Pasta Contest and Top Chef Winner

Do or Do Not

There is No ‘Try’

-Yoda

While my favorite show in all the land is wrapping up the competition now, the pasta competition I was planning on entering ended last night…

I don’t know how I feel about these weekly competitions that I keep planning on entering but completely miss the deadlines for. I ended up with a great recipe, but trying to figure out what I am going to make, cooking, photographing, editing, writing, and posting before the 7 day deadline is up is kinda crazy!

The weekly competition I was planning on entering was “Your Favorite Pasta Challenge” . I don’t really have a signature pasta dish, other than chicken tetrazzini, which seemed entirely to heavy and wintery, for an early spring time dish.

Instead of coming up with somethng extravagant or complicated I just picked some of my favorite ingredients that I knew would make an excellent coupling.

Things that are Yum

Most importantly I needed to pick a pasta, when the ingredient is in the name of the contest you know its important. I had my heart pretty set on a more robust pasta. No angel hair for me, orzo need not apply, only Fettucini could foot this bill. Whole wheat fettucini to boot, because if you have the option to be healthy, why not!

I cooked the pasta in boiling water with salt and olive oil.

A Watched Pot...

While the pasta was cooking I threw chopped panchetta, olive oil and onions in a pan to carmelize.

The good stuff...

Once the pancetta started getting crispy, like bacon, I added the sun-dried tomatoes, and basil to wilt and incorporate.

The best stuff!

With the toppings ready to go I topped the past with the veggies and pancetta and a healthy dose balsamic and goat cheese crumbles.

Even better!!!

I think I have a new favorite pasta dish that totally would have kicked butt! Unfortunately I didn’t win, mostly because I didn’t enter, but congratulations to Richard Blais who won Top Chef!!!

WINNER!!!!!!

Sweet Potato Ice Cream

seven days, a Monday made
the mile to my house,
and had me do
a stroll with you

-The Shins

 

Yum!

I get the feeling that Sweet Potato Ice Cream doesn’t have the instant appeal that I originally thought it would. I wanted to start out with a picture of the finished project so when I say sweet potato ice cream you can have a picture in your mind’s eye.

I started off on the great sweet potato ice cream adventure with leftover sweet potatoes that I had peeled and chunked for the sweet potato hash that I did not have room for in the pan. I cranked the oven up to 400° and put the potatoes in for 30 minutes until they were cooked through.

Once they came out of the oven I mashed the potatoes with a fork and let them cool until they were ready to puree with the maple syrup.

Sweet Potato Puree

A mini food processor did the trick and I had perfectly smooth potatoes in no time!

While I was working on the potatoes I put the milk, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg on the stove to heat up to 170°.

Stewing

With the base brought up to temperature it is time to whisk in the sweet potatoes. Whisk until there are no lumps and the mixture turns sherbet orange.

Ready To Freeze

When the base is made let it chill and then follow your ice cream maker’s instructions to freeze and turn into ice cream!

Frozen Thanksgiving

I personally love to top my sweet potato ice cream with candied pecans, when combined this lovely ice cream harkens to Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole in the best way possible.

Enjoy!

 

1 cup sugar, minus two teaspoons

1 cup baked sweet potato

1 tbs maple syrup

2 cups half and half

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp nutmeg

 

Bake two sweet potatoes in a 400° oven for approx. 45 minutes. Remove from oven and peel. Let potatoes cool to room temperature.

In a large saucepan, combine heavy whipping cream, half and half, sugar, cinnamon stick and nutmeg. Cook on medium until an inserted candy thermometer reads 170°.

Puree sweet potato with maple syrup in a food processor.

Remove cinnamon stick and whisk into the ice cream base until there are no lumps.

Cool ice cream mixture for at least three hours, if not overnight.

Add ice cream to ice cream maker and follow instructions.

Freeze overnight and serve with candied pecans.

 

The Cooktestant Goes on Vacation…

What an odd thing tourism is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home, and then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile attempt to recapture the comforts that you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left home in the first place.

-Bill Bryson

I just finished up a lovely bowl of sweet potato ice cream with candied pecans and I can’t wait to share the recipe for the ice cream, but that i just going to have to wait until tomorrow!

Believe it or not, but every once and a while they let me out of the hotel and the kitchen and I get to have some fun. Just to prove it to you I thought I would share some of my favorite pictures from the weekend.

My aunt is graciously invited the entire family, including Esq., for some family fun time, and fun was certainly had by all!

Jealous Yet?

Not that the above picture is a spectacularly great one, but it pretty accurately sumerizes how I spent Saturday. The first half of the day Esq. and I went for a long bike ride on the beach and then came back to hang out in the pool until it was late in the evening and the rain started to come down.

Alligator!

On the way out to the ocean Esq. spotted a little alligator spying us as we crossed over a bridge. They are fairly cute when they are small, but anything larger that this little guy and I wouldn’t have gotten close enough to take a picture. I blame my gator fear on the Riverbanks Zoo here in Columbia. As a child they had the giant gators located in a long dark tunnel of animal pins that separated the polar bears from the giraffes. In order to see my two zoo favorites I would have to run the gauntlet, always sure that one of these times the glass was going to break and I would be gator food. I have another similar story regarding penguins, but that is neither here nor there, so I will regale you all with my inordinate fear of caged animals at a later date.

While on the beach we also spotted a crock…

Crock Attack!

We peddled way out to the end of the island where we parked out bikes and wandered about.

My Life as a Postcard

Because we were so far away from all of the island hubbub we were able to find some amazing shells. I have always marveled at those who just stumbled upon unique and beautiful shells. It seems like the only ones I can find are somethings home, shattered, or just plain ugly, but I hit the jackpot this trip!

Sally Sells Sea Shells

Yes, that’s right…I found  perfect sand dollar! I even found a channel whelk. In the above picture you can see the more traditional lightning whelk that has the pointy knobs. Well if you take a look at the picture below, you will see the more rare channel whelk, which was the very first shell I picked up!

All Mine!

Thinking that we had explored and plundered all we could, Esq. and started heading back towards the house when he stopped me all of the sudden. Low and behold, there was a bald eagle surveying the scenery just 50 yards ahead of us!

God Bless Kiawah

In case you don’t believe me and need an up close view…

Majestic!

I feel so blessed to have been able to spend a great weekend away and relaxing with my loved ones! I promise I will be back to cooking tomorrow. I also hope to be installing an option to print just the recipes soon, please be on the look out! Thanks so much, and I hope you enjoyed this tangental post into the life of the Cooktestant!

One Last Obligatory Vacay Picture

Candied Pecans – An Excellent Ice Cream Topper

Sun rising
Dangling there
Golden and fair
In the sky

-Fleet Foxes

I was going to try and write a post for tonight about sweet potato ice cream made from the leftovers of my sweet potato hash. I always forget how long ice cream takes, so the ice cream will be my next post, but for tonight we can talk toppings!

My original plan for the leftover sweet potatoes was going to be an over the top fried sweet potato gnocchi rolled in cinnamon sugar served with vanilla ice cream. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that this was an epic undertaking that would require a lot of time and patience that quite frankly I don’t have right now.

Instead of torturing myself for the uncertain outcome that is gnocchi I melded the flavors in my head and sweet potato ice cream it was! Worried about the flavor I began to think about what you could add to the ice cream to steer it away from side dish and into the dessert category. I was apparently still a little in side dish world so my ideas were marshmallows and candied pecans. Thanksgiving ice cream anyone?

While you could incorporate the pecans into the ice cream, I decided to use it simply as a topping so that those who have nut allergies, like Esq., would still be able to enjoy it.

To make the candy coating for the pecans, or any other nut you choose, all you need is brown sugar, and egg white, vanilla and cinnamon.

Step 1: Separate the egg white from the yolk.

Lonely Yolk - Post Separation

Step 2: Whisk the white till it is frothy and then mix in brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

Candy is Dandy

Step 3:  Spread out the pecans on a wax paper lined baking sheet.

Naked Pecans

Step 4: Pour sugar/egg mixture over pecans.

All Dressed Up and Ready for the Oven

Step 5: Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Candied Pecans

Simple as that! Now all you need is ice cream to put it on. Hopefully I will have that for you tomorrow! I am so excited to be spending this weekend with my family at the beach. Much needed rest and relaxation is on its way!

Candied Pecans

1 egg white

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp cinammon

Whisk egg white until frothy. Stir in sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Spread out pecans on baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Cover pecans with candying mixture. Stir so all nuts are coated. Spread out the nuts evenly and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Ott, A’s Iron Chef Challenge: Canned Tomatoes – Gazpacho

Maybe you don’t like your job,

Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep,

Well nobody likes their job, nobody got enough sleep.

Maybe you just had the worst day of your life,

But you know, there’s no escape, there’s no excuse,

So just suck up and be nice.

-Ani Di Franco

I feel like the above quote might not come of quite like I mean it…so I shall elaborate.

I recently switched jobs at the hotel. I went from a fun, sometimes stressful job working with amazing people to a job that could best be described as Atlas-like.

Under Pressure

It is not that I am not capable of carrying the load, I just haven’t quite found the best way to carry it. Last night I kept trying to describe what walking into a position that has been vacant for probably year, but is utterly necessary to the operation of a hotel is like and I kept using food metaphors. Like an apple so big I am not sure where to take the first bite hits the nail on the head. Despite the overwhelming amount that is on my plate, I know I have support from my peers and superiors which is crucial every time I hit a roadblock. It is refreshing to be challenged everyday with new experiences and hurdles, only to find that they are totally surmountable. When I first started baking nothing ever turned out like it was supposed to. There were many times I nearly gave up out of frustration. Now baking is my stress reliever. Give me an empty kitchen, a glass of wine, and music and I come out a new woman. I am putting faith in the thought that one day, and probably sooner than I think this new gig is going to become natural. There will be things like macaroons or disciplinary action that will throw me for a loop, but at the end of the day I did the best I could.

Doable!

Alrighty-roo, therapy session and overwrought food metaphors are over. Thanks for letting me vent via blog. On to the cooking!

a Latte' with Ott, A

Over at A Latte’ with Ott, A there is a great cooking contest sponsored by Red Gold Tomatoes for the person with the best canned tomato recipe. I had been pondering for a while on which direction I wanted to go with my tomato-y inspiration and everything Italian immediately bounced around my noggin. As much as I love spaghetti and the like, with Spring breathing down my neck (and into my sinuses) I just wasn’t feeling a heavy, hearty dish.

Ever since Esq. and I celebrated our first Meatless Monday, on Sunday, I realized how much meat I eat and it was a little excessive. Call me southern or old fashioned, but to me a normal meal is Meat and Three. I have kind of surprised myself with how easy it is to just skip the meat part of the meal and still feel totally full and satisfied. By no means am I becoming vegetarian, more power to those who are, but did you read my post about baking chicken?

Long story short. When warmer weather, meatlessness, and a light meal collided in my head Gazpacho was declared the winner. Gazpacho is a cold, tomato based Spanish soup, that in my experience can be done really well, or not. A bad gazpacho is one that is overly acidic, anemic, not fresh, or to runny. Good gazpacho is harder to quantify, let’s just say it is the perfect answer to a hot day when you are craving something fresh.

Despite the pretty horrid versions I have tried, it is pretty fool proof. Do you have a food processor, fresh veggies, and tomato juice? Great! You too can make gazpacho!

Gazpacho is fairly versatile. When I was at the store I stuck to the basics, but then just selected those veggies that were the freshest and fit within the flavor profile I was going for.

Before I began to process all of the ingredients I cut all of the veggies into cubes and kept them separate.

Chopped Veggies

For my gazpacho I used:

Red Bell Pepper, I had a momentary thought about roasting the pepper first, but for the sake of saving time I did not. I think when I make this again I will go ahead and roast it to bring out a smoky flavor.

Bell Pepper - To Roast or Not to Roast!?!

Red Onion not only provides more color to the dish, but its flavor is not to acrid to serve raw.

Red/Purple Onion

Cucumber is really key in providing the light fresh flavor that makes gazpacho so delightful, just make sure you remove the seeds!

Seedless Cucumber

I decided to add just a little bit of celery to my gazpacho, some people have very strong feelings on celery…if you hate it, feel free to ditch it. I personally find celery to be great at enhancing other flavors in a dish. Count me as a celery fan!

Pro Celery

The last of the veggies to go in was the jalapenos. I removed all of the seeds to prevent the heat from becoming overwhelming. Please remember to either wear gloves or wash your hands throughly after messing with jalapenos. I managed to burn my eyes a bit when taking a shower several hours later, jalapenos mean business!

Jalapenos

The very last things to go into the chopper are the power players; garlic, parsley, and cilantro.

Fresh Herbs

In order to make sure nothing liquifies and all ingredients are equally chopped make sure to put only one ingredient in the food processor at a time.

Chopping Red Onion

Chop everything till it is a fine mince, before it begins to liquify.

Finely Minced

Now that all the fresh veggies are ready to go, stir until well mixed.

Mixed Vegetables

While stiring together the veggies its time to work on the star ingredient, Red Gold Diced Tomatoes!

Red Gold

I drained off the excess juice from the tomatoes and threw them into the processor for just a few seconds. Perfection!

Tomato Perfection

With the tomatoes included, I added tomato juice, olive oil, vinegar and whole kernel corn. In case you haven’t noticed, Esq. and I have a bit of a love affair with corn. Should I add corn is a rhetorical question…

Corn Please

With all of the ingredients incorporated it’s time to seal your gazpacho in an airtight non-metal container and let sit overnight in the fridge so that all of the flavors have time to develop and it can chill to the proper temperature.

Immature Gazpacho

Tonight, after the gazpacho had ample time to develop and chill I topped my bowl with ripe avocado and dug in! So yummy! The cool but spicy bowl of vegetable-y goodness hit the spot.

Gazpacho for Dinner!

Red Gold Gazpacho

1 red onion, medium sized

1 red bell pepper

3 celery stalks

1 cucumber, seeds removed

2 jalapenos

1/4 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh parsley

3 cloves garlic, peeled

23 oz Red Gold diced tomatoes

3 cups tomato juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups whole kernel corn

1 avocado (for garnish)

Cube pepper, cucumber, celery, jalapeno into large chunks. Place each vegetable one at a time into food processor, chop until finely minced. Scraping down sides often.

Process garlic, parlsey, and cilantro until minced.

Combine chopped ingreients in a large bowl. Stir to incorporate.

Pulse drained Red Gold diced tomatoes for a few seconds or until it is a chunky sauce. Add tomato mixture to the chopped ingredients.

Add tomato jucie, corn, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir well until everything is incorporated.

Store overnight in a well sealed non-metal bowl in the refridgerator.

Serve with cubed avocado garnish.

Enjoy!

Just a few of my favorite things…

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

-Neale Donald Walsch

Who is the Cooktestant you may be asking yourself, or you might not. At this point I think pretty much everyone reading is a friend, family member, or acquaintance, but what the hey, this post is going to be all about me anyway!

In case you can’t tell, I didn’t have time to cook today. I actually probably could have whipped up some killer gazpacho I have planned for the canned tomato contest (check out tomorrow’s post), but I didn’t even have to think about lifting a finger tonight! The oh so wonderful Esq. swooped in and had the most wonderful Meatless Monday tacos ready for me when I walked in the door. My hero!

Veggie Tacos

Long before I started cooktestant I became a veritable blog junky. To date I subscribe to 101 blogs, meaning every time one of those 101 bloggers post I have new reading material. Heaven forbid I go a week without checking Google  Reader, we are talkin’ 2,000 posts to catch up on.

There are some blogs that I never miss, even inundated with posts I will always stop to read:

101 Cookbooks

Green Olive Gnocchi

This was the first real cooking blog that ever lured me in. I think this is one of the most beautiful websites known to man. Not only are the recipes WONDERFUL, but they are fresh, healthy and beautifully photographed. I am in awe! May I recommend the carrot fries or cous cous soup?

Cake Wrecks

Literally Awful

Who knew cake could be soooo funny! Not only do they have hilarious baking disasters, but every so often they show examples of how amazing cake can be.

A Thing of Beauty

A Cozy Kitchen

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

Another absolutely wonderful cooking blog. They always seem to come up with a twist on the ordinary, for example the fried avocados I mentioned in an earlier post. Love!

The Shop Tart

The Shop Tart

An epic local blogger! If you are ever looking for something to do, somewhere to go, or something wonderful to eat the Shop Tart is a can’t miss. I think the Shop Tart was probably what made me think I could really do this whole blogging thing, so thanks Shop Tart!

So that’s what I am reading! How about you? What are your favorite go to blogs? I have many more that I love, but today I just wanted to share some of my all time favorites that really got me started on this whole venture.

Enjoy!

Sweet n’ Healthy Recipe Contest – Sweet Potato Hash

Where am I?
I feel as though I’ve been here before
Maybe I’m just walking round and round
It’s a beautiful day to be aimless.

-Jump Little Children

After a weekend of yummy, but not necessarily healthy food, Sunday night called for a nice light and healthy dish that would start the week off right. In deciding what to make tonight I scoured the contest possibilities, and decided that the Sweet n’ Healthy contest was right up my alley. This contest asks entrants to come up with a kid friendly, vegetarian, or no sugar added recipes with sweet potato as the main ingredient.

Sweet Potato Contest

I had been waiting awhile to enter this contest, mostly because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go, dessert or entree. Tonight, in need of a healthy option, my choice became very clear. Entree it is!

Originally, my heart was set on a sweet potato pot pie, despite how yummy this sounded, and I how can taste its potential even now just thinking about it, I ultimately decided to go a lighter, easier route, and created a veggie rich sweet potato hash.

Sweet Potato Hash

According to one definition, a hash is a mess, a muddle or jumble. With a base of cubed sweet potatoes this hash can be any sort of jumble you would like for it to be for anytime of day. Tonight it was an entree, but with my leftover sweet potatoes tomorrow morning it could be a whole new animal with breakfast. However, watch for a blog entry soon on sweet potato gnocchi in dessert form!

Leftover Sweet Potatoes

For this hash there is an abundance of veggies, but it really is the sweet potato that brings it all together and makes it a meal and not just a side dish. In addition to the taters, the hash includes; baby bella mushrooms, edamame, red bell pepper, and Brussel sprouts, however, any vegetables could be included to suit your tastes.

The base of this dish begins with olive oil, red peppers, onions and garlic. You can use butter, however, since I was already making a vegetarian dish I decided to take it once step further and make it vegan by simply emitting any sort of animal products. I did cheat a little by topping my personal bowl of hash with a dash of goat cheese, there is a reason I am not vegan folks.

Flavor Base

While the everything cooked to a state of juicy, translucency, I got to work cubing sweet potatoes. One thing I learned tonight…glass cutting boards were invented by someone with sadistic tendencies.  Cutting up raw sweet potatoes is not a particularly hard task, but when your knife goes through and slams into glass the sound is ear splitting! Note to self, buy Esq. a wooden cutting board, stat!

Cubed Sweet Potato

Next to be chopped were the Brussel sprouts. They need to have their stems removed, be chopped in half and have their outer guard leaves removed.

Brussels Ready for their Close Up

While chopping, Esq., went to work prepping the edamame by boiling them in salted water until just cooked.

Edamame Ready To Go!

With the onions, garlic, red peppers, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and Brussles sprouts in the pan it was time to throw a lid on it and let it cook till sweet potatoes were tender and starting to brown.

Almost Ready

At the very end we threw the edamame in to come up to temperature, and it was ready to serve.

While we were waiting...

To make a real meal out of the hash we placed a healthy serving on top of a bed of spinach, which along with edamame, provided all the protein one needs for a complete meal. On top of the hash a added just a bit of crumbled goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Ready to Eat!

It was such a satisfying meal. I really think Meatless Mondays might just become a thing in our house with options like this!

The facts:

  • Sweet potatoes are virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium. One cup (200 grams) of cooked sweet potatoes has 180 calories.
  • Sweet potatoes provide many other essential nutrients including Vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
  • Hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer.
  • On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.

With all of that handy dandy info why not make today a Meatless Monday with my Sweet Potato Hash?

Sweet Potato Hash

2 tbs olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 large sweet potatoes, cubed

8 oz. baby bella mushrooms

1 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts

2 cups frozen edamame

Salt

Pepper

1 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp rosemary

In a large skillet heat olive oil, onion, garlic and red bell pepper on medium heat until onion is translucent.

In a pot of boiling water add edamame and cook until just tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms to skillet. Salt and pepper to taste. Add additional seasoning Cover and cook on medium for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once sweet potatoes are cooked until they are beginning to brown and can be cut easily by fork remove from heat and stir in edamame.

Serve over baby spinach and dressed with crumbled goat cheese, or as is.

Enjoy!