Archive for November, 2009

Sweet Potato: Andrea’s Easy Sweet Potato Pie

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato pie is relatively new to my Thanksgiving repertoire. I grew up with pumpkin pie for the holiday and, to be frank, I never really dug it. It was pretty much bland and boring in my book. However, years ago when I began dating my, now, husband and had Thanksgiving with his family, I delighted on an entirely different Thanksgiving feast:  greens, black eyed peas, corn bread dressing, macaroni and cheese, and yes, the consummate of Soul Food desserts – sweet potato pie.

The bold nutmeg, cinnamon and sweet potatoes won me and my momma over instantly. Since then, I’ve been making sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving. I’ve tweaked my recipe over the last several years. It’s almost home-made (I buy a lovely frozen crust). Actually, it’s more like six because I bake enough pies to share with my large, extended family across two states. I can make pie crust from scratch, but why? Sometimes in life, shortcuts are worth it. I’d rather go for a walk than sweat the small stuff, especially with the stress and extra calories that come with the holidays.

This is an easy recipe, it just takes a couple of hours to do the boiling and baking. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hover over the stove, you can multi-task with this one. Don’t be tempted to buy the canned puree; that short cut is not worth it.

And, one more thing, this pie is damn good! There’s never a leftover, except for a few crumbs, if even that.  This year, I’m topping it with home-made vanilla whipped cream and an extra dash of nutmeg. Note at our house, we enjoy sweet potato pie beyond Thanksgiving and the holidays, it’s delicious with a hot cup of tea, chai or coffee. I like mine room temperature and the husband likes his cold.

Tidbits on Sweet Potatoes

  1. There is some confusion between sweet potatoes and yams, particularly in the U.S. In American grocery stores, what are marked and we understand to be “yams,” including the garnet and jewel varieties, are actually sweet potatoes.
  2. Sweet potatoes spoil quite easily, especially when bruised and wet. Keep them fresh for weeks by storing them in a cool dry place like a pantry or cellar. Do not wash before storing since moisture speeds up spoiling. Do not refrigerate as well.


Cabbage: Beef & Cabbage Soup – Caldo de Res

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Caldo de

There are certain dishes that make me nostalgic for childhood.

You know what I’m talking about. A smell or taste that conjures vivid memories of comfort – when life was more simple and childhood dramas were easily soothed by your momma or daddy’s home-made goodies. Like, a bandage and a kiss or hug, but you could eat it. For me, these cabbage recipes have been just that:  the yeasty smell of my mom’s cabbage burgers baking, warming the house and our tummies on a cold day; and, this beef and cabbage soup from my abuela Juarez.

Grandma Juarez is no longer with us. And, I’m sure, I’m not the only one of the 37 grandkids and 46 great-grandchildren who thinks of her when I eat this soup. I remember several a Sunday afternoon visit and her never-empty pot of soup simmering in her little kitchen. Somehow it managed to feed whomever stopped by that day. That, and tortillas de harina (flour tortillas), but that’s another recipe and story.

Caldo de res is comfort soup, perfect for a dreary day or cool night. Tender bites of roast simmered in a beefy broth with winter vegetables – onion, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. It’s a standard in Mexican households and restaurants, although the ingredients may vary slightly – some adding chayote or zucchini.

The recipe below is adapted from my abuela’s recipe (I use a whole head of cabbage and more veggies, and brown the roast first). It also contains her rumoured “secret” ingredient (which, now, is no longer secret), hierba buena, spearmint used in Mexican teas and cooking. It adds a special, fresh dimension to this soothing broth.

For those who’ve never tried caldo de res, if you like Vietnamese pho, which also has a tasty beef broth, you’ll want to try this soup.

Tidbits on Cabbage:

  1. When shopping for cabbage, look for one with a shiny, crisp exterior. It should also feel solid and compact. Avoid buying those that look wilted, brown or dried-out.
  2. Don’t wash cabbage until you are ready to use it. Cabbage can be rinsed after cutting or chopping, drain well.
  3. Boiling cabbage tenderizes the leaves, causing it to release sugar and the characteristic cabbage aroma.


Cabbage: Cabbage Burgers – Runzas & Bierocks

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Cabbage Burger _ Runza - Bierock_Fork Fingers

This recipe pays homage to my Nebraska roots . . . When you think about the state, what first comes to mind? For most it’s corn, Big Red football and Omaha Steaks®. Now, after you read this post, you’ll be adding cabbage burgers to the list.

They are individual-sized, savory yeast bread stuffed with peppered beef, cabbage and onions; baked golden brown. Simple ingredients and spices that make for a comforting, satisfying meal. For those not in on these little treasures, think calzone, empanada or pierogi rather than a typical burger. In Nebraska, they are also called cabbage buns or runzas; in Kansas, bierocks.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, cabbage burgers were introduced to the mid-west by German Russians (Volga Germans) who immigrated to the U.S. and settled primarily along the plains of Nebraska and Kansas. Since then, they have been notable, regional fare. Runza®, a Nebraska fast-food franchise, serves them up in a variety of flavors.

Growing up, my Mexican family ate plenty. I suspect it’s because the pillowy treats provide a good way to stretch a pound of ground beef. When my mom baked a batch, they were heavier on the cabbage than beef. I still like ‘em like that. No surprise, I’m a big fan of cabbage – raw and cooked. This recipe comes from the bread maker in my family, my sister Monica.

All you Huskers, I expect a shout out on this one. Leave a comment about how you eat your cabbage burgers.

Tidbits on Cabbage:

  1. Cabbage belongs to the Cruciferae family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, collards and brussels sprouts. There are an estimated 100 different varieties of cabbage grown in the world. The most common types in the U.S., however, are the green, red, savoy and Chinese varieties – bok choy and napa.
  2. Cabbage is estimated to have been cultivated more than 4,000 years and domesticated for over 2,500 years. It is believed to have originated from wild loose-leaf cabbage brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. Since it is a cool weather crop and stores well during winter, it soon became a major crop in Europe – particularly in Germany, Poland and Russia.
  3. Cabbage has several health benefits:  phytonutrients in cabbage and other crucifers help the body detoxify; cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as good source fiber, manganese, folate, vitamin B6, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Since phytonutrients react with carbon steel and turn cabbage leaves black, use a stainless steel knife to cut.


Pear: Lamb & Pear Tagine

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Tagine Lamb

Golden, sautéed pears served with slow-cooked, tender lamb spiced with cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Sounds delicious right? It is, as eaten and attested by several friends who gobbled up this tagine.

Moroccan food is one of my favorites because I enjoy the array of spices and ingredients used throughout the cuisine:  cinnamon, cumin, ginger, pepper, coriander, paprika, saffron, mint, lemon and more. Also emblematic of Moroccan cooking is the tagine (tajine), a stew that takes its name from the cooking vessel stews were traditionally cooked in – a shallow, round earthenware base with a cone shaped lid. It is standard in North African homes, and probably most well-known in Morocco cooking. Today, the name “tagine” is also commonly used to refer to stew, as many modern Moroccan cooks now use pressure cookers.

Characteristic of savory Moroccan meat tagines is the inclusion of fruit – raisins, quinces, prunes, dates, apples and, yes, pears – this week’s featured ingredient. However, in my exploration to bring you a new use for pears, I overlooked one thing – I’m not a fan of lamb. But, my labor and intuition in the kitchen was not for naught. The stew got the thumbs up among several lamb aficionados, with particular accolades for the pears.

The recipe here is adapted from several cookbooks including Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon by Claudia Roden; Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert; and Casablanca Cuisine: French North African Cooking by Aline Benayoun.

This tagine makes for a comforting meal with complex flavor and texture – tender lamb with a warmly-spiced, glossy sauce, and soft, sweet pears.

Tidbits on Pears:

  1. Pears’genus Pyrus, native to the Northern Hemisphere of the Old World, includes about 20 species, of which half are found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia minor; and the remaining half in Asia.
  2. In some Asian cultures, pears and pear trees were believed to ward off evil. In Egyptian antiquity, the fruit was sacred to Isis, and to Koreans, the pear symbolized grace, nobility and purity, according toThe Pear in History, Literature, Popular Culture, and Art by Jules Janick.


Pears: Sweet & Peppery Pear Salad

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Sweet Peppery Pear Salad

Sometimes cooking and eating should be simple – allowing fresh, seasonal ingredients to stand on their own without a belabored process. That’s what this recipe is about. And, also that I’m craving lighter, raw food the past few days.

It’s pear season and, like most of you, I enjoy eating pears as a healthy snack – whole. However, pears are also a tasty addition to a mixed green salad during the fall and winter months.

This time of year there is a good selection of pears at the market, most common varieties in the United States are Bartlett, Bosc, Anjou, Comice and Asian/Nashi. For this salad, I opted for Comice because they are creamy, juicy and sweet when eaten raw, a nice contrast to the other ingredients that make up this salad:  peppery arugula and mixed greens, creamy shaved manchego cheese, walnuts and balsamic dressing.

This is a satisfying salad either as a full meal or as a side paired with a warm bowl of soup. Last year, this salad was a hit at Thanksgiving.

Tidbits on Pears:

  1. Pears were cultivated over 4,000 years ago and are believed to have originated in the Caucasus region from where they spread west to Europe and east to Asia.
  2. The fruit can be generally categorized as European pears and Asian pears – European are eaten ripe and soft after harvest, while Asian pears are eaten more crisp like an apple.
  3. Pears are picked and shipped unripe because of their fragile nature. Buy them a few days before you want to eat them, selecting ones without blemishes or bruises. Allowing them time to ripen at room temperature improves their texture and flavor. If you are not ready to eat or use soon, store in the refrigerator.