Monday, November 7, 2011

Sweet potatoes are a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table. For some families, they’re a staple. Most envision a traditional American sweet potato casserole topped with toasted marshmallows. This comforting dish graces tables across America. If you are looking for a less traditional way to serve sweet potatoes, maybe this is the year you will try something new.

Sweet potatoes appeal to many palates, old and young. Sweet potato pie, baked sweet potatoes (a healthier alternative to baked potatoes) and sweet potato chips. Even sweet potato fries are popping up on restaurant menus. During the baby food stage, our sons, Kellan and Carsten, always enjoyed the sweet potato variety. My husband, Danny, claims it’s because he’s a Southern Boy, born in Mississippi and raised in Kentucky.

According to the history of sweet potatoes and the Americas dates back to 750 B.C. in Peruvian records. Christopher Columbus and his shipmates brought the sweet potato to the New World from the West Indies. They are even mentioned in the records from their fourth voyage. Sweet potatoes were a favorite food among Spanish and French settlers.

Sweet potatoes were introduced to what became The United States many years later. They were cultivated in Virginia around 1648 and were said to have been taken into New England in 1764. They were grown by the Native Americans of the South.

This yellow or orange vegetable is not to be confused with a yam. Many think of them as the same vegetable, but they are from two completely different plants. Sweet potatoes are dry and crumbly, similar to a white baking potato and are grown in the Southern Americas. Yams contain more natural sugar than sweet potatoes and have higher moisture content. Interestingly, 95% of yams are grown in Africa.

Maple-Orange Sweet Potatoes

If your holiday preparation is like ours, you are in need of another oven or two. This sweet recipe calls for the microwave thus freeing up the oven.

2 ½ pounds peeled sweet potatoes (cut into ¼ inch thick slices)
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon margarine, melted
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup chopped pecans, toasted
Place sweet potato slices in a 2 quart casserole. Combine juice and next 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Pour juice mixture over potatoes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes. Uncover, and microwave on high 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Sprinkle with pecans.
Makes 10 servings

Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Pecan Streusel Topping

This side dish is a delicious departure from traditional candied sweet potatoes. It includes Granny Smith apples, vanilla, and cardamom. Cardamom is a highly aromatic spice with a slightly sweet and savory flavor. The streusel topping gives it an extra special touch.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cardamom, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
½ cup chopped pecans
Place sweet potatoes and apples in a large saucepan. Add cold water to cover 1 inch over sweet potatoes, bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium low; cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well and return to saucepan. Add butter, vanilla, 1 teaspoon of cardamom and salt; mash until well blended and smooth. Spoon into lightly greased 1 ½ quart casserole dish. Mix brown sugar, ¼ cup butter and remaining 1 teaspoon cardamom in small bowl until coarse crumbs form. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and heated through.
Makes 8 servings

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

This is a savory sweet potato casserole made with bits of crunchy bacon and fresh thyme.
3 lb. dark orange sweet potatoes (about 4 potatoes)
8 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
¼ cup half and half, warmed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
fresh thyme sprigs if desired
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce sweet potatoes all over with fork. Place on cookie sheet with sides. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender when pierced with fork. Let stand 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile in 10 inch skillet, cook bacon over medium high heat 4 minutes, turning occasionally until brown.

Remove bacon from skillet; place on paper towels to drain. Reserve l Tablespoon drippings in skillet; discard remaining drippings. Add onion to skillet; cook over medium heat 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened. Peel sweet potatoes; place in large bowl. Mash until no lumps remain. Add warm half and half, thyme, salt and pepper; mash until very smooth. Add onion to sweet potatoes. Crumble bacon; reserve 2 Tablespoons for garnish. Add remaining bacon to potatoes; stir until blended. Garnish with reserved bacon and thyme sprigs.

Sweet Potato-Eggnog Casserole

Here is an extra special holiday version of sweet potato casserole that includes golden raisins, brandy, and eggnog with a crunchy oatmeal cookie topping.
5 pounds large sweet potatoes
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup brandy
2/3 cup refrigerated eggnog
3 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Oatmeal Cookie Topping (see below)
Cook sweet potatoes in water to cover in a Dutch oven 40 minutes or until tender; drain and cool to touch. Peel sweet potatoes and mash. Combine raisins and brandy; let stand 30 minutes. Drain. Combine mashed sweet potatoes, eggnog, and next 3 ingredients; reserve 2 cups sweet potato mixture. Stir raisins into remaining sweet potato mixture and spoon into a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with Oatmeal Cookie Topping. Pipe or dollop reserved 2 cups sweet potato mixture around edge of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Oatmeal Cookie Topping
2 (2 inch) oatmeal cookies crushed
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted
Combine ingredients in a small bowl.

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Instead of mashed sweet potatoes, try scalloped. This can easily be made the day before and transported to your family gathering the next day.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 bay leaves, cut in half
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
1 (14 ½ ounce) can low salt chicken broth
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 13 x 9 x2 inch glass baking dish with oil. Arrange bay leaves in bottom of dish. Arrange 1/3 of potato slices in dish. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat layering and seasoning with remaining potatoes. Whisk broth, flour and nutmeg in bowl to blend. Pour over potatoes. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake sweet potatoes until almost tender, about 1 hour. Uncover; increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until potatoes are tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes longer.
Note: Discard bay leaves before serving.

Sweet Potato Balls

This is a fun alternative to a traditional sweet potato casserole, but it still includes the sweetness of gooey marshmallows. These can be made ahead of time and frozen.
3 cups cooked sweet potatoes, mashed
¼ cup butter
2 Tablespoons milk
¾ cup brown sugar
15 large marshmallows
1 cup crushed corn flakes
chopped nuts (optional)

Add butter, sugar and milk to mashed sweet potatoes. Scoop up ¼ cup mixture of sweet potato and shape around each marshmallows. Roll each ball in corn flakes and nuts. Place in buttered baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until marshmallows begin to ooze. Do not over bake!

Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

As a child, I remember a “grown-up table” in the dining room and a “kids’ table” in the kitchen at the home of my late grandmother, Edna Burns in Emporia, Kansas. Each table had their own servings of each dish. Here are some sweet potatoes for the “grown-up table” at your family feast.

4 pounds sweet potatoes
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
½ cup bourbon
1/3 cup finely packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon apple pie spice (a pre-mixed combination of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg)
1/3 cup chopped pecans
Scrub potatoes. Cook, covered in boiling salted water, in a large saucepan, about 35 minutes, or just until tender. Drain, cool slightly, and peel. Place potatoes in a large bowl and mash. Add butter, bourbon, orange juice, brown sugar, salt and apple pie spice. Beat until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a buttered 6-cup baking dish. Sprinkle nuts around the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until lightly browned.