March 9, 2009

"One Potato, Two Potato...."

Everything old is new again.

(At least that’s what I keep sayin’ to the mirror!)

My maternal grandmother, a world-class baker and pincher of ears, used to make a version of this Sweet Potato Crisp years ago. I thought it was weird. Sweet potatoes were for Thanksgiving! With a pile of marshmallows and swimming in syrup! So I ran out the door when it came out of the oven because there was NO WAY I was going to eat SWEET POTATOES like that! I was an 8 year old with very specific ideas about how food was supposed to be. Bologna sandwiches ONLY with chocolate milk! Fish sticks on the LEFT side of the plate, not touching anything else! Fried eggs, cooked so long you could bounce them off the pink Formica! I was a picky little brat, and it’s a wonder I’m not deaf or even have any ears at all after all the pinching they endured when I was a kid.

I have an old wooden box full of old family recipes, mostly from my grandmother (my Mom mainly just tried to make sure we all didn’t die of rickets and wasn’t too concerned about recipes...she approached cooking much like a zoo keeper approaches feeding the monkeys) that I rummage around in from time to time. Every time I make the chocolate chip cookie recipe, the lasagna, the chipped beef and gravy, I am amazed how quickly I am transported back to my Grandma’s tiny kitchen and how she never gave up trying to teach me to cook and bake.

(This is not quite what it looked like....)

“Now, listen to me…and quit fidgeting! This is how you dissolve yeast! Stop eating your braid! Look at this dough, now, isn’t it just lovely….what did I tell you about crossing your eyes?? Do you want them to stay that way?? In order for bread to rise, it has to…if you don’t stop cutting the cat’s fur, I’m telling your Mother, the poor soul. Why did she marry your father anyway???”

(No, my father wasn't Paul Newman, but that pose looks awfully familiar...)

Thank goodness I grew up (everybody quit laughing!) and figured out that food and the process of baking and cooking is a marvelous, enjoyable creative thing. Thank goodness some of my grandmother’s wisdom somehow penetrated my preoccupation of trying to teach her parakeets to talk. Thank goodness she knew that some day I would want her recipe for Sweet Potato Crisp.

There has been some tinkering with the recipe (the addition of candied ginger, etc.), but mostly it’s hers. The sauce is mine – yes, thank you very much, it is fabulous isn't it? Try not to slurp it all up before you get a chance to pour it over the crisp, ok?

Sweet Potato and Candied Ginger Crisp with Coconut Caramel Sauce
Serves 6 (or just me with a big spoon)

For Crisp:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup oats
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
5 cups peeled and thinly sliced North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

For Sauce
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

To prepare Crisp:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack to middle of oven.
2. Combine the flour, oats, sugar, nutmeg, allspice, and 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate the chilled butter into the bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly mix until butter and dry ingredients start to come together, being careful not to over mix.
3. In another large bowl, toss the sweet potato slices with the lemon juice, the chopped ginger, and the remaining cinnamon
4. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a non-stick 8” X 8” baking pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes.
5. Bake, uncovered in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until topping is bubbly and brown and sweet potatoes are fork tender.

To prepare Sauce:
1. While crisp is baking, place the sugar into a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Heat, over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and golden brown. Slowly add the coconut milk, stirring vigorously. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

To serve,
Scoop warm crisp into bowl and spoon warm sauce over top

March 6, 2009

I'll Never Tell

I’m not supposed to write about this. Strict orders from the spousal unit. But you KNOW I’m going to. By now you should know I’m a trouble maker.

So promise you won’t tell a soul. I’d hate to kill anyone with my super powers.

We found native Indian relics (pot shards, etc) on our property where we are building our home. Quite of lot of them. In Arizona that could mean stopping the process of building our home and dealing with graduate anthropology students from Yale pitching damn tents all over the place, smoking sage joints, and dragging out their drums for crazy ass ceremonies honoring the dead Indians. Right on the spot where my Thermador is going!!! I’m as National Geographic as the next person, but, hell-to-the-NO to a dig on our property….I’m building my kitchen!

(I will never tell where our property is...but it's somewhere on that map...go ahead, send me to Gitmo and those weak sister water boards. I'll never talk.)

And just so you know that I am culturally sensitive (I’ve waved a few sage sticks around in my time) - we DID check around covertly about what to do about it, but generally we were told, “yeah, there’s a lot of the stuff all over the place out there”, and no one seemed particularly concerned or excited. The area is a deeply researched and cataloged area of the Sinagua people that migrated down from northern Arizona (Flagstaff area) and settled all over central Arizona (our land). And we ARE being super careful about anything we do find and respectful of the general idea we aren’t the first to think our property is pretty damn great. But it is pretty cool to look down and find pieces of someone’s cookery right there, lying on the ground, from some several hundred years ago. And it looks nothing like All-Clad.

I like wandering around, picking up shards and thinking about what it must have been like to cook back then. Well, first of all, evidently, you had to make your own pot. No running down to Williams Sonoma for a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, that’s for sure!!

First Native American: “I’m hungry”

Second NA: “Good grief, you just ate 3 days ago!”

First NA: “Woman! Go get me some meat!”

Second NA, sighs…picks up her spear, heads out. Stops to make a clay pot, and have a baby. Runs cross country about 8 miles to water hole, then crawls in the brush to ambush a big elk. Takes a breather and makes a pot. Throws her spear, then jumps on the elk’s back, wrestling it to the ground. Butchers 800 pound elk, making 12 pairs of shoes with the hide. Takes a break and nurses the baby. Packs the meat back to camp. Digs a fire pit to smoke the elk. Runs down to the crops planted by the creek and harvests corn, squash, and beans. Makes a couple more pots. Starts making dinner. Rattlesnake tries to bite the baby and she ties it in a knot. Makes some more pots.

First NA: “Isn’t dinner ready yet, woman?”

Second NA: “Pipe down, will you? It’s almost done!”

Second NA makes a set of 12 pottery plates (with artistic black squiggles) and fills one with smoked elk tenderloin with a juniper berry sauce and a medley of fresh corn and squash. Complemented by bean cakes, topped with fresh dandelion greens.

First NA: “Oh brother…elk again?”

I think that’s when the pots got smashed.

This recipe has nothing to do with anything I just wrote about. But it’s very good. And I took a picture of them perched on a big pot shard. I hope it was the one she used to bop her spousal unit on the head with.

Butterscotch and Salted Pine Nut Cookies
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 bag butterscotch chips
Handful of pine nuts
2 big pinches sea salt
1. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs, beating well after each egg. Add vanilla.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture.
3. Stir in butterscotch chips.
4. Toast pine nuts in small skillet until barely turning brown and fragrant…toss with sea salt. Stir into cookie dough.
5. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on racks.
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"The Dish" by Catherine Wilkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.