Sunday, November 23, 2014

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Have you bought sweet potatoes yet for your traditional casserole? Here’s an updated twist on a side dish tradition.

This Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes recipe is based on a casserole I've made every holiday for years. I saw a magazine article about making twice-baked sweet potatoes and thought, “Why can’t I do that with my recipe?” So, I did! However, if you prefer the casserole form, then by all means, go for it. This recipe works either way. Also, if feeding a large group, just double the recipe.

Yield: 6
Author: Linda Ditch
Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Get the same taste as a casserole but in miniature form.


  • 4 small sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • For topping:
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans, to taste


  1. Prick each sweet potato 3 times with a fork and place on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high for 9 to 12 minutes, turning the potatoes over every 3 minutes, until a wooden skewer pokes easily into the potato. (Some of the potatoes may bake faster than the others. Just removed the ones that are done and keep going with the rest, checking every 3 minutes.) Let the cooked potatoes sit for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
  2. To make the topping: Place all of the topping ingredients, except the pecans, into a small bowl. Using your fingers, squish the ingredients together until crumbly. Add the pecans and mix to combine. Set aside.
  3. To prepare the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scoop out the flesh from the center into a large bowl, making sure to leave about 1/4-inch of the flesh inside of the potato skin. Place each potato skin shell onto a baking sheet that was sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake the shells for 10 minutes, or until they are slightly dried and firm.
  4. While the shells bake, add butter to the bowl of sweet potato flesh and mash with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined and fluffy.
  5. Remove the shells from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Discard 2 of the shells since you will not have enough filling for all of them. Spoon the filling into the remaining shells and cover with the toping mixture. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the potatoes to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
  6. To make a casserole: Scoop all of the flesh out of the potatoes into the bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients as described above, and then spread into a baking dish. Sprinkle the topping over the casserole and bake until golden brown.
Created using The Recipes Generator

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce

Step away from the can!

Isn't it time to make your own cranberry sauce? If you haven’t tried yet, hopefully this recipe will serve as inspiration. It’s so easy!

This sweet and spicy version tastes great not only with the Thanksgiving turkey, but also with ham, pork and chicken. Just adjust the amount of red pepper flakes to fit your family’s spice tolerance. Best of all, the sauce can be made up to three days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. 

Now, if you’re cranberry sauce must be shaped like a can, I’m sorry. 
I can’t help you.

Perhaps cranberry sauce therapy?

Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce
Serves 6

1 package fresh cranberries
Juice and zest from 1/2 large orange
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Pinch of salt

In a saucepan over low heat, combine all of the ingredients and stir occasionally until sugar is melted. Then increase the heat and let the mixture simmer gently until it thickens slightly and most of the cranberries have popped, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Refrigerate covered until needed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chicken Pad Thai with Spaghetti Squash

Recently I confessed my lack of enthusiasm for winter squashes. However, I am intrigued by spaghetti squash. I love how the solid flesh turns into strings after cooking. Kids think it’s magic!

Spaghetti squash is a tasty substitute for pasta or noodles. In the past, I've served it with homemade marinara sauce over the top. This time, I wanted to try something with an Asian flair.

The resulting Pad Thai recipe was delectable. The flavors were a perfect balance of savory and slightly sweet, and blended well with the spaghetti squash. I made the dish for dinner one night and enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

One note: The recipe calls for bean sprouts, which I love in Pad Thai recipes. However, on the day I wanted to make this dish I couldn't find any in the grocery store. So I made it without the sprouts, and it was still terrific. So put them in or leave them out. It’s up to you.

Chicken Pad Thai with Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchens
Serves 4
1 large spaghetti squash
8 to 9 tablespoons oil, divided
Juice of 4 limes
6 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips
2 small shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups bean sprouts (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

To prepare the squash, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the squash lengthwise into two halves. (Be careful, since the skin is tough.) Scrape out the seeds (I do this with an ice cream scoop) and place the squash halves cut side up onto a baking sheet. Brush each halve with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a fork easily goes into the flesh. Remove from the oven and allow the squash to cool until it can be handled. Using a fork, scrape the squash flesh into strands and place in a bowl. Set aside.

To make the sauce, whisk together in a small bowl the lime juice, water, brown sugar, oyster sauce, 3 tablespoons oil, rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken until browned. Remove from the skillet onto a plate and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium, and add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Add the shallots, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and saute until the shallots are a light golden brown. (This happens quickly.) Pour in the beaten eggs and scramble until just done (this also happens quickly.) Add the chicken back to the skillet, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Stir in the sauce, bean sprouts, and half the scallions and peanuts. Allow the mixture to simmer for 2 to 4 minutes so the sauce can thicken a bit.
To serve, divide the spaghetti squash between four plates. Spoon the chicken mixture on top of the squash. Sprinkle the remaining peanuts, scallions, and the cilantro leaves over the top.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Cup of Tea and a Romantic Tale

In the past, I've written many times about how The Picky Eater and I connected on and met for our first date in a grocery store parking lot. But I've never told you about the other man that was a part of that first evening. So, sit back with a cup of your favorite tea, coffee, or hot chocolate and let me tell you about our dinner with the other man…and how magic movie moments can happen in real life.

By the way, I’ll give you tips on making the perfect pot of tea at the end of this post.

It was Thursday, November 11, 2010—Veterans Day. After spending the day at the Montessori preschool where I taught…and spending a few moments after work in the teacher’s bathroom fixing my hair, touching up my make-up, and changing clothes…I headed to the Dillons Supermarket in North Topeka to meet Michael. We had talked on the phone for hours the previous three nights, but now it was time to meet face-to-face. Needless to say, I was nervous.

I first noticed Michael’s dancing blue eyes when we met. And he gave great hugs!

I followed him in my car to the Prairie Band Casino and Resort for dinner. That may seem like a strange place to go on a first date, but I was excited. I had heard great things about the food (always a plus with me!) and was looking forward to checking it out. Plus, I didn't mind trying my luck on a slot machine or two.

After we arrived, we headed for the Longhouse Buffet. Since veterans could eat free that day, the line was long. As we neared the front, the man ahead of us turned and said to Michael, “I’m all by myself. Would you two like to share a table with me?”

Now, I’m thinking since this was our first date, Michael would turn him down. So you can imagine my surprise when he said, “Okay!”

The man’s name was Floyd. I don’t remember too much about him. He was a veteran of the Marines and very friendly—and talkative. Most of the dinner was spent listening to him talk about his troubles with his stepson.

We shared a booth—Floyd on one side and Michael and I on the other. At one point, Michael excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came back and sat down, I put my hand on his arm.

It was magic! Electric! Michael looked into my eyes, and it was one of those moments you see in the movies but never think really happened in real life. He put his hand on mine. My heart was racing, and I’m sure my face turned bright red. It was overwhelming.

I moved my hand to my lap, and everything returned to normal.

Later that evening, Michael and I were talking in his car. He had his arm around me, my head was on his strong, comfortable shoulder, and a Kenny G Christmas CD was planning in the background. He said, “I could see myself married to someone like you.”

Three days later, on our second date, Michael told me he loved me and, again, he could see being married to me. What did I say? I pointed at him and said, “Don’t you dare propose to me! You hardly know anything about me yet.”

His response was, “I know what I feel.”

I said, “But we need to get to know each other better. Besides, it’s the holiday season when everything is sparkly and romantic. Let’s see how we feel in the middle of January when it’s cold and

Then I added, “I tell you what, if you still feel this way in the middle of January, and I feel the same way, then I’ll marry you on Christmas Eve 2011.”

And that’s just what I did.

One evening, sometime after we were married, I asked Michael if there was a moment when he knew he was in love with me. He answered, “When you put your hand on my arm at that first dinner with Floyd.”

I guess he felt the magic, too.

Remembering our dinner with Floyd always brought us both a smile and a laugh. My sister-in-law thinks Floyd was an angel sent to make sure Michael and I fell in love.

Today, four years later, I’m spending the day with my memories of how The Picky Eater and I joined our lives together. He always made a big celebration of our first-date anniversary, even more so than our wedding anniversary. I kept the e-mails we exchanged in those early days, and we would spend time every Veterans Day reading through them and remembering how our love began. After Michael died, I was going through his e-mails and found he had saved the one from that was my response to his interest in me.

That’s the kind of man The Picky Eater was.

I was a lucky girl.

The Perfect Pot (or Cup) of Tea
I love black teas, particularly sturdy English Breakfast and smoky Lapsang Souchong. The Picky Eater loved Earl Gray. Many evenings, when he wasn't on his courier route, we would share a cup while watching television.
To brew the perfect pot or cup of tea:
  • Bring cold water to a boil. (Cold water has more oxygen and makes a better-tasting tea. Also, do not let the water boil for too long, or it will release the oxygen and the tea will taste flat.)
  • Fill the teapot or cup with some of the boiling water and let stand for a moment or two to warm.
  • Empty the pot or cup, add the tea leaves or bags and pour the boiling water on top. Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes or until the tea reaches the desired strength. Note: Steep green tea for only one to three minutes to prevent bitterness.
***Hey, thanks for reading! If you've enjoyed my posts or tried one of my recipes, you can support my writing efforts through Buy Me a Coffee...or tea...or flavored fizzy water. Your donation will be greatly appreciated, especially now as I deal with a chronic autoimmune disease that flared back up again. The button is located on the right-hand side of this page or you can follow the link here. If you can't donate, that's okay, too. Either way, thank you so much for reading my stuff!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Squash, Cranberry and Apple Bake

Lately, I've felt the need to confess my lack of enthusiasm about certain foods that seem to be all the rage right now. Every day I see a new recipe for kale or lentils. Well, I’m not a big fan of either. Believe me, I've tried! I can deal with a little kale in soups or salads, but not much. And lentils…well, I just don’t like them.

Squash is another one. I like to use it in recipes, such as my Shaker Squash Rolls and Harvest Bisque. But on its own, I just don’t like very much.

Except for this dish! I like the squash in this recipe. Yes, it's mixed with apples and cranberries, both of which I really enjoy. And the orange-maple sauce adds to the appeal. However, if that is what it takes to get me to eat cubes of good-for-me squash, then it works!

This recipe, which I developed for a Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper article, would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving. I used kobocha squash, but you could try it with butternut or pumpkin. The recipe, minus the cubed squash, would also make a great filling for the inside of an acorn or carnival squash.  

Winter Squash, Cranberry and Apple Bake
Adapted from Rolling Prairie Cookbook by Nancy O’Connor
Serves 4 to 6 people

Juice and zest of 2 small or 1 large orange
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup (the real stuff, not imitation)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds of peeled and cubed winter squash 
1/2 pound fresh cranberries (or 1/4 cup dried cranberries) 
2 large apples, pealed and cubed
1/2 cup raisins
Cinnamon, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, orange zest, maple syrup, and salt. Set aside.

Butter an 11- by 7-inch baking dish. Add the squash, cranberries, apples and raisins and stir to combine. Pour the orange juice mixture over the top. Sprinkle a light dusting of cinnamon over the top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir to coat the mixture with the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish before serving.