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spiced sweet potato waffles

January 3rd, 2012 | 2 Comments »

January is a good month for waffles. Just the word ‘January’ in the Midwest conjures images of bracing wind, snow whipped sidewalks, scarves and thick mittens. It’s the aftermath of December, a holiday-less month of Winter. Nothing but winter. It needs something to lighten it up a bit, to warm us against the long dark months ahead.

My most favorite Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffle was born in January, bringing it’s crunchy warmth to a bitterly cold sub-zero day, just about 2 years ago. I’ve relied on that waffle recipe without question, reaching for it time and again to stir myself to face Winter’s white bite, to fill me with the gumption to dress for a day that rattles the windows like an angry giant. Our December was so uncharacteristic for Minnesota; unseasonable warmth, no snow and mild temperatures. We celebrated Christmas without a trace of snowflakes, then came New Years Eve, and rain began to fall, quickly changing over to the fattest, wettest flakes I’ve seen in ages, and by the time the sun rose on 2012, it looked a bit more like January should, and it felt like it too. Waffles needed to bridge the gap between the past year, and the start of this one. But not just any old waffle.

That burnished beauty isn’t exactly showing off it’s best in the photo, but that plain looking waffle is hiding a rich, spicy secret; cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg, mingling with tiny chunks of tender sweet potato. A bit of inspiration, and an urge to start off the New Year with more than just the same old waffle, I reached for a container of cooked squash, opened the spice cabinet and crossed my fingers. The scent rising from the steaming waffle iron was heady and enticing; the first bite, amazing. Tangy with buttermilk, hearty with wheat flour and altogether a knock-out way to start 2012, this will definitely be on ‘Repeat’ for the remainder of Winter, whether it chooses to snow like crazy as it did last year, or remain mercilessly un-winter-like, there is one thing for sure; bellies will need filling, and this is the key that slips perfectly in to place.

Spiced Sweet Potato Waffles

3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. AP flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cardamom
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 T. sugar (or honey would work too)
1-1/2 c. buttermilk (I like to use vanilla soymilk, and add two tablespoon vanilla yogurt for tang)
2 eggs
1/3 c. neutral flavored oil, such as rapeseed or canola
1 c. cooked mashed sweet potato or other cooked squash

In a large bowl, whisk together the wheat flour, AP flour, powder, soda, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. If using honey, add that to the wet ingredients.

In a separate medium sized bowl, add the buttermilk, eggs, oil and squash. Whisk until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula. Be sure to scrape across the bottom of the bowl to mix thoroughly. Do not overmix the batter. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. You’ll see bubbles form on the batter. Don’t stir it anymore.

Bake waffles according to your individual waffle maker. Mine makes 8″ round waffles, and I used 1/3 c. batter per waffle. This recipe made 6-8 waffles.

The original recipe used for this batter comes from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham.

roasting, with apricots

May 25th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Does the weather ever slide subtly from one season to another? Because here in Minnesota, we jumped cannon-ball style from lovely Spring into all out Summer. Humidity levels rose, thickening the air and the thermometer leapt from something manageable, like the 60’s or 70’s, to a sticky number that begins with 9, and that which we rarely see before July around these parts.

And what did I do to manage this early season heat wave? I turned on the oven. Apparently, recipe inspiration can make me a little insane. But first, how about a glimpse into what the garden decided to do lately?

This White Hybrid Columbine is so lovely- see the lavender undertones? It’s stunning, but only about 4″ high. I had to lay on the ground to get this shot.

The heat wave opened the first of the California Poppies.

The Lupine are tall and graceful.

And there was plenty of other colorful happenings in the garden this week.

But I know, I know.

You just want the food, don’t you? I know that’s why you come here. I promise, this won’t disappoint.

Yes, those are apricots. I roasted them on the hottest day of the year. It was probably in the mid 90’s outside when I turned the oven dial to 425° and prepared a small sack of apricots, nestling them in brown sugar and cardamom (again? you ask, well…. yes. Insane goes many ways, my friends) before drizzling them with honey and a splash of water. Butter dots too. What good is roasted fruit without a nice buttery sheen?

I pretty much left tire tracks on our driveway after spotting this recipe in the current issue of Bon Appetit. Roasted Apricots? I sure do love those most fickle of tiny stone fruits- one day so firm and tart, the next moving to a softness and sweet ripe juicy flavor that you could blink and miss it if you’re not careful. And yes, the grocer stocked fresh ones, many yielding to gentle pressure like they should, smelling of golden sunshine. I’ve loved apricots since I was a very young child, and recall with fondness when my own boy was but a wee one and we lived behind a natural foods store. Almost daily we would shop, it was so convenient then to bring home only what we needed and he loved the velvety softness of those tiny fruits that fit so well into his palm. I would purchase them carefully, knowing he would eat them like crazy and they needed to be perfectly ripe. By the time we walked out the door of that store, around the back and across the parking lot of our building, he would be slurping the last of the juice from his hand, the pit clenched between his fingers and eagerly looking to me to hand him another one. Yes, apricots are favorites. For both of us and for so long. I knew too, that roasting them in this manner probably wouldn’t thrill my now 16 year old young man, but for me, these days the recipes I make don’t have to thrill everyone. Especially this. If it doesn’t make the guys jump for joy, that’s OK. These apricots, they were mine.

I imagine this recipe would work equally well with any stone fruit. Simply place the pitted fruit on a bed of brown sugar and cardamom (which, again- like the Rhubarb Crisp previously swooned over, you could leave out and never miss) drizzle the top with a little honey and pour a small amount of water over it all. Bake it at 425°, occasionally basting the fruit with the juices that form, until they are soft, fragrant and irresistible. Hold off the urge to eat them by the spoonful until they glaze has cooled. People, it’s searingly hot. My poor lip. But soft, tender, sweet and amazing in flavor is the result. You could do worse for yourself you know, on a stifling hot and sticky day, stuck inside under artificially cooled conditions to turn on your oven for 20 minutes and be rewarded like this. Summer? Bring it on.

Roasted Apricots with Cardamom Brown Sugar Glaze
From Bon Appetit, June 2010

  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 6 large or 12 small apricots (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved, pitted
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons honey, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 8-ounce container crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix brown sugar and cardamom in 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Add apricots. Pour 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons honey over fruit; dot with butter. Roast until apricots are tender, occasionally basting with syrup in dish, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Whisk crème fraîche, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons honey, and vanilla in small bowl. Serve with warm apricots.

When buying stone fruit to roast, they should be slightly under-ripe or they’ll become too mushy when you cook them. I found that the 12-15 minute window in the recipe was not nearly enough to make them tender. They cooked for maybe 20 minutes before I felt that the fruit was the soft texture I wanted.

Should there be a “Next time” when I make this, which I am certain there will be, I would probably stir the brown sugar, cardamom and water together. Once the fruit cooled, there were sugar crystals on the bottom of the baking dish from where the brown sugar did not dissolve. I also used whole cardamom seed and ground it down, but not enough. If cardamom is not finely ground, the remaining seed can be bitter. If you grind your own seeds, make sure it’s very fine. I ended up straining some of them out afterwards. And yes, by all means leave it out and you’ll never know.

My topping for it was mascarpone cheese sweetened with honey. I know. This truly does make me believe I am insane. But it was, sorry to reiterate, insanely good. Try the roasted apricots on yogurt, over ice cream, on top of shortcakes (if your strawberries run out) or alone as a simple treat.

renewal, and feeding the pain

April 4th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.

I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.

This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.

But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.

This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.

And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?

And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.

There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.

And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??

Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen

2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.

Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.

For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.