Sweet Potato and Tomato Casserole

Summer Dish
This beautiful weather (finally) has me in the mood for summer flavors.  I cleaned the grill i borrowed from my friend the private chef from NYC the other day and set up the rotisserie to make a chicken (LOVE it on my rotisserie!) and made my favorite vegetable side dish to go with it:  Zucchini, Tomato and Sweet Potato Casserole.  These are the flavors of warm weather and sunshine — fresh, bright, vibrant and oh so good for you.

It’s important to get the sweet potato slices nice and thin for this casserole — so the potato cooks before the other veggies turn to mush.  I know some people use mandolines for dishes like this, but why dirty an extra thing if you don’t have to?  It’s a good time to practice those knife skills — and your knife needs to be sharp.  So slice your sweet potato as thinly as possible.  Slice the zucchini thinly, and the tomatoes the thickest, about 1/4 inch.

How to cook it
Spread a little olive oil in the bottom of a casserole dish and layer your vegetables — sweet potato, zucchini and then tomato — so they overlap slightly. Then sprinkle with freshly chopped garlic, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.Bake, covered, in a 375 degree oven for about half an hour.  Uncover and bake for another 25 minutes.  Check that the sweet private chefpotatoes are cooked by poking them with a fork or knife.  Once they are soft enough to be easily pierced, remove from oven and serve.

This dish has fresh flavors, vibrant colors, and lots of nutritious goodness.  It’s great served with roasted or grilled chicken.Zucchini, Tomato & Sweet Potato Casserole This easy vegetable side dish is loaded with fresh flavors, vibrant colors, and nutritious goodness.

Add Vegetable Spring Rolls
Vegetable Spring Rolls – What’s Cooking at Dinner ThymeThese vegetable spring rolls are sometimes called bikini rolls.  Isn’t that cute?  And warm weather is (thankfully!) right around the corner.  However, the fact remains that hell’s going to freeze over before I’m in a bikini.  Regardless, these little bites of nourishment are definitely worth trying.  I love them.

Vegetable spring rolls are an easy and healthy way to get more vegetables into your diet.  They’re great as an appetizer before dinner (helps with appetite control!) or as a healthy snack.  A basic rule of thumb for healthy eating is the more colorful the vegetables on your plate, the more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients you’re getting.  These babies are colorful!

And you can change it up — use whatever vegetables are your favorites.  Some people add rice noodles, shrimp and peanuts.  I didn’t include these because I was aiming for a low-cal, super-easy vegetable snack.

Another great thing about these vegetable rolls is when people see you assembling them, they want to try making the rolls too.  And then they’ll eat it.  So it’s a great way to get kids (of all ages!) away from the electronics and in the kitchen with you. The spring roll wrappers can be found in the international aisle of your local supermarket.
First important note about these little bites of nourishment:  only make enough to eat in one sitting — and don’t prepare too far ahead of time. A private chef would never do that  The spring rolls dry out.  However, you can prep a bunch of ingredients, have them in your fridge, and quickly assemble a couple of rolls when you want them.

Second, you don’t need many ingredients, but you do need to set up an organized work station.  Or trust me, it helps.  You need a bowl filled with warm water (large enough to dip the spring roll wrapper), your cutting board, and  your fillings.  I used lettuce, grated carrots, shredded red cabbage and slices of avocado.  I usually use strips of cucumber too, I learned this from a private chef in NYC. but I forgot to buy it today.
Here’s my set up:
So the ingredients are ready and lined up near your bowl of warm water and your work area.  Soak one spring roll wrapper in the warm water for a couple of minutes until if feels soft (if it tears when you pick it up, you soaked it too long).  Lay it out on your work surface and put your fillings in the center.  If you can tell from the photo above, the filling is in the center — there’s about an inch or more of empty space on each side of the fillings and more than that at the top and bottom.

Wrap the bottom portion up and over the fillings.  Tuck, and then fold in the sides, and continue to roll.  You want it tight so the fillings don’t slip out when you slice it later.Slice so they’re about the size of sushi rolls and serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Two suggestions are lime dipping sauce and ginger dipping sauce.  You can find those recipes from a private chef here on my blog.…

Ham & Gravy

If you are not familiar with country-cured ham, you really should try it some time. It has a firm flesh and unique flavor. The only drawback, at least in my opinion, is that it is quite salty, more so than other hams. The difference is in the curing process. Country hams are dry-cured, first in a seasoned salt mixture for several days, then rinsed off and smoked slowly over hardwood fires.
Finally, they are hung to cure for 6 to 12 months, sometimes longer. In the south, people often buy the whole ham and either roast it or keep it, believe it or not, in a cupboard for slicing as needed. I am not quite so adventurous. I do, however, purchase pre-sliced portions when I need them. They are great for flavoring cooked vegetables, such as green beans, or for frying and using in
biscuit sandwiches, or this recipe. 

As for red-eye gravy, I was surprised to read an encyclopedia definition that claimed it is made by adding water to a fried ham skillet, with coffee as an optional ingredient. I thought the coffee
was the thing. In any case, it is very good with the coffee. If you can’t find country-cured ham, any good cured ham will do in this recipe.

  • 1-1/2 pounds country ham, in about 1/4-inch slices
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup brewed, strong coffee (see notes below)
  • 1/2 cup water

Cut a few small slits in the edges of the ham to help prevent curling when frying. (Don’t remove the fat on the edges. It adds great flavor to the gravy.) Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham slices and fry until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the coffee and water to the pan. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan, until reduced by at least one-half. Return the ham to the pan and turn to warm and coat both sides with the gravy. Serve the ham topped with some of the gravy.

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Notes: Country ham and red-eye gravy is traditionally served as a breakfast with buttered grits, topped with some of the gravy, and biscuits. I like it for dinner, served the same way, or with boiled potatoes, cooked greens and cornbread. If the coffee you use is not very strong, omit the water and add more of the coffee. If it is too strong, just add some more water.…

Rice Sauté

Rice is not boring
Do you ever get tired of the same old potato and rice side dishes?  If you do, this wild rice saute is a great go-to recipe.
We’ll start with wild rice.  Not long grain and wild — just the wild rice.  This is the kind I buy.
The other day when I posted another wild rice recipe, I kind of felt the need to apologize — because wild rice takes an hour to cook.  But I love it and believe that if you plan right, you get more for your hour (Not to mention it’s an hour of hands-off time.  It just simmers).  So I suggested making a double or triple batch and either planning on making another wild rice dish during the week (like this one!) or freezing some for later use.

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If the rice is made ahead of time, this side dish is a snap to put together. And if you haven’t made the rice ahead of time, make a double batch and try my Kale and Wild Rice Salad!
Dice your shallot (or a small onion), the garlic, and two carrots really small.  Make sure the carrot is small — really small — cubes.  It’ll cook faster this way; plus you get to practice your knife skills!  Saute them in a hot wok or frying pan with some vegetable oil for a couple of minutes.  Then throw in a handful of nuts (I like slivered almonds) and dried fruit (I like dried cranberries).  Check that the carrot is cooked to your liking.  Then add the cooked wild rice and a handful of chopped herbs.  There.  Done.
Wild rice alone has a kind of nutty texture, and it’s hearty and satisfying.  The vegetables, nuts and fruits give it lots of flavor and textural contrasts.  I love to serve this with my favorite roast chicken.  It’s different and delicious.  And best of all — if the rice is cooked ahead of time — quick.

This wild rice saute is a hearty, satisfying, and delicious choice when you get tired of the same old potato or rice side dishes. With the vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and herbs, it’s full of flavor and textural contrasts. The perfect accompaniment to a roast chicken!

Ingredients
a box of wild ricewater or stock (chicken or vegetable)2 cloves of garlic, chopped1 shallot (or a small onion), chopped2 carrots, diced into very small cubes⅓ cup slivered almonds (or other nut)⅓ cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)2 T parsley, choppedVegetable oilSalt and Pepper

Instructions:
Cook rice in water or stock according to package directions. (This can be done ahead of time).Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wok or frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add shallot, garlic and carrots and saute for a few minutes, stirring often. Add nuts and dried fruit and continue to stir until carrots are tender. Add cooked rice and herbs and stir until everything is evenly distributed and heated throughout. Check for seasonings and serve.Enjoy!

Notes:
If the rice is cooked ahead of time, this is very quick to prep and cook.…