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: 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: 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:

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