Battle Roots & Tubers: Fancy Stuff

Guys! And girls! Everyone in between, too! I was scrolling down my list of pending blog posts and I realized that I absolutely. totally. forgot. to write the post about our 2nd San Francisco Iron Chef competition. Dang.

Maybe I was sad that I didn’t win or something. But I better get used to that – people are FANCY here.

I guess it isn’t all about winning though, is it? Yes, there are some moments of fun, some moments when you just enjoy eating good food and getting to know the other people who are extra-excited about Iron Chef. There is that, too.

There are also the moments of whipping up tasty goodness in your kitchen, and even getting to see your husband cook for a bit, too. Those are both nice things. The things that aren’t nice are the multiple stores you have to go to in order to locate freakin’ taro. That would be 4. And the Asian folk in the store certainly couldn’t help me figure out what taro was purple and what taro was white. As such, I ended up with white, which took away from the visual appeal I had planned, but whatevs.

The result of Battle Roots & Tubers was a whole table full of varying dishes. As expected, there were a few soups. There was a fancy oyster dish straight outta the Alinea cookbook. There was a giant tater tot. There were my taro ice cream samiches. There were mini steak and horseradish samiches. There were spring rolls, and even a lovely ginger beverage. And while it took us twice as long to get our ducks in a row this time around, the food was still warm and by the time we ate, we were ravished for sure. Next time, we’ll have to really follow the rules of Kitchen Stadium, and have a dang countdown for when the food has to be on the table. Ok, maybe not, but we’ll figure something out.

The top three, after all was said and done:

1. Tom’s potato soup (of course, there was a fancy name, but I can’t remember it)
2. Molly’s giant tater tot (and all the fancy pieces on top of it!)
3. My taro ice cream and triple ginger cookie sandwiches (they did have fancy sparkly sugar on top… if that counts)

At least I’m keeping a steady showing in the top three, at least every now and then. Next time, I’ll fancy it up. But I’m damn sure leaving the Alinea cookbook on the shelf. That’s just for prettiness.

As for my recipes, I’d share the recipe for taro ice cream (I mean, it was second loser, after all), but I doubt any of you would really make it. Plus, the cookies that were the best part of the sandwich are found in the archives, so you already have half of the recipe for the ice cream sammys, and any ice cream sandwiched between the cookies would do just fine.

So instead, I’ll share the sweet potato biscuits that I made at the absolute last minute (possibly because the taro rice balls I’d planned to make did not come together as anticipated). Although they didn’t make it into the top 3, they were still really good. And the bowl of cinnamon butter was nothing to forget about, either. I have a thing for sweet potatoes though. Well, and biscuits for that matter. And butter. You can’t go wrong when you mix those together.

Also!! Stay tuned for the next post (or the one after that…depending on how things shake out). I’ll tell you how I managed to get such a big butt. ;).

Sweet Potato-Bacon Biscuits with Cinnamon Butter
biscuits adapted from Emeril Lagasse via The Food Network; makes 12 biscuits

time commitment: 45 minutes (30 which is active)

printable version

ingredients
biscuits
2 c ap flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 c mashed cooked sweet potatoes, cooled (bake a sweet potato at 400 for ~45 minutes)
2 T packed light brown sugar
5 slices cooked bacon, drained and crumbled
3/4 to 1 c buttermilk

cinnamon butter
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
4 t light brown sugar
1 t g cinnamon

instructions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and work in with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a bowl, whip the sweet potatoes with the brown sugar until very smooth. Add to the flour mixture and mix in lightly but thoroughly with your fingers. Add 3/4 cup of the buttermilk and the bacon and gently work to make a smooth dough, slightly sticky, being careful not to overwork and adding more liquid as needed 1 teaspoon at a time.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat out into a large rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 12 large biscuits and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and risen, 15 to 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the butter by mixing the three ingredients together. Put in a bowl and place in the refrigerator to solidify a bit.

Remove biscuits from the oven and serve hot with butter.

Cobbled Together

In an effort to avoid the grocery store this weekend, I raided the heck out of our pantry to see what we could eat to get through the week. You see, I already have an issue with letting good food go to waste, and this is only intensified when I’m forced to let things go to waste as a result of being away for a few days. These are the times when I might cobble together a recipe with a ton of random ingredients (panzanella salads are great when there’s lots of produce involved, and this Moroccan shepherd’s pie was a great way to use up mashed ‘taters) or conversely, I might make something uber simple using some standby grains or pasta.

In general, they aren’t meals that really make one salivate, but they get the job done, more or less.

Of course, there are always the exceptions – the dishes you toss together, pulling stray carrots and a forgotten bunch of scallions from the crisper to add up to enough stuff to make a meal come together – that somehow end up tasting like you’d planned it that way all along. It helps when you have a few fresh ingredients hanging around (thanks, Joanne, for the tomatoes!), because those are the ones that provide the inspiration, the kick-start to power you through to the end of the recipe, if you even have a recipe in the first place.

(The fresh ingredients are also the ones that make me feel a little less guilty about tossing leftover bagged shredded cheese into a perfect biscuit dough, knowing full-well that a freshly-grated cup of cheddar would have been tons better, not only in terms of taste, but also quality and texture.)

So, here we are, at the moment where I did something like that and actually get to tell you about it, because I truly feel that this new-found recipe is something you just might want to make yourself. I take that back – it’s something you should make yourself. Rarely is there a time in the year where the produce is this perfect, this satisfying, and this accessible than now – when you get to eat fresh corn and! fresh tomatoes ’til your heart’s content. And I’m telling you this: if you do have access to both ingredients, straight from the market or the store, please do purchase them. I think I already mentioned my stubborn desire to avoid those places this week, and as a result my trusty freezer bag o’ corn came in handy here. And while it was fine, mighty fine indeed, I know it could be that. much. better. with just-shucked morsels of yellow goodness.

If the mixture of tomatoes and corn isn’t enough to get you in a tizzy, have you noticed the biscuits on top? Need I say more?! Even though I’ve moved away, I still read the blogs of many Chicagoans, and I tell ya – Midwesterners get some kinda excited about summer produce. Tim over at Lottie + Doof posted a tomato cobbler recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded like the kind of food they’d have in Paradise. I figured I could make it work, or something like it, even if I didn’t have but approximately half as many tomatoes, no regular onions, heavy cream, or Gruyere on hand, not to mention a penchant for never adhering to the regular ol’ all-purpose flour suggested in most recipes.

So yeah, you could say this recipe is a pretty far leap from the original, but that’s what happens from time to time. You may not have scallions on hand, and maybe you have a different cheese, or no cheese at all, and maybe you have neither pancetta nor bacon for the smoky twist I was craving. Maybe the carrots aren’t doing it for you, and understandably so, maybe you don’t have 10 types of flour in your pantry (15-20 if you count the ones used almost solely for gluten-free cooking). You might even be one of those people who are afraid of a little shortening in your life, for reasons I just can’t figure out. I promise you – it’s okay, and ultimately, it might even be better to use this as your inspiration, and run with it (after, or course, you put down your knife…).

I’m sure Martha would understand.

Tomato & Corn Cobbler
Inspired by Lottie + Doof; serves 4-6 as a meal

time commitment: 2 hours (~40 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
filling
2 T evoo
2 oz finely chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
2 carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh or frozen corn (2-3 ears if fresh; thawed and drained if frozen)
~1 lb cherry tomatoes
~1 lb heirloom tomatoes, medium dice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

biscuit topping
1 c white spelt flour
1 c whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour to replace both)
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T shortening, cut into small pieces
1 c grated cheddar cheese, plus 1 T, for sprinkling atop biscuits
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus ~2 T more for brushing

instructions
Make the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, if using, and cook for 2 minutes, then add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Toss in corn and remove from heat; let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss onion/corn mixture, tomatoes, red-pepper flakes and flour with 1 1/2 t salt and some pepper.

Make the biscuit topping. Whisk together flours, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms.

Transfer tomato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon large clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/3 c each) over top in a circle, leaving center open. Bake 30 minutes. Remove, and brush dough with buttermilk, and sprinkle with remaining T cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 20 minutes.

Bittersweet

Speechless is an appropriate term for how I felt this weekend.

Morose is an appropriate term for how I felt yesterday.

Emotional embodies both. I’ll explain.

As we all know now, I turned 30 last Friday. It ranks in the top 2 of all birthdays, and was filled with loads of fun, friends, food, and wine – my very favorite things. Hubs had quite a few tricks up his sleeve, as expected, and surprises were aplenty. The first was an out-of-town guest, our good friend Todd who we met in Italy almost 10 years ago. Todd lives in Pennsylvania and made the trip, and seeing him was birthday present enough, but it didn’t stop there.

I found what at first glance looked to be a puppy leash (I know – I won’t stop with the puppy nonsense!) in my bag once we were back from lunch, or perhaps an old man’s suspenders. After seeing a grin emerge from both Hubs’ and Todd’s faces, I quickly realized that the strap attached to a brand new camera! I tore into the box akin to the way a 4-year-old might rip open a coveted Christmas gift, eyes wide and with excitement written all over my face and exhibiting reckless abandon, not caring who or what my flailing arms might encounter. So soon, you’ll see some digital SLR quality pics, thanks to a Pentax K-x that has barely left my grip.

Within seconds, another cat was prematurely let out of the bag, so to speak, as Hubs instantaneously raved about Luke’s help in finding a perfect beginner camera and his eagerness to help me learn about it. Which meant only one thing – he and Cheryl were en route from Minnesota! The day just kept getting better and better.

Once I realized we had a little party going on in a matter of hours, I knew it was time for “Hot Dog Night”, and we proceeded to procure groceries as such (more on those lovelies later this week). Jennifer & Jon came over, Todd was there, and Cheryl & Luke as well as Hope showed up later on that night; the weekend apparently was just getting started, and day 1 of my 31st year didn’t seem so lame after all. Not to mention cake – red velvet cake – from Bake.

Saturday went as most perfect Saturdays go, with a visit to Handlebar for brunch and a few re-runs of Modern Family, interspersed with a camera tutorial courtesy of photographer extraordinaire, Luke, and some mighty fine biscuits (recipe below) that served as photography practice.

And that night, the final surprise was unveiled. Following a stop outside our storage locker for what looked like a bag full of wine bottles, we proceeded to dinner, and I became nervous again, not knowing where we were going or who would be waiting. Turns out, Hubs had been planning with the lovely folks at Mado an exceptional dinner that not only was a treat to me, but to the rest of the group as well. In addition to the 8 of us who’d already been around for Friday’s festivities, there were 5 more: Hope’s boyfriend, James, my buddy Caroline (culinary school) and her husband, and Rachel and Andy – who recently moved away from Chicago to Milwaukee (sniff, sniff). I couldn’t have picked a better group of 13 myself :).

Luke took plenty of pics, and we consumed plenty of wine. 14 bottles to be exact. That night, Mado catered to a plethora of special diets all at once – a table of 13 of us had gluten intolerance, dairy/lactose intolerance, pescatarianism-but-usually-vegetarianism, and a preggers chick to deal with. It went off without a hitch, and we were all stuffed by the end of it. Stuffed and drunk. The rest of the night’s shenanigans included more wine and Rock Band till 4, and a puppy visit that my cat scoffed at.

That Hubs, he really is something, isn’t he? You don’t need to answer here; it’s a rhetorical question, you see. I can’t say what my life would be like without him; where I’d be had we never met. He is what they call a diamond in the rough, the butter to my bread, the shrimp to my grits; he is everything and so much more.

But when I think about how it all happened, how “we” came to be, it brings me back to yesterday’s feelings.

You see, I didn’t go to Italy (where Hubs and I  met) on a whim those 9 years ago. I didn’t go because I’d been dreaming of it all my life, or because I had a special interest in the Italian Renaissance. I went to get away from life; to be on my own, in a way.

I’d lost two of my favorite people the year before. Three days following my 20th birthday (the other one in the top 2), I received the worst call of my life. From my dad, in the middle of the night. My 17-year-old brother had been killed in a car accident. There was nothing that could have been done to save him; he had died on impact and just like that – he was taken out of my life forever. I remember screaming into the empty air, tears soaking my pillows, and I remember waking my roommates without knowing what I’d say or how I’d say it. My then-boyfriend’s family drove to pick me up from college in the middle of the night; we drove home in silence – other than sobs and sniffles I was quiet, blank. I remember that day and those that followed as if it were yesterday. I spent those following months at home with my family, being with my mom, dad, and sister and helping to take care of my gramma, who’d been diagnosed with end-stage cancer the day of my brother’s accident. I spent weeks upon weeks at home with her, at which time we watched hours of The Price is Right, paid her bills, and of course, ate peanut butter s’mores. It was not a typical college girl’s summer, that’s for sure.

Yesterday marked 10 years since that dreaded phone call. It’s gotten better, but it’s never easy and while 10 years seems like so long ago, I see it so clearly. Every year on that day I think of him, just like every other 364 days of every year, but this year seems a little bit different, a little bit harder. I miss him so, no matter how annoying he was, or how baggy his jeans were. I’d let him smoke packs of cigarettes if he were here with me today, and I wouldn’t even complain…

…And so, it was that year, months later, that I decided I needed change, and I decided to study abroad in Italy. It was there that Hubs and I met and while I think in sadness about what brought me there, realizing the irony of it all, I smile knowing that, no matter how tragic, how terrible the circumstances were, I know that, because of meeting him, I have become a better person, and that I went on that trip to find him.

So with that, I am humbly thankful – because in being surrounded by death, I learned to live. I learned that life can be so short, our time here with the ones we love so horribly finite. I learned that each and every day is a gift, and that if all else fails us in life, we still have the ones we love. Most of them, at least.

This past weekend was so perfect for so many reasons – but mostly, because I was surrounded by some of my favorite people – my friends, who mean the world to me and so much more.

Thank you for being there.

Now, let’s eat some tasty biscuits.

Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits
From Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Gourmet; makes a dozen

if you like blue cheese, you will like these biscuits. if you don’t, you should probably find another cheese to blend in, or perhaps use the original Gourmet recipe linked above. really, any biscuit will do, but I enjoyed these thoroughly. blue cheese flavor permeates every bite, and the scallions add a distinct zing. plus, they come together in no time, so there really is no excuse for not giving them a whirl. did i mention they freeze well? freeze a few (unbaked) and pull ’em out for a last minute slab of carbohydrate by adding a few minutes to the baking time.

printable version

ingredients
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 t sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 c crumbled blue cheese
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 c buttermilk (or let 1 c milk + 1 T vinegar sit for  5 minutes to curdle)

instructions
Preheat oven to 450 F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips, or with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes and rotating the pan once halfway through baking.

Something Else to Root For

root vegetables


Allow me to introduce you to a new friend of mine. A new kind of pie. And I’m not talking about some weird combination that you’ve never tried in a dessert pie. Although I did find a recipe for a red wine and pear pie that I need an excuse to make. But seriously. Savory pie. Oh yeah – that’s it. You know what time it is. Now, you may be skeptical. And you may be even more skeptical when I tell you that the pie was full of root vegetables – specifically the subtype with taproots. Meaning – rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrot, celeriac. At this point, you may be about to head your little mouse (or finger if you are the laptop kind) to the back button. Don’t be so fast to leave. I almost did the same thing. In fact, I did. It took me a couple of smaller likable root veggie dishes (like a rutabaga & potato mash) to even consider giving this a chance. Would it help if I told you that this particular friend of mine has a particularly starchy accessory with ingredients including butter & buttermilk? No? What if I added the earthy, woodsy, almost minty herb, rosemary? Now you’re hooked eh? Thought that might do it.


baked veggies

I should warn you – this dish is not a “throw together during the week” dish. It’s gonna take some time, a little knife skill, a good peeler (unless, unlike me, you can peel with a knife without paring away half of the inside while still managing to leave peel intact), and some good tunes in the background. You’d like a recommendation? Ok…. try the new Chris Isaak album, Mr Lucky. Nice and chill, a little jazzy, great background music. It also helps if you have a good husband or wife, or even friend around to help with the peeling. Mine suddenly realized how much fun it was to surf the web when I asked. But that’s ok – I strangely enjoy coming home from work and working in the kitchen. Peeling vegetables. Even washing a few dishes. Especially with a nice glass of wine waiting. Which it was. I even peeled some veggies and did the first part the night before, while I was making Friday night’s dinner. Not a bad idea either.

biscuit addition
So, without further adieu – Friend, meet Root Veggie & Mushroom Pie. Root Veggie & Mushroom Pie, meet Friend. Oh, and the sidekick – Rosemary Biscuit Topping. How could I forget?!


all done

Root Vegetable & Mushroom Pie w/ Rosemary Biscuit Topping
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine; serves 8 as meal, 10-12 as side dish


So, what might I do differently if I made this dish again? This dish has proven to me that I am not a huge fan of celery root. I’d leave that big honkin’ thing out and add another rutabaga. But if you like celery root, by all means leave that thing in there. One piece of advice – I’d highly recommend that you put a ridged baking sheet underneath the baking dish. This dish will practically pop out of the baking dish while in the oven, especially after the biscuits are placed atop. Unless you want a house full of smoke, put the tray underneath. Not that that happened, or anything. But just that it might :). Oh, and if you do have this as a main dish, all you need in addition is a small side salad such as arugula with shaved parmesano-reggiano and champagne-lemon vinaigrette.



ingredients

Filling:
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetarian bouillon base
  • 2 very large carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large celery root (celeriac), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large rutabaga, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 turnip, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms,* broken into 1/2-inch pieces, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons imported dry Sherry
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Biscuits:
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/3 cups (or more) chilled buttermilk

instructions

 

For filling:
Bring 6 cups water and bouillon base to boil in large pot over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve bouillon. Add carrots and next 5 ingredients. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; reserve vegetables and broth.

Melt butter in same pot over medium heat. Add onions; sauté until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Mix in garlic and rosemary; stir 2 minutes. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in reserved broth, then cream and Sherry. Cook until sauce is thick and reduced to 4 cups, whisking often, about 8 minutes. Mix in reserved vegetables and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer filling to buttered 13x9x2-inch baking dish. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with foil; chill.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake filling, covered, until bubbling, about 50 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare biscuits.

For biscuits:
 

Stir first 4 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add 1 1/3 cups buttermilk, tossing with fork until dough is evenly moistened and adding more buttermilk by tablespoonfuls if dry.

Drop biscuit dough atop hot filling by heaping tablespoonfuls; sprinkle with pepper. Bake uncovered until tester inserted into center of biscuits comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

 Cool 15 minutes. Then dig in.