Mom’s Sweet Potato Biscuit … Re-engineered…Gluten free, Soy free & Yummy!

Food is memories.  That’s what my sister wrote in an email to me this morning after she watched the movie, 100 – Foot Journey, last night – Her email comments inspired me to write today.  Thanks sister 🙂

I just love food and learning anything about food, but have been a bit frustrated and stymied because some of our old food memory recipes don’t work for the whole family anymore.  Stubbornly, I don’t want to give up on these food memory foods; therefore, I decided to figure out how to re-engineer our most favorite family recipes… with a little re-work, re-invention, and responsible food sourcing…I’m inspired again and coming up with products that work for our dietary needs today…it’s turned out to be a feel-good journey too.

The first recipe I’ve re-done is Mom’s yam (or sweet potato) biscuit recipe.  For over 30 years, Thanksgiving at our family’s homes have included a petite yam biscuit served with her homemade pumpkin butter.  In the late 1970’s, Mom, (Betty), had taken cooking classes where she came away with petite bite recipes for her catering business.  Many of those stuck with the family as favorites for holiday dinners, happy events (cocktail parties or showers), and offered at tea time.  These yam biscuits hit a chord with all of us as a must have served with the Italian chicken soup course on Thanksgiving day.

Our niece has taken over the helm as the yam biscuit and pumpkin butter maker for our holiday dinner (often for over 25 guests).  With a new baby in tow, we shared duties this year…her pumpkin butter was the best I ever remember consuming.  For the yam biscuits (we often substitute with organic sweet potatoes as they are delicious and easier to source), I substituted the flour and fat historically called for to ensure everyone at the table could comfortably consume the biscuits, slathered with her stunning pumpkin butter.  We have gluten-fee, soy free, sodium reduced diet needs to accommodate.  The old recipe called for all purpose flour (wheat) and Crisco (soybean oil) … I substituted with William Sonoma’s Cup for Cup Gluten-free (wheat free) flour and chilled Kerrygold Grass-fed Unsalted Butter (soy free).  While a bit of a sticky, challenging dough resulted…the biscuits were just fabulous…and everyone could eat them.  We cut them small (1 1/2″ round) so they instigate your appetite and don’t fill you up.  Although my nephews can eat a dozen at a sitting 🙂

Below is the new recipe…gluten free, soy free and even me…the diabetic… can happily fit one into my meal plan.

Organic sweet potato biscuit prepared with gluten free flour and grass-fed butter

Organic sweet potato biscuit prepared with gluten free flour and grass-fed butter

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Sweet Potato Biscuit

I suggest baking them just prior to serving as they are sooo good served hot (or you can bake them ahead and heat them for a few minutes on a low temperature just prior to serving).

The first time we learned of these biscuits was at a Southern foods cooking class. They were served with a slice of country ham and honey mustard—a savory little “slider” that’s perfect for tea time.
Makes approximately 24 ( 1 1/2”) biscuits.
PREP TIME: 10 minutes TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes (including prepping yam and baking time)
Preheat oven to 400° F.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (substitute with Cup 4 Cup gluten-free flour).
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup Crisco® shortening (substitute cold butter – I used Kerrygold unsalted)
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
Approximately ¾ cup mashed yam, boiled or baked, then mashed and cooled (substitute with sweet potatoes – use organic if available).

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Cut in shortening (or cold butter) until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add yam/sweet potato and cut in with a pastry cutter or two knives.
Add cream to form a soft dough that holds.
Lightly knead and pat down onto a floured surface to ¾” thick, cut into rounds using 1 ½” to 2” cutter. Do not use a rolling pin…use our hands to lightly pat down. Rustic looking biscuits are cute :-).
Bake in a buttered pan or sheet pan lined with parchment or Silpat® at 400° F for 18 to 20 minutes.
Serve hot with butter and sliced country or baked ham or with pumpkin butter.

 

 

Tea 101… Practice Makes for YOUR Perfect Cup!

Last week we held an intimate class called Tea 101 at the fascinating, old-world styled spice / tea shop in Laguna Beach called Spice Merchants.  I posted about them last week here.  I hadn’t put on an “intro to tea” class in awhile; therefore, while pulling the materials together for the class, I was reminded of just how simple preparing a great cup of tea can be, and yet, how easily it can go all wrong.  Below are a few photos of our class set-up at Spice Merchants.  Our students were engaging and really interested in learning more about tea.  We had fun while tasting four different pure teas from the shelves of Spice Merchants, paired with a few tasty food bites.  Below are my tea making tips…it’s almost as easy as boiling water…a little practice will get you the results you desire.

Tea 101 ... ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach...an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

Tea 101 … ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach…an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

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In Tea With Betty, my tea manual, I include details of what key ingredients are needed to make a good cup of tea (there are 4)…along with steps about how to accomplish this fete :-).   While preparing a great cup of tea to your taste should be as easy as boiling water and tossing in some tea leaves….it’s often not…there are questions such as … what type of water to use? And at what temperature for which tea?  What type of tea to  use? Just how much tea for how much water?  And how long should the tea leaves sit on the water? Then, how do you effectively get the leaves off the water?  And finally, when do you add things such as milk (for black tea only plleeease!) …all these considerations go into the simple process of preparing a great cup of tea.  It sometimes feels like all the stars need to be aligned for the resulting brew to come out just the way you want it. Whew.

However, it is REALLY simple.  Here’s what you need.

1).  Good, clean, fresh spring or filtered water.  Tap water may have chlorine or other minerals which can distort or cover the lovely flavor of your delicate tea leaf as it exudes it’s liquor.

2). Use quality, leaf teas… tea leaves (not tea dust). I am careful to know where my tea leaves originated from…I primarily use teas from Harney & Sons, Mighty Leaf Teas, Adagio Teas, Tea Forte, Numi Organic Teas, Peet’s Teas, Steven Smith, Tazo, and a few others.  Spice Merchants teas are sourced primarily from these established tea purveyors.  It matters where your tea leaves come from…you are dousing them in water and ingesting the liquor these leaves leave behind…I want to know if these leaves are from a farm using sustainable practices and fair trade methods.

Variety of leaf teas on display

Variety of leaf teas on display – whole leaves, no tea “dust”…

Quantity of leaves to water ratio is where you will want to “test things out a bit to meet your preferred taste”; however, a rounded teaspoon per 8 ounce of fresh water is the place to start.

3). Water temperature makes a difference and varies depending of the type of tea you are brewing…just to boiling 212 degrees for black teas.  Greens and white teas scorch at this temperature, so go lower with these tea types (160 – 190 degrees).  Don’t boil your water to death, the oxygen in the water as it is coming to temp assists in releasing all the excellent flavor from your tea leaves as you pour the water over the leaves.

4) Brewing time matters.  Do not steep your tea longer than recommended or it will taste bitter.  The reason many Americans say they don’t enjoy tea is that they have experience leaf teas that have sat on the water too long and gotten astringent…not a pleasant thing to consume at that point.  Remove the tea (liquor exuded from the steeping leaves) as soon as they are done steeping.  Pour the tea into another warmed pot to serve or into your awaiting cup.

That’s it…not too difficult.  And practice a bit with a few steepings to determine what your favorite taste is…in the end, it is all about what you prefer.  Practice does make the perfect cup of tea for YOU!

 

 

 

 

Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Portland, Oregon – Part One

We are back from a delightful vacation to Portland, Oregon.  Now, here is a city that not only boasts supporting local, organic, & green…they live it!  Portlanders have great pride in their weirdness, eclectic environment, and artistic nature.  Whether music, art, books, or food…serious greatness is exhibited in each area.  From the largest guitar store in the West...Apple One Music, to the largest independent book store, Powell’s, to having an incredibly thriving amount of fabulous award winning chefs, restaurants, bakeries and tea shops…Portland is THE place.  Below is a quick photo journal of our week in Portland…a preview of sorts, as I will be doing more posts about the food and teas we fell in love with up in the lush, green Pacific Northwest.  And there may be a photo or two of the cutest puppy inserted here and there too 🙂 (my nephew’s 6 month old boxer, SeeSee)…

Beautiful greenery abounds in Portland...I am envious of my nephew's Hostas' which I can't grow in our desert climate

Beautiful greenery abounds in Portland…I am envious of my nephew’s Hostas which I can’t grow in our desert climate

Greenery everywhere

 

Lots of greenery ... photo from our downtown Portland hotel window

Lots of greenery … photo from our downtown Portland hotel window

A book find from Powell’s Bookstore

Check out Powell's book store, the largest independent book store in the West...multiple stories and a block long...a fabulous section on food and food writing...my husband spotted and liked this book ... Eat Ink...

Check out Powell’s book store, the largest independent book store in the West…multiple stories and a block long…a fabulous section on food and food writing…my husband spotted and liked this book … Eat Ink…

Tea bars I wish were near me…

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Tea Shops in Portland...each offered a different feel...we tasted many stunning teas... Jasmine Pearl Tea Shop, Smith Tea (Steven Smith Teamaker), Townshend's Tea, and Stash Tea Bar...will go into detail on each in a future post

Tea Shops in Portland…each offered a different feel…we tasted many stunning teas… Jasmine Pearl Tea Shop, Smith Tea (Steven Smith Teamaker), Townshend’s Tea, and Stash Tea Bar…will go into detail on each in a future post

Sweets anyone?

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Portland & Sweets...bakeries, chocolates, donuts ... just spectacular...Blue Star donuts has been featured on the Cooking Network, Jones cupcakes are just delicious, Cacao chocolate shop offered a lovely darjeeling tea with the coolest paper steeping bag ... it's tough to be a diabetic in this town :-(     I had to pace myself...

Portland & Sweets…bakeries, chocolates, donuts … just spectacular...Blue Star donuts has been featured on the Cooking Network, Jones cupcakes are just delicious, Cacao chocolate shop offered a lovely darjeeling tea with the coolest paper steeping bag … it’s tough to be a diabetic in this town 🙁 I had to pace myself…

Fabulous food and chefs – French Bistro, Cocotte  where I had chicken confit and poached egg (mmm), next, recent James Beard award winner, chef Naomi Pomeroy at Beast, then, possibly the best meal of all was at Natural Selection where chef Aaron Woo truly wooed us with vegan and vegetarian dishes which “wowed” all and lastly, Nostrana was wonderful where chef Cathy Whim has put together a beautiful restaurant with excellent service and foods.

IMG_1864 IMG_1855 IMG_1811 IMG_1793 IMG_1516 IMG_1501 IMG_1486 IMG_1417Puppy love…Puppy love…Puppy love…

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And then there is the cutest  6 month old white boxer, named SeeSee (our nephew's new pup) who we got to go to the dog park with and for tea and pastry ...she is a "people magnet"...everyone wanted to pet her, she looks a bit like a petite pony with skinny long legs and big paws

And then there is the cutest 6 month old white boxer, named SeeSee (our nephew’s new pup) who we got to go to the dog park with and for tea and pastry …she is a “people magnet”…everyone wanted to pet her, she looks a bit like a petite pony with skinny long legs and big paws.

Portland is a delightful place to visit…we spent most of our time downtown…next time we will get out into the countryside, coast and maybe even try a little of the famous Oregon Pinot Noirs…but for me…their food and tea scene is the best I’ve found in one place…

We drank a lot of tea…and loved it all.

 

The Best Ever Giant Birthday Cake & The Best Mayo Cake Ever!

When our dear friend Pat passed away four years ago, it was a tremendous loss to our family for many reasons; including the fact that she was an AWESOME cake maker.  If she heard someone had something, anything, to celebrate…she volunteered to make the cake.  I used to think she was crazy for doing this as her efforts often resulted in she and her incredibly supportive husband nerve-wrackingly and carefully hauling multi-tiered wedding cakes hundreds of miles to their joyful destination.   She found great joy in providing this service and her loving husband would do anything for Pat.

The void she left forced me to step up to take on baking our grandson’s birthday cakes.  They were used to her spectacular offerings, but were young enough to appreciate my initial, somewhat pitiful, efforts.  I figured if they were colorful, topped with lots of their favorite characters (knights, pirates etc.), we’d be o.k…however, they are getting a bit more savvy in their requests and discerning in their tastes, so this year, I recruited expert help…Grandpa.  While I am good at the cake baking…I am deficient in the design and decorating department…this is where the meticulous skill of Grandpa (who has an award winning history in cake making) stepped in as creative designer and decorator.  The result was the best looking cake ever…a Pirate Lego Cake, with a mini M&M’s Chocolate Candies river.  Everyone who tasted the cake “just loved it.”  My daughter told me it was the best cake I ever made (the cake part)…it was Mom’s Mayo Cake recipe.  It is foolproof.  Use this.  You can’t go wrong. Below is the recipe.  Two notes:  use Best Foods/Hellman’s regular mayonnaise (really, don’t fool around with anything else) and don’t over bake your cake…really…Pat always told me this…don’t over bake your cake!  Nothing is worse in baking than a dry cake 🙂 Words according to Pat.

Pirate Lego Cake...two layer half sheet Mayo Cake with creamed cheese frosting...enough cake for 40 guests

Pirate Lego Cake…two layer half sheet Mayo Cake with creamed cheese frosting…enough cake for 40 guests –

The best marble cake ever...the mayo cake, made with Best Foods Mayonnaise ...a 50's recipe that is the #1 requested cake in our family

The best marble cake ever…the mayo cake, made with Best Foods Mayonnaise …a 50’s recipe that is the #1 requested cake in our family – recipe below…we made a triple recipe….two half sheet layers – the first shown here using a bun pan extender (increases the height of our 1/2 sheet bun pan)…it was a BIG cake

 

It was a really big cake...hardly made a "dent" in the cake serving over 30...two layer, (two full cake recipes), Mayo (marble) half sheet cake...dense and delicious with a creamed cheese frosting.

It was a really big cake…hardly made a “dent” in the cake serving over 30…two layer, (two full cake recipes), Mayo (marble) half sheet cake…dense and delicious with a creamed cheese frosting.

I didn’t want to be short on cake…knowing many children would be at the boy’s birthday party, so I made a third batch into mini and regular sized cupcakes…these were back up and easy to grab and go for those not staying for cake.

Back up cupcakes...I went a little crazy with frosting on these...you can tell my cake decorator expert didn't do these :-)  The mini cupcakes are a perfect "one bite" guiltless size.  We had plenty of cake.

Back up cupcakes…I went a little crazy with frosting on these…you can tell my cake decorator expert didn’t do these 🙂 The mini cupcakes are a perfect “one bite” guiltless size. We had plenty of cake!

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We found the Lego shaped candies at Dean & DeLuca in Napa Valley...Pirate decorations were from William Sonoma

We found the Lego shaped candies at Dean & DeLuca in Napa Valley…Pirate decorations were from William Sonoma

The infamous Best Foods Mayonnaise Cake recipe...a classic.  My version has reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup as the  rich chocolate and vanilla flavors pop when not masked by too much sugar. My mother made this recipe for decades…she never frosted it, just dusted it with powdered sugar. It is delicious with a cup of tea.

Makes 24 cupcakes, or one 9” x 13” cake, or one Bundt pan cake, or one 9” two-layer cake, or one layer half-sheet cake

PREP TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes (includes full cake baking time)
Preheat oven to 350° F.
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups BestFood’s/Hellmann’s brand mayonnaise
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups fresh water
8 tablespoons best quality unsweetened cocoa; reserve until after batter is prepared (I use Ghiradelli or Dean & Deluca Dutch processed)

Mix dry ingredients together, except for the cocoa.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for about 2 minutes using a hand mixer or with a wooden spoon.
Reserve 2 cups of the batter and add the cocoa to this reserved batter; put aside.
Pour remaining vanilla batter into your baking pan of choice: a 9” by 13” cake pan, large angel food cake pan, Bundt pan, cupcake pan that is lined with paper baking cups, or two 9” cake pans for a two-layer cake. With a spoon, dollop the reserved chocolate batter in various spots onto the vanilla batter.
Using a table knife or skewer, gently swirl this chocolate batter in a circular motion to create a marbling effect with the vanilla batter. Be careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the baking pan while swirling.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean for a full-sized cake. Do not over bake.
Bake 18 to 20 minutes for a regular cupcake size or 8 to 9 minutes for a mini cupcake.

Bake 9 minutes for mini cupcakes

Bake 20 minutes for one layer, half sheet pan sized cake

Here is a photo depicting the swirling in of the chocolate batter into a bundt sized cake…

Swirling in the chocolate batter with a metal skewer to "marbleize" the cake

Swirling in the chocolate batter with a metal skewer to “marbleize” the cake

 

The Perfect Bite… Spicy Crab Cakes On A Spoon

 

Petite crab cakes…with habanero mayo…paired perfectly with my cup of oolong tea this afternoon

Petite crab cakes…since I was making really small cakes, I wanted a recipe packed with flavor; therefore, I broke away from my regular recipe and went to Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook, using her Classic Crab Cake recipe along with her Chili – Lime Aioli. Flavor punch came from the habanero chili peppers & lime juice in the aioli and the jalapeños in the crab mixture

Functional, clean, and attractive… the appetizer spoons are a great vehicle to serve individual bites with sauce…(a side benefit of the spoon as vehicle?…it certainly eliminates the potential of someone “double dipping into the sauce bowl :-)” )

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I love serving foods in simple, yet interesting ways.  Our dear friends (who are Dutch) brought us these lovely and functional bent-handled spoons  from Holland.  They were a good fit for serving these spicy crab cake appetizers last weekend.  Each time I use these spoons, I think of them and smile, because from the day I met J & J (20 years ago), being around them has felt like “home.”

I used this small scoop to shape my crab to fit perfectly into these spoons.

I used this small scoop to shape my crab mixture to fit perfectly onto these spoons

While I served these little cakes with champagne for guests prior to dinner…today I had the few leftovers at tea time with a light oolong tea.  Spicy foods pair well with green teas.  Next time you enjoy Asian foods at your favorite Asian restaurant, take note of the teas they serve…usually oolongs or light green teas.  These teas pair well with dishes with heat from chilies and other spicy flavors.

Shellfish goes really well with oolong and green teas…smoked salmon, shrimp, and lobster flavors are enhanced with the clean, simple, pure taste of these teas also.

One of the beautiful things about having so many choices in types of teas and tea infusions is that you can always find one that enhances your dish…some combinations just take a food bite to another level.  Taste teas with food…enjoy tea…drink tea.  It’s good for you!

Truly FRESH Herbal Infusions…Made Tableside Just For You!

The FRESHEST herbal tea…made to order, table side -- to your liking ---

The FRESHEST herbal tea…made to order, table side — to your liking —

 

The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento offered this unique herbal infusion menu…made with fresh herbs to order.

The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento offered this unique herbal infusion menu…made with fresh herbs to order.

IMG_0633One of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had was at The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento.  I’ll share more about the meal in a future post – Dinner was an “event” which included a unique tea service where we were offered a menu of special blends featuring a basket of fresh herbs.

As the chefs plated the dessert course, we ordered our hot beverages.   I’d never seen anything like this…fresh herbs, clipped to order and steeped at your place setting.

I opted for their green tea…but next time will go for the herbal infusion.

Tetsubin iron teapot service at The Kitchen...

Tetsubin iron teapot service at The Kitchen…

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