Scalloped Potato Gratin

Inspiration: Potato dishes are a big deal around the holidays or in the winter time, aren’t they? Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, casseroles….they’re really just comfort food at its finest. And that’s about all that I need to say about that, right?

What We Loved: This may be the best potato dish that we’ve ever eaten. It had all of the components that we look for when it comes to potatoes and comfort food – an awesome creamy consistency and texture; crispy browned cheese on top and gooey, nutty cheese throughout; and the warm, spicy hit of nutmeg that just complements potatoes so well. All in all, this recipe was a perfectly rich combination of textures and flavors that reminded us of the potatoes that our favorite fancy restaurant serves – but better.

Tips: This dish is simple, elegant, absolutely delicious, and the definition of comfort food. It would make a great dish for company or for a special occasion. We originally made these potatoes for Thanksgiving, and I don’t think that a Thanksgiving will go by for us in the future without them making an appearance on our table. If you have any holiday celebrations coming up for which you are still planning your menu, I’d highly recommend this recipe to share with your loved ones. We celebrate Christmas and won’t be back until some time before the new year, so we wish you all a week or so of warm & cozy eating  :)

Scalloped Potato Gratin
Source: Slightly adapted from Tyler Florence

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 sprig thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices (this was three medium-sized potatoes for me)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Heat the cream, thyme, garlic, and nutmeg in a saucepan over low heat until warm.

2. Butter a casserole dish. Add a layer of potatoes in an overlapping pattern. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the thyme sprig from the cream. Pour 1/3 of the cream over the first potato layer, then add 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat with two more layers.

3. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the casserole is nicely browned and bubbly. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

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Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots

Inspiration: It’s no secret that Brandon and I love food, but something that we don’t mention as much on here is that we also love craft beer. I’m talking in an obsessive way. Luckily, we live in an area with a ton of great breweries around that we frequent often. One of the things that we’ve noticed is that craft breweries tend to care abut where their food comes from/how it’s made, and thus the food at our local breweries is usually pretty fantastic. Hurray for the craft beer scene! Anyway, one of the breweries that we frequent, Blue Tractor, has a menu centered around Southern/BBQ foods. The last time that we went there, I had some roasted green beans with bacon as a side, and they were just fabulous. I immediately went about planning to recreate them at home.

What We Loved: This is a simple dish that packs loads of flavor. There aren’t a lot of things better than fresh, crisp vegetables, and when you toss them in bacon fat and mix them with crisped bacon pieces and caramelized shallots…..well, that pretty much speaks for itself. We both adored the awesome vegetable flavor of these beans paired with the rich, browned bacon flavor.

Tips: I wanted to roast these beans in the oven to get them nice and browned/slightly crispy and blackened (like they were at Blue Tractor), but I just had too many other things going on in the oven at the time. These were great cooked on the stove top, but if you want to roast the beans instead to get that added browned flavor, I know that they would also be awesome that way. We enjoyed these with our Thanksgiving meal, but they would certainly be a wonderful side on Christmas or New Years, too.

Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: About 4

5-6 slices bacon, diced
2 shallots, diced
1 lb green beans (I used a frozen bag of the thin, haricots verts style)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Add the bacon and shallots to a saute pan over medium low heat. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the shallots are browned and caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cover the green beans with water in a sauce pan and  bring to a boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes and drain.

3. Add the beans to the saute pan with the bacon and shallots. Season well with Kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Toss everything together, coating the beans in the bacon fat. Serve.

Butternut Squash Curry

Inspiration: When I see all of the winter squash varieties show up in the store come fall, I just can’t resist throwing a few in my cart every time that I shop. Brandon is less-than-thrilled about this habit of mine – he’s not huge into winter squash – but man, do I love it. So I try to only cook it once in a while for our dinner and use the rest for myself for lunch. Anyway, this particular recipe really intrigued me because we’ve both been particularly in the mood for Indian curries lately, but I never would have thought to use butternut squash as the main ingredient in a curry. Color me intrigued.

What We Loved: My favorite thing about this dish was the tenderness of the squash. It had a soft and creamy consistency that really made each bite melt in your mouth. The spices used in this particular curry added a lovely warmth and depth of flavor to the dish, with just a tiny bit of heat. And like a huge handful of meals in our house, I threw some chopped cilantro on top, and that added a great fresh contrast. If you want to make a curry that’s basically fall in a dish, then this would be it.

Tips: When I make a new recipe, I usually ask Brandon if he would make any changes next time. We kind of joked around with this recipe the only improvement he could see would be to use paneer or tofu in place of the squash. However, I do think it’s a great idea and that either would make an awesome substitute. Tofu would have a similar creamy texture to the squash in this recipe, and paneer would be firmer but also more substantial or filling. And cheesier, of course.

Butternut Squash Curry
Source: Adapted from StoneSoup

1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
About 3/4 cup coconut milk
Kosher salt and black pepper
About 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed, and cooked
Fresh cilantro, to garnish

1. Heat a good pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the garam masala, chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon. Stir the spices into the butter, sauteeing them together for about a minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, stir together, and let simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste the sauce, adding more coconut milk or spices if desired.

3. Add the butternut squash cubes. Cook until everything is heated through and the sauce is thickened to your liking.

4. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Spiced Burgers with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish

Inspiration: I have so many recipes saved all over the place that I don’t think that I’ll ever get to making all of them. I have a Google doc that’s packed full of online recipes that I’ve saved, my Google Reader is full of starred recipes, my cookbooks are covered with post-its, and I have a big old pile of recipes that I’ve torn from magazines clipped together in my pantry next to my recipe box (which is also full of recipes that I still need to try). In an effort to reduce some paper clutter, I decided to start plowing my way through the magazine recipes. That way, if I like one, I can post it up onto the blog and throw away the paper copy. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

What We Loved: This was one of the most interesting burgers that we’ve ever had. We tend to make burgers that are on the richer side (see our favorite avocado burgers, for example, or these bacon burgers), but this burger was in the complete opposite direction. The Greek yogurt and cucumber relish toppings were light, crisp, and refreshing – and they were such a unique complement to the charcoal grilled burger with its smoky, hickory flavor. It really was a different experience for us to take something that we have always experienced as a rich meal and turn it into something much lighter. And we absolutely adored the Greek yogurt as a burger topping. It was such a cooling, creamy addition that seeped down into the burger and was quite an excellent replacement for any type of cheese. I have to confess that I still prefer my rich and cheesy burgers more than any other, but these are a pretty nice option for something that’s a little bit different.

Tips: Make sure to taste test the relish as you prepare it. I thought it was much too bland at first, until I added enough lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. A little bit extra of those items makes a huge difference in the overall flavor.

Spiced Burgers with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish
Source: Adapted from Women’s Day Magazine, March 2012
Serves: 2

About 3/4 lb ground beef
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 small cucumber, seeded and finely diced
1 thin slice red onion, finely diced
Handful fresh mint, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
About 4 oz Greek yogurt

1. Mix the ground beef with the cumin, oregano, cinanmon, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Form into two burgers.

2. To prepare the relish, mix the cucumber, red onion, and mint in a bowl. Add a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice from 1/4 lemon, and a nice sprinkle of salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

3. Grill or saute your burgers until cooked through (we used a charcoal grill with hickory smoking chips), about 4-5 minutes per side.

4. Serve the burgers topped with a good dollop of Greek yogurt and some of the cucumber relish. Squeeze the lemon juice from the other 1/4 lemon atop the burgers before serving.

Grain-Free Carrot and Squash Bread

Inspiration: I’m not usually into substitute recipes – anything that’s a fake version of something else. I’ve tried a lot of those kinds of recipes over the past several years, and more often than not, they are very disappointing. But when I ran across this recipe over at Things My Belly Likes, it just looked and sounded too good not to try. I love all things squash, after all. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that we travel for Thanksgiving, but since I love to cook so much and since Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, I always do our own little mini Thanksgiving a few weeks before actual Turkey Day. I ended up making this bread  recipe this year, alongside an herb-roasted turkey breast, scalloped potatoes, and green beans with bacon and shallots. Being so busy with Ben and not really having any time to play in the kitchen, I almost skipped trying to make our Thanksgiving meal this year, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. As a good meal always does, it made me so thankful for the wonderful life that I live. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

What We Loved: I thought that this bread was fantastic, and Brandon even liked it, too. My favorite thing about it was that it was so dense and very moist, which was awesome. A lot of times, using coconut flour tends to result in a dry recipe, but this bread was seriously moist and fabulous. The bread had a really great cinnamon/slightly sweet fall baked goods flavor to it, too, making it so perfect for a Thanksgiving plate. Plus, it’s loaded with a cup of  shredded carrot and a cup of shredded squash – bonus! What a great way to add even more vegetables to your dinner plate. And I loved that the bread was actually bread-like – perfectly able to be sliced, no falling apart, etc.

Tips: I ate a lot of this bread for breakfasts, and I really enjoyed it for a breakfast option. I tried a few slices with some peanut butter, and that was also good. Next on my list, I’m going to throw some in the microwave for a few seconds and then spread with some butter. I have a feeling that it will be great that way, too.

*Edit – I’d recommend eating this bread pretty quickly or refrigerating the leftovers. I left it wrapped up in foil on the counter like I might do any other bread, but by the third day it had gone bad.

Grain-Free Carrot and Squash Bread
Source: Slightly adapted from Things My Belly Likes
Makes 1 loaf

3/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons agave nectar (or you could use honey)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 large eggs
1 cup carrot, peeled and grated (about 2 large carrots)
1 cup acorn squash, peeled and grated

1. Mix the coconut flour, salt, and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl.

2. Melt the butter, let it cool, and then stir in the agave, vanilla, and lemon juice. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry. When the batter is still slightly runny, fold in the carrots and squash. Mix until everything is well combined.

4. Press into a bread loaf tin lined with parchment paper. The batter will be thick.

5. Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, until the bread is cooked through but still springy to the touch. Let cool before slicing.

Chunky Vegetable Marinara Sauce

Inspiration: Marinara sauce is one of those things that I make differently every time that I need it, depending on what I have on hand and how chunky/smooth/etc. I want the sauce to be. My favorite way to make a marinara, though, is to pack it full of vegetables. In my opinion, marinara is such a great vehicle for all kinds of nutrients and flavors, and the more vegetables that are thrown in there, the better.  When I was pregnant with Ben, I made this particular batch to stash away in the freezer and to serve as a quick meal with these meatballs, which I also stored in the freezer.

What We Loved: As I said, I just love how packed full of vegetables this sauce is. You’ve got the classic marinara flavors – rich tomatoes, earthy oregano and rosemary, a nice serving of garlic and butter – plus you’ve got the added bonus of the lovely vegetable flavors of onions, carrots, mushrooms, and red peppers. You can’t get much better than that.

Tips: This sauce is very versatile. To name a few options, it is great served with meatballs, atop spaghetti squash, as a topping for sauteed chicken breasts along with some cheese, or stuffed into portabella caps with some cheese for an Italian-style mushroom meal.

Chunky Vegetable Marinara Sauce
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: Makes about 6 cups

1 onion, diced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
About 15 button mushrooms, sliced
1 small red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
1 28 oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Heat a good pat of butter in a sauce pan. Add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and red pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the moisture released from all of the vegetables evaporates and the vegetables begin to brown, about 20 minutes.

2. Mix in the garlic and rosemary, and cook for an additional minute.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, oregano, Italian seasoning, and another good tablespoon of butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Simmer for as long as you’d like until ready to serve.

Tofu with Peanut Butter Sauce

Inspiration: Brandon really loves tofu, and I really love peanut butter, so I thought that this recipe was kind of a win for the both of us.

What We Loved: This was a really interesting dish and unlike anything that either of us have had before. Like pretty much any tofu dish, the sauce or accompaniments that you serve it with were truly the star. The tofu itself was nice and silken soft as tofu always is, but the sauce was all kinds of delicious. It had a super rich, classic peanut butter flavor with a nice tang from the lime juice and awesome Chinese-style flavors going on with the soy sauce and garlic. We both just loved the green onion and cilantro garnishes, too – green onions pair so well in Chinese-style dishes, and the cilantro added such a lovely and fresh herbal touch. As a whole, the layers of complexity in the sauce really paired so nicely with the soft and delicate tofu for a light yet still very filling meal.

Tips: I thought that the peanut butter sauce was a tad too salty, which was probably a combination of the peanut butter that I used (Whole Foods 365 Brand creamy peanut butter) and the soy sauce. I might recommend starting with one tablespoon of soy sauce in the sauce rather than two, and taste-testing it before adding the second tablespoon. Or, you can also go for unsalted peanut butter.

Tofu with Peanut Butter Sauce
Source: Keep Your Diet Real
Serves: 2

1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons warm water, more if necessary
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Sesame oil
1 14 oz package extra firm tofu, cut into eight pieces.
Green onions, chopped, for garnish
Cilantro, minced, for garnish

1. Add the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, lime juice, and garlic to a bowl. Whisk well until a nice, smooth sauce forms.

2. Heat a good drizzle of sesame oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the tofu, and cook until lightly browned and heated through, 4-5 minutes per side.

3. Serve the tofu topped with the peanut sauce and garnished with green onions and cilantro.