10 April 2012

Butterika Sweet Potatoes

Here's the thing: if you want to make your guests happy, then prepare this dish.

All the oohs and aahs at my Easter Dinner table were entirely focused on the Butterika Sweet Potatoes. Never mind the ham or the fancy chicken. The wild rice medley was completely overlooked.  Those sweet potatoes stole center stage. One man actually had tears of pleasure in his eyes.

This is actually my latest and greatest Thanksgiving recipe.  It was so good then and I just couldn't wait a whole nuther year to make it.  Last fall, I was unenthusiastic about the usual marshmallows on my yams and found inspiration at the Duluth Grill.  They have a special "Honeyrika" sauce they serve with crashed sweet potatoes.  So I experimented a little and came up with my own wiz-bang goo that turns ordinary roots into a wondrous carnival for your mouth.

These sweet potatoes are not particularly photogenic.  Don't hold this against them.  Plus I neglected to take snap a picture until those ravenous diners had already dived in.  By the end of the meal, this crock was nearly emptied out.  Leftovers taste good hot or cold.

The truth is, adding butter and heavy cream to anything makes it taste wonderful.  This is not rocket science, or even gourmet giftedness.  By the way, I only recommend you employ this recipe on special occasions -- or you yourself may start to look like a vat of heavy cream.  Clearly, this recipe stretches the boundaries of a whole foods, plant-based diet.  This is holiday food, meant for feasting.

Butterika Sweet Potatoes
an original recipe by Kelly Jo Vanderstelt

In a large pot, boil 8-10 Sweet Potatoes, whole and unpeeled, until you can pierce slightly  into them with a fork and the skin peels away easily.  They do not need to be entirely soft, or they will get too mushy when warmed later with the sauce.  Firm is better.  I estimate this taking between 12 and 20 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of your potatoes.

While potatoes cook, grab a small pan and make the sauce.

  • Melt a Stick of Butter over medium heat.     Remove from heat and stir in:
  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 1/2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 2 Teaspoons Paprika
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Cumin
  • 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream

When potatoes are done, drain them and peel away the skins, slicing each sweet potato into 3/4" rounds.

Pour a couple of spoonfuls of sauce into a crock pot, then a layer of potatoes, then spoon a little sauce over the potatoes.  And so on and so forth, until everything is all used up.  Pour any remaining sauce over the top.

This can all be done a day ahead, if desired.

Heat through in crock pot on LOW for about 5-6 hours.

Serves 12.

05 April 2012

Easter Menu

For weeks now, I've been dreaming and plotting and planning and tweaking my Easter Sunday dinner menu.   Holidays are a perfect excuse for feasting on memorable food!  Every crock pot I own will be employed for this special meal.  I'm anticipating much laughter and culinary delight at the Vanderstelt table, which will be surrounded by ten dear friends and family members.  Celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings incredible purpose - not just to this day, but to my life.

Here's a sneak peak at my menu.  I'll be sure to snap a few pix and post more recipes after the big event.

Mediterranean Chicken will be the spotlight entree.  This was my kiddo's request, since this big dinner follows closely after her birthday.  This chicken is flavorful and appears very gourmet, roasted with dried apricots and plums, olive, capers, garlic and brown sugar.  Yet it's simple to prepare -- and reliably good.

Ham 'n' Cola, a tangy recipe from the Fix & Forget It cookbook
Wild Rice Medley, with garlic, ginger, onions and bell peppers
Sweet Potatoes swimming in my original Butterika Sauce
Mixed Vegetables, with a balsamic reduction
Spring Greens with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, carrot shreds, glazed pecans and honey-mustard dressing
Deviled Eggs
Jello Salad
Hot Cross Buns

Lemon Surprise Cake with sliced almonds, poppyseeds and warm Raspberry Sauce

Dinner is at 12:30 p.m.   Don't be late.

31 March 2012

Avocado with Greens

There's nothing quite like the creamy delight of a beautifully ripe avocado.  In Jamaica, avocados are considered "poor man's butter".  In America, I only buy them when they are less than a buck.  Scored a couple this week for 77 cents.  They were already black on the outside, so it was kind of a gamble.  Usually I like to purchase them firm and greenish, allowing them to ripen on my counter top.  You know they are ready when they are soft - but not mushy - to your touch.  Happily, mine turned out to be delish.

If you are an avocado newbie, here is the plan:  hold your avocado in one palm, carefully plunging your knife into the fruit horizontally, right up to the large pit in the center to break its black hard skin.  Go all the way around with your knife.  Then hold the avocado between both hands, twisting opposite directions. It should come apart easily, with the pit remaining in one half.  Set down that half, and with an assertive chop motion, strike the pit with a butcher knife.  You should be able to lift up your knife with the pit attached.  Then gently peel away the skin and slice up the lovely green goodness.  Your fingers may get a little soft green ooze on them.  If you lick it off, I won't tell.  Just be sure to sanitize your hands before continuing!!

When making anything with avocado, wait until just before serving as the avocado can turn black in oxygen (just like an apple).  Or gently submerge the slices for a moment in acidulated water - a cup or so of water with a good squeeze of lemon juice.

According to avocado.org,  "Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit."   Yes, avocados are known for their fat content, but you shouldn't hold that against them.  The fat in avocados cannot be compared to the fat in a hamburger or a piece of cheese.  We're talking apples and oranges.  It's simply not the same, and not a problem for your bod.  Unless you eat them all day long.

This salad came together in a few moments.  If your avocado is perfectly ripe, it'll taste magical.

Avocado with Greens
an original recipe by Kelly Jo Vanderstelt

Prepare this salad right on serving plates.  Portion sizes depend on your number of guests, and whether you want a big salad that stands alone as a meal itself, or a side salad.

Layer on plates:

  • A Handful of Fresh, Organic Greens.  I used Earthbound Farm's Baby Spinach and some Arugula, which has a peppery snap to it.  Spring greens would also be a good choice.
  • Tomato wedges
  • Sweet Onion, thinly sliced
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Chunks of Ripe Avocado
  • Fresh Cilantro Leaves, optional
  • A Pinch of Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
Drizzle with Dressing:  (These amounts make a modest portion.  Double if needed.)
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Vinegar.  I used balsamic and tarragon vinegars.
  • 1/2 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1+ Tsp. Agave Nectar
  • Additional Salt and Pepper, if desired.

29 March 2012

Tomato-Fennel Bisque

I'm back.

It's been a nice break.  More like a long-term hiatus -- almost two years!  During that time I've had something of an epiphany regarding health and nutrition.  Making changes has helped me regain my energy and enthusiasm for life.  I feel better and look worlds better, having lost quite a few numbers on my BMI.  Comfort food is still where my heart is, but now I'm serving up heart-healthier comfort food...in most cases, anyway.

Plenty of friends have encouraged me to return to blogging.  My hope is that all three or four of my cherished readers will cut me some slack and keep an open mind, since my new recipes will feature more vegetables and fruits and whole grains.  And - I'm sure - a few nutritional insights thrown in for good measure.  This way I can keep my renegade foody opinions from offending the Facebook gang.

Today's recipe is a warm, velvety soup that puts commercial tomato soups to shame.  Who wants all that corn syrup and chemicals in their broth, anyway?  If you haven't used fennel yet, welcome.  It's better over here.  While you're chopping away, take a nibble of your fennel stalk.  Talk about black jelly beans!

This soup would be perfect paired with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich...especially if it's a gooey grilled cheese sandwich made with Vermont White Cheddar, pumpkin seed pesto and thinly sliced tart apples.  So without further ado: Tomato-Fennel Bisque.

Tomato-Fennel Bisque
an original recipe by Kelly Jo Vanderstelt

In a medium soup pot, saute' in 2 Tbs. Olive Oil until tender, about 5-6 minutes:

  • 2 Stalks of Celery, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1 Fennel Bulb and a couple of Stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 an Onion, diced
Add to the soup pot:
  • 2 Cups Chicken Broth (or 2 Cups Water + 1 Tbs. Better than Bouillion Chicken or Vegetable)
  • 28 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbs. Brown Sugar  
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Paprika
  • 1 Tsp. Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then transfer two cups at a time to a blender and puree until smooth.  Use caution; hot liquids expand and build pressure in the blender.  Pour smooth mixture into another pot as you go.  (I know, what a hassle, an extra pot to wash!)

Heat soup through again, then stir in 1 Cup Half & Half.  This makes for a creamier, decadent soup.  Skip it if you didn't take a brisk walk today, or want a more vegan experience.

If desired, garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and a sprig of fresh fennel.

Makes about 6 modest portions.

26 June 2010

Cobb-Style Spinach Salad

Here's a salad that becomes the entire meal.  Grilled chicken, crispy bacon and ripe, juicy tomatoes are the featured guests over a bed of spinach greens.  If you have a salad-despising man in your life, perhaps he might cut this one a little slack.  My delectable herb dressing makes this Cobb-style Spinach Salad sing.  This dressing is also terrific to use as dip for a plate of snacking veggies.

While my family was recently away at camp, I enjoyed lunch for one on my front porch one lovely summer day. 

Cobb-Style Spinach Salad
an original rendition by Kelly Jo Vanderstelt


1.  Place in a large bowl or platter, in amounts that correspond with the size of your crowd (or use the following estimations):
  • Half a Bag of Spinach (or two huge handfuls)
  • 1-2 Cups Romaine, washed and chopped
2.  Arrange in rows on top of the greens:
  • 1-2 Cups grilled Chicken Breast, sliced into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/2 lb. Bacon, fried, cooled and crumbled up
  • 1 or more large Tomatoes, diced
  • 2-4 Hard-boiled Eggs, diced
  • 1 Cup or more Cucumber, diced
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper, diced
  • Any other desired vegetables, diced
  3.  Drizzle with Herbed Dressing just before serving.


Blend together in food processor or blender:
  • 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/8 Cup White Vinegar
  • 4 Tbs. Hellman's Mayonnaise
  • 4 Sliced Green Onions, all the way up through the green tops
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1/2 Tsp. Dill
  • 4 Leaves Fresh Basil (or use 1/4 Tsp. dried)
  • 1/8 Tsp. dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/8 Tsp. freshly ground Pepper               

21 June 2010

Not much cooking going on!

Okay, so I've been a little lazy lately.  Last week I took an unscheduled break from blogging to tackle a few timely projects, like painting the bedroom I'm getting ready for future foster kiddos.  Less cooking has been occurring in my kitchen, and the meals I have been making have been repeats...  I need to get my creative drive in gear again so I can keep posting new ideas for you.

Please check back at least once a week during the summer.  There should be something put up at least that often.  Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine - and pack a picnic supper for your family tonight!

08 June 2010

Spinach Salad Caprese

Caprese Salad is a thing of true beauty.  The red tomato contrasts with the milky fresh mozzarella and the particular snappy taste of Basil takes it to another appealing dimension.

I served my Caprese Salad on a bed of tender spinach leaves, garnished with chopped black olives and diced tomato.  The salad was devoured quickly at a birthday party, to my delight.  This salad can stand alone as a main dish, especially for lunch, or accompany your grilled meats this summer.

My recipe is not exact; you will need to use your instincts a little as you prepare the dressing.  Those of you who are natural, soulful cooks are doing this anyway...no one can stop you!  But those of you who are measurement-reliant will need to break out of your comfort zone and cut those apron strings.  It's okay to splash on some vinegar and drizzle an indeterminate amount of olive oil.  This is a safe exercise!  A pinch of salt, a turn or two of the pepper grinder - it's easy.  You cannot mess your salad up by donning an adventurous spirit.


Spinach Salad Caprese
an original recipe by Kelly Jo Vanderstelt

1.  Place a big handful - or two - of fresh Spinach on a large plate or platter.

2.  Layer around the perimeter of the plate continuously:
  • Tomatoes, sliced into wheels about 1/4" thick
  • Fresh Mozzarella, sliced about 1/4" thick  (can be found already pre-sliced, check on label)
  • A fresh Basil Leaf

3.  When your tomato-mozzarella-basil ring is complete, add the following onto the spinach leaves in the center:
  • Black Olives, sliced
  • More Tomato, diced
  • Chopped Basil Leaves
  • Anything else that appeals to you, such as sliced green onions, diced cucumber or zucchini, etc.

4.  Dress it to perfection:
  • Splashes of Balsamic Vinegar
  • Drizzled Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • A pinch of dried Oregano