Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie




Here in Kansas, we are transitioning from summer to fall. The leaves are just beginning their colorful annual display. Nights are getting cool enough to require the soft, downy comforter on the bed. Fuzzy socks, warm sweaters, and cozy sweats are out of storage and placed in the dresser.





This Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie is a perfect transition-of-seasons dinner. It has all the tasty comfort of the traditional dish but it's a lightened-up version for these ever-so-slightly chilly days, full of ground turkey and plenty of veg.

The inspiration for this recipe came from two sources: A turkey sweet potato shepherd’s pie on the Skinnytaste website and my own more substantial sweet-potato shepherd’s pie recipe I posted a few years ago. I love this one because it’s full of veggies reminiscent of summer’s harvest but also has a hint of flavors common at Thanksgiving. 

For those of you on WW, this recipe is 3 points per serving on the purple plan.

Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6

For filling:

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 pound 99-percent lean ground turkey or chicken

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

8 ounces mushrooms, diced

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced 

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

10-ounce bag of frozen mixed vegetables

1 cup low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth (plus extra if necessary)

Salt and pepper, to taste

For potatoes:

2 pounds sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 to 1/2 cup fat-free milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. 

Put 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey (or chicken) and brown until just cooked through. Put the cooked turkey in a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, and the diced onion and celery. Sauté until the onions start to become transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes more. 

Next add the garlic, poultry seasoning, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and cooked turkey. Mix well. Then sprinkle the flour over the top and stir to coat the turkey-veg mixture. Add the frozen veggies and pour in the chicken broth. Cook until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens about 5 minutes. (Add extra broth if necessary.) Add salt and pepper to taste, then pour the mixture into the casserole dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork or knife, and then pop them into the microwave. Cook until soft. While still warm, scoop out the inside of the potatoes into a large bowl. (Use a towel or paper towels to protect your hands from the hot potatoes.)  Add the butter and milk, then mash until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mashed sweet potatoes over the turkey mixture. Place the casserole dish onto a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the sweet potatoes start to brown on top, 20 to 30 minutes.

(3 points per serving on the MyWW purple plan.)








Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Author Lucy Burdette Answers Questions About Key West Food Critic Series



 

Meet Lucy Burdette, the author of the Key West food critic mystery series. The newest edition, The Key Lime Crime, was released on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.

 

Lucy is actually clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib. Along with her Florida-based series, she has published the golf lover’s mystery series and the advice column mysteries. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a past-president of Sisters in Crime.

 

As a huge fan of the series, I had some questions for her about its creation and the new book. Here are the answers she sent via email:

 

Q: What is it you love most about Key West?

LB: I love so many things about Key West, from the weather in winter time to the arts and book scene, to the quirky people who live there, to the wonderful variety of restaurants.

 

Q: What inspired you to create the character of Hayley Snow?

LB: When I was between contracts, I heard about a publisher looking for a new series featuring a food critic. I thought, I love to eat, I can do that! My husband and I were just in the process of setting up winter residence in Key West and I realized that this would make a perfect setting. Then I tried to imagine a character who would have an outsider view of the island and lots of conflict about staying there. Not that she was conflicted about staying there but it’s expensive and not so easy to get a job and these would be things she would face. Hence, Hayley Snow was born!

 

Q: You put real-life people in your books. Why?

LB: I think the first real person I put in the book was police officer Steve Torrence. He has become a good friend and is very generous with giving me advice about police procedure, so this was a kind of thank you. Since then, Key West characters in real life have become irresistible! Hayley's friend and tarot card reader Lorenzo is a real person, who reads cards for people at the Mallory Square sunset celebration. (His real name is Ron and now he advises me!) Some people have bought names or names of pets in charity auctions and that is always fun. In the new book, the orange tiger kitten T-bone is a real cat, whom I adopted from the FKSPCA.

 

Q: Do you create all the recipes in the books?

LB: Unless otherwise noted, the recipes are mine. Of course I read about the dishes I want to make, and like to try to copy dishes from the restaurants we enjoy. But they are my own versions.

 

Q: How do you feel about key lime pie? Do you have a favorite?

LB: I think that we tasted at least 10 different pies while I was writing this book. My favorite version has a graham cracker crust, no food coloring in the filling, and whipped cream on top. However I will try any Key lime pie presented to me! My husband told me at the end of this adventure that he really doesn’t like Key lime pie that much. And that shows you what a good sport he is.

 

Q: What are your top 5 not-to-miss Key West spots people should visit?

LB: Some of my favorite places are the Harry Truman Little White House, the Hemingway home with polydactyl cats, the custom house museum, Mallory Square at sunset, and a conch train tour around the island, especially for new visitors.

 

Q: How do you divide your year between Florida and Connecticut? How are the atmospheres between the two places different?

LB: We are Key West residents, and we often are there from October to May. After that it gets too hot and humid and I dread the hurricane season! We are happy to spend the remaining time in Connecticut to visit old friends and family. I miss each place while I’m away.

 

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

LB: I was a clinical psychologist in my previous career and I hope that comes through in the characters I bring to life. It’s hard not to nudge these people to get into therapy when I know it would help! LOL

 

You can learn more about Lucy and her books at her website here.



Monday, August 10, 2020

Burdette Mystery Series Celebrates Food and Key West—The Perfect Combo

 


Is it possible to fall in love with a place in just a few hours?

 

Absolutely!

 

That’s exactly what happened when I visited Key West while on a Carnival cruise in 2016. After shopping on Duval Street, exploring Hemmingway’s home, photographing the chickens that roam the streets, and devouring a slice of key lime pie, as well as numerous pieces of key lime fudge, I was in love with this town on the southernmost point of the continental United States.

 

When I returned home, I immediately started to read Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic cozy mystery series. I was hooked, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the main character, Hayley Snow, is a food writer. She also lives on a houseboat, which she shares with a feisty-but-loving elderly woman. I zoomed through all of the editions already in print and then waited for each new edition with great anticipation and little patience.

 

Announcement! The newest book, The Key Lime Crime, will be released on Tuesday, August 11, 2020!

 

This is the 10th book in the series, and lucky me got an advance copy.

 

I enjoyed every page!


Set during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when Key West, Florida explodes with tourists, Hayley is covering a key lime pie baking contest. Plus, her new mother-in-law comes for a visit—the same woman who didn’t come to the wedding a few weeks earlier. When Hayley, her elderly (and sassy) roommate, and mother-in-law discover the body of controversial new pastry chef from the contest, the trio sets out to find the murderer, which doesn’t make new husband and detective, Nathan, very happy.


One of the aspects of Burdette’s series I adore is her ability to describe Key West so clearly. It’s easy to feel like you’re right in the midst of the quirky town. She also includes real locations, restaurants, and people in her stories. With most of us feeling cooped up because of the coronavirus pandemic, reading this series is like taking a mini-vacation. In fact, I have a list of places from her books I plan to explore when I return for a longer visit.





Besides being an enjoyable read, the book also has recipes for many of the dishes mentioned in the story—thank goodness! So far, I’ve tested out the Chai Snickerdoodles, and they were tasty. The only change I would make would be to add a little vanilla to the cookie dough, which I’ll try out the next time. And yes, there will be a next time!



 




Since key lime is in the title, there are numerous references to the various pie styles found on the island, including this one from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe I posted about after my visit. The book includes key lime martini and key lime parfait recipes, both of which are on my gotta-try list.

 

If you’re a fan of mysteries, food, unique characters, or tropical settings, then you need to read the Key West Food Critic series.

 






STAY TUNED! On Thursday, August 13, I’ll post a Q&A interview I did with Lucy Burdette about this series and the new book! Plus, over the next few weeks, I will post recipes not only from her books but from a couple of cookbooks I bought on my visit.





Friday, May 8, 2020

Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza from King Arthur Flour




Weekends were made for pizza.


At the end of a long week, pizza is a tasty and comforting way to start the weekend, even if our workweek is spent in a home office or teaching and entertaining your kids.

 

While takeout from at your favorite local pizzeria is an option—one I take advantage of all the time!—making homemade pizza is also fun and satisfying. An added bonus is you have kitchen clean-up time while the pie bakes, so once dinner is served you can relax.

 

I’ve posted my favorite homemade pizza recipe before, but I think this one is the winner! I first saw it on the Food 52 website, with this great video on how to make it.



 

The original recipe is from the King Arthur Four folks. (Find it here.) What I love most about this pizza is the focaccia-like crust. The dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for 12 to 72 hours, which means you can mix it up when you have a free moment and then let it hang out for a couple of days until you need it. In fact, the longer it’s in the fridge, the more flavor it develops.

                                                                                    

I used a store brand part-skim mozzarella, along with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The sauce was a can of Hunts Tomato Sauce

with Basil, Garlic and Oregano I had in my pantry.


The result was a seriously delicious pizza with a crunchy, browned bottom and a crispy, cheesy edge around the top. 


This is now my number one pizza to make!

 

Oh, for my fellow WW members, it comes to 10 points a slice on the MyWW Purple plan. It’s worth every point!

 

 


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Must-Read Cozy Mystery Series



Book no. 13 is out today!



You know those nights when you can’t sleep? Maybe you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. Or perhaps you can’t shut your mind off to go to sleep in the first place.


The solution for me is to lose myself in the world inside a book. By visiting a different place and wrapping myself in the lives of characters who feel like friends, I am able to escape the troubles and fears of my own life long enough to relax and believe everything will be okay.

And my number one author of choice is cozy mystery writer Krista Davis.

One warning: Her books can cause one-more-chapter syndrome! The phenomenon where you'll stop reading after one more chapter. 

If you’re a fan of food, friendship, and mystery, then Davis’s Domestic Diva series needs to be on your list. Her latest edition, Diva Spices It Up, was released today, but I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy through a drawing on her Facebook page. 

The book didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it may be the best one in the series! The two recipes I made from it didn’t disappoint, either.

In this book, Sophie Winston, event planner and food advice columnist, takes on ghostwriting a cookbook for a former actress when the previous writer disappears. Is the missing ghostwriter in hiding, or was she murdered? And what about all of the suspicious spy activity Sophie keeps witnessing in her Washington D.C. suburb?

I devoured this story like a fudgy piece of chocolate cake! The plot was intriguing, and the solution was not what I expected.

This was my favorite Davis book to date!

Plus, it was a joy to spend time in Sophie’s world for a while. I like Sophie. Her friends, including an ex-husband, love to gather in her kitchen to solve murders and enjoy good food. Sophie never thinks twice about whipping up a tasty meal or snack for whoever shows up. That skill connects with my own enjoyment of feeding good food to the people I love.

Like all of Davis’s books, there are recipes from the story included at the end. I tried out:





Cornbread with a Corny Twist, which was so good I ate three pieces in spite of each one being 11 points on my WW purple plan!












Roasted Parmesan Chicken Breast, which was crispy and perfect alongside some whole-grain linguini primavera. This photo doesn't do the recipe justice, but I was in a hurry to start eating!  (7 points on WW purple)




Both recipes will make regular menu appearances.

To learn more about Davis, visit her website here. She also has a Paws and Claws series that is perfect for animal lovers, and a Pen and Ink series for the artist in all of us.

You don’t have to read the Domestic Diva series in order, but if that’s your style, the first one is The Diva Runs Out of Thyme.

Trust me, you’re going to love it!

Already a Diva fan? What's your favorite book? Character? Who should Sophie choose for a love interest? 


Monday, April 20, 2020

Steeped is a Handy Way to Satisfies Coffee Cravings





Disclaimer: The nice people at Steeped Coffee sent me free samples to try. However, the opinions expressed here are my own. I will only tell you about the products I use and enjoy!

I hate the Monday afternoon energy slump, but it seems to show up every week. You know the kind, where your brain won’t function and the thought of a stroll in the fresh, spring air requires more energy than you can muster.



My solution was a coffee jolt. However, I didn’t want to brew a partial pot, and anyway, I was craving an iced version. That’s when I remembered the box of Steeped Coffee sent to me quite a while ago. Now seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.

Steeped Coffee is brewed just like a cup of tea. However, unlike some other coffee-in-a-bag brands, this is made with premium beans to give the beverage a coffee-shop flavor. Each Steeped Pack contains hand-roasted, ethically sourced, Direct Trade coffee that’s precision ground to showcase the distinctive flavor profile of every crafted blend. The coffee comes in single-serve bags that are nitro-sealed, which removes oxygen and stops the clock on flavor loss. The packaging made using compostable and renewable materials and non-GMO filters. All it takes to brew a perfect cup is hot water and a few minutes. An added plus, there are no wasteful plastic pods accumulating in waterways or landfills.

I grabbed two bags of the Steeped Coffee Driftwood Blend, which is an extra dark French roast. I poured 16 ounces of hot water over the top and let the bags sit. The instructions say five minutes, but I got busy, so it was more like 15 minutes before I got back to it. I added a little sugar, poured the coffee into a glass filled with ice, and topped it off with a little non-fat milk.

Perfection! The coffee flavor was bold and rich, not harsh or bitter. In fact, it was so smooth I could probably skip the milk next time. And believe me, there will be a next time!

I could see Steeped Coffee bags come in handy on a trip or even when you go to a restaurant that serves sub-par coffee. Just ask for hot water!

To check out all of the Steeped Coffee offerings, pay a visit to 
their website hereFYI: They are offering free shipping on all U.S. orders right now!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes



Is there someplace in the world you’ve always wanted to visit? For me, it would be the Provence region of France. Ever since I first read A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, I’ve dreamed of smelling lavender fields, exploring the market in Apt on a Saturday morning, and sipping a pastis cocktail in a summer courtyard filled with vibrant flowers.



This is why I fell in love with Elizabeth Bard’s Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes. While I enjoyed her first book, Lunch in Paris, where she details her move to the City of Lights and falling in love with her French husband, this second book mirrored my own dreams of being an American adapting to life in a small Provence village. Ah, the warmth. Ah, the beautiful scenery. Ah, the luscious food!

Okay, it’s the food that attracted me the most. Especially the fresh produce and cheeses. Oh, and bread still warm from the boulangerie. And, of course, the wine!



So, what does all of this dreaming of Provence have to do with my new healthier lifestyle?

Everything!!

My primary reason for wanting to lose weight—80 pounds down so far!—was knowing there are so many places in the world I still want to explore, like Provence. I wouldn’t be able to do it at my heaviest weight.

The reason I chose WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) was their promise I could eat the foods I loved and still lose weight. It’s not a diet you go on for a while to drop pounds. WW has changed my lifestyle to one I can live the rest of my life! And I can enjoy any food without ballooning back to my former heavy self.

It’s all about being mindful of what you’re eating.

Bard’s book is full of recipes I will spend the next few months exploring, especially when there is an abundance of produce at the farmers market this summer. In the meanwhile, I enjoyed my French “trip” through the pages of her book while being stuck at home thanks to the pandemic currently harassing our world.

I did make her Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes for Easter dessert! My pantry had a container of culinary lavender purchased for just such an occasion, and I used canned apricots since fresh aren’t in season. (FYI: One cake came to 8 points on MyWW purple plan.)

These cakes were a lovely treat for the holiday! They were also very easy to make. A perfect south-of-France indulgence to enjoy here in northeast Kansas.

Apricot and Lavender Mini Almond Cakes 


Adapted from a recipe in Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

Makes 12 mini cakes

7 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups ground almond flour (I used King Arthur brand)
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon culinary lavender grains, plus a few for garnish
12 small apricot halves (I used canned, drained and patted dry with a paper towel)
Light brown sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven for 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with 12 foil cupcake liners. (Must be foil because paper will stick!) Spray each liner with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whip the butter and sugar together until combined and fluffy. (I used a hand mixer.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts.

Fold in the almond flour until combined. Mix in the salt and lavender grains.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake liners, about 1 1/2 tablespoons per liner. Lightly press one apricot half, skin-side down, into each cup, followed by a small pinch of brown sugar. Top with 2 or 3 grains of lavender. (Be careful not to go overboard with the lavender or the cakes will taste like soap.)

Place the muffin tin into the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and set on a wire rack to cool. Serve with whipped cream.