Are They Yams Or Sweet Potatoes?

Yams, sweet potatoes, I always get them mixed up. You would think I would know the difference, but I have to confess, I don’t really. But maybe I am not all that wrong either. Most people don’t know the differences between the two. The differences are so subtle, and they taste very similar as well. A yam really IS a sweet potato. Yes, all so-called “yams” are in fact sweet potatoes. Most people think that long, red-skinned sweet potatoes are yams, but they really are just one of many varieties of sweet potatoes. Yams and sweet potatoes are interchangeable in most recipes, and most grocery stores only carry sweet potatoes rather than true yams. True yams are hard to come by and are imported from Africa. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Despite the label regulations, most people still think of sweet potatoes as yams regardless of their true identity.

When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties. The reason for the name mix-up is because Louisiana sweet potato growers marketed their orange-fleshed potatoes as “yams” to distinguish them from other states’ produce in the 1930s—and it stuck. The skin of a yam (left) looks kind of like tree bark, while a sweet potato (right) is more reddish-brown. Depending on the variety, sweet potato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple. The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.”

Yams are starchy and have a rough, brown exterior. They can grow up to 4-5 feet long and are eaten in parts of Latin America, West Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. Sweet potatoes are a New World root vegetable, have a softer, reddish skin, a creamier interior, and often, a darker interior. Yams are slightly sweeter tasting than sweet potatoes, and they are larger too, but they are kissing cousins, though they are from different families.

Whether they go by yams or sweet potatoes, they are very popular in Latin America, the Caribbean Islands, Asia and parts of the United States. Sweet potatoes, or “yams, are the fifth largest food crop in the Caribbean Islands. They were first domesticated in Latin America about 5,000 years ago. Sweet potatoes are very versatile and hearty. They can grow in many different terrains and areas. They are conducive to sustainable growth, producing high yields per unit area of land with limited impact to air, water, land, soil or forests and can grow at both high and low altitudes, with a smaller environmental footprint than other staple crops. They easily adapt to harsh environmental conditions— also making them a climate-resilient crop— and provides environmental benefits with respect to climate change mitigation and soil health. In the Caribbean Islands, Jamaica is the largest producer of sweet potatoes, growing about 43,000 tons, followed by Haiti at 42,000 tons annually.

When I made my Jamaican jerk steak Jamaican Jerk Steak I also made some Caribbean style sweet potatoes to go along with it. They went with the steak very well and tasted great. As with anything, there is always a wide variety of recipes out there, and this is one of many possibilities. These are my own creation, based on our many trips to various parts of the Caribbean Islands.

Caribbean Style Sweet Potatoes

1-2 large sweet potatoes, rinsed, peeled and diced medium

1/2 red onion, diced medium

1/2 yellow bell pepper, 1/2 orange bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper, diced medium

1 TBSP garlic

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil and butter for cooking

Cook all the vegetables and seasonings together in a hot skillet with both olive oil and butter, stirring frequently. You can also use canola or vegetable oil if you prefer, and you won’t need the butter, since both of these oils have a higher smoke point than olive oil. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and tender. If you want them a little crunchier, boil them first in water with about 1 TBSP of white vinegar for about 10 minutes at a rapid boil before pan frying them. And that’s it. All that is left to do is to plate them up next to your main meal attraction and enjoy.

Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Summer Blooms

I have a lot of beautiful, brightly colored summer blooms to share. Our flowers are in all colors, shapes and sizes. They are all so welcoming. Flowers are just so friendly and inviting to everyone. I love flowers.

Seeing all the brightly colored flowers always puts me in a good mood and always brings a smile to my face. Brighten up your days, and take in all the flowers. Have a great, flowery day.

Jamaican Jerk Steak

Jerk seasoning is a type of seasoning and a style of cooking that is native to Jamaica, though it has spread all throughout the Caribbean, as well as to parts of Europe, Africa and the US as well. It is meat, usually chicken or pork, that has been either spiced with a a spicy dry rub or a spicy wet marinade. The word jerk comes from the Spanish word charqui, meaning dried meat. This transformed into the word jerk by the English. The art of jerking (or cooking with jerk spice) originated with Amerindians in Jamaica from the Arawak and Taíno tribes who intermingled with the Maroons, or the escaped African slaves who intermingled with the Taino Indians. The main ingredients for a jerk sauce or rub are allspice and hot peppers, anything else is up to your imagination. In the Caribbean, these peppers are known as scotch bonnet peppers, but you can also substitute any kind of spicy peppers such as jalapenos or habaneros too. This time I used some roasted Hatch chilies.

Allspice, or the Jamaican pepper, goes by other names as well, such as the myrtle pepper or pimenta or pimento. It comes from the dried unripe berry of the Pimenta Dioica or midcanopy tree that is found in many warm, tropical parts of the world and all throughout the Caribbean Islands. It became known as allspice in 1621 by the English, because of its combined flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Just because jerk sauce or seasoning is primarily used for chicken or pork does not mean that it is only used for those meats. It is also very good on beef. I made a jerk steak for dinner, along with some Caribbean side dishes to get us in the mood for our upcoming trip to Bonaire.

Jamaican Jerk Steak

1 1/2-2 lbs chuck or skirt steak

4 small spicy chilies – I used some roasted hatch chilies this time

2 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp paprika

salt & black pepper to taste

4 green onions

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1 TBSP olive oil

Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until they are well blended and form a paste. Then rub on the meat and allow to set for at least 3-4 hours in the refrigerator.

When the meat is ready, fire up the grill and get it nice and hot. Then place the meat on the grill and cook. Meats are almost ALWAYS grilled in the Caribbean. A nice, juicy medium rare is going to be best to both preserve the flavors and to keep the meat moist and juicy, and not dried out. We had a thick roast, so I actually seared the meat first to get a nice brown crust on all sides. As I was searing the meat, I was also pan-frying some Caribbean sweet potatoes and peppers (more on that later) as a side dish.

I never like to throw away food if I don’t need to, and this includes sauces and marinades too. I reused the marinade by heating it up in a skillet and then topped my steak with it.

Our Caribbean dinner consisted of the Caribbean jerk steak, sweet potatoes and peppers and a light salad, finished with a very smooth and fruity pinot noir. This is just like what we get in the Caribbean, only we just brought the Caribbean to Colorado this time.

Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Meet Momma Mallard

Believe it or not, we still have some young ducks around, though they are now teenagers, not babies, and will soon be old enough to fly the coup. But teenagers will be teenagers no matter what, and all moms need a break from the rambunctious brood sometimes. Momma Mallard was no exception. At first, she and her brood were all resting peacefully by the shore.

But as soon as she saw me, she started waddling over to me as fast as she could, as if asking me to give her a much needed break. She needed some “me time”. She needed to get some attention too. She loved being the center of attention for these few minutes.

After a few minutes respite, she decided she should head on back to the gang. After all, they are teenagers. You don’t want to leave them alone for to long. You just never know what kind of mischief they will get into.

We all need a break sometimes, even if only for a few minutes. It’s OK to step away for a bit to regroup and to catch your breath from all that life throws at you sometimes.

Italian Berry Tart

The other day, our friends Mike and Lauren invited us over for some homemade Italian meatballs and spaghetti, which were absolutely delicious. I was always raised that when going to someone’s house for dinner, to never show up empty handed. This is a philosophy I try my best to uphold too. So I asked Lauren would I could bring and she suggested dessert. Easy-peasy. I decided to stick with the Italian theme and made an Italian berry tart.

I made the tart half with strawberries, so Larry would eat it, and half with a combination of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Either side, whichever one you chose, was delicious. So when you make this tart you can make it with any kind of berries you like, or no berries at all, and use cherries instead. Cherries or berries, I have made it both ways, and both ways are very, very good.

Italian Berry Tart

The dough was a slightly different version of a pate sucre or a sugar pasty dough. The Italian version is known as a pasta frolla and is the basis for most Italian tarts or crostate.

The Crust or Crostata

2 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp either lemon or orange zest

1 1 2/ sticks cold butter, cubed

2 eggs or 1 egg and 1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Combine all the dry ingredients and the butter in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds or until it all resembles a coarse sand. Then add the eggs, cream and vanilla, and pulse again until it all forms into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using.

Once the dough is ready, roll it to your desired shape on a lightly floured surface.

The Custard and Fruit Filling

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 TBSP cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 TBSP sweet liqueur of your choice

2 1/2-3 cups of your choice of berries

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 190* C.

Roll the dough to fill a 10 inch tart pan. Firmly press the dough into the sides and the bottom with your fingertips.

Add your berries to cover the bottom of the shell.

Combine the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, liqueur and salt and mix well, then carefully pour over the fruit, making sure to completely cover it all with the custard mixture.

Carefully place it into the oven and let it bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until the custard is set and the crust is lightly golden.

Allow the tart to cool completely then dust with powdered sugar.

This is most definitely a crowd pleaser. Everyone is going to love it. Lauren kept going back for a few more bites after we had finished. It is perfectly sweet without being overly sweet. In a word – Perfecto!

Have a great day Everyone. Stay cool, stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Change Is Upon Us

I have been really bad lately. I keep telling myself I am going to go walk-about early in the morning before it gets to hot, but then I get busy doing other things and before I know it, the sun is baking hot. But today, I did go walk-about (an Aussie term), and I am so glad I did, for a lot of reasons. At first I wasn’t seeing to much, but then all of a sudden, there was lots to see. As usual, I took quite a few pictures.

It is only August, but changes are coming and they are coming quickly. Already I am beginning to see early signs of fall. The leaves are already starting to change their colors, we are getting our afternoon rains more frequently, and every so slightly, the temperatures are beginning to dip a bit too. I LOVE it! Fall is my favorite season. We’ve noticed in the past few years that we still have very dramatic changes in the seasons, and all our seasons are getting more and more beautiful, but they are making their changes earlier and earlier. We’ve heard that the earth is slightly off balance and that is effecting the rotation a bit, which is changing the timing of seasonal changes.

Although we still have lots of colorful flowers all around, the leaves on the trees are already starting to get the fall colors. If this year is anything like last year, we are going to have yet another spectacular fall.

Carpe diem! Seize the day and seize the moment, for in the blink of an eye, everything will change once again.

Strawberry Bread

Summer always has such a huge array of delicious fruits and berries. I love them all, and just can’t help myself. I have to buy them. Unfortunately, I don’t get any help at home eating them, and sadly if I do not cook with them a lot of them will go bad. Larry really is not much of a fruit eater, and especially NOT berries, other than strawberries, which means either I have to eat them all by myself or I have to share them with friends. Lucky for me, and all the berries in our house, I have been baking a few berried goodies and have been sharing them with with friends and friends at church for our coffee cart.

Today I am sharing my moist and delicious strawberry bread. It is a simple recipe, with just a few basic ingredients. I always say, simple is often the best. This recipe is definite proof of that too.

Strawberry Bread

Preheat oven to 350* F or 190* C.

Spray cooking oil into a loaf pan and then dust with flour.

1 1/2 sticks or 12 TBSP softened butter

1 cup sugar

1 TBSP vanilla

4 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and creamy, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between each egg. Add the vanilla and mix again.

Combine all the dry ingredients together then add to the egg mixture, 1/2 at a time, mixing in between. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk. Do not over mix.

Once the batter is made, gently fold in the strawberry slices and spoon into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for for about an hour or until it is lightly golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle.

I like glazes on my loaf cakes, so after it was cooled completely, I made a simple glaze with powdered sugar and a little lemon juice, then added some colored sprinkles on top.

This time, I had a very special sous chef helping me too. Mommy’s little helper. Juneau wasn’t sure if she liked strawberries or not, but she kept asking for more. She ended up eating a few of the slices.

Needless to say, this cake was berrilicious! It’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful strawberries of summer.

Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Greek Spetsofai

Spetsofai is a traditional Greek styled “stir-fry” made of sausage and peppers. Just like with any good dish that has been aroundfor a long time, there are many different versions. Originally it came from the province of Thessaly, which lies between Macedonia and Attiki. This is a traditional rustic one-pan kind of dish.

Once again, I was introduced to this dish by one of bloggers, foodzesty at https://foodzesty.com/. Of course I did what I always do, and I personalized it, making it in my own way. I served it over couscous with some warmed pita bread and a rich ruby red Malbec on the side. It was delicious!

Greek Sausage and Peppers in Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 lbs spicy sausage, cut into small pieces

1 yellow bell pepper, diced large

1 orange bell pepper, diced large

2 tomatoes, diced

1 onion, diced large

1 zucchini, sliced

1 – 1 1/2 TBSP garlic

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste

salt & pepper to taste

1 TBSP fresh oregano and thyme, chopped fine

Get the skillet and oil very hot, then carefully add the sausage and brown completely. Once the sausage is browned, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

In the same skillet, add the onions, peppers, zucchini, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the vegetables are mostly done, or about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir in well.

Re-add the sausage and add the fresh herbs. Mix everything together well, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and continue to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve over either rice, couscous, pasta or even mashed potatoes. Top it with feta cheese if you like and serve. This is rich, spicy sauce, so it needs a big, bold red wine to go with it. Anything else will get lost in the spices.

Even though this is kind of a winter or cooler weather dish, it is good any time. It was so tasty and full of flavor. Enjoy!

Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Fun With Friends – Part 2 – Boulder

Day one with Patty, Rita and Julia was in Denver. Fun With Friends – Part 1 – Denver Day two was spent in Boulder. We started off with lunch at the Dushanbe Teahouse a place I have introduced to you before as well. The Dushanbe Teahouse I love bringing guests here because it so different and unique, plus the food is very good too.

Julia, Patty and Rita standing outside. All of these tiles were hand made and shipped over from Kazakhstan.

It was once again, a scorchingly hot day, so the first thing we wanted when we sat down was something cool and refreshing to drink. We started off with one of their specialty house iced teas. It hit the spot.

And then we ordered. We shared some shrimp cakes,

then we ordered some chicken curry with purple carrots,

and Patty ordered a shrimp salad.

After lunch we were all deliciously satisfied and ready to move on to our next adventures.

As soon as we left the restaurant the street was setting up for a farmer’s market and the bread vendor had their breads out on display. They were mouthwatering. But no one was there so we couldn’t purchase any. Julia said we should have just taken some, since they are from California and their new law states that you can’t be prosecuted for stealing anything under $950. We would have had to steal A LOT of bread to make that $950 limit, but we were good. We only salivated over the breads, we didn’t take any. Darn! We talked about going back and getting some of the bread after we came down from the mountain, but we all forgot about it. Next time.

One of the many things Colorado is known for is its mountains. We have them all around us. After lunch, we headed up the Flagstaff pass. It was filled with very sharp hairpin twists and turns, but it was a very beautiful drive. We made quite a few stops along the way to take in the vistas. Here we are with a gorgeous view of Boulder below.

Boulder is only about 15-20 minutes away form us, but sometimes it seems like a whole world away. The mountains in Boulder are known as the Flatirons because of the flat side on the front.

A Boulder boulder.

After our fun Boulder adventures it was time to come back home. I cooked us a simple meal of Thai inspired pork loin with rice and vegetables that we all enjoyed out on our deck. While we driving around through Boulder, we saw a doe, but since I was driving and there was no place to stop, I couldn’t take any pictures. While we were enjoying the cool evening out on our deck we saw a huge great horned owl it our neighbor’s tree, but it was so dark none of my pictures came out. You’ll have to settle for a stock photo instead.

We did our best to make sure Patty, Rita and Julia all got to see as much of our beautiful area as possible in their short time here. I think we succeeded. 🙂

Have a great day and always live life to the fullest. Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Fun With Friends – Part 1 – Denver

My friend Patty, and two of her friends Rita and Julia, were visiting from San Francisco. Their first stop was Denver. We got to get some quality visiting time in before they headed up to Steamboat Springs, to stay with Rita’s daughter. I had never met Patty’s friends Rita and Julia before, but we all felt like we have known each other for years, which in part is really true. They are truly beautiful ladies, both inside and out. Patty and I were trying to calculate the years of friendship between us, and we determined it is over 30 years. I have known Patty since my days in San Francisco. She was actually my supervisor, though she insists she was just my co-worker. We worked for Ketchum Public Relations, right in the heart of San Francisco. Patty has known Rita even longer, and the three of them have known each for 30+ years as well.

From left to right, Patty, Rita and Julia.

We picked Patty, Rita and Julia up at their hotel and from there, we went to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Barcelona, in the RiNo (River North) district of Denver. Birthday Celebrations – Part 2 – Barcelona

Barcelona is a Spanish tapas styled restaurant, where everything comes in small plates and small bites. Tapas are meant to be shared with family and friends, so it is always much more fun to go when you have a group of people. The more people you have, the more dishes you can try. 🙂 We sampled quite a few absolutely amazing plates too. We were hungry and had already started tasting when I realized I needed to take pictures. We ordered salads, vegetable plates and meat plates and we shared and loved them all. As always, everything was delicious and the service fantastic.

Immediately after dinner, we all needed to walk around a bit to let our food settle, so we toured around the area to see all the colorful street art. We have done this a few times, but there is always something new to see. I took some pictures of the art that was new to me, but the attached link will show you more of the local art too. The RiNo Art Walk There are some very talented artists who paint these walls. It just goes to show that life is your canvas.

After strolling around and taking in the sights of the RiNo, we drove around the City of Denver and pointed out some of our local points of interest. Time flies when you are having a good time, and before we knew it, it was time to turn in and call it a day. But we all had so much fun together, we added another day of fun filled adventures for the next day as well. Stay tuned. Don’t touch that dial. There are more fun adventures headed your way. 🙂

Life is always best when enjoyed with good food and good friends. We do our best to live life to the fullest.

Stay cool, stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

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