Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic

Sweet potatoes are one of nature’s nutritional powerhouses. They contain a wealth of orange-hued carotenoid pigments as well as being an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), a very good source of vitamin C and manganese and are a good source of copper, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B5 and potassium.

And I shouldn’t forget, they also taste like dessert.

Here’s a recipe from Elizabeth Karmel, a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York, in which baked potatoes star in a main-course role.

This recipe for “loaded sweet potatoes”  also features kale, another highly nutritious vegetable, roasted garlic and cheese.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic
3 heads garlic
Olive oil
Kosher salt
4 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch dried sage
1 large shallot, chopped
1 bunch (about 5 ounces) baby or chopped Tuscan kale
½ cup grated fontina cheese
Ground black pepper, to taste
½ to 1 cup shredded white cheddar, Gruyere or mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
Roasted chicken (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the outer layer of papery skin from the heads of garlic. Slice off ¼ inch from the narrow end of each. Place each head of garlic, cut side up, on a square of heavy-duty foil. Drizzle each with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt. Wrap the foil loosely up and over the garlic heads, then roast for 1 hour, or until golden-brown and soft. Remove and let cool.
Meanwhile, prick the sweet potatoes with a fork, then rub them with oil. Add them to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until tender.
Once the garlic has cooled enough to handle, remove the cloves from their skins. The most efficient way to do this is to squeeze the whole head from the bottom. In a small food processor, combine the garlic, butter, sage and a pinch of salt, then pulse until chopped and combined. Set aside.
About 15 minutes before the potatoes have finished, in a medium saute pan over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the shallot and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the kale, and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until tender. Set aside.
When the potatoes have finished baking, remove them from the oven and let them cool until easy to touch. Leave the oven on. Cut the potatoes lengthwise down the middle and scoop out about half of the flesh from each, making sure to keep a thick layer of sweet potato within the skin so that it can stand on its own.
In a bowl, mash the sweet potato, the roasted garlic mixture and the fontina cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the filling between each potato, spooning it into the shell of each. Top with your choice of shredded cheese and the hot sauteed kale.
Arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet and return to the oven until hot, about 15 minutes. They also can be microwaved for 2 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with pumpkin seeds and chicken, if desired.
Note: If you want to get a jump on things, the garlic can be roasted and mixed with the butter and salt up to 2 days in advance. Just refrigerate until needed.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving (not including optional chicken and pumpkin seeds): 230 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 13 grams fat (6 grams saturated, no trans), 30 milligrams cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 8 grams protein, 270 milligrams sodium.

Chopped Smoky Turkey Burgers

Pork is known as the other white meat. And with the trend of eating two servings or less of red meat a week, it’s become popular alternative.

But there’s another white meat that deserves consideration. That’s turkey breast.

The following burger recipe from J.M. Hirsch, national food editor for The Associated Press, features the turkey tenderloin — a thick strip of meat cut from between the bird’s breasts. Hirsch says like chicken breasts, it is incredibly versatile, taking well to the grill, skillet or oven and working well with any flavor or marinade.

Chopped Smoky Turkey Burgers
1 large egg
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon mustard powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch kosher salt
1¼ pounds turkey tenderloin, cut into large chunks
2 ounces prosciutto
4 hamburger buns
4 ounces manchego cheese
Heat a grill to medium. Oil the grates, or coat them with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, garlic powder, mustard powder, paprika, black pepper and salt. Set aside.
In a food processor, combine the turkey and prosciutto. Pulse until the meat is well chopped but still chunky, about 10 seconds total. Scrape the sides of the bowl and pulse again if any large pieces remain unchopped.
Transfer the meat to the bowl with the egg mixture, then mix well. Form the meat into 4 loose patties. They will be moist and not hold together well.
Use a spatula to carefully place the burgers on the grill and cook, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the burgers — they should be firm enough to move easily now — and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until they read 165 degrees at the center. Top each burger with a quarter of the cheese, then serve on a bun.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 420 calories, 31 percent of calories from fat, 15 grams fat (6 grams saturated, no trans), 145 milligrams cholesterol, 23 grams carbohydrates, 52 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, 1,070 milligrams sodium.

Ham and Cheese Casserole

Ham and cheese is a classic combo, no matter if the two are combined in a sandwich, an omelet or a salad. And you can add casserole to that list.

A ham and cheese casserole spells comfort to a lot of people. It’s a couple of notches above your plain old mac ‘n’ cheese.

Here’s an easy and delicious ham and cheese casserole. It would be a particularly good way to use up some of that leftover holiday ham.

Ham and Cheese Casserole
16 ounces cooked macaroni
12 ounces lean ham, diced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup Velveeta cheese, cut in chunks
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ teaspoon seasoning salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup bread crumbs
Spray 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Combine all ingredients except bread crumbs. Spoon into baking dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and browning.
Yield: Serves 6.

Tuscan Ham and Bean Soup

It’s hard to beat a sandwich made with leftover ham. Add a little cheese to the mix, and you have something that can be quite special if complemented with a nice condiment such as Dijon mustard.

But there’s a large segment of the population that might disagrees. Especially those people who grew up using the leftover ham in a good bean soup.

You can probably count me in the latter camp, since my dad always made bean soup with our leftover holiday ham. And without a doubt, I’ve rarely had any since that can match his.

I’m hoping to re-create a little of that magic later this week, since we’re having ham for our New Year’s Day dinner. However, I plan on putting a few more potatoes and carrots in my soup than Dad used in his as well as a little Italian seasoning for a Tuscan flair.

The recipe can be made in a pot on the stovetop or in a slow cooker.

Tuscan Ham and Bean Soup
1 pound small red potatoes, cut into fourths (about 3 cups)
4 medium carrots, sliced (2 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped (½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 15-ounce cans great northern beans, drained, rinsed
3½ cups chicken broth
2 cups diced fully cooked ham
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1  tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
In 3- to 4-quart slow cooker, mix all ingredients except parsley and oil.
Cover: cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.
Stir in parsley and oil before serving.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving:  380 calories, 8 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 1,470 milligrams sodium, 50 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams dietary fiber, 27 grams protein, 4 grams sugar.

Beans Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon is a classic dish that originated in the Burgundy district of France, a stew prepared with beef braised in red wine, traditionally red Burgundy, and beef broth, generally flavored with garlic, onions and a bouquet garni, with pearl onions and mushrooms added toward the end of cooking.

Here’s a vegetarian version of the dish from the Culinary Institute of America chef Katherine Polenz, who suggests using beans instead of meat. It’s particularily appropriate this time of the year, when people are looking for ways to eat healthy after a bit of indulgence over the holdays.

In Polenz’s Beans Bourguignon, the beans are cooked slowly in red wine, much like the rich Beef Bourguignon originally from France.

The recipe is from her new book, “Vegetarian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America” (Wiley, 2012), available for purchase at bookstores nationwide or at www.ciaprochef.com/fbi/books.html.

Beans Bourguignon
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 ounces smoked tempeh (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots, diced
4 carrots, peeled, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 cup crushed tomatoes
½ cup vegetable broth
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups kidney beans, cooked
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a small bowl, combine the butter and flour with a fork, mixing until the two are incorporated. Set aside.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tempeh, if using, and sauté for about five minutes. Add the shallots, carrots, and garlic, and cook until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they start to become tender, about 4 to 5 minutes more.
Stir in the thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, tomatoes, broth, and half of the wine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Add the rest of the wine, beans, salt, and pepper. Continue to simmer until good flavor develops, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove and discard the herbs and bay leaf.
Add the butter and flour mixture to the pan and allow the liquid to thicken. Remove from heat and serve.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per 8-ounce serving: 190 calories, 8 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 4.5 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 190 milligrams sodium.

Pork Roast with Spicy Cranberry Orange Glaze

There’s nothing more traditional during the holidays than a glazed ham. Easter is the holiday probably most associated with ham, but you might get an argument from some people who wouldn’t be without one at Christmas or New Year’s.

I have my eye on a smoked ham to ring in 2013, since we have a couple of them in our freezer after purchasing a half of a pig this past fall. But a recent post by Facebook friend Mike Pokrzywinski for a glazed pork roast has me thinking twice.

Mike shared a recipe, which follows, for a pork roast with spicy cranberry orange glaze that looks pretty tasty. He found it at the Tabasco website. Mike said that’s what he’s planning on serving his family on New Yea’’s Day.

Pork Roast with Spicy Cranberry Orange Glaze
5-pound pork loin center rib roast (with bone)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup sweet orange marmalade
½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2½ teaspoons Tabasco brand Original Red Sauce
Rosemary sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sprinkle pork roast with salt and ground ginger. Place pork roast, fat-side up, in large roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer into center of roast, being careful that pointed end of thermometer does not touch bone. Roast 2 to 2½ hours until thermometer reaches 155 to 160 degrees.
Meanwhile, combine orange marmalade, cranberries, mustard and Tabasco Sauce in medium bowl. Brush pork roast with mixture after 1 hour, brushing occasionally with mixture every 15 minutes.
Remove roast to a platter. Cover loosely with foil; let stand 15 minutes. Skim fat off pan juices. Serve roast with pan juices if desired. Garnish roast with rosemary sprigs.
Serving suggestion: Serve pork roast with oven-roasted butternut squash chunks and Brussels sprouts.
Yield: Serves 6.

Chinese-Style Steamed Tilapia

The holiday season is entering its final week, and a lot of people already are looking for ways to get back on track as far as eating healthy. And there’s no better way than to give tilapia a try.

The fish, which is relatively new to American consumers, has become quite popular in recent years because it has a sweet, mild flavor and a firm, flaky texture. By some accounts, it  is one of America’s top 10 seafoods.

But more importantly, it’s a heart-healthy lean source of protein, which makes it perfect candidate for people looking to lose or maintain their weight.

A good example is my friend Connie Nelson, whose healthy-eating regimen has helped her lose almost 25 pounds in the past half-year. Recently, Connie told  me about a tasty tilapia dish called Fish in a Bag that she had at Red Lobster.

I’ve had the Red Lobster entree and can say it’s mighty tasty. I’ve also prepared the fish at home a few times and never have been disappointed.

Here’s another tilipia recipe I came across recently. It’s from Sarah Moulton, former executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years who also has spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Moulton says her recipe for Chinese-Style Steamed Tilapia is quick, healthy and delicious, and she recommends it for people who want a recovery from a month or two of holiday overindulgence.

Chinese-Style Steamed Tilapia
5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1¼ pounds tilapia fillets, cut into 4 portions
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
3 scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
½ large jalapeno chili or 1 serrano chili, very thinly sliced crosswise
In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the sake or sherry, ginger, 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil and the cornstarch. Transfer the mixture to a zip-close plastic bag, add the tilapi, then shake to coat the fish with the marinade. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.
Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water. Fit the pan with a steamer basket, then line the basket with foil. Coat the foil with cooking spray. Bring the water to a boil.
Remove the fillets from the bag then arrange them on the foil, folding if necessary to make them fit. Pour the marinade over the fish. Cover and steam the fish for 3 to 6 minutes, or until just cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over high, heat the vegetable oil until hot. Reduce the heat to medium, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the scallions and chili and cook for another minute. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Transfer the fillets to plates and spoon the mushroom mixture over them. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 330 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 20 gramms fat (3 grams saturated, no trans), 70 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber; 2 grams sugar, 30 grams protein, 830 milligrams sodium.

Pancetta-Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Port Mushrooms

Beef tenderloin is one of those entrees that lends itself to holiday celebrations. In fact, food doesn’t get any grander or flavorful than this tender cut of beef, be it in roast or steak form.

A wonderful-looking photo of a beef tenderloin caught my eye today in a post by one of my Facebook friends, Jessica Baumgarten. I’ve know Jessica since she was a little girl living in my Riverside Park neighborhood in Grand Forks before the Flood of 1997. (Jessica’s dad, Dave Como, is a good friend of mine and a former hunting buddy.) She’s now grown up, is married and has a little boy of her own.

The photo Jessica posted was originally pinned it to Pinterest by “Every Day with Rachael Ray”  onto The Man’s Board.  The tenderloin roast is stuffed with an herbed dressing and swaddled in pancetta — but it’s the winter mushrooms, drowned in a rich port sauce, that lift it to intoxicating levels, according to famous Food Network cook.

The recipe looked so good that I decided to share it. In fact, I might even give it a try on New Year’s Eve or Day.

Pancetta-Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Port Mushrooms
12 ounces pancetta, sliced
6 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6½ pounds boneless beef tenderloin, trimmed and halved crosswise
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups fresh coarsely ground breadcrumbs (from 1 baguette)
1¼ cups finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1½ pounds mixed mushrooms (shiitake and cremini), sliced
1/3 cup tawny or ruby port wine
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. In an extra-large skillet, cook the pancetta slices, undisturbed, over medium heat for 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining pancetta slices.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Season the tenderloin halves with salt and pepper, add to the skillet and cook, turning, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool.
In the same skillet, cook the chopped pancetta in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, stirring, until golden, 5 minutes. Add the butter to melt and transfer to a medium bowl. Add ¼ cup water to the skillet and cook, scraping up any browned bits; pour into the bowl along with the breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Reserve the skillet.
Arrange 4 12-inch-long pieces of kitchen twine 2 inches apart on a cutting board, parallel to the front edge; place 1 tenderloin half in the center, perpendicular to the strings. Slice the tenderloin lengthwise, three-quarters of the way through. Open the meat like a book; working from the center out, slice each half of the book lengthwise again, three-quarters of the way through, opening outward, so the split tenderloin has 4 attached panels. Spread half of the breadcrumb stuffing across the meat, leaving a 1-inch border. Starting at a short end, roll up the meat; overlap half of the reserved pancetta slices on top, then secure with the twine. Transfer the meat to a large roasting pan. Repeat with the remaining tenderloin half, stuffing and pancetta.
Roast the tenderloins until they register 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare, 25 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and tent with foil. Pour the pan juices into the reserved skillet, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat until browned, 10 minutes. Stir in the port for 1 minute. Slice the roasts and spoon the mushroom sauce on top.
Yield: Serves 10.

Almond Bread

What would the holidays be without breads? Not only do they make the perfect gift, they’re also generally a hit at family get-togethers, potlucks and work parties.

Another nice thing about breads such as those made with pumpkin, banana and the like, is that they’re perfect for freezing.

Recently, a Herald reader called and asked me if I had a recipe for almond bread. She contacted me because she didn’t have access to the Internet, where I discovered many almond bread recipes.

However, I didn’t want to pass one along that might be suspect. So, I called a friend, Lillian Elsinga, who grew up in a Dutch immigrant family that ran the French Pastry Shoppe on 8th Street in Holland, Mich.

Lillian obliged me with the following recipe, from the “Eet Smakelijk”  cookbook, which was published by the Holland Michigan Junior Welfare League in 1976. (It was attributed to Mrs. Russell Van Wieren.)

Almond Bread
1 cup grape nuts cereal
1.5 cups sugar
3 cups milk
3 cups flour
1 cup almond paste, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Combine cereal and milk; soak for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 2  8-by-4-by-2-inch loaf pans. Cream almond paste, butter, eggs and sugar.
Add milk mixture; sift together flour, baking soda, powder and salt.
Add to creamed mixture. Pour into loaf pans. Bake 1 hour.
Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan.
Yield: 2 loaves.

Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

What comes to mind when you think of comfort food? To some, it might be meatloaf. Still others will say mashed potatoes. And I’ll guarantee that mac ‘n’ cheese is high on a lot of people’s list.

Those are just three of nearly 30 foods that Americans picked as their favorite comfort food in a recent survey conducted by about.com.

A number of casseroles also rated high in the survey, and that’s not surprising. They are one of my favorite comfort foods, regardless of what the star ingredient is.

Here’s a casserole recipe that I fixed recently. It’s from Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman, who on her website (www.pioneerwoman.com) describes herself as a moderately agoraphobic ranch wife and mother of four.

Ree lives on a working cattle ranch, where she spends her days wrangling children, chipping dried manure from boots, washing jeans and making gravy, and she describes this recipe as one of the all-time greatest “make-before” comfort foods.

Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
2 cups cooked chicken
3 cups dry spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 4½-ounce can sliced mushrooms
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¼ cup finely diced green pepper
¼ cup finely diced onion
1 4-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
2 cups reserved chicken broth from pot
1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon) cayenne pepper
Salt And pepper, to taste
1 cup additional grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Cook 1 cut-up fryer and pick out the meat to make two cups. Cook spaghetti in same chicken broth until al dente. Do not overcook. When spaghetti is cooked, combine with remaining ingredients except additional 1 cup sharp Cheddar.
Place mixture in casserole pan and top with remaining sharp Cheddar. Cover and freeze up to six months, cover and refrigerate up to two days, or bake immediately: 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly. (If the cheese on top starts to get too cooked, cover with foil).
Yield: Serves 8.