Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Winter

Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi-pin.png

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi36.jpg

I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi47.jpg

This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi101.jpg

The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi2.jpg

Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi4.jpg

Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi6.jpg
sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi86.jpg

I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi23.jpg

I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi27.jpg
 

There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi73.jpg

Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

skeptical-about-this-b.gif

If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. If you sign up, you get a free guide to overcoming one of the biggest commonalities of people who say they're not good at cooking—and one of the easiest things to fix! Just click on the graphic below to sign up and download.

P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

4.png

Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi89.jpg

Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

sweet-onion-tomato-sauce-with-gnocchi35.jpg

Pumpkin Spice Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Breakfast, Fall, Make-ahead, Recipe, Slow Food, Winter, Vegetarian, Comfort FoodLeannda CavalierComment

Hearty steel-cut oats toasted in browned butter get the full pumpkin spice treatment with real pumpkin puree, serious spice and less sugar than your average PS treat. A batch can feed a brunch bunch, or be stored in the refrigerator for a week of healthy breakfasts.

pumpkin-steel-cut-oats-pinterest.png

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Too early to read the whole post: gimme that breakfast recipe already.

Two vital seasonal truths in my world right now: 1. Though we have left fall behind, I'm not yet finished with the pumpkin. 2. Though it's a new year and blah blah blah, it's TOO COLD for smoothie bowls. I need my breakfast to warm me up right now, thanks. 

One of my absolute favorite things to make for breakfast is steel-cut oats, and there are so many options out there. In fact, here's another recipe for apple-cinnamon steel-cut oats in case this one doesn't tickle your fancy.

Never made them? Nervous? Let me break it down for you:

How to cook steel-cut oats:

  1. Toast the oats in some butter or coconut oil over medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. Add about 3 cups boiling water for every 1 cup oats. 
  3. Cook on low for about half an hour.
  4. Add any flavorings and toppings you want.
  5. That's IT. 

The rest is playing with flavors, which is my spe-ci-al-i-ty.

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats23.jpg

Steel-cut oats have a lot of advantages over your typical rolled oats, some of them health-related. They retain more of their nutrients through being less processed. They take longer for you to digest, keeping you full longer. You know what else? They're chewier, roastier and nuttier--all things I'll take over "faster" 99 percent of the time.

Besides, you can just make these ahead and reheat them. I'd much rather make one big batch of hearty, flavorful steel-cut oatmeal at the beginning of the week than spend 5 minutes making decent quick oats every morning anyway.

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats2.jpg

P.S. I actually do like rolled oats... meal planning my breakfasts with blueberry rolled oats I could microwave every morning kept me sane at my last full-time job, plus they're great for pancakes and cookies. But steel-cut oats? Pumpkin ones? Those are the approachable but aspirational mornings I'm generally going for.

They also keep me full for more than 15 minutes without seconds, which is honestly pretty impressive.

As for the pumpkin, surprise! Pumpkins are still in season for the winter! 

We tend to attach pumpkins to fall, which is when they come into season, but the favorite among squashes really shouldn’t disappear the moment you take your jack-o-lantern off your doorstep. (You did remember to do that, right? It’s okay, this is a safe space.)

I wavered a little on whether to call this recipe “pumpkin steel-cut oats” or “pumpkin spice steel-cut oats”. Isn’t that stupid? Well in terms of search engine optimization it’s not, but I’m not even talking about that. I’m talking about all the crap women (and men brave enough to admit it) get for loving pumpkin spice.

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats8.jpg

My thoughts? Pumpkin spice is delicious and a little over-hyped. Yes, both can be true. 

I shamelessly love a good pumpkin spice latte, especially homemade or one from Starbucks (gasp!). Pumpkin pie? Definitely. Pumpkin spice bread? Yeah! Pumpkin spice bagel? Double yeah. Pumpkin spice muffin? Why not? 

I don’t tend to like PSLs from many other places because the syrup often tastes nothing like pumpkin, but ultra-sugary fireballs (the candy, not the drink). Specifically fireballs that have already had most of the coating worn off.

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats27.jpg

Other DOA pumpkin spice items for me include: gum, store-bought coffee creamers (actually those get a big no from me in general) and yogurt. No thank you, please. 

Anyway, maybe it's the seasonality, but pumpkin just feels like a special treat for me. There are plenty of reasons to use real pumpkin in your breakfast well past November. First, it’s delicious with said pumpkin spices. Second, you can easily store cans of it in your freezer. Third, lots of recipes call for a cup of pumpkin, and most cans come with 2.5 cups.

And hey, pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. 

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats12.jpg

This pumpkin spice steel-cut oats recipe is a great way to use leftover pumpkin puree if you’re anything like me and put it in the fridge with the best of intentions, but no solid plan. Wasted pumpkin is a sad sight (and a bad smell).

These steel-cut oats are so easy to put together, and most of the cook time only requires stirring every so often so the bottom doesn’t burn. Also know it’s okay if some oats do stick—I typically get a thin layer of them on the bottom of my dutch oven. 

I can usually get any stuck oats off pretty easily with a plastic scraper, but you can also put the empty pan back on the stove with some water and bring it to a boil to soften it up. The dutch oven pictured above is a 5.5 qt enameled cast-iron dutch oven from the Food Network. You don't have to use a dutch oven, but I like them for things that cook slowly like this. I also use mine almost daily anyway, so...

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats30.jpg

Usually I prefer my oatmeal a little lumpy with milk poured over, of course I know lots of people like creamier oats. If that's you, no problema! Just add more water or milk. You can add another cup in the beginning, or you could stir it in at the end if you decide it's too thick for you.

Sometimes if I'm reaaaaally hungry I'll make creamier just so the water the oats absorb will make me feel full faster—and sometimes I just do it because I'm in a creamy oatmeal mood. It's a thing, just go with it.  

You can top these with whatever you want, but I really love a pat of butter, pepitas (extra protein, extra crunch), maple syrup and a splash of milk. I put some suggestions down in the recipe itself. 

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats15.jpg
pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats53.jpg

If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. Everyone who signs up gets a freebie guide to getting organized in the kitchen, which is one of the biggest commonalities I see when people say they're not good at cooking—and one of the easiest things to fix! Just click on the graphic below to sign up and download. 

P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Let's get simmering!

pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats-facebook.png
pumpkin-spice-steel-cut-oats19.jpg

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

New Year's lentil soup with sausage meatballs

Holiday, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This savory Italian-inspired soup is filled with earthy lentils, infused with aromatic herbs and peppered with tender meatballs. Lentils are a New Year's tradition, but this soup is great anytime.

lentil-soup-with-sausage-meatballs-pinterest.png

I'll reflect later, give me the recipe now!

Happy New Year! What are your New Year's resolutions?

I have mixed feelings on New Year's Eve and New Years. On the one hand, I think it's a little overblown. Reasons: I already stay up past midnight most days, I'd rather drink hot chocolate by the fire than go out and I already set expectations for myself I can't possibly meet without a holiday to mark the occasion.

On the other hand, I do think it's nice to have a symbolic check-in where you can create a blank slate along with all the other people trying to do the same. It's a good time for people who go 100 mph to stop in the quiet days after earlier holidays and reflect on what's working and what's not. 

Keeping things real with New Years Resolutions is a tough balance to strike, and it can get ugly fast.

i-can-has-it-all.gif

I know I said I don't need a holiday to tell me to set my expectations, but that's only half-right if I'm being honest. As a strategic communicator in my day-jobs, I'm always setting deadlines and benchmarks to measure against—otherwise how do you even measure whether you were successful or refine your strategy? How do you stay intentional? 

As a human, I should do that more in my own life. 

I'm thinking about that a lot right now, especially after this particular holiday season. I typically go all out baking and making food as gifts, but this year I just couldn't do it. I had too much on my plate, and didn't finish up my work from the fall in time before we set out on our holiday travels. 

Some of my favorites to make are salted, nutella-stuffed, browned butter chocolate chip cookies; peppermint hot chocolate mix; peppermint marshmallows; salted bourbon caramels and my favorite: povitica. Povitica (po-va-teet-sa) is a magical Croatian swirled bread stuffed with walnuts, chocolate and cinnamon. I started making it about four years ago as a way to connect with my roots, and it's become a tradition. An incredibly labor-intensive tradition where I spend two days making five delicate, twirly loaves. 

povitica.jpg

Had to skip it too. It was the bread, or my sanity. Considering Christmastime is when I finally see all my family and friends, I needed the sanity. I'll send the bread later. 

I don't think we should be too tough on ourselves or beat ourselves up, but it's always good to consider what's actually realistic and give ourselves time to make it work. So, as much as I don't want to make it too big a deal, a year is a pretty good checkpoint. You have the symbolism of the cycling seasons, the restful few days to think (if you're lucky) and other people doing the same thing to help you get excited and keep you accountable.

Ready to set goals you'll actually reach? Start here.  

One year, five steps.

It might sound odd, but all of that ties perfectly into this recipe for lentil soup with sausage meatballs. Symbolism, tradition, realism, slowing down and hey, getting excited! Because this soup is really, really good. 

Eating lentils after midnight on New Year's is considered good luck in Italy, and the legumes have similar symbolic meanings around the world. The coin-shaped pulses represent good luck and prosperity to Italians, and are often served with pork sausage, stuffed trotters and other pig-based products because pigs root forward. Other cultures focus on the circular shape of the lentils as well, but they associate it more with the circle of life itself rather than fortune. 

Beyond that, lentils are incredibly nutritious and accessible, as hearty crops with plenty of vegetable protein. They've been a staple of multiple cultures' diets for thousands of years for a reason. 

lentil_soup_with_sausage_meatballs13.jpg

Prosperity, luck, forward-motion, health, life cycles. What's more New Year's than that? 

Well, if you're like me, a strong dose of realism. In life, that means trying to set goals I can actually achieve and reasonable time-frames. In this recipe, it means that I'm not making stuffed pig trotters with my lentil soup. Not that I have anything against it, and I'm not saying I would never make it or try it. Maybe I will one day, but it's just not going to become a tradition in the Cavalier house. 

More realistic? Sausage meatballs. Yes, please. Accessible. Simple. Still symbolic. 

lentil_soup_with_sausage_meatballs4.jpg

It's also so, so delicious. The earthy, peppery French puy lentils go beautifully with the mirepoix, tomatoes, herbs and spinach to finish. The meatballs add a kick to keep things interesting. Plus, for those of you who care, it's a pretty healthy start for the year. No, it's not plain leek soup, but it's balanced. Nutritious and filling and tasty. It's a great meal to ease you into good habits, as going cold-turkey is a change that's unlikely to stick or make you very happy in the meantime. 

And hey, if you don't eat lentil soup with sausage meatballs at midnight, don't see it as a missed opportunity, because this recipe is fantastic anytime for any reason. Tomorrow is just as good for a fresh start as any. 

lentil_soup_with_sausage_meatballs11.jpg

I actually intended to post this recipe last year, but didn't because the photos weren't what I wanted, which set up a whole string of posts I meant to put up at a certain time, and failed to do so. I also had hoped to get it up a little earlier this year. Another dose of that realism for me. I didn't give myself enough time or understanding, and things... spiraled.

Something I'm working on this year ;). For now, I'm mulling it over while the soup simmers.

I've been making lentil soup with meatballs for New Year's for several years, and just like me, it's evolved quite a bit. I've used different type of lentils, herbs, ground meats, proportions—I'll spare you all the nitty-gritty details for now. 

I'm sure it will continue to evolve, whether it's me making more changes, or you putting your own spin on this dish in your kitchen. 

lentil_soup_with_sauage_meatballs21.jpg

I hope you set realistic but ambitious goals for yourself this year, and I hope you reach them with a healthy dose of hard work and patience. I hope you're intentional both in your strides and staying present in the moment. Finally, I hope you have the year you want, with plenty of joy among the ups and downs. 

If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear from you and see it! Leave a comment below, or take a picture and tag me on social media—mine are in the links below if you want to connect!

P.S. Feel free to leave your resolutions in the comments to put it in writing ;)

So let's get simmering!

West Virginia creamed turkey

Dinner, Comfort Food, Recipe, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

Savory turkey in a rich, creamy sauce is perfect over flaky biscuits and mashed potatoes. Pimentos add unexpected brightness. This West Virginia favorite is the ultimate comfort food, and the best way to use leftover turkey.

west-virginia-creamed-turkey.png

My mouth is watering—jump to the recipe, please!

I would imagine most kids don't exactly look forward to "hot lunch" days. I know I was probably ambivalent at best most of the time, but in the Brooke County, West Virginia school system, there was one day everyone counted down to: creamed turkey day. Chills.

When I say everyone, I do mean everyone—students, teachers, staff, I even remember some friends timing their visits back from college to have it—cafeterias were standing room only. The only other hot lunches I can remember getting a sniff were pizza turnovers and chicken fries.

When creamed turkey came up on the school lunch schedule, you circled it in red marker. It even got a shout-out in my high school yearbook. 

west-virginia-creamed-turkey-with-biscuits-and-mashed-potatoes.jpg

Luckily for me, creamed turkey wasn't just a school treat. It was one of my Ya-ya's specialties. I'm not sure exactly how far it goes back, but I know she got it from her mother, my Nee-nee. Born out of frugality, this rustic recipe was created to use up and stretch out holiday leftovers so nothing would go to waste. Over the years it’s become a tradition just as important as the main event. 

west-virginia-creamed-turkey40.jpg

This is actually the first time my family's version has been put to paper, or even quantified into exact measurements. My Ya-ya taught me how to make creamed turkey after I moved to Tennessee. I'd never really been homesick before, but then again I'd never lived out of state, even if I was hours from home. West Virginia has a sense of place that I didn't realize was so strong until I started feeling like I wasn't fully a part of it anymore. Recipes like this help me feel rooted no matter where I am. 

Our Weese family recipe is a unique in that it uses pimentos. I love the unexpected brightness they bring to this dish, which is rightly heavy. I mean, it's mountain-region comfort food, right? We serve it over mashed potatoes and biscuits for the full effect. 

If you're a little wary of this, I honestly don't blame you. If this wasn't a childhood favorite, I'd think it was a little suspect. The first time I saw it I was a towhead, gap-toothed, tartan-uniformed little girl in St. John (the Evangelist) School's noisy K-8 cafeteria. So much peer pressure with the older kids around, but I was not an easy sell.

west-virginia-creamed-turkey3.jpg

On the beige, segmented tray it looked... odd. Okay, it looked like slop. DELICIOUS slop. I wasn't that picky an eater, but I was a kindergartener—I sulked and ate the mashed potatoes, biscuits and plasticky peas around the creamed turkey. At some point I accidentally got a little of the gravy on my fork. Then I accidentally got a little more.

Then I devoured pretty much all of it like food was a new concept.

As an adult, I don't generally go out of my way looking for such hearty food, and I would imagine it looks off-putting to newbies. I made some for my parents-in-law last month when they visited and not gonna lie, I was a little relieved when they said it looked delicious before tasting it. 

west-virginia-creamed-turkey37.jpg

My father-in-law says creamed turkey was a big event at his school in Southern West Virginia as well, made from one of his teachers' recipe for special occasions. His mother asked for the recipe and made it since her three boys loved it so much. I'd guess it's probably a fairly similar recipe, though they ate it over toast. 

A little extra I've added to our family's recipe is infusing a little thyme and sage into the cream sauce. It's totally optional, but it's an easy addition and I think it's worth it. Herbs make pretty much everything taste (and smell) better. Thyme is a fragrant chameleon, and I think sage may have actually been made for this.

west-virginia-creamed-turkey31.jpg

One of the great things about creamed turkey is that, as with most recipes, it can teach you how to make so many other recipes. You could do this with chicken, with veggies, or if you make it with beef and mushrooms you have your own version of beef stroganoff. Step 6 alone can help you thicken just about any soup or stew with a flour slurry (use cold water instead of hot cooking liquid for a cornstarch slurry). Just keep it in your back pocket. 

The tip, not the soup. Don't put soup in any of your pockets. 

I mentioned in my last post that this would be a bonus recipe for this week. That was... Tuesday? It's the holidays and we've been making our way to family things and trying to get all our shopping in since we don't exactly have free time in the fall. It's Sunday, and according to my personal calendar, that's the same week. Please forgive me if you don't agree. Make this if you need a more persuasive argument—I'm confident it will help my case.

Let's whip some up!

west-virginia-creamed-turkey-fb.png

Maple brown sugar pavlova with raspberry compote

Fall, Baking, Dessert, Recipe, WinterLeannda Cavalier2 Comments

A light and airy dessert with fluffy maple brown sugar meringue, velvety maple whipped cream, and tangy raspberry compote. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova-pinterest

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least I've researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy—I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy and use myself. Please reach out if you have any questions!

I'm just here for the dessert, man. Jump to the recipe, please.

We are waist-deep in the season of all-pumpkin-everything. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin butter, pumpkin festivals and, of course, pumpkin pie. Listen. I love pumpkin. I love all the things previously mentioned. Give me a pumpkin spice latte float with pumpkin ice cream, I'll drink it happily! Do not doubt my pumpkin devotion. 

That being said, if you're ready to change up your sweets menu, I get it. Autumn brings us so many more flavors to play with, and honestly there is such a thing as taste fatigue. That's exactly why I came up with maple pavlova with raspberry compote.

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova28.jpg

After so many heavy, ultra-sugary, dense desserts, I needed something completely different. Pavlova was in my mind, and maple syrup was in my fridge. Mad food scientist mode: engage. 

Pavlova is a light and fluffy dessert with a crisp exterior, a marshmallowy interior and contested origins. Everyone seems to agree it was created for prima ballerina Anna Pavlova sometime in the early 20th century, but the where is less clear. Some say the first one was made in New Zealand, some say Australia, some even say the United States. I won't speculate, as I'm mostly interested in it's uncontested deliciousness.

Take a minute to look at this thing. It's imperfect—ahem, rustic—but that give it a beautiful quality more composed desserts can't quite recreate. Curious that it was made for a ballerina, because it's more the dancing scene from Harriet the Spy than Swan Lake. 

A wild little cloud of deliciousness. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova29.jpg

It's not exactly a meringue, but it's in the family. Meringues are typically a fairly uniform texture–crispy and crumbly throughout. Pavlova, on the other hand is soft and cushiony in the middle. It's typically dressed with whipped cream and fruit, which is what first drew me to it. I was looking for a light dessert I could make in a summer I knew would be swimming-heavy. I stumbled across a recipe for chocolate swirl pavlova with raspberries, and I've made my version of it more times that I can count. For parties, for family and at least twice, around midnight for no real reason. 

One of the things I love most about pavlova is that it simultaneously feels light and incredibly decadent. Actually, the way I make it probably has something to do with that. I almost always layer one on top of another, drizzle a ton of melted dark chocolate over and grate more chocolate on top...

Anyway, the wafers (for lack of a better word) combined with the whipped cream melt in your mouth, and the contrast between crisp and creamy keep things rich and interesting. The longer it sits in the refrigerator, the softer the wafers become, but in a good way. Almost like eating a really light mousse pie. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova13.jpg

But... raspberry and maple?

You may be questioning the maple-raspberry combo, and I don’t blame you, but I swear they go together. I did it on my own to see how it would be, but later found out it’s an actual thing. They’re listed together in Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible, which is about as legit as you can get. 

 Me too, Pete, me too. 

Me too, Pete, me too. 

You can always make this without the raspberry compote. I've done it both ways, and both are great. Still, the maple and raspberry are really fun together, and I mean, why not? 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova15.jpg

Whipping it up, in practice

Pavlova is pretty easy to make, but there are some things to pay attention to if you're a baking newbie. First measure the ingredients exactly. Second, be mindful of how things look and feel at all times. It's really important that the batter is set up correctly when you bake it. 

Stiff peaks are what you're looking for, and I do mean stiff peaks. When you bounce the whisk lightly into the surface of the batter, pull it up, and flip it upside down. The peaks that form should be short and stand straight up. If you plunge it too far, the peaks will still be long and soft, so make sure you’re doing it lightly. In this case, over-beating is better than under-beating. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova2.jpg

I actually find the look of the batter itself to be a better indicator. Make sure the mixture is shiny and a little silvery—pearlescent. It should look almost like a cross between marshmallow cream and extremely thick shaving cream. The air you’ve beaten in is so well incorporated that the batter is rich and smooth, and when you move a spatula through or pile up spoonfuls, it holds its shape. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova3.jpg
maple-brown-sugar-pavlova.jpg

When cooked, the pavlova should be light and airy. The outside should be crisp and crumbly, and the inside should be soft and a little spongey, but still lighter than angel food cake. All of it should melt in your mouth. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova5.jpg

In this recipe I use cake pans because pavlova does best when all parts are baked very consistently. If one of the wafers is getting more heat than the other, you might run into two very different layers. Maybe event a burnt one. The cake pans guarantee you can fit both wafers on the same rack of a standard oven. If you're willing to risk it though, you can definitely try using sheet pans on different racks. I've done it that way as well, and it can be done. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova10.jpg

If you do use the cake pans, I recommend cutting down the parchment paper into rounds just a couple inches wider than the pan, and pressing it into the bottom as best you can. If you leave it in big sheets, the edges tend to pop up and the bottom of the wafers won't bake flat. 

Baking in the pans does make the sides a little less smooth-looking than a typical pavlova, but I actually like the way it looks both ways. Either way, the pavlova should peel away from the parchment paper fairly easily if baked correctly. 

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova8.jpg

One of the best things about this recipe is that you can make the wafers and the compote ahead. The meringue part can be made the day before, and the compote can be made several days before. You could technically make the whipped cream ahead too, but I think that part is best fresh, and takes no time to whip up. 

Question for you: Have you signed up for my email list yet? I sent out emails every time I post a recipe, and soon I'll send out a poll to see what else you want to get in email. Want recipe roundups? Curated articles and tips? Something else? Sign up and let me know!

When you sign up, you'll automatically receive the WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place, a PDF I put together to show you the secret to getting every recipe right, every time. Just click below for a free download. I hope you like it!

Hey, one more thing: I want to hear from you! Wanna make this recipe? I'd love to see your photos on social media! Just tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. You can even try out the "tried" feature on Pinterest! Have questions about it? I'm happy to answer them in the comments or through email. 

Have an unrelated question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

So let's get baking!

maple-brown-sugar-pavlova-facebook.png

THE poblano green chicken chili

Mexican, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This comforting chili is packed with layer after layer of flavor. Smoky roasted peppers and garlic mingle with rich tomatillos, silky beans and tender chicken for a complex but familiar flavor. Poblano peppers, known best for chiles rellenos, lead the way with soft, savory heat. 

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili-pin.png

Listen. To my stomach audibly growl. Give. Me. THE. Recipe. 

This recipe is not just chili. This is THE Chili.

This is The Chili people will ask after year-round, and long after that. 

The reason this chili is soooooo-so-so-so-so-so good is because it has so many layers of flavor. We’re not just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping they turn into something good. We’re using techniques to make sure we get extra flavor packed in at every step.

This is a fairly complex recipe in terms of flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult! It just means it takes some time and patience. It’s not fancy, it’s made with love.

And it's unbelievably good.

Chili, as you likely know, is a Mexican dish. But, in terms of technique, it can technically be considered a ragout. Makes sense since both are known as slow-simmering, legendary, magnum opuses in countless households. Ritualized and handed down. These dishes aren't just dinner; they're events in and of themselves.  

 Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Both chili and ragout originated as a way to turn tough cuts of meat and other abundant ingredients into something people would actually want to eat, or more accurately, something people beg for. It's evolved quite a bit over time and space, and there's so much variation. I personally use four separate recipes for different moods, occasions and time constraints. 

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili18.jpg

Good chili comes down to a feeling for me. 

When I take a bite—no matter where I actually am—I want to feel like I'm sitting by a fire, under a blanket, surrounded by my favorite people. I want it to be warming and smoky. Thick and rich. Complex and comforting. I want tangy pieces of vegetables, savory-smooth bites of beans and soft, tender bits of meat.

We've smelled this labor of love cooking for hours, mouths watering, and we've earned it. With our patience if nothing else. 

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili25.jpg

So what makes this chili embody that feeling? 

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili.jpg
  • Tomatillos and chili peppers are both rich in pectin (the thing that makes jams jiggle), so they make for a thick, gravy-like sauce. That’s one of the things that makes this chili so rich and comforting.
  • We take advantage of the maillard browning reaction that happens when you sear things, both on the chicken itself and in the bottom of the pan. The chicken also cooks in the simmering pot, so the inside stays tender and falls apart further after we chop it. 
  • ROASTED PEPPERS. As I've said in my tutorial on roasting peppers, roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin, enhances sweetness, both the flavor and the texture get richer, and while the flavor intensifies, the piquancy softens. Oh, and this goes double for green peppers, which aren't ripe. 
  • Roasted GARLIC. Ditto. Ditto
  • White and light red kidney beans are like turning silk pillows in a bite of chili. You're still warm and cozy, but you need smooth, cool respite. 
  • India Pale Ale adds a pleasantly hoppy punch that balances out the savory-sweet flavors and heat we've built. It's bitter in a fruity way, like grapefruit. Trust me, you want it there. 

Get ready. I'm about to walk into a fire much hotter than roasted poblanos. 

fire.gif

As with most beloved things, people have some opinions on chili.

Some keywords here: authenticity, purist, genuine, classic, never, always, must... you get the idea.

Depending on who you ask, chili with tomatoes isn't chili. Chili should NEVER have beans. Chili isn't made with ground beef. I'm honestly not sure where they stand on chicken chili or chili verde (which is what this is, for the record).  

Personally, I don't care as long as it tastes good. 

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili4.jpg

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate authenticity for what it is. It's fun to try foods as they originated, and to compare them to what they've evolved into, or how it's translated into a different region/culture/family/etc. I admire people who resist the temptation to complicate things or change to please a broader audience. I'll travel for that experience (or at the very least, turn on the Food Network). 

That said, I think it sucks when people turn their nose up at other versions of food just because it's not the original. If we stuck to the original on everything, every time, food would get real boring, real fast. If an iteration strays too far, we'll just name it accordingly.

This chili is not authentic. It has beans. White ones. The base is made of roasted tomatillos. I didn't travel to Mexico and get a recipe from somebody's great-grandmother (and if I did I would credit it to her!). This was just me deciding one day I was going to try making green chicken chili instead of red, picking ingredients I thought would be good, and coaxing them into giving me all the qualities I want in my bowl. 

Feel free to decide this isn't chili if that's your thing. But you should probably try it anyway. Let me know if you have suggestions for what to call my not chili. I won't use them, but you're welcome to.

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili8.jpg

Warning!

If you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot looking for something for dinner tonight—so hungry you could eat a moose—this is not the recipe for today. Seriously! Bookmark it for a day when you have plenty of time, and move on to something simpler for tonight. How about some nice chicken paillard instead?

One more time for the people in the back! Don't rush this one. Set aside an afternoon.

It’s so worth it. I promise. 

Another important note: this calls for roasted peppers and roasted garlic. I linked to the methods for those in both here and ingredient list. Please be certain to check that out for two reasons:

1. So you don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend making this.

2. So you don’t spend half an hour in the grocery store looking for pre-roasted peppers and garlic. For the record, you can buy roasted red peppers, but they are usually in brine or oil, which changes the texture and taste, and that doesn’t really work in this recipe. 

Remember, patience is a virtue.

What's your favorite chili ever? Is it a family recipe? From a chili-fest? Comment and let me know! I'm open to chili of all kinds (I think...).

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

Let's get this chili simmering already!

the-poblano-green-chicken-chili
the-poblano-green-chicken-chili14.jpg
the-poblano-green-chicken-chili12.jpg

If this recipe seems like it has too many moving parts to pull off, I get it. But if it sounds good to you, I'd really love to see you try it! I may be able to help you out with that. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it. 

Ravioli with pea pesto sauce

Adaptable for Vegetarians, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Pasta, Dinner, Winter, SpringLeannda CavalierComment

I'm in a hurry. Jump to the recipe, please. 

Since the beginning of the year, I've been cleaning out my kitchen to make things organized, clean and fresh. It's something I highly recommend, and I try to do it every few months.  

If you're like me, you probably find a lot of odds and ends you forgot about when you clean out your freezer. Half a cup of mango with freezer burn. Overripe bananas you meant to bake into bread. Things you froze to avoid wasting... and end up having to throw away because you kept it too long. 

Maybe you even have some UFOs—unidentified frozen objects. 

I've gotten a little better about this over the last few years. This time around I did find a few things I wanted to get rid of to make room for new additions, so I've been planing ways to use them up. 

One of those things was bag of peas leftover from making vegetable soup. They were still good, but a little past their prime. I happened to have some pesto in the fridge and some sausage ravioli in the freezer, so I decided to make a pea pesto cream sauce.

I'm gonna be honest with you here. It was SO much better than I thought it was going to be. Isn't it magical when that happens? It was rich and cheesy, but somehow bright and fresh. The basil and lemon juice gave the old peas new life. 

About that frozen ravioli...

As much as I shout to the rooftops about homemade being best and unprocessed foods, I believe processed foods do have their place. 

One of the staples of my freezer is frozen pasta, and I love to pick up refrigerated pasta from the grocery store every once in a while. You can get shockingly good store bought ravioli and tortellini these days. Some of my favorite selections are at Earth Fare, Trader Joes, and sometimes Sam's Club. Even the store in my small town has a decent selection.

I can think of few things that taste better than homemade pasta, and I still believe homemade is best... but making it takes time, counter space, and patience. I recommend you try it at some point. If you do, I think you'll realize it's not a mythical feat.

That being said, I'm not here to judge you if you buy it pre-packaged.

When you buy, just read the label and make the best choices you can. Here are a few common-sense guidelines on what to look for:

  • Refrigerated pasta with a close expiration date is a good sign, as it probably doesn't rely heavily on preservatives. The shorter the shelf-life, the more likely it is that valuable nutrients haven't been removed or altered to make them last longer. Read the packaging to see whether it mentions the use (or lack) of preservatives.
  • Pasta made in-store or locally was likely made recently (maybe even that day) with high-quality, whole ingredients. The more minimally processed and less transport, the better.
  • If it's made in small batches, even better. This suggests a person made it and that the recipe was created for quality, not manufactured for the masses.
  • Check for standard nutrition information such as sodium and sugar content, as that can be a drawback of processed food. 
  • Pay attention to how many ingredients there are, and how many you don't recognize or can't pronounce. This isn't gospel, but the more there are, the more processed it probably is.
  • Bonus points if the ingredients are local and don't include antibiotics or added hormones. 

All that being said, if it looks good and you want to eat it...

Do it! Even if it doesn't meet the above criteria. Just don't eat it every night and you'll be fine.

Being aware of what you're eating and making the best choices possible is great, but a bit of pre-made of pasta every once in a while isn't going to automatically give you cardiovascular/metabolic disease (or make you fat). Just be sensible. Don't overdo it or rely on it. 

When you eat it, don't feel guilty. Eat it slowly, savor every bite and appreciate it. 

Now, let's get cooking.

Now that I've shared, it's your turn! Tell me what role processed foods play in your life. Do you try to stick to minimally processed or unprocessed foods? Do you not care either way? Is this something you think about?  I'm so curious to know your thoughts, so let me know in the comments. 

If you make this dish, let me know! Leave a comment below, or post it on Instagram and mention @leanndacavalier and #whipsmartkitchen! I want to see you get cooking!

 

 

Holiday baked brie with rosemary-infused cranberry sauce

Holiday, Party, Fall, Recipe, Vegetarian, WinterLeannda CavalierComment
holiday-baked-brie-with-rosemary-infused-cranberry-sauce

Christmas may be over, but we still have some of the holiday season to go.

Now, I know everyone's getting ready to "detox" and "start the new year with a new you." I'm with you (kind of), but listen: moderation is your friend. Deprivation? Not so much. More on that later, but don't skip this one just because 2017 is going to be the year you REALLY stick to boiled chicken and greens.

This appetizer would be perfect for a new years party. Decadent and cheesy, but "together" and so much more fun than some store-bought cheeseball. If you don't care about all that, throw it out the window, because it's freaking delicious. 

I've made this for several parties and the reaction is always, "what is THAT?!" Cut a sliver out and the wide eyes are joined by dropped jaws, watering mouths and reaching hands.

Pierce through the crisp crust, and meet tangy-sweet, gooey cranberry sauce mixing with buttery, salty, melty brie. Bits of lightly browned, pastry. The smell. Smother. It. On. A. Cracker. Now. Lizard brain. I wish I had a picture of this, but the last few times I've made it, it's been torn apart before I even got the chance. 

The rosemary and orange along with the cranberry give it the aroma every holiday party should have. 

I will say I've made mini versions just to snack on at home. I won't say how many times.

(It's a bunch of times.)

Slate ran a series a few years ago with new rules for party guests and hosts: never bring brie to a party, ever again. Fighting words, those. The writer argues American brie is a pasteurized disgrace to what a true Brie should be.

He's not wrong. It's worth reading and considering, especially if you're interested in how safety regulations affect our food for better or worse

Here's the thing: I've never been to France. I don't know if I'll ever be in France. I've never had access to a "proper" brie. I don't know if I ever will.  

I am discerning and try to get the best quality I can out of what I buy. I learn all I can and try to be aware of what is and what is not authentic, traditional, "correct," and so on. But there's only so much thinking, learning and searching most of us can do before we need to pick a cheese already.

The brie he's talking about? The adulterated disappointment? It's pretty good. It's REALLY good when baked into a pastry with cranberry sauce. Maybe I'm compromising here, but I like to enjoy my life. Enjoying cheese I have access to and like instead of pining for something I can't get is something that doesn't bother me too much. 

Not to say that I wouldn't go on a "real" brie hunt if the opportunity presented itself. 

Also, as curious as I am to try a cheese that tastes undeniably like broccoli, I'm pretty sure it would suck with cranberry sauce. Guess I'd have to create another recipe for that. 

Enjoy—the cheese and life in general. 

holiday_baked_brie_rosemary_cranberry-sauce