Sunday, August 25, 2013

Easy, tasty, healthy Sweet Potato Salad

Hello from the North! Surprised to hear from me? I know, I’m not much of a contributor. But I’ve got a new challenge in a life and a great recipe to go along with it, so I figured it was time to share.

At the beginning of the summer, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This is after a year and a bit of major digestive issues, during which time I pushed my doctor for more than just a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (because that’s essentially a non-diagnosis and you are stuck doing elimination diets on your own) and leaned heavily on Mara as my go-to friend for discussions about topics (like poop) that aren’t typically on a phone call with your girlfriend (Thanks Mara!). In retrospect, I’ve been gradually developing celiac symptoms for about 10 years, but never realized that the issues I was having were related (iron deficiency, arthritis, lactose intolerance, fatigue, etc). So I was really relieved to have a clear diagnosis and treatment (a strict gluten-free diet for life – no wheat, barley, rye, and oats are a questionable one so it’s out for the first year at least).

However, once I started reading labels, I was amazed at how many things contain gluten. I had to give away my entire fridge door shelf of Asian cooking sauces! And I even have to be careful of lotions with gluten, which I thought was weird since I’m not eating the lotion, but the reality is that anything you put on your body is absorbed into your system (a good reason to buy organic). Luckily for me, the gluten-free thing is pretty popular these days, and at home it’s very manageable as we were already healthy cooks and it’s easy to adapt most things (with a few new kitchen supplies, some gentle reminders to avoid contamination, and a larger grocery budget since GF food is significantly more expensive).
With the abundance of gluten free blogs and books, there are lots of recipe ideas and ingredients available, even up here in northern AB. The specialty liquor store in town even stocks 16 types of GF beer (expensive, but on a sunny Friday after work sometimes you just gotta have a beer!). The hardest part is going to other people’s houses, events, potlucks…. a common summertime activity. Resisting moist chocolate cupcakes at a wedding and greasy sausages and pancakes the morning after (especially when hungover) requires serious mental toughness!!
This weekend was a going-away party for a couple co-workers. Typical backyard BBQ fare, burgers/hotdogs/creamy coleslaw, with a few home-made (delicious-looking but definitely not permitted) desserts thrown in the mix. I decided to make a salad that I knew I could eat, and I wanted it to be hearty and filling because it sucks to be hungry at a bbq (or anytime, really). I know lots of people don’t like trying new recipes for an event, but I figure it’s the best time because if I don’t like it, I’m not stuck with a giant bowlful for leftovers that week. I googled potato salad… then switched to sweet potato salad (more nutrients), and ended up with a great recipe that was really easy and quick, and I already had all the spices in my cupboard (which is a real plus… one thing I’m finding with the new GF life is there are so many new ingredients/flours/baking gums to buy- which can be fun, but also a little overwhelming. Sometimes you just want something quick and simple, right?).

Overall, this Moroccan Sweet Potato salad was a total success! My finished product looked exactly like the photo on the recipe, which to me is always a good sign. And lots of people asked for the recipe. So I figured I should share it with the SSS group too. I wouldn’t say it was the most WOW thing I’ve ever made, but that’s probably because I like things spicier, but didn’t want to increase the heat for a group setting. These spice proportions in the recipe were good for potluck, and even the kids ate it.  I used the white sweet potatoes but would also try it with the yellow yams, because I think they have a bit more flavor, although they might get mushier – these cubes held up nicely. It only took 15 minutes for them in the oven, on parchment paper. So the whole process was literally about 30 minutes, a definite plus for a weekday dinner side dish.

I made 1.5 times the recipe and it was all eaten up at the potluck (Tyler was disappointed I didn't leave him a little bowlful for when he got home late from work!).  
The directions say to serve it at room temperature; I did a taste-test while it was still warm and thought it was really good. So room temperature or warmer is my recommendation.
The close-up photo to show how much it looks like the one on the website (hers is more orange cause she used yams).

Here’s the blog I got it from, I haven’t looked at her site much but based on the ease of this recipe, I’ll have to see what else she has.
I will definitely make this salad again, but with a few modifications (yams, up the spice quotient, add more nuts and seeds to increase protein). I think it's a good potluck dish, for any season. Or make a big portion on the weekend and have leftovers for weekday lunchs.
If anyone else is doing GF diet these days, let me know and we can compare thoughts on cookbooks, blogs, recipes. I'm in the learning stage about celiac disease... and there is a lot of learning to do. I made some good GF/DF scones last weekend, but frankly nothing compares to scones made with regular flour and butter! Over time I'm sure my taste buds will adapt and I'll get used to it. Tyler (the real baker in our family) has promised me not to worry,  he will figure out ways to make delicious Christmas baking so I will still gain those 5 holiday pounds that he "gives" to me every year!  
Cheers- mb

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cooking challenge #???

Oh hi everyone....remember me!?!

So, I've got about 4 posts brewing in my head (garden, travel, crafts, travel+crafts), but I wandered over to the draft section of the blog, and realized I also had 4 partially started posts on the go and figured it's time to finish one up!'s my post on pastry I started a long long time ago, and seems appropriate given the bounty of delicious fruits coming into season that are begging to be sugared (or honeyed!) and served up in a hot and crispy hug of butter and flour. YUM!

Wild huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum) just came into season. Imagine my face when presented with a perfect cup of coffee - it looks the same the whole time I'm picking wild face hurts from glee.

There. I've thrown down a challenge that has been festering in the back of my mind for far too long. I love baking, and to me there's nothing so satisfying as filling those you care about full of fat and sugar to let them know just how you feel :)

Between sweet pies, and savoury dishes (having chickens = quiche as a staple go to), pie crust has been, and continues to be one of those things that I'm always trying to master, and yet I feel I always come up short. The sad truth is that I've never been totally in love with my pastry recipe. Rebars' whole wheat pastry has been my most common crust for many years (i figure whole wheat flour neutralizes calories from butter. Basically a scientific least in my mind), but sometimes you want to hang up your birkenstocks and just make the best gosh darn crust you can!

Over Christmas I tried a new recipe that had egg and vinegar in the pastry. Craziness. I've never used anything other than flour, butter and cold water... So this just started the wheels turning.. What else is out there that I've missed?!?

Then I consulted with one of my favorite chefs, d.raab to see what his mum's go to pastry was made of. Get ready for this.... It has vodka in it! I decided to give this a try. I wanted to make our neighbors a thank you pie for taking care of our house over  the holidays... What better time to work on my pastry skills! So I decided to meet my challenge (which never got posted until now) head on! Here's the picture diary of what went down, along with a little shout out to my new pie plate courtesy of the mom-in-law.

Delish it was! But I want some variety...some experimentation...some....shall we say....culinary challenge to push my pie making skills to the next level. What's your recipe? What's your secret for perfect crust? Don't handle it too much? Fondle it fearlessly? Just butter? or a little of that oh so nasty crisco!? Food processor, stand mixer or only the sweet and tender crushing into submission from your own muscles?

I'm going to hope that some of the gents over at science shoots etc. feel comfortable enough to pitch in - I know there's a couple of stupendous pie-makers over there:)

Happy August my friends.