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Let’s Talk Food: Ingredients for holiday cooking

In October, I wrote about checking your spices to be sure they are still fresh. The humidity in Hilo is not good for them and they are prone to mildew sooner than drier places.

There are other ingredients, besides spices, that are also important and knowing what the various types are is essential to a perfect dish.

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Butter

Butter is a very important ingredient in holiday cooking and today, there are a variety of butters in the dairy case.

Sweet cream and unsalted butter are the same except the unsalted butter does not have added salt. In most baked recipes, unsalted butter is called for. It is important to be able to control the salt and put it in yourself.

Cultured butter is made from cream that has been fermented, like yogurt or creme fraiche before it has been churned into butter. This makes the butter tangier and more flavorful, great for spreading on your rolls.

European butter has 82 percent milk fat versus American butter with 80 percent milk fat. That translates to a richer butter and if you are a picky baker, your choice for butter.

Certain recipes ask for butter chilled, room temperature or melted. Chilled is important when making pie crusts or biscuits to create flaky, layered results. Room temperature is important when whipping with sugar, creaming, for fluffy and light cakes and airy cookies. When melted butter is called for, like when making brownies, it is added to a wet batter for a moist brownies.

The life of butter at room temperature is a week on the counter, four months in the refrigerator and one year in the freezer, so before you start cooking your holiday foods, make sure your butter is still good.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are at peak season now until early winter, although you could find them year round.

We are able to get Okinawan purple sweet potatoes here since farmers plant it year round around the lands in the Hamakua district.

At Christmas, sweet potatoes match well with a main dish like baked ham. We are now able to buy Japanese or Satsuma sweet potatoes, which are white-fleshed and have a chestnut-like flavor. These are best steamed or baked whole to enjoy its sweet taste. Here’s an interesting recipe for Satsuma sweet potatoes with miso.

Roasted Satsuma Sweet Potatoes with Miso Butter

Serves 8

8 small and slender Satsuma sweet potatoes

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1-1/2 tablespoons white miso

3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in upper position.

Prick potatoes all over with a fork and put on a foil-lined large baking sheet. Bake until very soft when squeezed, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While potatoes bake, stir together butter, miso and green onions until combined.

Slit hot potatoes lengthwise and using oven mitts, push on sides to puff up potato. Serve with some green onions, butter in center of each, with additional butter on the side.

Reminder, if you are invited to a Christmas dinner, bring a dish only if asked.

If you know the host’s favorite wine, that could be served during the meal or kept to be consumed later. We have such wonderful guys in Hilo, Randy Nunokawa of Grapes and Ryan of Kadota Liquors, to help with wine selection. Here are Ryan Kadota’s recommendations:

Party Wines

Sparkling: Benvolio Prosecco ($12.99) – Amongst the many Proseccos out there in the market, the Benvolio stands out to me for the money! It has fine bubbles making for an almost creamy texture. A well-balanced wine with orchard fruits and refreshing acidity. A true crowd pleaser and a great way to start (or end) the evening!

White: 2015 Cave de Lugny Macon-Lugny Les Charmes (Chardonnay) ($17.99) – As a cooperative of grower families, Cave de Lugny has access to some of the best fruit in the Mâconnais. This 100 percent Chardonnay has bright citrus and floral aromas, and round mouthfeel, and complex flavors. A wonderful pairing with appetizers, fish, shellfish, and poultry dishes.

Red: 2016 Statti Lamenzia Rosso ($12.99) – A new discovery! This blend of 40 percent Gaglioppo, 40 percent Greco Nero, and 20 percent Nerello Cappuccio comes from the DOC of Lamezia, Calabria. The nose is intense and complex, with dark notes of black cherry, plum, cocoa, tobacco, and spices. The palate is balanced and soft showing dark and red fruits with a little spice. Let it breathe for 10 minutes and you have your perfect pizza, pasta, and burger wine!

*The best thing about these three wines, besides the wines themselves, are that you don’t need a corkscrew to open them at your party!

Gift wines

Sparkling: 2011 Roland Champion Special Club Blanc de Blancs ($84.99) – 26 members make up the Club, and each bottling adheres to stringent qualitative guidelines set by elite growers. Produced from old vines in the Grand Cru vineyards of Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs, this is a beautifully crisp, ripe Champagne with rich and structured aromas. Very pleasant and generous roundness, nice length in mouth. Golden color with buttery and fruity aromas. Wonderful expression of terroir. A special occasion Champagne!

White: 2015 Patz &Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($37.99) – Patz &Hall has been crafting benchmark Chardonnays for decades. The 2015 Sonoma Coast is no exception. With fruit sourced from such vineyards as Durrell, Dutton Ranch, and Gap’s Crown, this wine is beautifully complex with rich aromas and is mouth filling on the palate with a long, layered finish. This wine is showing its full potential now.

Red: 2013 Clif Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District ($74.99) – One of the new superstar wineries in all of Napa is Cliff Lede. Their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap is a beautiful example of this AVA, the wine has a dense ruby/purple color, floral notes mixed with crème de cassis, graphite and forest floor. It is full bodied, but with the elegance, finesse and lightness of being, despite its intensity. The wine is beautifully pure and long and it will bring pleasure for the next 20 years.

Foodie Bites

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The Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Arts program Cafeteria is closed until next semester.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.