Slow Cooker Week – Day 1, Sweet Potato & Beef Stew

It’s time for another theme week at DinnerCakes! From time to time we like to devote a week to a particular style or genre of cooking, a holiday or anything really that strikes our fancy. Past theme weeks include Rainbow Week, Halloween Week and Smoothie Week. Welcome to Slow Cooker (ie Crockpot) week!


When I say slow cooker, do visions of fatty, salty stews pop into your head? Slow cooker meals can be unhealthy when all you’re doing is opening a bunch of canned food into the pot and letting it simmer. Canned food contains a great deal of sodium, which is great to keep it fresher in the can… but not so great for your heart, blood pressure, etc.


So the trick is to use fresh ingredients when possible (watch the canned food), add spices and seasonings liberally (but create your own flavors instead of relying on flavor packets and premade seasonings) and get creative!


I’m starting out the week with the cliched beef stew, but I jazzed it up a little bit. Instead of adding russet potatoes, I used two sweet potatoes that I had in the kitchen, emphasizing the savory and sweet flavors of a stew. I also relied more on veggies than beef, using only a handful of leftover cubed beef that I had from my fondue experiment. Lastly, I didn’t measure any seasonings that I added to the pot. I’m sorry, Julia Childs, but slow cooker meals simmer for hours in the added spices, and I think trying to be too precise about measuring it would lead to a bland stew. Trust your own hand!


Though I was grumbling while preparing the ingredients in the morning, it’s so nice to be able to just walk over to the slow cooker and spoon out dinner in the evening!


Savory Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

Approx. one pound of beef stew meat, cubed
Approx. 1/2 cup flour (for dusting the beef)
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
Approx. 5 whole carrots, peeled and diced
Approx. 4 whole celery hearts, diced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
32 oz. low sodium beef broth
salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder (for sprinkling on beef)
salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, paprika, thyme (to taste)

In the morning, prepare ingredients – season beef, cut carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, etc. Add vegetables to the bottom of the slow cooker.

Dredge beef cubes in flour. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add cooking spray or a small amount of oil and lightly brown beef, then add to slow cooker. Add a small amount of beef broth to the pan and add onions. Saute until lightly browned, then add onions and deglazed beef broth to the slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and beef broth to the slow cooker. Toss to combine ingredients and spices.

Cook on low approximately 6-8 hours. If stew needs additional thickening, add more flour or cornstarch and stir. If this is the first time you’ve used your crock pot, try to monitor the cook time as cookers vary in temperature (mine tends to be on the hot side).

Detoxing from Halloween with Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Good morning! I hope you had a great Halloween. I spent much of the day watching scary movies, reformatting my computer from Vista to Windows 7 and going to bed by 10:30 PM in order to be up at 5 AM for an early hospital shift – riveting, I know!


You’ve probably had enough of Halloween candy and sweets for a little while (I haven’t, but the scale says otherwise), so this recipe should help if you need some detox along the way.

scoopedseedspost roasting

The other day I made an Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup. It’s a little bit sweet and very tasty. It would make a great appetizer soup for a Thanksgiving dinner party to introduce the meal, or you can have it for weeknight dinner and enjoy the leftovers for a few more nights (like my husband and I did).


I changed a few things from the original recipe including leaving out shallots and chives. Because the squash and sweet potato would already be sweet, I didn’t want to introduce the sweet onion shallot flavor as well. Shallots can also be a little expensive.


I’d never worked with acorn squash before this actually, and it’s very easy. My trick to scoop out the insides after roasting the squash was to use a melon baller – the squash flesh came apart easily and without a lot of mess.


Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to garnish.


Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Pumpkins & Squashes

1 large sweet potato
1 medium acorn squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup light cream
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cut sweet potato and squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out squash seeds and brush cut sides with oil

Place cut squash and sweet potato halves cut-side down in a shallow roasting pan (I used an old brownie pan). Add unpeeled garlic cloves around the vegetables. Roast for 40 minutes until tender.

When cool, pin down one end of the squash with a fork and scoop flesh (ie, the insides) from potato and squash with a melon baller, leaving the skins behind. Peel garlic and add soft insides and scooped flesh to a large saucepan.

Add the chicken broth and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for approximately 30 minutes, until vegetables are very tender. Stir occasionally.

Cool slightly and transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Work in batches so that you do not overflow your machine. If using a food processor, strain off the cooking liquid and reserve. Process the veggies with only enough liquid to moisten it, then combine with remaining liquid when fully processed.

Return soup to rinsed pan and stir in light cream. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes or until heated through. Garnish as desired and serve!\

Warm and Satisfying Sweet Potato Biscuits

Most summers, my family tries to sneak in at least a brief vacation to Nags Heads, NC. Though Nags Head is gradually becoming more built up, luckily some things haven’t changed.

cooked biscuits

Our favorite and most consistent restaurant is Kelly’s Restaurant and Tavern in the Outer Banks; if you haven’t been then you’re really missing something special. It’s a nicer establishment than most (ie, expensive), but it’s well worth the expense. Usually when we go I always order the flounder, but it’s incredibly difficult to restrain myself from filling up on their signature Sweet Potato Biscuits.

These biscuits aren’t beauty pageant winners – they stay fairly flat and don’t rise in the oven. They aren’t the light, flaky, buttery kind, in fact they’re quite dense and heavy. What makes them so great? They smell heavenly, they’re very unique, they’re filled with sweet potatoes which are actually good for you and they stick to the roof of your mouth. Yum!

sweet potato biscuits

Kelly’s will give you the Sweet Potato Biscuit recipe if you ask for it, but you’ll be surprised to learn that they’re made using Bisquick. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I prefer making it all from scratch – which really isn’t much more difficult and you’ll likely have all of the ingredients already on hand.

I read a few different biscuit recipes to come up with a combination of ingredients that I thought could replace the Bisquick while maintaining the great taste I’m used to. I made these Friday night, just in time for the series finale of Battlestar Galactica (if you happened to watch this, what did you think? my husband joked, “the moral of 4 seasons: robots will probably kill you”). We scarfed a few of these down until our stomaches hurt (hey, I warned you they were dense). These are best enjoyed warm.

sweet potato biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 pound sweet potatoes (approximately 2 sweet potatoes)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Peel sweet potatoes, then cut into 2 inch pieces and boil until there is very little resistance when pierced with a fork. Mash sweet potatoes using a masher or the back of a fork. Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.

Using two spoons, drop biscuit mixture onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet; biscuits should be approximately 2 1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 16-18 minutes. The moistness of the mixture makes it so that these biscuits do not rise much. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t overcook. Biscuits are ready when they have set and they are slightly firm to the touch.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen biscuits.

Note: Be sure that these are completely cooled before putting them away, if there are any left. Do not store in an airtight container because the tops will get “sticky.”

Who Needs Scallions? Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga

Two dinner posts in one week instead of dessert? This is Ghost Baker blasphemy! And I picked rutabaga to work with; such a bizarre looking vegetable. Maybe hitting our 100th DinnerCakes post this week has made me loopy.


Don’t worry, I’ve just been cooking a lot lately and trying new things… and thankfully they seem to be working out well! Weight loss and weekly baking weren’t really fitting together, though I believe Chef Edwin got a good laugh at my dreams of a pound cake diet (which he sarcastically termed my “pound diet”).

My mother-in-law got me a subscription to Food Network Magazine for Christmas which I have already toyed with before here. This was a really cool gift because now I get great, seasonal recipes delivered directly to my door (er, mail slot). Today’s recipe was inspired by the Nov/Dec 2008 issue featuring some fancy potato recipes.


The original recipe called for a few things that I thought were a little unnecessary for my purposes (a weeknight side dish). And my husband quickly vetoed my quest for fresh parsley and scallions in the grocery store stating incredulously, “Who has ever eaten something and said it needs more scallions!?”

So here we are! I took out some of the “fluff,” used basic Russet potatoes instead of Yukon Gold and added broccoli. This recipe makes a shallow baking dish full of mashed potatoes and rutabaga. We had enough leftover for a full week of dinners and/or lunches… quite a bit, really. But I surprisingly never got tired of it! This dish really is a nice surprise. I’d only had rutabaga once before at Thanksgiving 2008. I thought it had a very distinct, almost bitter taste that didn’t agree with me, but combining it with potatoes makes it much more mild and very enjoyable.

mashed potatoes and rutabaga

Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga
adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 pound rutabaga (yellow turnip), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons margarine, room temperature (I did half regular butter and half margarine in an attempt to reduce the fat content, but you certainly don’t have to)
3/4 cup half and half, warmed
salt, to taste (I used coarse Kosher salt)
1/2 tablespoon oil (I used Smart Balance oil)
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
3/4 cups plain breadcrumbs

In a large pot, cover cut rutabaga and potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil on medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce to a simmer until the vegetables are tender (they should hold there form, but there should be little resistance when pierced with a fork). This will take approximately 30 minutes.

Drain the water and turn the heat down to low. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter (not the margarine) and mash (I used a potato masher) until smooth (I like to leave just a few potato chunks in mine, but I know everyone has there own preference!). Add the warm half and half and salt. Keep warm on low setting.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine with the oil in a skillet on medium. Add the breadcrumbs and broccoli and cook until broccoli is tender, stirring so that the breadcrumbs don’t burn.

Pour the potato mixture into a shallow baking or casserole dish. Sprinkle potatoes with the breadcrumb/broccoli mixture and serve.

Note – after discussing this dish with Edwin, we think mashed cauliflower might also be good in here, possibly as a substitute to the Russet potatoes. Let us know if you try it out!

Reader Request – Grandma Bachetti’s Candied Yams

Oh, Thanksgiving, how I love thee. You bring me such delicious food, time with family and of course a day off. In the days/weeks/months to come I will scorn you. I will blame you when I step on a scale, when my pants don’t fit as well as they did during the summer. But in truth, you are but one day of the year. You are a glimmer in the dark, cold winter months to come. It’s not your fault I brought back with me all those leftovers; not your fault I kill the indoor boredom through excessive baking. Please, don’t take my predictable frustration to heart. Rest assured I will look forward to your return next year with many a recipe to make.

Boiling sweet potatoes in far too small a pot

This was a good Thanksgiving. My grandparents were visiting from Chicago for the month so we had three cooks in the kitchen. Despite the cliché about too many cooks spoiling the broth, things worked out very well (we didn’t do any soup). Mom was head chef, handling the bulk of the dishes with Oma (Grandma) and I taking care of a few sides on our own. We started around 9:00 in the morning and cooked till 2:00. Of course there was too much food and of course it was all excellent.

Pouring on the good stuff

We had a reader request a few weeks back for a fancy candied yam recipe. When most people use the term yam in the United States, they’re not really referring to actual yams, but a type of sweet potato common in most grocery stores. Like white potatoes, sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and since they have a much lower glycemic index I try to substitute with them whenever I can. I had never made candied yams before but it turns out my grandmother on my Dad’s side had a popular recipe that she passed along to my Mom before she passed away. Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to test this out and test it out I did. This recipe is anything but fancy but still gets my stamp of approval.

Editorial note: I love my mother, but she has a few annoying tendencies in the kitchen that irritate the hell out of me. One of them is using far too small a pot for the job. Please, use a bigger pot.

Grandma Bachetti's Candied Yams (Sweet Potatoes)

Grandma Bachetti’s Candied Yams
If you have really large sweet potatoes, consider adding more brown sugar; a quarter cup at the most. The size of the baking pan isn’t important just so long as the entire bottom is well covered. We used a 9×9, but a 9×12 would probably work as well.
3 large sweet potatoes; peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter; softened
1-2 cups small marshmallows (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut the sweet potatoes into large chunk of roughly equal size and boil until softened but not falling apart. Depending on the sizes you cut, this will be approximately 20-30 minutes. While the sweet potatoes are boiling, combine the sugars and butter in a medium heat resistant bowl. Strain the sweet potatoes when ready, preserving the liquid, and put into a glass baking pan.

Let the preserved water sit briefly so that the heavy stuff from the boil settles to the bottom. Then, depending on the amount of water you started with, pour out 2-3 cups of the liquid “on the top”. This isn’t an exact science here so don’t worry about exactly how much water you pour out or how much of the heavy stuff is lost. Spoon 2 cups of the liquid, heavy stuff and all, into your sugar bowl and stir. Pour over your sweet potatoes.

Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, sprinkling the marshmallows when there is five minutes left. Remove and serve within 30 minutes.