Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad

Sometimes the extent to which Adam knows me is a little scary.

When I get hyper and/or a little bit intoxicated, I have a habit of doing a run-and-jump onto him for a piggy back ride. The element of surprise, however, is no longer in my favor, as he can now sense my attempts by a certain giddiness in my eyes and unsuppressable giggles.

On Valentine's Day this year he made dinner, and I went to the gym beforehand in anticipation of the feast.  I'd had a long day at work, and while sweating away on the elliptical I kept thinking, "I can't wait to be home, showered, and lounging on the couch with a glass of wine while watching Downton Abbey on my laptop."

When I got home, he had my Valentine's card waiting on the dinner table. Absolutely no joke, the last line of it read it read, "I love you, now sit back and relax, drink a glass of wine, and watch Downton Abbey."

I died.

We're also pretty good at predicting what each of us will order at restaurants. Anything with chicken and bacon is a good guess for him.

He can predict my choice based on the presence of avocado, squash, cheese, sweet potatoes or black beans.

Black beans are staple in my diet, and I eat them at least once a week. When we first got married, Adam had a hard time adjusting to the errrr....wonderful digestive qualities of those legumes, but things are better now.

I've also been in money-saving-mode lately seeing as I have TWO paychecks left before I start grad school, and black beans have been a large part of my can-we-spend-less-than-$50-per-week-at-the-grocery store efforts. (If anyone has any great grocery budgeting tips, send them my way!)

This week I also had four sweet potatoes that needed to be used, and thus this salad was born.

The taters are roasted in a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, and cumin, which fills your home with a lovely spiced Moroccanish smell. I could not stop munching on these when they came out of the oven.

What I love about this salad is that in the time it takes to roast the sweet potatoes you can assemble the other ingredients. The dressing is equal parts honey, balsamic vinegar and lime juice. Add the can of black beans and minced red onion and you're done. So much extra time to haze and/or snuggle with your significant other.

Also, don't skip the arugula! I considered nixing it because I wasn't sure how it would blend with the other ingredients, but I am so glad I didn't. This flavorful leafy green stood on its own with the other ingredients and provided a really nice contrast in flavor and texture.

This dish is great served warm or cold. I have visions of taking this salad to a picnic and basking in beautiful 70 degree spring weather, but since it is supposed to rain EVERY DAY in Charlotte this week, I will just have to eat it for lunch. (and by that I mean the eight minutes I have to inhale food in the cafeteria while supervising hyper sunshine-deprived thirteen year olds)

One can dream.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad

4 small/medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
1 can of black beans, drained
½ cup minced red onion
4 cups baby arugula

Preheat oven to 400.

Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil.  Spread cubed sweet potato evenly over the two baking sheets. Sprinkle both sheets of potatoes with ginger, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over each pan, then use your hands to mix the oil and spices evenly over all the potatoes.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to brown multiple sides and prevent burning.

Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, honey and lime juice. Add in the black beans and red onion.

Remove sweet potatoes from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.  Add sweet potatoes to the large serving bowl, along with the arugula. Stir well and enjoy! This can be served warm or cold.

Adapted from Epicurious and Whole Foods.


Gluten-Free Quinoa Peanut Butter Granola Bars with Chocolate Drizzle

Quinoa and chocolate. Two ingredients you probably have categorized in your mind as things that DO NOT go together.

You were wrong. One bite of these impossibly-long-named irresistible gluten free quinoa peanut butter granola bars with chocolate drizzle will have you chanting quinoa and chocolate in your sleep. Or maybe just eating another bite, or three. Either way, you need to go make these now.

These granola bars are power packed with major good-for-you-ness (hello quinoa, oats, apple sauce, flax seed, sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut oil) AND major just-plain-goodness (gimme some honey, brown sugar, butter, peanut, butter, chocolate)  Eating one feels like eating a little indulgence (cookie!) and healthy snack (broccoli!) all at the same time. 

This was my first time using coconut oil, and it was perfect for this recipe. One of the first steps in making granola is to toast the oats.  When you toast the oats with butter and coconut oil, the tropical, rich aroma of the coconut is heavenly. 

After roasting the oats, you add in the honey/brown sugar mixture and the quinoa and nuts. Then you press it into a cookie sheet and bake it.  (Mine used about half of the cookie sheet)

There are so many variations you could make with this recipe. You could add in dried fruit, other types of nuts, or even throw the chocolate chips into the granola instead of melting them. 

I have to admit that drizzling the chocolate was my favorite part. 

I'm not even sure if drizzling is the right word, because, as you can see, some of my "drizzles" look more like gigantic globs of chocolate. I'm totally ok with that. 

This is one of those baking situations where you make a tremendous mess, (Um, chocolate on the carpet, on the table, on my shirt, in my hair...) but it doesn't even matter because afterwards you get to lick it all off your hands and the spoon.

I would also recommend drizzling the chocolate AFTER you remove the granola from the cookie sheet and put it on a cutting board. I learned that lesson the hard way, but everything still worked out ok. Once the chocolate has cooled slightly, cut the granola into your desired size/shape. 

You could freeze these for later, enjoy them throughout the week, or, do as I do and ship them off to a friend. 

I'm sending these to my friend Erin. Erin is one of the most hard-working, kindest people that I know.  She is finishing up her first year of dental school, which is insanely difficult, life-consuming, and stressful. Despite this, she has continued to be a constant cheerleader of everything going on in my life and a loyal friend. 

Erin has been the biggest supporter of this blog from the beginning, and it has meant so much to me.  She is the kind of friend who asks you ten questions about you and how you're doing before you can even ask one question about her. I'm so thankful to have her in my life. 

Friends, after all that has happened this week, take some time in the kitchen to make something delicious for someone you love. 

 Gluten-Free Quinoa Peanut Butter Granola Bars with Chocolate Drizzle

1/3 cup quinoa
 2/3 cup water
3 cups gluten free rolled oats
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp coconut oil
½  tsp salt
½ cup honey
½  cup brown sugar
2 tbsp applesauce
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup peanut butter
½  cup flax seed
¼ cup roughly chopped almonds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup quinoa into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, melted coconut oil, melted butter, and salt. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring a couple times throughout to prevent burning.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, and applesauce. Heat the mixture slowly, stirring until all combined. Stir in the vanilla and remove from heat.

When the oats are done, remove from the oven and let cool for a minute. Poor back into the same large bowl.

Brush off the baking sheet, and then line it with aluminum foil. Spray foil liberally with non-stick spray.

Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F.

Add the quinoa, flax seed, almonds, to the oat mixture and stir together. Pour in the honey mixture, stirring as you pour.  Mix well. (It will be sticky!)

Press into prepared baking sheet and bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Remove aluminum foil carefully and slide onto a large cutting board.

Melt ½ cup chocolate chips over medium heat, stirring constantly. (If mixture is too thick, try adding a sliver of butter) Drizzle chocolate over granola.  After cooled, use a large sharp knife to cut bars to desired size.


Carrot Potato Tartin

I got three cookbooks for my birthday this year. My family knows me. 

The loveliest of these books was undoubtdly Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi, a native of Israel, is a rising star chef in the UK. His book is full of beautifully photographed vegetarian dishes, ranging in ingredients and complexity. While browsing this book, I learned that dates are the key to a great vegetable stock and how to make homemade polenta. (I really want to make his sweet corn polenta with eggplant sauce)

However, the recipe that I've really been dying to make is this surprise tartin. 

A tartin is traditional french dessert, usually made with apples. You make a carmel sauce, drizzle it over the bottom of the pan, add the apples, and then fold the puff pastry dough over top and bake it.  When you remove the tartin from the oven and flip it over onto a plate, you have a simple, gorgeously caramelized tart. 

Ottolenghi took a savory spin on the tartin by replacing the apples with fingerling potatoes, goat cheese, and homemade sun dried tomatoes. 

My only major alteration to his recipe was the addition of carrots, mostly because when my sister was flipping through the book and saw this recipe she said, "Are those carrots?"

"No, they're potatoes," I said. 

"That sounds good too. I guess I wanted them to be carrots because I REALLY REALLY love carrots."

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the deliciousness potential of carrots in this tartin. I imagined the sweetness of the carrots would pair well with the caramel, provide a slight difference in texture from the potatoes, and contrast nicely with the savory goat cheese.

I was right, but the road to this tartin was not an easy one. 

I didn't have any time to make the tartin early in the week. Thursday night I looked at my weekend schedule and realized that, in typical me fashion, I had over-scheduled myself for this weekend. (Think more than six hours traveling in a car + staying up close to midnight celebrating your mother-in-law's birthday before waking up at 5:00 am to run a half-marathon. I don't know why I do this.)

Anyway, this meant that my only time to go grocery shopping for the needed ingredients was Friday night at 10:45 pm and my only time to make the tartin was between 6 and 8 am on Saturday morning. 

So that's what I did, bleary and struggling yesterday morning. I wish I could blame most of my recipe blunders on lack of sleep, but honestly I was just in a hurry and impatient, two very unfortunate qualities to have when making a complicated recipe for the first time. 

I started by boiling the water and peeling the carrots. I added the carrots and potatoes to the boiling water and then chopped the onions while the olive oil heated up in the pan. While the onions were cooking, I got out the other ingredients and finished packing. When I came back to check on the onions, they were almost burned. Ack. I kept going. 

I removed the carrots from the water added them to the pan with the onions so they could brown a little bit. After all the vegetables were done, I removed them from the heat, drained the potatoes, and cut them into 1-inch discs. 

Then I started on the caramel sauce. The blessed caramel sauce that nearly cost me my sanity. 

Let me give you the play-by-play.

1st attempt: Because I am lazy and I hate doing dishes, I use the same pot I had used to boil the potatoes. The caramel doesn't work.  The butter keeps separating from the sugar. I think there might have been something lingering from the potatoes that is screwing with the caramel process, so I throw it out.

2nd attempt: New pot. Same problem. I am very confused. I try to pour it into the prepared pan, but it clumps together and the butter slides everywhere. I study the recipe and realize it calls for 2 TEASPOONS of butter, not 2 tablespoons.   

3rd attempt: I use the correct amount of butter, but now the mixture is a dense paste. It in no way resembles caramel. I throw it out and begin to get desperate. 

4th attempt: I have the idea of adding a tablespoon of water to the butter and sugar.  This works. However, when I pour it onto the pan, I realize that I forgot to clean out the extra butter from attempt number 2, and the new caramel sauce will not coat the pan because it keeps sliding everywhere. 

5th attempt: I replace the parchment paper lining the pan and use the correct ratio of butter, sugar and water. It works, kind of. 

At this point I was really behind schedule and majorly frazzled. I forgot to sprinkle the fresh oregano over the caramel, but I figured it was no big deal. I layered in the carrots and potatoes and then pushed the sun-dried tomatoes and onions into the cracks. I sprinkled everything with oregano, salt and pepper. At this point it looked like this, and I started to hope it might turn out ok. 

I rolled out the puff pastry sheet into a square slightly larger than the pan and folded it over the vegetables. Look at them all cozy in that pastry blanket. 

 I popped that baby in the oven, set the timer, and hopped in the shower.

It wasn't until I got out of the shower  that I realized I had forgotten about the goat cheese. The rich, creamy, decadent goat cheese that was supposed to mold the vegetables and puff pastry together. The goat cheese that got neglected in my fervent desire to get that dang tartin in the oven.

The words "I am a failure" escaped my lips.  I considered giving up on the whole thing, but a few minutes later when I pulled the tartin out the oven and flipped it over onto a plate it was SO pretty. From the outside, you couldn't tell I had forgotten anything. After taking a few pictures, I had the idea of melting the goat cheese and spreading it over the top of the vegetables. It definitely took away some of the aesthetic appeal, but it worked.

The morals of this story:
  1. Caramel sauce is tricky. Read the ingredients and directions carefully. 
  2. The cheese. Always the cheese. If all else fails, spread it on top.
  3. If you have a stellar recipe with quality ingredients, even an inept cook like myself can't mess it up too much. 
When I did in fact eat the tartin several hours later, I had to admit that all the craziness had been worth it. The caramelized potatoes and carrots are, in fact, to-die-for, and the richness of the sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese puts it over the top. It's not an easy week night supper, but it's a meal that will impress all your guests. (If you're cooking for yourself, you'll be impressed too!)

Carrot Potato Tartin

¾ cup sundried tomatoes, halved*
2  tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
salt and pepper
1 lb assorted fingerling potatoes (I found one with 1 large purple potato in the mix, which was fun!)
3 large, peeled carrots, but into one inch discs
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 tbs sugar
2 teaspoons (not tablespoons!) butter
1 tbsp water
3 springs fresh oregano
5 oz goat cheese, sliced
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed overnight and rolled thinly into a roughly 10 inch circular shape

Preheat the oven to 400.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add potatoes and carrots. Set timer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, diced onion and add to olive oil in a medium sauce pan on low heat. Stir occasionally.

After 15 minutes, remove carrots and put into sauté pan with the onions. Increase heat to medium-high.  Boil potatoes for an additional 10 minutes, and continue to cook the onions and carrots until carrots are slightly browned and soft.

Drain potatoes and let cool for a few minutes. (I ran some cool water over mine to speed this up.) Cut off the top of each potato to create a flat surface and then cut into one-inch thin discs.

Brush a 9-inch cake pan (or a spring-foam pan if you have it) with olive oil and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

In a small pan, add the 2 teaspoons butter, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon water and turn heat on high. Stir mixture constantly. (It will become foamy) As soon as the mixture starts to turn brown, remove from heat and pour immediately onto parchment paper lined pan. Tilt the pan to spread the sugar mixture evenly over the bottom. (If it doesn’t cover evenly, you can use your spoon. )

Lay the potato and carrot slices close together, cut side down, on the bottom of the pan.  Press the onion and sun dried tomatoes into the gaps.  Sprinkle with oregano and plenty of salt and pepper.  Lay the sliced goat cheese evenly over the potatoes and carrots.  Carefully lay the puff pastry over the pan, tucking the edges down around the potatoes and carrots. 

Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, then reduce to 350 and bake for 15 minute or until the puff pastry is slightly golden brown in color.  Remove from the oven and let settle for two minutes only.  Hold an inverted plate firmly on top of the pan and carefully but quickly turn them over together.

*Ottolenghi's original recipe includes directions for how to make your own sun-dried tomatoes. I already had some sun-dried tomatoes lying around, but the process to make your own is easy too. Cut a pint of cherry tomatoes in half. Lay out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes. 


Mango Smoothies with Coconut Water

I like to mix things up around here.

Some people have asked me if my blog has an angle or a niche, and my answer thus far has been no.

I probably should have one, and maybe I'll discover it one day, but for now I'm content posting the full range of what I'm cooking and eating and thinking.

This is why I'm bringing you a recipe for a healthy smoothie the week after I tantalize you with a sugar/butter coma-inducing dessert. It's just how it goes.

The beginning of this week, as you know, was full of indulgences, including rich meals, lots of leftover chocolate peanut butter birthday cake and a couple free birthday desserts.  To balance all that out, I’ve been drinking smoothies, eating variations of superfood salad for lunch, running, and hitting my yoga mat.

I love my yoga studio in Charlotte. I did yoga sporadically at the gym in college and attended a hot bikram hot yoga class with a friend in Connecticut, but it wasn’t until I attended Y2 yoga that I really fell in love with the practice.

I started practicing yoga a little over a year ago after a car accident left me extremely sore and made walking painful.  I still wanted to do some exercise and thought some stretching might help my muscles recover.  Y2 yoga was right around the corner, so I tried it.

I’ve been hooked ever since. (I even follow the blogs of Jen and Katie, two teachers at my yoga studio.)

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am no die-hard yogi.  My budget and schedule usually only allow me to go once a week. I cannot do crow, or a handstand, or any pose that involves lifting a majority of your body weight off the ground with your arms. I was really excited the first time I could hold side plank for longer than ten seconds. Sometimes I still lose my balance when doing basic poses. I have one lululemon tank top that I bought with a gift card from a friend, and I’m honestly a little self conscious about how my back fat looks in it.

None of this deters me from going to yoga.

The classes I got to are usually ashtanga/vinyasa style yoga, and they are hot.  I enjoy hot yoga, but not because I think I’m sweating out fat through my pores. (Some people seem to think that.) I enjoy it because it brings up the intensity of the workout, and I think the heat relaxes your muscles, which helps you reach some of the poses more easily.

As I have repeatedly tried to explain to my yoga-bashing husband, vinyasa yoga is essentially a series of planks, lunges, and squats all mixed in with other stretches. It’s definitely helped me build muscle, but that's not the reason I love it.

I love yoga because it is grounded in gratitude for you body.

Many women, myself included, have engaged in exercise out of a desire to punish our bodies. We've listened to exercise instructors who confirmed this and at times allowed our mental dialogue while exercising to focus on tearing ourselves down rather than building ourselves up.

Yoga feels so different from this.  Every yoga class ends with savasana, also known as corpse pose.  You lie on the ground, palms open, and let every muscle in your body relax, focusing only on the deep inhale and exhale of your breath.  During this time, my yoga teachers frequently ask us to have gratitude for the strength of our bodies that brought us through the practice.  Sometimes they lead us in a small mediation, and then, for three blessed minutes, it is completely quiet.

I go to yoga for those three minutes of silence.

The room is hot, but there is a cool, lavender scented cloth on my forehead.  I am covered in sweat, and, after being pushed hard for fifty minutes, all my muscles just let go.  Everything is still.

In our world, there is so little time for stillness. Even when I am "relaxing," I am watching t.v., checking facebook or instagram, reading a blog or a book. I never really let my mind slow down.

Of course, my mind does wander during those three minutes. Sometimes I'll think about school or what I have to do the next day, but for the most part, I'm just giving thanks for my body and all that it gives and possesses.

It's a beautiful thing, friends. You should try it too, yoga or no yoga.

The real point of my yoga lovefest was to tell you about this smoothie.

After a hot yoga class, rehydration is key.  Lately, I've been rehydrating with coconut water, most likely because any time I drink it I think about this:

I bought this from a man selling coconuts out of the back of a pick-up truck after Adam and I hiked the Napali coast in Kauai, Hawaii.  I want to go back.

Anyway, coconut water has received a lot of buzz lately and there's been some debate about its benefits. It does contain sugar, but much less than what you'd find in something like Gatorade. It's an acquired taste for some people, but I think when blended with frozen mango, honey, lime juice, and greek yogurt, it makes a refreshing tropical drink.

Also, if you're looking for refreshment of a different kind and have an inclination to add to add some rum here (maybe of the coconut variety?) that would not be a bad decision. 

Mango Smoothie with Coconut Water

2 cups frozen, chunked mango
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ cups coconut water
juice of one lime

Beginning with the mango, put all ingredients in blender. Pulse until desired texture, adding more coconut water if necessary.

Makes two large servings.

Adapted from Whole Living