Sweet potatoes: an appreciation and recipe

A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.
A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.

A dish of sweet potatoes was special-occasion food in my family.

Sweet potatoes made regular annual appearances at Thanksgiving. My mother was a working, single mom, so Thanksgiving was an endeavor best tackled in stages. Mommy would buy a big bag of sweet potatoes a week before the holiday to get ahead of the crazy Kroger crowd. A few days later, she or my Uncle Bobby scrubbed the spuds, piled them precariously into the biggest pot we had, covered them with water, and let them boil for hours on the electric stovetop. The pot of potatoes bubbled away beneath the TV and the phone ringing and my family’s normal volume that was always set to “Yell.” As the house settled into the evening, as the phone rang less often and conversations grew a bit softer, Mommy or Uncle Bobby drained the sweet potatoes, peeled off the skin with a butter knife, sliced them length wise, and arranged them like shingles in a baking dish. That night, or the next day depending on how full her schedule was in those scant days before Thanksgiving, Mommy cloaked the naked potato slices in a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and nestled pats of butter between some lucky slices. The dish baked until it bubbled and the brown sugar formed a crust on the once exposed sweet potato slices. The smell alone was justification for 365 days of waiting.

I’ve since adopted sweet potatoes as a staple in my own kitchen. This inclusion has made any meal with a sweet potato a special occasion, be it a quick lunch in my cubicle or dinner with my husband.

Sweet potatoes are a superfood, a hyped-up way of saying that these root vegetables are good for you. However, this is one superfood that actually tastes damn delicious without much work (I’m looking at you, Kale). It also helps that sweet potatoes are one of the more affordable super-duper foods, especially if you buy a bag of them.

I don’t always have time for the sweet-potato bake my mom and uncle would tag team. Instead, I’ve adopted a pretty simple method from The Kitchn of baking a bunch of sweet potatoes so they’re ready to eat during the work week. It doesn’t get much easier than these few steps.

That's me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don't drop my phone in the water.
That’s me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don’t drop my phone in the water.
  1. Buy yourself a bag of potatoes and wash off as many as you’d like to prepare. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Poke approximately a million holes in aforementioned potatoes. This is my favorite part.
  3. Rub your wounded potatoes with olive oil. A drizzle will do.
  4. Wrap potatoes in aluminum foil. Make sure the edges are sealed, but you don’t need to press the foil down tightly around the spuds. Give them some room to breathe.
  5. Place potatoes directly on your oven rake.
  6. Let potatoes bake for at least 45 minutes or until they are tender if you gently squeeze them (through an oven mitt, of course). I’ve been known to leave a batch in the oven for an hour and some change.

After the sweet potatoes have cooled down enough for you to handle, unwrap them from the foil. My ideal sweet potato is very soft and fleshy. I’d like to think it’s because of all those holes and the olive oil massage. I like to tear the insides away from the skin with my fork and go to town without any spices or sweeteners. A well-baked sweet potatoes is rich without the butter and sweet without the sugar, a dessert-for-dinner treat from Mother Nature.

I’ve taken to the Twitter to proclaim my love for the sweet potato, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about toppings that can elevate this favorite food of mine. Goat cheese? Balsamic vinegar? I’ll give them all a try. I’ll find an occasion.

Books, brews, barbecue and ham: a rundown of upcoming foodie events

This ham will be served up tonight at Corbett's. What Roscoe would give for a hunk of that. (via Facebook)
This ham will be served up tonight at Corbett’s. What Roscoe would give for a hunk of that. (via Facebook)

There’s a dog at my heels convinced that he needs a potty break, an empty suitcase that I need to fill in the next 24 hours and a boatload of news and information that I want to share.

You could say I’m in a bit of a tizzy.

This is going to be a down-and-dirty post. There’s so much happening in Louisville and in my own life that I have to do some USA Today-style bullets to give you a rundown of all the fabulous food events happening in town and a couple of updates from Ashlee Eats HQ.

So take a deep breath, and pray that my dog, Roscoe, can hold his composure until I finish this post.

  • I submitted the first chunk of my manuscript to my publisher, History Press, at the end of last week. Granted, it’s still pretty scrappy, and I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I was super excited to hit my first book milestone. I’l celebrate with a trip to Baltimore this Labor Day weekend with the Mister during which I will gorge myself on crab and Italian food.

 

  • OK, strike the gorge part of that last bullet. After getting some not-so-great results on a health screening, I’ve been cutting back on the cheeses and red meats, aka, everything that makes life worth living. Maybe it was diner research for the book that knocked my numbers a bit out of whack, but I’ve decided to eat healthier at home and (when possible) out and about. Check out my Pinterest board, Healthier Choices, to see what I’ve been cooking. I highly recommend the red curry lentils.

 

An un-glamorous shot of the curry lentils I whipped up.
An un-glamorous shot of the curry lentils I whipped up. They tasted better than they look.

 

Roscoe has fretted himself into a state of severe disappointment, so I’ll keep writing. Open up your calendar in a new tab, because I’m moving on to the food events.

  • Fellow Louisville food writer Steve Coomes has a book out with the same publisher with which I’m signed. To commemorate the release of Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke, six high-profile Kentucky chefs are gathering tonight, Aug. 28, at Corbett’s: An American Place for a dinner inspired by country ham. Cost of the dinner is $95 per person and it includes wine and cocktail pairings with each course and a signed copy of the book (call Corbett’s at 502.327.5058 for reservations and hurry, because space is limited). Can’t swing the price tag? Buy the book and get inspired in your own kitchen.

 

 

Yes, this is a little bit of publishing nepotism, but I gotta support my fellow writers in the struggle to sell and hustle. And, they’re good guys and writers.

OK, Roscoe is officially dejected. He’s looking out of the window and contemplating my downfall. I have time for one more event listing:

 

  • The Home of the Innocents will host their annual Big Ol’ Backyard BBQ next Saturday, Sept. 6. This year’s theme is Luau Style, so I can only imagine the amount of savory, delicious pork that will be served up for a good cause. Chefs who will cook at the fundraising event include Fernando Martinez of Mussel and Burger Bar and Dean Corbett of aforementioned Corbett’s and Equus and Jack’s Lounge. Tickets are $50 (adults), $30 (seniors) and $20 (students 11-18). You can buy tickets by at www.homeoftheinnocents.org/bbq or by calling 502.596.1025.

 

bbq-event-info

 

The dog has officially started yelping, so it’s time to take him out. And pack. And finish this book. But one thing at a time.

Add a cooking competition to your summer parties

Nine entries in the banana pudding bake-off.
Nine entries in the banana pudding bake-off.

It seemed like a joke — a birthday party/backyard barbecue/banana pudding bake-off? So many slashes, so much to wrap my head around for one afternoon at my friend Christine’s house.

Nine bakers made their version of banana pudding. All the dishes were numbered so guests didn’t know who made each entry. Then, everyone scooped and ate to their heart’s content. Right as our bellies were about to burst, we wrote the number of our favorite entry on a slip of paper. The number with the most votes was the winner.

Somehow, this amalgamation of an event I attended last week not only worked, but stands out as one of the best parties I’ve attended as an adult (because honestly, nothing competes with some Chuck E. Cheese action as a kid).

Kudos to Christine (with 502 Social — contact her for all your event needs!) for introducing a food competition to my sphere of gatherings. A good ol’ fashioned cooking contest makes a party more fun. Guest participation? Check. Prizes? Check. Free, homemade goodies? Double check, underline, bold, italicize.

Here are some tips for introducing a culinary competition to your party this summer:

  • Choose a food that can have a bunch of variations. Though they share the same DNA, banana puddings are not created equal (but they are all created DELICIOUS). There was a chocolate entry, one with rainbow sprinkles, one with meringue, and some with those Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies instead of the Nilla Wafers. My world expanded, and I shall never be the same.
  • Pick a dish with wide appeal. Now, everyone didn’t like banana pudding. But enough people at the party were keen on this dish to make it a real competition. You don’t have to please everybody, but you probably won’t make friends with a sardine-sandwich contest.
  • Don’t get too fancy. Whatever you decide to focus your contest one, make sure it’s something an amateur cook or baker can tackle in his or her kitchen. If I have to buy a pizza stone, you’ve gone too far.
  • Keep your surroundings in mind. For the banana pudding bake-off (or make-off, since most entries weren’t baked), we needed plenty of refrigerator space to keep the goodies cold and only brought them to a table in the backyard for judging. As the summer wears on, keep cold dishes for inside parties.
To the victor goes the spoils.
To the victor goes the spoils.
  • Have some prizes. You don’t need a garland of roses. Pick something inexpensive and related to the competition. For example, Christine had some nifty fake bananas spray-painted gold and a certificate for the winner.
  • Consider beverages. The internet has given me many gifts, some of which include a boatload of sangria recipes. Find a drink that can be made by the pitcher or punch bowl, with our without alcohol. How about lemonade, or margaritas?
  • Keep it friendly. Yes, this is a competition. But the most important part of adding food as a focal point at a party is the fellowship that comes when a bunch of people are standing around eating, talking and having a good time. At the banana pudding contest, I learned the merits of using real pudding versus instant, what happens when a child decides to “help” cook and creates her own tasty variation, and just how often you can include liquor in banana pudding (answer: a lot).

What food (or beverage) competition would you like to participate in this summer?

Carve out time for these free Louisville events this weekend

Once upon a time, I was a surly teenager. Not a problem child, mind you, just an adolescent who thought there was nothing to do in this town and couldn’t wait to get out.

Me and the Hubs at 16. We were ready to blow this popsicle stand.
Me and the Hubs at 16. We were ready to blow this popsicle stand.

Jump ahead 10 years. Is it me, or is Louisville a lot more bustling than it used to be? There always seems to be some kind of fair or concert or free something-or-the-other that pile up and fill my Google calendar. Or maybe it’s me who has changed, and I can see how fun this city has been all along. /introspection

Anyhoozers, there are a couple of free events that will take place this weekend in our fair city. So if you can’t find something to do, don’t look at me.

Old Louisville SpringFest

  • What: Vendors, food trucks, artists and 10+ hours of local music; named as one of the Top Roadtrip Destinations for Spring 2012 by Travel+Leisure Magazine
  • When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 16, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 17
  • Where: Old Louisville
  • More information: oldlouisvillespringfest.org

 

Buy Local Fair

  • What: More than 150 booths showcasing goods and services from a variety of local businesses, musicians, artists and craftspeople, community organizations, and farmers; includes cooking competition between Milkwood’s Chef Kevin Ashworth and RYE on Market’s Chef De Cuisine Joe Bane
  • When: Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 18
  • Where: Louisville Water Tower
  • More information: keeplouisvilleweird.com/buylocalfair

Need a last-minute Mother’s Day gift? Go for edible gifts (with a side of flowers)

The ol' dyed pasta necklace isn't going to cut it when you become an adult. (Photo courtesy Selena N. B. H. via Flickr Creative Commons)
The ol’ dyed pasta necklace isn’t going to cut it when you become an adult. (Photo courtesy Selena N. B. H. via Flickr Creative Commons)

The horses have barely finished kicking up dirt at Churchill Downs, yet it’s time to turn around and celebrate another big occasion.

I’ve always thought that the Kentucky Derby and Mother’s Day are just a little too close together to give moms in the state proper justice. You want me to pick a horse, down a couple of mint juleps, AND plan a bomb brunch and buy a fabulous gift for my beyond-fabulous mother all in one breath?

Month of May, have mercy on me.

Since I’m a little too old to hand out pasta necklaces to the woman who co-signed on my creation, I’m searching for the perfect gift. Yes, it’s last minute. But I pray to the gods of Better Late Than Never.

Here are some great items I’ve come across in my search for the perfect Mother’s Day gift, from the traditional to practical and back again.

  • Grocery delivery.
My first bunch of produce from Green BEAN Delivery.
My first bunch of produce from Green BEAN Delivery.

Taking care of a week’s worth of groceries isn’t the most sentimental thing you can do for your mother/mother figure. But for the practical person in your life, a gift like a Green BEAN Delivery gift certificate would give a busy lady one less thing to think about. I’ve touted this organic grocery delivery service before, and the fine Green BEAN folks have a special offer if you want to treat your mom. Visit Green BEAN’s website and use the code 15AEml for $15 off your first order (for new members/reactivations only; expires a week from today).

  • Chocolate.
(Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr Creative Commons)

I’m not talking about the stuff you get at the gas station on your way to visit your mother. Stop by Cellar Door Chocolates in Butchertown Market (1201 Story Ave.) or Oxmoor Mall (near Starbucks) for some decadent, small-batch chocolate.

  • Meat.
A box of meat from Mattingly.
A box of meat from Mattingly.

Sure, you can take your mom to brunch. Just be prepared for loud crowds, long waits, and at least one unsatisfied grandma. How about getting some quality meat from Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats and cook your mom a nice dinner?

  • Flowers.
(Photo courtesy julie via Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy julie via Flickr Creative Commons)

I once got my mother flowers for the big day. Her mouth said, “Thank you.” Her eyes said, “Is this it? They’re going to die in a week.” I’ve learned that flowers are a present that serves better as a supplement to something else rather than the big sha-bang. Stop by Nanz and Kraft Florists (they make arrangements beyond the KFC corsage) to see if they can help you find something pretty to go with the “real present.”

What are you doing for your mom this Mother’s Day?

Event: Time to learn on the fly at the How-To Festival, 5.10.14

 

Want to learn how to make your own chicken and dumplings?
Want to learn how to make your own chicken and dumplings?

Have you ever wanted to learn something new and fun, like how to build a vertical garden or cook chicken and dumplings?

The Louisville Free Public Library has a day of events to tickle your adventurous fancy.

The library will present the How-To Festival at the main library branch this Saturday, May 10, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The family-friendly event was a big hit last year. According to the library, “nearly 3,000 people learned more than 50 things in 5 hours for free.” Yep, friends — all this learning is free.

Many of the food-centric sessions that caught my fancy.

  • How to eat intuitively and give up diets for good
  • How to make vegan biscuits and gravy
  • How to grind your own cornmeal
  • How to grow herbs and garlic
  • How to pair wine with food
  • How to decorate cupcakes
  • How to make baklava
  • How to choose, sample and serve terrific cheeses

Click here for a complete schedule of classes and map of the library.

How-To Festival

Louisville Free Public Library Main Branch

Saturday, May 10

10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

301 York Street, Louisville, Ky.

Bits and Pieces: Grind food truck, Gelato Gilberto and other Louisville food news from the web, 2.17.14

Blogger’s note: Y’ALL. I have been buried in the delightful terror that is grad school. I’ll have to tell you about it one day. I’m blogging while I’m up for air.

News

  • Louisville loves Liz and Jesse Huot. How do I know? I linked to a story about the pair behind Grind food truck opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and it’s the most read post EVER on the Ashlee Eats Facebook page. The couple plans to open a restaurant in the building that used to house Oasis Sushi on Preston Highway. Congratulations, you crazy kids. (Courier-Journal)
Picture courtesy of Kristin Gilbert.
Picture courtesy of Kristin Gilbert.
  • Gelato Gilberto, a gelato shop in Norton Commons, will head to Portland (Louisville, not Oregon) for wholesale production of its sweet, sweet deliciousness. (Business First of Louisville)
The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.
The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.
  • Boombozz Pizza will open a new location in the planned Middletown Commons, a shopping outlet that is being built on Shelbyville Road near the Gene Snyder Freeway. The restaurant plans to open in late 2014. (Business First of Louisville)

 

Events

  • We’re in the middle of The Comfy Cow’s fourth annual Chocopalooza. The ice cream shop is offering 10 flavors of chocolate ice cream at its three locations, and 10 percent of the proceeds will benefit the Make a Wish Foundation. I’ve got my eye on the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie. (Comfy Cow website)
  • Tomorrow is National Drink Wine Day, which begs the question, “What day isn’t National Drink Wine Day?” But anyway, Eddie Merlot’s is celebrating with half priced pours of the restaurant’s vintages from 4 to 11 p.m. Feb. 18 in the lounge and bar area. The restaurant is at 455 South Fourth Street in downtown Louisville. (Eddie Merlot’s news release)

 

Etc.

  • Here’s a fun little tidbit about Kentucky’s most famous native son, Abraham Lincoln (sorry, George Clooney): he knew his way around a kitchen. A new book called Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times, “looks at our 16th president’s life through the extraordinary stories of what he ate, cooked and served, along with recipes modified for the modern kitchen.” (NPR)

Need some last-minute Super Bowl snack ideas?

Full disclosure: I only follow sports enough to carry on small talk after a big event like the Super Bowl. I am, however, a fan of any occasion that calls for appetizers.

If you plan on going to or hosting a Super Bowl party, check out one of my boards on Pinterest called Dips, Bites and Other Delights. I’ve pinned some apps that have really caught my eye, like this Kentucky Hot Brown Bake from the blog, Eat at Home.

And it’s not too late to round up some ingredients for this beer and cheddar dip from the blog, The Kitchn.

For more recipes, hop on over to my Pinterest page, and share the recipes you’re making for the big game.

Review: Premium meat from Mattingly worth the investment

A box of meat from Mattingly. Christmas came early?
A box of meat from Mattingly. Christmas came early?

Let’s get the tough part out of the way. This blog post is going to feature expensive meats firmly settled in Treat Yo’ Self territory.

Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats invited me to review a selection of their products – hamburger patties, steaks and pork chops, to be exact. This local operation supplies high-quality meat to restaurants in the region and individual customers on a cut-to-order basis. It was hard to say no to a review request from a company with such deep roots in the city.

Yet, I was torn. The selection of meat from Mattingly is of premium quality with prices that reflect that commitment. Of the meat I sampled, the New York Strip is $13.75 a pound, pork chops are $5.50 per pound, and the hamburger patties are $3.50 per pound.

We’re all regular folks, here. You know and I know that the prices made us gulp. But if you’re going to go big, go with Mattingly.

Bringing home Mattingly Meat was like sneaking into the kitchen of my favorite steakhouse, clunking the chef over the head, and stealing slabs of beef from the fridge. My galley kitchen was instantly upgraded when I cooked a New York strip.

New York Strip with peas and mashed potatoes.
New York Strip with peas and mashed potatoes.

The steak cut like velvet, juicing sliding down the glowing pink grains. I only seasoned it with salt and pepper, and that was all that this strip needed.

Pig, meet cow.
Pig, meet cow.

The pork chop was equally succulent, with little fat and lots of tender meat.

A burger from Mattingly meat.
A burger from Mattingly meat.

The hamburgers were juicy and retained their size as the fat cooked off.

So how can you make this price point work?

Stretch out your meat:

  • The hamburger patties I received were SUPER HUGE. I took two of the patties and cooked them with a can of red beans and taco seasoning for burritos.
Beef and red beans.
Beef and red beans.
  • I took the three remaining patties and reshaped them into four smaller burgers.
  • The New York strip was large enough to share between two people, along with a couple of side dishes.
  • Future possibility for the remaining steak: stir fry.

Deciding to spend the money on Mattingly’s selection is hard. Fortunately, Mattingly’s offers a variety of packages and cuts of meat, and they even have a bargain outlet. Treat yo’ self to a belly full of premium protein.

For information on ordering, visit the Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats website

Last-minute event alert: Humana Recipe Makeover Challenge, 5.30.13

Full blogger disclosure: I work at the company featured in this blog post. A girl’s gotta eat, amirite?

shrimp & grits
shrimp & grits (Photo credit: joannova, a/k/a foodalogue)

Want to learn how to make a family recipe more healthful?

The Humana Recipe Makeover Challenge will pair three local cooks with some top Louisville chefs to spruce up recipes and make them all shiny and healthy. Here’s a blurb about the event, which takes place at 11 a.m. today at the Humana Guidance Center at 1918 Hikes Lane:

During the challenge, Chef Allen Hubbard from Martini Italian Bistro will be remaking lasagna. The Seelbach Hilton Hotel’s Chef Patrick Roney will reimagine mac-n-cheese. Shrimp-n-grits will receive a healthy makeover from Chef Jeff Jarfi of Jarfi’s Catering. All the remade recipes will be taste-tested by the Guidance Center audience, and everything will be recorded for a future segment of Secrets of Bluegrass Chefs.

If you can’t make it to the event, the Humana Guidance Center is a place worthy of a visit. “It opened seven months ago as a community gathering place where older adults, families and individuals can also receive personal, face-to-face service on their health plans,” according to Humana. Plus, the center is open to everyone, whether or not you’re a Humana member.