Friday, November 18, 2011

Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Gratin

Or, Winter 2011: Era of the Sweet Potato. Because I maybe bought 25.5 pounds of them from Dodson Farms at the Tsunami Winter Market last weekend (hey, at $12 for the box, that worked out to 47 cents/lb, which was better than the 98 cents Kroger was offering at the time... sometimes local can be cheaper, especially with respect to in-season vegetables).

Anyway, so now I will be getting creative with my sweet potato dishes. I've got plenty of recipes for them on the blog already,* but if anyone has a main-dish idea, send it my way.

With literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of sweets on my hands, I made this awesome smoky, savory dish for an impromptu dinner party last weekend, and people loved it, so much so that I think I am going to make it again tonight for Friendsgiving (that is, the pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, the one you celebrate with your friends and more wine than you would have at Family Thanksgiving). I'm also planning to make this caramel apple bundt cake in the new bundt pan I got for my birthday - thanks, Mom & Dad!

Anyway, onward to the gratin. Sweets are from Dodson Farms and onions are sweet Granex from Bennett-Burke Nursery. The garlic is my homegrown German Extra Hardy. Changes I made from the original recipe: I used rubbed sage instead of fresh, and I used 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper instead of chipotle pepper powder. I think tonight I will use a little more than 1/8 tsp because this dish benefits from a little heat.

Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Gratin
adapted from The Kitchn

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
3 pounds sweet potatoes (3 or 4 large ones), peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tablespoon rubbed sage
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup heavy cream (to be used and not thought about)

For the topping:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
another couple teaspoons of rubbed sage
1/2 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil

Two minutes

Ten minutes

Fifteen minutes - dark brown (but terrible light)

Heat the oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9X13 casserole dish (NOTE: I forgot to grease my pan, and I think it was only 8X11 or something, but everything ended up fine). Heat butter in a heavy skillet and when it foams up, add the onion. Sprinkle them lightly with salt. Slowly caramelize them over medium heat, stirring every now and then. This will take about 15 minutes.

Tile half of the sweet potatoes in the casserole dish, overlapping them in tight rows or spirals. I did two layers of sweets on the bottom. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.

When the onions are dark brown, add the garlic and cook until just golden. Add the sage, cayenne pepper, and cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the cream is slightly reduced, then remove from heat.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the cream and layer over the sweet potatoes. Layer the remaining sweet potatoes on top, forming a tight spiral or row. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and black pepper. Pour the cream over the top.

The recipe fusses about not adding extra cream and trusting that there is enough, but, I'm sorry, as soon as I see DO NOT ADD EXTRA CREAM, some alien being takes over my hand and makes me add extra cream. It is something I cannot control. Guess what, the dish was made awesome-er for it. But if you are more restrained than I, congratulations, you have just saved yourself some money on cream

Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender and the cream is golden brown and bubbling.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a skillet and toast the breadcrumbs, plus more sage, until golden and fragrant. Remove from the heat and toss with the Parmesan. Sprinkle this over the top of the gratin and drizzle the top lightly with olive oil.

Return the dish to the oven for 15 minutes or until brown and crispy. If you need to travel with this thing, you can do all steps until this one and finish it in the oven of the host's house to ensure maximum crispiness.

Let cool for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

This one will have a lot of fans!

*other sweet potato recipes here:

Snapshots from the Memphis Farmers Market Harvest Celebration 2011

Alright! The only-a-couple-weeks-overdue Memphis Farmers Market Harvest Celebration post! (Check out last year's here.) The HC is one of the best parts about being an MFM volunteer, and I look forward all season to seeing people, eating delicious food from some of the best restaurants in town, and supporting the market.

My post at the check-in table.

The vols maybe started drinking before the guests arrived...

Pretty dining room at Central Station.

If money were no object, this is what I'd bid on: a retreat in the cabin on Jim and Gail Tanner's Bonnie Blue Farms + a chance to milk goats.

Or maybe a gorgeous bowl from MAC Woodworks.

Hah, enough with spending imaginary moneys; onto the main attraction: the food! Clockwise from top left, that's a lady pea and purple hull pea salad from McEwen's, Neola Farms brisket spring roll with basil, mint, arugula, and pickled peppers from Rizzo's Diner, and baby greens salad with feta, dried cranberries, and candied pecans from Cheffie's.

Best thing I ate: goat cheese grits (more goat cheese than grit) with mushroom fricassee from the Elegant Farmer. And if you haven't been to the Elegant Farmer yet, do yourself a favor and go. The SO and I went after I found out I passed the bar, and I've been haunted by my sweet corn/okra/cherry tomato hash ever since.

A hard-earned Ghost River Oktoberfest after the madness of checkout.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pear and Red Wine Sorbet

This little experiment was born out of an abundance of Jones Orchard Keiffir pears, a magnum of Italian red wine, and access to an ice-cream maker. And now I'm pretty sure I need one of those little contraptions in my life. Which would, of course, be dangerous for the diet, but also really fun. Since making this sorbet, I also have made avocado ice cream, which was a little strange to eat, like frozen guacamole.

I made this for a Halloween party, and it went over really well. Of course, that could have also just been the house punch talking.

Pear and Red Wine Sorbet
from this recipe in the New York Times

2 1/2 lbs ripe pears (about 4 large)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups water
1 2- or 3-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Peel, core, and quarter the pears. Place them in a medium saucepan with the sugar, red wine, water, cinnamon stick, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until pears are soft and translucent (about 20-30 minutes). Add the pepper.

Using tongs, remove the pears to a bowl. Remove the cinnamon stick from the poaching liquid, and discard. Turn up the heat, and reduce until the mixture has the consistency of thin syrup. (This may be unnecessary depending on how long you cooked the pears and how juicy they were.)

Place the pears, in batches, in a food processor (or all at once, if you have a big food processor. I have a Cuisinart Mini-Prep, so I did this in batches). Puree until smooth. Slowly add the poaching liquid and lemon juice and blend together. Transfer to a bowl, and chill.

Freeze according to the instructions of your ice cream maker. Transfer to a chilled container and freeze at least two hours before serving.

The cinnamon flavor of this is pronounced and very tasty.

Other fall delights: roasted acorn squash from Willow Oaks Farm stuffed with quinoa and sauteed onions, plus some cinnamon for spice. Also more buttered cabbage, because, dude, it is good.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apple Yogurt Cake

If you're facing the prospect of feeding a small army of people sometime during the next two months, I've got a recipe for you. It uses apples (seasonal!) and cinnamon (comforting!) and is equally good for breakfast and dessert because it's not tooth-achingly sweet. The roomie and the SO and I did a pretty good job of putting this away over the course of a week, but its true usefulness would show if you had to bring a dish to a holiday get together, or if you wanted to pull a warm breakfast treat out of the oven for overnight guests. It's also excellent if you hate doing dishes, because you mix everything together in one bowl.

My apples here are Arkansas Blacks from Jones Orchard. There are several other varieties of apples at the market (I think Bennett-Burke has Galas and Golden Delicious), but I like the Arkansas Blacks because they are small, so perfect for a snack, and tart, so good for baking. They also keep all winter long in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge.

If you didn't want to make enough cake to feed a ravenous horde, I'm sure you could halve the recipe and bake it in a 9X9 or similar pan.

Apple Yogurt Cake
adapted from

1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt
2/3 canola oil (the original recipe suggests olive oil; I had no problem substituting for something less expensive)
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 small, tart apples
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch ground nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13 baking dish with butter or canola oil.

Whisk together the yogurt, canola oil, lemon juice, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl.

Peel and core the apples, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. This should yield 3 1/2 - 4 cups apples. Stir the chopped apple into the liquid ingredients.

No wet team/dry team here: Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon right into the liquid ingredients. Stir just until no lumps remain.

In a small, separate bowl, mix together the remaining 2 teaspoons of cinnamon with the brown sugar and butter. (Use your fingertips to squish it together.)

Pour half of the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle the batter with half the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture, add the second half of the batter, and sprinkle the rest of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture on top.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, covering with foil at the end if the top is browning. When a knife inserted comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack to cool. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it, or else it will be too gooey. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

This lasted a week with three of us nibbling on it, and, true to the recipe, it stayed moist the entire time. Just make sure to cover it with plastic wrap or something.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kale and White Bean Soup

Welcome back, o kale! While you've not exactly been absent from the market until now, it really isn't until the first cold snaps hit that I crave your deeply-flavored leaves. Ok, no more apostrophe; it's starting to feel a little contrived.

Kale is one of those foods that is so nourishing and satisfying that it almost has to wait for winter. Yeah it's good for you, superfood, yada yada, but given some time, I also think you can come to love kale on its own terms - try it sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and served over rice. You're welcome. And if you're trying to save money, it's a lot of nutrition for not much money. (Pro tip: steamed, it also freezes well.)

Here I used onions from Ly Vu Produce, red potatoes from Bennett-Burke Nurseries, and kale from Whitton Farms. The recipe made enough for three meals for me.

Kale and White Bean Soup
adapted from a recipe on The Kitchn

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 small red potatoes, skin left on and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/4 lb kale, halved and chopped into thin ribbons
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme (recipe, when halved, recommends 1/2 tablespoon, which I found to be too much)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 rind Parmesan cheese, if you have it
1/2 can great northern beans OR 1/2 cup of dried beans, soaked overnight, then cooked
salt and pepper to taste

Put a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat and add oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and saute until translucent, and then add the potatoes, about five minutes. Saute until the edged of the potatoes start to go transparent, about five minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add 1/4 cup vegetable broth and the kale to the pot. Stir to coat everything with broth, then cover with the lid. Stir the kale every three minutes, until it is barely tender, adding more broth as needed if the pot becomes dry, for a total of about 12 minutes.

Add the rest of the broth, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, cheese rind, and 2 teaspoons of salt. If the veggies aren't quite covered, add extra broth or water. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until the kale is completely tender and the potatoes cooked through. Add the white beans. Remove bay leaf and cheese rind. Taste for seasonings and salt - mind definitely needing some liberal grindings of pepper.

Serve this soup with some more Parmesan cheese on top, and crusty bread would be awesome as well. I had this with butter-braised cabbage, also from Ly Vu Produce.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

(Pear) Cake or Death?

Pear cake, please, not "or death"--I passed the Tennessee bar! And immediately thereafter got about five different letters from various legal organizations saying "Congratulations! Now give us money." Which I haz not got.

But I am rich in pears. The stars of this simple little cake are Keiffir pears from Jones Orchard. The whole cloves came from Maggie's Pharm. I'll definitely make this recipe again. It was very easy, the batter tasted delicious in its raw state (very important), and it uses only a few ingredients.

Marcella admonishes me to NEVER use Bartlett pears in this recipe. Only Boscs, Anjous, or Conferenzas will do. But I'm pretty easy to please, and the Keiffirs suited me just fine.

A Farm Wife's Fresh Pear Tart
From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 medium-t0-large fresh pears
a 9-inch round cake pan
butter for greasing the pan (or use Baker's Joy) and dotting the cake
1 dozen cloves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Beat the eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add the sugar and a tiny pinch of salt, and continue to beat. Add the flour, mixing it in thoroughly to produce a compact cake batter.

Peel the pears, cut them lengthwise in two, scoop out the seeds and core, then cut them into thin slices.

Add them to the batter in the bowl, distributing them evenly.

Butter and flour your pan OR spray it with Baker's Joy. Put the batter into the pan, leveling it off with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Make numerous small hollows on top with a fingertip (ha! good luck. it's cake batter) and fill them with little bits of butter. Stud with the cloves, distributing them at random, but apart. Place the pan in the upper third of the preheated oven and bake for 50 minutes, or until the top has become lightly colored.

While it is still lukewarm, carefully loosen the tart from the bottom of the pan, lift it with spatulas, and transfer to a platter.

So tasty!

Other things for exclamation marks: Cooper-Young Beerfest this weekend!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet Potato Quesadillas

It's fall! It's fall! Time to play that annual game, "Keeping Sweet Potatoes Interesting!" If you're committed to eating locally from area farmers this winter, you are luckier than you have been in a long while. The Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market will stay open throughout the winter. Not sure who will be there, but I'm sure they will have info through their facebook page throughout the season. Also, the winter market that met last winter in the Tsunami parking lot will gather again this year. Last year, Flora Farms, Dodson Farms, the Gracious Gardener, Donnell Farms, and Shoaf's Loaf, just off the top of my head, met regularly on Saturday mornings. I could always run over for my winter staples: ground beef, eggs, kale, and... sweet potatoes.

This is a recipe from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that makes savory use out of some delicious Dodson Farms tubers. The onion is from Ly Vu's Produce. The original recipe calls for swiss chard to be stirred in, but I didn't have any. But I did make these two nights in a row and on the second night stirred in black beans, which made the quesadillas hearty and festive, to boot.

Sweet Potato Quesadillas
Adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

2 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cumin
chile powder to taste
olive oil to saute in
vegetable oil for the baking sheet
4 flour tortillas
4 ounces of a melty cheese (Barbara recommends Brie; I used, um, low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella)

Cut sweet potatoes into chunks and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and microwave on high until soft. This took me about 9 minutes. Mash.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute the onion in a large skillet until it goes soft; add the garlic and saute a couple of minutes more. Add the spices and sweet potato and mix well, adding water if it gets too sticky. (I kept a glass of water on the stove, as mine needed a lot of it). Turn burner very low to keep warm without burning

what's that in the background? a delicious and seasonal Pear Custard Pie, of course.

Oil a large baking sheet, spread tortillas on it to lightly oil one side, then spread filling on half of each. Top with slices of cheese (and shredded chard, if you use it), then fold tortillas to close (oil side out).

Bake until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes, and cut into wedges for serving. Very tasty.