Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can't we all just get along?

I know this blog is supposed to be on food. But anyone who knows me will understand that I have difficulty staying focused on one topic (hence why I had three thesis projects in grad school before one stuck, and why my writing is full of parenthetical asides). I cannot stop thinking about what has just happened in the US, and what this could mean for our country and the rest of the world. Yes, I know that I don't live there right now, but I still pay taxes, I don't want to trade in my American passport for an EU one, and I plan to move back (someday). And, as I note below, what happens in the US has real ramifications around the globe.

I'm not usually one to wear my political leanings on my sleeve. Although I almost always end up voting Democrat, I would describe myself as a moderate independent. I've always felt that I have the ability to see both sides of the story (maybe I should have been a diplomat). I suspect this has something to do with my upbringing in a very conservative location (Texas) where I went to church pretty much every Sunday, followed by my move to uber-liberal Boston where I became a scientist and spent most of my time with academics, who tend to be very left-leaning. People on both sides get so caught up in the back-and-forth political rhetoric that they can't see that the other side has some valid points. Or that even if you don't believe the points the other side is making, it's their right to believe what they do. That is the definition of American liberty: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to believe what you want to believe, and freedom to be your own person.

Living abroad has made me realize how much the rest of the world cares about the US. I think a lot of people in the US don't appreciate this. The rest of the world really does like our country, even though they don't like Dubya or the war in Iraq, and they look to the US for leadership on global issues such as climate change, combating terrorism, and fighting AIDS and other preventable/treatable diseases in developing countries. They might blame us for problems (e.g. the economic crisis), but that doesn't mean they don't still like us and look up to us deep down (you know, kind of like when you were little and your younger sibling swore he hated you, but you knew he really looked up to you and watched and learned from everything you did). Yes, what happens in our country affects the rest of the world in ways most people, including me, can't imagine. There are just too many people outside the US who think that Americans, generally speaking, are stupid and selfish. While I know this of course isn't true, it's unfortunately how many countries perceive America and the leaders we have elected, and precisely why they have trouble seeing the US as a global leader, even though that's exactly what we are. Despite the old adage that it doesn't matter what people think of you, it DOES matter what other countries think about the US. I'm not saying that Obama will fix the US's reputation abroad, but I think he will give it his best shot.

I watched McCain's concession speech, and it was moving in a way I didn't think it would be. What really got me fired up were the boos during his speech when he mentioned Obama; those people need to learn from the man they supported. I am sad that McCain couldn't manage to run his campaign as a real independent. It's a shame that he had to pander to the religious right and the diehard conservative members of the Republican party, and that he couldn't go with someone like Joe Lieberman for his VP. I have said a million times over that I would have seriously thought about voting for McCain if he'd picked someone as VP that I felt was competent to lead the country (I'm convinced that his health isn't great and that, especially with the stress of being President, he wouldn't make it 4 more years), and not someone who would merely pull in the far-right voters, which is the only explanation I can come up with for why they went with Palin.

Just like the Dems have had to live with Dubya for 8 years, now the tables are turned, and we can learn a lot from both Obama's victory and McCain's concession speeches. We all need to stop threatening to move to other countries or quit our jobs and live off welfare because we're unhappy with what happened (throwing tantrums and making irrational threats is more suited to 4-year-olds than adults). We (Republicans and Democrats alike) need to stop booing everytime the opponent's name is mentioned, and come to grips with the reality that the only way to make this country a true world leader again is to stop being so petty and work together. I can only hope that Obama WILL 'reach across the aisle' and bring some moderate Republicans in as advisors or Cabinet members, that he will be true to his word that he is the President of all of us, no matter how we voted yesterday, and that he can heal a country that has been so bitterly divided, for the sake of the nation itself and the rest of the world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not just for eating with mini marshmallows

I am referring, of course, to sweet potatoes. This tasty vegetable is good so many other ways, and now that I have a lot of them floating around the flat (they are in LOTS of baby food recipes), I'm always trying to figure out ways to use up the leftover ones.

I kept thinking about something I am pretty sure I once saw on a restaurant menu - sweet potato and goat's cheese quesadillas. I tried to find a recipe online, but didn't come up with much. That idea and this recipe inspired this dish, which, although it is most certainly NOT conventional Mexican or Tex-Mex cooking, is spicy and tasty and a great easy weeknight meal.

Is there any science in this? Well, not really. But I will explain why I chose to use grated sweet potatoes instead of boiled and mashed, as in this recipe. Basically, it was down to a texture thing. When you boil potatoes they get very mushy and sticky, and although I LOVE mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, having a paste spread over my quesadilla just didn't seem right. Grating the potato and letting it steam with the onion, jalapeno and spices not only gives a firmer texture but also allows the flavors to blend together in the pan.

Sweet potato quesadillas
1 T olive oil

1/2 a small yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 c)

1-2 jalapenos, chopped

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes (about 1 lb total weight), peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

chili powder to taste (1/8-1/4 tsp)

2 green onions, chopped

About 3 oz soft mild goat's cheese (chevre), sliced or crumbled

2 large or 4 small flour tortillas

sour cream (or
salsa (I used regular tomato salsa, but I think a salsa verde might have been really good)

Sautee the onion in the olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes (use a non-stick pan that has a lid, and if you can one that can also accommodate your tortillas when folded in half). Add the jalapeno and sautee an additional minute. Then add the sweet potatos and sautee yet another minute. Cover the pan with a lid and let the potatoes steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't stick.

Cover half of each tortilla with the sweet potato mixture. Sprinkle with green onions and goat's cheese. Fold the tortillas in half and place in a frying pan over medium heat (for ease in cleaning up, I suggest just using the pan you cooked the sweet potatoes in). You really don't need to add any oil or cooking spray if you use a non-stick pan, but you can if you want. Cook until golden brown on each side (about 2 minutes per side), cut into wedges and serve with sour cream (yogurt) and salsa.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Avoid the Noid

I admit it. I am a terrible blogger. And going back to work hasn't helped, especially since my job involves lots of writing and staring at a computer screen, so that's kind of the last thing I want to do when I'm not at work. But I'll do my best.

Pizza is my favorite savory food. (I say savory because I think ice cream and cupcakes might have it beat in a favorite food contest.) I could seriously eat it every day. But it has to be GOOD pizza. The frozen, grocery store varieties can sometimes suffice, and I have definitely made pizzas using bagels or English muffins for crusts, but homemade pizza crust it my favorite. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck with the ones I've tried to make.

A few weeks ago, I made yet another attempt. I have tried no fewer than 10 different recipes and variations on them to try and find pizza dough that was good. When I lived in the US, I used to just buy pizza dough from the grocery store, but they don't have that here in London. Apparently most pizza places will sell you raw dough if you ask, but I've never tried that. I had a couple of recipes I used in the US with my breadmaker, but those weren't that great - the crust always ended up too tough, didn't rise enough, didn't roll/stretch out well, was too yeasty, or just somehow wasn't right. And then I stumbled upon my new favorite cooking blog (seriously, it is my go-to cookbook now), and it had a recipe for pizza dough, as well as a pizza 101 posting that gave me the brilliant tip about warming up the oven and turning it off to reduce the time it takes for the dough to rise.

So I made Smitten's pizza dough (doubled the recipe and used half wholemeal flour) and had pizza dough for two thin crust pizzas. Each was enough to feed 2 hungry people. This is fast food and make-ahead because you can make the dough ahead of time and store it in the fridge. I thought maybe overnight would be all you'd want, since the yeast keeps on working and the dough rises more, but after a look around the internet, I see that apparently you can store it for longer - different sites say anywhere from 3-6 days. Just put the dough in a resealable plastic bag sprayed with cooking spray. You can also freeze it; from what I've read it seems like the best thing to do to preserve the texture is to roll out the dough and par-bake it before freezing.

We chose to top our pizza with an American classic, and my favorite pizza topping combination: pepperoni, mushrooms and mozzarella. Slice the mushrooms very thinly, and with pizza topping, less is more definitely, otherwise you end up with a watery, gooy mess.

I also made my own pizza sauce, but you certainly don't have to. To do this, I sauteed some onions and garlic in olive oil and added jarred pureed tomatoes - what they call passata in the UK (I guess in the US you could use tomato sauce or canned pureed tomatoes, depending on how chunky you want your sauce to be). I let it cook for a while, seasoned as needed, and added chopped fresh basil in at the end. I've also done this with peeled fresh tomatoes, which I think is better, but is more time consuming and requires good tomatoes.

Once your pizza crust is rolled out and topped, pop it in a pre-heated oven (my pizza stone lives with my brother in the US now, so I just put it on parchment paper, sprinkled with cornmeal, on a baking sheet) at HIGH heat and cook for about 10 minutes (but check it often starting at 5 minutes because ovens vary a lot and you don't want it to burn).

Mmmmmm....I want to make this again NOW...