Friday, December 16, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato Latkes

Kvelling about latkes....look, I'm practically a fluent Yiddish speaker! Amidst the cornucopia of Christmas related Holiday cheer, us Jews sit tight and wait patiently for our lovely little Festival of Lights celebration which is marked by the best traditional Jewish food of the year: latkes!! Translating to potato pancakes in English, latkes are traditionally made with shredded potato, flour and egg; then fried to crispy perfection to create a smooth crust for your condiment of choice: sour cream, applesauce, or ketchup.
However, if you are a New York Jew, there is a pretty good chance you will not be spending your Hanukkah watching your kindled menorah in a backdrop of wintery snow, but rather on the beach at some sun-filled tropical destination. Consequently, your beach body might not be feeling piles of deep-fried potato right about now.
Which is why I present to you this Baked Sweet Potato Latkes recipe! Not only are these latkes infinitely healthier than your traditional type as they use nutrient-packed, beta-carotene full sweet potatoes, whole wheat flour, and minimal oil- if you've ever embarked on traditional latke making, you know they soak up oil like a sponge- but baking a large batch at one time saves the hassle and time of individual pan-frying. A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg enhance the sweetness of the potato, while the onion provides the perfect savory contrast. Plus, they retain the crisp, crunchy texture of your traditional potato pancake- the outside is just not as thick, which I actually enjoy.

Baked Sweet Potato Latkes (from Erin Cooks)
Yield: 12 Latkes
2 pounds grated sweet potatoes
1 medium onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray or olive oil spritzer or use a silpat.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Drop by 1/3-cupfuls onto cookie sheet. Flatten with spatula.
Bake for 25 minutes; flip and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Serve with light sour cream/applesauce and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, or ketchup.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets

I finally got my hands on Tal Ronnen's award-winning cookbook, The Conscious Cook. Growing up eating steak, Tal has mastered veganism the right way: "creating meatless food that is just as mouth-watering and delicious as anything I'd ever had as a meat eater," he affirms in the Introduction to his cookbook. His inventive creations include a "chicken" scaloppini, old bay tofu cakes, and the recipe below: Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets.

Because of its meaty texture and porous nature, portobello mushrooms soak up juices and spices beautifully; similarly to a steak fillet. Cooked the way you would the latter, and voila: your simple vegetable has just transformed into a hearty, juicy steak! Without the artery-clogging, cholesterol-rasing saturated fat, that is. Served with mashed potatoes, half way into this delicious meal you won't even remember that you're actually eating meatless.

Tal's recipes are exceptionally detailed and require a lot of ingredients, so I tried to simplify the dish a bit below. I did not make his b√©arnaise sauce that accompanied the portobello fillet, because I felt that the dish a jus was flavorful enough on its own to meet satisfaction.  I did, however, add some balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard into the leftover marinade to include some elements of the b√©arnaise in my sauce. Halfway through though, I got a ketchup craving and indulged- that's how "meaty" this dish is! 
The marinade is your traditional mix of garlic, shallots, dry white wine and vinegar, so the peppercorn and thyme crust is what makes this recipe truly outstanding. The crunchy coating serves as the perfect encasement to the tender portobello inside of it. 

Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets
Yield: 4 servings

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 portobello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Make the portobello fillets:
1. Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 1 minute, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a nonstick effect.
2. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, and 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Pour the mushrooms and liquid into a shallow container, cover, and set aside to marinate for 1 hour. (or 20 minutes? That's all I did, and I think it was adequate. Obviously the more it marinates the more flavors the mushroom will soak up, but don't balk if you're in a hurry.)

Sear the mushrooms:
4. Remove the mushrooms for the marinade and press between paper towels or in a cotton dish towel to remove the excess marinade. Save what's leftover in the container. Sprinkle with the crushed peppercorns, salt, and thyme, pressing the seasoning into both sides of the mushroom pieces.
5. Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms in one layer, working in batches if necesary. Cook until browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Assemble the dish:
6. Slice the mushrooms in the bias into 1/4 inch slices, keeping them intact a the base. Fan each mushroom out. You can lean it against a scoop of mashed potatoes or another side to prop up the mushroom. Add balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard to leftover marinade to taste (optional), and spoon sauce over the top and drizzle it around the rim of the place.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Roasted Beets with Dill-Walnut Vinaigrette

Although roasted root vegetables are commonplace in my kitchen, I had never before embarked on roasting a beet. I thought I was content with my 69 cent canned pickled version, but a homemade roasted beet proved me wrong! Boasting an exquisite deep purple color and bursting with flavor, warm out-of-the-oven roasted beets are a wonderful treat this time of season and yield so much more flavor than their store-bought counterpart. Straight from the Kilpatrick Family Farm and CSA- and I recommend you get your beets at a local farmers market- this Roasted Beets with Dill-Walnut Vinaigrette recipe pairs the tender sugary root vegetable with toasted walnuts and a fresh dill and shallot dressing. Red wine vinegar and lemon contribute some acidity to the dish, which when tossed and served immediately is refreshing, sweet and tangy all at the same time.  Feel free to top off your salad with a big dollop of Greek yogurt for some filling protein and color contrast.

Three years ago, the New York Times wrote an article posing the question Are beets the new spinach? Like spinach, beets can be considered a "nutritional powerhouse" with their significant source of folate, potassium and vitamin C. Beetroots' greens only add to the nutritional mix by containing high concentrations of beta-carotene, soluble and insoluble fiber, and calcium. According to the American Heart Association, drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure too.

Roasted Beets with Dill-Walnut Vinaigrette
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons juice from one lemon
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I only used 2 tablespoons of EVOO and it was plenty!)
salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 medium beets-roasted

Roast beets, wrap beets individually in tinfoil or parchment paper . Place in shallow roasting pan, and place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven. Roast until skewer inserted into a beet comes out easily, 45 minutes to an hour. Place walnuts in a skillet and toast over medium heat stirring frequently, until they become fragrant, about four minutes. Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, dill, and oil together in a small bowl until thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the dressing, sliced or chopped beets, an walnuts together in a medium bowl. Serve immediately.

Shulman, Martha R. "Beets: The New Spinach." The New York Times 4 Aug. 2008. The New York Times. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <>.
"Specialty Crops: Beets." Sustainable Farming Project. Tufts University. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <>.