Chipotle Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Sausage and Cilantro

Inspiration: Often times, one of my biggest inspirations in the kitchen is random ingredients that I have on hand that need to be used. During Mardi Gras time a few weeks back, I made a pot of smoked sausage and red beans, stashing the extra smoked sausage up into the freezer. And then recently, Brandon was away on business for a week, so I stocked up on sweet potatoes, intending to bake them up for myself for a few easy suppers, but I never ended up using them. Add those couple of ingredients to a few chipotle peppers that have been tucked away in the freezer for too long, some dying cilantro in my crisper, and this awesome-looking recipe from Closet Cooking that I’ve had saved for who knows how long, and we had ourselves a meal.

What We Loved: This dish was a great mixture of spicy, sweet, and savory flavors. The chipotle pepper and adobo sauce added just the amount of heat for a nice kick without being overpowering; the sweet potatoes added a slightly sugary flavor; and the smoked sausage was rich and flavorful while adding a nice hit of protein. On top of such a wonderful combination of flavors, my favorite part of the dish was the way that the tomato/adobo mixture and the onions melted into a sticky, caramelized sauce that just coated everything. And to top things off, the cilantro really rounded things off with a bright and fresh flavor that was a great complement to the rest of the dish.

Tips: Make sure to cook over medium heat (not too high), and to stir often. Since the sauce is really more of a coating, if you leave everything to sit for too long or cook over heat that is too high, you may end up with everything sticking to the bottom of the pan and/or burning.

Chipotle Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Sausage and Cilantro
Source: Adapted from Closet Cooking

Butter
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
8-10 oz smoked sausage, sliced
1 chipotle peper in adobo sauce, chopped, and about 2 teaspoons of sauce
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
About 1/4 cup water
Kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Heat a good pat of butter in a saute pan over medium heat.

2. Add the onion, and saute for a few minutes until tender. Add the garlic and cumin, and stir to incorporate. Cook for about a minute more.

3. Add the sweet potatoes, sausage, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, and tomato paste, stirring to coat. Add about 1/4 cup water, just enough to mix everything into a nice coating for the potatoes and sausage. Season to taste with Kosher salt.

4. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

5. Mix in the cilantro and serve.

Source: www.buynaturalgarciniacambogia.com

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Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce

Inspiration: Like so many other people, I think, we have been having a really fantastic winter. If there’s one thing that I’m not, it’s a fan of winter/snow/cold/etc. etc., but this year has been pretty great. The temperature hasn’t dipped below the 30s more than a handful of days, and we’ve only had a few snow showers with no real storms. For living in Michigan, that’s a huge deal. And yet…..it’s still easy to get the winter blahs every now and then, and it’s still easy to tire of the endless parade of stews, soups, and other winter comfort meals that I’ve been cranking out of our kitchen. When that sort of mood hits, I guess there’s no better time to cook up something so completely bright and summery that you almost (almost) want to sit out on the back patio to enjoy it.

What We Loved: This meal was just what we were hoping it to be – a very light and simply sauteed chicken breast with a bright, complex sauce that tasted just like summer. The sauce has a nice tart flavor (due to the tomatillos and the lime juice) with a great creamy backbone (thanks to the avocado and the half and half). It’s really just an extremely flavorful, creamy sauce that adds a nice richness and contrast to simply cooked chicken. We really enjoyed this chicken with a fresh pico de gallo salad for a meal that was just full of all kinds of fresh vegetable flavors.

Tips: I forgot to include a few cloves of garlic with my roasted vegetables, which would have been a lovely addition. Also, when finishing the sauce, make sure to add as much half and half/Kosher salt as is necessary to even out the flavors of the sauce to your tastes. I found the sauce to be quite tart until I had the right amount of half and half, which really balances the flavors. I also threw in a great deal of salt, which really makes all of the vegetable flavors so much more pronounced and wonderful.

Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce
Source: Adapted from Pip & Ebby, originally from Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010

1 very small onion, quartered
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1 poblano, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
Olive oil
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 chicken breasts, butterflied
Butter

1. Place the onion, tomatillos, jalapeno, and poblano on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler until the vegetables are all softened and beginning to blacken.

2. Place all of the broiled vegetables into a food processor. Add the avocado, cilantro, and lime juice, and process until all of the ingredients are combined. Pour in 1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half, a small amount at a time, processing until the sauce reaches a nice and smooth consistency. Taste as you add the half and half – if the sauce is too tart for you, add more half and half until it mellows out. Season well with Kosher salt. Refrigerate the sauce until ready to serve.

3. Add a good pat of butter to a saute pan. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and add them to the hot pan. Cook for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through.

4. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Inspiration: I’ve been trying to perfect a really great lower carb/no sugar meatloaf for over a year now. One of the things that I love about cooking is that there is so much room for experimentation, so if you don’t quite like something the first time around (or the second or third times), there’s always another meal somewhere down the road in which you can work on perfecting your recipe (leftovers and DVD replication party?). After trying out many different recipes and doing quite a bit of fine-tuning, we’ve finally come up with a meatloaf that we really love and can call a standard recipe.

What We Loved: There are so many great components to this recipe. The outside of the meatloaf is crusted in a smoky sweet tomato glaze that is just fantastic; there’s a lot of complexity of flavor and richness within the meatloaf due to the use of three different meats; the recipe is packed with colorful and nutritious vegetables, which is always an awesome thing; and the inside of the meatloaf is nice and moist, which in my opinion is one of the basic necessities to a great meatloaf. I truly love every single thing about this dish.

Tips: Extra tomato sauce for dipping would definitely not be a bad thing. It’s amazingly delicious. Next time, I might mix up a double batch. Also, I highly recommend serving this with buttered and salted sweet potatoes. I absolutely adore the combo and might list this dinner exactly as it is as one of my very favorite winter meals.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf
Source: Adapted from Raspberry & Coconut

Butter
1 medium onion, very finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, very finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
4 slices bacon, very finely diced
1 extra large egg, beaten
1/8 cup coconut flour
3 oz tomato paste
1 tablespoon water
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon sriracha

1. Melt a pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the onions, bell pepper, and carrot. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the onion mixture, beef, pork, bacon, egg, and coconut flour.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, Worcestershire, and sriracha.

4. Add half of the tomato mixture to the beef mixture.

5. Using your hands, mix the beef mixture until well-combined. Place the mixture into a bread loaf pan, forming it with your hands into a loaf. Spread the rest of the tomato mixture on top of the meatloaf.

6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake for 35 minutes more.

7. Remove the meatloaf from the pan, placing it on a cutting board. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Inspiration: One can never have too many easy weeknight suppers, right? The bonus with this one (and really with many dishes that have pan sauces) is that it looks so nice and elegant, too. I really need to cook with pan sauces more – in almost every case, they’re simple; they’re beautiful; and  they taste great.

What We Loved: This is a lovely dish with simple flavors. The pan sauce is a touch earthy and just a touch sweet, and it has a great, slightly thick consistency from all of the tomato juices that mix with the rest of the ingredients. We loved the herbal flavor of the oregano, and of course we really enjoyed the rich tomato flavor that dominated the sauce.  With some buttered green beans on the side, it really can’t get much simpler and prettier than this.

Tips: I thought that I noticed that the paprika in this dish tasted a little bitter, which would have come from the fact that it was mixed into the butter and sauteed for so long in the pan. By no means did it ruin the dish (Brandon said that he didn’t even notice it), but I might suggest mixing only the oregano, salt, and pepper in with the butter that you cook the chicken in, and then adding the paprika into the second batch of butter that gets added into the sauce near the end. That way, the paprika won’t have a chance to char at all on the bottom of the pan, producing that slightly bitter flavor. Also, I’m thinking that a splash of balsamic vinegar might go really well in this dish, adding just a touch more sweetness and some added complexity.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce
Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Bon Appetit July 2011

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup chicken stock

1. Combine the butter, garlic, oregano, and paprika in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Melt half of the butter mixture in a saute pan over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and saute in the herb butter for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan, and stir occasionally until they begin to brown and burst, about five minutes. Add the rest of the herb butter to the pan, and crush the tomatoes slightly with the back of your spoon until they release their juices and begin to combine with the butter.

4. Add the broth to the pan, and continue cooking until everything is well-blended and a nice pan sauce forms.

5. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Soup


Inspiration
: So now that the holidays are over (happy new year, everyone!) and our schedule is calming back down again, I’ve really been in the mood to get back into the kitchen and cook some heartwarming, comforting meals. After rushing around so much for what seems like a month or two, there’s nothing better than having the time to enjoy some great dinners with each other at the end of the day.

What We Loved: The base of this soup – the beef stock – is really what makes the soup. After cooking all day on the stovetop, the flavor profile of the stock is rich and hearty, with layer upon layer of comforting beef and vegetable goodness. Brandon and I both agreed that we had never tasted a better beef soup than this one, and it’s entirely due to the fact that the beef stock was so outstanding. And on top of how much we enjoyed the stock, the beef itself was just as good. When the stock is done cooking, the beef just falls right off of the soup bones and shreds apart, giving you tender, succulent meat to add back to your soup. I chose sweet potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and green beans for the vegetables that I added in to the soup, and we both really loved what each of those vegetables added to the dish. The sweet potatoes added a lovely sweet bite, the beans and carrots added that familiar and characteristic vegetable flavor, and the pearl onions added nice pops of rich onion flavor. This is the kind of soup that is the definition of comfort in a bowl, and it’s perfect for the cold, snowy evenings that I know are headed our way.

Tips: As I use vegetables in my cooking on a day-to-day basis, I save all of the odds and ends that I wouldn’t otherwise use (onion tops, carrot ends, herb stalks, etc.) in a freezer bag in the freezer. I wait until I have a good amount (several cups worth) before making stock, so that I can add those vegetable bits to my stock rather than using fresh, new vegetables. I would really suggest doing the same – it’s a great way to avoid waste and to get use out of all of your vegetables. Secondly, this is an all-day project since it involves making your own beef stock, so make sure that you have enough time. I’d recommend making this recipe on a Sunday, because it really does provide for a wonderful and cozy Sunday evening supper. It’s just the kind of meal that Sundays were made for.

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Soup
Source: Original Recipe

About 3 lbs very meaty soup bones
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Any desired dried herbs
A few cups worth of vegetable odds and ends that you’ve saved in the freezer (i.e., carrot and zucchini ends, onion tops, stalks from herbs, Parmesan rinds, etc.)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1 1/2 cups green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1. Season the soup bones well with salt and pepper. Roast them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

2. Pour the soup bones and any accumulated juices into a large stock pot (mine is 8 quarts). Fill the pot with water, leaving enough space to add your vegetables.

3. Pour your vegetables on top, and add a good bunch of salt, pepper, and any dried herbs that you prefer (I used some dried marjoram that I had on hand).

4. Bring the pot to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a very light simmer. Let cook for about 5 hours on the stovetop.

5. Remove the soup bones/meat and vegetables from the stock, reserving the soup bones and meat. Pour the stock through a  fine mesh sieve into another large pot.

6. Pull the meat from the bones with your hands (it should fall right apart). Shred the meat, removing any fat, and return all of the shredded meat to the pot with the stock.

7. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and green beans to the pot. Return the pot to the stove, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all of the vegetables are softened.

8. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary (I add a lot of salt at this point).

9. Serve the soup topped with finely shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired (it’s good with or without).

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo

Inspiration: Well, what’s a Mexican-inspired meal without some chorizo, right? We both adore Mexican chorizo. It’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s rich and fabulous. And seeing how brussels sprouts are such a lovely fall vegetable, it only seemed logical to throw this side dish onto our Mexican Thanksgiving plates. I know that I’m thankful for chorizo, after all :)

What We Loved: One of my favorite parts about this dish was actually the little bits of onion that turned nice and orange from cooking in the fat from the chorizo. Delicious. And as for the main stars of the dish, the brussels sprouts were nice and tender with a light browned flavor, and the chorizo was a perfect, spicy complement. One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s so simple, and that simplicity really allows the main ingredients to really shine. There’s the fresh vegetable flavor of the brussels sprouts, and there’s the much richer and bolder flavor of the chorizo, and the two make a perfect pair.

Tips: Make sure to get the pan nice and hot before adding the brussels sprouts in to brown. My pan wasn’t quite hot enough, so my brussels sprouts didn’t brown as quickly as I needed them to. I ended up taking them off before they were as brown as I wanted them to be, since I didn’t want the rest of my meal getting cold. So I would recommend having the pan nice and hot so that they brown quickly and easily.

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo
Source: Adapted from Saveur

1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
8 oz Mexican chorizo sausage (about two links)
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Place the brussels sprouts in a sauce pan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until just tender, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the brussels sprouts to a bowl of ice water, let sit for five minutes, and then drain.

2. Remove the casing from the chorizo, and crumble the chorizo into a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Saute until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, and stir to combine. Transfer the chorizo mixture to a bowl.

3. Increase the heat to high. Add the brussels sprouts cut side down into the fat that’s left in the pan from the chorizo, and cook until the brussel sprouts are browned and tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Mix the brussels sprouts into the bowl with the chorizo mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roasted Turkey Breast with Zesty Dry Rub

Roasted Turkey Breast with Zesty Dry Rub

Inspiration: Every year on Thanksgiving, Brandon and I visit our families and share in a couple of fabulous meals prepared by my Mom and by his Mom and Grandma. We’re a couple of lucky, lucky people to be so fortunate to have two Thanksgiving meals prepared for us, and I really do love taking the day to do nothing but appreciate just how much I have to be thankful for. It’s my favorite day of the year, and those meals that our Moms prepare are absolutely my very favorite meals of the year. Being one who loves to cook, though, I just can’t resist making some sort of Thanksgiving meal for just Brandon and I a little bit before Thanksgiving Day. This year, I decided to go for a Mexican-inspired meal by putting a Mexican spin on some standard Thanksgiving dishes. I ended up making this roasted turkey breast with a dry rub using Mexican spices, a cranberry salsa, brussel sprouts cooked with chorizo, and a butternut squash/poblano gratin. I’ll be posting the rest of the recipes in the coming weeks, but for now, I just want to wish everyone who might be reading my little blog a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that all of your days are beautiful ones.

What We Loved: I’ve never cooked a lone turkey breast before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with this recipe. Initially, I was a little bit worried about two things – first, I was worried that the meat would be dry when it was done since it was all breast meat, and secondly, I was worried that the flavor would be a little bit bland since the spice combination wasn’t very complex. But the reviews for the recipe were excellent, so I forged ahead, and it turned out that both of my worries were completely unfounded. The meat was insanely moist and succulent on the inside, and the outside had this fabulous, crunchy crust. I really packed the spices onto the outside of the turkey because I wanted that nice crust, and I was so pleased with the end result. The flavor of the seasoning mix was very similar to what you’d find in any number of Mexican dishes (a lot like taco seasoning), with chili powder and cumin being the dominate spices. With that spicy, crusty outside and a super moist inside, I really thought that this recipe was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tips: As I mentioned above, I packed a lot of seasoning onto my turkey breast because I wanted a nice crust. I used a 2.8 pound turkey breast and just patted on as much seasoning as I needed to cover it completely. I actually ended up mixing up a second little batch of seasoning because I initially ran out. I’ll list the amounts for my initial batch below, but I’d really recommend doing the same as I did and mixing up more seasoning if necessary. The crust is truly lovely. And if you’re looking for a nice beverage to pair with your meal, we enjoyed this supper with a couple of New Holland Ichabod pumpkin ales that we’ve been saving in the back of the fridge since before Halloween. Perfect.

Roasted Turkey Breast with Zesty Dry Rub
Source: Adapted from Food Network, originally from Family Circle Magazine

For the Turkey
1 boneless turkey breast (mine was about 3 lbs)
Olive oil
Lime juice from 1/2 lime

For The Dry Rub
1-2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Rub the turkey breast on all sides with olive oil and lime juice.

2. Mix together the dry rub in a small bowl, and rub it all over the turkey breast. Mix up more dry rub if necessary to cover the entire breast.

3. Roast the turkey in the oven at 350 degrees F until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F, about one to one and a half hours for a 3 pound turkey breast.

4. Let the turkey rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Tangy Beef and Vegetable Picadillo

Inspiration: Brandon and I love picadillo, particularly this recipe, which is a staple in our house. But one of the things that I love so much about cooking is that there are as many versions of recipes as there are people, and every dish tastes different depending on who makes it or whose recipe it is. Cooking’s really kind of an art in that way, which might be why I was drawn to it in the first place. It’s like painting classes and sketchbooks in its own unique way.

What We Loved: This picadillo is a completely different alternative to our usual favorite. Whereas that recipe is rich and savory, with a nice and prominent tomato and cinnamon flavor, this recipe has a lot more going on and is defined by a tangy and sour bite. With green olives, capers, and pickled jalapenos involved, there are a lot of ingredients that offer that tangy component. Plus, the carrot lime puree on top is also nice and tart from the bite of lime. It’s a really great and interesting flavor that’s contrasted nicely by sweet and juicy little bites of golden raisins, which I really adored and consider essential to this dish. And I just love that there are so many vegetables thrown into the recipe, too – plenty of onions, green peppers, red peppers, carrots, cilantro, lime. This meal is just packed full of awesome flavors and nutrients. And who can complain about a fried egg on top and creamy avocado slices on the side?

Tips: The original recipe calls for this to be served with creme fraiche (or sour cream) in addition to the other toppings and sides. I forgot to buy any at the store, but I really think that it would be a great, cooling complement to the rest of the meal.

Tangy Beef and Vegetable Picadillo
Source: Adapted from Eve Aronoff, from Eve the Cookbook

*This recipe will serve about four. We used it to feed two with leftovers for a second night.

1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3/4 cup green pepper, finely diced
3/4 cup red pepper, finely diced
2 teaspoons jalapeno, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large roma tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon capers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons sriracha
1 tablespoon pickled jalapenos, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs
Butter
Carrot lime puree, recipe follows
1 avocado, sliced
Cilantro, to garnish

1. Brown the ground beef in a deep saute pan.

2. Add the onion, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, stirring to combine.

3. Add the green peppers, red peppers, jalepenos, and spices. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are softened.

4. Add the roma tomatoes, raisins, capers, and olives. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the sriracha, pickled jalapenos, and Worcestershire. Stir to combine, and adjust seasonings to taste if necessary. Keep warm on the stovetop.

6. Fry your eggs sunnyside up in some butter.

7. Serve the picadillo topped with the fried eggs and a dollop of carrot lime puree. Serve alongside avocado slices, and garnish with cilantro.

Carrot Lime Puree
1/3 small green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/8 – 1/4 cup onions, roughly chopped
Juice from 1 small lime
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Place the bell peppers, onions, lime juice, carrot, and garlic in a food processor.

2. Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running to emulsify.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Moussaka


Inspiration
: When I first started cooking seriously, I’d have big ambitions to make these huge, exotic meals every night, and a lot of nights I’d try to. Back then, though, I wouldn’t take my time so much, or I wouldn’t use the best ingredients, or I wouldn’t adjust the seasonings and ingredients in the recipe here and there to our tastes….and as a result, a lot of times the final meal was underwhelming. One of those meals was my first shot at moussaka. It turned out okay enough, but if it tells you anything, I haven’t made it since then and I didn’t even keep the recipe. Which is a sad thing, because for some reason, I’ve always had this romantic fascination with this dish. I don’t know what it is, but something in me has always needed to find a fabulous moussaka recipe for our repertoire. Color me weird if you’d like :)

What We Loved: This was one of those great meals that I could just tell was going to be fabulous while everything was still simmering away in the pan. I love when that happens. The aromas in the kitchen while this is cooking are amazing – so complex, spicy, and earthy – and the taste is just as perfect. The casserole is made with beautiful and comforting lamb and vegetables, like you’d find in a stew; a lovely combination of sweet and savory spices (we love that cinnamon in there); delightfully creamy eggplant; and a rich, cheesy topping. One of the best things about this meal is the way that the eggplant transforms itself into a soft, creamy, almost sweet layer in this dish – it’s such a treat.  Throwing in a myriad of slightly sweet spices with all of the other savory ingredients really makes the flavor of the final dish so intense and complex, and the yogurt topping is surprisingly creamy with a nutty bite of Parmesan. We ate this three nights in a row without ever tiring of it (and in fact looking forward to it each night), with more leftover for lunch. I’m so glad that we’ve finally found a great moussaka recipe to hang onto as a staple in our recipe collection.

Tips: I told Brandon while we were eating that the only thing that I would change about this recipe would be to add more of the yogurt topping. It’s delicious! So I might recommend doubling if it you’re so inclined (or instead, maybe making about 1/2 more of the original recipe, as doubling might result in too much). I’ve written the recipe below as I made it (not doubled).

Moussaka
Source: Adapted from Simply Delicious

1 lb ground lamb
1 large leek (or two medium-sized ones), cleaned and finely sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups water (or stock)
2 eggplants, sliced into 1/4 inch slices (use your judgement on how many eggplants you need – you want enough slices in the end to make two layers in a 9 x 13 casserole)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
16 oz thick Greek yogurt (I used Fage)
2 eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Saute the lamb over medium heat in a large saute pan until about halfway cooked through. Add the leeks and carrot. Season to taste with salt and pepper, mix well, and continue sauteeing until the lamb is cooked through and the vegetables are softened.

2. Add the garlic and bay leaves, and mix together. Stir in the cinnamon, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, cloves, and oregano.

3. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste, and mix together. Add the water or stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the mixture is nice and thick, about 20-30 minutes. Cook longer if necessary to allow the liquid to reduce.

4. While the lamb mixture is cooking, place the eggplant slices onto baking sheets, drizzle generously with olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or so, until they eggplant slices are lgihtly roasted/wrinkly.

5. Combine the Greek yogurt, eggs, Parmesan, about 1 teaspoon salt, and a good sprinkling of fresh black pepper. Mix well to combine.

6. Remove the bay leaves from the lamb mixture. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Spread a little bit of the mixture onto the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add a layer of roasted eggplant, followed by half of the lamb mixture. Repeat one more time, adding the second half of the eggplant and the second half of the lamb mixture.

6. Pour the yogurt mixture over the casserole, spreading it out into an even layer.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Allow to set for about 10 minutes before serving.

Sweet Potatoes with Cajun Chicken and Green Tomato Salsa

Inspiration: I love book stores. Don’t you just want to nestle down in some quiet corner in the fiction section with some pillows, a blanket, and some snacks and spend a few years working through the shelves? I guess that could be just me. And I guess that could be why I’m slowing building up my own book collection that verges on hoarding. Either way, a few weeks ago, Brandon and I stopped by the local Borders on a Saturday afternoon for some bargain hunting since the store was going out of business. Several hours later, we left the store armed with a few new fabulous cookbooks, including Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s America. From the second that I picked it up, this book captured my heart. It’s divided into sections according to a lot of the great American food regions – New York, Louisiana, the Wild West, Los Angeles, to name a few – and in this way it chronicles the fabulous culinary individuality that this country has to offer when you travel across state lines. The recipes are interspersed with Jamie’s stories about the different people and cultures from the east coast to the west, and it really makes me proud to be part of such a cool country. And I haven’t even mentioned the recipes themselves yet, which are awesomely innovative with all kinds of beautiful, fresh ingredients. I was flipping through the book in the store and landed on this particular recipe (written to be made with alligator meat), and I almost drove down to Louisiana that very night to find some alligator. Almost.

What We Loved: There sure are a lot of great things going on in this meal. Our favorite part was the flavor of the chicken thighs, which are marinated in a fabulous Cajun seasoning that is just full of spice. The chicken is sauteed in some butter until the outside is crispy brown and packed with seasoning, and the inside is still moist and tender. When you add sweet, creamy sweet potatoes into the mix and top everything off with a tangy, sour salsa with a fresh kick of cilantro and a good sprinkle of Kosher salt, the end result is a whole lot of awesome flavors and textures. I love that the meal is all-inclusive, too, with no side dishes needed. For some reason, meals like that are always my favorite kind. There is just something so rustic and charming to me about the way that the meal looks on the plate and the way that all of the flavors meld together when you dig in.

Tips: If you can’t find green tomatoes or if they aren’t in season (we’re pretty much right on the tail end or just past the season right now), I think tomatillos would be an excellent substitute. They’d provide that same tangy, sour flavor that the green tomatoes add to the dish.

Sweet Potatoes with Cajun Chicken and Green Tomato Salsa
Source: Adapted from Jame Oliver via Jamie’s America

For the chicken
1 lb chicken thighs, sliced
Cayenne pepper
Paprika
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Ground oregano
Thyme
1 bay leaf, spine removed and leaf torn into pieces
1 small clove garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard
Butter

For the sweet potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

For the salsa
2 slices onion
1/2 fresh red chile
2 small green tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 roma tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
Small bunch of cilantro
Splash apple cider vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

1. Place the chicken breasts into a bowl. Sprinkle as desired with cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme. Add the torn bay leaf, garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, and the mustard. Mix well to coat the chicken. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 1 hour, until soft.

3. Meanwhile, prepare your salsa. Put the onion, chile, green tomatoes, tomato, and cilantro in a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped or minced. Add a splash of cider vinegar, a good drizzle of olive oil, and a big pinch of Kosher salt, and mix to combine.

4. Heat some butter in a saute pan. Saute the chicken until browned and cooked through, a few minutes per side.

5. Cut the cooked sweet potatoes in half, squeezing them a bit to flatten them and push some of the sweet potato up out of the skin. Top with the chicken slices and a good scoop of salsa.