Monday, January 21, 2013

Culinary Inspiration

Tomato basil soup:
The star of
last week's lunches
I started this post three weeks ago on Jan. 2.  I, like nearly everyone else, wanted to wish peace and blessings and spread good cheer into 2013. And, then my iPhone app killed my blog post. By the time I got back to it, I just didn't know what to write about -- not something that happens ordinarily (just ask my husband).

National Soup Month? That was the crux of my initial post. I even had the clever headline, "Soup's On." OK, so not that original, and probably not even that clever. 

National Spaghetti Day? I'm Italian. Every day should be National Spaghetti Day.

International Hot & Spicy Food Day? Mmmmm....Thai Basil Chicken, anyone?

Thai Basil Chicken:
Bringing a little of the
Far East to Virginia.
Although these theme days or months can inspire us, or are just plain hysterical (Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day), how many of us run to the kitchen to create dishes based on these culinary celebrations? Well, if you do, bless your heart! I, on the other hand, typically hear about them at 9 p.m. the day of or several weeks after the fact. 

What I do know is that in 2013, I am looking for new inspiration for my family's meals. Back in mid-December I wrote about being in a rut, about how if I could muster the strength, I might try a "365 homemade dinners expedition, making a different homemade gem every night for a year."

Well, I'm not here to declare that ambitious plan. But I am working toward making at least two new recipes a week (you have to start small!). So far in 2013, I've scoured several new recipe websites, found new gems in a few dusty cookbooks and am finding amazing inspiration from all the foodies on Twitter.
Sweet potatoes and
black beans ...
who'd have thought
that together they would
make such a delicious chili?

Here is a small sampling of new culinary delights making it out of my kitchen in 2013:

  • Carrot bisque
  • Fettuccine with shiitake mushrooms and lemon/basil sauce
  • Sweet potato and black bean chili
  • Gumbo
  • Filet mignon and creamed spinach 
  • Tomato basil soup
  • Prosciutto, pear and blue cheese paninis
  • Thai basil chicken
  • Baked potato soup
  • JalapeƱo, bacon and cheddar corn muffins
  • Chocolate chocolate chip muffins
  • Andouille egg bake

This week, I have several new recipes on the docket, including beef stroganoff and the andouille egg bake I just pulled out of the oven. This delectable breakfast will definitely warm our hearts and tummies during what forecasters are calling the coldest week of the year. When he returned from his business trip to New Orleans just over a week ago, my husband said, "I really want andouille and eggs. It was on the menu everywhere. Can you make something?" 
Andouille egg bake:
Breakfast of champions.

Tonight, when I put the egg bake in the oven, I simply said, "Ta da." 

I think we all get into our ruts on a regular basis. I end up falling to good old-fashioned standbys: chicken cacciatore, quiche, rouladen, spaghetti squash with roasted vegetables. The dinners are good (delicious even), but dull and boring ... and routine. Now, we will go back to our old standbys undoubtedly. In fact, chicken cacciatore is on this week's menu. 

But, I hope that adding the challenge of at least two new recipes a week will add some much needed inspiration to our menu and a little excitement to our tastebuds.

So far, so good.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili


  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Nutritional Info:

Per serving: 307 calories; 8 g fat ( 1 g sat , 5 g mono ); 0 mg cholesterol; 51 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 12 g protein; 14 g fiber; 494 mg sodium; 947 mg potassium. Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (213% daily value), Vitamin C (48% dv), Iron (32% dv), Folate (29% dv), Potassium (27% dv), Calcium (16% dv). Carbohydrate Servings: 2 1/2 Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 1 lean meat