sweet potato and leek tacos

8:47:00 PM

I use an app for my recipes that allows you to rate them on a 1-5 scale (no half stars allowed!) We have to save the 5-star rating, therefore, for stuff that’s really, really phenomenal. I rely on Bob for these ratings, because he is an excellent critic. There’s a great chicken enchilada recipe that made the cut, an unreal barbecue chicken grilled cheese with gorgonzola fondue… and now, these tacos.

Yes, a vegetarian taco got a 5-star rating from Bob, and he also confirmed what I already knew - that these are the best tacos I’ve ever made. And seriously though, we eat a lot of tacos. And sometimes they have bacon. And these are still the best. 

Granted, there is cheese. A lot of cheese. 

So I’ll set the scene: crispy, delicious sweet potatoes roasted in butter combine with leeks that have not only been baked - again, in butter - but also poached in wine with herbs and garlic and thennnn seared in a hot pan - yes, in butter - and then oh man, it’s all served over a hot tortilla covered in oaxaca cheese that’s been browned in a skillet, then topped with even more cheese (the salty feta variety) and some crunchy almond slivers and scallions andddd we’ve got some homemade almond-tomatillo salsa…

basically this is an A+ recipe. It was published in the LA Times and is an adaptation of a recipe from a food cart in LA called Guerrilla Tacos. I have never been to California, but if the photos and descriptions of this cart’s tacos are anything to go by, I think I might eat at this place every day.

No, this is not a typical taco recipe that will take you twenty minutes. It’ll cost you an hour, at least, but you will be rewarded with a taco with amazing depth of flavor and perfect contrasting textures.

Every single component of this taco is important. I was close to leaving out the almonds and the feta (thinking the oaxaca cheese was enough), but don’t. Don’t skip a single thing. 

There are only a couple tiny changes I made to the original recipe. The salsa calls for an ounce of arbol chiles. The recipe didn’t specify fresh or dried, but I assume fresh given the quantity. I bought dried ones, since it’s all I could find, bit into one cautiously to test the spice level, and then spent a while with my head under the faucet trying to soothe the burn. So, ONE tiny little chile was enough for me for this salsa. Bob probably would’ve preferred two as he’s a spice fiend, so if you are also, use two. This makes a lot of salsa - you could probably halve the recipe for the salsa if you want. My tomatillos were pretty big, so I cut them into quarters. 

The recipe also calls for cooking leeks in wine. It called for an entire bottle of wine and that made me very sad - discarding an entire bottle of wine after poaching the leeks. So I used about half a bottle - two cups worth or so - in a smaller saucepan and added just enough water to cover the leeks. This worked perfectly - still had a very definite wine flavor without having to use an entire bottle, plus enough left over for dinner.

If you can’t find oaxacan cheese, fresh mozzarella would be an okay substitute, but use oaxacan if you can find it - it’s a bit drier and works better for this.

sweet potato and leek tacos
makes 4 servings

for the almond-tomatillo salsa - makes about 2 cups, you will have leftovers!
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 dried arbol chiles 
3 tablespoon slivered almonds
1 pound small tomatillos, peeled and rinsed (if tomatillos are large, cut them in half or quarters)
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

for the tacos
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into about ½ inch pieces
2 large leeks
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoon butter, melted
salt and pepper 
2 cups dry white wine
5–6 sprigs fresh thyme
5–6 sprigs fresh parsley
8 corn tortillas
8 ounces Oaxacan cheese, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only

Make the salsa first: 

If you have a gas stove, hold the bell pepper with tongs and roast on all sides over a flame until skin is blackened and blistered. If you don’t, pre-heat your broiler. Line a cooking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut the sides off the pepper so you have four pieces, then place them on the foil, skin-side up, and broil until skin is blackened and blistered. 

Place pepper in a plastic bag and let steam until pepper is cool enough to handle and peel the skin off the roasted pepper.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add the arbol chile and the almonds and toast until fragrant. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes, water, and 3/4th tsp of salt, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until tomatillos are tender.

Transfer the mixture to the blender or food processor, along with the bell pepper, then puree until smooth. Add the vinegar. Add salt and pepper as needed. Keep salsa in fridge until ready to use.

Onto the tacos:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the leeks by removing the tough green parts, leaving only the light green and white parts. Cut them in half lengthwise so you end up with four roughly equal pieces and each piece has some root attached - this will help keep the leeks together during the various steps of cooking them. Rinse them well to remove grit, then gently pat dry.

On a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment, place the cut up sweet potatoes, the leeks, and the whole cloves of garlic. Pour 3 tbsp of melted butter over the vegetables, toss well, then season with salt and pepper. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until sweet potatoes are roasted and browned and the leeks and garlic are softened. 

In a large pot or pan, bring the white wine, 2 cups water, thyme and parsley to a boil and cook until it loses the raw alcohol smell, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then add the cooked leeks and garlic and cook for about 30 minutes, until leeks are tender. Discard garlic and herbs.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pull the leeks from the wine, pat them dry and add to the butter to cook briefly on both sides, about 3 minutes total.

Cut the root ends from the leeks and cut the remaining leeks into 2-inch lengths.

For each taco, heat a corn tortilla in a large skillet (cast iron works great for this) over medium-high heat with a little butter so it gets toasty. Next to the tortilla in the skillet, place a round or two of the Oaxacan cheese, and let get melty and browned on the bottom. When tortilla and cheese are warm, place the tortilla on top of the cheese, then flip the whole thing over with a spatula and slide onto a plate so that the cheese side is  facing up. Top the taco with a few strips of leek, some sweet potatoes, a couple tablespoons of salsa, crumbled feta cheese, the toasted almonds, and green onions. 

Repeat using the remaining ingredients.


one-pot sausage and chicken jambalaya

8:41:00 PM

Bob loves Creole food. I’m a little more wary of it, as I’m not huge on heat or tomato sauces, but we both love this jambalaya. It’s so quick and easy and tasty and really all gets cooked in the same pot which is really nice.

I’m a big believer in spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m a believer that time spent generally leads to a better outcome. It’s just generally been my experience. Of course, I’ve made stuff I’ve loved that doesn’t take too long, but my best dishes seem to take a while and that’s fine with me.

But sometimes you get bored. Or you’re tired, or cranky (I’m generally all three all the time) and you just really don’t want to spend a ton of time cooking dinner. I’m not saying that this meal will be done in ten minutes, but having everything be cooked in the same pot (therefore cutting down on dishes time) is really nice for cranky days.

I think you’re generally supposed to use long-grain rice for jambalaya, but as you can tell from my photos, I … did not. I used sushi rice. Totally by accident, because I thought the brown bag in our cupboard was filled with rice, but it was actually farro. Which, though I’m sure would be good in here, wasn’t what I was aiming for. Sushi rice was the only rice we had available, and it actually worked out really nicely. I imagine brown rice would work too, but cooking time would be longer unless you get that par-cooked stuff.

I served this with cornbread which was downright brilliant. Such a good combination. I used this recipe which is a pretty basic cornbread and was very tasty -  use your favorite. This was the first time I've ever made cornbread in my life (I know) so I was happy with it. 

One-Pot Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya
serves 6

1 lb link sausage of your choice (I used a chicken sausage), sliced on the diagonal
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
4 celery ribs, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, sliced thinly, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into strips or cubes
2 cans (15 oz each) diced tomatoes (do not drain)
2 cups broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
1 tbsp worcestshire sauce
3 dried bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp creole seasoning 
1 ¼ cups long-grain rice 
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot (I use an enameled cast iron dutch oven) over medium-high heat, brown the sausage on both sides until slightly crisp. Add bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic, and most of the green onions (save some for garnish) and saute for a few minutes until they are beginning to soften. Add the chicken and worcestshire, and continue cooking until chicken is no longer pink on the outside (it will continue to cook.) Add the tomatoes with their juices, the broth, bay leaves, basil, oregano, sage, paprika, and creole seasoning. Stir well, then bring up to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add the rice, stir again, bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and rice and chicken are cooked through. 

Serve in bowls and sprinkle with remaining green onions.

soups and stews

carrot and ginger soup

7:37:00 PM

We are lucky to live in an area with such awesome farmer’s markets. We live within walking distance of the famous Dane County Farmer’s Market, which runs year-round, and there’s also one all summer at the park right by our place. We are pretty much guaranteed to be able to access a farmer’s market any day of the week all summer long. It’s a huge blessing (and I sort of hate that word.)

The Dane County Farmer’s Market is very selective - only producers of food are allowed to sell (that is, you can’t sell someone else’s stuff) and some producers travel hours and hours every week to sell. It’s a big deal.

The winter market is much smaller, and mostly consists of storage vegetables, as you’d expect in Wisconsin. One thing that’s delicious all year round though are the carrots. Mmm. 

This soup is so cool, you guys. It’s essentially all vegetables, and is so crisp and refreshing. I actually brought this to work cold in a mason jar and drank it like a savory smoothie - this would be so good in summer, too. As with every soup I make, it’s made better with the addition of bread and salad.

Because this soup is so dependent on the flavor of the carrots, do not skimp on the ingredients for this soup. Get the best, freshest carrots you can, preferably from a farmer’s market if you’re able. The broth is made mainly with carrot juice and water - no broth here supplement flavor. It makes for a super pure, clean tasting soup. 

Carrot juice is often found with the refrigerated juices, often in the produce department in the store. Get 100% carrot juice, nothing with additives or other fruits/vegetables. Or, if you have a juicer, make your own. I believe I bought our carrot juice at Target, Bolthouse Farms brand (not an endorsement for them, by the way - not a believer in juicing, but grateful they offer this drink!) 

Crystallized ginger is ginger that has been cooked and then coated in sugar. It’s quite potent and I don’t love it personally (lots of people seem to love it as candy) but it’s fantastic and essential to the soup. I find it next to the fresh ginger and bottled ginger in the supermarket, but you can always order it online  as well. Despite the seemingly large quantity of ginger in this recipe, it really only tastes faintly of ginger, and it melds so perfectly with the carrots. 

Carrot Ginger Soup
makes about 6 servings

2 tbsp butter (or olive oil for vegan or preference)
2 medium onions, diced
1 tbsp peeled, grated fresh ginger
¼ cup minced crystallized ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 lbs of carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
4 cups water (don’t use broth, it’ll mute the flavor of carrots)
1 ½ cups 100% carrot juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
for serving, optional: sour cream, chopped chives

Heat butter or olive oil in a large pot (that has a cover) over medium heat, then add the onions, both types of ginger, garlic, 2 tsp salt, and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, then add the carrots, water, half of the carrot juice (¾ cup), thyme, baking soda. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer with a cover on for about 20-25 minutes or util carrots are really tender.

Blend the soup. Even if you have an immersion blender, the best way to blend this is in a couple batches in an actual blender.  This is a soup that should be really, really smooth, and given the tough nature of ginger, it’s really best to do this in a standard blender. Pour about half the soup into the blender, take the plastic centerpiece out of the lid, cover with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl, repeat with the rest of the soup, then pour it all back into the pot. Stir in vinegar and remaining 3/4 cup carrot juice. Return to simmer over medium heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with sprinkle of chives and dollop of sour cream. If you want the swirl effect, put sour cream into a plastic sandwich bag in one corner, cut a tiny bit off the corner, then squeeze on top of soup.

Serve with bread and/or salad, if desired. 

soups and stews

44-clove garlic soup

9:53:00 PM

I think I’ve mentioned multiple times that we’re not really soup people, though I think I’ve not offered a whole lot of evidence to that statement since I keep posting soups I love. Still, though. 

This soup is my hands-down, all time favorite soup. Like, ever. It is so good. I’ve made this multiple times, as both a starter to a meal and as the meal itself served with salad and bread. It’s creamy and pretty and garlicky and smooth and has just the right amount of parmesan and a quick squeeze of lemon to brighten everything up. 

44 cloves of garlic sounds like a lot. But most of this garlic is roasted and becomes mellow and sweet, and the soup is so well-balanced with the small amount of cream and parmesan. 

Use the most standard-sized garlic you can - meaning, try to use medium-sized cloves, and use common sense - if all you have left are tiny little cloves, maybe use two and count them as one. 

I got very lucky the last time I made this, as my aunt grows garlic and sent my dad tons of it. He, in turn, passed on a giant paper bag full of fresh, delicious garlic. It’s all gone now, sadly, and a large portion of it went to this dish. 

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, which is basically my bible of food blogs. I swear, everything I have ever made from this blog, I have made more than once, because it is phenomenal. I follow the original recipe pretty much exactly. 

Note: I'm filing this under the "vegetarian" category, but Parmesan cheese by definition must contain animal rennet. Therefore, if you're cooking for vegetarians, use a cheese labeled vegetarian-friendly or just check the ingredients for animal rennet - it's not "true" Parmesan but it works! Asiago made with vegetable or microbial rennet is a good substitute. 

Smitten Kitchen’s 44-clove garlic soup
serves 4-8 (4 as a meal, 6-8 as a starter)

26 cloves garlic, peel left on
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 ¼ cups thinly sliced onions
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus a little bit more for garnish
18 cloves garlic, peeled
3 1/2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
½ cup heavy cream
2 oz (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese (or vegetarian alternative - see note)
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small glass baking dish, combine the 26 unpeeled cloves of garlic with olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and roast for about 40-45 minutes until garlic is very soft. Allow to cool, then peel the cloves.

Melt the 2 tbsp butter in a large pot over medium-high, then add the onions and thyme leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until the onions are softened. Then add in the roasted garlic, plus the raw garlic, then cook for a few more minutes. 

Add the broth, then cover the pot and let simmer over medium-low heat until the raw garlic is very soft, about 20 minutes. 

Blend the soup, either using an immersion blender or a regular blender (you’ll need to work in batches, and remember to remove the plastic piece in the lid of the blender and cover the hole with a paper towel to allow steam to escape.) If using a regular blender, return the soup to the pot, then stir in the heavy cream and taste. Add more salt and pepper as needed.

Divide the parmesan evenly between four to six bowls (depending on how many you’re serving), then top with the soup. Squeeze some lemon over the soup and add some thyme leaves for garnish.

homemade roasted garlic butter

7:58:00 PM

I find it kind of amazing when I figure out how easy it is to do something in the kitchen that I would never think to do. One was to make my own mayonnaise, which turned out to be really easy and yummy, and the thing I tried last weekend for the first time was making my own butter.

When Googling around for information on how to do this, it seemed like everyone but me learned how to make butter in elementary school, where students would pass around a jar of cream that kids would take turn shaking until the butter separated. Yeah, this never happened in my school, but I wish it had. 

Bob loves buying Kerrygold butter, because it’s amazing, but it also gets expensive. I had to buy some heavy cream for a soup recipe and was only going to use a little bit, so decided to try out this method. I swear, food processors are a godsend.

This would be so good to make into any sort of compound butter. Mix in herbs, or blue cheese, or caramelized onions, or spices, or really anything you can think of. I went with roasted garlic here, because I happened to be roasting a bunch for said soup (recipe coming soon!) and it seemed natural to throw some in. I’ve since made this again and added nothing but salt, and it’s also delicious. 

I made this using basic grocery store cream and it was great. I bet it would be even better with really fresh cream. I recommend getting something that is 100% heavy cream - some brands have other additives and I don't know if they'd work quite as well for this. 

homemade roasted garlic butter
makes about 1 cup butter

2 cups heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
4-5 large cloves garlic, separated but left with peel on (I’d roast a whole head of garlic if I were you, but that’s just me)
1 tsp olive oil

Roast the garlic: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the garlic cloves on a large square of aluminum foil, and toss with the olive oil. Fold the foil (or twist it up over the garlic) to create a packet. Place packet in oven and let roast for 40-50 minutes, until garlic is very soft. Let cool, then peel garlic cloves and set aside.

Make the butter: Add the cream to a food processor or blender and turn it on. Then wait!

This is a process that will take several minutes. It will turn into whipped cream, then really thick whipped cream, and might stay at that stage for a while. What you want to see is the milk separating from the remains - the butter. You will probably need to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl or blender a few times.  

You’ll get probably half a cup of buttermilk from this process - once you see about that much milk, the butter is ready. Pour off the milk. (You can keep and use this, but keep in mind that it’s not cultured buttermilk. Most recipes call for cultured buttermilk, which is thicker, so this may not work as a substitute in recipes, particularly baking recipes where precision is more important.) Gather up the butter and squeeze it into a ball.

Fill a bowl with water and ice, then drop the butter in to help it firm up a little. 

You'll want to rinse the butter and squeeze out as much buttermilk as you can, as this helps reduce spoiling. People have different methods of rinsing the butter. I like to use a combination of the “rinse under running water” method and the “ice water in a bowl” method. I rinse it under running water, squeeze, rinse some more. If the butter starts getting soft, return it to the ice water and squeeze under the water. You want to get as much buttermilk out of the butter as you can, so you’ll want to squeeze and rinse for a few minutes.

Once butter feels firm and, well, butter-like, it’s ready. Place it into a bowl, then stir in salt (add more or less to taste) and then mash in the roasted garlic, stirring well to distribute. I recommend starting with about 3 cloves of garlic, stirring it up, then tasting to see if it’s to your liking - then add more if needed. 

Store in the fridge either in a covered container or you can roll it up in either plastic wrap or parchment paper into a log. (The second time I made this, I rolled it up in plastic wrap using a sushi mat, and it made for a very nicely shaped log!)

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