Saturday, February 27, 2010

Purple Sweet Potatoes

I'm an Iowan. Supporting the family farmer has been a critical social, political, and personal issue for me my entire lifetime.

Here in North Carolina it is even more critical. This state has a population that is increasing at a rate of 16 % or more. With over 9,000,000 people in the state it is a staggering figure. The loss of farm land continues to be devastating to the economy. I live in Winston Salem; the home of RJ Reynolds and his tobacco empire. When the market for tobacco imploded, farmers all over the state were left without options. Land that once produced a commodity now sits under new housing developments.

I just like to support the local farmers. Wherever I am. Organics have definitely filled some of the gaps left by tobacco. So today I am in Whole Foods again.

Hello, my name is Kate, and I am a Whole Foods Produce Department Addict...

They hooked me today with Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes.
Who can resist a beautiful purple potato when the guys who grew it are in a picture right on the display? Please; they are purple freakin potatoes people!

I made a pie recipe from the Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes web site. I baked 4 small to medium potatoes and mashed them. I took some pictures before they were mashed and let's just say I'd rather  leave it an unshown mystery.
But here they are mashed and ready to be pied.

The pie turned out as spectacular as it looks. The Stokes Purple Custard Pie recipe is on the  Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes website and the only modification I made was to substitute the spices that were called for with Apple Pie Spice. That's just how I roll.

And no I do not work for or get paid in any way to represent these guys.
I'm writing it just because I think they are cool.
And because I got to make a purple pie.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Roasted Golden Beets

On my way out the door this afternoon on a rare trip to Whole Foods, the Elder Food Taster instructed me to get something "colorful" to make as a side dish for hamburgers.
I saw these babies and fell in love.

Which is weird because beets are definitely not my usual thing. My mother loves beets. The hideous canned kind of beets. I mostly just like the hard boiled eggs that you soak in the beet juice. But I digress...
I sliced them in thin rounds, tossed them in olive oil, accidentally seasoned them with the Italian seasonings grinder instead of the black pepper grinder, and roasted them in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Voila!
Next time I am making them into home made chips because they were fabulous!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tea Eggs

We have a group of friends that meet for pot lucks and seasonal celebrations and we always try to have a theme. Our latest was a lovely small gathering for the Chinese New Year.

I made a rather feeble attempt at Tea Eggs. These are beautiful hard boiled eggs soaked in black tea. The shells are cracked and the eggs soaked in the tea to create intricate spider web patterns on the boiled egg once the shells are removed.

I boiled 10 eggs in a large pot for 10 minutes. I cracked each egg by dropping it into a dish, rolling it around and crushing the shell without removing it. They went back into the pot with 2 large tea bags of black tea. I continued to let them simmer for another 20 minutes.

My results were a little faint at the end... I only had 6 hours from the time I originally boiled them to the time we removed the shells.

I was on my second egg when I realized that if you leave the delicate membrane on the egg as you peel off the shell the results were much more spectacular!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

There is no appetizing name for these...

There is a Midwest food phenomenon that permeates the culture... even more so than sweet corn and giant fried pork tenderloins in some places. There really is no nice way to say to so that it sounds better without infringing on someones copyrite so here it is...

Loose Meat Burgers

It is what it sounds like but the flavor is so much better than that. I can only tell you that they were named by a practical every day Midwesterner who apparently called it like he saw it and didn't know or care about culinary etiquette.

Regionally where I grew up on The River the are called by more glamorous names associated with the restaurants that serve them; Ross burgers, Maid Rites, or farther out into the territory; Yum Yum's or Mug's Up.

They are made of finely crumbled, secretly seasoned ground beef served on hamburger buns or some other bread/starch combination. Sometimes with cheese, bacon, pickles etc... your regular hamburger toppings.

At home there is a 24 hour truck stop called Ross' that serves their own Ross burgers or... for the adventurous; Magic Mountains. A Magic Mountain starts with a piece of texas toast, topped with french fries that are covered with loose meat Ross burger and smothered with cheese sauce. If you like you can get it with a dusting of "snow"; chopped onions. If you are really walking the line you can order a volcano; it is of course a Magic Mountain covered with chili.

I have perfected my own version of this infamous loose meat using bits and pieces from the internet discussion boards claiming to have created the perfect replica. This is not perfect of course, but it tastes really good. That's all that counts.

Here are photos of my own version and the real Ross' Magic Mountain side by side.

Clearly I did not layer in the same order but I do believe that mine holds up to the standard.

My version of a Midwest Loose Meat Burger and Cheese Sauce

2 Pounds Ground Beef
1 Minced Onion
1/2 Cup Beef Stock
1/2 Cup Root Beer
1 Tsp Paprika
1 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
Salt to taste

Fry ground beef and onion. Drain excess grease. Add stock, root beer, paprika and Worcestershire Sauce. Cook on medium until liquid has evaporated. If the mixture becomes too dry add more root beer. (this seems to be the secret in everyone's secret recipe... marinade the meat in soda pop.)

Cheese Sauce

1 small block of Velveeta
1/2 Cup of milk
1 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
Melt the cheese and stir in the milk and Worcestershire Sauce.

To make you own version of Magic Mountain; layer with toast, a potato (fries or hashbrowns), loose meat, cheese sauce, onions, chili or whatever else just sounds good...

It's called loose meat... it's not like you could make it sound any worse.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kerry Guest Blogs Salsa Chicken

Budget Meal - Salsa Braised Chicken

Meat cooked in salsa is a very delicious thing.  A standard dish in our house growing up was pot roast slow-cooked with salsa in the crock-pot and shredded as a filling for chimichangas.  It is one of my family’s best meals, and it’s still one of my favorites and has become one of my husband’s favorites as well.  But investing in a full day of slow cooking and preparing, and buying a large beef roast have both become luxuries in our household.  We don’t always have the time to think ahead, or the budget for a large piece of beef.  We needed an alternative; an easy family meal that required less prep and less money, but still had all the delicious charms of our old favorite.

The recipe I created is a more refined version, and makes a lovely weeknight meal accompanied by a side of rice (Spanish or Mexican style) and possibly a side of beans (black bean salad would be lovely).  Chicken thighs braise beautifully, and are a standard of budget-friendly, light cooking.  But the charms of my new dish don’t end there.  Most of the cooking time is unattended and there is very little prep.  Also, most of the ingredients are in your pantry right now. 

My husband and toddler loved this dish, as did I.  I might just start cooking all meat in salsa; it is that delicious. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner…

Salsa Braised Chicken

8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs 
(remove skin yourself for best bargain)

2 tsp. canola oil

1 large onion, 
sliced vertically for long strips

½ C. chunky salsa

2 C. chicken broth

1 tsp. cumin

½ tsp. garlic powder

fresh cilantro to taste

1 Tbs. flour dissolved in a 
small amount of cold water 
(you want this to be fluid, not gluey)

Heat oil in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat.  Brown the chicken thighs on both sides, around 6 minutes total.  Remove the chicken thighs and keep warm.  Add the onion to the skillet and cook until it begins to soften (2 or 3 minutes).  Add the broth, salsa, cumin and garlic power to the onions and bring to a simmer.  Return the chicken thighs to the pan (with any juices).  Cover and cook for 35 minutes (no need to lift the lid at all during this time).  Uncover and bring the heat up to medium, letting the juices reduce for 10-15 minutes.  Stir the flour water mix into the simmering skillet and cook, stirring until thickened.  Top with fresh cilantro, if desired, and serve over rice.  Serves 4. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cinnamon Dolce you are my weakness...

As of today I have given up Starbucks for Lent. 

My lovely husband ordered me a bottle of the Cinnamon Dolce syrup from their website as an added bonus...

It came in the mail this afternoon and after only one smell I knew what it had been made for...

vanilla ice cream... cinnamon dolce syrup... and cinnamon tortilla chips.  

I think I just won Lent.

Ash Wednesday

Today is the first day of the Lenten season and I am thinking about my absolute favorite thing about Lent.

Friday Night Fish Fry's at Saint Al's.

The line sometimes wound out onto the sidewalk as people waited their turn. You would go up the stairs and into the school, then down the stairs into the basement cafeteria. At the bottom you were met by a police officer who would check your id and then hand you are plastic cup of beer poured from a keg at his feet. Next, a parishioner at a card table took your $5 and then you stayed in line and followed the wall around the room until you came to the kitchen area.

Leaning against the wall with your beer was a great time to view the room, find your friends and catch up with your neighbors.

In the kitchen you got your choice of batter fried fish (usually cod) or grilled cheese sandwiches. They also served french fries and baked potatoes that were piping hot from the giant school sized oven. You took your plates of hot food out into the cafeteria and found a seat. Usually by someone scrunching over and letting you in. The place was always packed.

Centrally located was a salad bar with cole slaw, various other cold sides and desserts.

Saint Al's had Fish Fry's every Friday night throughout Lent. Friends and family and neighbors came; Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Just another food memory of my childhood... Nourishing the body and feeding the soul.

Here's a healthier version of the french fries they served at Saint Al's. They will go great with your fish:
Baked Sweet Potato French Fries

4 medium Sweet Potatoes
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Teaspoons cracked Black Pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons Rosemary
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
Parmesan Cheese to taste

Cut potatoes into long fries - the thickness should be to your own preference. Toss the fries in oil and then season with salt, pepper and rosemary.
Put the fries on a crinkled layer of foil on top of a cookie sheet. Bake the fries in a 450 degree oven for 35 minutes or to a desired crispiness. Thicker fries may take longer to cook than thinner ones.

Serve your fries with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

It's Valentines Day here in the South and it seems like Red Velvet Cake is everywhere.

It typically consists of a chocolate or a vanilla cake made with buttermilk topped with cream cheese frosting. Delicious right? The thing that makes Red Velvet Cake red, however, always makes me cringe.

I read the recipe for Red Velvet Cake this past weekend on the back of a package of southern grocery store brand flour. That's how popular it is! It is right on the back of your flour package!

3 ounces of red food coloring. 3 Ounces!! I also bought a bottle of real vanilla extract the same day as the flour so I had that to compare it to. My entire bottle of vanilla extract was 2 ounces. You put 3 ounces of red dye into the cake!

My taste testers know that I have a serious aversion to anything unaturally dyed red. This is due to the fact that many red food dyes are made using components called chocineal, carmine, or carmine powder. These food dye components are made from bugs. Look it up if you don't believe me. Enough said.

So as you are making your Valentines Day romantic/special dinner for you valentine(s) please remember this disturbing fact about the famous Red Velvet Cake. 3 ounces. Red dye.

In case you are still in the mood for this beautifully red cake be sure to look for red food coloring that only contains red dye #40. Bug free. I promise. It's made from coal tar and gives my sister hives. Just sayin.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Give up Starbucks for Lent???

My husband thinks I am giving up Starbucks for Lent... really??

It's probably a good idea financially. It's also probably the healthy choice. But I love Cinnamon Dolce Lattes.
Love them.

Luckily for me he recently found out (to his regret I am sure) that the Cinnamon Dolce Latte is made with a syrup. That comes in a bottle. That is sold on their website.

So you know what? Lenten sacrifices of Starbucks coffee? Bring it on!!!

Note to Taster/Husband... fire up the press because you are on deck until Easter buddy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fat Tuesday Po-Boys

I love New Orleans. I am from waaay up river, but I view New Orleans to be the culmination of the cultures from up and down the Mighty Mississippi. As far as Fat Tuesday goes... well Lent is something that even us non-church going folk with some Catholic heritage take seriously. Next weeks Fat Tuesday is the last hurrah before you enter the Lenten season that will last until Easter.

We love Italian beef in our house. Chicago style Italian beef to be specific. When Cajun Chef Ryan posted a gorgeous picture and recipe for a roast beef Po-Boy with a gravy that is similar to those I decided to make it as a Geaux Saints Super Bowl Victory/Fat Tuesday feast. Wow. Was that ever a good choice! Here's my version:


Roast Beef Po-Boy Gravy
Saute 1/2 an onion sliced thin in a little olive oil until soft. Add 2 Cups beef stock, 1 Tablespoon each of Worcestershire Sauce and A-1 Steak Sauce.  Make a 1/4 Cup dark roux; I used olive oil and flour. Add the roux to the stock and boil for 20 minutes. Add 1 pound of thinly sliced deli roast beef and heat through. 

Assemble the Po-Boys by slicing french rolls in half and put mayonaise on both sides. (Dukes here in Carolina we can't get Blue Plate) Add shredded lettuce and pickles. (We left out the tomatoes because, Hello! It's February!) Add some roast beef and as much gravy as you like. 

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say when you make these for your Fat Tuesday Feast next week; you will probably end up with at least one of these sloppy wet Po-Boy's in your dreams too between now and Easter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowy Weekend Pizza Feast

Pizza... my favorite food of all time.

We very rarely had restaurant pizza when I was growing up; we almost always made it from scratch at home. My Mom used a crust recipe from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook that used yeast, water, oil and flour. I made that pizza dough through college and after when my sister would come over to my house for weekend pizza parties. I experiment now and then but I always go back to a basic crust made with olive oil.

I love pizza and there are very few pizza's that I do not like. For the record; you will never find mushrooms, broccoli, or fish of any kind on a pizza that I make. (Unless I do not intend to eat any of it.)

Here's our Snowy Weekend Pizza Feast made with Nick Malgieri's Olive Oil Dough. We topped the large pizza with hot Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and sauteed onions. The individual pizzas were four cheese and Canadian Bacon with  crushed pineapple. There was nothing left for a late night snack or breakfast the next day.

Thick Crust Pizza or Focaccia Dough
4 C flour
2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 2/3 C warm water
3 Tbl. olive oil

Whisk yeast and oil into the warm water. Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir the liquid mixture into the flour stirring from the center out. When all the flour is incorporated and a soft dough has formed cover and allow to rise 1-2 hour. Oil your hands and your pan well before pressing the dough into your pan. Allow to rise until doubled before topping and baking at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Makes a 12x18 inch foccacia or a large deep dish pizza.

Ps. It makes a awesome Foccacia too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kerry Guest Blogs About Eggplant

 My beautiful Baby Sister Kerry guest blogs about a fabulous Thai Eggplant dish! (while I procrastinate writing the pizza post for which I have scrumptious looking pictures...)

Tonight was my eggplant debut.  In 20 years of cooking, I had never once had the urge to cook an eggplant, or at least not enough of an urge to buy one, learn how to prepare one, and cook it to feed to others or myself.  But my new grocery store strategy has me buying random produce (and apparently blogging about it.)  This week brought in baby bok choy, celery root, fingerling potatoes, and one globe eggplant among other more usual purchases for our family. 

My other new culinary strategy at play is to incorporate the vegetables into the main dish, because vegetables on the side never taste good and are unappetizing.  So my solution to two dilemmas led me to a Thai curry tonight, with eggplant and chicken in a delicious coconut red curry sauce.  It was a resounding success.

One downside of my grocery strategy is that I never have the ingredients needed for a recipe, so I must basically adapt and create my own recipes to avoid grocery-shopping midweek.  Yes, it really should use fish sauce instead of soy sauce, but that was not in my fridge tonight; and yes, I served it on a bed of spaghetti.  But you know what, it was so good.  I now know that I can cook eggplant decently and that people who like eggplant will eat it.  (I do not know what it takes to convert an anti-eggplant-er.)  So I’ll share my recipe on the off chance that your grocery store has beautiful eggplants this week, and that you happen to have a can of lite coconut milk in your pantry, too. 

Thai Red Curry with Eggplant and Chicken

Canola oil
2 Onions, chopped
4 tsp. red curry paste
1 can lite coconut milk
2 C chicken broth
4 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 medium/large globe eggplant, chopped in 1 inch cubes (purge with salt beforehand if you like, rinse and drain)
2 chicken breast halves, cut in bite-sized bits
4 Tbs. cornstarch mixed with 4 Tbs. cold water
splash of lemon juice
½ C. chopped cilantro
          rice or noodles

Cook the onions in a bit of canola oil until soft (5 minutes).  Add the curry paste and stir for a minute.  Add the coconut milk, broth, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to a boil.  Add the eggplant and simmer with the lid on for around 12 minutes.  Add the chicken and cook with the lid on 8 more minutes.  Add the cornstarch and water mixture and let bubble until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.  Serve over rice or noodles.  

- Kerry Schantz Held