Counter Action: Sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits

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Well, this is embarrassing.

Sorry about the month of silence. Let’s turn it into a game. I was:

a) in a coma after I heroically foiled a plot to blackmail the Duchess of Winnipeg;

b) abducted by space pirates and pressed into service on a mission to seize control of the galaxy’s last supply of pyridium;

c) super busy with the pre-Oscars press junket (you know how it goes); or

d) in grad school.

If you guessed C, you are … sadly mistaken. I weep with you. It’s D. But as my cohort’s Facebook page just reminded me, we’re in school for just 79 more weekdays! And then we’re done with school forever!

Or, you know, until our mid-life crises hit and we start thinking longingly of astrophysics.

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Hey there, Centaurus A. I love it when you talk density to me.

In the meantime, it’s been a fun ride. Here’s a snippet of what’s been on my mind:

  • Emotion-recognition technology: The future is here, and somehow it’s a lot creepier and a lot less jetpack-y than I was counting on.
  • Righteous trolling: How being right can easily overtake recognizing someone’s humanity.
  • #FITIN15: Jessica Smith might be my favourite YouTube workout leader — she’s always so positive, and she knows how to strike a balance between meeting people where they’re at and encouraging them to push themselves. Right now she’s doing a series called #FITIN15, which is a bunch of 15-minute workouts. Pair a cardio one with a flexibility or strength one, and it’s a great start to any day.
  • Madame Tussaud: My current read. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but so far I’m loving the balance between the strong, complex protagonist and her turbulent, richly detailed setting.
  • This soup-and-biscuit pairing. It’s been on my cooking bucket list for ages, but I didn’t have an excuse to make it until last week when a friend gave me some chevre. The soup is velvety smooth, with a mellow flavour that pairs well with the sharp tang of the goat cheese on top and in the biscuits. Next time I make it, I might roast the sweet potatoes before adding them to the soup, to deepen the flavour. For a special occasion, I might even caramelize the onions. But for an everyday winter soup, it works just fine as is.

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Sweet potato soup with goat cheese biscuits

(From the inimitable Joy the Baker)

Ingredients:

Soup

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2-1/2 lbs. (between 5 and 7) sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 T. chopped fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 8 c. liquid (I used 4 c. broth and 4 c. water)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • goat cheese to garnish

Biscuits

  • 2 c. flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. cold butter
  • 4 T. goat cheese
  • 1 c. buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Over medium heat, warm oil in large stockpot. Add onion and cook 3–5 minutes or until soft.
  2. Add garlic, sweet potato, and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook 5–7 minutes.
  3. Add broth and raise heat to high. Simmer 15–20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  4. In batches, liquify soup in blender. Return to stovetop and heat on low until ready to serve, garnished with goat cheese.
  5. For biscuits, combine flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
  6. Cut in butter and crumbled goat cheese until mixture resembles small clumps.
  7. Mix in buttermilk thoroughly. Drop onto baking parchment in spoonfuls. Bake at 425°F for 12–15 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Image credit: Galaxy from WikiImages on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Broccoli–cheese soup

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As I look at my post calendar, I’m seeing a theme.

In November, there was roasted garlic soup and spicy white bean stew. Today there’s going to be this broccoli–cheese soup. And in the not-so-distant future, there’s going to be French lentil soup and Tuscan bean soup and onion soup.

We’re big on soup here. I hope that’s okay.

Other things I’m big on, at least this week:

  • Jonathan Coulton’s song “Ikea.” It’s everything you ever wanted in a song about everyone’s favourite elegantly furnished maze.
  • A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter. Sure, it was published in 1909, but its themes of familial loyalty, independence, and staying true to oneself are as pertinent as they ever were. If you haven’t read it since you were a kid, try giving it another shot — I was amazed by the new nuances I caught this time around.
  • Bath & Body Works’ Purple Amethyst lotion. Here’s how the pros describe the scent: “A hypnotic blend of Italian bergamot, rare camellias & exotic sandalwood.” Here’s my analysis: “Strong on the unicorn tears, with top notes of summer moonlight and the Jazz Age and a faint afternote of Nicholas Sparks.” Bottom line: It smells good.
  • Winterspell“, by Two Steps from Hell. Would you find tasks easier to accomplish in this dark, cold month if they were accompanied by a sweeping dramatic score? Look no further: Two Steps from Hell has your back. (Other favourites: “Spirit of Moravia“, “Cassandra“, and “Men of Honor Part II“.)
  • The 2013 version of The Great GatsbyThis is preemptive praise — I haven’t actually seen it yet; it’s just been sitting in my “borrowed items” stack for longer than I care to admit. But given the reviews, I fully expect to enjoy it when I sit down to it tonight with my bowl of soup.

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Broccoli–cheese soup

(adapted from Peas and Crayons’ recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced finely
  • 2 c. broccoli flowerets, diced finely
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 c. vegetable broth
  • 4 c. water
  • 3 T. butter
  • 3 T. flour
  • 1-1/2 c. milk
  • 1 c. grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Warm oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion. Cook 2 minutes.
  2. Add carrot and broccoli. Cook 3 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, spices, and salt. Stir to combine and cook 2 minutes longer.
  4. Add bay leaf, broth, and water. Increase heat and cover pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  5. In separate saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in flour to form a thick paste. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Continue to heat and stir until mixture has thickened.
  6. Add cheese to saucepan and stir until melted and incorporated.
  7. Ladle some broth into cheese mixture and stir. Gradually add more hot broth, stirring between each addition, until saucepan is full and cheese sauce’s temperature is similar to stockpot’s temperature.
  8. Pour cheese sauce into stockpot and stir to combine. Serve with green salad and crusty bread. Garnish with grated cheese, crackers, or fresh parsley if desired.

 

Counter Action: Sweet potato–black bean enchilada casserole

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For a lot of people, winter’s not the best time of year. They’ll be rolling along just fine … and then BAM, winter hits them like a sledgehammer and it’s all they can do not to spend the next three months curled up in a lethargic ball in the corner.

Other people are more or less melancholy all year round, so winter isn’t so much a sledgehammer as an especially prolonged dip in the already hilly road.

Personally, I have the most success getting through winter when I view it as a military campaign. Not that I’ve ever been in the military, but I took a History of WWII class once and I’ve read The Things They Carried, so I have a sketchy idea of what it’s like. Work with me here. If you ask too many questions, the metaphor falls apart.

So here are my beating-winter priorities:

  • Have a mascot. It can be super relaxing to spend some time with something that’s always happy to see you. I’m lucky enough to live with three snuggle-happy cats, but if you’re in a pet-free zone, try visiting an animal shelter every few weeks. If you’re still in college, many student wellness centers will bring in therapy dogs or a clowder of shelter cats for students to pet.
  • Tune out the press. We all have those Facebook friends for whom absolutely everything appears to be going well. They’re forever posting about their killer workouts; their stellar grades; their fun, meaningful, high-paying job; their amazing significant other; the gourmet dinner they just hosted for 25 people; the coffee/quote/friend/salad that makes them #soblessed. If this makes you feel as inferior and frustrated as I do, consider unfollowing those people for a while. Better yet, take a break from the social media rat race altogether — it might help you regain perspective and re-realize that we all have our struggles and weaknesses.

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    “Never been sick a day in his life! Been sleeping through the night since he was 5 days old! Eats anything I give him! #soblessed #askingforfewerfollowers”

  • Don’t dismiss the band. Put together a playlist that helps you rise above the blues. Some of my favourites are Two Steps from Hell’s “Cassandra“, Ingrid Michaelson’s “One Night Town“, and — yes, I’ll admit it — Hank Green’s “Shake-a-Booty“.
  • Find a good drill sergeant. I’ve tried to follow Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred several times now, and I’ve never been able to make it a permanent part of my life. Then I discovered Jessica Smith TV, and I realized what was missing: encouragement. Her workouts can be seriously tough (second-position demi-pointe plié squats, anyone?), but she always projects kindness and the understanding that not everyone will be 100% up to the task right away. If this is what you need in a workout leader, don’t give up until you find one who works for you. It can make a huge difference in your motivation to work out — which in turn means you’ll be more likely to get the myriad physical and chemical benefits that exercise brings.
  • Stay well-provisioned. Nothing brings me down faster than the realization that I have nothing in the cupboard except some stale bread and a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter. Cooking tasty, nutritious meals takes time and energy, I know — but it doesn’t have to take much.
  • Find some buddies. You’re not alone in feeling down. In fact, the longer I listen to my Pandora comedy station, the more I realize that a lot of my favourite comedians have dealt with depression on a regular basis. This was a helpful realization on two levels: First, that human beings can turn those kinds of harrowing experiences into such beautiful art; second, that I can trust them to offer helpful advice. Here’s something Patton Oswalt posted recently that I found especially helpful:

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  • Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re in over your head. Calling my school’s counseling center to ask for an appointment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. It was really helpful to talk through various issues, face questions I’d been avoiding, and get some tools for managing my mental health more efficiently. Plus, I knew that I was in the hands of professionals who were uniquely qualified to evaluate whether I needed medication or more in-depth therapy. It was wonderful to hand that responsibility over to them, instead of trying to sort through conflicting advice from friends, family, and the Internet.

On the topic of provisions, I just made this casserole yesterday, and I can already tell that it’s going to become a standard this winter. It’s pretty easy to throw together, it’s fairly cheap, it’s filling, it’s got fantastically vibrant flavours, and it packs a nutritious punch. Perhaps best of all, one batch will feed one person for a week, and it freezes beautifully for the days you don’t feel like cooking.

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Sweet potato–black bean enchilada casserole

(Inspired by these Sweet Potato, Corn, and Black Bean Enchiladas from Averie Cooks; seasonings adapted from The Creekside Cook’s Crash Hot Sweet Potatoes)

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. salt (divided)
  • 1 tsp. cumin (divided)
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 c. corn
  • 1 c. dry black beans, cooked until tender (or 1 can, drained)
  • 6 large flour tortillas
  • 1 small can of your favourite enchilada sauce, divided (I used 8 oz. of Chi-Chi’s mild taco sauce)
  • 3/4 c. of your favourite salsa, divided (I used medium-hot Pace Picante salsa)
  • 3/4 c. grated cheese, divided (your choice — I used pepper jack)

Directions:

  1. Bring medium pot of water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender (~20 minutes).
  2. Drain sweet potatoes, reserving ~ 3 T. hot water. Add honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and rest of spices. Mash until smooth.
  3. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. cumin to black beans. Set aside.
  4. Spread half of the enchilada sauce evenly in large casserole dish. Add 2 tortillas to cover bottom of dish.
  5. Spoon half of the sweet potato mix, half of the corn, half of the beans, half of the salsa, and a third of the cheese over tortillas.
  6. Add 2 more tortillas and repeat step 5.
  7. Add last 2 tortillas and spread last half of the enchilada sauce and third of the cheese over the top.
  8. Cover in foil and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until cheese is golden-brown and bubbling.
  9. Serve warm with green salad. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Possible variations:

  • Replace sweet potato with 1 medium butternut squash (cubed and roasted), or with 2 c. roasted or stewed pumpkin.
  • Chop 3 c. spinach and add half to each layer.
  • Garnish with sliced avocado, cilantro, and/or sour cream.
  • Replace Pace Picante salsa with any of these delicious homemade options: pico de gallo, green tomatillo salsachipotle salsa, or cilantro–lime salsa.

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Photo credits: Mother and baby from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Kasha varnishkes

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Last week I turned 25.

This made me ineligible for the Miss America pageant, which was very disappointing because I totally had a running chance before. (The narrow hips, sunny personality, and butt-glue are all optional, right?)

But on the bright side, it also means that my frontal cortex is a little more developed, renting a car just got easier, and I’m another year closer to menopause. So really, who’s the real winner here?

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Everyone who officially saw this button. (Go us!)

If you’re teetering on the edge of “real adulthood” like I am, kasha varnishkes is the kind of dish that will give your confidence in your maturity. It’s filling, earthy, simple, and fiber-rich, and paired with a green salad, it’s a complete meal. If you’re a little fancier than me, you could also use it as a side dish for a hearty soup, like this Ukrainian borscht,  or a main-dish salad, like Martha Stewart’s flank steak salad or zucchini and chicken salad.

Kasha varnishkes

(adapted from this About.com recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 c. uncooked kasha (buckwheat groats)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. uncooked farfalle (bowtie noodles)
  • salt + pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add carrot and cook 2–3 minutes longer.
  2. Transfer onion–carrot mixture to another bowl. In small separate bowl, mix kasha and egg until kasha is well coated.
  3. Pour egg–kasha mixture into hot saucepan. Cook, stirring often, until egg is cooked.
  4. Add broth and onion–carrot mixture. Bring to a boil and cook until kasha is tender (~10 minutes).
  5. Meanwhile, fill medium saucepan with water and bring to boil. Add farfalle and cook until al dente. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
  6. When kasha is tender, add cooked farfalle. Toss well, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve with green salad. Keep refrigerated for up to five days.

Counter Action: Orange–coconut sweet rolls

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It’s November 16? What the heck? Where did autumn go?

I don’t know if it’s the new weather scheme, or the new crazed schedule, or the longer commute, or what … but ever since I moved here for grad school 14 months ago, time has been whizzing past me like a caffeinated peregrine falcon.

My default source for life allusions is Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I, and here, as at many times, I will step back and let it explain how I feel.

Our spring and summer had been strenuous to the point of exhaustion and I, at least, having read many books about farms and farmers, had looked forward to winter as a sort of hibernation period. A time to repair machinery, hook rugs, patch quilts, mend harness and perform other leisurely tasks. Obviously something was wrong with my planning, for it took me sixteen hours a day to keep the stove going and three meals cooked. I leaped out of bed at 4 A.M., took two sips of coffee and it was eleven and time for lunch. I washed the lunch dishes and pulled a dead leaf off my kitchen geranium and it was five o’clock and time for dinner.

If you’re in a similar predicament, maybe you’re gulping down dried fruit and instant mac-and-cheese in the ten free minutes you have per day. But at some point in the near future, I hope you have the time to make something slowly — maybe a bean soup, maybe a pan of roasted vegetables, maybe these yummy rolls. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about taking the time to make it. Savour every minute it takes to prepare … and then savour every bite when it’s finished.

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Orange–coconut sweet rolls

(using the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon roll dough as a base)

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. (or 1 packet) yeast
  • 4 + 1/2 c. flour (divided)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 T. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. coconut
  • 2 oranges
  • splash of orange juice
  • about 1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, oil, and sugar in a large pot. Heat and stir until comfortably warm (but not too warm to stick your finger in).
  2. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Mix in 4 c. flour. Cover pot with tea towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in 1/2 c. flour, along with baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Transfer dough to fridge while making filling.
  5. In small saucepan, brown butter. In toaster oven or conventional oven set to 375°F, toast coconut until golden-brown. Zest oranges and set zest aside, then peel, seed, and dice orange pulp.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured surface and shape into flat rectangle, roughly 12″ x 24″. Pour browned butter over dough, then sprinkle liberally with coconut, 3/4 of the orange chunks, and 1/2 of the orange zest.
  7. Starting from nearest long edge, roll dough and filling into a log. Cut into 1-1/2″ sections and place in casserole dish.
  8. Let rise 20 minutes, then bake at 375°F for 15–18 minutes.
  9. In small bowl, combine remaining orange zest and pulp with powdered sugar, splash of orange juice, and pinch of salt. Adjust powdered sugar:liquid ratio until you have a reasonably thin glaze.
  10. Remove rolls from oven. Top with glaze. Best right after baking, or keep covered at room temperature for 2–3 days.

 

Counter Action: Roasted garlic soup with rosemary yams

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Three truths about this soup:

  1. It isn’t the prettiest soup on the block. It’s beige at its best, and greyish at its worst. That’s one reason I like to throw some roasted yams on top — in addition to being super tasty, they liven things up like a disco ball in a middle-school gym. Joy the Baker, the source of the original recipe, used purple potatoes to the same effect. Whatever you choose as a garnish (fresh parsley and crumbled goat cheese? broiled cheddar lids?), be sure it’s bright and attractive.
  2. While the roasting process turns garlic from a zippy, pungent bulb into a deep, velvety flavor vehicle, it’s still recognizably garlicky. So, maybe steer clear of this soup before job interviews and meeting future in-laws. Save it for a dark, rainy day when you’re home with the flu — or else a group of adventurous dinner guests.
  3. It’s a seriously good soup. I believe I already used the word velvety, so let’s try … silky. Warming. Full-flavoured.  Comforting. It’ll win over guests in no time — and earn you instant admiration points when you reveal how much garlic it contains.

Roasted garlic soup with rosemary yams

(Adapted from Joy the Baker’s recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 25–35 unpeeled cloves of garlic (divided)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 medium onions, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 6 c. chicken broth
  • 4 T. lemon juice
  • ¾ c. plain yogurt (can also substitute milk, whipping cream, or sour cream)
  • grated Parmesan
  • 3–4 yams, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 T. dried rosemary, crushed

Directions:

  1. Place 20–25 unpeeled garlic cloves in oven-proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast garlic at 450°F for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
  3. Remove garlic from oven, let cool a few minutes, then pop garlic out of skins. Throw away skins and set garlic aside.
  4. Heat 2 T. olive oil in stock pot over medium-low heat. Add onions, Yukon Golds, thyme, and 5–10 raw unpeeled garlic cloves. Cook until onions are translucent.
  5. Add broth and peeled roasted garlic. Raise heat to medium-high.
  6. Simmer until potatoes and raw garlic are tender.
  7. Toss diced yams with olive oil and rosemary. Roast at 450°F for about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  8. Purée soup in batches and return to pot. Add yogurt and lemon juice, and stir to incorporate.
  9. Scoop soup into bowls. Top with roasted yams and Parmesan. Swirl in extra lemon juice, plain yogurt, and/or extra virgin olive oil if desired.

Possible variations:

  • Boil and drain 1/2 c. cannellini or Great Northern beans. Add to soup before puréeing for extra protein.
  • Replace Yukon Gold potatoes in soup with yams for a brighter colour.
  • Dice onions instead of slicing, and purée only half of the soup for a chunkier texture. Stir in 1 c. shredded chicken before serving.

———

 

Counter Action: Pomegranate applesauce

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Day 2 of NaNoWriMo! How are we doing? Everyone hale and hearty?

And hey, how about that extra hour this morning? Did you put it to good purpose? Did you rise an hour early and greet the wan winter dawn with a Sun Salutation atop a mountain?

I sure didn’t. I used that hour to sleep. Now, apart from this cold I’m nursing, I feel fantastic. Thanks, Ben Franklin.

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All week long I’ve had three Gala apples sitting on my counter, perfectly ripe but still a little soft for eating straight. I meant to turn them into Smitten Kitchen’s apple–honey challah this weekend, but then I got sick and felt more like lounging around drinking tea than wrestling with several pounds of dough. To compromise, I wrestled with a pomegranate instead and made this applesauce. It’s pleasantly pink with a gentle tangy sweetness from the pomegranate arils. I like it solo or on oatmeal, but it would also be lovely warm on pancakes or waffles.

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Pomegranate applesauce

Ingredients:

  • 5–6 apples (I used three Gala and two Honeycrisp)
  • 1/2 c. pomegranate arils (or if you’re in a rush, substitute 1/4 c. pomegranate juice)
  • 2 tsp. honey (I used blackberry blossom; feel free to go milder or stronger)

Directions:

  1. Peel, core, and dice the apples. Place in a stockpot with the pomegranate arils and honey. Depending on your pot’s size, fill about halfway with water — you want the fruit to be floating about four inches from the burner.
  2. Simmer for about 30 minutes with the lid on, then about 30 minutes with the lid off. You’re aiming for the apples to be cooked and most of the liquid to evaporate. Add water as needed to keep the sauce from scorching.
  3. Feel free to eat as is. If you’re like me and prefer to get rid of the crunchy little pomegranate seeds, put the mixture through a ricer before eating.
  4. Makes about three cups of applesauce. Eat immediately or keep in the fridge for 5–6 days.

 

Counter Action: Sweet potato dinner rolls

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Sometimes I feel like I have a good grasp on this adult thing.

I go off to work in my suit and nametag (or to class in nice jeans and a cardigan). I pack lean protein and leafy greens for lunch. I work at a standing desk and swig water all day. My gums, my joints, my weight, and my professional profile are on my mind. Cat hair on my clothing legitimately worries me.

And then I get home and all bets are off. Cookie dough leaps from the fridge into my mouth of its own accord. I still read YA fiction. Cat hair is of no concern. Given a slow holiday weekend, I’ll watch several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a row with no remorse. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the church where I attend Evensong also offers a free yoga class right after Evensong … so I could conceivably wear my yoga pants to church?? Is this real life?

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These rolls are a bit of both worlds. They’re the kind of thing you could serve at a fancy dinner party or your in-laws’ Thanksgiving. Or you could make half a tray for yourself and eat them with turkey and cranberry sauce, cackling to yourself as you watch your fourth straight episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a flexible recipe, really.

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Sweet potato dinner rolls

(barely adapted from an AllRecipes.com recipe)

  • ½ c. warm water
  • 2¼ tsp. dry active yeast
  • 4 T. brown sugar, divided
  • ½ c. sweet potato purée (½ of a large sweet potato, sprayed with cooking spray, microwaved under plastic wrap for 3–4 minutes, and mashed thoroughly)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3½–4 c. flour
  • 1 T. butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and 1 T. brown sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add rest of brown sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and sweet potato purée. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add flour slowly until dough is kneadable and not too sticky.
  4. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, and passes the windowpane test. Place in warm greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and tea towel. Let rise in warm place (like an oven that’s been turned on for a minute or two) for an hour.
  5. Punch down dough and roll into balls a little larger than golf balls. Cover again with plastic wrap and tea towel and let rise in warm place for an hour.
  6. Bake rolls at 375°F for 10–12 minutes. Brush tops with softened butter and continue baking until golden brown.

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EDIT:

Comment policy: Feedback is always welcome! Just please make your comments and links relevant to the post. Comments judged to be run-of-the-mill spam or generic web traffic magnets (e.g., “Follow me!” or “Read my blog!”) will be deleted. Interesting or funny spam will be preserved for posterity. Like my attitude toward beets, this policy may change at any time.

Counter Action: Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

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Five years ago, I was not much of a cook.

I didn’t need to be, really. I had to eat most of my meals in the college cafeteria, and for the rest of the time, I could get by with toast and fruit.

Everything changed when I moved to Poland for a year. All of a sudden, I was not only living on my own in a tiny village, I was also earning a modest stipend and in serious need of a hobby. Cooking was really my only option.

Well, cooking or shopping.

Cooking or shopping or romping through Eastern Europe on my own.

But I went with cooking.

home

How many people can brag that their dining room, their living room, and their bedroom are all the same room? Yeah, be jealous.

When I was packing for Poland, I hadn’t planned on teaching myself how to cook while I was there, so I’d only brought one cookbook. Fortunately, my flat had fantastic wifi, so I figured I could find some good recipes online.

I was wholly unaware, you see, of the concept of food blogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered first Joy the Baker, then the Pioneer Woman, and then Smitten Kitchen, whose recipes formed the majority of my “to try” list.

This baked oatmeal, from Joy the Baker, was one of the first things I baked in my tiny oven. That appliance would go on to host scores of other experiments, from granola to calzones to rosemary challah rolls, and the baked oatmeal was a delightful christening. I topped it with some fresh gruszki (“GROOSH-kee” — pears) and maliny (“mah-LEE-nee” — raspberries) I picked up at a farmer’s stand down the stand, using my extremely fractured Polish. It was mid-September, I was nervous about teaching, and I knew the winter would be no picnic. But for the time being, it was enough to have something warm and fresh and delicious to look forward to.

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Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

(based on Joy the Baker’s baked oatmeal with fresh raspberries and pistachios)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 c. old-fashioned oats (not the quick-cook kind — they’ll get soggy)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 3 T. butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 pear, cored and diced
  • 1 c. fresh raspberries
  • milk for serving

Directions:

  1. Combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In separate bowl, combine milk, butter, egg, and vanilla.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 20–25 minutes, or until the middle is pretty firm.
  5. Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls and top with pear, raspberries, and milk. Leftovers will keep in fridge for 1–2 days.

Counter Action: Apple pie smoothie

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After a long run, there’s nothing better than downing a smoothie.

(Although a good stretch and a shower come close.)

I started running the summer after my junior year of college. It was a beastly hot summer, as usual for the region, and my roommate and I spent most of our free time lying around the house like a couple of damp towels, getting up only to adjust the A/C or stick our heads in the freezer.

There was also a great deal of my roommate’s favourite TV show, which had this weird storyline involving a large blue box. When she was watching it on the big TV and I was studying at the dining room table, it was too bizarre not to surreptitiously watch with her. Eventually she caught me at it.

Seriously, look at this objectively and tell me you're not a little weirded out.

Seriously, look at this objectively and tell me you don’t have questions.

“Hey, you want to come and watch?” she said, clicking pause.

“What is it?”

“It’s called Doctor Who. You’ll love it. Come on.”

It took me a few episodes to get into it, but eventually I developed a voracious appetite for all things Whovian, and the rest, as they say, is history. Halfway through an episode (possibly S02x05, “Rise of the Cybermen”), I suddenly realized that the heroes all had one thing in common: They were very good at running.

This was such an epiphany, I might even have put down my bowl of cherry cobbler for a second to ponder it. If I were the companion, I realized, we’d never escape anything. “You go!” I’d gasp, stumbling to a halt beside the misbehaving reactor and clutching the stitch in my side. “Go on without me! I’ll catch up!”

And then the Doctor wouldn’t leave, of course, and the reactor would blow up, and that would be the end of the series. All because I was in terrible shape.

I shared this realization with my roommate, and she agreed: Weather be darned, we were going to start running. We found something on Pinterest called Couch to 5K that seemed promising, since Day 1 told us to run for only thirty seconds. “I can do that,” I scoffed. As it turns out, I couldn’t, but I learned soon enough, powered by cheesy Pinterest quotes like “Sweat is your fat crying.” We also drank a lot of spinach smoothies (recipe in the offing, also from Pinterest), and it was then that I discovered the joy of a well-earned smoothie.

This apple pie smoothie is an excellent transition between summer and fall — it’s got all the chilly delight of a summer smoothie, with the flavour palette of fall. If you were feeling particularly adventurous, you could even swap out the apple for a dollop of pumpkin purée, if that’s your jam.

But let’s not lose sight of the moral of the story: When common sense and years of health education fail, TV and the Internet can step in and save the day.

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Apple pie smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, cold apple, cored and diced (leave the peel on for more fiber, or remove it for a special occasion)
  • 1-1/2 c. cold milk (or part milk, part apple juice)
  • 2 T. quick-cook oatmeal
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Pour milk (or milk and apple juice) into blender. Add oatmeal. Let sit 2–3 minutes to soften oatmeal.
  2. Add apple chunks, maple syrup, and spices. Blend until smooth. Serve cold.

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Photo credit: Doctor Who screenshot originally from clarasity.tumblr.com, via Pinterest.