I’m all for tradition—Thanksgiving, after all, is my all-time favorite holiday and also happens to be the most traditional meal most Americans enjoy together—but for me, some of the meal traditions are tired. So I’m here to shake things up in the flavor department, starting with these sweet potatoes.
For many years, I made a sweet potato casserole that had brown sugar and eggs and cream and buttery layers of pecan crumble and everyone loved it. But it was so sweet that one year when I took it to a potluck, the organizer peeked under the cover and put it on the dessert table. True story. And no wonder, with 2/3 cup sugar in the sweet potato mixture and 3/4 cup sugar in the topping. In an 8-serving side dish?! Let’s not even discuss the amount of butter because it’s clogging my arteries just thinking about it.
Still, I made this over-the-top dish year after year after year because the people I was feeding at the time expected it. “Tradition,” and all that jazz. After some time, I got bored and started zhuzhing it up with a splash of booze, mainly to amuse myself. I incorporated a shot of Grand Marnier at first, because orange is a natural pairing with sweet potato. And then I tried it with bourbon because, well, bourbon. As you can imagine, neither did much to tamp down the cloying richness of that dish, which has since been banished to the darkest depths of my recipe box.
Yes, it is tradition to indulge on Thanksgiving, but what did fiber-rich, perfectly nutritious sweet potatoes ever do to deserve being drowned in a sea of saturated fat and then crusted up with so much sugar?
In recent years— and especially since the launch of Comfort du Jour— I have enjoyed twisting up the classics and traditional foods, and I’m thrilled to be married to a man who enjoys the variations as much as I do. For last year’s table, I presented these sticky sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, and they were a hit! Yes, there is some brown sugar in the recipe, but a far cry from the amount in my old standard. And this one has zero saturated fat from butter, milk, eggs or cream.
These beauties are spiced up with flavors that remind me of Jamaica—bold and balanced with sweet, spicy, savory and herbal notes—a combination I loved when I visited the island many years ago. The flavors play up the natural goodness of sweet potato without overwhelming. I created a blend of brown sugar (only 1/3 cup for this 8-serving batch, but you could use as little as 1/4 cup), kosher salt, sweet Spanish paprika, allspice, cinnamon and freshly ground black pepper. In place of butter, extra virgin olive oil; specifically, I used a specialty oil that is whole-fruit fused with blood orange. You can find this at one of the olive oil and balsamic boutiques that have popped up everywhere.
I arranged them in a single layer and roasted them at 350° for about 30 minutes, then turned them over, sprinkled more of the spice blend and roasted 15 more minutes. By this time, the sweet potatoes were tender and essentially done, but dinner wasn’t. So I left the baking sheet on the countertop, covered loosely with foil. When I was ready to serve them, the sweet potatoes got sprinkled with the last pinches of the spice blend and went under the broiler for about one minute, just enough to heat them through and caramelize that sticky spicy coating.
The timing worked out perfectly, as they only needed a quick blast of high heat at the end, and then a quick transfer to a serving platter where I decorated them with fresh thyme leaves and sent them to the table.
These Jamaican-inspired sweet potatoes are a nice change of pace with a big punch of flavor and no guilt. Yes, I’ll take these any day—Thanksgiving or otherwise!
These are no ordinary candied sweet potatoes! The island-inspired seasonings, especially the allspice, lend an unexpected flair to a Thanksgiving day standard.
3 pounds fresh sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (see recipe notes below)
1/4 to 1/3 cup brown sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
1 tsp. sweet (Spanish) paprika
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
About 20 twists of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
Note: If you have a specialty olive oil store, I like the blood orange-fused oil for this recipe. The citrus essence makes the island-inspired spices even more aromatic and addictive.
Preheat oven to 375 F, with rack in center position. Line a large, rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Combine brown sugar and seasonings in a small bowl and set it aside.
Put thick slices of sweet potato in a large bowl and drizzle olive oil over them, tossing to coat evenly. Sprinkle half of the seasoning blend over the sweet potatoes and toss again. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the parchment-lined sheet.
Roast for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and carefully turn each sweet potato slice. Sprinkle half of the remaining spice mix over the second side of the sweet potatoes and roast 15 more minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork.
Remove from oven and let the sweet potatoes rest a few minutes; tent loosely with foil and set aside as long as needed while you prepare other dinner items. If you need to refrigerate them overnight, put remaining spice mixture in a bowl and set it aside; pick up with Step 6. If you plan to finish the sweet potatoes now, skip to Step 7.
Remove chilled sweet potatoes from refrigerator at least one hour before proceeding with the recipe.
Remove foil and turn sweet potatoes over. Sprinkle with remaining amount of spice mixture and broil on high for 1 to 2 minutes (watch so it doesn’t burn!), to re-heat the potatoes and caramelize the sticky spice coating. Transfer sweet potatoes to a serving platter and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Serve warm.
Comfort foods come in many shapes and sizes, though I usually think of them as rich, creamy sauces or over-the-top pizzas or decadent ice creams. But this entrée, despite being inherently light and healthful, is also very comforting, thanks to the variety of textures and flavors in the mix.
I designed this pretty plate from memory after a brunch with co-workers during the holiday season. It was the farro salad and roasted root vegetables that caught my eye on the menu that day. I loved the tender chew of the farro and the warmth and earthiness given by the sweet potatoes and parsnips. If you are not familiar with farro, please allow me to introduce you.
What is farro?
Farro is an ancient grain that is native to Italy. It is perhaps better described as a category of grain, given that three distinct varieties—spelt, einkorn and emmer—are frequently described as “farro.” In its most basic state, farro is a hard kernel that can either be cooked whole in water or ground into meal or flour. But it may also be partially or fully pearled, meaning that some or all of the bran has been removed. The pearling process results in altered cooking time, but the grain would still be suitable for the same kinds of dishes.
What does farro taste like?
When cooked as a whole grain, farro has a warm, nutty flavor that is similar to that of brown rice. Unlike most conventional wheat grains, farro has not been greatly hybridized from its ancient state, and some people find it more easily digestible for that reason. But as a botanical relative of wheat, farro does contain gluten and should be avoided by people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
How do you cook farro?
To cook partially pearled farro (the most common form you’ll find in stores), give it a rinse under running water and inspect the grains to weed out any small debris that may have missed screening during packaging. Add the farro to double the amount of water and heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 to 25 minutes for al dente, or longer if you want it more tender. Farro that has not been pearled may take twice as long, and some packaged farro is par-cooked for quicker preparation, so always check the label instructions for recommended cooking time.
What can you use farro for?
Farro is a versatile grain that can be used in pilafs, salads or soups. If ground into flour, it can be used in baking recipes, though the resulting texture would be more dense than baked goods made with typical wheat. If you want to try farro flour in a favorite bread recipe, consider substituting only about one-fourth of the total amount of flour, and increase the amount the next time when you better understand its properties.
The rest of this recipe is straightforward and simple—the sweet potatoes and parsnips are tossed lightly in olive oil and roasted until tender and browned, and the salmon is lightly seared in a skillet with nothing more than salt and pepper. A quick vinaigrette of lemon, garlic and oregano ties the whole dish together with a fat handful of peppery arugula greens.
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced fresh leeks (or chopped sweet onion)
1 cup cooked farro* (see recipe notes)
A fat handful fresh baby arugula leaves, washed
2 fillets fresh salmon, skin removed
1/4 cup crumbled feta (or goat cheese)
As noted above, some farro products have been par-cooked for convenience. Follow the instructions on your package to cook the farro to “al dente” stage, so that it is soft but still has a bit of chew to it.
Vinaigrette is one of the simplest salad dressings to make at home. I usually make it in a glass measuring cup for easy pouring, but if you want to make it even easier, put all the ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake the dickens out of it. My recipe for this vinaigrette is included in the downloadable PDF at the end of this post. You’ll need a light vinegar, Dijon, fresh garlic, oregano and lemon, and extra virgin olive oil.
Follow along as I show you how I made this tasty, healthful comfort food. Scroll to the bottom for a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.
As parents everywhere are putting the finishing touches on Christmas gifts and treats for their children, we have a similar situation at our house, but with a slight difference. Our children have paws and whiskers.
This will be the sixth year that my husband, Les, and I will stuff stockings for our pets. On Christmas morning, there will be plenty of joyful ruckus in our living room, as they will enjoy new toys, a few packaged treats and some extra special surprises.
For our spoiled cat, Taz, the big surprise will be a new, tall cat tree. Her old one, which Les bought to help her feel at home when the cats and I were preparing to move into his (now our) house, had seen better days, and we moved it to the garage toward the end of summer. Like any cat, Taz likes to be on top of things, and I predict that she will quickly claim the tree’s top perch as her new favorite spot, just as she did with the last tree.
And sweet Nilla, our 13-year-old husky mix, has already been looking forward to opening her stocking—so much so, that she has excitedly brought the stocking to us a few times since we unpacked the Christmas decorations. It’s empty, but she remembers Christmas mornings past, and no wonder, with these tasty, chewy, totally healthy treats tucked inside.
Nilla’s love for vegetables is not limited to sweet potatoes. She gives equal time to green beans, red bell peppers, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, raw asparagus, peas, carrots and (her all-time favorite) spaghetti squash. But these sweet potato chews have become a bit of a tradition for us at Christmas, and I cannot refuse this sweet girl!
If you also have a very good dog at home, here is a treat that is easy to make and delightful to share with your furry loved one. All you need is a couple of good-sized sweet potatoes, a sheet pan and an oven. Cut the sweet potatoes into thin slices—lengthwise if you have a large dog and crosswise into chips for a small dog—and roast them at a low temperature until they are somewhat dehydrated and chewy. So easy! Dogs love the flavor and texture of these one-ingredient treats, and the vitamins and fiber are good for their bellies.
Please consult your veterinarian if your dog has dietary issues and remember that although your dog will want to eat the whole batch in one sitting, it’s best to share these sweet potato chews as treats rather than a replacement for their regular feedings.
Fresh sweet potatoes—that’s it!
Olive oil spray and ground cinnamon (optional)
Preheat oven to 300° F, with two oven racks in the near-center positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Scrub the sweet potatoes (peeling is not necessary) and slice them into ¼” thick pieces. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the parchment-lined sheets. If you wish, spray the slices very lightly with olive oil spray and sprinkle a touch of ground cinnamon onto one side of the slices. Do not use salt or sugar, as both are not great for dogs.
Roast for about two hours, turning the sweet potato slices over halfway through roasting time. When the potatoes reach a chewy, firm texture, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely.
Note that the sweet potatoes will continue to dry and harden a bit after removal from the oven, so you don’t want to roast them until they are fully dry.
Keep the cooled sweet potatoes in an airtight container in the fridge. For Nilla’s stocking, I like to wrap up a handful in a piece of plain parchment paper. Here’s a sneak peak at what Christmas will be at our house.
Thanksgiving is the favored holiday at our house. My husband, Les, and I both love preparing the traditional meal and we made an agreement early in our relationship to alternate responsibility for the turkey. We love having friends and family at the table and, more often than not, the friends outnumber the family members by at least two-to-one. I have no children, and Les’s two adult kids can’t always make it. His son, Alex, lives and works in Europe, and has only been here for one holiday season since I’ve known him. His daughter, Sydney, lives two hours away in the mountains of North Carolina, but she also sometimes has her own plans with her mother’s family or her friends. When she is able to join us, though, I have more than a few adjustments to make to the menu because Syd is vegan.
If the idea of having a vegan at the holiday table scares you, then I hope this recipe brings some relief. It most certainly will bring some big Thanksgiving flavor, and everyone at our table—vegan or otherwise—has asked for seconds. One of my friends, a regular guest at our Thanksgiving table, has been begging me for almost two years to share this recipe, so she is probably screaming right now to finally see it on my blog (you’re welcome, Linda). 😉
You might wonder, “why not just share it with your friend after the first request instead of making her wait?” Linda (who is not a vegan) has been asking the same, and the reason is simple—I didn’t actually have a recipe for it. As I have said many times about my way of cooking, I develop recipes by instinct (otherwise known as flying by the seat of my pants), and it has only been since I began blogging that I have bothered to write down how much of what goes into most of my dishes. The first time I made this lentil mushroom wellington, I couldn’t even quite remember all the ingredients so there was no possibility of describing it to someone else. But just after Christmas last year, I made the dish again when Syd came for a post-holiday visit—and on that occasion, I kept my notes—but I didn’t post it on the blog right away because the holidays were over at that point and I doubted that anyone would want to make a fuss over such a showstopper without a special occasion. It isn’t exactly a quick weeknight recipe.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this dish does take time and effort, though none of it is difficult. If you wish to make it for Thanksgiving, perhaps for a vegan guest at your table, the good news is that almost all of it can be done in advance. You will find most of the ingredients familiar—cooked lentils, rice blend, cremini mushrooms, kale, sweet potatoes and (vegan) puff pastry—and I’ll describe in more detail how I put the whole thing together and even gave it a faux “egg wash” before baking, to give it a golden crust while keeping it plant-based.
Now, with the holidays upon us, the timing is right and I have a written-down recipe to share. So for Linda, and anyone else who wants to enjoy a pretty, entirely plant-based meal that still captures the essence of Thanksgiving, here is my recipe for the lentil mushroom wellington. Enjoy!
1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed and picked over* (see notes)
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice or rice blend
32 oz. carton low-sodium vegetable broth
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes
Extra virgin olive oil*
1 leek, cleaned and sliced (white and light green parts only)*
Liquid from a can of chickpeas (use low-sodium; reserve the chickpeas for another use)
1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*
1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
3 Tbsp. hemp hearts
A pinch (or two) of dried thyme leaves (or several sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 sheet puff pastry (choose one with plant-based ingredients, such as Wewalka or Pepperidge Farm)
Flour to dust the countertop
Small handful (about 1/4 cup) of panko bread crumbs
For brushing, in place of egg wash:
1 Tbsp. plant milk, such as almond or soy
1 Tbsp. real maple syrup
1 Tbsp. canola or avocado oil
I use a lentil blend, which includes green, red and black beluga lentils. If you choose a single type of lentil, I would recommend using the green ones. Cook the lentils in vegetable broth rather than plain water. Why miss a chance to add flavor?
My go-to olive oil this time of year is the wild mushroom and sage-infused oil found in specialty olive oil and balsamic vinegar stores. But any olive oil is fine, or substitute canola oil or a favorite plant-based butter, if you prefer.
If using leeks, be sure to clean them properly to remove all traces of grit between layers. Drain and pat completely dry on layers of paper towel before sautéing. If preferred, substitute 1 medium sweet or yellow onion.
The umami seasoning blend is a product sold at Trader Joe’s, and its flavors include dried mushroom, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. If you can’t buy it, you can substitute with a combination of onion powder, garlic powder and a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, plus a pinch of salt. You might also want to mince up a couple of mushrooms to sauté with the kale or leeks to add earthy flavor to the lentil loaf.
Flax seeds are loaded with Omega-3 fats and very good for heart health, but you may not know that our bodies only reap that benefit when the seeds have been milled. You can buy flax seed already milled, but keep it fresh in a tightly sealed container in the fridge or freezer. I purchase bags of whole flax seeds and use my blade-style coffee grinder to mill it a little at a time as I need it. For this recipe, it’s essential for the flax to be milled because it will be used in place of an egg as a binding agent.
I chose a combination of cremini mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe. Use the largest ones you can find; mine were each about the size of a silver dollar. Clean the mushrooms as suggested in the slideshow before sautéing them.
There are many components to this recipe, and I believe it is helpful to break it down into manageable tasks over two days, beginning with preparation of the lentils, rice, sweet potato and vegetable mixtures (steps 1-6). On the second day, you can relax and focus on assembling and baking the dish.
Helpful tools for this recipe: food processor or small blender, rolling pin, pastry brush.
Cook lentils according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. During simmer, add a bay leaf to the pot. Drain excess liquid when lentils reach desired tenderness. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
Cook rice according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with enough olive oil to lightly coat all sides. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400° F until they can be pierced with the tip of a paring knife and are only slightly firm to the bite. Cool completely.
Sauté leeks (or onions) and chopped celery in a tablespoon of olive oil. Season with umami seasoning (or recommended substitute) and black pepper. When vegetables are tender and have given up their moisture, transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
Swirl another teaspoon or so of oil into the skillet and sauté the chopped kale until it has softened and reduced somewhat in volume. Resist the urge to cook the kale together with the onions; it will be used as a bed for the lentil mixture, not as part of the filling.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange the mushrooms topside down, in the skillet, and then cook until the tops are browned and tender. Turn them over and sauté the underside. The mushrooms should give off a good bit of their moisture, but not to the point of shriveling. Lay them on layered paper towels to cool, allowing excess moisture to drain from the underside.
To assemble the mixture, gather up all the prepared components from steps 1 to 6. In a small saucepan, heat the liquid drained from the chickpeas over medium low heat. Simmer until it is reduced in volume to about 1/4 cup. Transfer the liquid to a bowl and stir in the milled flax seed. Let this mixture rest for at least 20 minutes. It will thicken up into a gel-like substance.
Transfer about 1/3 cup of the cooked lentils and about 1/4 cup of the cooked rice to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the flax mixture to the bowl and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of a loose porridge.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining lentils, rice, sweet potatoes, leek-celery mixture, toasted pecans and hemp hearts. Toss them all together. Give this mixture a final taste and adjust salt to your liking. Sprinkle thyme leaves and give the pepper mill a few twists over the mixture. Add the full amount of flax binder and fold to combine this mixture well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 400° F, with oven rack slightly lower than center, so that the wellington will rest squarely in the center of the heat.
Thaw puff pastry (if using frozen) according to package instructions. *Note: when working with puff pastry, do your best to work quickly to keep the pastry from getting warm.Sprinkle flour onto the counter and use a rolling pin to smooth out wrinkles and slightly enlarge the rectangle.
Spread panko crumbs over the center of the puff pastry, then layer the cooked kale on top of it. This will be a bed for the lentil mixture, and the crumbs will help absorb excess moisture so the puff pastry doesn’t become soggy on the bottom.
Scoop about half of the lentil mixture onto the kale, shaping it into an oblong mound like a meatloaf. Arrange the mushrooms in a tight line down the center, pressing them slightly into the lentil mixture. Shape the remaining lentil mixture over the mushrooms.
Use a paring knife to trim off the square corners of the puff pastry, leaving them rounded to match the shape of the lentil loaf. Use a cookie cutter on the scrap corners to make embellishments for the top of the wellington. Score the long sides of the puff pastry into strips, about 1 ½ inches apart. These will fold over the top of the lentil loaf, kind of like shoelaces over a sneaker. Turn up both ends of puff pastry to enclose the ends of the lentil loaf, then carefully fold the strips in alternating order across the top. Tuck in any loose edges.
Transfer the wellington to a parchment-lined, heavy cookie sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together plant milk, maple syrup and oil. Brush this mixture evenly over all exposed puff pastry, including down the sides. This will produce a beautiful golden color on the baked wellington.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pan once after 25 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a serving platter. Cut into thick slices and serve on individual plates with vegan mushroom gravy and tangy lemon-pomegranate Brussels sprouts. And don’t worry, I’ll have those recipes for you later this week.
Tomorrow at daybreak, about 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the strangest of all American traditions will occur. Punxsutawney Phil, the notorious groundhog (or woodchuck, as he is known in my old neck of the woods), will be dragged out of bed by the scruff of his neck and ordered to break the news to the faithful fans who have traveled there to get a verdict on winter. The mayor of Punxsutawney will hold this oversized rodent up to the crowd as Mufasa did in the presentation of Simba, and poor Phil will probably be some combination of terrified, confused and sleepy. Depending on whether he sees his shadow, we will either have an early spring or six more weeks of winter. I can never remember which scenario leads to which outcome, but how do we really know what he sees, anyway?
Such a curious thing, to imagine this whole scene is a valid means of setting expectation for what’s to come. Surely these folks have calendars. Winter ends March 20, when spring begins, and from Groundhog Day, the calendar states clearly that it is six more weeks, plus a few days. I suppose that everywhere else in the world, people just think of it as Feb. 2. I’m in favor of letting the rascal sleep.
At least we can watch the amusing Bill Murray movie. Again. 😉
From a purely whimsical standpoint, the observance of Groundhog Day does, if nothing else, provide a little comic relief from the heaviness of winter. Punxsutawney Phil may not be a real prognosticator, but he is a beacon of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel that was gray January. I’ve been trying to offer the same recently with presentation of bright and colorful dishes to chase away that gray.
These Tex-Mex stuffed sweet potatoes will bring a big generous pop of color to your Meatless Monday, and vibrant flavors, too. Zesty peppers and fire-roasted sweet corn, combined with black beans and cheese on an oven-roasted sweet potato is both nourishing and tasty, customized to your own heat preference, and you can top it with avocado, your favorite salsa, sour cream or whatever else you like. Our go-to seasoning for Tex-Mex dishes is my own spice blend, lovingly named “Fire & Brimstone,” given its multiple layers of spicy heat and smoky depth. Of course, I’ll share that, too.
This is one recipe that takes almost no skill in the kitchen. Really, if you can chop an onion, you’ve got this. You could even pop the sweet potatoes in the oven while you watch Groundhog Day on TBS (they’ll have it on a 24/7 loop, I’m sure), and finish the rest of the prep during the commercial breaks.
Serves 2 (or double it so you can have it again tomorrow)
2 large fresh sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp. jalapeno, chopped
1/4 cup fire-roasted frozen corn (or regular corn)
A few shakes of Fire & Brimstone* (or another Tex-Mex seasoning, see notes)
About 2 oz. finely shredded mild cheddar cheese (or Colby, Monterey Jack, etc.)
1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed
Fresh cilantro and lime, for serving
Side accoutrements as desired, such as sour cream, salsa or pico de gallo
My homemade spice blends do not have salt in them. Be mindful of the sodium content in whatever seasoning you use, so you don’t overdo it on additional salt while preparing the dish. If you’d like to try my Fire & Brimstone, see the ingredients listed at the end of the post.
In a large bowl, combine kosher salt with enough hot water to cover both sweet potatoes completely. Allow the potatoes to rest in this quick brine for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack in center of the oven.
Remove potatoes from brine and dry completely with paper towels. Use a sharp knife to cut an “X” about 3/4″ deep into the top of each sweet potato. This will be an “escape valve” for steam as the potato bakes. Place the potatoes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake the sweet potatoes for about 1 hour plus 15 minutes, or until soft enough to squeeze easily with a towel. About halfway through baking time, remove the pan and carefully cut the X marks a little bit deeper, but not all the way through.
Near the end of baking time, heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onions, red bell pepper, jalapeno (if using) and corn. Sauté until onions are softened and translucent, about five minutes. Add black beans to the mixture and toss to heat through.
Transfer sweet potatoes to serving plates. Carefully squeeze open the potato, using the X marks to guide them open. Use a fork to lightly smash the potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Divide the shredded cheese directly onto the hot potato, then top with the bean-corn mixture.
Use a sharp paring knife to score the avocado flesh for easy scooping. Divide the avocado onto the plates as a side to the sweet potato. Sprinkle with cilantro, give it a squeeze of fresh lime and serve.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire! This is a recipe blend I developed after repeated disappointment with all the salt in commercial blends. I use a variety of pepper ingredients, from mild and fruity to hot and smoky, and it works well as a sprinkle-on seasoning, chili add-in or even a dry rub on steaks or roasts. Adjust the amounts of any ingredient to suit your preferences. This recipe makes about 1/2 cup of spice blend. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry cabinet.
Thanksgiving will be different for a lot of folks this year. Sure, some percentage will press on with their big gatherings, but between the pandemic, travel restrictions and general upheaval and uncertainty, many more of us (my husband and me included) will have lots of extra space at the table, and the menu will either be smaller, less elaborate or altogether different.
At our house, we have already opted for experimentation and wild cards with our menu. This will be the year we do a bourbon brine, or smoke a turkey breast or whip up a venison sausage dressing. I’ll be taking creative liberty with the side dishes, too, because, well, why not?
Over the next week, I’ll be sharing plenty of recipes—twists as well as classics from our personal recipe playbook. In the midst of the excitement, I’m also having fun creating new ways to enjoy the flavors that are so traditional for Thanksgiving, even if the dishes aren’t. If you missed the savory sausage mac and cheese baked in a pumpkin, you’ll definitely want to go check that out. It’s as tasty as it is pretty!
Today, I’m whipping up a batch of miniature meatloaves that have all the same flavors you’d expect for Thanksgiving. These little minis have a base of seasoned ground turkey, blended with sage stuffing mix and onions, a middle layer of sautéed kale and onions with mushroom seasoning, and a rich and fluffy top layer of Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. They’re conveniently portioned for sharing or freezing, and if you don’t have a mini loaf pan, you can make them instead in a regular or jumbo muffin tin.
Each bite of mini meatloaf delivers the Thanksgiving flavor that I’ve been craving every day since the beginning of November. Best of all, these are a snap to make, and they are ready for the oven in less than an hour.
1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm herb seasoned dry stuffing mix
1/4 cup whole milk
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped and divided between layers
2 fat handfuls washed kale leaves, chopped (heavy stems removed)* (see notes)
1 tsp. Umami seasoning (powdered mushroom flavor from Trader Joe’s)*
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed clean and baked*
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
I had a big bag of kale already in the fridge, but if you prefer, you could substitute spinach. I think shredded brussels sprouts would also be excellent here.
Can’t get your hands on the umami seasoning? No problem. Chop up a few mushrooms very fine and toss them into the skillet ahead of the kale, to give them time to sweat out their moisture.
I’ve listed the sweet potato as “baked” because I had one leftover. If you prefer, cut up the sweet potato and cook on the stovetop along with the Yukon golds.
If you opt for ground turkey breast, the mixture may be a bit drier than regular ground turkey. Consider adding a drizzle of olive oil to the meat mixture to make up the moisture difference.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
In a small bowl, combine the dry stuffing mix with the milk and allow it to rest a bit. Stir the mixture occasionally to ensure all liquid gets absorbed and the mixture becomes paste-like.
Place cut-up potatoes in a medium pot and boil gently over medium heat until they are just barely fork tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add butter, egg white, parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine.
While potatoes cook, place a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and sauté half of the chopped onions until softened and somewhat translucent. Season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.
Remove half of the cooked onions to a large bowl, along with the raw ground turkey. Add egg, sun-dried tomatoes, stuffing paste, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then set aside.
To the same onion skillet, add the chopped kale and sauté (use a bit more oil if needed) until kale is wilted and softened. Sprinkle with umami mushroom seasoning and stir to blend.
Time to assemble the mini meatloaves! Spray the cups of your mini pan with olive oil spray, then fill each cavity about halfway with the turkey mixture. Press down with a fork or spoon to ensure the meat is packed thoroughly to the edges. Next, divide the kale mixture over the turkey layer, and press down again. Finally, top the loaves with the mashed potato mixture.
Press the potato mixture with the tines of a fork to leave lines on top.
Bake the meatloaves for 35-45 minutes (depending on the size of your mini pan cavities—for muffin tins, check doneness after 35 minutes. My meatloaf pan had cavities for 8 mini loaves and it took 45 minutes).
Want to make this recipe?
Follow the steps and pictures above, or click below to download a printable version for your recipe files!
This dish practically sings “Meatless Monday!” It has lots of color and interesting texture, it works either warm or cold, it’s easy to make from simple ingredients, and it’s vegan, low-calorie, high-fiber, gluten-free and flexible on spice. Somehow, it still manages to taste delicious.
Skip straight down to the picture if you’re ready for the recipe, but if you’re new to the idea of quinoa, allow me to make a proper introduction:
What the heck is quinoa?
Quinoa has been around for thousands of years, but it only surfaced into the mainstream American diet a decade or so ago. It is native to South America—Peru and Bolivia specifically, but is now being grown in the southern part of Colorado (in an area where I once lived) and a few other regions in Washington state and Idaho. It’s pronounced “KEEN-wah,” and its nutritional value is exceptional, offering high levels of protein, B vitamins, manganese and phosphorous. It’s often lumped into the “grain” category, but quinoa is technically related to spinach and amaranth. Although the leaves are also edible, the part we usually eat is the seed, which can range in color from pale straw to red to nearly black, depending on the cultivar. On the pale end, it’s mild and almost nutty. On the dark side, expect a deeper earthy flavor.
Why does quinoa taste bitter?
It shouldn’t. If the quinoa dishes you’ve tried had a bitter or soapy taste, it may not have been rinsed well enough before cooking. Nature takes care of itself, and this tiny seed grows with its own special coating designed to keep birds and insects away. Much of that coating is removed during processing before the quinoa gets to market, but you may want to give it another thorough rinse under running water for about 1 minute before cooking it. Use a mesh strainer, because the seeds are very small and will slip right through a typical colander.
How do you cook quinoa?
You can cook quinoa either from its raw, dried state or you can lightly toast it (after rinsing) in the pan first. A basic recipe is a little less than 2 cups water (or broth) to 1 cup quinoa. Combine in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes. When it’s done, the quinoa will have absorbed all the water and the edges of the seed will separate a bit. It kind of looks like the seeds have little tails. Properly cooked quinoa is fluffy, not soggy or mushy. This recipe will make almost 3 cups of cooked quinoa.
How do you use quinoa?
Quinoa is a very versatile ingredient, and its mild flavor makes it suitable for all kinds of application. Serve it warm as a breakfast cereal with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and fresh blueberries (talk about a power breakfast!), or season it with herbs and spices as a bed for fish, meat or vegetables. You can also toss it into a salad in place of other grains such as rice or barley, or add it to soup for texture and protein.
Now, about this recipe for Colorful Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad…
2 cups cooked quinoa (I used tri-color)
1 large sweet potato (mine was a little bigger than the can of beans)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, black pepper and cumin
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup frozen sweet corn*
2 Tbsp. chopped pickled jalapeno (optional)
Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro for serving
*My preferred corn for this would have been the fire roasted sweet corn from Trader Joe’s, but all we had in the freezer was this southwestern corn, and it worked great! Next time, I’ll probably add chopped red pepper to this recipe.
Ingredients – the Dressing
Juice of one lime
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch of sugar (I used coconut sugar)
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt, black pepper, cumin and (optional) ground chipotle
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400° F. Peel sweet potato and cut into large, bite-size chunks. Toss on parchment lined baking sheet with a generous drizzle of olive oil, season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste, and roast about 20 minutes. Sweet potato chunks should be tender enough to pierce with a fork but not soft enough to smash. Set aside to cool.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add a swirl of olive oil. Sauté red onions about 5 minutes, or just until lightly softened. Add frozen corn, salt and pepper to taste, and cook just until corn is heated through.
In a large bowl, combine drained beans, cooked quinoa, roasted and cooled sweet potato, corn with onions, and chopped jalapeno.
In a glass measuring cup, combine lime juice with Dijon, garlic and spices (use cumin and optional chipotle to your own taste), then whisk olive oil into the mixture until emulsified and slightly thickened. Taste the dressing and adjust as desired. Pour the dressing over the bowl ingredients, toss and serve.
We enjoyed this warm as a Meatless Monday entrée, but it would also be good as a side salad to chicken, burgers or fish, and the leftovers were just as delicious cold from the fridge.