THANKSGIVING SWEET POTATOES 4 – WAYS

23rd November 2014

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My dear Aunt Elaine, fondly known as Miss Elaine which must be pronounced in a single slur of affection, has been the center of Thanksgiving jokes for longer than I can remember. It all started, many years ago, when she accidentally left a dish of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes under the broiler for too long. Any one could guess what happened, but according to my family, the entire Thanksgiving meal hinged on this single dish of sweet potatoes. And every year the story grows.

The marshmallows morphed into a column of molten goo that burst forth from the oven claiming anyone in range.

The particular odor of singed sweet potato could be smelled for miles around, drawing fire fighters from every corner of Piney Woods, Texas.

Due to the extreme heat, the casserole dish broke in twain and opened up some extra, previously unknown dimension into the bowels of Thanksgiving side-dish Hell, allowing all manner of victual demons to rise and devour the rest of the Thanksgiving meal.

Needless to say, Miss Elaine was never allowed to make Thanksgiving sweet potatoes ever again. At least while the rest of the family was around.

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Despite the sweet potato incident, which I’m still not sure ever really happened, Miss Elaine is quite a fantastic cook. One that deserves a better tall tale than the story of the sweet potatoes from hell. So I’ve come up with a four different Thanksgiving sweet potato toppings that should restore her name and quiet our libel slinging family, at least for another year or two.

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Each of these toppings is quick and easy and could even be prepared ahead of time. You can make individually topped potatoes like I did and set up a sweet potato toppings bar, allowing your guests to create their own; or, you can make a traditional big batch of mashed sweet potatoes in a casserole dish and top with whichever version suites you and your family.

Toasted Bourbon Vanilla Meringue Sweet Potatoes
for every egg white add at least 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla | a one egg meringue can top 2-3 potatoes

egg whites
sugar
Bourbon vanilla (or just plain bourbon if you prefer)
salt
baked sweet potatoes

1. In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl, beat the egg whites on low until foamy. Continue to beat on high until peaks begin to form. Add in the sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating until all the sugar is used and stiff peaks form. Beat in vanilla and/or bourbon.

2. Spoon dollops of meringue over baked and split sweet potatoes and broil under low heat for 15 to 20 seconds, moving the pan around the flame as needed.

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Bacon Fat Spiced Pecans, Brown Butter + Molasses Sweet Potatoes
make extra pecans for snacking, because these will be your new best friend | for every cup of pecans use 1 tablespoon fat, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon chile and salt

pecans
bacon fat (or butter), melted
chile powder
cinnamon
salt
brown butter
molasses
baked sweet potatoes

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, toss together the pecans, melted bacon fat, spices, and salt. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast for about 5 minutes,or until nicely toasted, tossing the pecans every other minute or so. When cool enough to handle, chop into large pieces.

2. Split each sweet potato and top with a bit of brown butter, a tablespoon or two of spiced pecans, and a dainty drizzle of molasses.

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Bacon + Cold Maple Sweet Potatoes
a straightforward, no nonsense sweet potato topper | I would make extra bacon though

bacon, cooked and crumbled
maple syrup, cold
baked sweet potatoes

Split each sweet potato and top with bacon and a generous glug of cold maple syrup.

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Honeyed Yogurt + Salted Pepitas Sweet Potatoes
for those who like their sweet potatoes to shine | alternatively you could use pistachios

plain, unflavored yogurt
honey
salted pepitas
baked sweet potatoes

Split each sweet potato and top with a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of salted pepitas.

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Moral of the story, never leave your sweet potatoes – or any other Thanksgiving side dish – unattended, lest your family make you the center of ridicule for all the holidays after.

TEX-MEX WELSH RAREBIT + A COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY

20th November 2014

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When I studied in England I was going through my vegetarian phase, which, if you know anything about English foodways, the two aren’t entirely compatible. Sure, the Brits eat plenty of fruits and veg, but living on a student’s budget with no access to a microwave, I had to get a little creative. So I frequented pubs and cheap sandwich shops and became quite a fan of the British obsession with cheese covered things. This culinary characteristic even helped when I was feeling homesick for Texas, since, we too, love things covered in cheese. And while I never found a plate of enchiladas or a melty pile of nachos, I did find Welsh Rarebit.

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Now just to make things clear, Welsh Rarebit has nothing to do with rabbit and I’m not entirely sure why it’s associated with Wales since it often calls for English beer and English Cheddar, but I wouldn’t think to much into it. What it is is simply good quality toasted bread topped with a generous puddle of spiced cheesy sauce. The spices traditionally include mustard powder – a staple of British foodways – and some sort of curry blend. Swap the curry and mustard for cumin and chili powder and you’ve got the makings of Tex-Mex Welsh Rarebit (as if the name couldn’t get any more confusing).

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The original recipe for this variation on Welsh Rarebit came from the wonderfully written and beautifully photographed cookbook, The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast by Brian Yarvin. The cookbook travels through the British Isles searching out authentic pub food, restaurant fare, and traditional home cooking from country villages to the big cities. And thanks to the lovely folks over at Harvard Common Press, you can win your very own copy of the cookbook and make your own version of Welsh Rarebit or whatever other British fare you find in its pages.

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment at the end of this post telling me your favorite dish to make for holiday guests. The contest will remain open until midnight Monday, November 24th. One comment will be picked at random and I will contact and announce the winner the following day, Tuesday, November 25th.

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Sticking with my Tex-Mex theme, I swapped the traditional English porter or stout for a subtle Shiner Bock and the Cheddar for a spicy Pepper Jack cheese. Now, as you can see, it’s not the prettiest of dishes, but those tend to make up what they lack in aesthetics with flavor.

Tex-Mex Welsh Rarebit
adapted from The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast by Brian Yarvin
serves 4

2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup beer (the original recipe calls for a porter or stout, but pair whatever works best with the cheese)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon hot sauce (like Cholula)
8 slices toasted whole wheat bread

1. Toss the shredded cheese and flour together in a large bowl. Make sure the cheese is evenly coated with the flour.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, beer, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce and bring to a simmer.

3. While continuously whisking, add the cheese – one tablespoon at a time – to the simmering beer mixture. When the cheese has melted add another tablespoon and continue until all the cheese is used.

4. Place 2 slices of toast on each plate and pour the cheese mixture over the toast. Top with a few slices of fresh avocado and additional hot sauce. Serve immediately.

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Good luck, y’all.

SUGARED GINGER + CRANBERRY BUNDTLETTES

18th November 2014

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I’m always sad when Halloween is over because that means fall is coming to a close. But in reality, it just means we have new excuses for more decadent baked goods and rib-stickin’ dishes that you wouldn’t dare eat before before labor day. Like these Sugared Ginger Cranberry Bundtlettes. Actually, they aren’t all that bad – I could try to convince you with tales about ginger’s healthy properties – but you don’t want to hear about how they aren’t that bad because you’ve already traded your swim suit for leggings and baggy sweaters haven’t you?

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And every year around this time it seems as if everything speeds up. I’m sure everybody says this – and feels this way too – but all I want to do is plaster everything with glass glitter and listen to Bing and Burl. But there are deadlines to meet, specifically PhD applications, a couple of food articles, and a handful of freelance recipes, and then there’s my sister-in-law’s big winter wedding right before Christmas. I feel like I should join the crowd and complain about how much I have to do, but frankly it’s all so exciting. Just last week, I got to style this dark and lovely set for fellow food blogger, The Cooking Diva. She needed a few new headshots for her blog and business and decided to go whole hog (or rather just a crown roast) and create a dramatic food filled scene complete with food gems made by yours truly.

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These pictures, shot with my phone, don’t tell the whole story, for that you’ll need to pop over to her blog soon to see the end results. And for more pictures of Dexter, my canine assistant for the day (he was paid in prosciutto and belly scratches).

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So if your season is about to blow up like mine, remember to eat, and, if you’re eating anyways, why not eat these little sugared ginger and cranberry bundts. They pair perfectly with a cup of coffee and a giant to-do list.

Sugared Ginger Cranberry Bundts
makes about 12

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugared ginger, finely chopped

1. Set the oven to 375 degrees and butter a 5-cup bundtlette pan (mine has 6 little bundt cups, I can usually make two pans – or 12 small bundts – with one batch of batter).

2. In the bowl of your electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.

3. To the same bowl with the mixer set on low, add the eggs one at a time.

4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Take about 3 tablespoons of this mixture and set aside.

5. In another bowl, combine the vanilla and the milk.

6. With the mixer set on low, slowly add a third of the flour mixture, let the mixer run for a few seconds, and then add about a third of the milk mixture. Continue alternating with the flour and milk mixtures until they are both gone, scraping down the bowl as needed.

6. In a small bowl, toss the cranberries in the reserved flour mixture. Fold the flour dusted cranberries and the ginger into the batter.

8. Fill each mold 2/3 of the way up with batter (about 2 to 3 tablespoons in each cup), smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon. Give the pan a good knock on the counter to remove any trapped air bubbles. Place into oven and cook until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (about 18-20 minutes). Let the bundlettes cool on a wire rack, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve.
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BUTTERNUT SQUASH ENCHILADAS

14th November 2014

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I already know what you’re going to say. “Butternut squash in an enchilada!? Have you forgotten your raisin’ girl?” But there’s logic – in addition to damn tasty enchiladas – behind this idea, just hear me out. Do you remember the Native American story of the Three Sisters? Well, it refers to the three agricultural crops – specifically corn, squash, and beans – that grow so well together and create a complete vegetarian protein. In many Native communities, these plants were often grown together, as the corn and its stalks created a structure for the beans to climb which, in turn, provided much needed nitrogen for the soil. The squash, with its large shady leaves that grow and crawl like wildfire, provided ground cover and weed control. And the various amino acids in the beans and squash help the body breakdown the nutrients that we couldn’t otherwise access in the corn.

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If you serve these enchiladas with a side of beans – and just FYI, to do otherwise is considered blasphemy south of the Red River – and there you have a complete plate. Sweet, food scholar logic.

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And I know you’re still thinking, “but are these some kind of fancy vegetarian-friendly enchiladas?” Well, yes, they are, but they are much, much more than that. When the roasted squash is baked with the shredded cheese it creates this gooey filling that is so perfectly met with the acidic spice of the red sauce that you will never want plain ol’ cheese enchiladas ever again. I’m almost hesitant to tell you, but in addition to all this, you are also eating a serving or two of a vegetable you might not otherwise eat. And I think it’s high time I tell you that I, The Young Austinian, do not like squash of any kind. But with enough cheese and a distracting American folklore introduction, I’ll eat just about anything.

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Since these take a bit of assembling, you can easily make these ahead of time (saving the last step) and refrigerate until ready to use (up to a day or so). The sauce is also easily made in advance and frankly tastes good on just about anything vaguely Tex-Mex related. These Butternut Squash Enchiladas would also make a fitting, and filling, vegetarian entree for any of the turkey averse at Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving gatherings.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas
serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers)

1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled, cored, and cut into small quarter inch cubes
olive oil
salt and pepper
cumin
colby or monterrey jack cheese, shredded
8-10 corn tortillas
red sauce
cilantro for garnish

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Toss the butternut squash pieces with olive oil and spread evenly over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin. Roast until tender and slightly browned, tossing halfway through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and reset the temperature to 350 degrees.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the roasted butternut squash pieces and the cheese.

4. Heat a tablespoon or so of neutral oil in a skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, gentle lay a single tortilla in the skillet. Cook for a few seconds on each side, remove and keep warm (like on a covered plate near the oven). Continue with remaining tortillas. Always cook one or two extra in case you accidentally tear one.

5. Pour about a 1/2 cup of red sauce into the bottom of a square or rectangle baking pan. Set aside.

5. Assemble the enchiladas. Hold a single tortilla flat in your palm, spread about 2 tablespoons of squash-cheese filling in a line across the middle of the tortilla. Gently roll from one edge to another and place seam side down in the pan. Continue with remaining tortillas and filling. Top with the remaining red sauce, sprinkle with a little cheese, and place into oven, baking for about 20 minutes until warmed through and the cheese has melted. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.

Homemade Red Sauce
makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)

1. Heat the oil in a small sauce pan over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, sprinkle the flour and spices into the pan, whisking constantly. Cook for another 20 to 30 seconds.

2. Add the tomato paste, continuing to quickly whisk for another 15 seconds or so to avoid burning the mixture. This will create a kind of spice blob in the bottom of your pan.

3. While continuing to whisk, gently add the broth. Continue to stir until the mixture is smooth. Bring to a quick boil then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

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BLACKBERRY SAGE LIBERTY TEA SHRUB

11th November 2014

Earlier this fall I entered and became a finalist in the Smithsonian Raise-A-Glass cocktail contest celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. Our challenge was to create a drink that was both historic and tasty, so what else could I do but enter something based on my thesis (aka: #sweetteasis). Here’s the longer explanation for my historical creation plus the recipe for my drink, the Liberty Tea Shrub.

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illustration from the Smithsonian

Having recently completed my master’s thesis on the influence of British foodways and the role of the tea ritual in the American South, I’ve had refreshing beverages – both alcoholic and otherwise – on my mind. The Liberty Tea Shrub is a mixture of several moments in history where tea, British culinary influence, and American stubbornness collide.

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While researching the history of tea in America, I learned that the famous Boston Tea Party was only one of several such riots and the little known Charleston Tea Party of 1774 ended with the local gentry saving the tea before it could be thrown in the harbor. During the war, many of the colonies promoted patriotism by switching to other beverages like coffee or tea substitutes – such as Hyperion tea made from raspberry leaves – which they proudly dubbed “Liberty Tea.” After the Revolution was won and British imported goods were no longer the center of patriotic scrutiny, the North took to coffee while the Southern colonies hastily polished up their silver tea pots.

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image via wikicommons

Fast forward a century or so to the Civil War and we find the states dealing with yet another round of wartime rationing. In attempts to starve the Confederacy, the Union Army placed blockades at several major ports throughout the South, halting many Southern exports as well as edible imports – like tea – from the North and abroad. Basic foods like flour and sugar increased more than “fifteen—fold” during the war and were likely substituted for other available ingredients like cornmeal and molasses. It seems almost providential that most of the American whisky distilleries were below the Mason-Dixon Line, allowing southerners, and more importantly southern soldiers, a brief and boozy respite.

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Left to Right: Wild Crossvine by Mary Vaux Walcott
and ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Offering a Cup of Coffee, 1732, by Balthasar Denner

Despite the rations, inflation, union blockades, and the battles raging in their backyards, the tea ritual still played a major role in the lives of the Southern elite. In her autobiography, A Southern Woman’s War Time Reminiscences, Elizabeth Lyle Saxon describes how they made tea in a chapter entitled “Terrible Privations and Ingenious Makeshifts,”

“we had tea of everything—blackberry, raspberry and sage leaves, sassafras and spicewood; but the wild crossvine… furnished from its leaves the very best, resembling in a great measure the real Japan tea…”

Taking a look at other common literature of the era, like the well-known Southern cookbooks The Virginia Housewife (1836) by Mary Randolph and The New Dixie Cookbook (1889) by Estelle Wood Wilcox, we find that they list an assortment of traditional British dishes including the popular beverage known as the shrub. A peculiar concoction made of fresh fruit, some sort of sweetener, and either an alcoholic or acidic liquid, the shrub was a way to preserve spring and summer produce well past its prime. The resulting sweet-tart syrup was a popular base for refreshing beverages also called shrubs or vinegars. Later editions of these popular Southern cookbooks continued to include these traditional British recipes alongside detailed instructions for how to brew a proper pot of tea, a beverage Wilcox claimed “is one of those luxuries which custom clothes in the garments of necessity.” So I’ll raise a glass to that.

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Ultimately, all this history boils down to a deliciously refreshing beverage that includes flavors born of wartime rations, American resourcefulness, historical deference, and a little bit of lingering Anglomania.

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The Liberty Tea Shrub
makes one drink

2 small fresh sage leaves
3/4 oz blackberry molasses shrub
1 1/2 oz American whiskey (rye or corn)
2 1/2 oz club soda
Additional sage and fresh blackberries for garnish

1. In a small glass add the sage. Muddle until fragrant.

2. Fill glass with crushed ice. Combine the shrub, whiskey, and soda and pour over ice.

3. Garnish with a sprig of sage and a fresh blackberry.

Blackberry Molasses Shrub
1 cup fresh blackberries
3 tablespoons dark molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1. In a small container, mash together the blackberries and the dark molasses.

2. To the container add the apple cider vinegar, stir to combine, cover, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Strain into a clean container and refrigerate until ready to use.

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works cited

Wilcox, Estelle Wood. The New Dixie Cookbook. Atlanta, Ga: L.A. Clarkson & Co., 1889.

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife: or Methodical Cook. Baltimore: John Plaskitt, 1836.

Saxon, Elizabeth Lyle. Southern Woman’s War Time Reminiscences. Memphis, TN: Press of the Pilcher Printing Co., 1905.

Smith, Andrew F. Starving the South. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011.