Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: Holiday Recipe #1

Hello world!

It’s been a while. And by a while, I mean nearly six months. Wow. This past semester has been a hectic/emotional/terrifying/beautiful whirlwind, and unfortunately I had to sacrifice blogging time in favor of other matters, such as running. And school.

Because priorities.
Because priorities.

But now I’m happy to announce that my forced hiatus is over! Whoo!!

While I may not have gotten to post anything in the last six months, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t gotten to cook. So. Over the course of the next week, I’d like to make up for lost time by spamming the site with new recipes (and, of course, all the nerdy science goodness that goes along with them). My goal is one post daily (starting today) for the next seven. I’m thinking of it as a holiday food blogging extravaganza.

I guess you could say I am a little...nuts (bah-dum-crash)
I guess you could say I am a little…nuts (bah-dum-crash)

Without further ado, here is holiday recipe #1: sweet potatoes stuffed with goat cheese, caramelized onions, and hazelnuts.


The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a type of edible tuber native to Central and South America known (oddly enough) for its sweet taste. It is usually light yellow to orange in color, although some varieties grow red, pink, or vivid purple. All are equally delicious.

In certain parts of the American south, this starchy tuber is also known as a yam. The alias, however, has lead to a bit of an identity crisis. You see, the sweet potato shares this title with two other plants: the African yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and the Polynesian yam (Oxalis tuberosa).

Those yams, doh.
Dem yams, doh.

As you may have gathered from the Latin, none of these plants is remotely related. In fact, Dioscorea is a monocot (petals in threes, parallel veins, networking roots), while Ipomoea and Oxalis are dicots (petals in 4/5, networking veins, taproots). In short: similar look, similar name, very different plant. Kind of like early 90’s Justin Timberlake’s hair and a package of ramen noodles.

Don't get those confused.
Make sure you don’t get those confused.

To make matters more confusing, the sweet potato is not only not a yam, it is not, in fact, a potato (I realize that is a lot of not’s. Please forgive me).

Solanum tuberosum (a.k.a. the potato) is also native to South America, but is a member of the nightshade family, a group which includes eggplant, tomatoes, and a variety of poisonous berries. Yes, that’s right: the potato is more closely related to the tomato than the sweet potato.

Pah-ta-to, Pah-tah-to. Tah-ma-to Tah-mah-to.
Pah-ta-to, Pah-tah-to. Tah-ma-to Tah-mah-to.

Because sometimes English sucks at making sense.

Regardless of etymology, here’s a terrific way to enjoy your very own Ipomoea batatas.


1 onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

4 oz goat cheese

4 medium sized sweet potatoes

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon rosemary (optional)

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, and insert into the hot oven for about an hour, or until tender (oh baby).

2. In the meantime, caramelize the onions over medium-low heat until golden-brown and delicious (about 10 minutes). Add salt and rosemary as desired.

Caramelizing onions is one of my favorite things.
Real talk: caramelizing onions is one of my favorite things.

3. Remove potatoes from oven. Once sufficiently cooled, open up and stuff with 1/4 of the onions and 1oz goat cheese each. Sprinkle generously with hazelnuts. Go to town!




Glorious Homemade Sandwich Bread

In honor of the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, I figured I’d make something that encapsulates the spirit of America…something wholesome, something patriotic…something that has been labeled, patented, mass-produced, and stuffed with preservatives past the point of recognition.

That’s right: we’re making sandwich bread!

It's the best thing since...well...yeah.
It’s the best thing since…well…yeah.

As we all know, sandwich bread is about as American as apple pie. Which is to say, it’s actually European in origin.

No, not that Apple.
No, not that Apple.

Way back in the Middle Ages, Europeans began using stale bread as bowls by stuffing them with various meats and cheeses. These “trenchers” were not technically modern sandwiches, but they did help give rise to their thin-sliced counterparts.

The first recorded use of the word “sandwich” to refer to a meal eaten between two slices of bread was sometime in the mid-1700s (circa 1762). According to legend, it was coined when John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (yes, that was his real title), requested a meal he could eat without interrupting his poker game. His crafty cook took all the components of a regular meal and stuffed them between two mess-free pieces of bread. Voila! The invention quickly became a staple at card tables everywhere.

So how did sandwiches become so decidedly “American”? The first sandwich recipe in the US of A cropped up in Elizabeth Leslie’s 1840 cookbook, Directions for Cookery.

Catchy title, no?
Catchy title, no?

The passage reads as follows:

Ham Sandwiches – Cut some thin slices of bread very neatly, having slightly buttered them; and, if your choose, spread on a very little mustard. Have ready some very thin slices of cold boiled ham, and lay one between two slices of bread. You may either roll them up, or lay them flat on the plates. They are used at supper or at luncheon.

So now you all know what to do with your newly baked loaves of sandwich bread. You’re welcome.

But sandwiches really took off in America when, in the late 1920s, bakeries began selling pre-sliced loaves, courtesy of Gustav Papendick’s slicing machine.

This is an actual scan of the machine's actual blueprints. I'd try to explain them, but that's WAY TO MUCH engineering for me.
This is an actual scan of the machine’s actual blueprints. I’d try to explain them, but that’s WAY TOO MUCH engineering for me.

Finally, mothers everywhere had a quick, convenient, mess-free option for their kids’ brown bag lunches.

Peanut butter lovers, rejoice!
Peanut butter lovers, rejoice!

So let’s all celebrate a genuine(-ly borrowed) American tradition this Fourth of July with some good ole’ fashion sandwich bread.


1 1oz package of active dry yeast (or 2 tablespoons)

1 1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon salt

3 3/4 cups flour

A little bit of olive oil, to coat

1. Preheat oven to its lowest setting (usually 170 degrees F). Combine honey and milk in a small saucepan, and heat over medium until warm (but NOT scalded).

2. Melt butter in microwave. I mean, put it in a cup or something first, or else your microwave is going to be a mess. But yeah…melted butter.

3. Stir melted butter and yeast into milk and honey mixture, and allow to bloom for five minutes. You’ll know its ready when this somewhat horrifying frothy cream colored scum builds up on top of the liquid (trust me, its a good sign).

It will be like this, only more bubbly.
It will be like this, only more bubbly.

4. In the meantime, place salt and 3 1/2 cups of the flour in a large bowl. Once yeast mixture has fully bloomed, pour it into the flour mix and stir for as long as possible. When stirring is no longer working, switch to kneading the dough by hand. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup flour as you knead. Dough is ready when it ceases to stick to the sides of the bowl.


5. Lightly coat newly formed dough ball in olive oil, and cover with a damp cloth. Pop that sucker in the oven, turn the heat off, and let it rise for 50 minutes.

I'm a big kid now.
I’m a big kid now.

6. Once dough is about double in size, turn it out on a clean surface and knead it a little more. Stretch it out into a big rectangle, fold it in on itself, and pop it in a 9 inch loaf pan. Cover with the damp cloth again and allow to rise for another 25 minutes.

7. While the dough is rising again, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (make sure your dough is outside the oven this time).

8. When ready, remove damp cloth and place loaf pan in the oven for 25-30 min, or until bread is nicely golden-brown on top. I’d recommend you let it cool for at least an hour before slicing, but that’s really more to avoid steam burns than anything.

That, my friends, is a nice loaf.
That, my friends, is a nice loaf.

9. Go forth. Make sandwiches. Have a picnic.

Yeah, me either.

Salted Caramel Cinnamon Rolls

Let’s take a moment to deconstruct that title: Salted. Caramel. Cinnamon. Rolls. See anything wrong here?

Yeah, me either.
Yeah, me either.

Typically I make a point to cook food that is both tasty and wholesome. That’s just part of being a runner; it’s  essential for us to put the right kinds of fuel into our bodies, so we can go forth and run fourteen consecutive miles without dying. BUT. I am also a firm believer in the old adage “everything in moderation”. Including moderation.

So this recipe is basically pure self-indulgence. Is it healthy in the sense that it uses only real ingredients instead of fake, processed crap? Yes! Is it healthy in the South Beach Diet sense? No. No it is not. But part of the joy of food is stuffing your face with something so delicious, you no longer care.


And (because I can’t get through a post without throwing some science at you) it also happens to have some very cool chemistry behind it.

This is a story about caramelization.

Caramelization is a chemical process that takes place when sugar monomers interact in some unusual ways. The reaction begins with sucrose, in this case table sugar crystals. When heated, the crystals initially behave in the way you’d expect: they fall apart, breaking down into glucose and fructose molecules. Pretty standard so far.

Like so.
Like so.

But what happens next is the interesting part. Rather than continue to degrade, the newly formed monosaccharides (basic sugar units) start to link up. And link up. And link up. They don’t do this uniformly, either; the end result is a bunch of really long chains of sugar molecules of random lengths. As heat is applied, this process will continue indefinitely unless interrupted.

Naturally, the next step is to interrupt the chain-gang, and to do this, you’re going to channel your inner Paula Deen. That’s right: step three is to lob butter at it. Oh, and heavy cream, because butter just isn’t enough fat. The idea here is to form a kind of fatty matrix around the polysaccharides in order to suspend all that sugary goodness.

Butter makes it all better.
Butter makes it all better.

And voila! Caramel! Indecently, this process is going on simultaneously in both the caramel sauce and in the cinnamon rolls themselves (see: brown sugar filling). So…that’s cool.

Ok, enough chemistry. Here’s your recipe; indulge!


1 cup almond milk

3 tablespoons (plus a little more) butter

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 tablespoon honey

Salt (to taste)

1 package dry yeast

3 cups flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1. Combine almond milk and honey in a small sauce pan, and heat over low. In the meantime, place flour and salt in a large bowl.

2. Melt butter and peanut butter; add to honey-almond-milk mixture. Stir in yeast.

3. Allow yeast to bloom for five minutes, then stir into flour/salt mixture. You might have to knead the dough by hand (or stand machine). Once it reaches a uniform consistency and stops sticking to the side of the bowl, it is ready.

4. Cover with a wet towel and set aside in a warm place to rise for one hour.

It is risen!
It is risen!

5. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Then turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The dough should have more than doubled in size. Knead for a few turns, then roll into a large rectangle, about 1/4 of an inch thick. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

6. Spread 2 or 3 tablespoons of softened butter over the rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and roll into a log.


7. Slice the log with a sharp knife into ~12 or 14 pieces. Arrange these in a lightly sprayed 8 inch round pan. May require some smooshing.

THIS is how I roll.
THIS is how I roll.

8. Bake for 25 minutes.

Once these come out of the oven, they will be ready for icing straight away, so I recommend taking the baking time to get the icings ready. Feel free to top with either (by which I mean both) of the below recipes.

For the vanilla icing:

2-3 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tablespoons almond milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put powdered sugar in a bowl.

2. Stir almond milk and vanilla into powdered sugar.

3. Drizzle over cinnamon rolls.

For the salted caramel sauce:

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

1. Combine sugar, water, and honey in a sauce pan. You can stir these together now, but once the sugar starts melting, no more stirring (at least not until you introduce the cream).

2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high-ish heat, and keep boiling until it reaches a caramel color. A lot of websites will tell you to boil for five minutes – this is a lie. Truthfully, it will take anywhere from four to twelve minutes to reach this color, so just watch it. You can also swirl the pan by the handle if it makes you feel better, but no stirring!

This is what you want it to look like.
This is what you want it to look like.

3. Once the caramel color is reached, add the butter. Remove from heat.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.

4. Immediately add cream and vanilla. Warning: it will bubble a lot! Don’t panic; this is normal. Also, at this point stirring is once again encouraged.

5. Stir in sea salt. Trust me, the salt makes it better. Pour over cinnamon rolls. Splurge.

Ahhh, the sweet fruits of our labor.
Please indulge responsibly.




Protein: Avocados have it!

Quinoa Pesto Power Bowl

Hello food fans! Today’s post brought to you by every athlete’s favorite macromolecule: protein!

Uhhhh...what was I saying?
Uhhhh…what was I saying?

I should probably preface this recipe with a confession: I am vegetarian.

Yes, I can hear the collective gasps; I’m sure you’re all stunned. While there are a lot of different definitions out there as to what, exactly, “vegetarianism” is, the one I generally like to adhere to is “not eating anything with a face”.


Being vegetarian can be an amusing occupation at times. For instance, people will sometimes assume you’ve never tasted meat. This will prompt them to give you an extremely detailed description of the double bacon burger they ate for lunch, presumably out of pity. To which you respond with something along the lines of “Dude, I know, I ate meat for the first seventeen years of my life”. Oh.

On the flip side of the coin are carnivores who feel guilty for eating meat in front of you and start apologizing. Repeatedly. Confession: I troll these people. Yes, I tell them, you should feel bad. Enjoy your carcass. (note: The previous statement was meant to be sarcastic. It in no way reflects my view of meatatarians. Usually.)

This is the last comic, I promise.
This is the last comic, I promise.

But without fail, the two questions every vegetarian can expect to answer (ad nasueum) are as follows:

1. Why did you become a vegetarian?

2. How do you get protein?

The answer to the first question is highly variable and usually requires a soap box. Question 2 is much more straight forward (and honestly, more fun to answer). So. Let’s talk about protein.

Protein: Avocados have it!
Avocados have it!

First of all, what do proteins do? I mean, everybody knows you need them, but why?

The easiest answer is that, simply put, proteins do everything. I mean everything. They are responsible for replicating DNA, transporting molecules, inducing metabolism, responding to stimuli, even allowing you to taste certain foods. In fact, for a long time scientists thought that protein, not DNA, was responsible for holding the genetic code.

This begs the question: how do vegetarians not drop dead from lack of protein?

Generally when people talk about “protein” in foods (like meat), they are talking about “complete proteins”, which have already been assembled from amino acid subunits. Complete sources of vegetarian protein include things like eggs, avocados, nuts, cheese, and quinoa (which is awesome because it is the only grain that is also a complete protein!).

When you cook an egg, the albumin protein structures unravel and turn white. Science!
When you cook an egg, the albumin protein structures unravel and turn white. Science!

Next, I’d like to consider the amino acid.

Amino acids are the subunits that make up protein.  The cool thing about fruits and vegetables in general is that they contain a huge array of amino acids. Your body is really good at taking these individual pieces and using them to assemble the proteins it needs. Just like legos.

Here is one delicious protein-packed meal I assembled in a bowl (and then disassembled in my stomach).

The finished product.
The finished product.


1/2 cup quinoa

1 tablespoon pesto

1/2 large onion, or a whole small one

1 bunch asparagus

1/2 avocado, sliced

1 egg

Fresh basil (optional)

1. Cook the quinoa according to package directions, which will usually involve bringing it to a boil in 1 cup of water and then letting it simmer for 15 minutes.

2. While your quinoa cooks, slice the onion and throw it into a pan with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Let this caramelize over low heat until the onions are golden brown and delicious.

3. While the onions are caramelizing, cut the woody bottom part (heh) off the asparagus and throw them into a saute pan with another 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Saute them over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until the asparagus is bright green. Or, if you’re like me, until the asparagus is a little bit shriveled and has begun to char around the edges. What? No, I will not apologize.

4. Once the quinoa is done, transfer to a bowl and mix in the caramelized onions and pesto. Place asparagus over top, but reserve the asparagus pan.

5. Crack the egg into the now-empty asparagus pan, and cook over medium heat until the edges are firm but the yolk still runny. You can cook it longer if you want, but I’m not sure why you would.

6. Top bowl with fried egg and avocado. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Dig in!