The Art of Cooking

I have been wracking my brain all week to think up a good recipe to bring to a dinner party tonight.  When I accepted my friend Maureen’s invitation, I offered to bring a vegetable.  Last time, I brought dessert, a delicious experiment I don’t want to have to compete with.  I don’t want to bring salad— too cold.  I don’t want to bring soup— too messy.  I don’t want to bring ordinary roasted vegetables— they’ll get cold on the way over to my friend’s house and will lose that tender-yet-crispy-ness that makes them worth cooking and eating.  I have friends who would direct me to the shelf in my kitchen that is packed with cookbooks, but that’s always my last resort.  I love to think up recipes and put them together on the spot— it’s sort of like painting a picture or writing a story— it happens, taking form at the moment of creation.  Sure, artists kind of think about what they want to paint, writers mull over what they want to write.  At least that’s how I paint and write.  It’s also how I cook.  Sometimes I open the cupboard and the refrigerator, pull out ingredients, and something delicious just comes together; other times I imagine what would taste good, look appealing,  and be texturally intriguing, then seek out the necessary groceries at the market.  If my husband finds something to be exceptional, he insists on writing down exactly what I did, otherwise we will never have it again.  I’ve been working on that, trying to commit to keeping a log of the recipes I create.

It’s Saturday, and I have endured a grueling cross-training session involving 40 minutes of intense core work that included some Pilates and isometrics, then 30 minutes of strength training using the drop set technique.  For those of you not familiar with drop sets, this technique uses only 2 sets of each strength training exercise with no rest between.  You start with the heaviest weight, a weight you can only lift for 10 -12 reps.  Immediately drop down to the next-lightest weight and complete as many reps as possible.  If you can do more than 12, you need to use a heavier weight for the first set.  (Paraphrased from the March 2010 issue of Prevention magazine.)  The heaviest weights I have are 15 lbs. each and are what I use for my regular strength training.  The only challenging lifting today was the overhead press.  If I want to continue with this program that is supposed to be much more efficient and effective in building muscle strength, I will have to go weight shopping.  I am a little bit discouraged because I love weight training and the results in my body; I just can’t imagine starting my every other day weight training with 20 lb weights.  We’ll see.  Right now, I can’t wait to get into my kitchen and start cooking.

An idea came to me on Thursday, and I have been playing around with it in my mind since then, mentally adding different flavors and textures until, this morning, I knew exactly what I would cook.  I have to credit my especially cold kitchen for part of this recipe.  Baking anything twice lets me heat the room a bit without feeling guilty because I’m cooking, not just turning on the oven and opening its door to warm up!  What I have been dreaming of making for the past three days are curried twice-baked sweet potatoes.  The bright orange flesh will be beautiful mixed with spices and vegetables, and many of the ingredients are naturally anti-inflammatory, a good thing for me after today’s training and in anticipation of tomorrow’s long run.

Curried Twice-Baked Sweet  Potatoes

Ingredients:

4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed well and pricked with a fork

1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 lg sweet onion, peeled and diced fine

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 Tbsp. Indian or Madras curry powder

1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds

1/2 cup each:  chopped bell pepper and tart apple

1/4 cup each:  frozen peas, raisins, dried apricots,  shredded, unsweetened coconut

1 cup cauliflower florets

1/4 cup orange juice concentrate

1/4 cup plain low-fat organic yogurt

Cayenne pepper to taste (about 1/8 – 1/4 tsp.)

Method:

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Place the sweet potatoes in the oven and roast for about 50 minutes, or until cooked through.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the stuffing:

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute for about five minutes, until onion begins to soften.  Add the bell pepper, the ginger, raisins, apricots, and mustard seeds and saute for three minutes.  Add the curry powder, cauliflower florets, and mix well.  Cook for three more minutes.  Add the apple, coconut, peas, cayenne pepper, and orange juice concentrate,  cooking  until the concentrate is melted.  Stir to make sure all ingredients are well incorporated.  Set aside.

When potatoes are done, remove them from the oven.  When they are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a large mixing bowl, being careful to keep the half skins intact.  Add the yogurt and beat well with a fork or electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Fold in the curried stuffing mixture gently until it is well incorporated.

Sweet potato skins are very soft and not as sturdy as regular baking potatoes.  With this in mind, carefully fill the skins and place in a baking dish that will hold them close together but not squish them into each other.  Be careful not to over-stuff the skins, either, or they will be hard to take out of the pan.  Sprinkle the potatoes with the chopped pecans.

About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 375° F and position a rack in the center of the oven.  Place pan of stuffed sweet potatoes on the center rack and heat until potatoes are hot and tops are a little bit crispy, about 35 – 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let the potatoes sit for 5 minutes.  Use a large spoon to carefully transfer the potatoes onto individual serving plates.

Cook’s Note:

This recipe is delicious!  Please note that there is no added sugar or salt in this recipe.  None of the ingredients are heavily processed, either, which makes this recipe clean eating.  It is also vegetarian, but could be vegan if you omit the yogurt.   If there are things you don’t particularly like in the recipe, fool with it, switching out different dried fruits, nuts, and/or vegetables you prefer until it tastes the way you and your family like it best.

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3 Comments on “The Art of Cooking”

  1. Pat Says:

    YUM !!!!!! I have to try this one

  2. Charlene Says:

    Sounds delicious. What did you do for pilates? Was it from an article or a DVD that you would recommend?

  3. lise Says:

    Maybe this would get my kids to eat sweet potatoes-I love ’em they don’t and I am strongly opposed to making something for me and something else for them. Thanx


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