Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet Taters

For most of my childhood sweet potatoes resided in the gross column. Seriously, I wouldn't touch 'em. Gross, yuck, nasty, disgusting. Luckily, my mom didn't fix them often. Almost never. And there in lies the reason for my childhood disgust. My only experience with sweet potatoes, up until my late teens, was "Candied Yams" served once a year, at Thanksgiving. If you grew up in the 60's or 70's I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Mushy orange orbs of squash, swimming in an overly sweet concoction of orange juice and brown sugar, topped with broiled marshmallows. If you were particularly unfortunate the cook might have tossed in some crushed pineapple or worse yet, chopped nuts. 

Wait. . .
Hold on a second. . .,
I think I'm going to be sick. Deep breaths, d-e-e-p b-r-e-a-t-h-s.
OK, I'm better now.

As a kid the marshmallows sucked me in only once. What a deception. The ultimate adult betrayal. Wasting perfectly good marshmallows on this disgusting side dish. Then, to be polite, one of your parents would put some on your plate, then insist that you eat some. Betrayed again! Seriously, were they trying to ruin Thanksgiving?

Then one day, out of the blue, on an uneventful afternoon in fall, my father baked a sweet potato in the oven. A fresh one, not from a can. Hmmmm, it smelled pretty good. Then he cut it open, added a little butter and salt and ate it. Ate it for no good reason. It wasn't Thanksgiving, he didn't have to be polite. Was he crazy? What gives? So I tried some. . . and discovered that I LOVE sweet potatoes. I didn't just like them, I LOVED LOVED LOVED them. 

Loved them so much that I've been eating them, year round, since that fateful fall afternoon. Love them so much that I'm showing you not one, but two ways to fix them. Enjoy!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes (courtesy of my High School BFF Lara)
2 lbs. Sweet Potatoes, 2-3 T. Olive Oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Start with 2 or 3 sweet potatoes. I actually only ended up using two of these.
They are almost 1lb. each, big fellas!

Peel them and cut out any "eyes" or bad spots. DO NOT put the peels down your garbage disposal. Unless of course you love your plumber and want to throw a little extra work his way.

Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons olive oil on a rimmed 1/4-sheet pan.

Cut the sweet potatoes into "steak fry" sized pieces. Oh I'd say about 2-3 inches long, 1/4-inch thick and 1/2-inch wide. Be careful cutting them. They are pretty sturdy so use a sharp knife. (Again, this is just 2 of the sweet potatoes.)

Toss them around (I use my hands) in the olive oil on the sheet pan, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then spread them out into a single layer. Roast them in a preheated 425°F oven (yes, get it HOT) for 10-15 minutes, flip them over and go another 10 minutes or so.

You want to edges to caramelize and get brown but they shouldn't be so overcooked that they fall apart. They may stick a bit to the pan but that's OK. That's all the yummy natural sugar that puts the "sweet' in sweet potatoes.

Simple and delicious. In heavy rotation around our house.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
2 lbs. Sweet Potatoes, 1/4 C. unsalted butter, 1t. salt, pepper to taste.
Additions (see below).

Put a steamer basket (this cheap-o one has served me well for many years.) in the bottom of a 3 qt. saucepan and fill with water just until it comes through the bottom of the steamer basket. Put the lid on and heat to boiling. Keep the lid on.

Start off again with two sweet potatoes. These were about 2-1/2 lbs. They almost didn't fit in my pot so I would recommend 2 lbs.

Peel them and cut off any weird stuff.

Cut them up into 1-inch-ish cubes. You don't have to be real precise here, just approximate uniform sizes so they cook evenly.

Dump them into the steamer basket and put the lid back on. Steam them for 20-30 minutes until "fork tender". Meaning if you stick them with a fork, it should easily go all they way through the chunk, if you meet with any resistance then give 'em another 5 minutes or so. Start checking them after about 15 minutes.

Perfect! I really prefer to steam, rather than boil, sweet potatoes. It tends to leach out less of the good stuff. You don't want to loose all that sugar and those vitamins.

Strain off any liquid and carefully pull out the steamer basket. (I used tongs.)
Add 1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) of butter and 1 teaspoon of salt. Then mash them up. Don't use a food processor, it will make them runny. You could use a hand mixer but I prefer a good old fashioned potato masher. Gets the job done and I like the texture.

Now I like them with just butter and salt (and a few chopped toasted pecans, YUM!) but if you want to take it to the next level there are all sorts of things you can do. Just start by with small quantities, adding as needed and tasting as you go. 

Here are just a few suggestions:
• Add 1/4 cup orange juice for a hint of orange.
• To sweeten things up, add 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey.
• If they are too stiff, add up to 1/4 cup of chicken stock.
• Spice it up with some cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.

Note: Do not add anything in the dairy family: milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream, cheese, etc. Trust me, not a good compliment. 

As for nutrition, sweet potatoes can't be beat. Lot's of beta-carotene, which is better absorbed with a little fat. BONUS! Check this out.

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