Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes ~ A Vegetarian Entree

After the holiday feasting you may be in the mood for some vegetarian fare and so this week I’m making a great new dish that is filling yet healthy.  I’ve made this twice previously and even a guest that indicated he didn’t really like sweet potatoes found it very good.  The potato really just acts to hold the other ingredients together and I did serve them in the sweet potato skin, but certainly you could place the mixture in a ramekin or other baking dish.

Julian's Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
This recipe has many founders as shown when searched on Pinterest, but I think they all originate from the Pinch of Yum food blog.  Wherever they came from they are certainly good and deserve to be added to your Meatless Monday repertoire.

2 large sweet potatoes, well proportioned
2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked, cleaned and patted dry.  (Substitute frozen corn)
1 12-15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 small fresh peppers, spicy or mild according to your taste, chopped
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
3-6 tablespoons shredded cheese ( Cheddar, Colby Jack, Taco mix of your choice)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Skillet-Roasted Sweet Corn

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Scrub the sweet potatoes and cut them in half lengthwise.  Rub the insides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Wrap in aluminum foil.  Bake 60 minutes until the flesh is very soft.  Remove and let cool slightly.

While sweet potatoes are baking, heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut the corn off the stalks or use frozen corn.  Add the corn to the hot skillet with no butter or oil. Let the corn roast and brown undisturbed for 4-5 minutes. Stir gently to turn the corn and let it continue to brown. Continue this for about 10 minutes until the corn is well browned and cooked but still has some crunch.  Remove corn from skillet and set aside.  Wipe the skillet with a paper towel.  Saute the onion in butter in the same skillet for 2-3 minutes.  Add the chopped fresh pepper and continuing cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Ready to Stuff
Drain and rinse the black beans and add to a medium sized bowl.  Add the roasted corn and the sautéed onion and pepper.  Stir gently to combine.  

Using a tablespoon, scrape out the flesh of the sweet potatoes, leaving the skins intact. Leaving a thin layer of potato inside the skins will help them to maintain their shape.

Prepared Stuffing
Mash the potatoes by hand or with a mixer until well blended.  Mix the flesh of the sweet potatoes with the sour cream. When well-mixed, gently stir in the black bean mixture and cilantro.  Taste the mixture and add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Spoon the filling into the skins and top each with 1-2 tablespoon shredded cheese. Bake in the 400F oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and potatoes are heated through.  Serve hot.

Stuffed and Ready for Cheese

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Turkey Taco Lettuce Wraps

If you are looking to use up some of that leftover turkey or just want a healthy lighter taco, this is a great recipe which I adapted from Gina’s Weight Watcher Recipes.  You can either use left over cooked turkey or fresh ground turkey.  And after spending lots of time in the kitchen preparing a holiday meal, a quick and easy recipe to use up some of the leftovers is a welcome change.  Because the flavors are Mexican it will taste like a completely fresh meal.

1 lb shredded cooked or fresh ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small pepper (spicy, mild or bell pepper of your choice)
• 1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
1 package taco seasoning*
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
3/4 cup water
Iceberg lettuce

* If you would prefer to make your own taco seasoning just mix together the following ingredients.  It will be more healthy and taste just as good.  Mix together the following and use instead of the package taco seasoning noted above.
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp oregano

Toppings and Sides (optional)
Shredded cheese
Sour cream
Taco sauce
Tomatoes, chopped
Spanish rice
Roasted corn

We enjoy the above toppings with our turkey lettuce wraps, but certainly any ingredients of your choosing will work just fine.  I typically make a box mix of Spanish Rice and to that I add two ears of roasted sweet corn or previously cooked corn.  While these can be served as a side dish, we enjoy the rice/corn mixture inside the taco wrap along with the traditional fillings.

Spanish Rice with Roasted Sweet Corn
Directions: Using Leftover Cooked Turkey
Select the small pieces of light and dark turkey meat and using two forks shred them until you have approximately one pound of shredded cooked turkey.  Set aside.  Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the onion, pepper and optional garlic and sauté until tender, about 3-5 minutes.   Add the turkey and chopped tomato to the skillet and stir in until heated through (another minute or two).  Sprinkle the taco seasoning over the turkey and stir until combined. Add the water and bring it to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the water is reduced and nearly gone, stirring occasionally.

Directions: Using Fresh Ground Turkey
Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.  Brown the turkey until it is no longer pink.  Add the onion, pepper and optional garlic and sauté with the meat until tender, about 3-5 minutes.   Add the chopped tomato to the skillet and stir in until heated through (another minute or two).  Sprinkle the taco seasoning over the turkey and stir until combined. Add the water and bring it to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the water is reduced and nearly gone, stirring occasionally.

Lettuce Wraps
Cut a head of iceberg lettuce in half and remove the core.  Carefully peel off about 8 outer leaves.  Wash and dry the lettuce. Place meat in the center of leaf and top with ingredients of your choice as noted above.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Turkey Roulade ~ Elegant Holiday Dinner

If you find yourself with only a few guests this Thanksgiving holiday, consider serving turkey roulade (or turkey breast roll).  It makes for an elegant holiday dinner and is not hard to prepare.  Certainly it doesn't involve the myriad techniques and advance prep work required for a great whole roasted turkey.  And in many ways, it's more impressive!

Julian's turkey Roulade
You can stuff it with a wide variety of fillings and prepare it well in advance.  About an hour in the oven and it's ready to serve.  I recommend purchasing the bone-in breast (or bone-in breast half) so you can make a good broth for gravy or later soups.  Each half of the breast halves make a separate roll. And a large breast (two halves) can easily serve 6-8 adults.

3 Hours in Advance of Dinner Time

De-boning half a turkey breast.
As it will just be two of us this year, I'm doing just half a breast which I found fresh in my grocer's meat case.  If you can get fresh instead of frozen the flavor will be better.  Simply cut along the breast bone to remove the breast meat.  Place the bones in cold water with some salt, celery, onions and carrot.  Bring the pot to a boil while you season the meat and reduce to a simmer for excellent gravy base. Then using your favorite seasonings give the breast a good rub on both sides.

A rub down with spices than a rest.
Today I'm using Williams-Sonoma Ultimate Roast Chicken Rub, which I received as a gift and I must say it is quite nice.  Of course just a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, fennel, thyme and lemon would work, or standard poultry seasoning with salt added.  The key to the rub is really the salt, because once you have it well coated all over, it must be placed into the refrigerator covered for one to two hours. This dry rub technique will help the meat remain moist during roasting.  Then simply remove from the refrigerator, brush off excess seasonings (but leave some behind for flavor) and place on a work surface.

Plastic covered and ready for pounding, skin side up.
I like to place plastic wrap both under and over the turkey breast.  Several sheets of plastic wrap on top will be required. as the mallet will likely tear through a single sheet.  If it does, and the meat is exposed, just add another layer.  It's important that the skin side of the breast be up as it will ensure the meat stays together.  Then using some force, pound the meat into a flat disc about one-quarter to one-half inch thickness.

Pounded flat and ready for stuffing.
Lay 4-6 pieces of butchers twine across a work surface, and flip the breast over so the skin side is down on top of the twine.  Repair any holes by pushing the breast together or using small pieces from the edge.  The breast is now ready to stuff.

The hardest part of the meal is now upon you.  What to choose as a stuffing?  Really any combination of your favorite flavors will work.  Famed chef Ina Garten likes dried figs, dried cranberries, brandy, pork sausage, fresh rosemary, pine nuts, and bread dressing. But then who wouldn't?  See her exact ingredients here.  Emeril likes a spinach, mushroom and bacon filling, which even Martha Stewart uses in her recipe.

Julian's stuffing ingredients.
Today I'm using fresh basil, which amazingly is still growing in my garden, along with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, garlic and fresh mozzarella cheese. I've chosen a filling that doesn't need to be precooked.  The peppers are from a jar of already cooked peppers packed in oil.  The remainder of the ingredients don't take much to cook through and the juices released by the mushrooms will add flavor and moisture to the turkey.  But if you instead wish to use chestnut bread dressing, pork sausage, etc. you must prepare that in advance so it is cooked through and has come back to room temperature before using as a stuffing.

Ready to roll!
When placing the ingredients on the flattened breast, try to leave a good inch or more around the edges so it doesn't squeeze out during rolling.  Then carefully lift up the long side and slowly and gently roll it up into a tube suitable for roasting, ending with the seam side down and the skin side up on your work surface.

Roulade ready to roast.
Tie the butchers twine to hold the breast roll together. Don't tie it too tightly or the filling will be squeezed out.  Use a toothpick or two if needed to close up the ends. Oil and season the surface. TIP: I always sprinkle with a little bit of white sugar to ensure good browning.  At this stage you can either roast or refrigerate for several hours, provided that all of the filling ingredients were cold. If you filled it with warm dressing or anything else that was heated, it must immediately go to the oven to prevent food borne illness.

1 Hour in Advance of Dinner Time

Pre-heat the oven to 375F degrees and place the oiled roulade on a rack in a dish or rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.  If you are doing the full breast (two rolls) a large baking sheet is required to give them adequate space and distance to permit even cooking.  Place the roulade in the upper third of your pre-heated oven with a meat thermometer.  Check the roulade during the last half-hour of cooking to ensure it is not overly browned.  When desired browning is reached, cover loosely with foil during remainder of cooking time.

The roulade is ready when the internal temperature reaches 160F degrees.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 15-30 minutes while you finish up any side dishes.

Now if you are like me, you placed the breast bones into a pot of water at the very beginning and by now have a nice turkey stock.  You can use this for gravy if you are making mashed potatoes.  While I  can get away with making one non-traditional item on the holiday table, it would be sacrilege if I didn't serve good mashed potatoes with the holiday meal.  I discussed the method for Perfect Mashed Potatoes recently, so I won't review that here.  But suffice it to say, any great mashed potato is only better with silky gravy.  And a more flavorful stock you will not find for gravy, then a fresh stock made in your own kitchen.  Use some of this to deglaze the roasting pan.  Strain out the solids, and thicken lightly with a corn starch and cold water mixture.  You are now ready to serve this elegant holiday dinner.

Cutting board has a tray carved in to hold the meat and catch juices.
Slice the roulade using a good sharp knife or an electric knife as I am here.  Each person will need 2-3 slices about an inch think.

Roulade ready for the platter.
You may wish to lay them out on a platter and pass them at table.  The roulade will make an elegant display this way, although if you do I would recommend you ladle just a bit of the fresh hot turkey stock over it on the platter to keep it moist and hot during serving.  Do not use gravy for this.

If you are plating each persons meal, then do place some gravy over each serving and on the mashed potatoes, along side the vegetable dish of your choice.  Save the remainder of your stock for future soups and stews.

From my kitchen to yours, have a happy holiday and enjoy a delicious dinner with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Sauteed Apples

With only 20 minutes prep time, this is a great dinner, even on a weeknight.  It starts with tender pork medallions, uses cinnamon and nutmeg on the meat, and tops it with apples.  This provides a sweet yet savory flavor that you don't expect in your main course, but is quite welcome.  I attempted to keep the apples pretty firm to provide some texture and color, as you do not peel them for this dish. I also used mushrooms in mine but that is optional if your family doesn't prefer them. They are served here with twice baked potato and steamed broccoli.

When selecting a pork tenderloin, you can really use any type and size you prefer.  I like the smaller vacuum packed variety and selected one that had been pre-seasoned.  However plain would also do well in the dish as you do add additional seasoning to the meat.

I recommend using a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet as these will provide optimal browning and give you those flavorful brown bits in the bottom of your skillet enhancing the flavor of your sauce.  Don't worry if the meat sticks.  When you are ready to turn it, use a metal spatula to ensure as much of the browning stays on the meat as possible.  The crust that's left behind in the pan will easily come up when the wine or cider is added.


1 teaspoon olive oil
Food release (Pam)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1, one to two pound pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup "baby Bella" mushrooms, sliced
1 large Gala apples, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine or apple cider


Heat oven to 250F degrees.  Cut the pork crosswise into 1/2 inch slices.  Spray a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet with food release.  Heat olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat.

Combine the salt, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg and sprinkle spice mixture evenly over pork slices. Add the pork to the skillet and cook until well browned (about 3 minutes) then turn and cook another 1-2 minutes.

Remove pork from pan and place on a oven-safe platter and cover with foil. Place in the oven.

Melt butter in the pan and onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3 minutes until becoming tender.  Add the optional mushrooms and continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes, then add the apples.  Sauté until apples have some color but are still firm.

Add white wine or apple cider to pan release any brown bits that stuck when the meat was cooking  Cover and cook for about 4 minutes more, until the flavors are combined but the apples still have color and are somewhat firm.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the pork from the oven and spread the apple mixture and sauce over pork and serve.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pumpkin Pecan Crunch Dessert

All the rage this season, is an easy to make dessert that seems to be replacing pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table.  I first heard of it from my sister, then a friend.  When searching it out online I found hundreds of food blogs and Pinterest posts talking about it.  It is often called a 'dump cake' as you pretty much dump the ingredients together and give them a stir, top with the cake mix and you are done.  Paula Deen is making it on YouTube and her son Bobby has a lighter version. I wouldn't call it a cake as it can't be cut into clean pieces.  Rather you spoon it out onto plates so it's perhaps best as a buffet food.

Testing Recipes
You'll find these 'cakes' made with varying spices and usually one of three types of cake mix; yellow, butter pecan or spice cake.  The brand of cake mix doesn't really seem to matter, as I tested several. They all use the basic recipe for the pumpkin custard, using more or less pumpkin pie spices. You can also use the substitutions noted in my recipe below for lower sugar/fat.  Testers couldn't tell the difference.

I made two versions for a taste testing for a crowd at work of about 20.  When the votes were cast it was 60% favored the spice cake version and 40% favored the yellow cake version.  Both are really tasty and I personally preferred the one with the spice cake mix.  I increased the amount of nuts from the basic recipes I found online to give it more crunch.


1 box cake mix (yellow, spice or butter pecan, Betty Crocker preferred)
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk (substitute non-fat)
3 large eggs (substitute 1 whole egg, 2 egg whites)
1 1/2 cups sugar (substitute 3/4 cup Splenda Baking Blend)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted

Whipped cream, Cool Whip or Paula Deen's cream cheese whipped cream topping are all good options for this dessert.


Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease or spray with food release (Pam) a 9" x 13″ pan.  Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt with a whisk until well blended.  Pour mixture into prepared pan. The mixture will be very loose. Gently sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture and top with pecans.  Drizzle melted butter over pecans.  Bake 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.