Mexican Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

As the weather starts to cool, the fall flavors are introduced with avengeance. Suddenly it’s pumpkin this and spiced that, baked goods everywhere and soups filling my Pinterest feed. As much as I love all of these things, this year I’m not quite ready to dive head first in to traditional autumn goods, and also my oven is broken so I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The mountain west poses an added challenge as September and October can intermittently still be quite warm. I’ve mentioned this before, but it usually inspires me to meal prep dishes that can be enjoyed either warm or chilled, such that I can tailor it according to the day’s weather.

Mexican Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

A couple of years ago I created an arugula sweet potato salad that I still love. It invites the coziness of cinnamon lightly sweetened with maple syrup to a healthier form, and is perfect for your Thanksgiving table. However, looking to spice things up a bit I decided to take that idea and give it a more south of the border twist.

Roasted sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and red onions are stirred in with a generous helping of black beans, corn, and quinoa. Vegan by nature, it can be dressed up with cheese or meat if you like. Goat cheese is my personal preference (shocking) since the creaminess blends so nicely with the smokey dressing.

Mexican Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

As always, this one is easy to tailor to your personal spice levels. Leave it as is for a relatively mild experience, or pile on the spices for some extra heat. The dressing is the easiest place to up the spices but if you know you’re a spice lover, add extra to the roasting process too.

This works great as an entree or a side dish, served atop fresh greens for some color and extra freshness. Add lots of greens for a more traditional salad, or use fewer for more of a Buddha bowl style meal. Either way, this is an easy recipe that’s great for meal prepping, serving a crowd, or taking to a potluck. Serve it chilled in the summer or warm in the winter and it’s sure to be a hit. For potluck option, I’d recommend tossing the quinoa mixture with the greens ahead of time since it will be easier for people to serve themselves.

Mexican Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad {{Baking Bytes}}

Have more leftovers than you want? Top a generous scoop with a fried or poached egg and a drizzle of dressing for a fun and healthy breakfast! The filling also works nicely for stuffed peppers, lettuce wraps, or burritos if you’re looking for ways to switch it up a little.

Mexican Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced

1 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp ground chilis, divided (I used pasilla)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
3 cups water (or broth)

1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed and drained
12 oz (or more) leafy greens

Spicy Smoked Balsamic Dressing (below)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sweet potato, bell pepper, onion, 1 Tbsp chili powder, 1 1/2 tsp cumin, salt, oregano, 1/2 tsp paprika, and red pepper flakes. Stir until veggies are well coated.
  3. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast in preheated oven until sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan combine quinoa, water, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, and 1/4 tsp paprika. Cook quinoa as directed on your package.
  5. When veggies and quinoa are both cooked, return to your large bowl and gently stir in black beans and corn until evenly distributed.
  6. Either serve atop fresh greens or stir them in too.
  7. Serve hot or chilled, drizzled with dressing and topped with cheese, if desired.

Smoked Balsamic Dressing {{Baking Bytes}}

Smokey and spicy and just a little sweet, this dressing is excellent by itself to use for almost any salad, bowl, or wrap that you can dream up. The smoked balsamic vinegar from Olivelle is one of my favorites; already reminiscent of barbecue sauce, adding the garlic oil and some extra spices gives it a little kick. If you are looking for a little sweeter variety, a bit of maple syrup blends in nicely.

Spicy Smoked Balsamic Dressing

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

3 oz Olivelle caramelized garlic olive oil1
1 1/2 oz Olivelle smoked balsamic vinegar1
1 – 2 tsp ground chilis
1/2 tsp paprika (smoked or regular)
1 – 2 tsp maple syrup (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small jar. Whisk or shake vigorously to combine.
  2. Taste and adjust spices or sweetness as necessary.

Notes

I highly recommend Olivelle products and they have an online store if you don’t have a sister store nearby. However, if you must you can substitute regular extra virgin olive oil and 1-2 minced garlic cloves or 1/2 – 1 teaspoons garlic powder, and/or regular barrel aged balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon or two of barbecue sauce.

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Spicy Cashew Zoodles

This recipe has been a long time coming – I’ve actually made it three times this summer with the intent to photograph and post it, but each time the sun was being temperamental and the pictures just came out terrible. Fourth time’s the charm in getting at least moderately passable photos, so you finally get to enjoy this delight.

Spicy Cashew Zoodles {{Baking Bytes}}

Many moons ago when I was still in college, a friend regularly served this dish at potlucks and her house, and it was always a favorite of mine. Al dente spaghetti and a lightly spiced cashew sauce came together in a dish served equally well cold as it did warm. I made it semi-regularly throughout my college career and typically enjoyed it straight from the fridge. Versatile in its uses from lunch to dinner to side, it’s a great dish to have in your repertoire.

Spicy Cashew Zoodles {{Baking Bytes}}

Amusingly, I all but forgot about this recipe for like five years until I was cleaning up my Facebook “notes” and came across it again. My current love affair with my spiralizer and lower carb inclinations inspired me to use this sauce with zoodles rather than the called-for pasta. A couple of light tweaks later, and I now have a new favorite side dish and another fantastic meal prep option for my work lunches.

Spicy Cashew Zoodles {{Baking Bytes}}

Most of the active time involved here is with slicing the veggies, but you can easily do that in advance and store everything in the fridge. Likewise, the sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. It’s a delicious way to use an abundance of zucchini and is a definite crowd pleaser since it’s both vegan and gluten-free (watch your sauce ingredient labels to be sure). It’s also more interesting than your typical salad but still a healthy veggie side. I nearly always bring a vegetable to potlucks (unless I’m requested to bring dessert) to ensure there’s healthy option alongside the numerous starches sure to grace the table.

The one caveat with taking it to potlucks is that I recommend not mixing it till you get there. Zucchini releases a lot of water and it has a tendency to get soupy after not too long. This does not affect the flavor in the slightest – just makes it a bit messier to serve and eat. If desired (I never do), you can mitigate this by salting your zucchini and setting it in a strainer for about 20 minutes, then rinsing thoroughly and using a cloth to squeeze any excess water from the zoodles. Follow directions as normal after that.

Spicy Cashew Zoodles {{Baking Bytes}}

For a tasty lunch, add your protein of choice. Steak or chicken is my personal preference, but eggs (I’d do fried, poached or soft boiled) or a vegan option like chickpeas or tempeh would go beautifully as well. Pick your favorite and include that to bring it up to a full entrée. Alternatively, if you think I’m crazy for preferring zucchini instead of spaghetti, you can make the original by cooking a pound of spaghetti to al dente and thinning the sauce with some pasta water. (A mix of spaghetti and zoodles would also be great! I would toss with the zucchini and let it rest for about 5 minutes, then fold in the spaghetti. You likely will not need to add any additional water if you are using zucchini at all.)

Spicy Cashew Zoodles {{Baking Bytes}}

This recipe does not keep particularly well after it’s been mixed, so plan to eat it all or drain as much of the sauce as possible before storing the rest of it. (Excess sauce is great as a salad dressing, on breakfast bowls, or for dipping a wrap.) If you’re still in search of a Labor Day BBQ contribution, you can stop looking now.

Note: I recently discovered the Toasted Sesame oil at Olivelle and basically fell in love. It has a much more prominent sesame flavor which blends really nicely in this sauce. However, it’s plenty delicious with your run of the mill sesame oil, so feel free to substitute that.

Spicy Cashew Zoodles

Adapted from epicurious
Serves 4 (entrée1) to 8 (side dish)

Ingredients

Sauce
1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews
2-3 garlic cloves (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
1/4 cup Olivelle Toasted Sesame oil (or regular sesame oil)
2 1/2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce,  to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
3/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes, to taste

3-4 medium zucchini, spiralized 3mm (6-8 cups, but I never measure too hard)
1 small cucumber, spiralized flat
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced (I like red or orange best)
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

garnishes: 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cashews, sesame seeds, additional red pepper flakes, protein of choice

Directions

  1. Purée sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor until well combined and there are no large chunks of cashew or garlic. Taste and blend in additional red pepper flakes, if desired. (Sauce can be made in advance2 and refrigerated until ready to use.)
  2. In a large bowl, toss zoodles with about 3/4 of the sauce.
  3. Add remainder of sauce, onion, bell pepper, and cucumber, and toss to combine.
  4. Garnish as desired and serve promptly.

Notes

For a more filling entrée, include your protein of choice: keep it vegan with chickpeas, tofu, or tempeh, include poached or boiled eggs if ovo vegetarian is more your thing, or appease the omnivores with thinly sliced steak or chicken. Add in your choice with the veggies in step 3.

This recipe works great for meal prep: Portion your produce into a 4-cup bowl, and refrigerate until ready to eat. Top with 3-4 tablespoons of sauce, microwave for about 30 seconds, then gently toss until coated. Garnish as desired and enjoy!

To use this sauce without zoodles, thin it with water to your desired consistency. Toss with pasta, use as a salad dressing, or drizzle over breakfast bowls to your heart’s content.

Beet & Feta Grilled Cheese

This sandwich is dedicated to Kathy, who is in many ways my opposite but has the best insights on the Ames food scene and is a huge fan of beets.

One of my favorite local stores is an oil and vinegar shop by the name of Olivelle. It’s a relatively recent discovery for me but has quickly grown into quite the collection of balsamic vinegars, infused oils, and spice blends. I’ve featured some of their products before, mostly as salad dressings, but they are amazing on basically everything from breakfast to dessert.

Olivelle also does really fun cooking demonstrations where you watch four different courses being made and then get to enjoy eating them. It’s both delightful and delicious and makes for a fantastic girls’ night out. At my most recent attendance, there was a roasted beet salad with a blood orange fig dressing that kind of blew my mind. It was the perfect blend of savory and sweet and a truly great winter salad that I look forward to crafting next season (or maybe this one, if winter continues at its current velocity).

Beet & Feta Grilled Cheese {{Baking Bytes}}

Inspired by the flavor combination, this week’s grilled cheese is highly non-traditional and equally delicious: roasted beets and feta, with an optional (but supremely recommended!) blood orange fig drizzle.

Although I really enjoy roasted beets, I’d somehow never purchased them before this adventure. One of the great things about running this blog is the incentive to step outside my box, and this was no exception to a quality outcome. Like sweet potatoes, beets take a while to roast but you could certainly do it ahead of time and reheat them a bit right before making the sandwich. It’s both a great way to use up leftovers from salad or breakfast hash and worth it to make them specifically for this meal, I promise. The beet and feta filling is not gooey like a traditional grilled cheese, but has a totally new flavor profile that really classes up the final result. It reminds me a bit of last year’s Boursin and veggie version in that it doesn’t stick together very well but is completely worth the slightly messier experience.

Beet & Feta Grilled Cheese {{Baking Bytes}}

Naturally sweet, the beets lend a harmony of sweet and savory that is balanced nicely by the Feta cheese (I also think chèvre would work splendidly), and complimented by my favorite sourdough bread. The denser bread contrasts nicely with the softened filling and the drizzle of blood orange balsamic dressing is the perfect addition to really up the wow factor. Delightful as an entrée or cut up for an appetizer, it was a win with four out of four taste testers and a really fun way to add a twist to an otherwise commonplace meal.

Beet & Feta Grilled Cheese {{Baking Bytes}}

As an added bonus, the bright color of beets and balsamic drizzle give a professional presentation to the plate – great for parties! (Especially on a snazzy rectangular plate.)

Beet & Feta Grilled Cheese
Makes one sandwich

Ingredients

1 beet, peeled and diced into 1/4″ pieces (or smaller)
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup feta (or chèvre), crumbled
2 slices sourdough bread
olive oil or butter

Blood Orange Vinegar Dressing
1 Tbsp Olivelle Blood Orange Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Olivelle Harvest Fig Balsamic Vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat with olive oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine beet, oil, salt, and pepper and stir until evenly coated.
  3. Spread onto prepared pan and roast 20-30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  4. When the beets are nearly done, heat a small amount of oil or butter in a lidded nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat.
  5. In (the same) small bowl, gently stir together 1/4 cup roasted beets (you’ll probably have leftovers) with feta cheese.
  6. Place bread side-by-side in the pan and top one slice with beet and feta mixture. Cover with lid and cook until bread is golden and cheese is warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk together Blood Orange Olive Oil and Fig Balsamic Vinegar until completely combined.
  8. Top beets with the other slice of bread (cooked side out) and remove sandwich to plate.
  9. Slice in half and (somewhat) optionally drizzle with blood orange fig dressing.
  10. Enjoy immediately!

Apple Cranberry Pie

If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the pie the inspired the apple cranberry sauce from two weeks ago…this is it. You’re welcome.

For the past couple of years, M and I have attended a huge potluck feast rather than having a tiny Thanksgiving all to ourselves. This is fantastic for being able to eat many different dishes without having to cook them all, but does have the downside of often eating things at room temperature, regardless of what their ideal temp might be. There are always numerous pies in many different flavors, and going home hungry is pretty much impossible. I usually contribute to the event with homemade dinner rolls, but I may switch it up this year.

Despite the multitude of desserts, I always personally bake pies just for the two of us. M doesn’t get excited about pumpkin pie (weirdo) and apple is typically his flavor of choice. Last year, I found an apple cranberry pie that sounds amazing, and, (with M’s blessing), opted to make that instead. I don’t hate plain apple pie by any means, but there are many other flavors I consider to be much more enticing.

I will never give up my pumpkin pie, but for a fresh flavor, this might be a new fall favorite. Traditional apple and cozy spices are complemented perfectly by the tart cranberries. It lends a more complex profile without being overwhelming, and still works just as well for both dessert and breakfast as your traditional apple. I’ve always been partial to the more tart fruits, and the addition of cranberries here is a wonderful update. A little almond extract completes the whole experience.

As a bonus, the cranberries also add some beautiful color to your place. Bright red cranberries make the dessert table more festive both in flavor and presentation, and you can really up the ante with some fun pie crust cutters. Arranging leaves is way less tedious than a lattice crust, and even more impressive looking; a win-win situation in my book. Paired with homemade cinnamon ice cream or cinnamon whipped cream (recipe included), the tart pie and creamy topping are a perfect end to any fall day.

If you’re looking for a way to add some flair to the table this year, look no further than this pie. It’s sure to be a hit, and maybe even a new holiday tradition.

Apple Cranberry Pie

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Makes one standard pie

Ingredients

pastry for a double-crust pie

3 large apples, cored, peeled, and sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tsp almond extract

optional crust topping
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

cinnamon whipped cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, sugar, cornstarch, spices, and extract. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Roll out half your pie crust into a circle (as close as you can), then gently drape into the bottom of your pie dish. Trim edges to a half inch or so wider than the plate.
  4. Gently spoon your filling into the crust, using a slotted spoon to avoid the excess liquid.
  5. Roll out your remaining crust and arrange on top of the filling however you like (I used pie crust cutters for the shapes here), pinching together any seams. For bonus presentation points, crimp edges with your fingers or a fork, or arrange cutouts along the edge. If you do a full crust on top, cut a few vents for steam to escape.
  6. In a small container, stir or shake remaining cinnamon and sugar together. Sprinkle evenly on top of the pie (I use an empty spice container.)
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. If necessary, tent the pie with foil to avoid over-browning the crust.
  8. Let pie cool on the counter for at least three hours.
  9. Just before serving1, make the whipped cream. Using a hand-held or stand mixer, whip cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
  10. Add in sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, and continue to whip to desired consistency.
  11. Serve pie at room temp, topped with cinnamon whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream. (Or your favorite vegan alternative.)
  12. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap or foil.

Notes

You can make the whipped cream ahead of time and store it in the fridge, but you may want to whip it again just a bit before serving as it tends to loosen over time. It only takes a couple of minutes so I typically just make it on demand.

Apple Cranberry Sauce

Likely from here through Christmas my posts will be pretty seasonal, but also more abundant. Hope you enjoy the plethora of holiday options!

Of all the dishes weighing down a typical Thanksgiving table, cranberry sauce is one of my favorites. I love all the more sour berries and a nice tart cranberry sauce is a lovely addition of color and flavor to my plate. As a kid I’d often take seconds and thirds just of cranberry sauce, and adult me is not much different. The perfect cranberry sauce is different for everyone, and the key to happiness is making it yourself so it’s just right. Maybe you’ve always been an out of the can sort of person (no judgements!) but I encourage you to try the from-scratch version this year.

Cranberry sauce is one of those things I’m absurdly picky about, and it’s rare that someone else’s recipe really strikes my fancy. I need all the cinnamon and none of the orange, thick and chunky and not too sweet. I’m not sure why orange became the traditional flavor pairing, but I personally think it too easily overpowers the rest of the flavors.

Inspired by a pie last year (check back in two weeks for that), I tried utilizing apple instead. It complements the tart cranberry perfectly, without becoming a prominent flavor. Instead of it being an obvious addition, the apple blends more smoothly into the whole profile, adding a little something without necessarily being able to pinpoint it.

I added a smidge of almond extract to round out the holiday experience, but you can certainly use vanilla if you prefer. Almond is a nice twist on tradition without straying too far from comfy, and I often utilize it in fruit pies in lieu of (or addition to) vanilla extract.

This is definitely my new go-to cranberry sauce recipe, and I’m already looking forward to making it again in a few weeks. It’s excellent both chilled and warm, resulting it an excellent make-ahead recipe. Large enough to share or to enjoy copious leftovers, so long as everyone doesn’t serve themselves the same heaping amount I tend towards.

If for some reason you’re hesitant on the apple, or want to keep to a more traditional flavor, just leave that out. It’ll still be an excellent spiced cranberry sauce with a little almond boost.

Apple Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 2.5 cups

Ingredients

3 cups fresh cranberries
1 medium apple, grated
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or one stick), to taste
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, stir together cranberries, apple, sugar, and water.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Stir in cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Cranberries should be a mixture of burst and whole.
  4. Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.
  5. Stir in almond extract and, if desired, use a fork or a silly egg salad masher to mash the cranberries to your desired texture. (I like mine chunky but all burst, so I mash mine pretty well.)
  6. Allow to cool briefly before serving, optionally garnished with sliced almonds.