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Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mushrooms, Leeks and Bacon

17 Sep

Loaded

Fall produce is starting to creep into our markets, and the weather can’t make up its mind what to do.  This is the time of year when I start craving the heavier, heartier foods of fall, but don’t have the patience or the cool temperature to want to cook a true fall feast.  Solution: toaster oven!

I cook a lot of my meals in my toaster oven.  If I’m baking something, and it will fit on a toaster-oven-sized pan, then into the T.O. she goes.  If you don’t own one, I highly recommend you get one.  This recipe is the perfect way to get started.  Throw a couple of sweet potatoes in there and bake them into submission without overheating your whole house.  Win-win.

This sweet potato is loaded up with a delicious combination of savory ingredients – leeks, bacon, and mushrooms – and kissed with a beautiful warm balsamic vinaigrette.  It was born from a place of having various produce that I needed to use up, and a baby who needed to get to bed (turns out the time it takes to bake two sweet potatoes = roughly the amount of time needed to bathe, feed, and put my son to bed).  It turned out to be delicious.

Sweet potatoes are packed to the gills with nutrition, particularly fiber and vitamin C.  Mushrooms are under-appreciated little fellows, linked with prevention of prostate and breast cancer.  And leeks are good for cardiovascular health and inflammation.  Bacon – well, bacon has no real health benefits but it tastes incredible.  One measly slice divided between two people isn’t going to give you a heart attack.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mushrooms, Leeks and Bacon

serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • 1 slice bacon, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil, as needed
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven (or toaster oven!) to 375 degrees.  Prick the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and put on a baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, or until very tender when pierced with a knife.  Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. While the sweet potatoes are cooling, cook the chopped up bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until browned and slightly crispy.  Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the bacon pieces from the pan and set aside on a plate.  Add the leeks and mushrooms to the bacon fat, adding a little olive oil if the pan is fairly dry.  Cook until the leeks are browned and tender, and the mushrooms are tender.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar to the skillet to deglaze it, and stir to coat the mushrooms and leeks.  Remove from heat and add the bacon pieces back into the mix.
  4. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise and pull open.  Top with the mushroom-leek-bacon mixture, including the juices from the pan.  Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you have leftover mushroom-bacon-leek mixture, which you probably will, toss it into your scrambled eggs the next morning.  You will thank me.

Sweet Potato Risotto

13 Sep

nothing fancy here

Today I gave my baby boy his first cooking lesson.  The syllabus for today included a simple, yet seemingly complex dish – sweet potato risotto.  I explained the steps to him as I cooked, and then we tasted it together.  I liked it, but he hasn’t given his feedback yet.  I think he’ll ultimately decide he liked it too.

Before you ask, no I have not gone completely crazy.  Supposedly this week is about the point in my pregnancy where my son can actually hear noises, including my voice.  It’s encouraged to start talking to the baby about now.  And since he can’t talk back, it’s hard for me to come up with interesting topics.  Hence, the cooking lesson.

Sweet potato risotto is not something you see every day, and may even seem like an odd combination – isn’t it too much starch?? No, my dear, it is not.  It is a delightful contrast of flavors and textures.  The sweet potato also happens to be an extremely nutritious root vegetable, loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as fiber.  It comes in a rainbow of colors, any of which would work here.  When cooked this way, it gets tender and delicious.  Paired with the slight bite of the arborio rice, the crunch of celery, and the fresh grassy finish of parsley, it’s really a beautiful family of ingredients.  And with fall right around the corner, it seems the perfect time to start bringing those quintessential fall flavors into the kitchen.

So here it is, my first collaborative effort in the kitchen with my son.  There are going to be many more over the years to come.  I warned him.

not rice a roni.

Sweet Potato Risotto (serves 2-3)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot or small onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (any color), peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

METHOD:

1.  Put the broth in a small pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce right down to the lowest heat just to keep warm, and keep it on the backburner.  (Literally and/or figuratively).

2.  Put the olive oil and butter in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook until the butter melts completely and is just starting to sizzle.  Add the shallot or onion, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes, or until tender.

3.  Add the celery, sweet potatoes, garlic, and arborio rice to the pan.  Stir everything together and cook just for about a minute to lightly toast the rice.  Add the wine and stir, letting the alcohol bubble out and the liquid absorb, about 2 minutes.

4.  Begin to add the warm broth a ladle or two at a time.  After each addition, stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed into the rice and veggies, a couple of minutes per addition.  Continue this until most, if not all of the broth has been added, and taste the risotto to see if the rice is getting tender.  You may not need all of the broth (but I used it all).  This process takes about 20-25 minutes.  In the end the risotto should appear slightly creamy, the rice should be enlarged and tender but with a slight bite.

5.  Stir in the parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with the parsley.