Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

With Thanksgiving just around the corner I have been looking for new and different ways to prepare traditional holiday foods. One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes is the sweet potato casserole. So you can imagine my delight when, while browsing "The Fresh Loaf" one of my favorite forums, I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato Rolls. A number of the other members commented on how nice they would be as sweet cinnamon rolls so I decided to give it a try. Judging by the rate at which they disappeared, I would say these were a complete success!


Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls
makes 24 rolls (roll recipe by Floyd M of "The Fresh Loaf")

1 sweet potato, baked
1 cup milk
1/2 cup white or brown sugar
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Bake the sweet potato for approximately 45 minutes at 375. Remove from the allow to cool and peel. Combine the sweet potato, sugar, and milk and stir to make a paste. Mix in 2 cups of the flour, the salt, the yeast, and the spices until thoroughly combined. Add more flour a quarter cup at a time. Mix in after each addition until you have a dough that is tacky but which you can handle with wet hands. When you hit the proper consistency, remove from the bowl and knead by hand for 5 to 10 minutes. Set the dough aside to rise in a covered bowl for 45 minutes to an hour.

Since Floyd's recipe was for dinner rolls and not the sweet Cinnamon version I had to put together my own filling and I decided to stick to the same flavors you expect to find in a sweet potato pie or casserole. My mother makes a sweet potato casserole with a coconut pecan crust which is to die for. I didn't have any coconut to hand but I found ground pecans were a perfect fit for this filling.

Cinnamon Roll Filling

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon  
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 c brown sugar  
1/3 cup pecans

Divide dough in half and gently roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Spread  1/2 of the filling evenly across the dough and tightly roll it to form a long log. Adding some butter before laying down the filling will add richness. Cut the log into a dozen pieces and place in a buttered baking dish. Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling and allow to rise for approximately another hour or until they have roughly doubled in size. Bake at 375 for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until they are beginning to turn brown.

While the buns are cooling make the caramel sauce for the topping.

Easy Caramel Sauce

1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 tbsp vanilla
4 tbsp butter

Combine ingredients in a saucepan over a medium heat stirring constantly. Once the sugar has completely dissolved remove the sauce from the heat and spoon over the rolls. Top with pecans  and a sprinkle of ground ginger.

These were so delightful I think they will find a permanent place in my holiday repertoire. In fact they may make a repeat performance as Thanksgiving day breakfast, just perfect with a cup of hot coffee while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adventures With Food: On The Road...Boston & Salem

We weren't able to finish the whole Freedom Trail on our first day so we started day two in the Charlestown area. This is one of the most delightful neighborhoods I have ever been in but after visiting Bunker Hill and the U.S.S. Constitution we were ready for a hearty lunch. We took the ferry back across the harbor and found ourselves on the doorstep of Legal Seafood, begun in 1950 when George Berkowitz opened a fish market in the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1968, the family opened its first seafood restaurant, right next to the fish market and has continued to expand. they now have restaurants in many major cities and ship fresh seafood nationwide. Whatever you're looking for you'll find it on the Legal Sea Foods menu. The atmosphere is hip and very posh but they are just as comfortable serving a family of four as they are accommodating a working business lunch.

Here we dove into a classic, a true east coast icon, the Lobster Roll. The debate of hot or cold, butter or mayo will remain ongoing for us as they only had the cold, mayo version on the menu. No matter, it was so succulent and delightful I'd be happy to go try it again "in the name of research" of course!

Not a meal but almost as good, if you get a chance, take the time to tour the Samuel Adams brewery. They let you taste a number of different brews and are a lot of fun!

After a busy day we traveled back to the North end where Italian food and culture abounds. We followed our noses to a charming out of the way spot called Antico Forno. My husband tried the Saltimbocca Di Pollo, a seared chicken breast topped with Parma prosciutto and fontina cheese in a Madeira mushroom wine sauce with sautéed garlic and spinach which was simply divine.

I had my first experience with Gnocchi. These homemade potato dumplings are baked in a brick oven and come smothered in plum tomato sauce topped with mozzarella, cheese and basil.
These Gnocchi were a little bit of heaven!

After dinner we wound our way around to a North End icon, Mike's pastry. Even on a Thursday night there was a line out the door. We suggest a Lobster Tail and a Pistachio Cannoli.

If you crave cannoli and can't get there in person or if once you've had it you can't get enough, Mike's will even ship cannoli kits anywhere in the US.

On Friday we were back out of the city and after a short train ride we arrived in the sleepy town of Salem, birthplace of Parker Brothers Games, a once bustling shipping community and of course the infamous local of the 1692 witch trials. I say sleepy but because of the last, less than 48 hours from Halloween, Salem was anything but sleepy. We took a walking tour with local Historian Jim McAllister a well known author and speaker. After a brisk walk through town and a visit to the maritime museum we were ready for some lunch which we had intended to have at a spot we found on the Food Network's "Dinners, Drive ins and Dives." Unfortunately they weren't open yet so we wandered on and stumbled across Tavern in the Square, which was quite a find indeed. This restaurant not only offered an extensive menu with a great selection of creative foods but they also offered some fantastic local brews. We partook of a seasonal special served with a rime of cinnamon and sugar called Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout.

This brew with pumpkin and coffee was dark, rich and full of character. Laced with hints of spice it was a sure winner with us. For lunch a Fig, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola pizza with balsamic reduction was a great pairing and the spicy sweet potato fries were a delightful escape from the norm.

We liked Tavern in the Square so much in fact that we went back later for dinner. We found we were still a bit full after lunch so settled for a starter of lettuce wraps and truly decadent desert, fried snickers with ice cream!

Overall our trip was wonderful and the delightful food along the way just added to the experience. So, the next time you go east I hope you will find culinary bliss at one of these delightful restaurants and share your best eats in return!

Cannoli photo from Mike's Pastry Website

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures with Food: On the Road... Plymouth & Boston

I have been remiss in posting the rest of October's blog entries due to being in a persistent food coma. This comes from a delightful much needed holiday my husband and I took the last week of October. We traveled to the wonderful city of Boston where culture, history and iconic food abound. So settle in for a trip through some of the best eats in the greater Boston area.

We started out journey in Plymouth Massachusetts with a trip to the Mayflower II, Plymouth Rock, Burying point, and an out of the way spot kept up by the local Antiquarian Society known as Sacrifice Rock. After working up quite an appetite we headed down to the shore for a bite to eat at the Blue Eyed Crab. This eclectic little restaurant is just off the waterfront and is a family owned establishment that puts a great deal of pride and creativity into their menu. They have an extensive list of drinks including a seasonal cocktail with cranberries, mint, Makers Mark and white cranberry juice.

We ordered a starter of Alligator Bites which was so good it was gone before I got a picture. The mains were similarly fantastic and I only just remembered to get a pic of the fantastic seafood stew.

The *Blue Eyed Crab Seafood Stew is made with chorizo, sweet potatoes and lots of seafood, including swordfish, fresh mussels, clams, scallops and shrimp, in a spicy tomato crab cilantro broth. It was delicate and robust at the same time and the scallops were the most tender I had ever had. Simply divine. My husband ordered the special, a seared Swordfish steak with mango salsa on a bed of tropical rice. Unfortunately I just wasn't quick enough to catch a shot of that tasty dish, it was so good I think he might have licked the plate clean?

After we settled in to out hotel in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston we stumbled across a great local nightspot called the Beacon Street Tavern. With inviting decor and a good drink selection it was the perfect place for a nightcap.

On our first full day in Boston we started our journey down the Freedom Trail. Not for the feint of heart this trail of 16 historic and momentous sites starts at the Massachusetts State House, just off the Boston Common. It is also the site of a well kept secret. We got there early for our scheduled tour and we directed by a helpful security guard to the fourth floor where secreted away down a long hallway of offices you will find a tiny coffee shop. Not much to look at, this was the perfect place for breakfast. The menu is short but the cook was a true gem. We asked what type of breakfast sandwiches they had and were told "Anything you want we can make!" So one sausage egg and cheese on dark rye later I am convinced they don't advertise because the legislators want to keep the place to themselves!

We stopped for lunch at the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S.,the Union Oyster House.

It was established in 1826 and many famous people have wandered it's floors including French King Louis Phillippe and President John F. Kennedy, who's favorite booth bears his name to this day.

So at an Oyster house one must have oysters. It was our first experience with them raw on the half shell and our waitress made it a great one. After learning the technique we had a great time slurping these beautiful bivalves.

We also enjoyed a great seafood sampler with Atlantic cod, fried scallops, and fried whole calamari. These scallops were even better than those from the night before which is hard to believe.

We also shared some of their lovely clam chowder (chowd-a) which was rich and creamy without loosing the light flavor of the clams.

Our lunch was so filling in fact that we were dismayed to find ourselves still full at dinner time. Instead we met up for drinks with friends and can highly recommend the Bell in Hand Tavern which was established 1795 by Boston's last known Town Crier Jimmy Wilson. Also on Union street, it has a good on draft selection and perfectly captures the ambiance of a traditional English pub.