Thursday, November 21, 2013

Just In Time for Thanksgiving - A Repeat Post

I hope you are all doing well and are looking forward to a great Thanksgiving with your family and friends. We're doing our family dinner this Saturday due to scheduling conflicts and family obligations, then will have a quiet Thanksgiving Day at home. I just finished a full day of grocery shopping and plan to do much of the food preparation tomorrow. There is a lot of work involved in these holidays, isn't there? But it's all worth it in the end when we sit down at the table and enjoy the meal while sharing old memories and making new ones!

This is a repeat of a recent post, and I hope you don't mind. It contains some interesting information and tips, followed by a delicious recipe that I'll definitely be making for Saturday.

The holidays are on their way, and one of our favorite things to cook for those holiday dinners is sweet potatoes. Whether we roast, mash or candy them, these tubers are full of flavor and nutrients. The discussions as to whether we’re eating sweet potatoes or yams have been ongoing for quite some time. I’m hoping to provide some clarification as to which is which, along with some tips on selecting, storing and preparing sweet potatoes.

First, let’s clear up the questions as to differences between sweet potatoes and yams.

1) Sweet potatoes are a member of the morning glory family. They are short with tapered ends and a smooth, thin skin. There are 2 types of sweet potato, those with white flesh and others with orange flesh. They have a sweeter flavor and creamy texture.

2) Yams are related to grasses and lilies, and come from the yam family. They are primarily grown in Africa and some tropical areas. They have an almost black, rough and scaly skin, and their flesh is either white, purple or red. Yams are cylindrical in shape and can grow up to 7 feet long. Their flesh is more starchy and dry than sweet potatoes. They are in no way related to sweet potatoes, and are usually only found in international markets – if you’re buying them in a supermarket you’re actually buying sweet potatoes!

The USDA requires “yams” to also be labeled as “sweet potatoes”, thus leading to more confusion for shoppers.

Selecting and storing sweet potatoes:

1) Choose dry, smooth, clean potatoes.

2) Do not wash until ready to cook as moisture will lead to spoilage.

3) Store in a cool, dark place approximately 55 to 65 degrees. I store mine in a peach basket in a corner of the basement.

4) Do not refrigerate until cooked.

A bit of sweet potato history:

1) The sweet potato dates back to around 750 BC in Peru. Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus arrived in 1492. The sweet potato was introduced to England by Spaniards, and were a favorite of King Henry VIII. They were then taken to France, where Louis XV and Josephine enjoyed them for a while, but when they lost favor with the royals they virtually disappeared. Spaniards brought the sweet potato to the Philippines, then they were taken to the Pacific, specifically China, then to Japan.

2) In WWI there was a wheat flour shortage, and sweet potato flour was used as a substitute.

Interesting information:

1) 80% of the world’s sweet potatoes are produced in China.

2) North Carolina is the top producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, with Louisiana, Mississippi and California following close behind.

3) Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium. The vitamin A is great for your skin, and the potassium will help those pesky leg and muscle cramps!

I’m sure you have your favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes. I recently had company for dinner and made candied sweet potatoes. I boiled them in their skins, then peeled and halved them lengthwise when they were cool and placed them in a single layer in a large baking pan. I made a glaze of sugar-free maple syrup, Splenda brown sugar, butter and cinnamon and poured it over the potatoes, then sprinkled them with chopped nuts. All they needed was about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, and they came out great.

My favorite sweet potato recipe, however, is one I’ve made numerous times, and the family loves it. It’s almost dessert!


4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 cinnamon stick
Boiling water to cover
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine sweet potatoes and cinnamon stick in the boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and drain potatoes.

Pour potatoes into mixer bowl, and with a hand mixer at low speed add the brown sugar, syrup, butter, vanilla and cream. Switch mixer to second speed and add the eggs (potatoes should be cool enough not to cook the eggs). Pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13" baking dish, spreading evenly. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Recipe from the local newspaper several years ago, submitted by 2 chefs who were also local restaurant owners.

Notes: I usually sprinkle the top with chopped pecans or decorate with pecan halves. This one is a must-have at our Thanksgiving dinner!
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

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