Sweet Potato Pie

Not only had I never baked a sweet potato pie before this one but I also had never tasted one either! I had heard from others that sweet potato can be even better than pumpkin for pie but I never believed it… until now. After getting around 3lbs of sweet potatoes from a local farm, I decided that it was finally time to experiment with sweet potato pie.

I didn’t like most of the recipes I found online, each one for a different reason. So, I combined and adapted several to come up with my own. Though they weren’t the most beautiful pies because the crusts were a little shallow and uneven, husband and neighbors loved them.

Pie Ingredients (yields two pies, cut quantities in half for a single pie)

  • pie dough (for example, the one I made here)
  • 3 cups cooked and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 6 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Maple Whipped Cream (optional)

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 tbs maple syrup

Make and chill dough for a pie crust of your liking. If you’re making two pies, use a double pie crust recipe. I was just a little bit short on dough and so my edges didn’t come out as high and wide as I would have liked. While your dough chills, start by boiling the sweet potatoes over medium heat for about an hour. After they cook, drain them, let them cool, peel them, and chop/mash before using.

crusts

I like to blind bake my pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350°F to make sure that the bottom cooks through and gets nice and flaky. It was my first time using this method with parchment paper and a pie chain. I discovered that the sides of the pie sink down a bit with this method – not ideal but still better than soggy/raw crust. Next time, I might try filling the paper with dried beans instead to see if it does a better job of providing structure for the sides.

blind bake

While the crusts cook, prepare the pie filling. Combine all of the ingredients in one bowl except for the egg whites (and also the pie dough, of course). Start by beating the yolks with the brown sugar, add in the spices, melted butter, milk, and lastly the sweet potatoes. You can use a hand mixer to get a smooth texture. Next, beat the egg whites with a clean hand mixer until peaks form but they’re still glossy and wet.

beaten egg whites

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest of the mixture until just combined. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crusts. Bake at 350°F for approximately 50 minutes or until the filling looks set.

pie in oven

pie puffed up

You’ll notice that the pie puffs up a little bit like a soufflé while baking. When you take it out of the oven and let it cool it will deflate back down but will keep a light texture from those beaten egg whites. Let the pie cool to room temperature and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, lightly sweetened with maple syrup.

slice with fork

Roasted Delicata Squash With Pumpkin Seeds

I’m a big fan of delicata squash. The flesh is creamy and mildly sweet, it caramelizes beautifully when roasted, the skin is edible, and it’s easier to cut than most larger squash. This is a quick and easy way to make a beautiful and delicious squash side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 delicata squash, depending on side
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin (or sunflower) seeds
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper

As promised, this recipe is super easy. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After rinsing off any dirt from the field, cut each delicata squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Cut the squash into thick half-moon-shaped slices (as pictured). Put all of the pieces into a large baking dish. You’ll want to have as many of the pieces touching the glass or metal baking pan as possible because those are the spots where they’ll caramelize.

After you’ve cut them all and placed them in the baking dish, coat the pieces of squash with a generous pour of olive oil. Season with sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Toss them with your hands to coat everything evenly. Lastly sprinkle the pumpkin or sunflower seeds on top before baking in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the pieces are completely soft and the underneath side has caramelized without burning. I like using a glass baking dish so that I can lift the baking dish and peak underneath to check when it’s ready.

I like serving delicata squash with just about everything and have been known to make a dinner out of it alone too. For a nice fall dinner, I might bake some chicken with garlic and serve it with this squash and some cabbage (braised, raw as a salad, or pickled as kraut or kimchi are all good cabbage options here). If you’re not a cabbage fan, a green salad or wilted greens pair nicely too.

Black-Eyed Pea and Lamb Stew

The leaves are changing color and it’s starting to feel more like fall outside. So, I feel more like cooking warm and soothing meals like this black-eyed pea and lamb stew. Luckily, here in the Bay Area, it’s still fresh bean season and so there’s no need to soak dried beans overnight!

shelling black eyed peas

The first two steps (the beans and the meat) can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge separately until you’re ready to cook the stew.

Ingredients (these are approximations, feel free to change to your taste and local ingredients)

  • 2lbs of fresh black-eyed peas
  • 1.5lb lamb roast
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (ground)
  • turmeric (ground)
  • cayenne pepper (ground)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (5 for the meat and 5 for the stew)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 small sweet peppers (I used yellow corno di toro peppers)
  • 6-8 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves

done shelling

These black-eyed peas were definitely more time and labor-intensive to shell than the cannellini or cranberry beans. They made a delicious stew but feel free to substitute a different type of bean that’s available in your area and/or use dried beans (just remember to soak dried beans overnight).

start to boil

After rinsing the shelled beans, cover with water and bring them to a boil.

change water

If you see this kind of slimy film and big bubbles form while boiling, drain the beans into a colander and rinse them again.

bring to boil again

Rinse the pot, return the beans, cover with fresh water, and bring it up to a boil again.

beans done

Cook the beans for around 35-45 minutes, or until they are soft enough to smoosh with the back of the spoon. Remove them from the stove and let them cool before refrigerating to use the next day or to use to make the stew in the same day.

lamb roast

The meat can also be roasted a day ahead. Stab the roast several times with a small sharp knife and insert a piece of garlic (either a small clove or a thick sliver) into each hole. Drizzle olive oil all over the roast and season liberally with salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Bake at 400°F for about an hour. After the roast cools, you can either refrigerate it or use it immediately to make the stew.

cut lamb

I refrigerated both the beans and meat overnight. Before making the stew, I sliced the meat and then chopped it to make small uniform bites to be added later to the stew.

drippings

I also saved the drippings from the bottom of the pan that solidified in the fridge overnight. These add some extra flavor and richness to the stew.

veggies

Time to prep and chop all of the fresh veggies.

cooking veggies

Saute the chopped vegetables in a generous pour of olive oil. I like to add them one by one to the cooking pot as I prep the next vegetable. Since some vegetables take longer to cook than others, chop in the order you’d like them to cook in, for example: onions, celery, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes. Season this mixture with lemon juice, sea salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and a generous amount of turmeric. Remember to add more salt than you’d normally use because you did not season the beans when you cooked them earlier.

now add meat and beans

After the vegetables start to cook, add the bay leaves and most of the chopped parsley (reserving a few sprigs for presentation).

add meat and beans

Once the vegetables have cooked down and the carrots are softening, add the black-eyed peas (and their cooking liquid), cut pieces of lamb, and reserved pan drippings.

and boil some more

Boil for another 20-30 minutes.

remove bay leaves

When it’s ready, remember to remove the bay leaves. They give great flavor but are tough and not edible.

it's ready

Serve a couple ladles of stew with a few sprigs of fresh parsley on top and, if you wish, some fresh country bread on the side. This stew, like most stews, is even better the second (and third) day because the flavors combine and penetrate all the ingredients while in the fridge overnight. So, you can prepare this stew in advance and/or enjoy leftovers for a couple days. Either way, if your family is anything like mine, they’ll be asking for seconds.

bowl of stew

Romanian Eggplant Salad

I guess you could say that I come from a long line of eggplant-loving women. My mother and grandmother both made delicious eggplant salad. They served it a little bit differently. You can decide for yourself if you prefer the tomatoes and onions mixed in, like Grandma used to make (I do!). Traditionally, I think they are generally served separately, the way my mother plated it at home. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients, yields 4+ servings

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil (I don’t measure, just pour until it looks and tastes right but I’d estimate at least half a cup in the mixture plus a little to coat the eggplants at the beginning and for the tomato/onion salad)
  • a few large pinches of salt (again, until it tastes right)
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • 2 pints of juicy cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small onion

Start with some fresh eggplant. You want to look for eggplant that still has a vivid green stem and shiny black skin. The fresher you can get it, the sweeter and less bitter it will taste. We got some lovely Black Beauty variety eggplant from a local farm, through Good Eggs.

eggplants

After washing them, prick all over with a fork and coat with olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, for easier cleanup.

eggplant ready to bake

Roast at 400°F for about 45 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the soft flesh of the eggplant everywhere, including just under the stem area (usually the toughest part and slowest to cook through).

baked eggplant

After removing the eggplant from the oven, cut it open carefully and locate the seed pods. I like to use a fork and knife because the eggplant liquid irritates my skin. This part requires a little patience. You’ll want to take out just the flesh and discard all of the seed sections and skin. It’s okay if a few seeds wander in but you’ll want to get rid of most of them.

open eggplant

In order to drain away the bitter liquid from the cooked eggplant before preparing the salad, find a way to set up a slanted surface in your kitchen. I find that a baking pan, cutting board, and glass create just the right angle to let the juices slowly drip out of the eggplant and onto the absorbent paper towel at the bottom of the cutting board.

on board side

Lay the pieces of eggplant, from which you removed the seeds, in a thin layer across the slanted cutting board and let them drain for an hour or so.

on board front

Once you’re ready to get back to the drained eggplant, lightly blot the pieces with a paper towel to remove any moisture still left, and place them on a cutting board. Then chop and chop and chop some more. You’ll want to go in different directions. It’s fairly easy to do because the texture is so soft. The consistency comes out much better this way than with a food processor or blender. Plus, at the end, you’ll just have to wash the cutting board and knife.

ready to chopchop

 

and chop more

chopped

 

Once the eggplant starts getting a smooth texture add chopped garlic, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Chop and mix until thoroughly combined on the cutting board.

garlic

oil

 

After your eggplant salad is done, you can store it in a bowl until ready to use. It’s best eaten at room temperature. So, if you’re planning on refrigerating it, take it out a little while before serving.

eggplant salad, separate

My mother tended to serve it the traditional way, with fresh bread and  a salad of tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and salt. Its high oil content makes it a decadent vegetable dish. At my grandparents house I’d notice grandma relishing her mixing process. She’d lightly smash the tomatoes to get them to release extra juice into the eggplant salad. I remember grandma taking such pleasure in eating this salad and I think I enjoy it even more because of that memory.

eggplant salad, combined

Fresh Cannellini Bean Salad

Shelling Cannellini Beans

In summer, making beans doesn’t have to require planning the day before and cooking for long periods of time. And, no, I’m not talking about popping open a can. These fresh cannellini beans were easy to prepare and the uses are endless. I decided to use half to make a bean salad and saved the other half for another use (or, since it was so delicious, maybe more of the same) later this week.

I’m a big fan of beans but rarely cook them because they require soaking the night before and then a fairly long cook time on the stove. So, I was very excited to discover that Good Eggs is currently selling fresh cannellini beans from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. I quickly signed up for two pounds (comes out to about 2 cups shelled) in this week’s delivery and now wish I had purchased more!

One of my favorite parts of preparing fresh beans (and peas too) is the shelling process. It’s simple and relaxing. In some ways, it reminds me of knitting or other repetitive tasks that can become almost meditative. Sometimes, I shell them while watching TV or chatting on the phone. Other times, it’s a welcome break from screen time and an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Boil Cannellini Beans

After giving the beans a quick rinse in the colander, set them on the stove, with some water, over medium to medium-high heat to just bring them up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature and simmer them for about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the freshness of the bean (if it’s older, it’ll be drier and take longer) and also on personal preference.

Cooked Cannellini Beans

I tend to like my beans soft and squishy. So, I cook them until I see some of them start to break apart. After straining in a colander, they’re ready to use!

Other Bean Salad Ingredients

While the beans cook, you’ll have more than enough time to prepare the other bean salad ingredients:

  • half of a small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped
  • a small handful of cilantro (basil or parsley work great too), chopped
  • 15-20 “sweet 100” or other small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • a few splashes of red wine vinegar
  • a liberal sprinkle of salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

and, of course,

  • 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans

I like to stir the beans in with the rest of the ingredients while they’re still hot. I’ve noticed that this helps the flavors combine faster and also helps to mellow the raw garlic and onion flavors. These quantities yield enough for two people enjoying this as a main course or for four, as a side dish. Serve at room temperature with some toasted or grilled ciabatta bread.

Cannellini Bean Salad

Feasting on Fresh Figs

Kadota Figs

I grew up eating dried chewy figs from Greece or Turkey that were sold in small pressed round wheels. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the pleasure of a fresh ripe fig. These kadota figs from a local farm require no special preparation or fancy pairing. You could have some creamy camembert and toast or some nicely aged manchego with these gems but, really, even a knife is optional…

kadota fig