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Chefs’ Corner: Two Approaches to Sweet Potatoes, One Great Taste


Lemon Sweet Potatoes

At the recent San Antonio Cellar Classic, those who got past the vast array of wines found themselves faced with two similar sweet potato dishes that were simple yet sublime.

Yet the road each chef took to get that dish to the table was different, even if the end results mirrored each other.

Jesse Perez of the upcoming Arcade at the Pearl Brewery served his lemon sweet potatoes as a foundation for flank steak with a chimichurri sauce. To make the sweet potatoes, he roasted them in a convection oven at 400 degrees for 90 minutes until they were tender. Then he puréed them with lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and a little cream.

A handful of tables away, Stefan Bowers of Feast, 1024 S. Alamo St., had a similar recipe but a different approach. He roasted his sweet potatoes for 10 hours at 200 degrees. “Sweet potatoes loved to be cook slow and low,” he said. Then he added lemon juice, salt and a touch of cream.

The choice of cooking the sweet potatoes is yours — you could use a crock pot, if you wanted — as long as they’re tender. The beauty of this recipe goes beyond its simplicity. It has no added sugar, and it doesn’t need any. You’ll taste for yourself how naturally sweet these bright and colorful tubers really are, perfect for fall dinners including that great sweet potato day, Thanksgiving.

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Griffin to Go: A Taste of San Antonio in Upstate New York


I had to leave town in order to get a unique taste of San Antonio.

I am in upstate New York as part of my master’s degree program, and just after leaving the airport in Albany, my friend Carol decided she need to stop at Michael’s to pick up a picture frame. So, off we went to the store, and while she was shopping, I started browsing the aisles. That’s where I found a cookbook from Burt Wolf and Andrew F. Smith titled “Real American Food” (Rizzoli, $12.98). The front promised “Authentic Regional Cuisine” as well as “Restaurants, Markets, and Shops Plus Favorite Hometown Recipes,” while the back listed San Antonio as one of the 10 cities included, along with Boston, San Francisco, Richmond, Chicago and New Orleans among others. It was the only city in Texas to be included.

The volume, which came out in 2006, was wrapped in cellophane, so I couldn’t tear right in and see what San Antonio treats lay in store and from which restaurants.

But once in the car, I removed the wrapper and opened to read only what was included about San Antonio. I first found some fairly generic pictures included shots of margaritas, chiles and cascarones. Good, certainly, as descriptive as the images from Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, though I would have preferred one or two landmarks in view. (Mariachis and Christmas lights at Mi Tierra, for sure.)

The information was also some tasty morsels on the city’s culinary history, including Fritos, puffy tacos, Church’s chicken, Tex-Mex and chili, while highlighting restaurants such as Azuca, Rosario’s, Liberty Bar, Josephine St. Cafe, Ray’s Drive Inn, “Biga on the Bank” (sic), and Schilo’s. (Just seeing Schilo’s name made me long for a mug of their house-made root beer.)

But it’s the recipe area where such a book’s reputation stands. Here, Wolf, who hosted the PBS series, “Burt Wolf’s Table,” and Smith have provided us with several expected favorites: huevos rancheros, chili con carne, tortillas, enchilada sauce and pecan pie.

But there was one curiosity that I’ve never seen in the city: BBQ-Rubbed Sweet Potatoes. According to the legend that precedes the recipe, “Sweet potatoes originated in the tropical areas of the Americas and they were widely distributed throughout the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. European explorers exported sweet potatoes to Europe, where they became popular enough to be mentioned by Shakespeare in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor. Europeans also introduced sweet potatoes to Africa, where they were quickly adopted due to their similarity to the yam. It is through the slave trade that sweet potatoes and yams were introduced into the American South, where they were commonly grown by slaves and poor whites. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the sweet potato became popular throughout the United States. This recipe for BBQ-Rubbed Sweet Potatoes is a real American creation fusing traditions from Africa with those of barbecue.”

I guess the word “barbecue” is what makes it a San Antonio dish. Regardless or its origins, the recipe sounds so good and so easy to adapt to your tastes (less cumin, more chili powder, no brown sugar, maybe a touch of cayenne — the choices are endless and yours to play with) that I can’t wait to get home to give it a try.

BBQ-Rubbed Sweet Potatoes

2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons BBQ spice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
4 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons light brown sugar

Sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl large enough to fit each of the sweet potatoes, mix together the paprika, chili powder, BBQ spice, garlic powder, cumin, poultry seasoning, salt, oregano and onion powder.

Wash each sweet potato thoroughly under cold running water. Carefully pierce each potato 4 to 5 times, with the tip of a small knife or the tines of a fork. With the sweet potato still wet, dredge each potato into the spice rub and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the sweet potatoes for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until they are very tender when pierced with a fork. To serve, split each potato open, lengthwise, and dollop each with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Real American Food” by Burt Wolf and Andrew F. Smith

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Diana Barrios Treviño’s Sweet Potato Soufflé


SweetPotatoSoufflé2

DianaBarriosTreviño's

Diana Barrios Trevino

This recipe is one that the Barrios-Treviño family looks forward to ever year at Thanksgiving. A touch of almond extract in the recipe is the “secret” ingredient that helps make this dish a standout. To watch a video of Diana Barrios Treviño making this dish, click here.

Sweet Potato Soufflé

2 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted and divided equally between 2 small bowls
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup crushed cornflakes
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

[amazon-product]0375760970[/amazon-product]Combine sweet potatoes, eggs, sugar, half the butter, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon and almond extract in large bowl, mixing well. Pour into a buttered baking dish or pie plate and bake 20-25 minutes until set.

Combine cornflakes, brown sugar, nuts and remaining butter, mixing well.  Spread over the sweet potatoes and return to oven to bake for another 10 minutes.

Makes 10-12 servings.

From “Los Barrios Family Cookbook” by Diana Barrios Treviño

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Welcome Cool Weather With Roasted Winter Vegetables


RoastedVeggiesRoasted vegetables are delicious any time of year, but especially when it feels comfortable enough to turn on the oven — and leave it on for more than an hour.

To those who make a face at the word “rutabagas,”  I invite you to give this vegetable another chance. It has an earthy but mellow, slightly sweet flavor when baked or boiled.  Add melted butter and crumbled bacon to mashed rutabagas and you have a dish my family always welcomed at the Christmas dinner table.

Fennel bulb adds a gentle flavor of anise to the blend, with garlic and onion offering more substantial tastes to counter the blander flavors of the potatoes.

With some good whole-grain bread and butter, and maybe a wedge of cheddar to slice, this could be the centerpiece of a meat-free meal.

Roasted Winter Vegetables

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound onions, cut into 1-inch wedges or slices about ½-inch thick
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into slices about ½-inch thick or narrower
1 pound sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, OR use cleaned fingerling potatoes, cut into the same size
8 cloves peeled garlic
1/2 tablespoon crumbled, dried sage
1/2 tablespoon crumbled, dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon crumbled, dried oregano
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place very large roasting pan in oven and heat for 15 minutes (or 2 large roasting pans – vegetables should be in single layer).

Remove from oven. Add olive oil to pan. Add vegetables and garlic and gently stir them around in the oil. Put in the oven. After about 45 minutes, add herbs, salt and pepper, to taste, and stir gently around in pan. Take from the oven when the vegetables are tender, after about 1 ¼ hours. Drizzle over lemon juice, sprinkle with fresh parsley, stir vegetables gently and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Adapted from recipeczar.com

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Griffin to Go: Grilling vegetables


Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.

Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.

I’m a dedicated meat-eater. I think pork is one of the four basic food groups (butter and heavy cream make up a second).

So it may seem odd that when I finally broke down and got a gas grill, the first thing I cooked on it was a batch of fresh pattypan squash from the farmers market.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any meat on hand, mind you. I had just gotten the vegetables that day from the market, though, and they were so fresh and firm that they were practically crying out to be quartered, marinated and grilled.

You don’t need a fancy dressing with sugar and/or a host of spices. All I did was coated them well with some olive oil, salt and pepper for a few minutes before putting them on the grill.

I didn’t need anything else that meal, except a glass of rosé, as good a drink with grilled foods as a cold beer.

Those squashes remain among of the best dishes to come off my grill, and not just because they were first. I continue to grill them exactly the same way, which is quite frequent now that squashes are in season.

But don’t limit yourself to squashes or peppers. You can grill most any vegetable, including eggplant, if you approach it right.

Tom Perini, owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, near Abilene, offers a great chart for grilled vegetables in his book, “Texas Cowboy Cooking,” which came out in 2000 and is still in print.

He doesn’t add anything to his Fire-Roasted Vegetables until they are finished cooking. All he does is cut some up and remove the seeds if needs be.

Yellow summer squash.

Yellow summer squash on the grill.

“This is a technique you can use with just about any vegetable,” he writes. “Grilling vegetables over a live fire awakens the sugars and brings the flavor of the vegetables to the surface, a flavor you don’t get in an oven. The color you get by grilling vegetables is spectacular: They look great with a little bit of char around the edges and there’s nothing prettier than grilled vegetables with your steak. Be careful not to cook them to much, they need to have a little firmness.”

That last sentence cannot be emphasized enough: Don’t let your attention stray from the vegetables. They cook quickly. Too much heat and you’ve got burnt mush.

Here are Tom’s suggestions for handling the vegetables and his time-table for cooking them to just the right doneness. He prefers coal, which does offer great added flavor, but I have found that gas works almost as well if you’re in a hurry or cooking for one:

Fire-Roasted Vegetables

Wash the vegetables. Use the chart below to determine proportions and cooking times. See that coals are red-hot and about 6 inches below the grill before starting to cook.

Peppers: bell, Anaheim, poblano, 8-10 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise and seed.
Peppers: jalapeños, 10 minutes. Leave whole.
Mushrooms, 8-10 minutes. Use whole caps with stems removed or trimmed.
Onions, sweet Texas, green and purple, 10-15 minutes. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.
Sweet potatoes, 8-10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.
Eggplant, 10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the dressing ingredients thoroughly. Toss the grilled vegetables in the dressing. This can be served at room temperature or chilled. Sliced beef may also be added.

From “Texas Cowboy Cooking” by Tom Perini

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