24 November 2015

Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger and Honey

Smashing Expectations

Over the past few years Sweet Potatoes have been elevated in status at my family’s table. These days we eat them at least once a week, and frequently more often. Savoring their creamy sweetness I now wonder how I could have ever spurned them.

It’s hard to believe that I hardly touched sweet potatoes for the first forty years of my life. In fact, none of my family much liked them. The only time I ever saw them as a child was at Thanksgiving dinner. There they came from a can before they were slathered with butter and brown sugar then blanketed in marshmallows, additions that covered rather than enhanced the innate sweetness of those gorgeous roots.

The Sweetest Sweet Potatoes

These days I frequently enjoy sweet potatoes unadorned by butter or cream and without the addition of brown sugar or marshmallows. All alone, roasted sweet potatoes are deliciously smooth and sweet.

That said, while great on their own, roasted sweet potatoes are easily taken from basic to special when smashed with a few simple additions from the spice drawer: a small amount of ground ginger, a pinch of cardamon, a dash of salt, a whisper of cayenne. A drizzle of honey also adds an interesting dimension, a rich bridge between the spices and the potatoes' natural sweetness. With these spare embellishments Smashed Sweet Potatoes become completely irresistible.

This side dish is also easy to prepare. The sweet potatoes can be roasted ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. When you get a break in meal prep, simply peel the sweet potatoes and smash them with their spices. Microwave them or place them in the oven to warm. They’ll be ready when you are.

Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger and Honey
Adapted from an old newspaper clipping

3 or 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. Scrub sweet potatoes and pat dry. Poke each potato with a fork several times.

2. Place the prepared sweet potatoes in the middle of the oven, directly on the oven rack. (Place a foil lined pan on a lower oven rack under the potatoes to catch any drips.) Roast sweet potatoes until tender, generally about 1 hour. They are done when a fork can easily be inserted. You want the potatoes to be quite soft.

Note: Sweet Potatoes can be roasted at higher or lower temperatures than 375F. Tuck them into the oven around other items you may have in the oven and adjust the baking time accordingly.

Do ahead tip: Allow roasted sweet potatoes to cool then store in the refrigerator, in a covered container or wrapped in foil, until ready to use.

3. Peel sweet potatoes. Place the peeled potatoes in a bowl and mash them roughly with a potato masher or a fork. If you baked the sweet potatoes in advance, reheat them at this point, in the oven or microwave.

4. Add the honey, ginger, cardamon and salt to the smashed sweet potatoes. Continue mashing until well combined. Rewarm in microwave, if necessary, or cover and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.


17 November 2015

Discovering Shrubs

On the Road Again

I have recipes, new and old, piling up around here. I’ve been on the road a lot these past few months but I’ve spent time in the kitchen too as I work some new discoveries into my seasonal repertoire. Looking back there are at least a few that are worthy of sharing and still pertinent to the holiday season that is fast approaching.

Take these shrubs for example. I first discovered shrubs on the drink menu at Pizzeria Toro in Durham, NC. It was a warm September evening as my husband and I sat across from each other at a long communal table in front of the pizza oven. The fire was bright and the activity in the kitchen was brisk as pizza crusts were smothered with toppings then paddle loaded into the oven chamber, rearranged and, a few minutes later, retrieved all melty and golden.

We looked over the drink menu, more interested in ordering something thirst quenching than buzz inducing. We saw “shrubs & soda” followed by a list of fruits and wondered. Asking, we learned that shrubs are an old-fashioned concentrated syrup generally made from fruit, vinegar and sugar. While shrubs make great cocktail mixers, added to club soda alone they make a drink that is both sweet and tangy as well as refreshing, something like a cross between lemonade and soda. My husband ordered the watermelon shrub and I ordered the peach.

Where Have I Been?

Perhaps I am a bit late to the game. Though I had never heard of shrubs before, once I was initiated I began to see them everywhere. The next day we stopped by Parker and Otis to pick up some local handcrafted nut butters I had read great things about. Only a few shelves away I quickly noticed a book titled Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times. I flipped through it briefly before adding it to my basket along with a bottle of Grapefruit Shrub elixir from Shrub & Co.

The Grapefruit Shrub elixir was delicious. It was the perfect drink mixer for late summer afternoons on the front porch. I have never much liked the syrupy sweetness of ordinary soda drinks. I prefer lemonade but too often it errs on the sweet side as well. This grapefruit shrub, mixed with club soda, is pleasingly tart without tasting puckery. There is just enough sweetness to balance the tart and a hint of grapefruit bitter to offer an exotic twist. Overall it maintains a light and healthy vibe enhanced by Shrub & Co.’s promises of local organic sourcing and responsible business practices.

By the Book

As it turns out, the shrub recipe book is fabulous too. Here Michael Dietsch offers some history on the evolution of shrubs, along with a few historic recipes from the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Martha Washington. After grounding our understanding he describes technique and offers recipes for a wide variety of fruit flavor combinations, along with a few interesting exceptions. The last chapters provides recipes for cocktail and other shrub creations. All the while this book encourages experimentation and creative license.

I have tried several of the recipes from my new book. I especially liked the Pear-Ginger Shrub. Its flavors are well balanced and rooted in autumn. It smelled so delicious while I was making it that it was hard to wait the week it steeped in the refrigerator before trying it. It was one of five shrub recipes I tried from the book and it is definitely my favorite.

This shrub would make a nice beverage for holiday gatherings. It incorporates the flavors of the season in an interesting mix of sweet, spicy and tangy without getting too complicated. The ginger adds a nice bite and the flavor of ripe pear adds a little soft sophistication. Try it with club soda over ice or experiment with a cocktail recipe of your own.

Pear-Ginger Shrub
From Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch

6 ripe pears, cored and diced
2/3 cup fresh ginger, grated
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar

In a medium bowl, combine the diced pears, grated ginger and sugar. Crush the pears with a fork or potato masher. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to macerate for about 24 hours.

When the fruit has macerated strain the liquid into a small bowl using a fine mesh strainer. Add the vinegar, whisking well to incorporate any undissolved sugar.

Pour the syrup vinegar mixture into a clean mason jar. Cover with a lid and shake well. Store in the refrigerator. Allow the mixture to rest for one week before using.

To Serve: Mix 1 part shrub syrup to 4 parts sparkling water or club soda. Pour over ice in tall glasses.


08 October 2015

Peach Cobbler

I made Peach Cobbler a week or so ago. It was a last minute addition to a weekday dinner, a way to make good use of just a few perfectly ripe organic peaches that graced my kitchen counter.

I haven’t made cobbler in so long that I was surprised by how much I liked it. The biscuit topping was a perfect complement to the warm peaches baked with a touch of nutmeg and a splash of bourbon. We ate every bite. Still, it was a little sweeter than I felt it needed to be.

Of course that meant I had to try again. I went back to the market for more peaches. This time I halved the sugar in the cobbler topping and lightly brushed the top of the biscuits with a sugar mixture just before browning. It turned out just right: sweet yet tangy, lusciously silky and very slightly complicated. Though I cut back on the sugar in the second cobbler, I also topped it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, extinguishing any claim to a health conscious makeover while adding a cool creamy contrast to this golden dessert.

These days, my writing has slowed to a crawl. Earlier today, before I had looked through my pictures, and written out the recipe for my Peach Cobbler, I was at the market again. Those piles of peaches in softly blushing yellows have now yielded their space to the rusty pinks and bright reds of crisp fall apples.

Still it is cobbler season and this recipe for a small homespun version is one to remember. It’s worth saving until the next time I find peaches in season, and probably worth adapting to other seasonal fruits throughout the year …

Peach Cobbler
Adapted from a recipe at Epicurious with a few flavor notes from Serious Eats

Fruit Mixture

3 large peaches, cut into 16 slices each
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
pinch of salt
dash of nutmeg

Biscuit Topping

½ cup flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 slices
2 Tablespoons boiling water


2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon bourbon (or hot water)

Preheat oven to 425F.

Toss sliced peaches with lemon juice and bourbon. Whisk together 2 Tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, pinch of salt and nutmeg. Sprinkle mixture over peaches. Toss peaches until well coated. Transfer peaches to a small (about 1 quart) baking dish. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the Biscuit Topping:

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, 2 Tablespoons sugar, baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cut in the slices of cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in 2 Tablespoons boiling water just until combined.

When the peaches have baked for 10 minutes remove from the oven and drop the biscuit topping mixture by spoonfuls over them and spread slightly (being mindful that the topping will spread on its own as it bakes.) Bake in the middle of the oven for another 15 minutes.

In a small cup, prepare the Glaze. Stir together the brown sugar and a scant 1 Tablespoon of hot water or bourbon until the sugar has dissolved. When the biscuit topping has baked for 15 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and gently brush the Glaze over the Biscuit Topping. Return the dish to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the topping is golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm, topped with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Serves 2 – 3