Sweet Potato Chili

My daughter has decided to eat less/no meat for the time being, and I’m now realizing that a lot of our autumn/winter comfort foods are very meat-forward. Fortunately, my mom has been a vegetarian (pescatarian if you’re being picky) for longer than I’ve been alive, and she has some really great recipes. This is based on her sweet potato chili, but I kind of went off on a tangent, because I just really love these cumin roasted sweet potatoes, okay?

Serves 4-6

4 TB peanut oil (divided)
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp berbere spice blend
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes, depending on your texture preference
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup apple cider
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
1/2 tsp fresh grated orange peel
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the sweet potatoes with 2 TB of the oil, the cumin seeds, and some salt. Spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They should get pretty dark, but not charred. Remove from the oven and let sit while you make the rest of the chili (or roast them ahead of time, if you want).

2. Heat up the other 2 TB oil in a stew pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers, and sauté until golden and soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, berbere, and paprika, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, or until the paste thickens up and gets a little darker.

3. Add the tomatoes, broth, cider, beans, and salt to taste, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan if you need to. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for ten minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cumin seeds, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the cilantro and orange zest, and cook for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve hot, with sour cream, cheese, cornbread, or whatever toppings you like on chili.

Notes: Berbere spice blends are going to vary, so taste yours first and add more or less depending on how spicy you like things. I did one heaping teaspoon, and it was on the edge of too spicy for me, but I’m like a medium spice white person, so, adjust accordingly. Also, this was very thick, so feel free to add more broth or water if you like it saucier.

Macaroni and Cheese (stovetop version)

This is my favorite weeknight mac and cheese recipe. It comes from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine, in kind of a fancier version with country ham and a Parmesan basket, but the core of the recipe is quick, easy, and super tasty. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of macaroni, but that’s like, super saucy. I usually make a pound of pasta, and that seems a bit more reasonable, and feeds a whole family. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reheat well, or do well in the oven (ask me how I know), so it’s not great for potlucks and that kind of thing, but otherwise, it’s great.

Serves 4

1 lb. dried tubular pasta (elbows, cavatappi, penne, &c.)
2 TB butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 TB minced shallot
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated aged Gouda cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but on the al dente side of things.

2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until soft and fragrant, being careful not to brown them (the recipe says five minutes, but it’s less than that). Add the cream, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream has reduced by a quarter, and coats the back of the spoon.

3. Whisk in the grated cheeses, and cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. You can strain it at this point if you want, but I never do.

4. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce (or vice-versa, depending on your relative pot size), and simmer together for a minute or two, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.

The garlic and shallot measurements are a little silly, and I usually just go for one clove of garlic and one shallot. If you like breadcrumbs on top, you can do some extra garlic and shallot, cook them in some butter, and then add some breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and cook until toasty, then sprinkle them on top of the finished mac and cheese.

Let me guess…

My daughter spent a chunk of her free time this summer playing Skyrim, so, for her first day of school, I made her some sweetrolls to steal. I used the recipe in the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino, but you could make any cinnamon roll or sweet bun dough and I’m sure it would work. The tricky part is finding two 6-cavity mini Bundt pans, if you don’t already have them.

Fantasy Sweet Rolls
Makes 12

For the dough:
1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
6 TB salted butter, at room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks, at room temp
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temp, just have everything at room temp, okay?
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
4 TB salted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 TB ground cinnamon

For the icing:
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB whole milk

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together.

2. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the milk, cardamom, and salt until well-blended (This was the step that mystified me. No matter how room temperature everything is, you’re still just going to get soggy butter chunks.). Beat in the yeast mixture.

3. Add 3 1/2 cups of flour, and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour if necessary (it was).

4. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle, and brush with the melted butter.

6. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the dough.

7. Fold the dough into thirds (on the 18″ side, so you’ll end up with a 12″ x 6″ rectangle)

8. Cut the folded dough crosswise into 12 1″-wide strips.

9. Grease your two 6-cavity mini-Bundt pans, and wrap the dough slices around the center tubes. I only had one such pan, so I did half a batch at a time (I had to go to several stores looking for an appropriately-sized mini-Bundt pan, and the only ones I could find were $36 each, and I wasn’t prepared for that kind of investment).

10. Cover the pans and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

11. Bake 18 – 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

12. Level the bottoms of the rolls with a large knife.

13. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla, and milk for the icing, adjusting with more milk or sugar to get a thick, but pourable, glaze.

14. Spoon over the tops of the rolls, and allow (encourage) to drip down the sides.

Green Chile and Cherry Tomato Pickle

I brought several appetizers from Indian(-ish) by Priya Krishna to a family get-together last night. They were all delicious, and well-loved (and well-eaten), but these tomatoes received the most recipe requests, so here you go! I did not have fenugreek seeds, so I left them out, and I only had two serranos (well, I had three, but I needed one for the peanut chutney), which I quartered, so if you want to make exactly what I made, those are the only differences.

Serves 4

2 TB olive oil
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp nigella seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp asafetida
4 long Indian green chiles, or serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 TB fresh lime juice (from about half a lime)

1. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When it begins to shimmer, add all of the seeds, and cook until they look slightly browned and start to sputter, about 1 minute. Stir in the asafetida and then the chiles. Cook for 2 minutes, until the chiles brown and crisp on the sides.

2. Turn off the heat, mix in the tomatoes, and immediately transfer to a serving bowl so that the tomatoes stop cooking. Gently mix in the salt and lime juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. These will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, but are best the same day.

Grilled Pizza

We make homemade pizza fairly often in the winter, but who wants to turn their oven up to 500° when it’s in the 90s? Enter grilled pizza, which, you still have to stand around a hot grill for, but at least your whole house doesn’t get overheated.

I used Bon Appétit’s method for the pizza, but I really don’t like supermarket pizza dough, so I made my own

This is my second-favorite pizza dough recipe, because my favorite pizza dough recipe takes six hours, so you have to know before noon that you want pizza for dinner. This one, adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table, only rises for two hours, so you can be a little more spontaneous. I quadrupled the recipe, for six personal-size pizzas.

1 to 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm water

1. Mix the dry ingredients, then add the water and mix until combined. Knead for about five minutes, until the dough comes together, and is soft, but not too sticky, adding more flour as needed.

2. Form into a ball (or as many balls as you’d like pizzas, if you’re increasing the recipe), and place on well-floured surface. Flour the top of the dough, cover, and let rise for two hours, or about tripled in bulk. Then make some pizzas!

Bonus no-cook pizza sauce recipe: Combine a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (these can be pre-crushed, or you can drain some whole tomatoes and run them through a food mill. You might have to experiment with different brands to get a flavor and consistency that you like) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a clove or two of minced garlic. Taste and add lemon juice or sugar if the flavor needs adjusting, then let it sit while you’re busy with your other pizza business.

Oisgill Scones (aka Round Scones)

This is my mom’s recipe, and it’s kind of a mystery. It was copied out of a food magazine a long time ago, but no amount of googling has led me to its source. The people of Oisgill Bay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, don’t seem to have a particularly robust scone-making tradition, and, while there’s a wide range of “traditional Scottish scones’ recipes out there, none of them are like these, as far as I can tell. Honestly, these scones aren’t very scone-like. They’re more like breakfast cookies. That doesn’t stop us from loving them, though!

Makes 10

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugat
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water

1. Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Beat the butter and sugar by hand or with a mixer. Add the egg and beat until blended. (I added 1/2 tsp vanilla after this step, because I thought it would be a good addition, and I was not wrong).

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (I didn’t. I literally almost never sift anything if I can get away with it), add to the butter mixture, and mix gently, just to combine.

4. Gather into a ball, and flatten into an 8″-round, 1/2″-thick circle. Cut into rounds using a 2″ cutter, gently gathering and re-flattening/cutting the scraps until they’re all used up.

5. Place on baking sheet, and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until they’re light brown.

Refrigerator Pickles Two Ways

We actually harvested enough cucumbers from our tiny container garden to make two batches of pickles! I made one batch that was your basic garlic dill, and one batch inspired by Asian-style cucumber salads. The method was the same for both, so I’m going to go through that first, then give you the ingredients. If you’re not growing your own cukes, it’s worth it to get some from your local farmers market while they’re in season.

1. Heat up the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Then take it off the heat and let it cool while you do everything else. For the Asian-inspired pickles, you can stir in the other liquid ingredients at this point.

2. Place basically everything else but the cucumbers in whatever container you’re using. I used quart-sized jars, but since we’re not canning them you can use whatever non-reactive container you like, as long as you can situate it so the brine is covering all the cucumbers.

3. Slice up the cucumbers however you like. Or you can leave then whole, but I would maybe poke some holes in them if they’re very big to make sure the brine penetrates all the way into them. Put the cucumbers in your container, then pour the brine over everything (the recipe makes more brine than you’ll probably need, but you can always throw some more vinegar and water on top if you need to). Maybe give it a thump or two on the counter to get out any air bubbles.

4. Cover and throw in the refrigerator for 24 hours. I like to give them a shake every once in a while, but I’m not sure that’s necessary. After 24 hours they’re ready to eat, and they should keep for a while in the fridge after that, although they’ll soften over time.

Garlic Dill Pickles
1 lb. pickling cucumbers
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 TB pickling or kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup sliced onion
couple sprigs of dill
1 tsp each dill seed, black peppercorns, mustard seed, coriander seed, allspice berries, and crushed red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves, crumbled

Asian-Inspired Pickles
1 lb. pickling cucumbers
3/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 TB salt
1 1/2 TB sugar
2 TB soy sauce
2 TB mirin
1 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup sliced onion
1 1-inch finger of fresh ginger, sliced
1 small red chili (I used Fresno), sliced
2 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
1 tsp each peppercorns and coriander seed

Young Spring Cabbage with Dill and Bacon

Another recipe from Polska! The first time I made this recipe I made half, because it sounded like a lot of cabbage, and I totally regretted it. This is so good you guys!

Serves 6

7 oz. bacon, cut into thin strips
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 leafy young cabbages or Napa cabbages, shredded
2 TB water
juice of 1 lemon
2 bunches of dill, finely chopped
3-4 TB tomato paste
1 tsp caster sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fry the bacon over medium heat until crispy (make sure you use a big enough pan for all the cabbage!). Add the onions and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the shredded cabbage and water, and mix together. Season and cover with a lid, reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the lemon juice, 3/4 of the chopped dill, tomato paste, and sugar. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring every couple of minutes, for another ten minutes (or more, depending on your cabbage). Taste and season again as needed.

4. Just before serving add the reserved dill.

The original recipe cooks the bacon in 4 TB canola oil, but I don’t think that’s really necessary.

Pierogi Ruskie

Due to a combination of bad luck and stubbornness I ended up making pierogi in an un-air-conditioned kitchen in the middle of July. Fortunately, the whole family pitched in to help, and that’s basically my best advice for making dumplings (or dumpling-adjacent foods like ravioli or tamales): get a bunch of people to help. It turns what might be a difficult and daunting task into a party!

The recipe I used is from Polska: New Polish Cooking by Zuza Zak

Makes about 24 pierogi*

For the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter
large pinch of salt
approx. 1/2 cup warm water

For the filling:
2 onions
1 TB salted butter
5 oz. twaróg**
1 potato, peeled, cooked, and diced
salt and pepper

1. Make the dough by combining all the ingredients, using only enough water to bring the mixture together. Knead until smooth, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Chop the onions finely, and fry them in butter. Combine half of the onions, cheese, and potato for the filling. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Roll the dough as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. There are a few ways to make pierogi, but what we did was to cut out rounds, fill them, fold them in half, and crimp with a fork. If you need to, you can use some water to seal the edges.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently lower the pierogi into the water, cooking in two batches. As soon as they start to float up to the top, cook them for 2-3 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon to the pan with the onions.

5. Fry the pierogi for a minute or two, then serve.

*The recipe actually says ‘serves 2’, but unless those are two very hungry people, I think you can get away with more.

**The recipe recommends ricotta as a substitute, but any fresh or farmer’s cheese should be good. I used quark, which is kind of the same idea as twaróg as far as I can tell.

The Annual Strawberry Shortcake Post (with recipe and rant)

Strawberry shortcake

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake is my number one, most favorite dessert (done properly, see below), and has been for as long as I can remember. I used to request it every year for my birthday, but strawberries aren’t exactly in season in April around here, so now I make it every June. My grandpa Jack used to have it for his birthday, too, which conveniently was in June. He passed away earlier this year, and I’m happy to have such a sweet way to remember him, now.

The recipe I use is from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. Since I just did a biscuit recipe, I’m not going to go too deep into the shortcakes, but you can always refer to that post if you need tips.

Image of a cookbook

I don’t understand why they don’t give cookbooks better bindings

Makes 6
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup whole milk
5 TB heavy cream

Additional 1 TB each heavy cream and sugar, for topping the scones

2 quarts strawberries, hulled, then sliced, chopped, or mashed
3 to 4 TB sugar

Chantilly Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 TB sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Note: I wrote the recipe as it appears in the book, but you can easily get away with half the strawberries and whipped cream if you’re only making six servings.

I usually make the strawberries first, so they can sit and get juicy, but you can make the scones first as the recipe suggests, if you want.

A colander full of large strawberries

the local strawberries we got at the supermarket were some big boys!

A large strawberry

an absolute unit

For the strawberries:
1. Mix the sliced, or otherwise mangled, strawberries with the sugar — taste the berries to determine how much you’ll need. Let them sit while you’re doing the other things. Maybe give them a stir from time to time.

For the scones:
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or two knives, until there aren’t any chunks larger than a pea.

2. Mix the eggs, milk, and cream together. Add them to the dry ingredients + butter, and stir until just combined. Gather into a ball, and dump onto a floured surface. Pat into a circle (or square, or whatever, the shape doesn’t really matter), about 3/4″ to 1″ thick (you want it a little thicker than the biscuits, because it’s not going to rise as much), and cut with a large biscuit cutter.

3. Place the scones on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the cream, and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 14 – 18 minutes, rotating halfway through, and checking to make sure the bottoms don’t get too dark (slide a second baking sheet under them if you’re worried about that happening). Remove to a rack and cool for 10 minutes or so, but you’ll want to serve them warm, so plan accordingly.

For the whipped cream:
1. Whip the cream and sugar. Add the vanilla and whip a bit more. You can do this while the scones are baking, or while they’re cooling.

1. Split the scones in half. My grandparents used to butter them, so I do, too. Top the bottom half with strawberries and cream. Put the top on top, then cover with more strawberries, and more cream. If you’re feeling fancy, you can reserve some good-looking strawberries to put whole on top.

Strawberry shortcake ingredients ready for assembly

And now, the rant:
‘Shortcake’ is short for ‘shortening cake’, i.e., a cake made with a solid fat (including vegetable shortening, but also butter and lard). Sponge cake, pound cake, and angel food cake all taste good with strawberries, but they do not a strawberry shortcake make. No, not even if you put whipped cream on top.

A true strawberry shortcake features a biscuit or scone, or even crumbled up pie crust, topped with macerated strawberries, and sweetened whipped cream. If you try to advertise something else for shortcake at your supermarket, I will laugh to myself as I go by at how deluded you are. If I order strawberry shortcake at your restaurant and I get something other than a shortcake, well, I’ll be very disappointed, and complain about it the whole ride home. (What? I don’t throw fits in grocery stores and restaurants, because I’m not a monster.)

Strawberry shortcake

the perfect dessert (we had them for brunch, though)

Seriously, strawberry shortcake, made when strawberries are in season, is basically the perfect dessert. Don’t mess with perfection, folks!