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Monday, April 27, 2009

Ripleys Believe It or Not: Not for decoration only?

Steve and Sam live in the house just up the bluff from my parents' house and they come out on weekends to relax and cook. One Saturday night, they invited my mom and me over. Mom chose to stay home, but I counted the minutes until seven and dashed over there, so excited. I was as eager to get to know them better as I was hungry for an evening out with fellow "foodies" and for a taste of how they cooked. We had bantered lots about food before and they had shared their favorite haunts for local foods. I could hardly wait to see what they were serving up.

Their home is unique...very open, with a modern feel but at the same time, very cozy and personal. They collect wonderful posters and cameras and have they those displayed throughout the first floor along with quite an assortment of beautiful orchids. (Yes, I kept my black thumb under wraps!) The real eye treat for me was the kitchen and its open shelving.On long shelves that covered the whole back wall, they had glistening displays of green Jadite and Fiestaware dishes that would make Martha Stewart drool. There were jars of spices and beans, pastas and grains, bottles of waters, oils and vinegars and canned tomatoes with the most beautiful label I have ever seen. Everything looked so pretty but there was no doubt that all this was working inventory, not just decor.

The evening started off fresh and fabulous and stayed that way through dessert. They served simple, well-seasoned, beautiful food. For hors d'oeuvres there were roasted nuts and fresh sliced mushrooms. Dinner was mouthwatering, pan sauteed salmon and a gingered mashed sweet potato dish. The salad course came next and was a knockout...simple greens splashed with just fruity olive oil and a lemony Turkish vinegar. Fabulous! Dessert of simple, dark chocolate squares and star anise tea was my idea of a feast in itself.

This entry is titled Ripleys Believe it or Not and while the food was wonderful, the following story is the raison d'etre. It was hilarious the way Steve told it and I have changed his name to protect the employed! Steve is an interior designer and has done many a kitchen. Kitchens are usually the first rooms (and the most expensive!) to get a makeover. Are they a playhouse for home cooks or just for decoration only? Well, listen to this...

One night, around midnight, Steve gets a call from a client who is hysterical. He needs a new oven and he needs it by morning. Now, in other words. Never mind that it is midnight and the weekend to boot. Confused, Steve replied that how could that be..the oven is barely a year old and given its top-of-the-line status, surely it would be better to call out a serviceman, call the company, do something other than rip it out and totally replace it? The client, a new one is what he needs, period, and it needs to be ready by the time his houseguests get up. Steve senses a twist to the story and asks about the houseguests. Why yes, the client responds, getting a bit agitated because the clock is ticking away towards dawn. Yes, he went on, one of them turned the *** oven on and the firemen just left. They said whatever was in that plastic bag in the middle of the oven burnt up and melted everywhere. Long story funny, the never-cooking, never-looking client had never even opened the door of the oven (in a year) to pull out the plastic-wrapped instruction packet, much less to turn the oven on and use it. Maybe you had to be there but I laughed 'til my sides hurt. "For decorative use only" should be the tag on that work order and better order up the other replacements for that kitchen, too...just in case!

Here is a sweet potato dish similar to what they served, mashed and finished in the oven. No instruction books allowed!

Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes
2 1/2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, baked until soft to yield 3 cups mashed
1/3 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablesoon grated fresh orange rind (optional)
1 tablespoon maple syrup or dark agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup raw, unsweetened grated coconut
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped, optional

In a large bowl mash the sweet potatoes with the coconut milk. You can use a blender or food processor to get them really smooth. Stir in the ginger, maple syrup or agave nectar and sea salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, stir again and taste - adjust the seasoning if you need to, making sure that the ginger flavor is prominent.

Spoon the sweet potato mixture into an oiled baking dish and sprinkle with coconut, drizzle with olive oil and bake uncovered until warm and the coconut is golden, roughly 30 - 40 minutes in a 350 oven. Remove and sprinkle with the toasted macadamia nuts. Serves 6.

You can play around with this recipe, making it even more tropical in flavor by adding in orange juice or extra grated rind and pineapple pieces. You can also omit the grated coconut.

To make the Star Anise Tea...just place 3 star anise in boiling water and let steep for a few minutes, then remove and sip. Soooo relaxing! There is a picture of the star anise in the photo with the mashed sweet potatoes.

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