Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

A couple stuffed sweet potatoes have been floating around the internet recently, but most seemed a bit too heavy and cheesy for our tastes. I found this bean and spinach stuffed sweet potato recipe, and thought it would be perfect for filling lunch or light dinner. The light and bright flavors of the stuffing provide a lovely accent to the natural flavors of sweet potatoes, instead of smothering the potatoes in cheese. John and I both enjoyed the tangy sweet flavors of the lemon, capers, and raisins while the beans and spinach add more substance to the dish.

 

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I try to roast several potatoes early in the week so we can have them as a quick dinner side. This recipe comes together in a flash with pre baked potatoes. If I haven’t prepared them ahead of time, I pierce and microwave the potatoes for 15 minutes and then bake them for 30 minutes. I find that the combination of cooking methods shaves off 15 minutes without sacrificing the awesome caramelization that takes place in the oven. I should also note that we only eat ginormous sweet potatoes, so the cook time might be less if your potatoes are more on the petite side. I actually bought small potatoes specifically for this photo shoot so that our “normal” sized ones would not fill up the whole frame.

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Spanish Inspired Beef Stew

Most days, I am content doing as little work in the kitchen as possible, but every once in a while, I find myself in the mood to dig in and really put in the effort to cook something amazing. When the feeling strikes, I turn to my favorite (and only) cookbook, Cooking Know How. The book is packed with step-by-step instructions on how to cook dishes, in addition to hundreds of recipes. I love the fact that the authors detail the reasoning behind each ingredient, and I usually come away feeling like I have learned something. While not every recipe in the book requires several hours, attention to detail, and patience, most demand a separate trip to the grocery store or speciality market to source the ingredients. However, the payoff is completely worth it. I am always astounded by the incredible results when I follow the recipe to the letter, or at least mostly to the letter.

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This Spanish inspired beef stew (page 23) is a perfect example of how the right ingredients, prepared diligently, without regard for timeliness, can yield a most delicious dinner. The stew starts with a base of chopped proscuitto and adds layer upon layer of flavor with browned bottom round, carrots and potatoes, and spices. Just before serving, I added chopped green olives for a final spark. While the stew took me over 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, I enjoyed the process and the result.

One of the biggest benefits of a capsule meal plan for me is that I now have the desire to cook. In large part, 90% of the time I am in auto pilot regarding our meals, so every once in a while I have the enthusiasm and energy to go all out on a recipe. This stew is mostly likely never going to be included in a capsule, but on cold, rainy Saturdays when I am feeling the urge to prepare a delicious, complex meal it fits the bill.

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Stovetopless Shortcut Oatmeal

Repetition is my best friend for breakfast. Once I find something that works, I make it over and over and over again, until I get terribly bored and find another dish. Cecilia and I are currently in the midst of a long oatmeal cycle. She seems to really enjoy it, and I appreciate how quickly we can go from popping out of bed to eating breakfast. I love the texture of stovetop rolled oats, but cleaning the pot is such a pain and it takes a good bit of monitoring so that they don’t boil over. After some trial and error, I developed the following method that I think produces almost an identical texture without the extra cleaning or monitoring.

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Shortcut Oatmeal:

1. Pour 1/2 cup of rolled oats into a large (16 oz) bowl.

2. Cover with 1 cup of boiling water, and let sit for 5-7 minutes (or the time it takes for a diaper and clothes change). If you do not have a nifty water heater, do not despair! Use hot tap water and let the oats with for closer to 15 minutes (or the time it takes to shower and put on clothes).

3. Stick the bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes. If you followed the instruction about a large bowl, this should not boil over.

4. Add in fruit, nuts, milk, or sweeteners for flavor.


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Our standard combinations are banana walnut and cinnamon raisin. Recently, I have been experimenting with ways to increase our vegetable consumption throughout the day, and there is no better time to start than the morning! So far, my favorite veg-packed oatmeal is this carrot cake oatmeal from Oh She Glows. I add the carrots and raisins in with the oats in Step 1, and everything cooks up nicely.

Black Beans and Rice

When I crave a simple, satisfying dinner, I grab beans and rice from the pantry. These two homely ingredients shine in new ways depending on my spices, accent vegetables, and even a bit of coconut milk. The best part is that I can easily reincorporate the cooked beans and rice into meals at a later date.

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I gained an appreciation for beans and rice while studying abroad in Tanzania. I was a poor and very cheap college student, saving money with hopes of a safari before leaving Africa. A big part of saving money included frequenting the university cafeteria instead of eating at the mall or restaurants like the most foreign students. From what I remember, the cafeteria served four dishes each day: beans and rice, peas and rice, spaghetti, and chicken curry. The beans and rice was the cheapest dish, costing the equivalent of 30 US cents for a heaping plate. Needless to say, I consumed a good amount of beans and rice during my stay. However, the jaw-jolting experience of crunching on the not so occasional pebble influenced me into suffering the $1.70 up charge for the tooth-safe spaghetti option.

At home, I alternate between two main recipes: Cuban Black Beans and Rice, and Jamaican Rice and Peas. In general, I tend to cook the beans with the spices and keep the rice separate so it does not lose it’s texture. Mushy rice is one of the few things I cannot stomach. I have made the Jamaican recipe with the coconut rice and it is delicious, I just don’t eat the leftovers. I have not been able to find either a Scotch bonnet or a habanero, but I never felt the recipe lacked as a result. While homely and a bit plain, beans and rice can be the excellent start to the week. After making a batch on Monday, I can mix in ground beef and fresh vegetables for burrito bowls, or cook a pot of Mexican-inspired chicken and rice soup. If we get sick of it before then, I just bag and freeze it to take out again in a month or so.

Cincinnati Chili

Instead of a generic story about how John and I visited Cincinnati on a trip to see his family, ate chili, and our lives were changed forever, I am going to tell you about the first time I made Cincinnati chili. It was about a month ago, and we returned home from a chilly whale watching adventure in the open waters off South Head. Even though whale watching is not an intense activity, we were both exhausted from our trip. Usually in this situation, we would pick up takeaway from a nearby restaurant, but I was grimly determined to stick with the Paleo Cincinnati chili from the weeks meal plan. Afterwards, I intended relax for the evening, enjoying the satisfaction of homemade dinner and lunch for tomorrow. John laid down on the living room rug and played with Cecilia, while I began prepping for dinner.  I set out boiling the water, cooking the meat, and measuring out all of the spices. I briefly considered sampling the new brand of chili powder, before bypassing my tongue straight for the pot with a 1/4 cup Hoyts’ finest blend. I felt that chili powder is chili powder, and I continued adding ingredients to the pot.

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After simmering for an hour or so, I took the first taste. The chili was quite spicy. I realized that it would be best to make Cecilia something else to eat and not risk a spicy-hand eye rub disaster. About two seconds after my first bite, the heat really kicked me; it was a deep, smokey, burning heat. I thought, “this may be the spiciest thing I have ever eaten”. John and I enjoy a bit of heat to our meals, and he has been known to order an 8/10 in Thai and Indian restaurants even after the waiter gives him the “are you sure, white boy?” look. However, we do not eat spicy foods for sport, until this fateful evening, of course.

The thing about Cincinnati chili is that, traditionally, it is served over spaghetti. The thing about spaghetti is that it leads to a nice, even coat of sauce on the lips. I think this is what took the spiciness of my accidental chili powder for cayenne pepper swap (this is what we assume happened, even though the spice package gave no indication that it was not the spice mixture commonly known as chili powder) into new realms of spicy torture. We sat through dinner with grave determination as the spaghetti noodles playfully splashed the flaming lava sauce on our numb, tingling lips. The spiciness was not the sweat-inducing type, instead our mouths felt like the entry into the burning depths of hell. No water or milk could quench these flames. Pride forced us to continue with dinner as though the pauses between each tortuous bite was to examine the contents of our fork pensively.

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Needless to say, we did not eat the chili for lunch the next day as I had intended. Despite my best efforts to alleviate the guilt of such wastage, that chili headed for the trash (I barely managed a few bites).  It took weeks for us to consider spicy food, and the passing of a month paired with a cold snap before we were willing to revisit the recipe.

The second attempt was thankfully much less dramatic. Although I did omit the 1 tsp of cayenne called for in the recipe because we just were not emotionally ready for it yet. I know this might be blasphemy, but I served this Paleo recipe over spaghetti twice, and have no regrets, well about the pasta anyway.

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Simple Sausage and Cabbage Supper

Sydney (and the rest of Australia) is suffering through some of the coldest winter weather in a decade. While it pales in comparison to some of the subzero North Carolina nights we experienced, during these cool winter evenings, I look for simple comfort foods to satisfy our desire for a warm and filling dinner. Sausage and cabbage are not generally my go-to ingredients, but I occasionally play to John’s German and Eastern European roots. I don’t think he has ever eaten a meal that was too heavy. In contrast, I tend to prefer lighter dishes that feature meat as a flavor enhancer instead of a main component. This sausage and cabbage dish favors some of his preferences, while I am content that the sausage serves to add flavor and augment the vegetables instead of being the substance of the dish.

I use this Cabbage Sausage Supper recipe from Taste of Home. Like the author notes, it is amazing that few ingredients can yield such a flavorful dish. The cabbage is definitely that star in that aspect, it lends a subtlety sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the smoky sausages. This is also one of the few recipes I cook without any additional herbs or seasonings.

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I love that this dish is one pot and does not require much prep, a combination that can be elusive in good recipes. The recipe serves 12, so I halve it and we have enough leftovers for lunch the next day, but don’t have to eat it all week. The cabbage is easily thinly sliced with a good chef’s knife and I roughly chop the potatoes and carrots. The sausages are sliced into rounds and quartered for perfect bite-sized pieces before going into the pot.  We generally eat it as a one-pot meal, but John would be happy with an additional carby side of a crusty bread loaf. All in all, it is a great warming dinner for our cooler days this week.

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Vegan Tamale Pies

We are on a bit of a polenta kick this week, with the chorizo and spinach polenta squares just finished from the fridge and these vegan tamale pies slated for the oven this evening. In this dish, the polenta is part of a lovely, sweet, and crumbly layer of cornbread over a spicy melange of vegetables and beans. I started making a full cornbread recipe since John always requests extra, and each serving has a thick slab atop the beans and vegetables.

I find this recipe perfect for a no-fuss weeknight dinner. The chili layer can be straight from the pantry and freezer into a saucepan for a half hour simmer. Or if I have planned ahead appropriately, I can use cheaper presoaked beans, saute fresh onion and garlic, and maybe even throw in a chopped red bell pepper. Either way, the vegan chili is filling and flavorful. I double the chili and use this sweeter recipe for the cornbread, and it fills a 9 x 13 casserole dish. I follow the baking instructions for the cornbread since everything else is cooked. For a weeknight dinner, this ticks all the boxes: quick to make, easy clean up, all staple ingredients, and leftovers for the next day.

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Chorizo and Spinach Polenta Squares

The Kitchn is one of my constant sources of recipe inspiration. I love that the site focuses on seasonal ingredients and has a range of recipes from flourless chocolate cake to beautiful salads (even though I don’t make salads). Visiting the site has actually been a bit hard on me since we switched hemispheres (and therefore seasons). Now when The Kitchn is posting “7 Delicious Recipes to Eat Strawberries for Lunch”, the strawberries at my grocery store are $7.99 a pint and looking travel worn. I am making note of promising recipes to include in my spring/summer recipe capsule, and the recipe search function is very comprehensive. Fortunately, I can rely upon this seasonally non-specific recipe for bacon and spinach polenta breakfast squares all year long.

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I found the recipe on a Sunday afternoon, as I was trying to find something to make for dinner that would also last us a few days. I tweaked the ingredients for a more substantial, dinner-worthy, polenta dish that I serve over a bed of greens. To the recipe I add two eggs, most of a package of frozen spinach (squeezing out the water first), and generally crisp up chorizo instead of bacon. The chorizo adds a lot of flavor and salt so I generally only dust the top with cheese instead of mixing some in the casserole as well. I find that these additional ingredients (or maybe just our crazy hot oven) decrease the cook time, so I don’t use boiling water as the instructions suggest. The result is squares that are hearty enough for a main course and perfect hot or cold for lunch.

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Homemade Hummus

Hummus is on regular snack rotation in this fall/winter meal capsule, and I suspect we will still be enjoying it come spring. We started making our own hummus regularly after the move because of the shocking prices in Sydney. If we consumed normal amounts of hummus, I might be able to let it slide and call the purchases a “treat”. However, John uses carrots, celery, and bread as a vehicle for a massive glob of hummus; calling it a dip would be inaccurate in our house. I just feel extravagant spending that much on a spread we will eat in two days.

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I tried a few recipes/techniques for hummus making before settling on this recipe by Inspired Taste. The directions include whipping the ingredients in a food processor one-by-one, and I think it makes a noticeable difference in the texture. Getting out the food processor and cleaning it is not an everyday activity for me, so I double the recipe to make my efforts count. We never have a problem finishing off a huge batch in a week and our hummus desires are throughly quenched for a month or so. We like food on the spicier/tangier side, so I up the garlic to four cloves (for a doubled recipe) and add extra lemon to taste. In our house, hummus is served slathered on a piece of toast, carrots, or celery. It is a great substantial snack for in between meal times, or sometimes features in a hummus, fried egg, and avocado sandwich.

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Sweet Potato Quinoa Casserole

Tex-Mex is hands down the cuisine that John and I miss the most since moving to Sydney. We love the spectrum of spicy peppers to refreshing, crisp veggies. On the less healthy side, we love the cheese drenched, tender meat in corn or flour tortillas; we also can’t get enough of the rainbow of peppers, onions, cilantro, and avocado. I didn’t realize it until we left, but we probably ate frozen Trader Joe’s Chicken Tamalitos once week, and loaded nachos were in heavy rotation as well. His parents would send us several jars of El Fenix salsa for almost every occasion – best gift ever, but of course the handmade flour tortillas topped the list for presents from Texas.

We are still trying to find a good Mexican restaurant in Sydney, and I don’t want to spend the time or money trying to source those flavors we crave. My heart hurts when I go to the ethnic aisle and see three bags of tortilla chips and one variety of salsa for twice the price we are used to paying (to be fair, most things are twice the price we are used to). This sweet potato quinoa casserole by Eating Bird Food eases our cravings a bit and provides a good amount of leftovers for lunches. It is very versatile and I add or substitute ingredients based on my pantry at the moment.

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This was actually one of the first new recipes I attempted in Australia and the initial trial ended in a complete failure for multiple reasons, none of which were recipe related. The biggest problem was cooking an ethnic-inspired dish while in a country that is literally the farthest place in the world from the cuisine in question. I had problems finding the ingredients, and then when I did they were so much more expensive than in the States ($2.30 for a can of black beans, really?). Spending so much money on the ingredients added the pressure of having dinner taste better than if we had just eaten out for the same price. Onto the preparation: I cut the sweet potato into large pieces instead of the dice recommended; however, the knife in the rental was impossibly dull and I hacked at that sweet potato for a long time as it was. There was also the issue of the stove labels being completely wore off so I had no idea where to put dial for temperature or setting (there is no “On” switch, you have to choose a setting). I ended up choosing the middle of both dials for no reason other than 350 F seemed middle of the road. It also could have been dehydrator because that casserole baked a solid 2 1/2 hours, but still was underdone. We finally gave up on having tender cooked sweet potatoes and just gnawed on the partially raw chunks. All in all, it was cheesy and a bit burnt on the top with raw vegetables that I spent the better part of an hour trying to cut up. I was very dissapointed with the results, but also knew that the flavors were all there. The preparation and cooking were the only things that held me back.

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I have since made this casserole several times successfully. It does require a bit of prep time to cook the quinoa and chop vegetables, although now I have my knives and cutting a sweet potato is no longer such an arduous task. Salsa prices make me cry so I usually substitute a can of tomatoes and a tablespoon of chopped jarred jalapeños. I also use regular chili powder and salt instead of the packets she suggests; I don’t think McCormick’s exists in Australia. Overall, I find the casserole to be very versatile and filling. It definitely earned its place as one of my key meals for the fall and winter.

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