Settle What is Unsettled
I've been thinking about what is going on in the world around me. The troubling times...The political unrest... The palpable tension that pervades our society... I've been thinking about salmon. I've been thinking about zucchini. I've been thinking about coconut oil. I've even been thinking about chia seeds! Obviously, I don't get out much! As the rain makes a gentle and soothing 'pitter-patter' sound on my roof and I await the coming of dawn, I think about ways I can help to settle what is unsettled. I have been thinking about how to calm an upset stomach...
Each person deals with an upset stomach in their own way. Some people turn to antacids. Some people turn to whiskey. Some people turn to exercise. Some people try hot lemon water... Some people (DO NOT judge me) turn to ALL four! It's important to understand there are home remedies to soothing an unsettled stomach. When my stomach is particularly unsettled, I make a concoction of club soda, lemon juice and a simple syrup I grate the lemon peel into and then add to the club soda and lemon drink mixture. It seems strange to recommend a bubbly drink for an upset stomach but it settles things right down every time. In fact, I keep club soda in the house at all times just for this one use! Hot lemon water, or even just plain hot water, is also very helpful to settle an upset stomach because the hot water helps fats to 'move along' so to speak. My grandfather used to drink a cup of plain old hot water each night before bed. He made quite a ritual of it in fact. My grandmother would boil the water and pour it in the cup for him. Gramps would carefully pour out a small portion into the saucer to cool just enough for him to sneak a sip. The man ate, like the sheet metal worker he was until he died, so there must be something to the hot water thing...
There are also plenty of meals to make that will aide in digestion. Working backwards from dinner to breakfast, off the top of my head; how does Salmon cooked in coconut oil, garnished with a sprig of dill, served with crisp-tender zucchini sound? Maybe some chia seeds sprinkled over the top? Yummy right? I think so too! What about making yourself some delectable broth and adding some kimchi to it for a quick lunch? Finally, start your day off with a nice, BIG, cardamom-scented oat bran muffin that uses olive oil or ghee as the fat and buttermilk as the liquid! Together, through food, we can reduce gas emissions, move things along and settle the unsettled!
Behold the Yam!...or is it?
The answer to the question "Can you cook a yam? Nope- not probably. Say what? Nope? Why not you ask? Well, for one thing, true yams do not grow in the United States. Say what? True yams only grow in Africa. Say what? That's right dear blog readers! Those brown-skinned, orange, oddly-misshapen blobs in the bulk bins are actually Sweet Potatoes! Say what? Yep. Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet Potatoes are tubers but let's just keep that between us ok? If our daughters think they're eating "tubers" they will never eat Sweet Potatoes again! Tubers sound like something really icky you throw things at in the garden after you sprayed it with water while screaming at the top of your lungs to your husband, "Get something sharp!" They sound like something that gets run over with the car, TWICE, in horror movies only to get back up again. The (soon to be consumed) victims screaming helplessly from behind the closed windows and looking at each other as if to ask, "Why didn't we bring something sharp?!"
Since American Sweet Potatoes are grown in North Carolina, it seems fitting to talk about Sweet Potato Biscuits. Sweet Potato Biscuits are like biscuits -only better. I make mine with a touch of cinnamon and buttermilk instead of milk. (In fact, I like ALL biscuits made with buttermilk.) How to make them is pretty simple too. Just add 1/2 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato to your favorite biscuit recipe and reduce the milk to 1/4 cup per 1 1/2 cups of flour. A combination of whole wheat and all purpose is nice and you could also try spelt flour. Spelt is one of my favorites. The gluten (YES, spelt has gluten) is more water soluble so it is a bit more delicate to work with but that's what makes using it in biscuits so perfect. Biscuits should not be handled too much or they become hard. In the case of biscuits, hard is bad. Soft is good.
Another tip for making soft, flaky biscuits is to mix and cut the shortening into the flour until it resembles coarse meal and THEN cut the butter into the flour. It is important to cut the two fats in separately. Butter will steam when it hits the heat, shortening will not. Shortening is lower in moisture then butter and will help to give distinct layers to the biscuits. Since butter has more moisture content, it will help to "push" those layers apart. Get it?
Lastly, have all your ingredients for making the biscuits the same temperature, COLD. COLD shortening. COLD butter, COLD buttermilk. Clearly I want to drive the point home how important it is to have your ingredients be COLD. Like making pastry, you want the COLD fat to be coated with flour before liquid comes in contact with it. The COLD fat is "cut" into the dough to make flaky layers. The less you handle the dough the better because less handling will help maintain the integrity of the flaky layers. The same principles apply to pastry dough making but that is for another blog.
So dear readers, I hope you give Sweet Potato Biscuits a try. Substitute them the next time you make shortcake, perhaps slice up a juicy pear instead of using berries. Add a big dollop of whipped cream and I swear, NO ONE will care if they're eating a "tuber!" Cut a Sweet Potato Biscuit in half and spread it with maple butter or peanut butter or almond butter or honey. Top the biscuits with pumpkin seeds before baking for a little crunch. Let your imagination guide you and have fun! At least you're not eating yams.
Do you think I'm a "Nasty" Woman?
It's such an interesting and dynamic time in our country's history. A woman running for president! A "Nasty Woman" at that! Within the context of this blog, "Nasty" means "strong." "Nasty" means "intelligent." A president who is "strong". A president who is "intelligent". A president who, I can tell, loves to eat some pig for dinner! "Pig" for dinner could be anything from pork chops to bacon (even grabby, dirty businessmen) BUT this is a blog about food, not politics, so lets talk bacon.
As a "Nasty" woman myself who likes to eat pig, one of my favorite ways to do so is also one of the simplest, the underrated BLT Sandwich. A really excellent BLT Sandwich can be a thing of beauty. Layers upon layers of savory, succulent and crispy bacon, fried to within an inch of its life, served atop San Francisco sourdough bread toasted to a light golden with garden tomatoes, tender lettuce (maybe some sharp cheddar cheese) and Pink Dressing to seal the deal. Pink Dressing to seal the deal? Did Mary mean to write that? What the heck is Pink Dressing?
Have you ever heard of a dressing called "Thousand Island Dressing?" Thousand Island Dressing is named for the area in New York. (Look it up.) Pink Dressing is kind of like that but minus all the bumpy bits like pickles and hard-cooked eggs. Our daughter Alyssa, who adores the stuff, gave the dressing its name. Always one to come to a point and unable to say "Thousand Island" as a toddler, Alyssa named the dressing when she was about two years old. The name stuck. Entire generations from here moving forward will be calling the dressing my grandmother created as a young bride "Pink Dressing." Pink was my grandmother, Mary's, favorite color so the name seems appropriate. Credit for first putting the Pink Dressing on the BLT Sandwich however, goes to Alyssa's sister, Mia. Pink Dressing brings all the flavors of a BLT Sandwich together and says, "Lets party!" Depending on the amount of vinegar you add, the Dressing can be as sharp as you like. (I for one adore the sharpness of vinegar in dressing so go for it and add as much vinegar as you like!) The vinegary-sharpness plays upon bacon's smoky sweetness and the tang of the ripe tomato. Mia even loves to dip pizza in Pink Dressing. This might sound strange but I dip carrots and grape or cherry tomatoes in Pink Dressing and eat them together. The combination satisfies a craving for potato chips but without the guilt of eating a bag!
Getting back to the BLT... Mia is a bona fide BLT lover! How our "Nasty" girl loves to eat her some pig! A BLT makes excellent comfort food and a delicious and quick meal. I like to cook bacon in the oven on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, in a single layer, at 400 degrees about 15-18 minutes, flipping the bacon over after 10-12 minutes of cooking and allowing it to become extra crispy. (You can find the recipe for the Pink Dressing on my Recipes Page and in my upcoming cookbook!) Try a dollop of the Dressing on a BLT Sandwich the next time you make one and see if you too don't love to eat you some pig. After all, it is nasty!
Fall = Pears
Pears signal the coming of Fall. Pears come in all the shades of Fall leaves; crimson-red, minty-green, pale-yellow and dusty-brown. Pears are soft and juicy or firm and citrusy. I like to poach pears in a combination of spices, wine and port until they are succulent and just tender. I then remove the fruit and continue cooking the fortified wine into a syrup I serve over ice cream with the still warm poached pears; maybe a biscuit or two nestled along side for accompaniment .
Pears can also be cooked until they are soft and then puréed into a scrumptious pear sauce. Peeled, sliced and tossed with a bit of nutmeg, sugar and thickener, pears also may be made into an amazing pie filling. Substitute pairs for apples on a cheese plate. Pair pears with pecans for a healthy snack. Spread salted whole grain crackers with fresh goat cheese (chèvre) and top the cheese with thin slices of pear and serve with champagne for a romantic treat. (The crunch of the cracker and slight saltiness of the chèvre will bring out the lemony goodness of the pears and go perfectly with the tart and bubbly champagne. The possibilities are endless! A cook is only limited by a lack of imagination - so let yours run free!
One of my favorite ways to serve fall pears is as a Crisp.
Peel and core the pears and slice them into thin, 1/4-inch thick slices. Toss the slices into a pie pan or baking dish. Press the pears gently into an even layer and top them with your favorite Crisp Topping recipe before baking.
My favorite Crisp Topping recipe consists simply of: butter, flour, sugar, a pinch of salt and a bit of cinnamon. There are those of you out there who enjoy adding oatmeal to the crisp topping mixture but I am not one of them! If you are, add that too. (I think adding oatmeal to a Crisp Topping makes the topping taste like cooked mush! Yuck!) The Crisp Topping may be varied of course. Try adding a bit of almond meal and nutmeg to your Crisp recipe for a bit of a change. You could even top the Crisp with your favorite granola cereal for a SUPER quick Crisp! Whatever you decide to top it with, bake the Crisp at 375 degrees until the fruit gives up its juices, about 35-45 minutes.
A Crisp should be "all about the fruit." Don't add any sugar to the sliced pears. Allow the pear's subtle hints of lemon and the promise of cool autumn evenings to come be the focus. Each bite should shine. Each bite should be enhanced by thoughts of casual, colorful strolls down leaf-lined avenues. You should think of cool, brisk mountain hikes or riding a bike by a stream path as leaves rain down on you and your dog. You could even be thinking of possibly jumping into piles of crunchy leaves; perhaps with a wet sucker in your mouth? Your choice, YOUR Crisp.
The Pear Crisp, pictured above, can also be made into individual servings in little oven proof custard cups or even muffin tins. (Just be certain to grease the metal muffin tin first and adjust the baking time to between 20 and 25 minutes.)
I just spent the weekend visiting our daughter, Alyssa, at Penn State University where she is an Engineering student. The trees along the route we're dressed to the nines! Vibrant colors of red and Goldenrod and forest green lined my path. I found myself smiling and daydreaming as I looked out across the sea of changing leaves. The colors of Fall made the drive go quickly but the journey is still a pain! I tried as hard as I could to get our daughter to come home so I could avoid the drive but her exam schedule prevented it. I endure a true pain in the bottom... and I don't just mean this facetiously. I have sciatic nerve issues that cause pain in my left side making sitting excruciating. Somehow the fall colors took me away from the discomfort... between my colorful and lovely ride and knowing at the end of my (three-hour) journey was our beautiful daughter, the driving time flew. I find singing in the car helps to pass the time also. Singing, coupled with knowing that Alyssa's classes began three hours earlier than I initially thought, motivate a person to get to their destination - and quickly too!
Suffice it to say I arrived in time to both have lunch and get to Alyssa's classes on time. I think I sat through math classes but the language the professors were speaking was extremely foreign and the notes Alyssa was taking seemed to be in a strange unknown script. At one point, the professor himself referred to the mysterious calculations he was scribbling across the chalkboard as "a monstrosity!" He then corrected himself and said the problem was 'not a monstrosity per se but something smaller...' the professor recalculated and reexamined the problem and deemed it a "gremlin." I like this professor... He has a sense of humor. Keeping my sense of humor firmly intact would be the only possible way (in the entire known universe) I could get through 7 minutes of any of the math classes Alyssa is currently taking as an Engineering major! Even the professor made mistakes while calculating! Like I said, I like that professor!
So, while preparing our lunch, I noticed the refrigerator had frozen a brand-new container of organic spinach Alyssa had purchased for herself. I looked at it and said, 'The only thing this frozen spinach is good for is if you use it to make Spanikopita.' Spanikopita is one of Alyssa's favorite comfort foods. I asked what she would like me to make for her during my visit. Brightened by the prospect of "Momma Food," Alyssa also asked for Keftedes. Spanikopita and Keftedes are both homey Greek food. The kind of down home food Greek mothers make to just keep about for snacks or easy dinners, so I guess it is appropriate she requested them.
Keftedes are "Greek" meatballs and are composed of ground meat, onions, parsley and salt and pepper. The meatballs are dredged in flour before frying. No recipe required. Spanikopita is a bit more involved because phyllo dough is used and other things go into the bowl along with the spinach like feta, onions, dill, eggs and so on - but I've been making it for so long I go on autopilot and find the procedure of mixing and buttering very satisfying. It's especially satisfying when you know you're bringing someone you love comfort. Each crispy and savory bite she takes of the Spanakopita will remind her of home and know she's loved and valued.
Don't you think that's what comfort food is about? Letting people know they are loved and valued? I do. Each taste of whatever comfort food is to you, transports you to the moment in time or the place that makes you feel loved and valued; in other words, home. Powerful stuff comfort food... it's like I'm leaving a lingering "hug" in the form of food. Like a hug, comfort food makes you feel "safe" and "loved." And so, as I get back in my car, ready to head home, I know the 48 hours of mother- daughter time we spent together will be prolonged with every morsel. There is just three hours between me my kitchen and the making of more edible Food Hugs.
Frosting versus Icing
This morning our daughter and I were greeted with the season's first frost. I adore frost. It is up there on the romantic scale with fog and rain - it must be my West Coast upbringing. I love the way frost coats our lawn and the flowers and the leaves that are scattered about. I love the way how on a chilly, frosty morning you can see your breath and how my coffee leaves a steam path you can walk through like the smoke from a train on a platform you see in old movies. You know the scene, the soldier steps down onto the platform off the last step of the train, thinking no one is there to greet him but when the smoke clears, there is his lady love (illuminated from behind) in a wide brimmed hat, heels and the perfect A-line skirt with a lone tear gliding down her cheek past her perfectly painted red lips... 'She still loves me after all this time' thinks the soldier as he walks and then half runs to her side before they embrace for the first time since the war began. See? I really do love a frosty morning! The down side is that our poor bipolar lilac tree does not quite know what to do. Each Fall, the lilac tree is duped into thinking it's time to party and every year, save for one, the party is canceled and her blooms blacken and shrivel due to the frost.
Frost also makes me think of the Pastoral Symphony scene from the Disney movie Fantastia. You know the scene. The petite, delicate fairies buzz and dance about bringing frost to trees and lakes. I love the crosshatch patterns across the leaves and the way the frost just clings to the leaf tips. Nature offers up so many joys if only you open your mind and heart. The frost this morning also got me to thinking about frosting versus icing. Frosting is a thick coating that sits on the tops of treat while icing is thin and just dances on the surface of a treat. I know I am in a HUGE minority when I admit I am not a frosting person. I truly prefer a slight touch of icing. To me, icing is the "makeup" of the baking world. Icing should just enhance the treat, NOT detract, the same way makeup should enhance someone's features.
If you have a good basic recipe guide for icing, the sky is the limit. I rarely measure ingredients when making icing and prefer the "dump" method. I also like to work in equipment to give myself enough space and to be more comfortable when making things. So, I "dump" into a large bowl; Confectioner's sugar, a pinch of fine salt, a dash of pure extract and enough liquid to bring the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream. I just keep whisking until I achieve that consistency and that's it! Once you have a good, basic recipe the sky is the limit. Add melted chocolate. Vary the extract. Try pure vanilla of course but also try maple or raspberry. Simply spread or dip the icing onto your rolls or cakes and enjoy.
I'm turning Japanese...
This summer I traveled with my husband, Russell, to Japan for a week. Like I do anytime I travel, I went with an open mind and an open heart. I believe when your mind and heart are open, the path to new and interesting experiences is welcomed. To travel without expectation or preconceived notions is very freeing...
Anyway, I did some research about Tokyo, Ina and Matsumoto; the three main stops of our stay. (This little ditty will focus on Tokyo.) Russell asked some colleagues for hotel recommendations in Tokyo to narrow our choices and we chose one close to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We only had two and half days in Tokyo and enjoyed every last moment.
We were greeted at our Ginza area hotel like royalty! Our accommodations were upgraded. A sumptuous breakfast became part of our experience. Gifts were given. Prizes were won. We hit the hotel jackpot! The room was clean and ample. The food was gorgeous. The staff kind. We dropped our bags, freshened up, purchased metro passes and tickets to the Tokyo Skytree for the next day and headed out. We just started walking... We arrived during a Japanese National holiday called Marine Day and between that and the fact it was July, many activities were closed. Oh well, sumo wrestling would have been interesting but lets be honest, not really all that appetizing. The fact the fish market was closed as well was a disappointment but a good reason to return to Tokyo someday.
Ginza is known for its shopping so we set out to look at shops and peer into windows. (Looking and peering are both free and fit nicely into a budget.)The first thing that struck us was how clean everything was. There was nothing, I mean NOTHING, rolling about the streets; no trash, no yucky bits, NOTHING. This was particularly odd because there were also no trash bins anywhere! Not even in the restrooms; which were very clean too. The Japanese carry a towel called a "Tenugui" which is used as a napkin. See? No trash. The other odd thing we noticed was no one - I mean no one, was walking about and eating. No one was picnicking. No one was munching an apple. No one was eating in public! Russ and I like to gather yummy foods when we travel and make a picnic. This was not an option in Japan. We purchased a vanilla and matcha swirl ice cream at a tea shop (tip: the vanilla flavor DOES NOT drown out the grassy matcha flavor as I hoped) and since it was a bazillion degrees and humid enough to make a fish out of water feel at home, it dripped down our hands and arms quickly enough to make me concede Russell was correct in urging me to forgo the experience. After trying to eat it quickly BUT since, as I said, the matcha flavor was NOT drowned out by the vanilla, this was no easy venture. What is a traveler to do when eating the thing is not an option AND there is no trash bin? Force your husband to carry the melty and drippy cone he DID NOT want in the first place and make HIM throw it in the first trash bin you are lucky enough to pass! The trash bin we passed just happened to be located in a Middle Eastern food stall and the staffers were none too pleased with Russ who by now I as a good 20 paces ahead of in order to not appear associated with the strange and rude American. Not my finest moment but at least Russ was more sticky than me. (Sorry honey.)
Okay. Our first night in Tokyo we cajoled our hotel conceirge into recommending a restaurant they like and eat at regularly. It was important to us to eat regionally not touristy. The first type of food recommended to us was called Teppanyaki. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook and was created after World War II. Teppanyaki was unpopular with locals but popular with tourists. I wanted authentic tastes so we had our first ever ramen bowl. Oh my! How wonderful it was too. The refreshing cold beer was served with frozen copper cups and the steaming bowls of ramen were like floating works of art. The table was laden with delicious add ins so articulately minced and julienned it was astounding. I tried most everything to add in and really enjoyed the black and white sesame seeds you grind in similarly to grinding Parmesan over pasta. YUM! Day one was a success.
Day two began with more wandering in old markets and parks until we found the crowds at the Tokyo Skytree. We could just make out the outline of Mount Fuji; at least that is our story. Our daughter Alyssa found a restaurant called Tamahide and insisted we eat there. (Thank you honey!) Tamahide is famous the world over for Kodemmacho/Chicken Dishes. We went on a Sunday night and the restaurant was basically empty. We went specifically to try Yamada Kosuke's +100 year old recipe for oyako-don: two kinds of chicken simmered in a sweet-and-savory soy-based sukiyaki broth, sealed in a custard-like egg and served in a bowl over rice.
The dinner meal experience begins with a towels arriving. The towels are used to clean your hands but also as napkins. Then a tray with delicate bowls arrives. Each has a different bit of chicken. One has hearts. One has cartilage. One has cooked, ground chicken. One has broth, a tiny egg and julienned vegetables. We thought the bowls were "add-ins" to the soup. Very "American" we thought and "okay" lets do this! So we nibbled on a few things. I tried the heart and passed on the cartilage because honestly, why? The heart was tender and actually "good." It left nothing for the imagination however so I only tried one. Then, after nibbling, we unceremoniously began dumping things into (what we thought was ) the soup bowl. When our server returned to remove our trays, she nearly strangled us both for destroying the meal! We had to calm her down and explain to her in America the little bowls would be considered "add-ins." She ended up apologizing to us and said she should have explained things to us. Jeez! We didn't know...
Then the main event arrived! The okayo-don did not disappoint! It was creamy and sweet and savory all at the same time. The two types of chicken (I pray merely white and dark meat) were both tender and flavorful. The rice was a perfect compliment and rounded out the entire taste and texture experience. Japanese prepare eggs to be runny and that takes some getting used to but with this dish, it worked. After the second bite I knew I would have to try to create a recipe for my family because one and done was not going to cut it! I simply HAD to experience this taste sensation again.
On my recipe page you will find a very simple recipe for Japanese-Style (Ground) Chicken with Rice I hope you give a try. The recipe comes together in minutes and is a great weeknight meal.
Pictured here is the succulent oyako-don as it is offered at Tamahide in Tokyo. My version omits the custard-y egg and uses ground chicken; a bit more family-friendly. I hope you give it a try!
I am preparing this dish on WFMZ Television Channel 69 during the Easy Eats segments and the link will be available on my appearances page or the station's website. The show airs today at 4:00pm and you can tune it or stream via the web.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor