Worth Sharing {Roasted Potatoes}

Listen, y’all.  I know it’s been over a month since I last posted.

It’s not like I haven’t been trying.  I have at least three posts in various stages of completion that I just haven’t been able to bring myself to publish.  I’m sorry.  I guess I just haven’t felt like sharing much lately.

Until tonight.  Tonight there were these potatoes.  And I just knew that you’d want to know about them. Because after weeks of kitchen mediocrity and work-related anxiety, these potatoes arrived on the scene and changed the course of events for the better.

It’s amazing how food can do that.

It’s pretty simple, really.  Golden potatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and bacon grease.

Yep – see that mini-mason jar in the top left-hand corner of the photo?  That’s rendered bacon grease, leftover from the BLT’s we had for lunch yesterday.  You know, the French are known for their potatoes cooked in duck fat (a distinction that is well deserved), so I figured here in the American South, we could use our humble equivalent – pig fat.

If, however, you are averse to pork products, you could most certainly use all olive oil.  It’s totally up to you.

If you’re like me, though, and you relish the thought of bacon scented potatoes, then by all means read on.

Roasted Potatoes

prep time: 5 minutes

cook time: 45-60 minutes

yields: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 medium-sized golden potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease
  • 1 teaspoon grated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste

I start by preheating my oven to 450F, then scrubbing the potatoes and cutting them into 2-inch pieces.  I then combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon bacon grease and 1 teaspoon grated garlic in another bowl, whisking to combine.  This mixture then gets poured all over those potatoes.  Add a teaspoon of salt and lots of freshly grated black pepper.

Pour the potatoes out onto a baking sheet, making sure you scrape every last bit of that delicious oil and bacon grease mixture out of the mixing bowl.  Spread them into a single layer, and place them in your preheated oven.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, checking periodically to make sure they’re not sticking.  If they are, use some tongs to scrape the pan and loosen the potatoes – if they tear a bit, that’s okay – those torn bits get good and crispy and delicious.

See, crispy and delicious.  They’re addictive.  I had to slap my husband’s hand out of the way as he stood at the kitchen counter eating them off the baking sheet (I might have had to practice a little self-restraint, too).  I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough for dinner.

I served them alongside this salad – a combination of spinach, romaine, golden tomatoes, blue cheese and avocado – and some chicken sausage.  Even though it was a simple meal, it was one of the most flavorful we’ve had in a long time.  And I wanted to share it with you.

Enjoy!

One From The Archives: Super Squash Salad

I posted this salad recipe more than two years ago, but I thought it warranted a reprise.  I’ve already made it three times this spring and early summer, and I predict I’ll be making it a lot more during the height of squash and zucchini season.  We had it for dinner tonight with buffalo sirloin steaks, and it was the perfect light foil to the rich, gamey meat.
First published April 4, 2010

Looking for a simple and healthy salad to take to all those spring barbecues and potlucks you’ve got coming up?  This salad has been a hit at every party I’ve taken it to.
In fact, I first had it at a potluck I went to a couple of years ago.  I took one bite and fell in love with it.  I asked the woman who brought it how she made it, and she quickly told me the few ingredients that were in it.  I ended up making it the next week for another function, and it was such a success, I’ve been taking it as my side dish to potlucks ever since.

Seriously, it’s one of the simplest salads you’ll ever make.  And the colors – I mean how can you resist those vibrant greens, reds, oranges and yellows?  It just begs to be devoured.

Ingredients:
3 yellow squash
2 zucchini
2 carrotts
1 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 pinches salt

Begin by washing your veggies and slicing them into uniform slices.  I used a japanese mandoline to make quick work of it, but you could just as easily use a good sharp knife.  Just make sure you cut everything to a similar thickness – about an eighth of an inch.  Everything remains in its natural raw state, so you want to make sure nothing is too thick to be tender.
As you can see, the mandoline does a great job of giving you perfectly thin, uniform pieces.  I highly recommend it (they’re a little pricey, but they come in handy for situations like this; and, they make great homemade potato chips).
Once you’ve sliced everything (just julienne the pepper and onion), place all the veggies in a gallon zipper top bag.  Mix the vinegar, sugar and salt together, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Pour this mixture into the bag with the veg and close it up, squeezing to release as much air as possible.  Let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours.  Can be made up to a day ahead.
The end product is a little sweet, a little sour, a A LOT delicious! The raw squash and zucchini have a soft, velvety texture, and the crunch from the carrots and onion is a nice contrast.  The onion has a nice spicy bite, and the red pepper is nice and sweet.  And you just can’t beat the color!

Healthy, flavorful, and beautiful – the perfect combination!

Enjoy.

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger {and some thoughts on salad}

I guess I kind of disappeared for a month.  Sometimes a girl just needs to take some time off, to get away (figuratively, that is), to relax, relate, release (name that 80s sitcom).

Not a lot has happened since we last chatted.  I’ve mostly just been working and spending time with family.

Over spring break, most of our time was spent putting a new roof on our barn (which is really just a barn-shaped storage shed, but it sounds much cooler to say we re-roofed the barn).  When that was all over, we pitched a tent in the backyard and camped with the boys.

We rambled in the woods,

cooked over an open fire,

and generally enjoyed being outside, away from the television and the computer.  Of course, the two-year-old didn’t make it through the night in the tent, so I had to take him upstairs at around 2 a.m. and put him in his crib.  I think our oldest really enjoyed getting to finish the night in the tent with his dad, just the two of them.

For Easter we kept it pretty low-key.

The boys hunted eggs.

And caterpillars.  Which are now pupating in their cocoons in our dining room (in an enclosed container, of course).

I’ve been running (really), and getting better at it slowly.  The weather has been really nice – cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons.  Mid-morning has been the perfect running temperature, so I’ve been getting outside and doing a 3.1 mile circuit around our neighborhood.  I have yet to make it the entire way without having to stop to walk part of the way, but I’m increasing my pace every time I go out, so that’s good.

I haven’t been cooking as much as usual, mostly because I’ve been trying to spend more time outside with the kids, which eats into the cooking time.  What I have been doing a lot of is throwing together fresh salads with a little bit of protein.

A whole mess of salad greens, topped with some thinly sliced red onion, fresh jalapeno, avocado, some tomatoes (if you can find them in season where you are – if not, sometimes I use salsa on my salads), and sprinkling of cheese – sometimes feta, sometimes shredded cheddar.  I dice up a couple of ounces of protein – grilled chicken or shrimp works well – and top it all with a light dressing.

Tonight it was chicken breasts that I’d butterflied, marinated quickly in a little lime juice and worcestershire sauce, and cooked quickly in a cast-iron skillet.  I put it all in a flour tortilla that I’d baked in the oven to make a tortilla bowl and I topped the whole thing with my new favorite salad dressing – mix 1 tablespoon of sour cream with 1/2 a cup of salsa (make your own, or use a good quality jarred salsa).  It’s super simple and delicious.

I think we’ve eaten salad for dinner five nights out of the last seven.

A lot of this has to do with economy – of time, of calories, of effort.

Did you know that the word prodigal means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant”?  I was beginning to feel like I was being extravagant with my food, with my time, and particularly with my effort on this blog.  I was sacrificing time for myself, for my family, for my friends, in order to keep coming up with the next recipe, the next blog post.

I needed to simplify.  To focus on what was important – the kids, my husband, our health and our relationships.

And we’re all much happier for it.

So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not here as often as I was.  And if the posts focus on more simple meals – healthy things that you can put together quickly, and that will allow you to spend more time doing the things that are important.

Salad with Grilled Chicken
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 romaine heart, diced
  • 1/2 an avocado, diced
  • 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 ounce sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 flour tortillas (optional)
  1. If you want the tortilla bowl, take your flour tortillas and fit them into four oven-safe bowls and bake them at 350F for 15 minutes.  This will make them dry out and keep the bowl shape.
  2. For the chicken, combine breasts, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, oil, salt and pepper in a zip top bag and let marinate for 20 minutes or so.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over high heat and cook the chicken breasts thoroughly – about 8 minutes per side.  They should get nice and golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cut into desired shapes for serving (strips, dice, etc).  I usually allow 2-3 ounces per person, but my husband can eat an entire 6-ounce breast in one sitting.
  4. To assemble the salad:  place a four cups of greens in the bowl.  Top with diced avocado, sliced onion, sliced jalapeno, shredded cheese and diced chicken.  You could also include black beans, fresh corn cut off the cobb, diced bell pepper, or any other vegetable of your choosing.
  5. For the dressing: combine the salsa and sour cream.  Pour over salad.
  6. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Quinoa Cakes

I love seed oils.  They’re all so unique – some have a deep,rich, nutty flavor, and others are clean and mild.  I’ve long been a regular user of grapeseed oil, a flavor neutral oil with a high smoke point perfect for high-heat cooking, but also good in light salad dressings.  I also enjoy toasted sesame seed oil, where a little goes a long way in the flavor department.

When I heard that Marx Foods was running a seed oil review contest, I knew I wanted to get in on it.  They have recently begun carrying Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Delicata Squash Seed Oil, and were offering a complimentary bottle of one of the flavors in return for candid reviews.  I submitted my request, and was delightfully surprised when I was chosen to participate.  Within a week, a petite bottle of Butternut Squash Seed  Oil was delivered to my doorstep.

I first wanted to taste it on it’s own, so I uncorked the bottle and sniffed it.  It had a full, round scent – reminiscent of roasted nuts – with a slight vegetal undertone.  I poured a little out onto a plate, dipped the end of my finger in the oil and placed it on my tongue – the flavor was rich and nutty, with a hint of sweetness.  You could definitely taste the butternut squash flavor in the background, but mostly it reminded me of a toasted nut oil (like walnut or hazelnut), or even a mild sesame oil.

According to the Marx Foods website, these oils have a relatively high smoke point, so they’re appropriate for cooking, but are also good as dipping oils or in salad dressings.  I decided to put it to the test on both fronts, using it to fry up some savory quinoa cakes, and in a light salad dressing for a spinach and mixed green salad for dinner one night.

Quinoa Cakes, Fried in Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Clarified Butter

(based on this recipe from The Healthy Foodie, which I found via Pinterest)
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
yields: 8-10 patties

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups quinoa, cooked in chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 2 tablespoons butternut squash seed oil
  1. Combine the quinoa, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the eggs and stir to combine.
  3. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the bread crumbs can soak up the liquid.
  4. In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the ghee and butternut squash seed oil over medium heat.
  5. Carefully form the quinoa mixture into patties the size of the palm of your hand.
  6. Place them in the hot oil, cooking them for 4-5 minutes on the first side.
  7. Flip them over once they’ve browned and cook for another 4-5 minutes on the second side.
  8. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
  9. Serve over a mixed green salad, topped with a poached egg.

Butternut Squash Seed Oil Salad Dressing
prep time: 2 minutes
yields: 1/4 cup of dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon mustard (spicy or dijon)
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butternut squash seed oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small mason jar.
  2. Screw the lid on tightly and shake
  3. Toss with mixed salad greens
  4. Enjoy!

As a cooking oil,  it stood up well to the high-heat test, yielding a super light and crispy exterior on the quinoa cakes.  They had a nutty flavor, but it’s hard to say whether that came from the oil, or from the quinoa itself.  It’s also possible that the clarified butter washed out some of the butternut squash flavor.  Performance-wise, though, it held up – hardly smoking at all, even when I let the pan get a little too hot.

Where this oil really shone was in the salad dressing – you could taste the toasted, nutty flavor and the squash flavor was really nice.  The addition of the honey brought out the sweetness, and the mild champagne vinegar didn’t overpower it at all.  I definitely think this oil is better suited to raw applications than it is to cooked.  Although I could see it in place of a sage brown-butter sauce (or even as an addition to) with ravioli or pappardelle.  It’s nice and mellow, and the flavor can become overpowered easily.  If it’s allowed to stand on it’s own, though, it won’t disappoint.

Note:  While I did receive a complimentary bottle of Butternut Squash Seed Oil from Marx Foods, the opinions in this post are my own.

Nice: Salade Niçoise

Yesterday, before the sun had risen too high in the sky and pushed the temperatures into the stratosphere, I wandered down to the garden, toddler in tow.  As the 18-month old chased the chickens (bock-bocks as he calls them) in and around the cypress trees, I examined the various plants to see if any were bearing fruit.

Two of our ten tomato plants are laden with green orbs, and the two jalapeno bushes are weighted down with inch-and-a-half long pods.  The butternut squash vines are in full bloom, and many of the blossom ends are beginning to swell with the promise of delicious golden flesh.  Our infant asparagus patch has successfully gone to seed, and our cucumbers are rife with fuzzy little fingerlings.  The lacy tops of the rainbow carrots are waving in the breeze, and the melons are creeping along the ground stealthily, their little yellow flowers smiling smugly in the sun.

Continue reading “Nice: Salade Niçoise”