The Kitchen Prep: September 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sweet Potato Week: For Starters

Well, I made it through my 30th birthday. The day got off to a great start. I walked downstairs to find this from my sweet husband:

Coffee... the man knows the way to my heart. :)
I spent most of the day at home working {so exciting, I know.}, wore the cute Lilly shorts I scored during the summer sale, baked a birthday cake {not for myself, ironically!}, and went to dinner at one of my faves - Seasons 52 - with the hubby. We got home in time to watch the season premier of Modern Family {Love!}, and then I Skyped with my little sister into the last few minutes of my birthday. Overall, not too shabby for a mid-week birthday. :)

Steve works close enough to our new place that he gets to come home for lunch, which I love. It's nice to catch up in the middle of the day and grab a bite together, even though most of the time I'm still at the computer getting work done and he inhales his lunch and is out the door before I can utter a word. Since I didn't feel like getting too involved with cooking {well... more with cleaning up after cooking, really.} on my birthday, I opted for a soup & sandwich combo that was quick & easy to put together.

To stick with my Sweet Potato Week theme, I threw together a fantastic Sweet Potato & Chipotle Soup and a Colby Jack Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Oh, my. That soup was good.

The secret ingredient? Coconut Milk. It lends a rich, silky texture and decadent taste and mellows out the bite from the spicy chipotle. It's a Fall must, friends.

I got the idea for this soup from the menu of a local restaurant, and just put it together the way I thought it should be made. Simple and delicious. Perfect for a starter, a soup & sandwich combo, or as a meal in itself.

Stay tuned this week for more sumptuous sweet potato recipes!

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup
Inspired by Leftovers Cafe

(Serves 2)

1 medium-large sweet potato
1/2 a small onion, diced
1 small chipotle pepper + 1 tbsp adobo sauce from can {2 if you're a spice lover}
1/2 cup coconut milk {reduced fat, if you'd like}
1/4 to 1/3 cup water, depending on how thick you'd like your soup to be
salt to taste
olive oil

1. Pierce sweet potato several times and microwave for 8-10 minutes, checking intermittenly for doneness. {Should be soft like a roasted potato when done. Alternatively, you can cut sweet potato into 1 inch chunks and roast in a 400 degree oven until fork tender. Would probably taste even better this way.}

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespooon olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until softened and translucent, 4-6 minutes.

3. When potato is done cooking, cut open carefully and scoop out the pulp {Be careful, it's hot!}. Put in blender along with sauteed onion, coconut milk, and chipotle pepper with adobo sauce. If blender has a difficult time blending, add small amounts of water until it begins to process smoothly. Puree until smooth. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

4. Pour puree back into warm pot, and heat through until it reaches a simmer.

5. Put in your favorite soup bowl and slurp, sip, or dunk pieces of grilled cheese sandwich in for a warm and delicious treat!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Secrets & Sweet Potatoes

Friends, I have been holding out on you. I've been keeping a little secret because, well, I myself have been processing that it's actually true.

No, it's not THAT news. {After 2 years of marriage, we get that question a LOT.} The only buns in the oven right now are made of flour, water, & yeast. ;) {Sorry to the very anxious Future Grandparents!}

Today marks a big milestone for me: The end of my 20's. That's right, today I turn the Big 3-0!

To tell you the truth, I've been mentally preparing for 30 since I turned 29, so I've been ready for a whole year. I'm not too upset about leaving the 20's behind. I've gotten a lot done in my 20's!

Went to college. Made dear friends. Met my hubby. Finished Grad school. Got a job. Moved to Texas. Did some traveling. Got married. Moved back to Florida. Left the classroom despite my fear of the business world {P.S. Working with grown people is much more similar to working with kids than I could have ever imagined!}. Started a little business. Discovered new passions. Created this blog!

It's been quite a ride! I'm ready for 30. The decade may be changing, but the people around me who matter are still the same. For that I am truly grateful!

Now that I've let you in on my little secret, I guess it's time to celebrate!

My birthday happens to occur during one of my favorite seasons. {No, not Football Season although that's definitely part of it!} Right around this time each year, the blazing Florida heat subsides from a brutal broil to a slight sizzle and Starbucks and Bath & Body Works let us know that Fall has arrived by adding Pumpkin Spice Lattes and warm baked good-scented candles to their lineup. {That's how we Floridians know the season has changed! Eventually Nature reminds us as well.}

Once those little details signal the beginning of Autumn, it's like someone flips a switch in my brain and all I can think about is soups and stews, pies, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkins. I want to fling open the windows, let in the breeze, turn on the oven and let the smells of Fall waft through the house. Ahhh...

So, I got to thinking... when Summer began, I posted about pineapples for a whole week. Now that it's Fall, I thought I'd pick another ingredient to feature in an array of yummy ways. I've chosen a food that I enjoy year round {usually about once a week at least!}, but that lots of folks identify with the taste of the season.

... Sweet Potatoes!

Over the next week, I'll be whipping up some great sweet potato recipes for you to enjoy during the autumn months. I've already had 3 of them, and I've gotta tell you, not only are they satisfying and healthy, but they also make for a great air freshener! The house smells fabulous!

I'm kicking off Sweet Potato Week with an interesting idea: A Sweet Potato Pie Cocktail! Last night I made this pre-birthday drink for the hubby and me to toast with. The puree was absolutely delicious {I couldn't help but try it straight up off the spoon! Would make a delish ice cream topper.}, and I have some tasty plans for the extra that was left after the drinks were made.

The drink itself was.... different. To tell you the truth, had we used better rum {or maybe vanilla vodka?}, it probably would have been fantastic. But the rum we had overpowered the delicate sweet potato flavor a bit too much, and consequently, a few sips was all I took of my celebratory concoction. Maybe you'll have better luck?

Cheers to 30!

Sweet Potato Pie Cocktail
Adapted from Washington Post

(Serves 1)

For the sweet-potato reduction:
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the drink:
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces gold rum, such as Mount Gay
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) sweet-potato reduction
  • 1/2 ounce half-and-half
Sweet potato reduction:

Place the potato pieces in a medium saucepan and add 1 1/2 cups water, or just enough to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until the pieces are tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.
Transfer the potato pieces and their cooking liquid to a blender or food processor (do not fill to the top; be careful with hot contents). Puree for about 30 seconds or until smooth.

Return the puree to saucepan and add the sugar and spices. Add the remaining 1 cup of water and cook over medium to medium-low heat, so that the mixture barely bubbles at the center, for 20 to 25 minutes or until it has thickened to an applesauce-like consistency. (You should have 2 to 2 1/4 cups total. )

Cool to room temperature before using.

Make the Cocktail :

Fill a cocktail shaker with a handful of ice.

Add the rum, sweet potato reduction and half-and-half. Shake for 10 to 15 seconds, until well chilled.

Strain into a martini glass.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Works For Me!

Have I mentioned that I am now working two jobs? {One that I like WAY more than the other, but that pesky graduate degree in Education won't release it's grasp on me. I like kids... I just dislike teaching them against their will. :P }

I am lucky enough to be able to work mostly from home for my newer job as a marketing assistant for a fantastic author. Let me tell you, had I known how fabulous working from home can be, I would have insisted on doing so long ago. {Strike that. Fitting a classroom of 30 kids into my eensy weensy living room may have been a tad tricky - and a bit weird & illegal - now that I think about it.}

Aside from the fact that I am getting to write almost all the time {which I adore. Except for when I can't think of a darn thing to say.}, I am also enjoying the benefits of having my home as my workplace. Here are just a few things I've come to appreciate about it:

1. Working in my pj's. {Don't lie. I know you other work-from-homers do it, too.}
2. The fact that having bedhead and no makeup is completely acceptable in this workplace.
3. Typing, emailing, & social networking... from my big, cozy couch.
4. Using Starbucks as my conference room. {Although I could do without smelling like strongly brewed espresso all day afterward.}
5. Spending virtually no money on gas and transportation.
6. Being able to talk to myself and not have people around me think I'm nuts. {Except my husband when he comes home for lunch, but he knew what he was getting into when he put a ring on it.}
7. Setting my own schedule. I'm a creature of habit.
8. Having Food Network on mute in the background while I work. {I have no idea why I enjoy this, but I do.}
9. Being able to have something baking, or rising, or cooling while I'm getting other things done. It's like double productivity.
10. Never forgetting my lunch at home.

Don't worry, I still have to interact in person at my other job, so I won't go all Emily Dickinson on you. :)

Anyway, I realize this has nothing to do with food. I'm gettin' there.

Nestled snuggly in a whole wheat pita pocket. :)
We are finally starting to feel settled in to our new place, which means one thing: I'm back in the kitchen! Last night I made some tasty Greek Spinach & Feta Turkey Burgers with Cucumber-Dill Yogurt Sauce for dinner and they were delish. So good, in fact, that I had the leftovers for lunch today. :) I made them in my cast iron skillet, but you can grill them up or even turn them into meatballs. I've tried them all three ways and they turn out great.

Looks like a turkey burger daisy. Didn't even do that on purpose! :P

I don't have great pictures of them because, when I finally found my camera after our move, the battery was dead... and then I couldn't find the charger. :P But I promise, they taste MUCH better than they look. Give 'em a try!

Greek Spinach & Feta Turkey Burgers
a Kitchen Prep original recipe, although the idea has been done by just about everyone. ;)

You'll Need:

1 lb ground turkey meat
1/2 an onion, diced small
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated with microplane or minced
1/2 bag fresh spinach leaves (you could replace with frozen if you prefer)
3 oz (half a small tub) feta cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (we used Glutino Gluten Free Bread Crumbs)
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
Olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Preheat grill or skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil to medium high heat. In a medium saute pan, add 1 tablespoon olive oil.

2. Add onion and cook until translucent and softened. Grate garlic into pan and allow to cook with onions until fragrant, 1-2 minutes). Add fresh spinach leaves and saute until wilted down, 2-3 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine ground turkey, feta cheese, bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano. Add cooled spinach and onion mixture. Combine until all ingredients are well distributed throughout the meat, being careful not to overhandle (makes for tough burgers).

4. Form into patties. {I made 8 smallish ones.}

5. Place patties on grill or in cast iron skillet and cook until thoroughly cooked through, 4-6 minutes per side.

6. Serve on hamburger buns or pitas with yogurt sauce & assorted veggies, or eat them plain like my hubby. :)

Cucumber-Dill Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup Plain Greek Yogurt
1/3 small cucumber, peeled & diced small
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)
Pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve with burgers or as a tip for pitas or veggies.

Monday, September 5, 2011

And Now, Back to Our {Ir}Regularly Scheduled Program...

Goodness. Gracious. Please lie to me and tell me that your life has been as hectic as mine has been for the past few months. Really? Oh, good. So then you don't think I'm a complete slacker for almost completely abandoning The Kitchen Prep {multiple times}. Oh. You do? Well, in that case, no cake for you.

Actually, no cake for anyone because I don't actually have a cake recipe to share. It's more like a cheesecake. Except not at all, really. And if I'm completely honest, it would probably fall under the category of Semi-Homemade which, as I've mentioned, doesn't go over so well in the food world. I hang my head in shame.

But, if you were still wondering where half your kitchen gadgets were hiding, still sorting box after box of childhood memories that your mom dumped on you handed off to you, had the majority of your wall art propped against random walls throughout the house because you haven't been home long enough to actually hang them, and discovered your husband turned his new man-cave {the garage} into a bootleg T-shirt factory {Please, don't ask. I will go into detail one day... long from now... when I have the energy.} you'd probably be taking a little help from the Pillsbury Dough Boy, too. {Hell, I was thisclose to taking help from the Marlborough man... Kidding. I'm a non-smoker.}

So, now that that's off my chest... let's talk Sopapilla Cheesecake. {Click the link if you're wondering what the heck a sopapilla is. I didn't know until I moved to Texas.}

Hubby & I made the effort to stop being recluses get out of the house this weekend {despite the overwhelming amount of attention it still needs} and join some new friends for some food, cocktails, and laughs at a neighborhood Progressive Dinner Party. Have you ever heard of one of these before? Originally made popular in the 1950's, progressive dinner parties are basically a potluck dinner where the guests move from house to house {progressing... duh.} for each meal course. It is a great way to host a dinner party without taking on the full burden of being the sole entertainer {and, quite frankly, a very fun/sneaky way to see how your neighbors decorate their place. Voyeuristic much?}.

Like a tribe of nomadic yuppies, we wandered from home to home {in a neighborhood that looks eerily like the set of Pleasantville} sipping stiff drinks and gabbing as we progressed through the courses. The food was scrumptious {but isn't everything after a few Pomegranate Margaritas??}, and everyone was so much fun. {just like us, obviously.} ;)
We don't actually live in the same neighborhood as all these fine folks, but were invited to participate and team up with another couple to serve the "dessert leg" of the dinner. Since my week had been completely frenzied, I chose to make a quick and easy recipe that I acquired during my Texas teacher days. Give a Texan a tube of crescent rolls, and they will give you a masterpiece. {I love you, Texas friends!}

Normally, I am not a big proponent of recipes containing ingredients that come semi-prepared in a can, box, or tube, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the end, I'm glad I had this one in my recipe arsenal. It comes together super fast and is quite the crowd pleaser. Plus, as an added bonus, it makes your house smell like a churro stand. Yes, that is a good thing.

Now, spill the beans... what's your favorite "go to" recipe for the times when you don't have the time {or energy} to get elbow deep in flour and sugar? Now that I've given away my Pillsbury secret, I may just be in search of a new one...

Sopapilla "Cheesecake"
adapted from

You'll Need:
  • 16 (2 blocks) ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cans Pillsbury® Crescent Rolls
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick), melted
  • Approx. 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (combine approx. 1/2 c. sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon)
1. Lightly mist a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray, unroll one package of Pillsbury® Crescent Rolls refrigerated and line the bottom of the pan.

2. Mix together the cream cheese, sugar and extract.

3. Carefully spread over the crescent roll dough.

4. Unroll the other can of crescent rolls and place on top of cream cheese mixture.

5. Pour melted butter over the top and sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of the cinnamon sugar mixture.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Can be served hot or cold.