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Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Favorite Apple Pie

 



My Absolute Favorite Spiced Apple Pie

Favorite Pie Crust

  • 10.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz solid fat
    • Chilled butter, vegan butter substitute, cold lard, or cold coconut oil do just fine!
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • Vodka, as needed

Apple filling

  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp grand marnier
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/8 tsp freshly-ground Chinese Long Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground ancho chili powder
  • 9 small apples or 5 medium ones, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
To make the pie crust, simply combine your dry ingredients with a fork and rub the fat into the flour with your fingers. Add in some vodka until it's just moist...and mix together! How should you mix this all together, you ask? Well, lucky for you, I've discovered the joys of IGTV:




Isn't that great? I can do tutorials without having to get a youtube channel. 

Simply wrap and chill this dough for at least 30 minutes while you prepare your filling. All you really have to do is combine all the ingredients, except for the flour, toss well, and cover. Let this sit for the same amount of time you're letting your dough rest so the flavors can meld and mesh together. I like to let it all rest on the counter instead of the fridge because you tend to get a lot more juice out! A proper pie has a good dance of moisture and juicy filling, but we don't want to make our crust too soggy. When we can control the amount of moisture in our pie, we're going to have a good time.

When it comes to rolling out your dough, I prefer not to dirty up my counter with tons of excess flour, but to roll it out between two well-greased sheets of parchment paper. I do this for many reasons, but the main reason is that I don't want to mess with my perfectly-crafted ratio of fat-to-flour. After all, if we're going to be exact with our measurements, why screw it all up with more flour when rolling out? The other reason to do it this way is for easy clean-up. Simply give your counter a quick wipe and throw the parchment paper away! All you need is a good rolling pin, a good arm, and plenty of pan-spray to make this perfect. Even better, you can use the parchment paper to help you flip your flat dough into your pie dish. 

I love this glass pie dish because I can see the bottom, and therefore see when things are cooked or not. Glass is excellent at conducting heat, so for me, it is the ideal baking dish. All that must happen now is you gently line your pie dish with your dough and let it chill before adding the filling. I also like to let it chill before I trim it so that the dough has plenty of time to relax. This way, you can let any glutens that may have accidentally developed relax away. 

Your pie filling should have become quite juicy at this point, so now's the time to add your flour! You may need more than 1 oz, depending on how much juice has come out, but definitely don't use less than this amount. So long as the mixture has thickened slightly with the amount of flour but is still liquid, you should be safe. Add your flour, mix well, and fill your pie! 

Use your rolling pin to roll out a top crust and very gently let it fall over the top of the apples. You should have a nice high pile, which is exactly what you want! Don't stretch your pie dough too much, but be sure to let it sit atop your fruit for about 5 minutes before you crimp all the edges. Once the edges are crimped, with either your fingers or your fork, let it chill in the fridge until your oven comes up to 350 degrees F. Be sure to also cut some vent slits in the top. Get decorative at this point, if you like!

Line a sheet pan with tin foil and set your baking rack to the lowest possible setting so that the bottom of the pie tin is close to the bottom of the oven. Bake your pie on the lowest rack for 45 - 55 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown and your pie filling is bubbling slightly out of the vent slits. 

This next bit is the tricky bit, but it's absolutely essential. You have to - and I'm not making this up - wait to cut open that pie for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. 

I know, I know! It's apple pie! What is better than apple pie fresh from the oven??? Well, how about an apple pie that stays together and won't flood out into a big juicy, sticky mess, that sogs up your bottom like no other? It's imperative that you let the apples do their thing and let the pectin rest. You must do this, so when you warm up the pie again, by the slice, it'll actually stay gelled together. Apple pie really is quite easy, but the real secret ingredient is time, and time well spent. 

While we're waiting, would you like to learn a thing or two about apples? 

We've all heard that phrase "as American as apple pie", but what if I were to tell you that apples themselves were not native to America? They are, in fact, native to central Asia, and have come to Europe by way of the Silk Road, which is the same trade route that gave Italy noodles, which would eventually evolve into the modern pasta we know today.  Apples were then planted in Europe, and then were brough to the American colonies by - you guessed it - colonizers. So, really...nothing is more American than apple pie, because apples - like most of us - are immigrants that have taken hold of the land and changed it forever!

People loved apples because they're delicious, but more importantly they are incredibly prolific. They do not self-pollinate like peach or plum trees (also from central Asia), but need a partner tree to be next to in order to produce. Once they do, however, they'll give more fruit than you could likely know what to do with! I'm specifically and explicitly forbidden to have a pair of apple trees in my own garden because my husband's childhood was "ruined every late summer" because he, his brother, his sister, and his mother all had to stop everything and process every single apple into apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie, apple dumplings, and more. Now, if you ask, "why not just let the animals have it?" Well, dear friend...

Apples are naturally high in sugar. When sugar meets water, it's going to begin to chemically change, especially with time and the right bacteria. Long story short, they ferment. When you get a squirrel or a deer biting into a fermented apple and drunkenly stagger around your yard, it's likely going to be quite comical. When you get a bunch of butterflies, bees, and hornets flying around drunk, it immediately becomes less fun. Apparently, hornets are like yours truly when they've had one too many - they'll fight anything. 


Apples on the ground are not bad or rotten. In fact, apple trees are exceedingly clever in that they will tell you when an apple is perfectly ripe and ready for eating by letting them fall to the ground with only the slightest breeze to invite you to eat them. So long as they don't have a big bite out of them from a squirrel or bug, it's best to just gather them from the ground. You can store them in the cellar, if you have one, just as they are, in crates. Please keep paper between the layers, however, as they do better this way. I hear that they hold the best when not touching directly, and each apple is individually wrapped with tissue paper. This is the reason we have wax on our apples, you see. When apples touch, skin-to-skin, they'll begin to ripen and ferment. They say you should wash off the wax before you eat them, but I've eaten apples with wax on the skin for years and nothing's happened to me yet. 

You can, of course, make this all into apple butter, or freeze the processed slices in bags. You can make candy apples. You can make it into applesauce, which - by the way - magically replaces eggs in a cake if you are in a pinch and can't go to the grocery store right that moment. You can do all sorts of things! The point is that you must absolutely know that you love apples, that you'll never get sick of apples, and that you have neighbors that love apples before you get yourself a pair of trees. That, and you have an excellent apple pie recipe in your back pocket. 

Serve this pie with ice cream, if you like, but I like it on its own with some good coffee. 

I hope you've enjoyed learning about apples, the history thereof, and the silk road. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Strawberry Rose Tartlets

Do you like my tartlet pans? I got them at Sur la Table!
I think I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Strawberry and roses. Is that going to be okay?" Yes, and here's why:

Strawberries are sour, sweet, and can be incredibly fragrant. Roses are astringent in flavor but incredibly fragrant as well. Both are perennials. Both are edible. Both are growing in my garden. When you balance astringency with sweet and sour flavors the right way, it creates something magical and whole in your mouth. The idea of a tartlet is to have full and complete flavors all in a small package. If you've already gotten a good crop of goodies happening in your own garden, or perhaps have a neighbor with a good garden that is willing to share their harvest of berries with you, I think you should do these berries the proper respect by treating them with love and elevating them to be the best things they can be. Be forewarned, this recipe takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.


Strawberry Rose Tartlets
yields 6

Strawberry Filling

  • Garden fresh strawberries, about a pint and a half
  • 3 large leaves of lemon balm, chiffonade
    • Why grow this stuff? Not only is it delicious, but it keeps mosquitos away!
    • Don't have lemon balm growing? Use basil, oregano, or tarragon instead. Any soft and fragrant herb will do nicely!
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp dried lemon zest or 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • Petals of 2 roses
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 c tapioca flour

Olive Oil Tart Dough

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2.3 oz good olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Enough vodka to make it all come together, about 4 Tbsp


Start by gathering strawberries and washing them in a large bowl with a solution of water and a little apple cider vinegar. Then hull and cut the strawberries in half before tossing them with the sugar, salt, roses, lemon balm, and lemon peel. Stir very well and cover with either a clean tea towel or plastic clingfilm. Let sit overnight. Yes, overnight. This is crucial because you're going to want to draw out all of that delicious pectin. While you're waiting, you can make the dough, as well.

Not all of the strawberries absolutely have to be perfectly red when a baked product is involved. Pick white ones, too!

Simply combine all of the dough ingredients in a small bowl with a fork or a pair of chopsticks until it becomes one ball of dough. Wrap all that with clingfilm and let it sit overnight as well. The dough will be incredibly crumbly, and that's okay. While we wait, let's talk about the history of strawberries!

Strawberries are native to the Americas. Yes, that's right, these babies are All-American Beauties. They used to be called 'strewn berries' by ye olde English because they grow low to the ground and seem to be 'strewn about'. They're incredible perennial evergreen plants, but I even hesitate to call them evergreen as I've seen their leaves turn a brilliant purplish-red in the winter with my own eyes. So long as you keep them mulched heavily, they'll grow and stay verdant in the depths of winter, but don't think that they're indestructible. They do need some care and fertilizing to make deliciously plump berries each year. Colonists were so fond of them that there are records of them shipping the plants and berries back to Europe as early as the 1600s.

I spoke about strawberries recently in my "Real Girl Guide to Victory Gardens" blog, so I'm sure you all must know that I love the plants a great deal. When growing strawberries, please plan for a sunny patch of garden, and plan for plenty of space over the coming years. Strawberries make their own babies in the summer and fall, so be sure to have lots of room for them unless you plan on putting them in planters and giving them away to friends. Like asparagus, they get bigger each year with the deeper the root system, so do be patient with them. The strawberries you likely get in the grocery store are likely going to be strawberries coming from plants that are not only juiced up with fertilizer but at least a few years old.

Have I lulled you to sleep yet? Are you awake? Is it the next morning? Have you had your coffee? Oh, good.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and use a rolling pin to roll out your tart dough between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Line six small tart pans with your dough and make sure to press into the grooves as much as you can to get that signature tart shape. Pop these puppies back in the fridge until you're ready to fill and bake.

Drain the juice from the strawberries into a small saucepot and bring to a simmer. Let cook for about 3 minutes until slightly syrupy in texture. In the meantime, toss the macerated strawberries with the tapioca flour, and then pour the simmering syrup onto the strawberries, stirring gently. Drain that new mixture into the saucepot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer until thick and delicious, a little less than five minutes. Stir and let cool to room temperature before adding the strawberries back in.

It might get messy, so do yourself a favor and make the cleanup easy for Future You. 

Once the strawberries are folded into your thick and jelly-like syrup, you can line a sheet tray with foil or a Silpat mat to catch any spillage that may occur. Spoon your fruit filling into your chilled tartlet pans and bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the filling has swollen up from the heat and the tart dough is lightly colored. The filling will recess into its tart shells with time as it cools.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes. You may pop them out of the pans afterward, but do not eat them for at least 2 hours so the pectin may set. If you cut into a berry pie or tartlet like this before the pectin sets, it'll never go back to being gel-like and forever be runny.

It's worth the wait. 
This recipe is something I threw together from what was growing in my garden. The best part about that sort of thing is that it was basically free to make, which I'm sure that we can all use. It is my true and sincere hope that after the pandemic is buried in the ground then we'll be able to come out of this traumatic experience with a good garden and a good amount of knowledge on what to do with all the things growing in there. Chefs like me are all struggling to find our purpose nowadays with restaurants being closed and operating at limited capacities. Some chefs are closing their restaurants permanently. Some are switching gears and turning their restaurants into community kitchens because they, too, got bit by the non-profit bug like I did once upon a time. One thing we can all say with certainty is that the world will never be the same, and I for one am not mad about that.

I think that this pandemic has exposed a lot about the curious animal we call American citizens. A lot of us are viewing common courtesies as 'infringements on rights' and today we saw a large amount of police brutality in Minnesota on those protesting the death of George Floyd. Police are tear-gassing the protestors, and just a couple of weeks ago they let a slew of white protestors with AR-15s holding up signs demanding that their restaurants and salons open back up. Can you guess why the former was treated differently than the latter?

I hope I can look back on this moment in history in 10 years' time and know that I live in a better 'today' than I did 'yesterday.' I hope that we can all look back on 2020 and feel a little wiser and a little more self-sufficient. I also hope that you all write things down. Yes, you! You should write down what's going on today in the world and how you feel about it. Someday, a child may read about it in a textbook and have a real person's account of what's gone on in the days during the great COVID 19 pandemic.

I hope you're all doing well and staying safe. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hickory Nut Cake


Memorial Day is upon us, so I thought it would be fun to dive right in to some American culinary history, featuring one of our many indigenous trees that just happen to produce some delicious nuts. The Americas are home to many different kinds of trees, and the nuts of said trees can be foraged at no cost to you, other than a simple "please" to the owner of the land that you're on. I've got a neighbor that has a hickory tree and an oak tree, so they let me gather nuts and acorns as I please. In return, I like to bake them some cookies every so often, or - if you like - a delicious cake, such as this one. Remember, a neighborhood full of victory gardens is made even better when you share your bounty; so be good and share and share alike!


Hickory Nut Cake
Recipe adapted to be dairy-free from American Cake by Anne Byrd
  • 11 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 8 oz vegan butter
    • I like Earth Balance, but you can - of course - use dairy butter if that's what you have
  • 14 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 c almond milk
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract
    • I like this Mexican vanilla from Global Goods Inc. Use code "LFVanilla" to get 30% off!
  • 1 c hickory nuts, chopped
    • If you can't find any, you can use walnuts instead!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take a 10" tube pan and butter and flour it liberally. Don't skip this step, and don't be skimpy on the flouring of this tin. The cake batter will rise and will need something to cling to!

Sift together all of your dry ingredients and set aside in a bowl. Separate your eggs, and set those aside. Combine your milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into a container and set aside. Grab yourself a large bowl and a long spatula, and set that aside as well. 

Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer on medium for 2 minutes and then on high for another 2 minutes. Lower the speed to medium-high and add your sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, until all but 2 oz of it are left in your container. Let that mix until sugar is completely incorporated, and add in your egg yolks, one at a time. Scrape all of that goodness into your large bowl and give your mixing bowl a quick wash with soap and water. 

Using your spatula, stir in your flour mixture, alternating with your milk mixture, until everything is just incorporated. Go slow, as you're stirring by hand, and you don't want to overwork it. Take the remaining sugar and your 4 egg whites into your now clean mixing bowl and whip it with a whisk attachment on high until stiff and glossy peaks form and the mixture has tripled in volume. Fold in your egg whites gently in thirds. Fold in your chopped nuts as gently as you can, as you don't want to knock out all that lovely air.

Pour your batter into your prepared mold and smooth the surface. Bake at 350 for 55 - 60 minutes, never opening the oven until the 45-minute mark hits. Then, you may open your oven and rotate your pan once, and let finish cooking. Err on going towards the 60-minute mark, as this cake can be a little doughy if not cooked well enough. You want your cake to be a nice golden-brown, and to have a lovely crack going down the middle of the cake. While we're waiting for the cake to bake, let's learn a little bit about the hickory nut and the history of this cake! 

Hickory nuts come from - you guessed it - hickory trees. We here in the midwest are more than familiar with hickory wood, as it's incredibly popular to use for BBQ smoking. Hickory also makes beautiful furniture. Their nuts are a little bit of a pain to harvest, and the nutmeats are small, but they're quite buttery and delicious. They grow quite fervently here in America, so you'll likely not have a problem finding a neighbor that'll be happy to get them off their lawn. If you don't have a hickory tree, nor a neighbor with a hickory tree, I highly recommend heading over to Burnt Ridge Nursery, an awesome small business, that has hickory nuts in stock!

The hickory nut cake was specifically a favorite of President James Polk. Although the civil war began years after his presidency, this cake was still popular during that time, where not every township had a proper general store that was able to get regular shipments of walnuts or pecans during the war, and most folks wouldn't mind sending their youngins out to the field to gather nuts and acorns for supper. Through necessity comes ingenuity, and the classic tube cake shape was a great way to ensure a cake was going to rise instead of falling flat in a simple circular cake pan. The civil war is timely now not just because we're in a pandemic and every day feels like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, but because Memorial Day is coming up next weekend and that holiday was established to honor the fallen of the Civil War. You can find all sorts of fun tidbits of information on Memorial Day here. Is it a bit of a reach, just to justify making a cake? Sure; but who cares? You learn something and you get to eat some delicious cake. It's a win-win.

If you are curious, or if you still have a few minutes before your cake is done, check out this fellow here, teaching you all about hickory nuts and what to do with them.



Is your cake done yet?

Remove from the oven and let cool on the rack, right-side-up, for 20 minutes. After that timer's gone off, turn your cake tin upside-down and let cool entirely. Most tube pans have feet that will help give air between the surface of the cake and your counter, but if yours doesn't, you may balance it on a bottle to let it be suspended instead. To serve, run a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake tin. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve!

So light.
This cake is just fine on its own and has absolutely no need for extra glazing or frosting. Have it with a cup of coffee or some green tea. It's light as a cloud, thanks to the tapioca starch, and I know you'll have a great time baking this cake. It makes quite a bit, so feel free to take a slice with you to the grave of a fallen soldier, light a candle, and offer it to them. Remember, Veteran's Day is for those that are here with us that have served, and Memorial Day is for those that have fallen.

I hope you're all keeping your spirits up! If you make this cake, leave a comment below, and feel free to share this recipe around with your friends and family. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Personal Apple Streusels


They're not technically pies, since they don't have a crust, but I won't tell if you won't. 
I'm a big fan of eating seasonally. Apple season starts in the fall, and extends into early winter. Apples don't do well when frozen on the tree, and most apple trees here in North America are prolific and will give more than enough to you should you have one of your own. Be warned, though, they are prolific to the point of problematic.

One of my husband's favorite arguments against me planting an apple tree in our garden is the childhood memory of the two apple trees he had from age 9 to 19 in a little house in Columbia. You need to have two apple trees if you have one at all, as they tend to cross pollinate with the wind. He, his brother, and sister all would be put to work during apple harvest season to peel and make apple butter, apple sauce, etc., by their mother. If they did not, the fruit would fall off, rot, and ferment. If the fruit would ferment, they would have stray animals in their yard that would essentially get krunk on these fermented fruits. Squirrels, he tells me, were the funniest, but they were never funny enough to justify the presence of the drunken hornets.

Years later, I asked him why they couldn't just pick all the apples at once and keep the ones you didn't want to process in the cellar, he said that it was too much trouble. When I asked what he meant, he told me that if apples touch each other or are stacked on top of one another, they'll go rotten. Upon further research, I find that this is true. Apples are not social fruits, so it's best to wrap them each individually in paper and store them in a cool and dry place. I read once that folks would store apples tightly in barrels and even sink them in lakes under the ice, only to retrieve them later. (I have no idea if this is true, some guy told me while I stopped for gas while driving through Ozark country. Nice guy.) There's a ton of folk knowledge for how to store apples for long periods of time, but most of us in the cities don't need to worry about that. That being said, if you buy in bulk, it's good to know that you're able to store fruit in your basement or garage, properly stored, for long periods of time.

I consider apples a winter fruit because they keep so well in the winter months. Most dried fruits are obviously considered a 'winter' fruit, but many of my 'seasonal cookbooks' use squash or apples in their baked goods because of factors like this. Squash, apples, carrots, and other root vegetables keep well in root cellars, so therefore they're ideal for the winter. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that it's currently winter.

This is my 150 year old silver maple! This photo has not been edited at all. 

We got a big snow over the weekend of a 9"-12" accumulation, and we're expecting another big snow next week as well. When things snow, all I want to do is bake. I don't know if it's some kind of deep psychological reasoning that makes me associate snowfall with "MUST BAKE NOW"or if I just want my house to be warm from the oven, but when the snow falls, my oven goes on.

My husband loves apple pie, but since I didn't have enough apples for a whole pie, I did this version. I hope you like it!

Personal Apple Streusels 
yields two

  • Two apples of your favorite variety, the firmer the better. I had Sugar Bee apples, but you can check out info on varieties here
  • 3 Tbsp local honey
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 c oats
  • 1/4 c coconut sugar
  • 4 Tbsp (2 oz) lard or vegan butter (or dairy butter, whatever you like/have)
  • **chopped walnuts or dried fruit, as needed
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. The flour, oats, sugar, and fat are your streusel elements. All you do is mix these items together with a spoon, pressing the fat into the dry ingredients until it's sort of crumbly. Keep this in the fridge while you work with your other stuff. 

Do you like my argyle socks? 
Slice off the top of your apple. Using a spoon or apple corer, dig out the insides and discard the tough core and seeds. Keep the rest of the insides and put it in a separate bowl along with the sugar, honey, spices, and salt. You can core out as much as you like, but I think that it's safest to leave at least 1/2" of apple in around the skin. The point is that you're tossing the insides of this apple in your sugar/filling mixture. If you like, you can add raisins, dried cranberries, or dried currants. You can also add any kind of chopped nut that you like to either the filling or the topping. My favorite nuts with apples is the noble black walnut. Either way, please taste as you go to make sure that this is the amount of sweetness that you want. If so, add more sugar! If you'd like it a little spicier, feel free to mix it up. When you're happy with the flavor profile you've created, fill your apples back up with the nice filling you've made and top it with your cold streusel topping. Please be generous! 

I had a little spillover, but that's fine. I snacked on it when it came out of the oven. 

Mine baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but you check yours at 30 to make sure that the apples are soft and the filling is bubbling. You always want to make sure that your apple pies (be they personal or a large one) are bubbling, as that's when you know the pectin will be activated and that the internal temperature is at least 212 degrees. 

Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little more honey. You can serve this with a sour cream sauce, some vanilla nice cream (vegan ice cream) or some whipped cream. I like to eat this warm, but there's no reason you can't make a lot of these ahead of time and serve them to a large party. They're quite impressive yet nonthreatening on a plate. Something like this would be perfect for a small dinner party, and the cleanup would be a snap. After all, the dessert is self-containing. 



Thanks so much for reading! If you try this, please comment below and tell me how my recipe went for you. This is an awesomely quick dessert that's so easy and delicious. It encompasses the flavors of apple pie without having to do a big amount of dough. Let me know what you think. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Easy Potato Latkes

You can practically hear the sizzle, can't you?
I go to the Brookside farmer's market every Saturday during market season and always get produce from my favorite vendors is Urbavore Urban Farms, run by Brooke Salvaggio, who has become a friend. In the early seasons she has plants as well as produce, but she always has something that I want to buy, usually the eggs from the heritage breed chickens. That being said, I'm a big fan of the later season, when potatoes come up.

While only 200 different varieties of the noble potato grows in Northern America(yes, I did say 'only'), over 4,000 different varieties grow in Bolivia. Potatoes, like tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados, coffee, and chocolate, are an American crop. Why? Because they originate in South/Central America!

Image result for hot tea
This tea is BOMB
Yes, yes, you hear about the miracle crop being tied to Ireland all the time, but a little digging in the world of culinary anthropology will tell you that potatoes originate right here in the Americas. Pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, coffee, and chocolate - yes, chocolate, are categorized under all-American treats. In fact, the only reason that Italy has tomatoes, and therefore marinara sauce, is because of its expeditions to the Americas.

I'm sure that there are some among us that would like to believe that America itself was cultivated from all over the world, but the truth is that they had their own culture and unique biodiversity before Europeans came to colonize and spread syphilis and smallpox and introduce slave labor to the indigenous peoples. But I digress, this blog is not about tea.

This is about potatoes, and specifically the brand/breed of potato called purple viking. Yes, potatoes have different breeds. We've established this, please keep up.

It kind of looks like a dinosaur egg, don't you think?
This is a purple viking potato. It can grow to be nice and large, and has a creamy white flesh. I love the color, of course, and am always a big fan of unusual things. Did you know that the best way to  be healthy is to have a diverse diet? This doesn't always mean entirely different things every day - sometimes it's just trying a different variety of a vegetable/root you already love! Do you love orange carrots? Try white ones, roasted. Try purple ones, steamed. Eat the entire rainbow without every changing around.

Generally, potatoes can be set into two categories: starchy and waxy. A starchy potato, such as a classic Idaho/baking potato, will have a thick skin and will go a sort of pinkish brown if peeled and left out. They're high in starch but quite low in moisture, and are rather fluffy when cooked.

The starchy potatoes are considered to be the best for making french fries and - by some schools - mashed potatoes. The trouble, though, is that from starch comes glue if over-agitated, which is why sometimes your mashed potatoes might go gloopy if you stir them too much. The skin on said starchy potatoes, as well, are best for doing twice-baked potatoes and, in general, being vessels for other things. They don't exactly hold their shape well, however, so it's best if you do not use them for gratins, casseroles, or potato salads. For some reason, however, they're considered to be a classic for latkes by many.

The waxy potato is it's thinned-skined brethren, which are very low in starch and generally hold their shape quite well when cooked. When it comes to nearly every application, I'll take a waxy over a starchy any day of the week. I think that they're much more versatile, and I can whip the ever-living bejeezus out of them when making mashed potatoes and they won't go gloopy unless I screw something up. They're suitable in gratins, fries, and - of course - latkes.

See? CREAMY white flesh!
There are many schools of thought when it comes to these classic Ashkenazi potato fritter, and some will swear that a starchy potato is the best. I assume that this is because it's the tradition, but I find that this isn't true.

When you grate the potatoes, you must soak and rinse them to get rid of as much starch as possible, otherwise the latke will go gloopy. Now, why in the world would I start with an already-starchy product that might not hold its shape so well were I to use a not-so-starchy product in its stead? I tell you, dear reader, that I wouldn't, especially because the purple viking potato only needs one good rinse to get rid of the starch versus the four or five that your standard Russett or Idaho might need.

Many say you can grate in lots of other flavors into the potato - and you can! You can grate in half an onion, some garlic, plenty of herbs, and more. This is your latke and you can decide what to do with it. Yes, it was created by the Ashkenazi peoples (or so I'm told) but everybody can agree that these are delicious and that deep-fried potatoes can and should be for everyone. I like to use a 2:1 ratio if I'm adding in white onion to the fritter. Say, I do two large purple viking potatoes and one medium white onion with just a touch of salt and pepper - delicious! But this is the basic recipe, so just do what you like after you've tried this one.

Nowadays, you would mostly eat this around Hanukkah and serve it with apple sauce and/or sour cream. I like them with breakfast, any day of the week. Sue me.

Easy Latkes
yields 6 fritters
  • 1 large Purple Viking potato
  • 1 egg
  • A touch of salt
  • Neutral oil to fry in, such as canola or grapeseed 
Grate the potatoes using the largest side of your box grater and pop them into a mesh strainer. Rinse them quite thoroughly until the water runs clear, and then ring out the water in small handfuls to get them as dry as you can. Pop these in a medium bowl and season generously. Crack in one fresh egg and mix well, breaking up the yolk and white and coating absolutely everything in that bowl. As mentioned previously, you can add fresh herbs to this - I like parsley and dill, personally, but that's me.

Heat a thick yet shallow skillet with about an inch of oil to medium-high heat. Test the heat by dropping in one or two shreds of the egg-potato mixture. If it floats and sizzles, you're good to go. 

Gently lay in heaping spoonfuls of the latke mixture into your oil and press gently down in the middle to create a flat pancake. Swirl it carefully to just make sure that it didn't stick to the bottom, and then add in another. I can fit up to three latkes at a time in my pan, but don't you overload your oil because it lowers the temperature. 


Protip: You want the oil to be rather hot because things only get greasy when the oil is too cold and the oil seeps in. If it's hot enough, the water on the inside of the item you're frying will turn to steam and create a barrier for the oil to not get into, kind of like it when the footballers of the sportsball team do that head-butt thing at the beginning of the plays. 

Flip them gently with a fork or a pair of chopsticks, taking care not to splash yourself wit hot oil, and cook on the other side. The entire process shouldn't take more than two minutes in total, and the finished latkes can hold in a warm oven while you cook the rest. 

Please also make sure that you save the fat in a jar or a metal can and allow to cool before disposing of. Please don't throw it outside as it's bad for your homestead/garden, and please don't dump it down the drain. You can strain it and reuse it once or twice, but you can just pitch it in your can safely in a garbage bag once it's all used up. 



Serve these with breakfast, lunch or dinner! Latkes are truly a diverse food item and I encourage you to try them using all potatoes. (Just maybe not all at once.) Please also be sure to make an effort to get down to the farmer's market! This is, of course, to get better food, but it's also to get to know your growers. I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

The people that are making an effort against big chain grocery stores and taking food back to basics are the people you want to have a conversation with. Ask them questions, have them tell you the story of that crop. Connection with your fellow human is what the world needs right now, and the fellowship over food is truly what can unite us, instead of divide us.

Here in America, we are dealing with political turmoil unlike any in recent memory. If I have any international readers, I want them to know that we all want this to end, and that we are not horrible bigots. We Americans are loving and welcoming and we believe that immigrants make America great. As someone who's worked in the culinary industry her entire professional life, you would be starving were it not for immigrants and migrant workers. They cook your food, they harvest your crops, they do all of the hard jobs that you don't want to do, often with a smile. I welcome the immigrants and I want them to know that I'm an ally. I am an American, and hatred has no home in my backyard.

Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes - Part 1, Succotash

So my glorious editor at the illustrious StyleCoven.com Facebooked me the other night asking me if I knew of any delicious recipes for Thanksgiving. "Of course!" I said with a little laugh. "What did you have in mind. And by when do you need it?"

With the wonderful and fabulous 'cackle' that belongs only to Marie, she said "Blow me away with your genius."

That was pretty much it and the end of our conversation. Marie and I first met in Los Angeles several years ago at a Coven meeting celebrating Mabon in North Hollywood. I was buying a black dress for the ritual and she came right over to me, all 5' 2" of her, and pushed my bosoms up saying "Oh, good, darling! Now we need some fishing line to perk these girls up, and wear combat boots with it." Being a wide-eyed and aspiring fashion designer at the time, I immediately fell in love with her. But enough about that.

Thanksgiving began circa 1621 when the Plymouth colonists shared their autumn harvest meal with the local Native Americans, the most-famous of which is probably Squanto. He was the one to teach those stuffy Brits how to live off the land, harvest and plant, catch fish and what have you. Truthfully, the first Thanksgiving feast did have turkey, and more wild game birds such as duck and goose.

However, if you want to talk about authenticity, the big hit at the first Thanksgiving was venison! Not that there wasn't a lot of food, mind you. They had all sorts of things like pumpkins, eel, lobster, oysters, cod, bass, gooseberries, cranberries(but not cranberry sauce because they didn't have sugar), and lots more! They also didn't have stuffing, but they did use dried corn that was made into cornmeal and succotash, which is a kind of  thick soup that they ate all winter. Succotash itself is kind of a staple of New England cuisine, nowadays.  So why not use it as a new staple in your Thanksgiving feast? Not only is it rich in veggies, but it is oh-so-rustic-chic.

Many succotash recipes vary nowadays, but they will always contain corn and some kind of beans, usually Lima beans. I got this recipe from Martha Stewart, the ultimate Domestic Diva.

I told you it could be chic

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, seeded, deveined, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 medium zucchini, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 ten-ounce packages frozen lima beans, rinsed under warm running water and drained
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (4 ears)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion; cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add bell peppers, zucchini, lima beans, and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in herbs, and serve.

Succotash is perfect for an appetizer or side dish. And the best part about it is that you don't have to wait til Thanksgiving to have it. This glorious dish can be made all winter, and is just perfect.