Sweet Potato Jook

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Happy Thursday! Do you want you to hear the craziest thing? In last week's post, I wrote about how I really wanted to make a bunch of lasagnas for the victims and first responders of the wine country fires. I wrote that on Monday and then on Wednesday I found out about an amazing lasagna drive being organized by Confetti Kitchen, where they would be doing exactly that. I signed up instantly and I'm so unbelievably happy that I did. It took place in the gorgeous space of Cookhouse SF. I felt like I was walking into a dream. The kitchen was like out of a provincial french cooking show and all the other chefs and volunteers were so kind. I was a little nervous at first that it was going to be a bunch of professional chefs and then ... me. But it was fine! Everyone was friendly and so talented! I wish I could talk about food with other chefs all day every day! By the end of the day we ended up cranking out 50 delicious lasagnas. They made their way out of the kitchen and into the bellies of some really deserving people. Hopefully the cooler fall weather and maybe some rain will provide some relief up there.

I think we could all use some relief right now, and Fall is the perfect season for it. Don't we all become a little basic when Fall comes around? Like, we can't help. Who doesn't like crisp air, cozy sweaters, soft flannel, warm spices, the return of This Is Us, and finally being able to turn our oven on or stand over a hot pot of soup again? I freakin' love it and I don't care if you think I'm basic because of it. I feel like I can be my TRUE self during the fall. It's finally socially acceptable to be wrapped up in a blanket at all times. Apple cider is constantly stocked in our fridge (FYI, Reuben finally bought a beer fridge and there is sooooo much room in the fridge now!). The temperature outside makes me crave noodle soups, which is my favorite food group. Then there is all the orange! If you haven't noticed or don't know me very well, orange is my absolute favorite color. It is just such a bright and cheery, yet calming and warming color. I feel like not enough people love the color orange... but that just means more orange KitchenAid stand mixers for me!

Is it a coincidence that my favorite color is abundant during my favorite season??? IDK. But I'm happy that it is! I tend to buy things more if they are a beautiful hue of orange, like persimmons, sweet potatoes, oranges, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mangoes, you get the idea. You should have seen me at the farmers market this weekend... so. many. orange. things. It is only natural that I try to make my meals orange too! I took my most comforting cozy meal, Ginger Chicken Jook, and made it all Autumn-y! If you haven't had jook or congee, it is a rice porridge-like soup and one of my favorite foods. It's also a meal that takes a bit of patience to prepare. You need about an hour of peacefully stir rice. This is a great time to call your mom though! Call your mom. The sweet potato makes the jook really earthy and hearty. It's like a sweet potato or butternut squash soup but 10 times better and more texturally interesting. You can add all sorts of toppings, an egg even! I added green onions and fried shallots, which are classic toppings, some bacon for some smokiness, and torn up some pieces of sourdough rye bread from the farmers market for dunking. I ate my bowl while wrapped up in my blanket and it was the best!


Sweet Potato Jook

serves 4

Steps:

1. Fill a large soup pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and add in the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes. Boil the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes, until soft and tender. Use a slotted spoon or fine mesh sieve to scoop out the sweet potatoes and place aside in bowl. Use a potato masher or a large fork to mash the sweet potatoes. You still want a few chunks for texture.

2. Add the chicken start to the remaining water and bring back to a boil. Slowly add in the rice and give it a good stir for 15 seconds. Add in grated ginger and oyster sauce. Season generously with salt and pepper, add more to taste as it continues to cook. Allow the rice to cook at a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes so that the rice doesn't burn.

3. After 30 minutes, add in the mashed sweet potatoes and give it a good stir. Boil for another 20 minutes until the jook has thickened and both the rice and sweet potatoes have broken down. If it gets a little two thick, add a cup or 2 of water. 

4. Once the jook has thickened, allow it to cool to a safe eating temperature. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with sliced green onions, bacon, and fried shallots! Or whatever your hearts desires!

Materials:

2 small sweet potatoes - peeled and cubed

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup jasmine rice

2 tsp grated ginger

1 tbsp oyster sauce

salt + White Pepper

green onions 

crispy bacon - optional 

fried shallots - optional

Taro Fritters (Gateau Arouille)

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Before I dive into these balls, I'm going to start off on a serious note for a minute. It seems like the Bay Area is falling apart. You've probably seen it covered over the news, but wine country is being devastated by wildfires right now. It's pretty heartbreaking to see so many homes and buildings completely destroyed. And the fires are still burning. I'm not really sure what to do. Do we donate money? Do we physically drive up there and jump in to help out? I also found out this morning that one of my mentors/favorite person from my last job had a giant tree crash into their home in the Oakland hills last night. Gosh, Mother Nature, will you let up a little?! How terrifying though. A huge tree crashing in on your bedroom while you're sleeping?! Thank heavens he and his wife are okay. So glad. I want to help. But what is the best way to help and not get in the way during situations like this? If you have any suggestions I would really love to hear them. For some reason I really want to make everyone a warm tray of lasagna, but I'm not sure if that's the best action plan. Okay, back to the story...

I was introduced to these balls about three years ago. Every year, Reuben's office participates in this sandcastle building competition at Ocean Beach, where they partner up with some little kids and create really insane sand art creations. Part of participating in the competition includes fundraising for the little kiddies. To be honest, collaborating with an opinionated child that I did not give birth to on an art project sounds incredibly stressful to me. BUT. Every year they have a bake sale and auction full of fancy prizes. I love me a bake sale! And it's usually paired with alcohol, making it a dream come true. Among the trays of homemade cupcakes, sugar cookies, and the occasional skillet cookie cake, are always Sandy's Balls. They are so amazing. Oh, right... context. Reuben works with a lovely woman named Sandy. Every year for the annual BCJ bake sale she makes these taro fritters. They are also know as taro balls, Sandy's balls, or Sandy Balls. 

Sandy is from the teeny tiny country of Mauritius. Have you heard of this place before? I literally never heard of this country before I met her. It is a little island off the coast of Madagascar! How cool! When I met her I gained my first friend from Mauritius and I gained about 5 pounds from eating all the taro fritters, which are a common street snack in Mauritius.

If you've never had taro before, it is a super tasty root vegetable! I think it is technically toxic (or something) if you eat it raw... but we are not going to do that. The flavor of taro is really hard to explain. It's slightly sweet, which makes it easy for it to toggle between sweet and savory recipes. My grandma roasts them whole to eat during the Mid-Autumn festival. Taro is my absolute favorite bubble tea flavor. When my family goes out for a large Chinese family dinners the dessert is typically this taro tapioca coconut pudding soup thing. It sounds slightly gross and it looks a little grey... but it's delicious! Trust me. Then there is the classic fried taro dumplings you get at dim sum - my grandpa's favorite! Taro is great. You're going to love taro if you haven't had it yet.

I'm adding these taro fritters to my long list of preferred ways to eat taro. They are super crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside. The ginger adds a little heat and zing. Do you like tater tots? Of course you do. These pretty much like the best Asian tater tots you've ever had. I don't fry things that much (trying to be healthy here) but sometimes you deserve to bring out the big bottle of vegetable oil in the back of your cabinet and fry yourself up some balls! It's fine, just eat a ton of fruit afterwards and it will counteract the fact you ate a whole tray of taro fritters. That's how health works, right?

It turns out that the castle building competition is this weekend... I volunteered two years ago and I had to run up and down the beach carrying large buckets of ocean water for 4 hours. My body has never been so sore in my life. I'm going to try and snag a passive position on the lunch crew instead this year. Seems more like my style, don't you think?


Taro Fritters ( Gateau Arouille )

makes about 16 balls

Materials:

3 medium baby taro roots

1 tbsp grated ginger

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt + more for seasoning

vegetable oil 

Step:

1. Peel the taro root. I prefer to use a paring knife because the root exterior can be a little hairy and gets stuck in the peeler. With a damp paper towel, wipe away any dirt off the peeled taro root. Shred the taro with a metal grater and place in a vessel. You can thinly cup of the nubs of the remaining taro.

2. Add grated ginger, cornstarch, sugar, and salt into the bowl of shredded taro. Mix to combine. It should get pasty and thick.

3. Grab about 1 tbsp of the taro mixture and gently press it together in your palms to form a ball. You really shouldn't have to press it too hard for it keep it's ball shape. If the taro mixture is a little loose, add some more cornstarch. Line a platter with formed taro balls.

4. Fill a skillet for enough oil so that it is about 3/4" deep. I like to use a small but deep skillet so I don't have to use so much oil and just work in batches. Heat the oil over a medium heat. You want it hot enough so that it starts to sizzle immediately, but not too hot that it burns the exterior of the fritters before the interior is cooked. Gently add the taro balls into the oil and fry for about 7 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until they have an even deeply golden brown color. 

5. Remove the balls from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with salt immediately and allow to cool for a few minutes. Enjoy with a side of sweet and sour sauce!

*** IMPORTANT NOTE : Handling taro can cause skin irritation, only after you have peeled the hairy outer layer off. You can opt to wear rubber gloves if you want. However, the key is to not get the peeled taro root super wet. So don't wash it. My instructions say to use a damp paper towel to wipe away any extra dirt. I personally, did not get any skin irrigation, but just be careful while making your balls!

Pistachio Butter Buckeyes + Ohio Moments

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apple picking and apple baking

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Hi there! I'm just going to warn you that at this very moment, as I'm typing, I'm a little tipsy and just ate Taco Bell for the first time in maybe 8 years... it was just one of those nights. I can't guarantee that you're not going to read anything weird. Anyways, happy almost weekend! What do I need to catch you up on? Let's see... I went home to Cleveland this past weekend! It was so great! I'm feeling extra chubby but that's the price you have to pay for some quality family time. At least in my family. Cleveland was so peaceful. The air was breezy and crisp. The trees were just starting to turn into my favorite color - orange! The cousins and I went apple picking with our mommas and our grandma. To be honest, some of the apple trees were more like apple bushes, but it was still super fun and festive to wander around in search of the perfectly round and crisp apple. My grandma got very into apple picking and it was very cute. She's an incredible gardner and grew up in the rural countryside of Southern China, so I think it was her natural instinct to get picking. We took home way too many apples for us to consume, but I used up a few to make an apple galette and apple crisp to share at the family dinner later that night. It was a hit : )

I woke up at 4am EST on Sunday morning, hopped on an airplane, and was back in San Francisco by 8:30am PST. Just in time to grab breakfast at one of the only Dunkin' Donuts in the Bay Area, which is conveniently by the airport. Hooray for clean eating! Flying is just so crazy isn't it? One minute you're in Cleveland sleeping in your childhood bedroom and then the next minute you're in the middle of San Francisco surrounded by dumplings. Weird. 2 cocktails seems like a lot now...

Going home was so great. But another great thing happened this week! I work for an awesome interior design firm, Studio O+A, and they wrote an incredibly sweet article about this very blog! Al, our amazing staff writer interviewed me and wrote kind words about Eat Cho Food. When I found out that he read every post, I was legitimately embarrassed. Like, an actual writer read my words and actually thought it was okay???? WHAAAAA? There are like a million grammatical errors and misspellings in each post. But he captured the spirit of this little page so well! Here are my two favorite quotes from the article:

The result is a kitchen diary that combines good cooking, luscious photography and spicy writing to tell the story of a young woman living with her sweetheart in one of San Francisco’s great neighborhoods and spreading love to friends and family in the form of mouthwatering meals and snacks.

and

Eat Cho Food is an on-going journal of happiness. 

Al hit the nail on the head and I don't think I could have said it better myself... actually, I definitely couldn't have. My goal for this blog is for it to be more than just recipes. I want it to be filled with stories, memories, and thoughts that simply make you happy, even if it's just for a moment during your day. This blog is a product of joy. The world is a pretty messed up place sometimes. So if I can make it just a tiny bit brighter, I feel like I'm doing something good with my life. If you want to read the article check it out here!

Alright, so what is a buckeye? The official state tree of Ohio is the Buckeye. The tree produces seeds that look like this. The mascot for The Ohio State University is a buckeye named Brutus. The creative people of Ohio started making peanut butter and chocolate confections to mimic the look of our state tree nut. Everyone in the state of Ohio without a peanut or chocolate allergy eats them. That is the terrible abridged history of the chocolate buckeye! If it wasn't entirely clear, a buckeye is essentially a ball of peanut butter mixed with powdered sugar and then dipped in chocolate. It's a like a peanut butter cup and truffle hybrid... but looks like a buckeye. You get it. It's really hard to explain if you're not from Ohio.

I've upgraded the traditional buckeye by making my very own pistachio butter! If you haven't tried pistachio butter yet, you must! Don't buy the jar stuff though. A jar of pistachio butter is like $15!!! Hell. No. Buy a bag of pistachios for $8 at Trader Joe's and grind it up yourself. That way you can control how sweet or chunky you like it. You'll feel super accomplished. I've adjusted this recipe so that it is not "ah! I'm going to get so many cavities" sweet, which is how buckeyes typically are. These actually taste like pistachios and have a bunch of salt in it to counteract the sugar. They make a perfect and cute gift for when one of your best friends shows up for a surprise lunch date, or if you want to do something nice for your nut butter loving girlfriend.

If I ever get the opportunity to write a cookbook one day, I definitely want there to be a chapter called "The Homesick Ohioan." There would be buckeyes, pirogies, Skyline coneys, copycat Jeni's ice cream, copycat Steak n' Shake burgers, and more things that my slightly tipsy brain can't think of right now. Doesn't that sound great?!


Pistachio Butter Buckeyes

makes about 16 buckeyes

Pistachio Butter:

1 1/2 cups roasted unsalted pistachios

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup honey

1 tbsp sea salt

 

Buckeyes:

1 cup pistachio butter

6 tbsp melted butter

1 cup powdered sugar 

2 tbsp sea salt

8 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Steps:

1. Add roasted pistachios into your food processor and process for 4-5 minutes until it is crumbly and starting to get creamy. Slowly drizzle olive oil and process for another 2 minutes. Add honey and salt. You can adjust depending on taste. Mix for another minute until creamy. You should have about 1 cup of pistachio butter.

2. Combine pistachio butter, melted butter, powder sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix until combined. Add a little more salt to taste if you like. Place bowl in the freezer and let the mixture firm up for 15 minutes.

3. Remove bowl from the freezer. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out about 1 tbsp of the pistachio butter, enough to make a 1" ball. Roll between your hands to form a ball. Place on parchment paper. Repeat until all the pistachio butter is used up. Stick the baking sheet in the freezer and let the balls firm up for 30 mins.

4. Right before you're about to take out balls, melt your chocolate. Either melt your chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. If going the microwave route, slowly melt the chocolate by placing it in the microwave in 15 second intervals and mixing in between. It takes awhile, but you have to do this to avoid burning the chocolate. Trust me!

5. Take the balls out of the freezer. Use a toothpick and stick it into a ball and then dip into the melted chocolate. Allow the top portion of the pistachio butter ball to remain exposed to give it it's buckeye appearance. Shake off any excess chocolate and place back on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the pistachio butter balls. Use the back of a spoon or small offset spatula to carefully smooth over the hole from the toothpick. Stick the sheet in the fridge for 15-20 minutes until the chocolate and pistachio butter filling has firmed up.

6. Enjoy!