Recipe: Sweet Potato Garlic Rosemary Mac-and-Cheese…

I do love me some Mac and Cheese!  Most of you, I’m sure, have seen the recipe I posted a while back for the Manly Mac and Cheese that my buddies and I make for Steak Night.  Well, with the bacon and grilled chicken it’s not vegetarian friendly for my fiance.  So I played with a variation of a recipe I had found with sweet potatoes mixed into Mac and Cheese (we LOVE sweet potatoes!).  One night we picked up everything we needed from the store and got to work in the kitchen.

The smell of the garlic and rosemary while it’s cooking is enough to get you drooling.  This one came together beautifully and is a great vegetarian Mac.  This recipe has even become popular with my meat-eating buddies…

Sweet Potato Garlic Rosemary Mac and Cheese

The Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 large (or 2 small) orange sweet potato, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices or thicker
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces pasta (your choice)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups Italian Blend Shredded Cheese
  • 3/4 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup italian breadcrumbs
  • 2-4 medium jalapenos (chopped, diced or sliced…cook’s preference)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or rub with butter.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and cook until the sweet potatoes are just starting to soften (about 5 minutes); remove cloves and sweet potatoes and let cool. When cloves have cooled, use a garlic press to press blanched cloves; set aside.
  3. While the water is still hot, add salt to the boiling water and toss in the pasta.  Cook until al dente (do not overcook).  When done, drain and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; Dice sweet potatoes and cook in skillet, flipping occasionally, until they develop a caramelized crust (about 5 minutes). Set aside with the pasta.
  5. Pour yourself another glass of Sauvignon Blanc (per Russ Beebe). <<– Important step
  6. In the large pot over low heat, melt the butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add in salt and pepper, and, with a wire whisk, gradually add half-and-half. Bring to a boil while continuously stirring. It should start to thicken up.  Reduce heat, and then simmer 1 minute (too long and it will get too thick making it hard to incorporate the cheese).
  7. Stir 1 3/4 cup Italian Blend Shredded Cheese and 1/2 cup Asiago cheese until melted and smooth. Add blanched pressed garlic, diced sweet potatoes, rosemary, minced garlic, jalapeno and cooked pasta. Stir to combine. Pour into greased casserole dish.
  8. To make topping, combine a tablespoon olive oil, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Italian Blend Cheese, and 1/4 cup Asiago cheese in a small mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Sprinkle on top of pasta.
  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and topping golden brown. Serve.

There are a lot of steps to this one, with the addition of the caramelized sweet potatoes.  But it is well worth the work.  I’ve made this one a half-dozen times or so now and everyone really seems to enjoy it.  Give it shot!  Let me know what you think…

Sweet potato mac and cheese

An Unusual Dream…

I had a dream this morning.

You know the kind of dreams you have right before you wake up that seem so very real…

In my dream, a friend of mine and I were, for some inexplicable reason, working late in a restaurant and having difficulty closing up.  As is often the case in my dreams, there was a task to be done and infinite problems continually got in the way of completing the task.  But, after what seemed like hours in my dream, we finally finished the task and left the restaurant…late for some sort of get together.

As we crossed the parking lot toward my truck, casually chatting, I began to notice someone in the parking lot moving to intersect with our course.  I paid little attention to this man, but could see that he was deliberately moving to meet us.  I continued to ignore him as he stepped in front of my path and I even attempted to move out of his way.  The man, intent on getting my attention, stepped in front of me again now nearly bumping in to each and other I finally looked up to see what he wanted.

The rest of the dream was stripped away as I looked into my father’s face.  He was younger than I remember him, before he began working as a correctional officer.  He was thin like he was when I was in High School and his hair was longer and he wore his typical beard.  He was dressed casually, as I would expect him to dress now for any normal afternoon in public.  He smiled his broad smile at me and his eyes were bright and alive with laughter.  I don’t know when he had reached out but I felt his hands firmly on my shoulders, holding me steady.

I broke from my initial shock and I grabbed him in a huge bear-hug and asked him what he was doing there.  Not in the sense that it was impossible, but only that I did not expect him to be here.  The party we were late for was a good-bye party for him, and he became worried when I was running late and went to find me.  He reminded me he was leaving and wanted to make sure I was going to come say good-bye.  Just as I was assuring him that I would not miss my opportunity to say good-bye, I woke up.

I lay in bed, dazed.  His image still burned into my brain.  This was unique, I never dream of my Dad.  This was the most vivid and real his presence has felt since the last time I saw him in 2004.  I had just bought my house and I hosted Thanksgiving that year.  I had a lot of family visiting and I was so busy with preparations for Thanksgiving that my memories of him from then are a blur.  He was so real and clear to me this morning that I didn’t know how else to process the experience except to write about it.

Such a simple dream…but so very real.  I’m shaken, but comforted at the same time.  I really don’t know what to do with this.  I have so much going on in my personal life lately, so much stress and uncertainty but also so much happiness.  Maybe I just needed to be set back on my foundation.  Maybe I just needed that reassuring smile and those strong hands to reach out and grab me by the shoulders and steady me.

We’ll see…maybe this was exactly what I needed right when I needed it.

5 Lessons about Blogging I Learned from Watching The Next Food Network Star…

….borrowed from The Food Network.

I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of the Food Network.  It’s no secret that I love to cook, I always have, and I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from watching guys like Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Aarón Sanchez.  I really love the creativity that comes out of the challenge type shows like Chopped.  I’ve watched several seasons of The Next Food Network Star over the last few years, but this year was different.  For one, this was the first time seasoned Food Network pros were brought in as Mentors and the contestants competed as teams.  Also different this year was my perspective, for the first time I was watching The Next Food Network Star as a blogger.

It occurred to me that the critiques and advice that these Food Network hopefuls were getting from their mentors and the judges made a lot of sense in the blogging world as well as TV.  Each time the contestants got in front of that camera and gave their presentation, they were offering a sample of themselves and what they had to offer.  They had to prove that they could be informative, entertaining, charming and establish a real connection with their audience.  All of those are qualities most of us strive for in writing our articles.  In fact, many food bloggers have made the leap to television because of the similarities between blogging and TV shows like those on the Food Network.

So as I watched this season of The Next Food Network Star I paid attention to why some contestants failed while others excelled.  And as, one by one, they narrowed the field I took away lessons that could be applied to my writing.  In true blogging style, I have broken it down in to five main lessons…

Lessons Learned from The Food Network Star-

1. Have a POV

This was one of the biggest questions through the entire show.  What’s your point of view?  What is your focus?  What makes you different from everyone else out there doing what you do?  Some people have a POV built-in from the start and others struggle to find their focus.  It’s important for your audience to know what your passion is and be drawn in by it.  If one day you’re talking about horticulture and the next day scrap booking, there better be an underlying theme that connects the two or you are just confusing your audience.  The most successful bloggers find their niche, their unique perspective in a broader category.  Your audience will come back again and again because they value your point of view.

2. Tell a story

One of the strongest contestants this season was eliminated, finally, because she failed to be able to connect a personal story to her presentation.  Over and over again she was coached to “tell us a story” and create some unique personal connection to her recipes.  She would get so caught up in delivering the information that she failed to make it personal.  The point is, if all you can do is deliver raw information to your audience they will have no real reason to come back.  Most casual readers/viewers want to be entertained, they want to be told a story.  Even when writing something as seemingly dry as a gear review it’s important to give it context and bring the story of the review to the reader.

3. Give your audience something they can take away

This is a personal lesson I took to heart.  I feel like I can tell a story, and I write my gear reviews and trail reports from a personal perspective of sharing the journey with my readers.  What I’ve been weak on is offering tips, or tricks that my readers can walk away with after taking the time to read my blog.  As I watched several of the Next Food Network Star contestants receive criticism for not offering a cooking tip along with their presentation I realized that I am guilty of that as well.  Adding a little piece of trail advice, a gear suggestion or a simple tip or trick relevant to the article should be an easy thing to accomplish with a little thought and effort.  This is something I plan to work on.

4. Be consistent

To have a show on the Food Network (or any channel for that matter) you’ve got to be able to deliver.  A network can’t build an audience around a personality that changes every week.  When it comes down to it, they are creating a BRAND that has to be able to deliver every time the cameras turn on.  Just like any brand in any market, product inconsistency will fracture and damage your brand’s reputation.  Some contestants were eliminated from the show because they could not offer a consistent personality or smooth delivery in front of the camera.  As a writer I feel it is important to have a consistent personality, POV and writing style as a basic foundation for your blog’s “brand”.  If the foundation is solid, you can be as creative as you want with the rest of your content.

5. Take chances

This season’s The Next Food Network Star winner was Justin Warner.  Justin is a young Chef and restaurant owner from New York who is always thinking outside the box.  His creations on the show this season were always surprising, edgy, creative and different.  With nearly every recipe he put together to present to the judges he took chances with unexpected ingredients and flavor combinations.  What he proved was that he was smart about how food works and could be creative in it’s execution.  He consistently offered something the judges had never seen before and it paid off.  Now, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel or make every endeavor an exercise in stretching the imagination.  However, Justin proved that taking risks and delivering the unexpected once in a while can really pay off.

The bonus lesson, which got a few people eliminated this season, is simply be genuine.  Don’t try to be a character, or salesman.  Ultimately, people will recognize when you are not being yourself and they will tire of the deception quickly.

So be yourself, find your voice, tell us a story and every once in a while…give us something we never expected.

 

For me, the Food Network was an unexpected place to find lessons I could apply to writing my blog.  What unexpected sources have given you some of your most valuable lessons?