Sweet Potato Pie (with a Kiss of Likker)

All this talk about pie during the last few weeks while cajoling family, friends (we are still friends, right?), and colleagues to buy pies for the Food & Friends fundraiser brought to the forefront of my attention one sad fact: I’ve never actually tried sweet potato pie, which was one of the pies on offer during the “Buy Pies!” campaign.

Then the Universe, by way of our dear friends down the road, delivered unto us a sign that it was time to try sweet potato pie. A hard-to-resist sign. A huge sign. A really huge sign: a sweet potato larger than a spaghetti squash. See for yourself!

Crazy big, right? These sweet potato and spaghetti squash, along with 2 other of the squash’s siblings, were delivered this weekend by the same folks who challenged us earlier to deal with the over-abundance of their CSA order. They also gave us a bagload of green tomatoes, but more on that next time. Of course, I washed and roasted everything — the sweet potato was roasted unpeeled and whole with a few well-placed piercings, and the squash were cut in half and de-seeded, and placed cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzled with oil. After a little over an hour, everything was roasted and ready to keep. The sweet potato weighed in at a gob-smacking 1420g before roasting, and yielded over 7 cups of flesh scooped from shells! So not only did we have sweet potato pie this week, but we will also have mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish later this week, too!

This was a true sweet potato, as opposed to a yam — with firm, dense flesh even after roasting. Our favorite way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is with a kiss of liquor — whether it’s bright purple Okinawan sweet potato mash with awamori or regular sweet potatoes with bourbon. So I couldn’t resist slipping a little sour mash into the puree mix for this pie as well. The bourbon flavor was quite strong the first 24 hours after baking, but mellowed considerably after that. With fresh whipped cream, this was a scrumptious pie — perfect breakfast food! (Think about it… Pop Tarts are just toaster pies, aren’t they?)

When looking up recipes for sweet potato pie, I was intrigued by ones that used buttermilk instead of evaporated or regular milk. We liked what buttermilk did for corn soup and thought this would be add a nice tang to this pie — it really didn’t, or maybe the buttermilk tang was obscured by the bourbon. Either way, we could not taste the difference using buttermilk made, so I would say use evaporated milk, almond or soy milk, or whatever you have — but do try the bourbon! The crust, I confess, was not only commercial, it was pre-formed too! Pie crust and biscuits are 2 things which have largely eluded me — even after 9 months in a culinary institution. So I focus on the filling and leave the pie crust to the experts. (Yesterday, however, while handing out pies for the F&F fundraiser, a fellow volunteer shared her unusual pie crust recipe which she swears is fool proof. More on that soon, too.)

Serves 8-10 persons
While vaguely following the recipe on the back of a can of pumpkin puree, we were really trying for a pie that could not be confused with pumpkin in either texture or flavor. This is a dense pie whose sweet potato flavor really stands out — undertones of molasses and, of course, bourbon lightly sweeten and highlight the tuber’s flavor.

1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)
4 cups (about 700g) roasted sweet potato flesh, mashed well
2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup buttermilk, evaporated milk, almond milk, etc.
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 TBL blackstrap molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
Combine all ingredients and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. The mixture will be very thick and not really like a custard. Pour into prepared pie crust, and bake in middle oven for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes back clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

Highly recommend large dollops (or two) of homemade whipped cream when serving.

More desserts for the Holidays: Pumpkin Cheesecake

Veggie Challenge: Tomato-Summer Squash Tian

I love it when friends include me in their culinary adventures. Whether it’s finding exotic ingredients in our neighborhood (“There’s an Indian grocery store where?), or sharing ideas for how to tackle the latest CSA delivery (“What do you do with a snake gourd?!”), or spreading a habit of eating rice for breakfast — that sense of discovery and genuine fun that comes when someone’s eyes light up with wonder is truly a joy for me. One of the reasons T. calls me a food evangelist.

Of course on a purely selfish note, one of the most fun ways to join in a food adventure is to receive foodstuffs. Some are homemade or souvenir gifts, some are pantry excess — but they are always appreciated and sometimes a culinary challenge. Since our most recent move, we find ourselves within hollering distance of our good friends who subscribe to a CSA. With weekly deliveries of fresh produce and precious little time to deal with their bounty, they will send us their bounty’s bounty with pleas of not having time to deal with the veggies before they go bad. A few weeks ago this meant the equivalent of 2 Trader Joe’s bags-ful of produce which included cauliflower, broccoli stems, green beans, eggplants, bell peppers, fresh pepperoncini peppers, red potatoes and yellow summer squash from their CSA, andmountains of tomatoes, basil, chives from their garden! This week it was 3 spaghetti squashes and a sweet potato that was as big as a spaghetti squash! This is what I tell them, and is, in fact, what I do with a great deal of fresh vegetables that we don’t have a specific plan to use and which is threatening to give us the stink-eye: Roast Them!

Let your oven do all the hard work of softening, sweetening, and gently dehydrating your produce so it will keep through the week and provide you with gourmet-quality pantry staples that will make weekday meal prep a snap! Eat as is as a side dish to another entree; or toss with pasta, potato, rice, couscous or your favorite grain or noodle and you have an instant meatless meal. Add cooked meats or fish or beans for extra protein. Or with a little extra effort, a provencale vegetable tian/casserole materializes from grated veggies, cheese and eggs!

This is just a quick look for how we dealt with the 2 bags of produce we received over that first weekend. You can do this! I hope you try it soon.

Clean and cut, if desired, and drizzle all with olive oil. The potatoes are pared just for a bit of aesthetic value.
Pierce whole vegetables like the peppers to allow steam to escape.

Roast at 375F. I don’t even preheat the oven to roast veggies.
Start checking the smallest veggies after the first 35 minutes.
Remove vegetables as they become cooked through:
Potatoes pierce easily with fork,
Peppers and eggplants collapse,
Broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower will brown on
the edges and become tender.

Green beans were added to pan with potatoes after 35 minutes
and the whole pan was removed after another 25 minutes.
Bell peppers and eggplants were turned after the first 35 minutes, and left for another 30.

Pepperoncini peppers were left whole,
and bell peppers were seeded and peeled
and everything was covered in more olive oil.
Eggplants were peeled for use within 2 days.
(Try in Grilled Eggplant Salad with Coconut Milk)
Potatoes, beans and roasted cauliflower were eaten as they were.

While the first batch of veggies were roasting, the yellow squash and some of the tomatoes were quickly grated and tossed with cold leftover rice, chives, eggs and cheese as an adaptation of one of our favorite dishes from the Canadian cookbook classic,1000 Classic Recipes — a tian of tomatoes and summer squash.

(Adapted from 1000 Classic Recipes, by Hermes House publishing)
Serves 4 persons as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish
This is the perfect end-of-summer dish that puts to best use those less-than-perfect summer veg — the will-not-sun-ripen tomatoes and the monster squashes that were lurking under the blanket of leaves! The rice makes this surprisingly light in texture, but the parmesan delivers a wallop of satisfying savoriness under the herb mixture.

3 medium yellow squash or courgettes, coarsely grated (avoid seedy core)
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
fistful of chives, minced
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBL olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked rice
3 large eggs, beaten
3 TBL full-fat plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp fresh
pinch of dried or fresh thyme
5 TBL grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Pre-heat 375F/190C.

Place squash, tomatoes, chives and garlic in tian, or baking dish, and season to taste. Toss with oil and spread in baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until water is drawn from vegetables and they soften.

Meanwhile combine rice, eggs, yogurt, herbs, cheese and season to taste. Remove vegetables from oven, and take out about 1/4 cup vegetables from baking dish. Stir hot vegetables into egg mixture to temper eggs, then pour all egg mixture into dish and mix well with vegetables. Redistribute mixture around dish, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until eggs set and knife inserted in the center comes back clean.

Cool briefly then slice to serve. Shown here with more roasted vegetables
from this marathon session: cauliflower, red skin potatoes, and asparagus.
Garnished with roasted basil.

Fried Rice Revisited

Now that we’re finally getting settled in, it’s nice to find time to connect with folks again and to catch up with projects long on-hold. One of mine has been answer numerous requests for clarification about one of the first posts I wrote, the one about how to make fried rice. At that time I had grand ideas about distilling recipes to an essence — a formula or template that could serve as a springboard to allow others, especially novice cooks, to let their creative culinary juices flow. Three years on, and I haven’t really followed up on this idea. Needs more work, I think. In the meantime, let’s just talk about fried rice.

I received an email this week from friends abroad whose daughter has developed what for a non-Asian family is a strange habit: eating rice for breakfast. “Did I have any ideas for ways to eat rice at breakfast?” Is the Pope Catholic? So in addition to sending them recipes for Arroz Caldo and Okayu, rice porridges from both sides of my cultural heritage, and packets of Ochazuke and Furikake, I decided it was time to follow through on the fried rice update, too. As you can tell, these photos were taken last year, which is when I first meant to do this — then the holidays came, the house-hunting started, yada-yada-yada, and now it’s almost a year later…

Anna, this one’s for you. I hope you have fun exploring the many joys of eating rice with breakfast, starting with this one!

Serves 5-6 persons as a meal, 8-9 as a side dish

So, in that earlier post I used Omu-Rice** as the construct for walking the reader through how to make Fried Rice. Today we’re using a more familiar-looking fried rice with these basic Components:
Rice: medium-grain white Rice,
Aromatics: onions and garlic,
Seasoning: soy sauce and black pepper,
Meat: Chinese sausage, and
Veggies: edamame and peppers.
If you keep in mind that you can substitute similar proportions of other ingredients for each of the main Components — say, using SPAM, instead of Chinese sausage for the Meat — you will find that you can adapt this basic recipe to complement what you’re serving as an entree, or to whatever you have as leftovers

Rice: 5-6 cups (800-950g) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best — hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can become sticky and difficult to work with)
Oil: 2-3 TBL (20-30 ml) light olive oil, or peanut oil
Aromatics: 1/2 medium onion, diced finely
and 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Seasoning: 2-3 tsp soy sauce,
black pepper and
sea salt, if necessary
Meat: 2 links of Chinese sausage, about 200g,
or equivalent amount of SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.
Vegetable: ½-1 cup(125-250g) mixed vegetables, peas, edamame, peppers
pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, etc.
Optional ingredients: egg (hard-boiled, fried, or scrambled in)
green onions or chives

The Meat: In a large skillet or wok, fry Chinese sausage in 1 TBL of oil. (Chinese sausage is normally quite fatty, so a smaller amount of oil is used here. If substituting another meat, or beginning with an uncooked meat, start with 3 TBL. oil) When meat is browned and cooked through, remove from wok and set aside.

The Aromatics: In the remaining oil in the pan, cook onions until they are translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue cooking until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 45 to 90 seconds.

The Vegetables: Add Vegetables of your choosing (edamame and red pepper shown here), 1 tsp of soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Mix well with the Aromatics, and saute together for 3-6 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through or heated through.

Return Meats to the pan, mix to combine. Now push the ingredients up the sides of the wok, or to the edges of the skillet, so that the center of the pan is clear.

Check your pan, and add a tsp or so of oil if necessary, then the remaining soy sauce, and finally the cold Rice.

Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press down on the rice in the center, pressing the filling ingredients further up the sides of the wok…

… then push the fillings onto the top of the rice. Repeat the motion of gently pressing in the ingredients, and pushing everything towards the sides of the wok. Again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok. Work all the way around the wok this way (the motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter). Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is completely heated through, about 7-10 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, adding soy sauce or salt as needed.

Garnish with green onions to serve.

In the Islands — both Guam and Hawaii — a fried egg (over-easy, as pictured, up or scrambled) on top of fried rice is a favorite breakfast item, with SPAM or ham for the Meat, and frozen mixed vegetables for the Vegetables in the rice.

(**Omu-rice, for the uninitiated, is the Japanese nursery favorite, but completely and totally unlike anything most people associate with Japanese food: a fried rice made with hot dogs and green peas, and seasoned with ketchup. Yes, I said ketchup. Clearly, a legacy of the post-war influence of the US military presence in the country. Everyone I’ve ever made omu-rice for will, at some later point, start to crave this dish and look for it again… You’ve been warned…)

Buy a pie!

Food. Friends. The unspoken thought that joins the two is Love. If you’ve sent an email to me at this site, you may have seen our motto: “Cook Food, but serve Love.” Now I’d like to introduce you to an organization that lives and breathes this sentiment every single day. One meal at a time.

Since last July I’ve been fortunate to volunteer with a local organization that puts love into action as friends provide food for friends they haven’t met, at an organization called simply Food & Friends. As a weekly “Slice and Dice” volunteer at F&F, I’m part of an enthusiastic team of volunteers that prepares, portions, seals and chills fresh meals alongside a team of kitchen professionals — meals that will be delivered along with nutritionally sound grocery items to folks struggling with life-challenging illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

Food & Friends serves over 1400 clients in the DC metro area, some as far as 20 miles from its headquarters near the Fort Totten metro (subway station). Clients are referred to the organization by their physician or social worker. After they meet with one of the staff dietitians and nutritionists, a complete meal plan is developed for them to support their treatment. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a snack or dessert, are provided every day so that meal-planning is one fewer worry for the client and their caregivers to think about during an already stressful period. Even more, if the client is the primary head of household, meals are also provided for every dependent family member.

It’s an incredible mission. And as someone who was the primary caregiver to a person given a cancer diagnosis, I can tell you that this service is a gift of incredible magnitude. My mother was diagnosed with multiforma glioblastoma — a type of brain cancer, in 2005. On top of the dizzying task of struggling to grasp the vocabulary and regimen of cancer treatment, I was also charged with meal-planning for someone I was told would be losing her appetite and with it, critical opportunities for the nutrition and proteins necessary to her successful treatment. I spent hours researching alone on the internet, in between doctor appointments, hospital visits, and clinic and home treatments. It was a frustrating and frightening challenge to comb through the data, look for recipes, and monitor Mom’s changes in appetite, with little or no help from a professional. I would not wish this for anyone. So when I first read about Food & Friends on idealist.org, I knew I had to contribute to its mission.

From the beginning, Food & Friends and its dedicated corps of volunteers have left me humbled and amazed. I’ve met volunteers who were with the organization when it began in a church kitchen — that was in 1988! In fact, when I first started volunteering last summer, one crew member said, “Yay, now I’m not the newest member of the crew any more!” She had been there for 2 years already, but the others were 7-, 10- and 12-year and longer veterans. I now work with a different, though no less dedicated, crew including a crew leader who volunteers for 4 hours every Monday through Thursday. Beginning at 5:15 every morning. In fact, she was the one who had been the “newbie” on the other morning crew.

Do you want in? Do you want to help put the love in between “Food” and “Friend”? Volunteer if you can — yes, of course. But if you can’t slice, dice, pack or make deliveries — sharing the love is still as easy as pie: BUYING PIE, that is.“Slice of Life” is Food & Friends’ annual pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser — here’s how it works. For every pie you purchase, one full day of meals and groceries is available for one client, and you will have one less pie to fuss about for your Thanksgiving table! Or bring a pie to a party, surprise your neighbors or colleagues at work! More pies = more days of meals for a client, and happier guests/hosts/neighbors for you. For $25 you can choose from pumpkin, apple crumb, sweet potato and pecan pie — there’s even an ultra-decadent chocolate cheesecake for a $40 donation. Your pie(s) will be ready for pick-up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) at one of 22 pick-up sites in the metro DC area that is convenient to you: there are 10 in the District, 6 in Maryland, and 6 in Virginia. Buy your pies by November 19th!Donations to Food & Friends welcome any time!

Buy wait, there’s more. You can join in the love even if you live too far to actually pick up a pie here, or (banish the thought!) you’ve given up carbs… On Thanksgiving Day, a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings will be delivered to every F&F client — you can buy pies and request they be delivered to a client with their meal! Imagine how much sweeter your own pie on Guam or Hawaii, in Germany or Washington, will taste when you sit down with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day, knowing you’re sharing that love with another family as they sit down to their Thanksgiving meal and one more chance to celebrate the holidays together.

Buy a Pie! Or two. And thank you from your 11,000+ new friends at Food & Friends!

Full disclosure: By buying a pie through this site, you will be buying a pie from the daring pie-selling duo, Team Baker Boys, who are Food & Friends pastry chef extraordinaire Tim Devine (R), and gourmet homepâtissier and volunteer Dan Kaufmann (L). A pair of cuties, no? Who wouldn’t want to buy pies from these two? As you might guess, I know them both from the F&F kitchen and have nibbled and gorged on many of their baked goodies in the last 16 months. No, they don’t actually bake the pies for this fundraiser — the F&F kitchens will be occupied churning out whole turkeys for many days before Thanksgiving! It’s all fun and friendly competition among pie-selling teams — nothing but bragging rights are at stake.

C’mon, you know you want to