Thursday, September 30, 2010

Twice-baked Sweet Potatoes, Brown Rice Pilaf

I've had some fun cooking challenges lately. For Myrna, a blogging friend whom I invited to dinner last week I planned a gluten, corn, soy and dairy free meal. It was easier than I thought. Potato splats, chicken with olives, capers and oranges, salad and a vegetable that I can't remember just now. For dessert, a coconut milk crème caramel. 

On Monday, friends from Victoria came for dinner. One of them is on a 21-day cleanse, which consisted basically of gluten-free vegan. She didn't make a big deal of it, and would have eaten whatever I'd cooked, but since I knew she was doing this, I decided to see how I could accommodate her. The result is in the above photo: Twice-baked Sweet Potatoes with a hint of heat from chipotle pepper and fresh ginger, a Brown Rice Pilaf, and Green Beans with Fresh Tomatoes cooked down with a little garlic and balsamic vinegar. 

I was very pleased with the blend of flavours and the satisfying quality of the meal. I would probably miss cheese more than meat, but trying out a new way of cooking was enjoyable. 

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 medium to large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With the tip of a knife, poke a few holes into each sweet potato. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, 45-70 minutes. Let cool until they can be handled.

While the potatoes are cooling, heat the 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Over low to medium heat sauté the onion until very tender, but not brown. Stir in the fresh ginger and chipotle powder.

Cut a thin slice from the top of each sweet potato. Gently scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell against the skin. Lightly mash the sweet potato centers and stir in the onion mixture. Add 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt and the fresh lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt or lemon juice as wanted. The chipotle pepper powder tends to increase heat with time, so be judicious in adding more. 

Spoon the seasoned sweet potato mixture back into the shells. These can be prepared ahead to this point, then refrigerated. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the potatoes until hot through, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds to serve, if desired.

Brown Rice Pilaf

1 1/2 cup brown rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth for non-vegans)
2 scallions, sliced (use both the green and white parts)

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sauté the minced garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the rice. Stir until all the grains are coated with oil. Add the salt, lemon juice and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the rice is tender. Just before serving, stir in the sliced scallions. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Almond Crusted Chicken

This last week of September has been wonderfully sunny and warm. I'm not quite ready to prepare the heartier meals of fall, but summer fare seems tired and passé. Today's dinner was a blend of autumn and summer - lots of salad greens topped with roasted butternut squash and a tangy, winey, maple-flavoured cranberry onion dressing. To go with it, a simple chicken breast, coated with almonds and fresh herbs. 

It all came together remarkably well. I've begun cooking with pen and paper, usually a scrap of an envelope so that I can record what I do in the kitchen. I tend to cook, as I've said before, by grace, not law. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt

8 cups of mixed salad greens

Dressing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and toss all together with your hands. Bake, stirring once for about 30 minutes or until the squash cubes are tender and lightly caramelized. Let cool slightly.

To assemble the salad, place two cups of mixed green on each of 4 plates. Top with some of the butternut squash cubes, then drizzle a generous spoonful or two of the dressing over top. Serve immediately.


1 small onion, finely minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in an open skillet. Add the onion and sauté until tender and slightly golden. Add the red wine and and chicken broth. Stir. Bring to a boil and allow to boil steadily at medium heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 its original volume. Add the rosemary, cranberries, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Season to taste. Let cool slightly.

Almond Crusted Chicken

4 chicken breasts, slightly pounded to flatten
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cloves garlic
several stems of fresh parsley
several stems of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems discarded
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Note:  2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour can be added to the coating mixture for more thorough covering. Cornstarch or almond flour could also be substituted. 

On a large cutting board, place the almonds, garlic, parsley and rosemary. Finely mince all together. Place in a pie dish or plate. Coat the chicken breasts with the mixture.

Heat the olive oil at medium heat until it begins to shimmer slightly. Gently lay the chicken breasts in the hot oil and cook until done, turning once. This will take 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.

Slice each chicken breast and place on plate alongside of salad.