The story of Sweet Potatoes

I have to like a cookbook that starts with the dessert recipes. It indicates an author who has her priorities straight. And that’s how “Well, Shut My Mouth!: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook” by Stephanie L. Tyson (John F. Blair, $19.95) begins.

I met Chef Tyson and her life and business partner, Vivian Joyner, several years ago at their popular restaurant in the arts district of Winston-Salem, N.C. It’s taken until now for them to get a book together because, well, they’ve been a little busy. The book’s introduction describes the winding road that Tyson and Joyner took which ended in opening the restaurant in 2003. It’s a little long for cookbook intros, but worth the read, because it gives a good sense of how difficult the process is – particularly for minority women.

The recipe for the sweet potato biscuits that I remember from my visit is in the book. As are recipes for such things as Cheerwine-Glazed Country Ham and Sweet Potato, Corn and Country Ham Risotto. Tyson also includes a plea for readers to fry their own chicken – right on. And the lead-off desserts? Lots of pies, in keeping with the casual, homey nature of the restaurant.

Most of the recipes seem accessible, with a few exceptions that might require some time. One is the intriguing Three Little Pigs: Pork loin wrapped in bacon and stuffed with chopped barbecue. Sounds like turducken for pig lovers.

Tyson will hold book signings in the Triangle area in September: McIntyre’s Fine Books at Fearrington in Pittsboro, N.C., Sept. 4, 2 p.m.; Barnes & Noble in Cary, N.C., Sept. 13, 7 p.m.; and Southwest Regional Library in Durham, N.C., Sept. 25, 3 p.m. She will do a signing and cooking demo at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Sept. 3, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Better candy through technology

Food scientists have discovered that sugar doesn’t melt under heat, it decomposes. Sort of makes that caramel candy sound less attractive, doesn’t it?

According to a report in Science Daily, this discovery is important because candy makers will be able to improve flavors by manipulating the sugars and not having to heat everything to a high temperature. There will be a predictable time-temperature relationship, like there is in milk pasteurization.

No, I didn’t get it either.

Science also doesn’t explain why, when I didn’t want to go out in the rain when I was a kid, my mother would say: “You’re not sugar. You won’t melt.” Guess she was wrong about that. About the sugar, that is, not me.


Food News Roundup

There are cold meals for hot days, information on coconut milk and a talk with Poole’s Diner chef Ashley Christensen on her “Iron Chef” appearance in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today. But the most interesting item for me was the note that A Southern Season, a Chapel Hill, N.C. palace of food delights for more than 35 years, has been sold to a group of local investors. Read more here.  I’ve been wandering its aisles since I was in college, and my roommate and I rode the bus ‘way out from campus to satisfy our rum-cordial chocolate fix.

There is one cold soup that I will not look upon initially with suspicion, and Kathleen Purvis agrees with me. Read her thoughts on gazpacho in The Charlotte Observer, here.

Where else but Asheville? Vegfest, celebrating vegan and vegetarian eating, will be held there on Sunday. Guess you won’t see anyone walking around with the mastodon-sized turkey legs from fairs, but there will be beer – it is Asheville. Read more here.

Speaking of vegetarians, there probably aren’t a lot of them in Louisiana. Tofu boudin – I don’t think so. The Baton Rouge Advocate has a recipe for a tuna burger as a way to liven up the summer burger repertoire here.

Try a Mr. MacGregor’s Spritzer in this article on creative, non-alcoholic mocktails in the Chicago Tribune. No sickly sweet Shirley Temples here.

If you need a kick to your juice – and, with this heat, I sure do – check out the beverage on Green Eats Blog. And if you don’t like that one, here’s another at JanNorris.

Pity the poor restaurant reviewer. No, really. Stop laughing, now. Do you really want to eat out four or five nights a week, and tell your friends what to order….oh, you already do that. Well, read Eatocracy anyway for confessions of restaurant reviewers and a fake name that takes some pop culture knowledge to spot.



No canning pun here, either

matt lardie divvys up the jars

The jars clustered on a table at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham probably didn’t look like much to the usual beer-drinking, Sunday-afternoon loafers. But to the canning obsessed at the first Triangle Food Bloggers Canning Swap, they were precious jewels. For such a small group, the variety was amazing – bloody mary base, blackberry syrup, watermelon rind pickles, pickled okra, brandied oranges.

The creativity on sparkling display shows that canning has thrown off Grandma’s ratty apron and gone wild. But the reasons that people enjoy canning are the same: Working with local ingredients, creating great flavors that you can’t find in stores and saving a little money.

Here’s how it worked. Participants brought up to five jars of their goodies, and could receive one pick for each jar they brought. Names were drawn from a jar to determine order.

Some brought their first canning efforts. As veterans of more than a decade of pickling and jamming, my canning buddy, Linda, and I felt like the gray-haired (literally) sages. We shared our experience and, in return, received enthusiasm and creative ideas. So the “swap” was for more than tasty jars.

Thanks to Matt Lardie of  Green Eats Blog for organizing the swap.

Here’s a secret that I shared on Sunday: You can make almost any liquid into a jelly. Teas, bottled juices, they all can work. As does an infusion, which was the base for this jelly, my contribution to the swap.

Lovely Lemon Lavender Jelly

Be sure to use chemical-free culinary lavender, not the kind used in potpourris or sachets. I got mine from Bluebird Hill Farm, which sells at the North Hills farmers market.

Zest from 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Place the lemon zest and lavender buds in a large bowl. Pour 2 1/4 cups boiling water over them, cover with a pan lid or aluminum foil and let steep for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the infused liquid.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the liquid with the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a bubbling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When it is boiling and the sugar is dissolved, stir in the liquid pectin and return the mixture to a bubbling boil. Boil vigorously for 1 minute, or until the mixture passes the jell test.

Ladle the jelly into sterilized half-pint jars and screw on sterilized lids. Process in a boiling-water bath canner for 5 minutes.

Makes about 4 half-pint jars.