Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin

Ok- the recipe you’ve been waiting for! I mentioned the monster dinner party we hosted a few weeks ago in my post last week, and in my opinion, the most successful recipe of the night was this sweet potato and swiss chard gratin. I feel the need to note here, however, that it was successful not only because of how delectable AND healthy it was, but also, because I think it is the first time EVER that Ryan and I have successfully prepared a dish in the kitchen together. I take the blame because I admittedly am a control freak in my kitchen, but given the tasks for the evening, I miraculously relinquished control, and we found that we can coexist in the kitchen without someone getting hurt. This was not a completely event-free transition, as I will demonstrate by highlighting a few select lines here:

Ryan: “How should I slice the potatoes?”

Me: “Um….I dont’ know. Thin slices.”

Ryan: “Like this?”

Me (annoyed that I cannot delegate a task after all): “About 1/8 of an inch.”

Ryan: “So…is this good?”

Me: “WHATEVER! This is a GRATIN. Slice them for a GRATIN.”

It was uphill from there. Don’t worry.

Tips for this recipe before you begin. First, the amount of sweet potato is actually up to you. The recipe calls for 2 lbs of sweet potato, which is about right, but feel free to add more or less depending on your preference. I think the recipe would work just as well. Second, buying swiss chard can be momentarily stressful. I think this was the first time ever that I actually purchased swiss chard at the grocery store. If you too are a swiss chard virgin, there are a few “varieties” of swiss chard options that you will need to choose from. I happened to pick the rainbow swiss chard for this recipe, well…because it was pretty. I’m sure any of the varieties would be fine, as would another leafy green such as kale or even spinach! So no need to panic in front of the vegetables as I did. Finally, make sure that the swiss chard mixture described below is well drained. If not, your gratin will be rather soupy, but still delicious. Don’t worry!

Here ya go! Make it right now. My friend, Ann, in France did. And she’s in France, so it must be good 🙂 xoxo

Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin (adapted from Smitten Kitchen):

2 lbs thinly (1/8 inch) sliced and peeled sweet potato

3 bunches of swiss chard (about 3 lbs), stems separated from leaves, and chopped

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 onion, sliced

1 tsp nutmeg

2 garlic cloves

2 cups milk (whole is best or cream if you’re really feeling crazy)

2 Tbsp flour

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 Tbsp dried thyme

1 1/4 cup shredded gruyere

salt

pepper

 

First, peel and slice the potatoes (great job for the hub, as evidenced above). Grease a casserole dish and arrange a layer of sweet potato along the bottom. Second, melt 2 Tbsp butter, add the onion, some salt, and cook until translucent, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped swiss chard stems (about 1 inch pieces), nutmeg, and cook together until softened. Add the swiss chard leaves, add salt, and cook until they wilt. Take the onion and swiss chard mixture and strain, pushing down on the mixture with a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Finally, you need to prepare the sauce. Place the garlic cloves in the milk and bring to a boil. In a separate saucepan, melt 2 Tbsp butter, then add the 2 Tbsp of flour. Stir the mixture and allow it to cook together for about 1 minute. Then slowly add the garlic and milk and bring to a boil. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

To assemble the gratin: On top of the layer of potato you already put at the bottom of the casserole dish, sprinkle 1/4 of the herbs and cheese along with some salt and pepper. Spread half of the swiss chard mixture over the potatoes, add another 1/4 of the herbs and cheese. Pour half of the cream sauce over the first two layers, and then repeat. Potatoes, herbs/cheese, swiss chard, herbs/cheese and remaining cream sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake the gratin at 400F for about an hour. Enjoy!!

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Dinner Party Menu and Date Bread

Hellooo!! I would have written earlier, but I just can’t seem to get home before it gets dark in order to take photos or find any afternoon sun around here. We’ve had a few showers roll through the area, and while it gives me the chance to curl up with a cup of hot tea  glass of wine and a good book some trash tv, it has interrupted my weekday photography. Once I tell you about last weekend, you’ll understand why I didn’t take more photos then.

The hub and I took on a tremendous challenge: hosting a wine pairing dinner party in honor of one of our dear friends and his 30th year on earth! Of course you can guess whose idea this was, and you can bet that I spent every free moment the week beforehand dreaming up possibilities for the menu. While I don’t have as many pictures to share of the actual event, I will share the menu, the recipes, and (enter date bread) what to do with your random leftover ingredients!

Appetizer: After a trip to Sonoma last October, I have been intrigued by a new (to me) varietal: Gewurtraminer, which is where the menu found its beginnings. It is similar to a Riesling in that it is of German influence and tends to be on the sweet side and quite crisp. Now don’t be scared: sweet wines are not evil, and paired with some salty cheeses, nuts, and olives, they are a perfect start to a cozy January meal. Just trust me and try it out. Stop scowling….I see you. I canNOT remember the exact Gewurtraminer I picked out, but I will say that in Sonoma, we fell in love with the Gundlach-Bundschu Gewurtraminer if you need a rec.

Our Kroger (!!) actually has a cheesemonger (yes, I did just google a word for “cheese expert”), who picked out some tasty cheese to accompany my wine. She encouraged me to choose a variety of creamy and hard cheeses, of German influence when possible, and especially anything in the goat cheese category. I strolled out of there with some aged Gouda and Chaums (creamy) along with a few salty olives and marcona almonds.

Salad Course: I wanted to do a seasonal winter salad, and I came across this recipe for an arugula salad with blood oranges, dates, parmesan, and chopped almonds. I drizzled it with olive oil, and sprinkled on some salt and pepper to serve. That’s it! The citrus from the oranges combined with the sweet dates, nutty parmesan, and salty/crunchy almonds took care of the rest of the flavor, and it was a beautifully colorful salad. I paired this with a an Italian Pinot Grigio (2010 Kris)- much lighter than the Gewurtraminer of course, and a perfect pair with a mustardy citrus salad.

Main Course: For dinner, I made a sweet potato swiss chard gratin which I found here via Smitten Kitchen. I mean, you can’t beat combining a starch and veggie all in one dish. And it was FABULOUS- possibly my favorite part of the meal. Besides the obvious ingredients, it had a pinch of nutmeg, shredded gruyere cheese, and a light cream sauce. I DID make that again this week, so I’ll be sharing that recipe with you soon. Stay tuned.

We also baked a beef tenderloin, pre-trimmed from Costco (!). While this ain’t cheap, it is SOOOO good, and super easy. The hub covered it in salt, pepper, and 21 Spice Salute from Trader Joe’s, and baked it at 450F for about an hour. Keep an eye on it because you want to pull it out while it is medium-rare for optimal juice and flavor. This meat can easily stand alone, so no need for hours of marinade, etc.

To finish it off, I made some blue cheese mini-popovers. They were cute, and packed with flavor. You can find the recipe here, which originally called for Roquefort, but I had already spent a bajillion dollars on cheese, so blue cheese was going to have to do. I thought it paired well with the beef anyways.

We paired this course with a Marietta Old Vine Zinfandel (it doesn’t have Zinfandel on the label, but instead says “Red Wine”. If you inspect the back label, you will find it is all Zinfandel varietal) and a Sharecropper Cabernet Sauvignon. The Zinfandel was a favorite of the night, so I will definitely be heading back for more! It is a full and heavy winter wine that pairs well with beef dishes. Do it.

Dessert: At the request of the guest of honor, I made a batch of my famous chocolate chip cookies (from Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe) topped off with some homemade vanilla and mint-chocolate chip ice cream made by another dear Atlanta friend, Carli (heyyy! shoutout to Carli!), who provides me with all sorts of recipe ideas and inspiration. We paired this with some Port and dessert wine. I was not a fan of the dessert wine, and therefore, blocked it from my memory, but I did enjoy the Port (Smith Woodhouse Port).

SO- there ya have it. And finally, the date bread. They are a delicious snack as well, I must say, but in the event that you have a LOT left over, date bread is an excellent option. Here is the recipe (I’m too tired to write it out for you).

Stay tuned for the gratin! And stop all those rain dances (unless it leads to Snowpocalypse 2012, in which case, carry on!) xoxo

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Start your day off with some lemon water!

So, I know what you’re thinking. Wow- you cooked “lemon water”. Good job. And ya know what? You’re right. I did, and thank you. This is not a recipe, per se, but more of a health tip that has recently been  brought to my attention by various magazines, blogs, and even my doctor! Starting your day off with a warm glass of lemon water has numerous health benefits regarding the digestive tract and general immunity (I won’t bore you with the details, so just google it…you’ll see…). With the new year upon us, what better time to try out a glass of warm lemon water in the morning while your coffee is brewing? I just heat up a glass of water in the microwave for about 40 seconds, so it’s warm, but not piping hot. Squeeze in some lemon juice, and if you want, throw in a little honey as well. Very refreshing, healthy, and good for you, especially if you’ve caught your winter cold. The hub has, so I’m hoping it skips the rest of the household. Let me know how it goes!

 

Happy New Year! I wish you all good health, happiness, and lots of food, wine, coffee, and chocolate. Makes you want to go for a walk to work up an appetite just thinking about it, hm? xoxo.

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Christmas Treats Day #5: Peanut Butter Cups

One of my favorite things about the season: all the Christmas movies on tv. It amazes me that so many people thought it would be a good idea to make Christmas movies, but they did, and I must admit that every Christmas, regardless of how bad the movie is, I always find myself pausing on those channels to watch. Top two faves: Elf and Love Actually- hands down, watch those every Christmas, and possibly, throughout the year. Other faves: Holiday (really bad movie, but so addicting…I can’t figure out why), Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and Miracle on 34th Street. What are your favorites?

 

Speaking of favorites, another favorite thing of mine: peanut butter and chocolate, so I whipped up a batch of peanut butter cups this Christmas, with the hub’s help. Check out the recipe here. A few changes/tips to keep in mind are 1) I used mini muffin cups this time to make peanut butter bites and 2) use ghirardelli chocolate- high quality chocolate does not melt (and of course, tastes better!). Happy Friday!

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Christmas Treats Day #3: Jam Filled Tea Cookies

How are the days leading up to Christmas going for everyone else? I have successfully managed to forget what day of the week it is (or the date for that matter), a true sign of vacation, stay up late to hang out with my brother and get up early to hang out with my parents over coffee, cram as many moments with friends and family into the day as possible, and have constantly suffered from FOMO when not with all family members at the same time. Christmas bliss, but probably the reason why I never return to Atlanta feeling “refreshed” after the holidays. I know you all can empathize 😉

In this rare mid-afternoon lull, I have escaped to write about my “just as favorite” cookie to the Snowballs: the tea cookies. I am so proud of these because they LOOK great, AND I didn’t ruin the sugar cookie part as I usually do. So, word of advice: roll the cookie dough to a thicker width than you normally would and bake for less time than you think is necessary. They stay soft and yummy instead of turning into sugar crackers, which is what often happens in my kitchen. And for cutting the circles: I used a glass for the big circle and a sprinkles top for the little one- genius 😉 Happy tea time to you this afternoon!

Jam Filled Tea Cookies: (adapted from Bon Appetit)

3 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

2.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp grated lemon peel

blackberry preserves

Cream the butter and sugar together, add the remaining ingredients, and refrigerate for about 1 hour before using. Roll out the dough on a floured surface (I line the surface with parchment paper and then put another piece on top of the dough as well.) Roll to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut out flat circles and then the tops with an additional hold. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes and immediately remove from the baking sheet to cool on a rack. Cover with sprinkles or powdered sugar before they cool completely. Once they have cooled, spread about 1-2 tsp of preserves on the bottom halves and pop on the tops. Let them dry/harden before packaging them up, and enjoy!

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Christmas Treats Day #2: Snowballs

This is probably my favorite cookie of the season this year. I have never made them before, but saw a similar recipe online here, and with a few changes, came up with a recipe of my own. I used a basic shortbread recipe for the outside and a hershey kiss for the inside (obviously…), and the product is a not to sweet but buttery and flaky cookie- delicious. It is a surprising mixture of salty and sweet (salty probably from the almond meal) and pairs perfectly with a glass of milk. Have fun and enjoy!

Snowballs

1 3/4 cup flour

2 sticks  softened butter

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup almond meal (Trader Joe’s has this)

Hershey kisses

 

Mix the butter and sugar together until they form a fluffy cream. Add flour and almond meal, mix well, and refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350F, unwrap the hershey kisses, and roll each kiss into about a Tbsp of the batter until the kiss is fully covered. Bake for 10-12 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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Christmas Treats Day #1: Spiced Nuts

Inspired by the “12 Days of Giveaways” on Ellen, the “12 Days of Cookies” on all other blogs, and the various “Top 10 of 2011 Lists” all over the internet, I have decided to make my own little makeshift list of Christmas Treats (mostly cookies). This follows a full 24 hours of baking during which I successfully covered my kitchen in flour and powdered sugar,  ruined only one batch of cookies (still have no clue what happened), and made the recipe for basic sugar cookies as a base AT LEAST 3-4 times. Nevertheless, I managed to fill a few boxes of cookies to give to our dry cleaners, our parents, and some neighbors. (Dry Cleaners = random, I know, but if you met these guys, you would give them cookies too. They are just awesome!)

I’ll kick off this “list” by sharing with you the recipe for spiced nuts. I was inspired by a good friend in Atlanta who made these for her annual Tacky Sweater Party, when I nearly ate all the nuts before she even had the party. I ran home immediately and made a batch, and they have been a huge hit in the house. Something sweet without all the butter and flour to balanced out your Christmas diet. AND, super easy!

Spiced Nuts (from Smitten Kitchen):

3 cups of mixed walnuts and almonds (I’m sure you can use any nut you want here)

1/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

pinch of cayenne (do it! so yummy!)

1 egg white

1 Tbsp water

 

Preheat your oven to 300 F and toast the nuts for about 10 minutes, tossing them halfway through to make sure they don’t burn. This is an important step, because if they are not toasted ahead of time, they will be sort of mushy rather than crunchy when you nibble on them. Meanwhile, beat the egg white and water until foamy (not stuff). Mix all other ingredients in a separate bowl until well blended. Toss the baked nuts in the egg whites, throw in the dry ingredients and mix well. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (make sure you do, otherwise, you’ll be scraping caramelized sugars off of your baking sheet for the rest of your life), and bake for 30 minutes, tossing halfway through to make sure they bake evenly. Let them cool and stir them up a few times while cooling to separate the nuts. Eat them all by yourself OR if you’re feeling generous, you can pack a few up as gifts. 🙂 Enjoy!!

 

 

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Homemade Marshmallows

Even with the weather getting colder, I can’t resist the occasional walk/run outside during the waning hours of sunlight in the afternoons. I’ve been listening to “Catching Fire”, the second book in the Hunger Games series while I walk, and enjoying the holiday decorations around the neighborhood and in the store windows. On my usual route, I now pass by a new chocolate shop that puts up a folding board in the middle of the sidewalk with things like “Come try our hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows” written in chalk, hence the idea to make my own marshmallows. I have to admit, I don’t love marshmallows, but I do like them when they involve hot chocolate (the sipping kind OR the dipping kind) and so, I decided to try it. Conclusion: make these. SO EASY, and something fun and different for the holidays, not to mention, a great little gift that takes much less effort than baking cookies.

I did some research and decided to use Martha Stewart’s Vanilla Marshmallow Recipe. It just takes a few simple ingredients (sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, salt, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar) and no baking! I dipped mine in chocolate fondue for dessert one night, roasted them over our fire another night, and topped off a hot chocolate with a few pre-dipped marshmallows later in the week. Enjoy!

Homemade Marshmallows:

3 packages gelatin

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup cold water

confectioner’s sugar

Begin by sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup water in a mixing bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix water, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a sauce pan and heat until it just starts to boil and all the sugar is melted into the corn syrup. Once heated through, turn the mixer on high and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl. Add salt and let it mix on high for about 12 minutes until it forms a thick and foamy “batter”. It will be REALLY sticky, so think twice before licking the bowl… Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray and cover in plastic wrap. I also sprayed the plastic wrap with cooking spray as well as a spatula and spread the marshmallow evenly into the dish. Spray another piece of plastic with nonstick cooking spray and cover the marshmallow, pushing down on it in order to flatten it out and even it up. Let it sit for about 2 hours (in the fridge if you want). Use an oiled knife to slice the marshmallows and toss in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar. There ya have it! Have fun!

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Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Soup

Did everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving? I am still easing back into eating normal meals again after the ridiculous amount of gluttony that took place on Thursday, but yes…it was glorious. And probably the tastiest Thanksgiving yet! I will have to share my roasted turkey recipe and gravy when I stomach the idea of turkey again (maybe closer to Christmas). Also, I had fried turkey for the first time, and I am a TOTAL convert! 45 minutes of frying (preferably at a generous neighbor’s house, as in our case) and you have tender delicious turkey at your fingertips. Divine.

Anyways, back to today’s recipe. So yes, you read correctly: sweet potato and peanut butter, two of my favorite things, in one bowl. Now where did that come from, you wonder? I happened to see the recipe while browsing through the Underground Market in October, and I filed it away until recently when all of a sudden, a warm and spicy soup sounded like it would really hit the spot! It is African inspired, hearty, tasty, and very healthy for you! Now, I am a bit of a pansy when it comes to “spicy” food, but when I read about all of the health benefits of cayenne pepper, I suddenly overcame my fear of fire, and easily slurped up a bowl for dinner on Sunday.

Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Soup (recipe from Ellie Krieger)

2 medium sweet potatoes

1 yellow onion, diced

1 can diced tomatoes with juices

6 cups chicken broth

2/3 cup chopped carrots

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tsp cayenne pepper (maybe start with a little less if you are a heat scaredy-cat like me)

1 tsp ground pepper

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2/3 cup peanut butter

1 tsp honey

1 Tbsp coconut oil (you can use canola oil or butter here)

Heat the coconut oil in a soup pot and add onions, peppers, and carrots. Allow the vegetables to saute for a few minutes, stirring often, before adding the pepper and cayenne. Then add tomatoes, chopped sweet potatoes, and chicken broth and simmer on medium/low heat for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes have softened. Add peanut butter and honey and puree with a blender until you have a smooth and creamy soup. Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top along with some sour cream and green onions, or just eat with a big hunk of crusty bread. Enjoy!

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Need some Thanksgiving Ideas?

So, Thanksgiving is next week. Did you know that? I sort of forgot until I went to Trader Joe’s today and found that the salad mixes fridge was literally STUFFED and OVERFLOWING with bags of squash, green beans, brussel sprouts, and turkeys. I paused for a moment in front of the fridge, looked around the store at my competition, nearly lunged for the highly coveted ingredients before everyone else bought them up, and then calmed down, told myself to walk away, and left the store $27 later with zero Thanksgiving ingredients. But you can bet that I ran home and started googling what I wanted on my “Dream Thanksgiving Table”.

My first turkey, Thanksgiving 2009

A ham carving a turkey (har har)

This year, we are spending the holiday with dear friends in Atlanta. Ryan and I decided a few years ago that the Pilgrims really weren’t thinking clearly when they decided to have their dinner of thanks only 3 weeks before Christmas, and since we see both families then, we stay put for Thanksgiving (and lemme tell ya- it’s GLORIOUS!). This will be our third Thanksgiving in the city, and I am counting down the days because man do I need a break! I did a little searching and found a few recipes that I wouldn’t mind finding on MY table. Notice that it doesn’t actually include a Turkey as of yet…..waiting on a brine recipe from a friend and still debating whether or not I would want to attempt frying a turkey (we are in the south, after all). To be determined by my co-chef during what will probably be a wine preview and recipe brainstorm session this weekend – haha, why not?

And if you have any ideas, send them on!

Wine Guide (because we need to start with the most important thing first)

Crispy Lemon Brussel Sprouts

Homemade Cranberry Preserves

Apple Cider Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Nutmeg

Healthy Green Bean Side Dish Recipe

Less Healthy Green Bean Side Dish Recipe

Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Casserole

Apple, Sausage and Sage Turkey Stuffing

Sweet Corn Spoonbread

Buttercrust Rolls

Chocolate Chestnut Tart with Rum Whipped Cream

Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie

By the way….did I mention that there will be four of us? Does the list seem a bit excessive? Oh yeah. I forgot. We don’t say “excessive” on Thanksgiving day! 🙂

Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 on the Deck (because it was 72 degrees outside)

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