend. Cook until the greens are softened (about four or five minutes). 
  • Serve hot, topped with an egg, tomatillo salsa, sliced avocado, and scattered fresh cilantro. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sunchoke, Sweet Potato, and Carrot Soup

I crave soup year-round, a predilection I've been told is "a bit gross" by a Husband who shall remain nameless. Yes, even during the middle of summer, I love a big bowl of hot, flavorful broth. 

[By the way, I'd like to make a counter-argument to the "soup is nasty when it's 90 degrees" opinion-holders: hey, maybe just don't eat soup outside when it's 90 degrees. Case dismissed.]

However, as it is about 40 degrees outside today, it is acceptable by nameless Husband that I make a big pot of soup. This soup features a trio of tubers including sunchokes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. The delicious vegetables are pureed and until smooth for a thick, creamy consistency that tastes significantly more indulgent than it really is. 

If you aren't on a familiar basis with sunchokes yet, it's time you were properly introduced. The sunchoke, also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, is a species of sunflower that is native to the northeast portion of North America. The brownish-beige lumpy little bulb looks like a mix between ginger root and potatoes. Sunchokes have a delicate flavor, slightly sweet and nutty with a hint of artichoke. 

The sunchokes, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all roasted prior to adding to the soup pot to bring out their flavor. This one-dish meal will be ready after an hour, but only requires 15-20 minutes of active time. I recommend blending the soup prior to serving for that smooth consistency that soup-lovers like myself cannot get enough of. I served the soup topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped parsley, and slices of fresh avocado. 

Sunchoke, Sweet Potato, and Carrot Soup

You will need:
  • 1 pound sunchokes, rinsed
  • 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, unpeeled 
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 tbsp. fresh sage
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
  • Dash cayenne
  • 1 can coconut milk or evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • Preheat oven to 350. Coarsely chop sunchokes, sweet potatoes, and baby carrots and place in a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper. 
  • Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven after baking. 
  • In a large pot, saute chopped onion, fresh sage, and remaining teaspoon of olive oil for 8 minutes on medium heat. 
  • Stir in vegetables and add vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. 
  • Add coconut milk or evaporated milk and cayenne. 
  • Use immersion blender or transfer mixture to food processor and puree until the soup is smooth. 
  • Return to pot and heat through. Serve topped with fresh parsley and anything else you care for (might I suggest avocado?). 

Friday, December 5, 2014


Homemade donuts. I've seen homemade donuts posted on many Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, and I had always rolled my eyes a bit. There are some things that I will assume are better homemade, but are definitely way too much work for the final product. I'm not a donut fiend, or I might have a different opinion. 

However, one lazy Saturday I asked Husband what he wanted for breakfast and he responded with donuts. When I say that this was a "lazy" Saturday, what I mean is that I had no intention of leaving my house. None whatsoever. Anything that couldn't be accomplished in soft sweatpants was not going to be done. 

Apparently, my definition of "lazy" really just means I don't want to get dressed, because as soon as he suggested donuts, I started research homemade donut recipes. I think I might need a refresher course on how to relax. 

I found Paula Deen's great, simple recipe for homemade donuts using canned biscuits. I whipped up her vanilla and chocolate glazes, set out sprinkles, coconut, and cinnamon-sugar, and got to work. 

We had way more fun than any people our age should have decorating donuts. I think I need to bring my nephews into the fold next time, for appearance's sake (and possibly to witness the creative/gross topping combinations they would come up with - my money would be on cereal and gummy bears)!

These would be so much fun on Christmas morning!

I suggest trying these at home - they were very easy, so delicious served hot, and were fun to make. Next time, I'm going to make a strawberry glaze as well. 

Recipe: Paula Deen's Canned Biscuit Dough Donuts and Holes