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

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

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.

Turnip the Volume

Does everyone go through a ‘cooking funk’ every now and then? Does everyone wanna come home from work and not stand in the kitchen – chopping veggies, sauteing, cleaning – every now and then? Does everyone who joins a CSA look at the produce they’ve been given and say, “What in the hell am I going to do with this shit?” every now and then?

If not, then I’m totally off my rocker this time. But I have a feeling I’m not standing in this barren, gritty field all alone, am I now?

Don’t get me wrong. I love to cook, 95% of the time. I love to come home and hang my bag on my kitty hook in the hallway, toss my shoes down towards the bedroom, occasionally spin some tunes in the background, and practically meditate in front of stainless steel & granite –  chopping veggies, sauteing, and even cleaning. But the 5% does occur (5% of the time, actually). Being part of a CSA is unfortunate during those times, because the produce glares at me each time I open the pantry or the crisper drawer, and each time I open the freezer to see a plethora of meats, various cuts and types, piled high amidst peas, ‘pickle sickles’, and turkey stock.

Turkey stock. I must have overlooked it dozens of times this year already, since I vaguely recall tossing it in there last Thanksgiving weekend. Seeing turkey stock was all I needed, this time, to ‘knock the funk away’. When the CSA gives you a bag of root veggies and you’ve got a tub of stock in the freezer, it only means one thing: soup. Plus, what else is one to do with three big ol’ turnips anyway?!

I’ll admit I’ve never made turnip soup, nor have I seen many recipes for it elsewhere. And I’m not sure I’d want to eat it solo, but I’ve learned that winter squash makes just about anything taste good, brussel sprouts aside. One of my favorite parts of fall is the abundance of the winter squash crops, and we seem to always have a variation of it lying around, which is perfect when a plan for soup suddenly emerges.

So even though I wasn’t necessarily excited about cooking anything these last couple of weeks, thanks be to the turkey stock, I managed to find a little inspiration to not make those veggies wither away (although truthfully, it would take a lot for the humongous turnips to wither away…). The soup is hearty and definitely has that turnip-y taste, but the squash really provides a nice accent so balance it out, I think. And for spice, I thought a nice kick of chipotle chile powder and smoked paprika might turn the volume up, just a tad. Of course, if you’re like our downstairs neighbors and you like things nice and quiet, you can reduce the spices, but that’s just plain silly, if you ask me.

Roasted Turnip & Squash Chipotle Soup
chiknpastry recipe; serves 8-10

time commitment: 1 hour, 45 minutes (most of which is inactive)
other: freezes well

it doesn’t take much to whip up a comforting soup – honest. veggies, spices, and broth is generally all you need. Here, the squash works well with turnips which to me taste sort of bitter and cabbage-y. the squash adds the sweetness and tames the turnips, i think. you’ll note the recipe here calls for diced squash, but you can certainly halve them and roast them the “lazy way”, which is what I do!

printable version

2 delicata squash, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
2 T chipotle chili powder
1 T smoked paprika
salt and pepper
1 onion, large dice
2 firm apples, large dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
36 oz turkey or chicken stock or broth
18 oz water
1 T oregano, chopped
1 T agave nectar

preheat oven to 350 F.  in a large bowl, toss squash and  turnips with chipotle powder, paprika, salt and pepper and olive oil. turn onto foil-lined baking sheets. roast until tender, about 1 hour. cool slightly.

meanwhile, heat about 1 T of oil in a large heavy pot (dutch oven is perfect) over med-hi heat. add onion, apples, and garlic; saute 5 minutes. add broth, water, oregano, and squash/turnip mixture. bring to boil; reduce heat to med-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

working in batches (or using immersion blender), puree soup until smooth. return to pot. at this time, if soup is too thick, add more water to thin, being sure to heat through. stir in agave nectar. season to taste with salt and pepper and finish with a splash of half & half, if desired.

this is not The Publican

it is not Big Star, or Avec, or even Blackbird.

But it is Paul Kahan. And possibly, in a way you’ve never before seen him.

He’s been hitting up the newsstands lately – in Chicago and beyond. We made our first visit to his West Town spot, The Publican, a month or so ago, and had a decent sampling of pork, among other things and we, along with Wilco’s bassist, frequent Big Star for the tasty bourbon and ginger drinks as well as the pork belly $3 tacos. Check out this link for reviews, if you’re interested.

Outside of Chi-town, he’s all over the foodiesphere elsewhere, and was recently featured in both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines.

In F&W, he was given the challenge, along with some other well-known “hearty” chefs (like Iron Chef Michael Simon, one of my crushes; maybe because he’s bald?!) to create healthy meals that didn’t center on meat. You’d think it would be tricky for such a meatster, but I have a recipe of his to prove it wasn’t that you should most definitely give a try.

Foccacia, one of my favorite yeast breads to make (here’s a rosemary foccacia that’s outta this world), but made solely with spelt flour to make it more dense and hearty, as Kahan would prefer. And topped with winter’s finest: squash and kale. It’s enough to satisfy a light dinner for 4 (or in my world, 2 with lunch the next day) that will make you feel like you did something good for your body, you know, with the leafy greens and bright veggies and all.

Certainly you have some winter squash lying around just waiting to be used, right? And while you might not have kale or spelt flour (unless you made those heavenly banana muffins), they’re both relatively easy to procure.

I doubt you’ll see this little number on any of Kahan’s menus, but don’t let that fool ya – the man can cook.

Have you hit up any of Kahan’s associated spots (the Publican, Blackbird, Avec, Big Star)? Do tell!

Spelt Focaccia with Kale, Squash, & Pecorino
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

i thought the foccacia was nice the way it was (with spelt flour only), but some feel that spelt and wheat flour can be extra heavy, and with wheat flour i’d agree. if you’re one of those people, try a 1/2 and 1/2 combo for a lighter dough. you may ask yourself, “what’s the difference between foccacia and pizza?”. look above, and check out those air pockets, those bubbles, in the cooked dough – the finger-poking is the secret here, and don’t omit it.

printable version

2 c spelt flour (or 1 c spelt, 1 c all purpose for a lighter focaccia)
One envelope dry active yeast
1 c warm water
1 T honey
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 t chopped rosemary
Sea salt, for sprinkling (do NOT leave this out)
2 c finely shredded stemmed Tuscan kale
1 T fresh meyer lemon juice
1 t crushed red pepper
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto (optional, I added b/c I had it)
8 oz acorn or delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 c grated or shaved pecorino cheese

In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour with the yeast, water, honey, 1 T of the olive oil and 3/4 t of kosher salt and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until smooth, no more than 1 minute. Oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Let the dough rise, covered, in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. If you make this the day before, let the dough rise and then refrigerate, which will allow the flavor of the spelt flour to continue to build. Let it come to room temparature before working with it.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough, then transfer it to the baking sheet and press it into a 12-by-8-inch shape. Brush with 1 t of the olive oil. Press small indentations all over the dough and sprinkle with the rosemary and sea salt. Let the dough stand uncovered for 45 minutes, until slightly risen. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake the focaccia for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned all over.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the kale with the lemon juice, crushed red pepper and 1 t of oil. Squeeze the kale gently to soften it, then let it stand for 20 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 t of oil. If you’re using prosciutto, saute it for a few minutes to get it crispy and then remove and place on a plate with paper towel to drain. Add the squash, season with kosher salt and cook over moderately high heat until golden, 2 minutes. Turn the squash, add the garlic and cook over moderately low heat until the squash is tender, 5 minutes.

Top the focaccia with the kale and squash (prosciutto if using) and bake for 1 minute longer, to heat the vegetables. Scatter the pecorino on top, cut into wedges and serve.

I Did it All for the Gnocchi

sweet potato gnocchi

Someone please tell me that I’m not the only person in this world to remember, to vividly remember, Limp Bizkit. Please… You don’t have to tell me they were your favorite band of the 90’s – well – if you did you’d be lying anyway because that answer should be someone like Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Just tell me you remember them, if only just barely.

Sometimes I worry that I’m actually stuck in the 90’s. I remember telling my sister she was stuck in the 80’s – I still tell her that, particularly when she ‘facebooks’ (yes, a verb!) her account of the recent Def Leppard show at Walnut Creek. The 80’s were cool and all, but I prefer the 90’s, especially in terms of music. Don’t get me wrong – I love Wilco, Ryan Adams, the Killers, and so on. But most days I’d prefer PJ or RHCP, even Blind Melon, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, or a little Alanis Morissette and Lauren Hill.

gnocchi dough

I could also be just fine if I could wear my dad’s old flannel shirts and curduroy pants every day. I’d love to work 40 hours a week selling Siamese fighting fish at Walmart rather than racking my brain about someone’s family history.  I wish (sometimes) that weekends only meant one thing: the beach. I’d like my excitement of the day to be looking forward to what was going to be in my Happy Meal, and I’d be pretty content vacillating between sweet and sour sauce or honey mustard on my fries, fries cooked in trans fat of course.

But I suppose change is good. In most cases. Sure, my job now pays more than my high school job at Walmart, and my pants have less holes in them and usually no frays at the bottom. And the fries at Mickey-D’s are healthier (if that word can be used in the same sentence as McDonalds..).  I grew out of my Lenny Kravitz infatuation, and I took my eyebrow ring out a loooooong time ago. Also, I don’t listen to Limp Bizkit anymore. I don’t know – I think they were just too angry for my liking.

cut gnocchi

But I love that song “Nookie”, and every time I hear the word “gnocchi” that song comes into my head. Hence the rambling….

…. but I’ll stop that and slap myself back into November (eeps!) 2009. Where was I, anyway? Gnocchi. Yes, gnocchi.

brown butter sage sauce

Gnocchi cooked and tossed in a brown butter sage sauce. That is, soft, pillowy, morsels of creamy potatoey goodness infused with aromatic sprigs of sage cooked in sweet, nutty brown butter.

No matter how you choose to pronounce it, you just can’t beat the taste of it. And the versatility. And honestly, the ease of making it. Bake potatoes, mix with flour and egg, roll into strands, cut and cook. 

gnocchi close-up

“nyo kee”, if you insist.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Adapted from multiple sources; serves 4-6

printable recipe

1 1/4 lb russet potatoes (~2 medium)
1 lb sweet potato (1 large)
1 large egg
1/2 t salt
1/2 t fresh grated nutmeg
1/3 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (plus more for serving)
1 1/2 c ap flour (plus more for dusting)
4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
10 small fresh sage leaves
fresh ground black pepper

special equipment: potato masher, ricer, or food mill


  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Pierce potatoes with fork, bake on sheet pan for about 1 hour. Cool slightly, then peel and use special equipment above to mash. Let cool completely on sheet pan.
  3. Lightly flour clean surface. Beat together egg, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 t pepper in small bowl.  Gather cooled potatoes into a mound on lightly floured surface. Make a well in the middle and add egg mixture. Knead into potatoes (will be very sticky). Knead in cheese and 1 cup of flour, adding more as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with flour.
  4. Cut dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out into a 1/2″ thick rope and cut rope into 1/2″ long pieces. (Will have to continuously dust surface to keep from sticking). Place cut gnocchi on sheet of parchment paper.
  5. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces. Meanwhile, bring water to boil in large pot.
  6. Cook gnocchi in 2-3 batches. Cook about 3 minutes, or until gnocchi rise to the surface. Transfer to plate with slotted spoon.
  7. Meanwhile, heat butter and sage leaves in a medium skillet. Let butter cook about 3 minutes, until fragrant and nutty. Once gnocchi is finished cooking (all batches), add all to the skillet and mix into the butter sauce.
  8. Sprinkle gnocchi with fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

Gnocchi variation: Russet potato – Use all russet potatoes (2 lbs); Carrot-Potato – use 2 lbs russet potatoes and 1/2 c carrot puree and ~2 T more flour

Sauce variation: Parmigiano-Reggiano cream sauce – simmer 3/4 c heavy cream for 2 minutes. add gnocchi and 1/4 c P-R cheese and cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minutes.

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.


  • 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

  • 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



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.