Whip Smart Kitchen

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

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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High-rise buttermilk biscuits supreme

Breakfast, Method, Baking, Recipe, Slow FoodLeannda CavalierComment

Flaky, buttery biscuits in a golden crust that rise like champs. They're perfect solo with some butter and jam, or with my personal favorite comfort food—creamed turkey.

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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 it trustworthy—I would never recommend anything I wouldn't use myself. Please reach out if you have any questions!

I'm just here for the biscuits and I've already scrolled through 106 photos. Jump to the recipe.

I'm not quite sure how we got to December, but here we are. It's probably a little tired to talk about how the years whir by faster the older you get, but it always seems to surprise me regardless. This is about the time my work starts to slow down and I get to relax and spend time doing the things I love.

JUST KIDDING. I'm panicking about how much baking I can get finished, trying to finish Christmas shopping (I'll start in September next year... is probably a lie), packing frantically and trying to get some recipes photographed last-minute. Oh, and telling everybody else in my life not to sweat the small stuff I'm sweating. 

Despite being hopelessly overcommitted (re: nutso), I have been trying to find ways to tie in reflection and gratefulness into my work here. Which is how we landed on biscuits. 

Biscuits supreme is a recipe I grew up on. It’s a favorite in my Ya-ya’s recipe box, given to her by her mother, my Nee-nee. If you search "biscuits supreme”, you’ll get a good number of similar biscuit recipes with slight variations. As far as I can tell, the original came from a midcentury Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and like so many other recipes, was passed down through countless families like a delicious game of telephone. 

On a Christmas visit, shortly after I moved to Tennessee, my Ya-ya gave me the recipe printed on an index card in her angular handwriting—one of the few family recipes we have that's actually written down with measurements and full instructions.

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I wish my handwriting was half as interesting as hers, or my great aunt’s whimsical swooping letters. Both should be fonts. I've tried for years to copy them from sticky notes and birthday cards to make my own version, but it's never quite right.

I'm better at emulating their cooking skills, which brings us back to biscuits. To round out the connection, I do like to experiment with things to put my own spin on them. Millennials, amirite?

Why mess with a good thing? Because butter.

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I reaaaaally wanted to use butter. The original recipe calls for shortening, which I’m not opposed to using, but I do try to keep use of heavily processed ingredients to a minimum. It was a product of it's time and it makes total sense here, but butter brings the flakiness in a way shortening can't. 

 

The first time I tried to make biscuits (not my family’s recipe, a random one I found online), I ended up with a crunchy disc. Pretty tasty… but more like a cookie than a biscuit. English biscuit? Um, maybe (no). Definitely not making the cut in Tennessee or West Virginia. 

These biscuits on the other hand. These. Biscuits. Tall and tan and flaky and buttery. These are the biscuits from Ipanema.

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Butter makes a difference because as it cooks, it turns to steam and leaves pockets. That’s why the best biscuits have streaks around the middle like the dough is stacked in layers—it is! The thing is, using butter isn’t enough.

If you just mix the butter in any way you want, those pockets won’t form. If you want flaky, pull-apart layers, you need the right technique. Conventional advice I’ve always heard says to cut cold butter in, then mix it in with your fingers until you have pea-sized chunks.

The misshapen one with the arrowhead-shaped top is the last cut, made of scraps. If you're worried about presentation, just skip it (or make it and scarf it down directly out of the oven before anyone sees it). 

The misshapen one with the arrowhead-shaped top is the last cut, made of scraps. If you're worried about presentation, just skip it (or make it and scarf it down directly out of the oven before anyone sees it). 

It's a good start, but there’s a better way if you want a next-level biscuit. I looked to one of my favorite books, Cooks Illustrated's The Science of Good Cooking for some sage advice. 

I think the biggest help the book offers is the idea of fraisage and lamination—stay with me here, we’re not talking about covering it with plastic. We’re talking flattening the butter and folding it into the dough in layers in this form of lamination, meanwhile fraisage is a French technique where you smear butter into a dough with the heel of your hand. Think about the buttery strips when you tear into a croissant, or a pie crust falling apart and melting in your mouth. Mmmm. 

The book suggests flattening the butter rather than breaking it up into pea-sized chunks, keeping it nice and cold until baking time and folding the dough over onto itself several times. 

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We'll do a rustic version, because as much as I love learning about food science, most people probably don’t want cooking to feel like lab work. I’d personally love to work in a test kitchen, but I’m pretty short on time most days in real life. 

Besides, sometimes I just want to feel more artist than scientist, you know? We’ll riff on it. 

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My family’s recipe already used two of the book’s tips. First, a little shortening is actually a good thing. I’ve always seen shortening as a) one of those supposedly healthy fats that turned out to be worse than butter, and b) a foolproof way to make dough come together. Butter is difficult to work with, but shortening is hard to mess up. 

That is true, but it’s also a hasty generalization. I teach public speaking, so we can't have that. Turns out it serves a separate purpose too—it helps keep the biscuits tender by reducing the moisture content and forming a weaker gluten structure. Weak gluten = tender. Who knew?

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Our family recipe also features two leaveners, which the book recommends, in the form of baking powder and cream of tartar. I left the leaveners the same, but I changed the milk to buttermilk, which changes the acidity and reacts to them a little differently. I think it balanced out pretty well. 

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It's fun looking at how these recipes handed down through the years stand up to science-based techniques. Possibly one of the most fun things is that you don't have to care if you like it the way you already do it. There's rarely only one "right" way to do something. 

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I love my family's classic biscuit recipe, and I love that my Ya-ya makes them for me with creamed turkey when I come home. I love how simple the recipe is to put together. I love that it tastes like what her family sat down to eat during a time I can only imagine. I love reading it in her handwriting and hearing the instructions the way my Nee-nee must have taught her. 

It's also incredible that knowing the concepts of lamination and fraisage help me understand croissants, pie crust, puff pastry, certain breads, other biscuits, scones... and they get me thinking about how I can play with other recipes for a similar effect. Is it possible to make a biscuit or croissant cookie hybrid? Is that already a thing people are standing in line for in Brooklyn? What would you call it? I just googled what I thought it would be called, and that is a different thing. Don't worry about it.

Allow me to distract you with an action shot: 

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This week is super-fun because I'll be posting TWO recipes. I've been pretty inconsistent lately, I know. I doubt anyone is visiting daily to see if I've updated (though, please tell me if you do, because I will die), but I do want to at least follow my own content calendar. I have this anxiety that my strategic communications students will find my blog and berate me for not sticking to the standards I hold them to.

"Mrs. Cavalier, you're not posting consistently enough," they say, in my anxiety-fueled nightmares. "Did you even set objectives? No one is going to stick around if you don't give them content to come back for and serve them. That's what you said."

YES I SAID IT. And it's true. Class, if you're here, it takes SO long to grade your stuff. I love you all anyway. And to anyone who does come here regularly, I really am sorry. I'm working on it. Did I mention I'm also a football sideline reporter and caterer on the weekends? Because this has been a long, rough semester. 

Anyway, I submitted final grades at about 3 a.m. Saturday, and I'm ready to get back to work. That's why later this week I'm posting a recipe for one of my favorite recipes ever: creamed turkey.

Yuuuup Brooke County (West Virginia) people, get ready.  

If that sounds a little suspect to you, I get it. But I promise, creamed turkey is legendary. It is the comfort food of comfort foods. 

While you're here, I'd love to hear what your favorite family recipes are! Let me know in the comments at the end of this post what recipe is most treasured in your family, and whether you've tried it out for yourself. 

If you make this biscuit recipe, I'd love to hear about it! Just comment below, or post a photo to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tag me! You could also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest. I'm always happy to answer questions as well. 

Let's make some biscuits!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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? 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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Southwest-style sweet potato frittata

Breakfast, Recipe, Slow FoodLeannda CavalierComment

A silky blend of eggs, ricotta and gruyere top hearty sweet potatoes, black beans and smoky vegetables. Flavorful and filling, this frittata can feed your brunch crowd or be stored in the refrigerator for days of healthy breakfasts.

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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!

Stomach... rumbles... uncontrollable... gimme that southwest style sweet potato frittata—skip to the recipe, please!

I've always thought frittatas were so-so. Pretty good. Nothing special. 

Breaking news: I was WRONG. 

The frittata conversion

This summer while Adam and I were visiting his parents in West Virginia, they made us an incredible brunch. It featured biscuits (duh, I said "West Virginia"), a selection of gourmet jams (new playlist name?!) to try and the star of the show: a cheesy, tender frittata. 

The problem with frittata for me has always been that it's either too rubbery or too slimy, and/or that it's just too eggy. Yes, I know its supposed to taste like eggs. Yes, I love eggs. No, I have no desire to eat a wet scrambled egg pie. Sorry.

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But this frittata. THIS frittata was spongey in a buttery way, had plenty of texture to break up any monotony, and had as much flavor as any savory dish at my favorite brunch spots. It was filled with sausage, potatoes, kale, spinach, onions, and lots of cheese. 

One of the reasons it was so incredible is because my parents-in-law broke the rules of the recipe they were using, and brilliantly so. It said to drop ricotta in by the spoonful before cooking, but they went ahead and mixed it right in to the eggs with the gruyere. I think that made all the difference in terms of texture. They also threw in some browned sausage into the mix, which was pro play-calling. 

I've been a frittata fiend since. I've made one nearly every week—really. It's such a great breakfast, and I just have to work for it Sunday to reap the benefits throughout the workweek. To switch it up I've been rotating versions, including the one I'm sharing today: southwest-style sweet potato frittata. 

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This frittata has the same incredible texture, but a slightly different vibe. Namely, smoky-sweet. Onions, cherry tomatoes, jalapeños and black beans form the smoky base, while crispy-edged sweet potatoes add meatiness and mellow things out. It's topped with... you guessed it an egg mixture enhanced with ricotta and gruyere.

I know, it doesn't sound like either of those cheeses should go in anything invoking the southwest, but I swear it works. If you really have a problem with the gruyere, you can always go for some sharp cheddar, but DO NOT skip the ricotta. 

Ricotta is essential to the experience I'm trying to give you. Don't question it. I'm more Lucille Bluth than David S. Pumpkins on this one. 

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I truly don't know that I'll ever make another frittata without it.  

A fatty hypothesis with some steam to carry it

If I had to guess why the ricotta-egg mix is so magical, I'd chalk it up to the fat versus liquid content. Ricotta a whey protein, which is essentially cream or milk quickly curdled with an acid in order to thicken it and intensify the flavor. That means the fat and protein stick around without all the liquid.

When you cook eggs mixed with dairy products or other liquids, too much steam can become a problem. With a short cooking time it's not such a big deal, but the longer the cooking time, the more tightly the proteins in the eggs bond, the more liquid they push out, and the tougher your eggs get.

On the other hand, if you reduce the liquid and up the fat, your eggs are going to steam less, and your eggs should stay tender. Furthermore, the added fat will coat the proteins and slow down their coagulation even more.

TL;DR: You get to have your cake and eat it too, as the liquid from the milk will steam the proteins enough to make the eggs fluffy, but the fat in the milk and the ricotta will coat the proteins to help keep it from getting tough and rubbery. 

Why mess with a frittata that isn't broken?

I believe in moderation, so some sausage is perfectly okay in my diet. On the other hand, moderation probably doesn't include eating it nearly every day. Besides, sometimes you've just got to switch things up!

A big benefit of this southwest-style sweet potato frittata is that it puts a little healthy twist on things. Swapping out sausage for black beans and potatoes for sweet potatoes lowers the sodium a bit, adds some more vitamins and fiber and lightens things up overall without sacrificing flavor. It's probably not the recipe you're looking for if you're overly concerned about cholesterol, but hey, it's also not the 90s. 

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A few months after our trip, Adam's parents came to visit us on their way to visit family in Alabama. I was able to serve them my version of their frittata on their way down, and this southwest-style sweet potato frittata on their way back home. I might have gushed a little over how they've inspired my new obsession and made my mornings before work so much easier.

This southwest-style sweet potato frittata is perfect if you have company coming over, especially if you prep the vegetables ahead. I personally like to make this on a Sunday so I don’t have to worry about breakfast throughout the week.

It refrigerates beautifully, and can be reheated in the microwave without altering the texture dramatically, unlike many egg dishes. That's saying something, because generally I ha-ha-haaaate microwaved eggs. The ahem RICOTTA keeps the microwave from turning the eggs into smelly rubber. I just pop in a slice for 45 seconds to a minute and savor it with some coffee and maybe a side of fruit.

Are you a frittata fan? What's the best one you've ever had? As always, I want to hear from you! Whether you make this one, think it sounds good, or just have strong feelings on egg-dishes, let me know in the comments!

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!

One more thing—bloggers, Instagram enthusiasts and influence aficionados: stick around until the end of this post. I've got something fun for you!

Anyway, let's get cooking!

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Hey, are you a blogger too?

Maybe even a food blogger? I'm attending a live Q&A Thursday (11/9) with Pinch of Yum and Food Blogger Pro's Lindsay and Bjork Ostrom on how they've grown their Instagram following to 500K.

I'd love to see you there too! It's mainly for food bloggers, but I can easily see anybody interested in Instagram getting value out of this. It's super-easy to register, just click this link—Instagram Live Q&A with Food Blogger Pro—or the graphic below. 

Full disclosure, this is an affiliate link. That means that if you end up enrolling in Food Blogger Pro after clicking my link, I'll get a small portion of anything you pay. 

That being said, the webinar is totally free and you don't have to buy anything to get a ton of incredible info (seriously, just listen to their FREE Podcast—I'm obsessed). I really believe in Food Blogger Pro, and Pinch of Yum is the delicious proof that they know what they're doing. Bjork and Lindsay and their whole team are so knowledgable and generous, and they've helped WhipSmart Kitchen become what it is today (and what I hope it will grow into!). 

How we grew our instagram following to 500k

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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So what makes this chili embody that feeling? 

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  • 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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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. 

Spiced pork tenderloin with tomato peach sauce

Dinner, Recipe, SaucesLeannda CavalierComment

This main dish features tender, juicy pork tenderloin spiced with cinnamon and other Moroccan-inspired flavors. Tomato-peach sauce sweetens the deal with a tangy twist in this unexpected, but well-balanced pairing.

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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. 

Listen, I'm in a time crunch. Just give me the recipe.

It's the first week of fall! Sweaters. Soups. Sweltering Saturdays... hold up. What?

Them's the breaks living in the South. September is mostly an unforgiving sweatbox, made worse by the fact that I just want to burn pumpkin-reminiscent candles and drink hot tea, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Call me basic. Do it. 

That's what I thought. 

That's what I thought. 

You know what's a nice perk though? Peaches. Big, juicy peaches. They're technically still in season here. A fall staple? Not quite. But for me, this time of year is generally a scramble to get them fresh while I can. Same with sun-ripened tomatoes, which are getting harder to come by, but still around.

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If you know me well, you know a good number of my favorite foods feature fruit and savory foods mixed. Pulled pork with blueberry adobo sauce (coming soon), steak tacos with pickled blackberries, and—quite possibly one of my favorite foods—tomato peach sauce with spiced pork tenderloin.

I've actually been making this sauce for years, while the pork tenderloin recipe is a little over a year old. I originally created the sauce to put on top of brie pasta. I had lots of peaches and tomatoes on hand, fresh basil and sage in the garden, and a bunch of free time.

Thus the sauce of a lifetime was born. 

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I put this on pork, chicken, cheesy pasta, plain pasta... It's pretty hard to go wrong. But there's something special about it with this spiced pork tenderloin. Tomatoes, peaches, basil, cinnamon, cumin, pork... not things often listed together, but I'm pretty sure it was destiny. 

I personally use the Ninja Master Prep Professional system to blend the sauce, but you can use any large food processor or blender. I love the Ninja system because a) it has sizes for everything I need, b) I can use multiple processors at the same time and it's not a pain because the power pod is small and light, and c) I can just throw the plastic parts in the dishwasher when I'm finished. 

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When pork browns, it starts to develop caramel-y notes that beg for sweetness to solidify the connection. Both sweet and savory need a little acid to lighten things up, which is where the tomatoes and a bit of vinegar come in. We turn up the heat with Moroccan-inspired spices, and basil and sage keep things fresh. 

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What's funny about this is that it actually ends up aligning with the fall vibes I'm craving. Fruit and meat is a classic pairing for fall. Ever heard of pork chops and applesauce? 

Yeah, I said it. 

Yeah, I said it. 

Honestly though, it's a real thing. Apple-stuffed pork tenderloin is a Pinterest classic. Pears are all over my early fall menu, from salads (more on that soon, I could write a book) to dessert.

In the end, it all works out. I'll have my sweater weather soon enough. 

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How do you feel about pairing fruit with savory foods? Do you have a favorite combo? Comment and let me know! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

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!

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Anyway, let's get searing!

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Does the idea of cooking sauce and pork tenderloin at the same time freak you out? If you're still a little nervous in the kitchen, I've got something for you. 

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! 

 

Roasted summer squash and tomatoes

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

Yellow squash, zucchini and grape tomatoes team up with herbs in this east side dish to sing the real song of summer. Nutritious and delicious, this simple side is surprisingly filling.

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Hear that? It's my stomach growling. Skip to the recipe, please.

If you could only ever have one side dish ever again, what would it be?

Honestly, I don't know if I could answer that myself. I'm kind of a side dish fiend. Sometimes I need to remind myself that you don't have to have 2-3 with every single meal. 

I like it all. Mac and cheese. Tabouli. Stuffing. Fruit salad. Sweet potato casserole. I love sides so much, sometimes I'll get a bunch of them as a meal if a restaurant has good ones. I do what I want. 

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Through it all, there's a soft spot in my heart for veggies. First, I just love the way they taste. Second, I love the way they make me feel. I know I'm doing something good for my body when I eat them, and it's a health solution that doesn't involve rocket science or too-good-to-be-true fixes.

As I get older... I can definitely feel if I'm not eating enough of them. 

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So if I really had to narrow down to my top five, roasted summer squash and tomatoes would for sure make the list. It's one of my most-made side dishes. It's such a favorite that a form of it was one of the four(!) side dishes at my wedding. It was also a frequent item on the menu when I was doing personal catering. 

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It takes a little prep to get it together, but what it comes down to is throwing a bunch of fresh foods on a sheet pan and roasting it until everything is nice and soft with some crispy spots. The zucchini and yellow squash are perfection when they start to get nice and roasty, especially with the garlic and shallots pitching in. The tomatoes add the perfect tangy twist, almost like a tomato sauce.

It's one of those dishes that tastes fresh and bright, but still comforting and satisfying. You're not going to regret only making one side dish if you choose wisely, and this is choosing wisely.

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Need a shortcut?

Mincing garlic and shallots will be the thing that turns a lot of people off of this recipe, I think. Both can seem daunting to beginners, and it might seem unnecessary to people who just want dinner on the table.

Here's the deal. If you're TRULY in a crunch, you can just cook the squash and tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and any herbs you have on hand. 

I get it, I really do. We’re all busy, and taking the time to make dinner can seem like such a killjoy when you’re on a roll with other tasks. I’ll be honest, I do this almost as much as I do it my preferred way if it's a weeknight.

BUT... and this is an important but. 

Here’s the thing. If you don’t do the work, you’ll never get better at cooking. Do you believe there will ever be a time when you’re less “busy”? Do you believe there will ever be a “right” time? 

There might be. Then again, if you’re one of those people who is constantly saying “yes” to the next challenge and who enjoys work, there might not be. 

A 2016 New York Times article about health habits to build in your 20s points out the decisions we make may be more long-term than we realize. That goes for heart health, how we look and feel, and potentially how much weight we carry.

Cooking is like anything else you do. It takes work.

It comes to some people a little easier than others, but ultimately what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you take a little time a couple of times a week and learn how to effectively do the basics—chop an onion, mince a shallot, crush and mince garlic, cut a tomato in a way that doesn’t leave you wondering if you’re doing it right… you will slowly but surely learn how to cook confidently and more quickly.

That’s the hard truth of cooking. Sometimes what makes it take so long is being in the beginning stages. Wavering over how long it’s going to take to cut an onion, rather than knowing it takes a minute or two with experience. Wobbling as you cut the potato, because how are you supposed to cut something round anyway? 

It takes practice. It takes being slow for a little while. But it's an investment with clear, guaranteed results. 

Listen, you have to eat. No matter what, you’ll have to spend some money, go someplace to get the food (cooked or not), and spend time waiting for and eating it. If you take just a few nights a week regularly to work on making it yourself, you WILL get better. 

You'll need to look some things up, maybe more than once. You may need to ask for help. You may burn a meal or two. But soon, you’ll figure things out well enough that the struggle won’t be how to get something cooked. Instead, it will be how much effort you feel like putting into it tonight.

To add a new ingredient or not? To leave out that hard-to-find, expensive ingredient you’re out of, or try a substitute? To bother plating it, or to let everyone serve themselves right from the stove?

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

Not only will you develop skills, but your brain will start to recognize which flavors go together. What things cook similarly enough that you can put them together in the oven and not burn them. How to throw together a meal with what you found on manager’s special at the supermarket, or what came in your CSA box. 

You’ll learn to cook on the fly, and how to plan to cook based on your resources. THAT is how you get reasonably healthy meals on the table most days.

The goal for most of us, after all, isn’t to become a chef. That’s what culinary school is for. It’s to be able to cook tasty food that fuels your body. It’s to enjoy one of the pillars of life: creating food to eat with your loved ones.

Decent results for making a delicious side dish a couple times a week, right?

So, what's your favorite side dish of all time? Let me know in the comments! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! 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! 

So let's get roasting!

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Before you go, I want to let you know about a resource I created. If you're still a little intimidated by anything outside of microwaving, I created it just for you!

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. You can use as much or as little of it as you like, but I think every beginning cook should at least get familiar with the concepts in this booklet. 

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