Cooking Challenge Day 1 results: Summer salad success and dinner duds

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i made this saladWhew. Day one was nuts-o, guys. I hardly had any time to do anything but make food and write or vlog about it.

You saw that I spent a little over two hours making the granola parfait. I HIGHLY recommend making the granola beforehand, or only making the parfait if you have pre-made granola. If it wasn’t Game of Thrones night on Sunday, I would have totally tried to get a head-start on the granola making. I did really enjoy making my own granola though. I had NO IDEA that was how it’s done!

When it was finally time to make lunch, it was late in the day. See, I didn’t eat breakfast until 11am, and had to make one more trip to the store to get the bulgar wheat that I couldn’t get the day before. So it was around 3pm when I finally got hungry again.

I have to be honest, I was nervous about this salad — lettuce, grains, lentils, buh? There was even that moment where I wasn’t sure if I needed to peel a Persian cucumber or not…

I was also a little skeptical about the Trader Joe’s pre-cooked lentils. How gross does this look?:

gross prepackaged lentils

But it was freaking DELICIOUS! Did any of you make that salad? If you didn’t, you totally missed out. You should rectify the situation, and make this thing ASAP. Mmmm. It was one of the things that Jessica promised me was easy to do, and I looked at ALL the ingredients and was like “nope, nope, nope.” But she was right! I was wrong. And you have to try it.

Also, look at the cute little veggies that I got to use…

tiny veggies are cute

As for dinner? Dinner went er… wonky. Things that I thought were going to take forever (brussel sprouts) took no time at all, and things that I thought would go quickly (baked yam) took forever. I’m eternally a victim of bad kitchen timing. I’m writing in the half hour I have between the yam being done and eating commencing.

Bulgar and brussels just hanging out… chillin… getting cold.
Bulgar and brussels just hanging out… chillin… getting cold.

I was excited about making the yam, because normally I purchase these individually wrapped yams, ready to pop into the microwave and bake up in 10 minutes! But they lack the substance of the oven-baked kind.

microwave yam

Though after 45 minutes of waiting, I removed the yam from the oven and it was still pretty hard as a stupid undercooked rock. By now it was 9pm and I was too hungry to wait any longer, so I scraped what squishy yam meat I could into my gob, and dumped the rest. Point: Micro yams! Then I just scarfed on sprouts and bulgar wheat, which I quite enjoyed.

Now I have some extra bulgar wheat left over — what else can I make with that stuff? And who has tips for better/non-microwaved baked yams?

Comments on Cooking Challenge Day 1 results: Summer salad success and dinner duds

  1. I do yams like my Mum always did. You rub the whole yam with oil or butter and stick it in the oven for 20-30 mins then take it out peel it (the skin will just rub right off no peeler required) slice into half inch-ish pieces. add a couple blobs of butter a sprinkle of salt, and pepper (and brown sugar or maple syrup if it’s in the cupboard) then cover with tinfoil and bake another 10-20 mins.

    At work we just cube it, oil it, sprinkle it with thyme and bake for 20-30 mins skin on.

    I find both work great you just can’t be to stingy with the oils.

  2. Microwaved yams… easier and quicker than previously thought. I make microwaved yams at least once a week. I have found that rough chopping them, placing the pieces into a glass pyrex dish, covering with plastic cling wrap and microwaving for 6 minutes to be the perfect combination.

    Usually I will put in chopped garlic, onions and curry powder before it goes in and top it with butter when it comes out.

  3. Unfortunately, oven baked yams really do take approximately forever. I usually plan to bake them the day *before* I need them, so I can just reheat them. At 350, which is what I bake things at usually, it’s takes a bit over an hour for a good sized one to be just barely done, and 1 1/2 hours for fully squishy.

    • Yup, I was just coming here to say that whenever I need baked potatoes (sweet potatoes or regular), I usually try to do it the night before – which works out nicely if I’m already baking something for dinner. Dinner on the top rack, potatoes on the bottom, then they hang out and keep cooking in the oven when I turn it off and take dinner out. The hardest part is remembering to take them OUT of the oven though. I need to figure out a better method, like leaving something obvious on the counter or other place I’ll see it.

  4. I don’t have the patience or time to cook yams whole. I like to cut them into cubes, toss with a little olive oil and salt, and then bake on a cookie sheet. It only takes about 20-30 minutes instead of the hours of a whole one. Honestly, you could probably toss the brussel sprouts and cook them right along with the yams that way and guarantee having at least those two parts of meal done together. Plus one less pan to clean!

    • Yeah, this is what I do as well. Every time I try to bake a sweet potato whole, I regret it. I always cube them and bake with olive oil and spices. It’s so much faster and I think it tastes better too because you get little crispy bits.

    • Brussels sprouts take only 5 mins to cook, so when you want to cook yams and sprouts in the same pot, you’ll have to toss them in later, when the yam is almost done.

      I’ve never cooked yams this way, but I guess it’s basically a potato. I like cooking and am a fairly experienced cook, but I’ve never managed to properly cook raw potatoes in the oven. It takes forever and then they are still undercooked. My solution is to pre-cook potatoes in boiling water for 10 mins and then put them in the oven. This will work for yams as well.

      (And: wtf, microwave easy open yams???? Takes fastfood to a new level for me.)

  5. What I do for baked potatoes (never tried it with sweet potatoes but I would guess it works about the same) is microwave for 10 mins, then rub with oil and bake for half an hour (the oil helps the skin crisp up). The time in the microwave gives it a head start but you still get the oven-baked yumminess.

    • This method can also be used with frozen foods >.>
      I rarely want to wait 15 minutes for pizza rolls, so I microwave them for 30 seconds then put them in the toaster oven on “toast” for about 3 minutes, or whenever they look toasty on the outside. Same thing with fries of any sort.

    • Yup, this is exactly what I do. I do the same for hasselbacks as well – slice, a few minutes in the microwave then oil and salt and into the overn for 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Brill.

  6. Try steaming them. Slice or cube the yams. Put about an inch of water in the pan, add the yams and set it on to boil. After 10-12 minutes, stir and check to make sure you still have water. Cooking time is about 15-20 minutes depending on how small you cut them. I leave the skins on. If you like this technique, a metal steamer basket that fits in the sauce pan is a handy, inexpensive tool. Be careful if you wash the basket by hand, the metal has sharp edges. We steam lots of veggies this way, including Brussels sprouts.

  7. I’ve heard (but never tried) that you can cook baked potatoes in a slow cooker with foil, and I’m guessing you could do that with yams, too. So a set it and forget it until later sort of mentality would work to have them done by dinner.

  8. Make tabouli with the leftover bulgur!
    Toss with olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, cumin, tomato, green onion and parsley.
    So easy and you can eat it over salad greens, on pita or just a big ol spoon!
    I usually roast chunks of sweet potato because I’m not patient enough to bake a whole one.

  9. Buy smaller and skinnier sweet potatoes. Less mass means that it should take less time to cook through. Skinnier sweet potatoes have a larger (proportionately) surface area that means they can take in more radiant heat. I have made sweet potatoes in the oven that came out in just about 1 hour because they were rather small and skinny.

    As for the extra bulgur wheat, I would make stuffed peppers. Cut the tops off of bell peppers and hollow out the seeds. Mix room temp bulgur with cheese and a favorite seasoning mix (could even be salsa or salad dressing), then stuff in to the hollowed pepper bottoms. It should take 1/2C – 1 C of filling for each pepper depending on size. Then bake covered for 30 minutes at 350°F, take off the pan cover, sprinkle the tops with more cheese and bake for another 10 minutes.

  10. Two things for the yams: 1) crank your oven up a bit. I usually do my yams around 425 (f) and it works great. 2) take a fork and poke some holes in the yam, this does let a little bit of the moisture out, but the flesh comes out dense and creamy every time. Doing these two things (along with reasonable sized yams) mine are usually done in about 45-60 minutes, which I realize can be a long time, but I just make sure they are the first thing I do, and then I use the time while they are baking to get the rest of dinner ready!

  11. Bulgur makes a good breakfast — like oatmeal but not as slooshy. I do mine with dried cherries and some chocolate chips. It’s like a dessert!

    I’ve also got a fabulous recipe for vegan chili that uses bulgur. I don’t have it nearby but the gist is that you toast the bulgur, then simmer it in water, then add beans, onions, tomatoes, etc.

  12. For anyone playing along at home, the longer/slower you cook sweet potatoes / yams the sweeter they will taste. I typically do mine on 300F for 2-2.5 hrs.

  13. Really delicious extra bulgur recipe:
    1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt + mix in some honey
    Add cold bulgur and some chopped up walnuts
    then add in a dash of cinnamon and brown sugar
    mix it all up

  14. They only ever take me an hour, though that would be a lifetime if it was unexpected I guess. I scrub them, pat them dry, stab them all over with a fork and then cook in the oven at 230ºc (450ºf) and after half an hour I turn them over and cook for another 30 mins.

    I haven’t cooked regular baked potatoes since I discovered baked sweet potatoes but when I did I always used to put a metal kebab skewer through the middle of the potato before putting in the oven as someone once told me they swore by this method to get them to cook evenly. Never tried it on a sweet potato though!

    You can also, of course, do them in a slow cooker. This takes even longer but at least you can set it off in advance and don’t have to have the oven on the whole time. You don’t get the crispy skins though.

  15. You can freeze leftrover cooked grains 9and thaw them in the microwave later. The texture isn’t 100 the same (they can be a little mushy) but otherwise they are fine. If you have a lot extra and you don’t think you’ll eat it now, that might be a good idea. I do this with brown rice.

  16. “How gross does this look?”
    Pretty gross. I am not a lentil fan. I make the same face you do anytime I encounter them.
    I’m trying to be more open about it as an adult and get past any lentil childhood scars I may have. But every time I try them it’s just a big heaping pile of NOPE.

  17. Yay for leftover bulgur! Add proteins (like chickpeas, edamame, lentils, feta or even baked tofu), olives, etc. for a bigger bang for your buck. Turn it into a pilaf-stuffing thing (squash, zukes?). It’s great stuff!

  18. My brain is having real trouble with this, because in NZ, a yam is a completely different vegetable, and I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t cook because they are literally the fastest thing. But what you have is a kumara, and they take a squillion years and a lot of patience.
    Leftover bulgur wheat makes a great porridge substitute, with some milk and brown sugar, or apple slices and cinnamon!

    • You’re right! I think in the U.S. what is normally labelled a “yam” is actually a “sweet potato,” which Wiki informs me is the same as kumara.

      Sweet potatoes are hard, so I slice them into medallions about a half inch thick and roast them on a baking sheet coated in olive oil. Flip halfway through and sprinkle with curry or cajun seasoning. They take less than 20 minutes that way, but take an hour or more to cook whole.

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