I grew-up in a second generation restaurant family, but I credit Mr. Potato Head for any creativity I may have in the kitchen.
What fun it was tinkering with his face, interchanging silly body parts and dressing him up. When Mrs. Potato Head arrived on the scene, it was double the fun, since two heads are always better than one.
Quite possibly, the Potato Heads led to my Forest Gump-like spud obsession. Fried, roasted, mashed, hashed, smothered or covered, potatoes are my ultimate comfort food. I love potatoes in soups, salads and even desserts, such as sweet potato pie, plum-filled Czech potato dumplings and the chocolate coated Idaho Spud candy bar, which actually isn’t made with potatoes, only shaped like one. There is even a Mr. Potato Head Cake Pop recipe that I’ve been tempted to try.
The Potato Heads were all about creativity and using your imagination. They encouraged playfulness and possibilities, which I’ve carried with me into the kitchen. Experimenting with flavors, ingredients andwhether to serve dishes hot, cold, frozen, smooth, chunky, wrapped, rolled or layered created exciting possibilities with food.
People appreciate tasty foods that are easy to prepare. If it looks good, they’ll try it even if they are not be fond of the ingredients. Varying color, texture and shape of ingredients visually stimulates the appetite.
In a cruciferous vegetable class I taught last fall, folks said they enjoyed Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale because they liked the presentation and how the ingredients were prepared. Okay, I’ll admit to being a little schmaltzy using cruciferous vegetables as feathers on my centerpiece “Tom Cruz” pumpkin turkey, [inspired by Tom Cruise - see photo] But hey, food is about entertainment too.
When I think of restaurants that serve food that is as good as it looks, in Sandy Springs is one of the first that comes to mind. Not only are the ingredients colorful, fresh, and flavorful, the garnishes are like works of art. They transform an ordinary carrot into an intricate butterfly or flower.
I don’t know if their culinary creativity came from the Potato Heads but there’s tasty taters tucked into some of their fabulous curry dishes. One of my favorites is Chicken Masaman Curry with potatoes, carrots, onions topped with cashews and a touch of coconut milk. Their menu includes tempting noodle, seafood, vegetarian or meat dishes to satisfy all appetites.
If after eating at Little Thai Restaurant you’re in the mood for some creative play, head over to the located in the Sandy Springs Prado shopping center for a Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head. They now come with even more accessories and a noticeably slimmed down body. Evidently, today even toys have to watch their diet.
My roasted sweet potato quinoa maki rolls are just the ticket for a good-looking, good-for-you appetizer or meal. Quinoa (keen-wah), a quick-cooking nutritious ancient grain packed with protein and fiber, is a great rice substitute. Feel free to substitute raw thinly sliced carrots or cucumbers or baby spinach leaves with sliced cooked shrimp and fresh herbs for the filling.
Roasted Sweet Potato & Avocado Quinoa Maki Rolls
4 sheets of nori (seaweed wrappers, found in Asian food section)
1 tablespoon Sweet Thai Chili sauce (or any spicy chili sauce)
1 cup dry quinoa
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 medium sweet potato, peeled & cut in ½ in. wide sticks
Cook the quinoa according to package instructions. When the quinoa is cooked, stir in the rice vinegar and sugar. Set aside to cool slightly.
While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the sweet potato. Peel and slice into 1/2 inch wide sticks, length will vary depending on size of the sweet potato. Toss with a little olive oil and roast at 425 degrees until cooked through, turning once. It should take less than 10 minutes. Next, remove avocado pit and cut into thin strips.
When all your ingredients are ready, place a sheet of nori on your cutting board shiny side down. Spread a thin layer of quinoa across the nori, leaving a 1-inch strip at the far end to seal the sushi. (Use the back of a spoon to spread and flatten the quinoa.)
Spread a line of the Sweet Thai Chili mixture across the center of the quinoa, parallel to the seal strip. Top with a layer of avocado and strips of sweet potato. It doesn't have to be perfect, but try to make it relatively even. Wet the top end generously with water. Starting at the bottom end, roll the nori tightly over the filling to the top. Press firmly and place seam side down on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 5-6 equal pieces. Serve with optional dipping sauces such as soy sauce, Tamari, or wasabi. Makes 20-24 individual maki rolls.