Sweet Potato Pie with Creamy Vanilla Swirl, People!

Just as there are dog people and cat people, there are most definitely pie people and cake people.  I’d say most dog people are pie people, and many cat people are cake people, but let’s not get into it, okay?  I am both a dog and pie person, but I think even cat-loving cake people will enjoy this pie.

I whipped this baby up for a family get-together during the Christmas season.  It went over swimmingly, with only an enigmatic trapezoid-shaped slice left at the end.  For the love of my GF aunt, it’s wheat-free and the crust is made of (GF) gingersnaps!  Daintily swirled with vanilla scented cream cheese and permeated with soul-warming spices, this pie offers melt in your mouth comfort but doesn’t weigh you down like that slice of triple chocolate cheesecake you wish you hadn’t had.  Beckoning you with loads of vitamin A and antioxidant-laden spices, this is the kind of pie you may have to have a second slice of.

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I came across the recipe in Eating Well magazine, this year’s holiday issue to be exact, which I promptly plastered with post-it notes because ALL the recipes looked amazing.  Aside from this pie, I also made an awesome quinoa & beet salad they featured in a section on ancient grains (pictured below).  The process is simpler if you have a food processor or blender. If not, I’d reluctantly suggest buying canned sweet potato, or better yet, go to Goodwill and hunt down a secondhand blending appliance!  I ❤ my immersion blender.

I adapted this recipe from Eating Well.  I changed a few things, first switching out traditional store-bought gingersnaps for gluten free ones (Mi-Del brand are awesome; try not to eat them all before you make the pie).  I also substituted European-style yogurt for the called-for vanilla Greek variety, (it’s what I had in the fridge and was an easy way cut out some of the added sugar) and then added a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I made the crust with coconut oil instead of canola and bumped up the spices a couple notches.  The sweet potatoes should be roasted in the oven, but can surely be microwaved in a pinch.

Go on, have your pie, and eat it too!

Sweet Potato Pie with Creamy Vanilla Swirl

Prep: 40 minutes              Cooking & cooling time: 4 ½ hours

Serves: however many slices you cut it into : )

Ingredients:

2 medium-large sweet potatoes

6 ounces crispy, gluten free (Mi-del brand) gingersnap cookies (26-28 small cookies)

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup plain (European-style or Greek) yogurt , divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/4  cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel)

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Method:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Wrap sweet potatoes in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast until very tender (test with fork), about an hour. Carefully unwrap and set aside to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Process gingersnaps in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl, add coconut oil and stir until well combined.

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Using your fingers, spread and pat the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan.

Bake until just barely beginning to darken and your kitchen smells like a gingerbread man’s butthole, about 10 minutes.

Wipe out the food processor workbowl of any lingering gingersnap crumbs.

Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer to the food processor. Puree until smooth, then measure out 1 ½ cups of sweet potato (if you have extra puree, reserve it for another use or eat it, NOW). Return the 1 ½ cups puree to the food processor and add brown sugar, 1/2 cup of the yogurt, eggs, egg yolk, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; pulse just until combined.

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Pour the sweet potato filling into the (possibly still warm) crust and spread to distribute evenly.

Clean and dry the workbowl.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, vanilla extract, Neufchâtel cream cheese, powdered sugar and ginger.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.

Now, the fun part(!!!)  Plop tablespoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture onto the sweet potato filling, spacing them evenly. Draw the tip of a wooden skewer or a butter knife through the cream cheese mixture and sweet potato filling repeatedly to create a whimsical swirled design.

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Bake the pie until firm to the touch and starting to puff around the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, at least 2 hours.  Cracks may occur, don’t cry; you’re about to experience heaven… in pie form.  Now go adopt a Weimaraner and call it a day.

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And here, the lovely ruby-hued quinoa & beet salad:

quinoa beet salad

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strawberry jam forever

Oh sweet sweetness.

I have just arrived home from an excursion, an adventure, an undertaking in jam making.  I’m a bath-robed loveseat potato, hunkering down to write after having a long shower and a much needed Lakefront Summer Weiss.  I want to get this out before I forget all the wonderful things that happened today.

So… Brandon and I decided it would be cool to give out jars of homemade jam as favors to our wedding guests this summer.  My ever-optimistic mom was all on board, so she contacted her friend, jam-making maven and saint of strawberries, Sherry.  Truth be told this project would have never arose from the “cute idea” ether if it weren’t for this lady.

Let me tell you about Sherry.  Before today I’d never met her.  We had merely exchanged a few emails, through my mom, concerning quantity/brands of pectin – but I had insta-good vibes from the smiley-faced sunshine that accompanied her e-signature.

And now I know it, I am blessed to know Sherry.  She not only put this whole jammy affair together, from the picking of the fruit to the canning of the jam, but also opened her home to us, patiently taught us all the steps of the process, prepared us a comforting lunch, and gave me a beautiful apron she sewed herself(!).  I am overwhelmed by her kindness, and both her and my mom’s ardent determination in getting this thing done.

I am not yet proficient at getting the ball rolling on mondo projects.  I sometimes find them intimidating and tiring to even think about.  Sherry was the ball roller; Brandon and I were the marbles. Rolling commenced.  And before we knew it there were 144 garnet-colored quarter-pint jars of strawberry jam in the trunk of our car.

Yesterday was my birthday – but this year there was no gin-filled evening spent traipsing the streets of Milwaukee.  We turned in pre-midnight knowing we were expected out in the strawberry fields at 8 am.

Today was the first you-pick-‘em weekend for strawberries at Barthel Fruit Farm and we were there.  With the help of Sherry, my mom, her boyfriend John and his son Jack, (and Brandon of course), we filled seven crates with “Summer Dawn” strawberries in just over two hours.

The whole field wafted the juicy fragrance of the berries and their aroma hung in the air around us all day long, changing with each step in the process.  First it was light, sweet and clean as we crouched in the fields and pushed back leaves in search of clusters of the first ripe fruits.  Plenty of tiny white flowers and hard green berries promised that pickers in the coming weeks would too gather sweet bounties.

Our cars soaked up the scent as we transported our goods to Sherry’s for the next steps of stemming, washing, and cutting – which we performed while sitting on her breezy back porch with tall, sweating glasses of ice water at hand.  A couple of hours into prepping the berries, Sherry brought us plates with Italian beef sandwiches, creamy potato salad, and crispy kettle cooked chips.   Thoroughly fortified, I headed into the house to learn to make jam while mom and Brandon soldiered on with berry preparation.

Sherry’s charming, sunny kitchen was shortly glazed with a saccharine vapor as we boiled down the fruit in a thick-bottomed pot, incorporating sugar, pectin, lemon juice and a little butter into our syrupy brew.  Next we ladled the ruby sap into squat quilt-patterned jars, capped and lowered them into a speckled enamel jacuzzi for a few minutes, then removed them to a sheet pan for cooling.  Sherry has always turned her jars upside down to encourage the seal, so that’s what we did.  We repeated the process six times; each batch somehow seemed to get a little easier until all the jars were full.  (bonus: a hearty supply  of leftover berries is now nestled in our freezer for future snacking, smoothies, and all of manner of strawberry desserts!)

Waving and shouting our final thanks out the car window, we headed for home around five o’clock.  The whole project, from plucking the first berry to stashing twelve boxes of 144 jars into the trunk, took just 9 hours, including time out for lunch and a dessert break: a slice of skillet chocolate chip cookie nestled between two scoops of Blue Bunny “I Do! I Do! Wedding Cake.”  (Stupid name, awesome ice cream)

At some point in the day, we decided to dip our spoons into the steaming pot of nearly-finished jam and taste the fruits of our labor.  Oh lordy-pie! First, a wave of pure, clean sugar, curtained by a hint of buttery richness. Then, biting a piece of berry brings fresh, juicy red tartness, and as it slides away – you’re left with candied sunshine lingering on your tongue.  For me it recalled a quintessential taste of childhood and also a new flavor I’ll remember simply as LOVE.

Today’s jam-a-thon was a labor of love.  Together we created something bigger than the sum of its parts – a whole bunch of little jars filled with prettiest shade of red jam you could hope for –something to share with our wedding guests, the ones who’ll be present to witness our marriage, those crazy fools who’ll be dancing around with us on a very epic day in our lives.

Thank you Sherry, Mom, Brandon, John, Jack, and Terry for being part of this day and this project.  You guys made my maiden jam-making voyage a roaring success.

The recipe we used was quite traditional – very similar to this one from the Ball website, with the addition of 3 tablespoons of butter per batch to keep the “foaming” to a minimum and add an unexpected yum factor like only butter can.

Less is More

As promised, but probably too late use this season, I will now share my morel mushroom recipe.

When it comes to a morel mushroom score, just remember less is more.

Browsing the web for morel recipes, I found that even many of the “simple” ones have you coating the beauties in flour, cornflakes or get this… saltine crackers!  Really, people? Really?  You’ve just foraged one of the most delectable, natural gifts mother Earth provides and you are going to cover it with one of the most processed, bleached food-like substances around?  No, no, no.

So, drawing from a faint memory of a recipe I saw a few years back in Whole Living magazine, I decided to pair the morels with garlic ramps, another fleeting springtime treat, and lightly sauté them in a shallow pool of butter and olive oil.  Thyme came to the party to enhance the meaty mushroom goodness, and salt – that’s about it.

The mushrooms were so savory, so umami, it was difficult to believe that no soy sauce snuck into the pan while my back was turned.  There was chewiness, but no sliminess – the mushrooms were tender and the texture of the morels, with their crater-y exteriors, was like no other.  The ramps, being less intense than their more bulbous cousins, infused the butter and enveloped the morels in a subtle spicy sweetness but did not overpower at all.  After they were gone, I was sad, depressed even, because they were so good, and I knew it would be another year (if we’re lucky) before my taste buds would again bear the pleasure of the elusive morel.

Simple Sautéed Morels  – serves as many as you are willing to share with

3 tablespoons each butter and olive oil

1 bunch, 6 or so, ramps –  white parts only – chopped

1 to 2 dozen fresh morel mushrooms – depending on size

Fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt, like kosher

Method:

Upon scoring your morel mushrooms, thank mother nature and take mental note of where you are so you can return next year in hopes of a sweet repeat.  Many ‘shroomers believe in carrying their morels in a mesh bag so as they walk through the forest, the mushrooms’ spores will fall through and hopefully sprout again the next season.

In a colander, rinse your morels thoroughly of dirt.  Then, gently slice them in half lengthwise and look inside their hollows for any insects who have taken residence there.  At this point you can soak the morels in salt water for about 2 hours, which kills any miniscule critters and supposedly neutralizes an enzyme that causes digestive issues, though this seems to be more old wives’ tale than scientific fact.

You can keep your clean and sliced morels in a shallow bowl covered by a damp paper towel in the fridge for up to 5 days, but I recommend cooking as soon as you can.

Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan until just bubbling.  Turn the heat to medium-low and add the chopped ramps, stirring lovingly for a couple minutes until they are light brown and smell heavenly.

Next, lay the morels, outer-side down (hollow side up) in the buttery pan.  Let them cook for about three minutes, then check to see how they look: if slightly golden brown and shiny, they’re ready to be flipped.  Take your time with this, turning each morel to its other side with tender care.  Give them maybe two more minutes before adding the thyme leaves and coarse salt to taste.  Waft the scent to your nose with an oven mitt and savor that scent.

To finish, stir everything together with an old wooden spoon and remove the mushrooms to a pretty platter or thick paper plate.  Savor each bite; share if you can bear it.

Disclaimer:

Morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins that are removed by thorough cooking; morel mushrooms should never be eaten raw. It has been reported that even cooked morels can sometimes cause mild intoxication symptoms when consumed with alcohol.

When eating this mushroom for the first time it is wise to consume a small amount to minimize any allergic reaction. Morels for consumption must be clean and free of decay.

Morels growing in old apple orchards that have been treated with insecticides may accumulate levels of toxic lead and arsenic (yum!) that are unhealthy for human consumption.

Source: Wikipedia

Here We Go and Carrot Soup

Hi there.

Starting is the hardest part.  True of most worthwhile tasks, creating this place to impart upon the the world wide web parts of my life, fairly intimate parts like what I eat and how I make it and how it makes me feel, has been no exception.  For well over a year “start a food blog” has been oscillating between my long and short term to-do lists.  Well here we are, and here we go.

I wanted to start with something bright, a vibrant dish that would make a statement about my cooking style and food values.  From humble beginnings.  Yes, and so it is soup.  Healthy, colorful, funkily-combined-ingredients-that-happen-to-be-around soup that we shall commence with herein henceforth.

Start with carrots.  Fresh as possible to lay down the base for full-flavor potential since these will be the stars of your soupy show.  Winter time here in Wisconsin turns out some pretty sweet (tasting) carrots thanks to the cold temperatures that cause these guys to store sugar instead of starch in their root parts.  Although it is now technically spring, and how early and abundantly it has come to us, the carrots at the grocery store are of course still hauling ass from Cali-forn-i-a, but sniffing around a late winter farmer’s markets might just turn up some orange gems for this recipe.  Alternatively, if you want to wait until next year to make this soup you could grow your own. 

Kale, cashews, and ginger are the back up singers in this show.  Ginger sings loudest of the three, but only if you use fresh chopped.  Cashews lend a slight meaty chew and creamy consistency so we can keep things light by skipping the animal products.  Kale adds color contrast and a dose of vits to boot, plus it smells like fresh cut grass when you shred it for the soup.  Ahh…

The soup is light, not especially hearty – it will shine forth from your bowl singing a little hallelujah of orange and green.  Upon first bite, the ginger leaves itself lingering after the other flavors slide away.  And soon the bowl is empty and your stomach feels like sunshine.  It’s a good soup for the afternoon time, before a hike or a trip to the grocery store.   Serve it with bread or a dollop of yogurt and some triscuit crackers.  Now get cooking friends!

Ingredients:

1 medium sized shallot, diced

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic minced

2 inch chunk fresh ginger, minced

Spices: curry powder, nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon

1/3 cup raw cashews coarsely chopped

6 medium-large carrots scrubbed and chopped into ½ inch thick coins

4 cups stock of vegetable or chicken – homemade or store bought

Salt to taste

1 bunch (8-10 leaves) dinosaur kale, coarsely shredded into strips

Juice of half a lemon

This is how we do it:

Sauté shallot in 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil for 2 min in dutch oven or stockpot

Add garlic and ginger and let cook for 1 more minute

Add spices – 2 teaspoons curry powder, a few grinds of fresh nutmeg if you’ve got it, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, a sprinkle of cinnamon if you’re feeling crazy- along with 1/3 cup coarsely chopped cashews, toast spices and nuts for an addition minute or two, deglaze pan with splash of stock or water if ingredients become dry or start to burn.

Toss in chopped carrots and 3.5 cups cooking liquid of choice – I used store bought low-sodium chicken stock.  Bring to gentle boil for a minutes, then reduce to simmer and cook uncovered for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender upon testing by tasting one, after of course blowing on it until cool enough to pop in your mouth. The carrots should give easily when chewed, but not be falling apart in the pot.

While allowing carrot mixture to cool slightly, heat a frying pan with some olive oil and sauté coarsely chopped kale, in 2 batches if necessary, until wilted and maybe even slightly crisp.

Leave kale alone for a while (most varieties don’t suffer from separation anxiety) and ladle some of the carrots and broth into a blender, getting a good 50/50 ratio of carrots to broth.  Fill only a little above halfway, then cover top of the blender with a clean towel or oven mitt and puree until smooth, but not so much that you lose sight of all the pale flecks of ginger, garlic and cashew.

It will take a few runs of the blender to get all the soup blended up, and you will probably need a separate pot to put the finished stuff in.  I hope your significant other likes to do dishes as much as mine does, and if your significant other’s name is Whirlpool or Maytag, I applaud you.

Once all soup is pureed and back in a pot, turn the heat back on medium low and begin stirring in the kale.  Give it about 5 minutes for the carrots and kale to get acquainted then add salt to taste and squeeze in half a lemon’s juice to finish. Well now – you’ve got yourself a pot of carrot ginger kale soup.  Well done.

Stir in a splash or two of half and half right before serving if you’d like a silkier texture.