Sweet Potato Sandwich

December 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

Working from home is pretty awesome. Not because I can wear the same pants two days in a row (okay, three), or because I get to wear slippers all day. Or because I fill my agenda with kitten play time (yeah, that’s pretty awesome). Having a home office rocks because it lets me get creative with lunch.

For instance?sweet potato sandwich

-Salads piled high with pickled beets, bulgar, homemade awesome croutons and whatever else I have on hand.
-Lasagna filled with chard-nutmeg ricotta.
-Pizza topped with shrimp and salad.

My latest lunch: Sandwiches stuffed with sweet potatoes. Most definitely NOT my invention, of course. I’ve had the delicious honor of having sweet potato sandwiches from Ula Cafe in Jamaica Plain. Delicious. Really delicious, with sprouts, avocado, tahini spread, red onions … Yum. So, this sweet potato sammie has its roots there. But it also gets some big flavor input from the Henry’s Dinner pizza I had several months ago at Veggie Planet in Cambridge. That flavor profile would be the addition of rosemary, sage and goat cheese.

And for no other reason than to clean out the fridge, I threw in a section of Granny Smith apple. Sweet. And tart. Genius pairing, if I do say so myself.

Here’s how the sandwich-work and actual work-work happen, all at the same time:
1. Organize, outline  and begin my weekly e-newsletter, all the while thinking about that on-the-edge sweet potato lurking in the fridge drawer.
2. While making my mid-morning tea, pre-heat the oven to 425F and have at that sweet potato, saving what’s left of it, and cutting it into small cubes. Catch that quarter of a Granny Smith sitting on top of the carton of eggs. Rescue what I can of that and cube that, too. Throw it all in a cast iron pan and toss it with, olive oil, two sage leaves, minced, and about a 1/3 a sprig of rosemary, minced, and add salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast it for … I dunno … 15-20 minutes? Long enough for me to finish writing the second section in my enewsletter, and long enough for the cubed potatoes to be roasted through but still firm.

What didn't fit into my sandwich.

What didn’t fit into my sandwich.

3. Remove from oven and toss. Let cool for about a half hour. Write the third section of the enewsletter.
4. All that’s left is sandwich assembly: Slice two thick pieces of sourdough. One one, spread some goat cheese and top with some baby salad greens that are lightly dressed with whatever vinaigrette you have lying around (in my case I have a Greek dressing, but whatever). Oh, and some thinly sliced red onions. On the other side, pile high the sweet potato mixture. Holding a chef’s knife tightly over the salad, flip that side on top of the sweet potatoes and gently pull the knife through.

Sweet potato sammie, deconstructed

Sweet potato sammie, deconstructed

5. Eat in about 53 seconds because it’s that delicious. Head back to the computer, fully nourished and ready to finish the newsletter’s fourth section. The writing will be even better with that in my stomach. I love my job.

Tomorrow’s version will have sliced sweet potatoes and sliced avocados. And I’ll lightly toast the bread. Yum.

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Pumpkin Bread

December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

At least that’s what I tell people it is—pumpkin bread. No pumpkin at all. Just like that pumpkin latte you’re drinking—there’s no pumpkin in there. You knew that, right?

My “pumpkin” bread is made with butternut squash. So is my pumpkin pie. And any other “pumpkin” thing I bake. Oh, wait … did you think I opened a can of Libby’s pumpkin puree and just slid that muck right into my recipe? No no no … that’ not how I roll. Nope. You’re more than welcome to, of course—I have nothing against it. But slicing, peeling, boiling and pureeing a butternut is no big deal for me and I don’t mind doing it to produce my squashy puree. After all, it’s a lot easier to do that with a butternut than with a pumpkin.

Hence why I use butternut.

Back to the pumpkin bread. The recipe is from my all-time favorite generalist baking book—The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. It’s got it all in there. I just randomly opened a page and found a Floreine Hudspeth’s Hoosier Cake. Who knew? Fannie knew. You want a fruitcake recipe, she has four. And her pumpkin pie? It has a shot of bourbon. That’s why I love Fannie.

And the pumpkin bread? Moist. Delicious. And very “pumpkiny.”

Fannie Farmer’s Pumpkin Bread
makes two 9x5x3 in loaves

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups mashed or pureed pumpkin (or butternut squash)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease and generously flour the two loaf pans. Set aside.
2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour baking soda and powder, salt and spices) in a medium bowl and stir until evenly mixed. In a bowl of a mixer (or a large bowl) combine the shortening, squash puree, eggs, milk and walnuts. Add the bowl of dry ingredients slowly to the wet ingredients and mix (or stir with a big wooden spoon) until the batter is just blended together. Make sure there are not floury lumps! Bits of shortening are ok.
NOTE: Know how when you make quick breads like this and the nuts or raisins always kinda sink to the bottom part of the bread? Try coating the nuts or raisins with a bit of flour first. It helps them not sink so much. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you.
4. Divide batter equally between the two pans. Bake for about an hour, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean after inserting into the center of the loaf. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 min. then turn out of pans.

Divide batter evenly between two loaf pans.

Divide batter evenly between two loaf pans.

This bread freezes well, so stick that second loaf in the deep freeze for later. Or use it as a hostess gift. And the butternut squash bit? They’ll never know.

They'll never know it's butternut squash bread.

They’ll never know it’s butternut squash bread.

Poinsettias: Perks of the Job

December 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

With the nature of what I do for a living, I get free stuff. I write about plants and gardening, and companies send me free plants and gardening equipment. It’s nice. Really nice. And if any of those folks are reading this, I could really use a new pair of Felco hand pruners.

The “free stuff” slacks off in the off-season. Except each December I receive a nice gift from the folks at Ecke Ranch. Paul Ecke Sr. and Jr. “invented” the poinsettia as a holiday plant by giving away hundreds of plants for the sets of talk shows back in the 50s or 60s. And, well, now poinsettias are everywhere.

Being “everywhere” can backfire. Being everywhere can give any product the image of it being commonplace and worthless. And what’s happened is that you can now find poinsettias in your local Walmart or other big box store for 99 cents. And they are in pretty bad shape, too.

This gift I received from Ecke Ranch contained 8 samples of the antithesis of the throw-away poinsettia. They’re well-grown and beautiful—even shipped clear across the country via two-day FedEx. There’s something comforting in this plant that represents such such a hallowed season. The big, bushy, well-grown poinsettia really is not to be missed—and it’s well-worth the money, too.

poinsettias

And don’t they look so holiday-cheery grouped together?

holiday cheer

holiday cheer

As you can see, not all poinsettias are red. This one is called Sparkling Punch. Pinks and off-whites—why not?

Poinsettia Sparkling PunchP

Poinsettia Sparkling Punch

And this one looks like it’s covered in tiny glittery dots. Kinda like Pointillism. Get it? Pointillism? Poinsettias? And it’s aptly named Monet. (This one plant has kinda slacky leaves—they aren’t all like this.)

This variety is called Monet.

This variety is called Monet.

I do like the large, bushy poinsettias, but something I like even more are the tiny tiny ones that are about 4 in. tall. Very cute, and you can set them around the house wherever you want. If you see one, grab one—or a half dozen—you’re gonna find them adorably fun to decorate with.

Oh, and about that “Watch out! They are poisonous to cats!” thing. It’s a myth. Well, it’s not a myth. They are poisonous. BUT, your cat or puppy or baby or you would have to eat several whole plants before anyone starts getting ill. And how likely is that going to happen? So, don’t fret about it.

boos and poinsettia

Buttermilk-Caramelized Onion Pull-Apart Rolls

December 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Since moving into our new house three months ago I have had a love-hate relationship with our oven. It’s a GE Profile Advantium—and it’s a convection oven. Not the typical convection, either. It’s one of those fancy convection ovens—the kind that can also be a microwave, a proofing space for dough, and a toaster. The interior is about the size of a toaster, too. I can list the issues I am having with it—such as the fact that the constantly turning carousel means I can’t use my half-sheet baking pans, or that the oven maxes out at 450F—but I’m going to stop there for now.

Let me hold off on the hate and talk about the love. The love part comes in the baking. The whole convection process, the constantly turning carousel—it makes for a nicely finished baked product. Pies, cookies, breads, rolls—they’ve never been better, quite honestly. And that’s why I haven’t thrown the oven out of our new triple-paned, German-engineered, energy-efficient windows.

My latest baking success is a recipe I spied in a Martha Stewart Living magazine about seven years ago—Buttermilk-Caramelized Onion Pull-Apart Rolls. I made them once, taped the recipe into my little book of “must keep these” recipes, and never made them again until last week. Oh boy, they’re good.

A few notes: There is yeast involved, but don’t let it scare you; you might want to cut down the amount of onions a bit.

Ingredients
11 tbs unsalted butter, softened, plus 3 tbs melted
1/4 oz. active dry yeast
1 tbs sugar
2 tbs warm water, about 105F
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 lbs (or slightly less) sweet onions, thinly sliced

1. Directions say to butter a 9-inch cake pan with about 1 tbs of the butter. I used a 9-inch pie plate – two, actually – but use anything you think will hold the rounds of dough. Also butter a large bowl and set that aside.
2. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl and let it sit a bit while it becomes foamy, about 5 min. Give it a good stir to dissolve. Add in the buttermilk and egg.
3. While the yeast mixture is sitting, combine flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of an electric mixer using a dough hook. It’ll form a well naturally. Pour the buttermilk-yeast mixture into that well and mix to combine – you may need to stop it and scrape the sides down. Add in 6 tbs softened butter (I’ve added non-softened butter and it was fine). Mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. A soft, sticky dough will form.
4. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then sprinkle a bit more flour on top of the top and get a bunch on your hands, too. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes—gently. It’s gonna stick to your fingers if you knead too vigorously, so be gentle and flour your fingers often. The dough will begin to feel seductively soft and light—it’s the best part of the job. After 5 minutes, place the dough in the buttered bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it’s roughly doubled in bulk. If it doesn’t exactly double, that’s ok.
5. The recipe says to caramelize onions in 4 tbs butter, but I use olive oil to do the job. Heat the oil or butter in a large pan over medium-high. Add the onions, sprinkle in a bit of salt (I would add 1 tsp) and stir to coat—grabbing the onions with tongs and flipping them over as you would a steak on the grill is the best way I have found to do this. Do this intermittently for 5 minutes, until the onions start to look translucent, then turn heat way down to medium low, and let them cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown. Take off heat. If I were you, I would put them in a sieve over a bowl and let the onions drip off their liquid.
5. Meanwhile, the dough…punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface again—make sure you have plenty of room. Use a rolling pin to form a dough rectangle about 17 in x 10 in. NOTE: the important thing here isn’t the dimensions, it’s keeping the dough relatively of even thickness throughout. Brush the rectangle with 3 tbs melted butter and spread those caramelized onions evenly over the surface. Starting from the long side, roll the dough into a log and press the seam to seal it.

Spread caramelized onions evenly over the dough's surface.

Spread caramelized onions evenly over the dough’s surface.

6. Next, cut the log into about 12 even segments. It’s harder than you think, because you’ll squish the roll into ovals—kinda scary. And then the onions pop out of the ends a bit. Don’t worry about it – it’s gonna happen. Just slice and don’t worry. Put these slices cut-size up in the buttered pan. Directions say to brush with another 2 tbs of melted butter, but really, there’s no need for that unless you want them to look browned. Cover the slices with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm space for about 50 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375F. Bake the rolls for until they are golden. 35 minutes is perfect. Invert the pan onto a cooling rack and unmold the rolls. Serve warm.
buttermillk-caramelized onion pull-apart rolls

I made these to serve with a bean stew, and pulling apart the rolls and dunking bits into the stew was awesome. The onions make the roll moist, which is super. I’ve since made these rolls and spread the dough not with onions but with roasted garlic and rosemary. These weren’t as moist but just as tasty, and you could really get a sense of the roll’s airy texture. This recipe is certainly not disappearing for another seven years.

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