Sweet Potato Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Pancetta

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This recipe was created to satisfy a random sweet potato craving that I had a few weeks ago (I blame Heather). I wanted something more interesting than a simple baked potato or fries, but I also didn’t want something that would remind me of Thanksgiving dinner. After playing around with a few ideas, I decided to experiment with a pizza-like flatbread. It was a great decision! The thin slices of sweet potato has an amazing texture — crispy like chips around the edges but with a soft, chewy center that reminded me of fruit leather. The combination of those potatoes with sweet caramelized onion, salty pancetta, and creamy goat cheese was one of the most amazing flavor and texture combinations that I’ve ever experienced. It definitely hit the spot and satisfied my craving. The only problem is that now I crave the flatbread!

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I used the OXO Mandolin that I won at Eat, Write, Retreat to shave my sweet potato and onion into super thin (1/8-inch) rounds. If you don’t have a mandolin, you can also use the slicing blade of a box grater or a sharp knife to cut the slices as thinly as you can. Whichever way you decide to do it, just make sure to watch your fingers!

Prepared pizza dough makes this recipe super quick to pull together My favorite is Portland Pie Beer Pizza Dough, which has a slightly malty flavor and a great, chewy texture. Of course, you can use your favorite prepared dough or make your own.

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Zucchini and Summer Squash Gratin with Herbs de Provence

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Yesterday – August 8 – was “National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors Porch Day.” It sounds like a joke, but think about it. If you have a garden (or know someone who has a garden) chances are you’ve been up to your ears in zucchini and summer squash for a few weeks already. You might be sick of them. And looking for an excuse to sneak some on an innocent neighbor under cover of night. But this gratin might just rekindle your love of the ubiquitous summertime vegetable.

As delicious as my tea-smoked salmon with lavender and honey glaze was (Have you seen it yet? Entered to win some tea?), this gratin held its own. Served together, dinner was an event. I half expected fireworks to go off as I finished my plate. The squash bakes in their own juices until they are soft and delicate. The tomatoes begin to dry from the heat of the oven, leaving them sweet and intensely flavored. The sharp Parmesan and crisp breadcrumbs lend classic comfort. And then, there’s the unexpected. Instead of using italian seasonings, you take a little detour through the south of France thanks to fresh thyme and herbs de Provence (a mixture of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender).

Sure you may be reluctant to turn your oven on in the height of August. Wait for a rainy day if you must. But I wouldn’t wait. Really, it’s already so hot that having the oven on doesn’t seen to make it any worse. And even if it does, it’s totally worth it.

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Cajun Jambalaya with Okra, Andouille and Shrimp

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The other day, I was thinking about the way I used to eat. Back when I was in college and shortly after I graduated. Let’s just say it wasn’t very healthy or very delicious. Looking back, I think there was a period of time where I just completely forgot that I knew how to cook a decent meal. Plus, I couldn’t really be bothered. Like a lot of people, I had the misconception that cooking a real dinner out of real ingredients would be too expensive and take too much time. So we’d boil a box of pasta and mix it with a jar of sauce and some sausage. Or we’d try to be “healthy” and make a chicken stir-fry, but we would totally ruin it by using store-bought marinades that were loaded with sugar. For a special treat, we’d buy a box of zatarain’s mix and make jambalaya.

I don’t miss the other stuff at all, but I do kind of miss the jambalaya. And with Foodbuzz pledging to donate $25 to the Greater New Orleans Foundation (helping fishermen who were effected by the oil spill and their families) for every Gulf-Inspired post this weekend, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make it. Of course, I wasn’t going to resort to using a box – I know better than that now! (And a quick look at the back of the box confirmed my suspicions — 21% of your RDA of sodium? MSG? Sodium dioxide?? No thanks!) No, this jambalaya is 100% real food and 100% real flavor. Sure you have to spend a few minutes chopping vegetables, but other than that it really isn’t any more difficult or time consuming than the boxed stuff. And the final product is so much healthier and so much more delicious that there really isn’t any excuse to take “shortcuts”!

Looking for more Gulf-inspired flavor? How about a nice, steamy bowl of gumbo? Gumbo is very similar to jambalaya, but it’s prepared as a soup enriched with a roux. In gumbo, the rice is cooked separately from the other ingredients and added in the final step instead of cooking along with everything else and absorbing all of the flavors.

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Marvelous Moroccan Chicken from Sally Bee’s The Secret Ingredient

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When I was approached about doing a review of Sally Bee’s The Secret Ingredient ($17.90 on Amazon), I was a little hesitant. The book was originally published in England, which isn’t exactly known for its amazing food. Plus, the recipes are heart-healthy and I was afraid that might mean that they would be bland. But her story had me intrigued, so I agreed to accept a copy.* Boy am I glad I did — this book has quickly become one of my favorites!

In 2004, Sally Bee was working as a writer and a British television personality when she suddenly suffered three major hart attacks in the span of one week. She had never smoked, didn’t drink, and was generally healthy and fit, but she found that she had been born with a heart defect that had gone undetected her whole life. To make a long story short, she wasn’t expected to survive, but she did! In order to keep her health up, she needed to pay very close attention to what she ate — but she didn’t want her kids to “grow up thinking a diet of mung beans and spinach was normal.” So she learned how to cook heart-healthy meals that were also enjoyable and “normal.”

The recipes in The Secret Ingredient focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and are bursting with flavors, thanks to the generous use of herbs and spices. The dishes in the book are fast and easy to make and don’t require any ingredients that you can’t find in your neighborhood grocery store. Since the recipes focus so heavily on fresh foods, you don’t have to worry about needing ingredients that are only available in England. I also really like that Sally Bee has a similar philosophy to me when it comes to not totally eliminating ingredients that have a reputation of being “unhealthy.” In moderation ingredients like butter, cheese, and red meat can add a ton of flavor to a dish without rendering the whole dish off-limits. Sally Bee includes small amounts of ingredients like these in her recipes; she also makes a note on each recipe to identify whether it’s an “everyday” dish or a “treat” that should be limited to once a week. The recipes are also accompanied by absolutely gorgeous full-color photos.

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I tested out the recipes for the “Marvelous Moroccan Chicken” (Shared below), the “Spicy Couscous,” and the “Healthy Spring Vegetable Risotto” all three meals were fresh, delicious, and easy (and cheap!) to make. The risotto was packed full of vegetables and was very filling — it also had some pesto stirred in, which was wonderful and a trick that I’ll be using often! The flavors in the Moroccan Chicken were unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before, but we both loved it! The warm spices in it were amazing and the whole house smelled wonderful while it cooked.

Of course, there are a few negatives, but they’re really more mild annoyances that anything. The majority of the recipes require using the oven — which is fine most of the year, but not really an option in the current heat. I also felt that the dessert chapter was a little too long — some of the ideas in it looked nice, but if I’m going to have dessert, I don’t want fruit. I want dessert. So while it’s nice for the healthy options to be included, I doubt I’ll ever make anything from that chapter. There are also a few things that are weird just because the book was originally published in England: metric weights are listed first and some ingredients are referred as they are known over there (for example zucchini is “courgette” and cilantro is “coriander” — though the American English names are given in parentheses). Also, the risotto could have used a little salt (although that would have been pretty inappropriate for a heart-healthy cookbook!)

But, the most important question always is Would I Buy the Book? Absolutely. The recipes are easy enough to be followed by beginning cooks, but are full of inspiration for more advanced cooks who want to use them as a jumping off point for their own creations. The ingredients are healthy and real; the final dishes are simple but elegant. And the photos are stunning. Let me put it this way — for me, flipping through this book is like flipping through a “Healthy Delicious” cookbook… are at least its everything that I would want a cookbook like that to be. ;)

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