Sleep = Sweet Potatoes + Soy Sauce

Sweet Potato Brand

As a certified wine specialist, passing the Advanced Level Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exam, I’m always up for trying new blends and interesting pairings, broadening my experiences and culinary adventures. The first rule in pairing wine with food is simple: texture. Never mind the flavors, types of meat, season, or occasion; you must first think about the weights and feel of your food and beverage. For this reason, full-bodied Chardonnays classically pair with lobster and creamy sauces, medium-bodied Pinot Gris pairs with steamed salmon fillets, and light-bodied Grüner Veltliner with grilled butterflied trout.

After receiving sweet potatoes in my CSA lot for the week, I decided that these intensely flavored and hefty tuberous roots need some strong partners to get the complexity I want for my dish. Apples and winter spices are obvious additions, but I want to up the ante. I researched sweet potatoes to find out more about their health benefits no narrow down my ideas. These starches are very good sources for Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, etc.; moreover, sweet potatoes are proud producers of properties that our bodies register as sleeping aids. Eating this complex carbohydrate signals our body to produce more serotonin, which gives us that sleepy feeling. Sweet potatoes also have tryptophan, which when digested, can help our bodies alleviate insomnia, anxiety, and depression. This essential amino acid is found in other protein-based foods. I thought that out of all the possible protein-based choices, soy sauce would be a challenge. So sweet potatoes, meet soy sauce! One tablespoon of soy sauce already has nearly 10% for your daily value need for tryptophan. This salty-sweet combo is just what I want to see on my plate for dinner!

Soy Beans

Tabasco and Sweet Potato

Dreamy Sweet Potatoes

modified from “Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes.” The I love Whole Foods Market Cookbook. October 2011.

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco, or other hot sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (do not use a silpat or other non-stick baking mat as the temperature is too high, although I do recommend these for kneading dough or baking at temperatures under 400°F).
  2. Wash potatoes, leaving on the skins.
  3. Using a fork, poke holes in the potatoes and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until you can easily insert a knife into a potato, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cut in half lengthwise. Let rest until cool enough to handle, at least 10 minutes.
  4. Increase oven temperature to 450°F.
  5. Scoop out the inner flesh of the potato once cool, leaving about a 1/4-inch rim along the potato skin. Add the butter, soy sauce, honey, cream, and hot sauce. Stir to combine. Spoon the sweet potato mixture back into the skins and return to the baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tops brown slightly. Serve warm.

These sweet potatoes are slightly spicy, so adjust to your tastes. Dress your potato halves with dried fish or sesame seeds for an added tryptophan kick.

Since I started this blog writing about wine, I feel that I should add a wine pairing. My taste buds sense a creamy and richly flavored forkful of soft fluff when I eat these sweet potatoes. The wine to wash it down should be equally luscious and strong. I recommend a Viognier from Australia or USA as the notes of ginger and tropical fruits will balance out the heat and match the sweetness from the dish, or young Spanish red (from Rioja or Priorat). Bon ap, to sleep!

Photos courtesy of Flickr member: Veganbaking.net; “Black soybeans”

Strong Bones = Poppy Seeds + Cream

photolap

I find the best cakes to be just plain simple and bare-bones. No bells and whistles, nor frills nor froufrou. I want to celebrate the uniqueness of those few flavor agents that come with their own kicks. This fluffy loaf covers itself with the perfect slightly crunchy crust, yet stays true to keeping its poppy seed notes above all other competing flavors. The poppy seeds do not add much texture to the cake, so that the soft and crumbly true-cake qualities still greet you at every bite.

If you slice the cake into 12 pieces, then each piece contains 1 teaspoon of poppy seeds. Each cake serving contains enough calcium from the poppy seeds—about 5 percent of your daily recommended value—phosphorus, and copper to give you the right minerals to help with bone strength.  Along with another calcium-packed ingredient, this cake will be great as a sweet treat to strengthen your bones. So poppy seeds, meet whipping cream. This type of cream is a significant source of calcium. 1 tablespoon of whipping cream has about 1 percent of your daily recommended value. Bake this cake soon if you’ve got a bone to pick with the nutrition content of your desserts, and want to make them bone-friendly!

Poppy Seed Head

Poppy Seeds

Poppy Seed Pound Cake

modified from “Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Plum Pluot Compote.” Gourmet Magazine. September 2009.

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened*
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream, at room temperature

*Optional: replace 1/2 stick butter with 3/4 cup of whole flax meal for extra fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and an added nuttier taste to your cake.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of stand mixer or another large bowl, add butter and sugar. Beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with whipping cream, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just incorporated.
  4. Spoon batter into loaf pan, smoothing top.
  5. Bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out with crumbs adhering, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 30 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert cake onto a rack. Cool completely, right side up.

Serve warm temperature, or warm with fresh butter, vanilla ice cream, or Plum Compote. Bon ap, to strong bones!

Photos courtesy of Flickr members: Auntie P; “Poppy Seed Head.” Caribooooou; “Poppy seeds.”

Cholesterol-Lowering = Cinnamon + Pumpkin

Pumpkin Brand

Cinnamon is an aphrodisiac for men. This fact is by far the most interesting piece of information that I’ve learned about cinnamon through my research. You might have known, and that’s fine, but it’s new to me, and I’m going to take advantage of my new found knowledge! So while making this recipe, scents of cinnamon slowly swarmed around my kitchen and beyond. Success. I felt like a witch stirring her cauldron, waiting for her prey to come forth. Within a few minutes, my man was up off the couch and coming over to see what potion I was brewing. Success: part deux. Captured.

Not only should our our homes (or lip balms or eau de pumpkin) seduce us with the smell of cinnamon, but our cooking should entice our senses with the taste of cinnamon. We should all crave for this spice, as there are so many health benefits that cinnamon has to offer: preventing diseases, muscle spasms, digestive problems, etc. What I want you to know is that if you want to reduce your total cholesterol levels, cinnamon should be a staple spice in your diet. Put a container of cinnamon where you eat most frequently—on your dining table, by your work desk, in your breakfast nook, etc. Another seasonal joy that can help you lower your cholesterol levels is pumpkin. So cinnamon, meet pumpkin. Sprinkling the spice into a pot holding the pulp of the gourd makes for a powerful mash to spook away your bad cholesterol. Pumpkin is famed for its high fiber content, especially since this vegetable is a starchy one.

So round up your small pumpkins! Rather than staggering them on the front porch, sit them on the kitchen counter until you’re ready to use them in your recipes!

Cinnamon Pumpkin Mash

modified from: Eldridge, Lahla. “Langebaan Cinnamon Pumpkin.” The South African Illustrated CookbookCape Town: Struick Publisher, 2002.

  • 1 1 1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cubed into small chunks
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cream or whole milk (optional)

Peeling PumpkinChopping Pumpkin

  1. Place pumpkin in a large saucepan. Pour water into the saucepan, stopping once you start to see the top of the water raise enough that you can tell what the waterlevel is (so just enough so as to not cover all the pumpkin). Place on the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the honey and cinnamon. Stir well. Bring to a boil until the pumpkin is soft, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Add butter and salt. Mash with a masher or fork. Serve hot or at room temperature in small bowl with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of the cream or milk drizzled on top, if desired.

Serve with roasted or grilled meats, fried chicken, turkey meatballs, rice pilaf, warm apples, or anything else seasonal.

I recommend using a tomato peeler to peel off the pumpkin rind. This serrated peeler will make preparation fast, easy, and simple. Remember to save your seeds! Just wash off, mix with salt and spices, bake on a jellyroll pan at 400°F for about 10 minutes, more or less, and eat them all up! Bon ap, to lower cholesterol!

Final Pumpkin

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Anti-Inflammatory = Turkey + Celery

Turkey Brand

A great chef wastes little. I’ve been watching episodes of “The Mind of a Chef” featuring Anthony Bourdain and Momofuku’s David Chang, and I’ve learned so much about how talented, curious, and resourceful great chefs must be. In fact, Chang claimed that some of the best chefs are the ones who cook with scraps and make them taste great. Even some of their most popular dishes arrived on menus in this way. There was even an episode of Scrap Iron Chef! I certainly recommend watching the series, especially the episode titled Rotten, as Chang goes over scraps more in depth.

I often have leftover sauces and random vegetables, so making meatballs with ground meat is an easy way to make a dish to enjoy the rest of delicious items still in the fridge. Ground turkey is a very healthy main ingredient for meatballs for a variety of reasons:

  • Low saturated fat
  • High in protein
  • High in B-vitamin
  • High in zinc
  • High in iron

Something that you won’t see on a nutrition label, though, is the anti-inflammation benefit. Try to incorporate more organic ground turkey in your diet as the protein content is higher, which increases the meat’s anti-inflammatory properties. Turkey also loves to hog the spotlight on your plate, welcoming any other dishes to its side. Just think of the Thanksgiving table, right? Sweet or savory, light or heavy, turkey just seems to work well with whatever is there. So turkey, meet celery. Celery is always sitting lonely in the drawer of my fridge, just waiting for a purpose. The ribs and leaves of celery attribute to the vegetable’s anti-inflammatory benefits, so it’s best to use the whole stalk, rather than just the ribs. We can thank luteolin in celery for preventing our brain from processing inflammation responses. Time for celery to get lucky, and raise our bar for delicious and healthy meatballs!

Adjust this recipe as to your leftovers options, and show Chang your skills and cleverness!

Toasty Turkey Meatballs

  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (or other nuts that you have)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound organic ground turkey
  • 1 rib celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or any other fresh herb available)
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (or other type of mustard)
  • 1 green onion, copped (or small shallot)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease (or other oil)
  1. In a small frying pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat, stirring constantly, until slightly browned. Set aside.
  2. Crack egg into a medium bowl and whisk. Add turkey, toasted nuts, and the rest of the ingredients, except for the bacon grease. Mix well and form into balls the size of a golf ball, about 20 in total.
  3. Add bacon grease to a medium frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add all of the meatballs. Stir occasionally, turning the meatballs about every minute. Fry for about 8-10 minutes total. Serve immediately.

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This quick recipe is great for evenings when you do not have much time to cook, but I suggest giving a lot to attention and TLC to the nuts and meatballs as they cook so that they do not burn and they cook evenly. I would have to add to Chang’s thoughts that in addition to making scraps taste delicious, the best chefs are the patient and attentive ones!

Flavor suggestions for sauces: Lingonberry or cranberry jam, orange with Cointreau, or Bearnaise.

Photo courtesy of Flickr member Ginger Me; “Turkey”