Thursday, November 25, 2010

Not Your Grandmother's Sweet Potatoes

Unless your grandmother is Ina Garten, (and since she has no children, I am guessing she isn't), the sweet potatoes you grew up with on Thanksgiving might have looked a lot like this:

Okay, well, those are the components.  It actually might have looked more like this:

There are sweet potatoes under that blanket of marshmallow, right?  We ate our potatoes like that for a long time, and when I was a kid, I did love those marshmallows.  But now that I'm a big kid, I like my sweet potatoes well-seasoned (because I don't remember those marshmallowed ones actually tasting like anything other than marshmallows), and covered in buttery, brown sugary apples.  Like this:


I know I'm a little late sharing this recipe; by now I'm sure everyone is well on their way to preparing their potatoes, but keep this recipe in your back pocket, because it's good all winter long.  Orange juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg add great depth of flavor, while brown sugar amps up the sweetness ever so slightly.  Because it's Ina, there's plenty of cream and butter as well, although I often omit one or the other (usually the cream, and scale back on the butter), because sweet potatoes have such a velvety texture on their own, I don't think they need the extra richness.  But do whatever floats your boat--everything can be increased or decreased to make it suit your palate. 

Smashed Sweet Potatoes With Apples (Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!)
Serves 8-10

* 4 pounds of sweet potatoes (about 6 large)
* 1/2 cup of orange juice
* 1/2 cup of heavy cream
* 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of unsalted butter, melted
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
* 3 to 4 McIntosh apples
* 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
* 3 Tablespoons of brown sugar

1. Cook your sweet potatoes.  You can do this by either:

A) Scrubbing them, pricking them several times with a fork or knife, and baking them for about an hour (until very soft) in a 375 degree F oven.

B) Boiling them whole for about 40 minutes until very soft.

C) Peeling them, cutting them into 2 inch cubes, and boiling them for about 20 minutes or until very soft, then draining.

I prefer a or b myself.  

2. Either way, when the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them and scoop out the meat (cooking method A) or peel off the skins, (cooking method B).  Place the sweet potato meat into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl (if you're using a hand mixer).  Add the orange juice, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Mix together until combined and have reached the desired level of smoothness (Ina likes hers kind of chunky, I prefer very smooth myself).  Adjust seasoning if necessary, then transfer to a baking dish.

3. Peel and core your apples, and cut them into 8 or 12 wedges.  In a large saute pan, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat.  Add the apples and cook them, tossing often, until they begin to soften, but are still holding their shape, about 5-7 minutes.  Arrange the apples on top of the sweet potatoes, and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through. 

Prepare ahead:  I think this whole casserole can be prepared a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.  Just remember to add additional time for the whole thing to heat through.  If you prepare it earlier in the day, I think (and this is just me, I'm no food safety guru or anything), that you can leave it out, covered, and reheat when you're ready to serve.   This also freezes well--Last winter I made a large batch, and we froze it in 4 serving portions, and defrosted them as needed.  Delish!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweet Potato Pie?

I know, I was skeptical, too.  Or maybe you already know about sweet potato pie, and you're not skeptical at all, I don't know.  Truthfully, I thought this was something that only people in the South ate, and not once had I considered trying it (not that there are that many opportunities up here in the North, anyway!).  But then, in the course of 24 hours, I ran into about half a dozen recipes for sweet potato pie, and all of a sudden, my curiosity has been piqued.  After reading through several recipes, I decided on Joy's from Joy the Baker.  She was just so darn enthusiastic, I simply couldn't say no.  And it's still storming here, so with another day off on my hands, I clearly had to do something! 

The filling takes a little while from start to finish (somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours, perhaps, when you factor in cooling).  However, it can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you're ready to bake the pie, which makes it convenient, too.  Joy makes the pie with a "no roll" crust, but I actually find that with a food processor, regular pie crust is faster to make, and rolling dough isn't that hard.  But really, this pie is all about the filling, and let me just say, Wow.  I definitely had a case of the wandering finger syndrome as I whisked the filling together (at least before I added the eggs!)  

As it baked the kitchen smelled divine,  and when it was finally baked and cool enough to eat, it not only met expectations, it surpassed them.  The filling is very similar to that of pumpkin pie, but its texture was slightly smoother, and flavor just a bit sweeter, just a little better, at least to my palate.  And I'm no pumpkin pie hater, but I truly think the sweet potato is just that much better.  Which is, needless to say, an exciting discovery.  The only thing I think I will try next time (and there will definitely be a next time), I will use just touch more spice (heaping spoons of the quantities listed below, not exact), and a touch less sugar (scant cups of the amounts listed below).  If you try this, and let me know what you think!

Sweet Potato Pie (Adapted only very slightly from Joy The Baker)
Makes one 9 or 10 inch pie

The filling is for a 10-inch pie, if you make a 9-inch on pie, you'll have a little filling leftover.  Still figuring out what to do with it...

* 2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (2 large sweet potatoes)
* 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
* 1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
* 1 12-oz can of evaporated milk, (or 2 5-oz cans)

* 1/2 cup granulated sugar * 3 large eggs
* 1 Tablespoon vanilla

1. Boil two whole large sweet potatoes in their jackets in a covered pot over moderate flame, until sweet potatoes are very soft and tender.  To test the done-ness, poke them with a sharp knife; there should be no resistance at all.  When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and cool on a plate or wire cooling rack.

2. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins (this should be very easy, just pull it off with your fingers) and mash potatoes thoroughly with a potato masher or an electric mixer until they are totally smooth--no lumps!

3. Measure 2 cups of mashed potato into a medium sized pot, and add the brown sugar, spices, salt, butter, and half the can of evaporated milk (or one of the small cans, if that's what you're using).  Heat on low for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter is melted and mixture smooth and well combined.  Remove from fire and let cool in pot. 

4. In a large bowl (I just used the same one that I mashed the potatoes in), beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second half/second 5-oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture from pot into the egg mixture, and blend thoroughly with a whisk or the electric mixer.  Refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.  

5.  When you're ready to make your pie, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with a cookie sheet inside.  
6. Meanwhile, prepare your crust (see instructions below, or use a frozen pie crust) and keep in the freezer until the oven is hot.  When the oven is ready, remove your crust from the freezer, and fill it nearly to the top.  Place the pie on the hot cookie sheet, and bake  at 450 for ten minutes then turn oven to 325 degrees F (300 with the convection fan turned on) and bake for 1 hour more, or until edges and center are raised and puffed and the center only shakes slightly.  

7. Remove from oven.  Let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before serving.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Hot out of the oven and all ready to go to the potluck!

Single Crust for a 9 or 10 inch pie (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

* 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2  teaspoon sugar
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
* 2-4 Tablespoons of ice water  

1. Dice cold butter into small cubes, and stick in the freezer for at least 15 minutes, to make them very cold and hard

2. In the bowl of a food processor, add flour, salt, and sugar, pulse a few times to combine. 

3. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. 

4. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. The dough won't come together in the bowl, but to test to see if there's enough water, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time

5. Turn the dough out onto a piece of saran wrap.  Corral the dough, using the plastic to press it together into a ball, then flatten in into a disc.  Use the plastic to wrap your disc of dough, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  (Dough may be frozen for up to 1 month, too)

6. To roll the dough, lightly flour a rolling surface and your rolling pin, or place dough between two sheets of wax paper.  Start rolling from the center, and rotate the dough often to create an even circle.  Roll to about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick, and until it reaches the correct diameter (2 inches bigger all around than the inverted pie pan).  Place your pie pan (ungreased--plenty of butter in there already!) right next to the dough, and gently lift it into the pan and center.

7. Trim any overhang that's too long, and use it to patch spots, if necessary.  Fold the overhanging dough  towards the center of the dish, and pinch the edge all the way around to create a lip.

Okay, well it's not as beautiful as the ones Martha likely makes, but hey, it will do!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Outrageous Brownies

I didn't name these little gems, but it certainly does them justice.  They are in fact Barefoot Contessa brownies, so you know they have to be good.  And they are.  Let me tell you:

I mentioned it somewhere on the blog before, but I have a running challenge to make the most chocolate-y things possible for my dad whenever I go back to Boston, which I did, briefly, this past weekend.  Thursday it just poured and poured all day on Nantucket, so in lieu of work I flexed my domestic muscles, cleaning a good portion of the house, and making some things in the kitchen that needed to be made.  Like, you know, more banana bread, and two batches of pesto (basil/pinenut and parsely/walnut).  And then, in the evening, as I was packing my suitcase, I realized that I had TOTALLY forgotten to make a chocolate offering.  At this point I was in my pajamas, and was not going to go to the store, so I needed a recipe that used things I already had on hand.  Luckily I stumbled upon Ina's recipe pretty quickly, and realized they were PERFECT.  Why?  First, you melt the butter, so I could use sticks right out of the freezer (although cut into cubes with a chefs knife to speed up the melting).  Add to that a little unsweetened chocolate, lots of semisweet chocolate, just a smidge of flour (so immediately I knew they had to be good), baking powder, vanilla and salt.  And, as I mentioned a few weeks ago in the Whiskey Soaked Bundt Cake post, Ina is a fan of adding that extra ingredient to bring out the essence of an ingredient, and in this case, instant coffee (or espresso) powder is that special something that makes you say "wow!"  Ina's recipe is enormous, and is baked on what is called a "half sheet" pan.  These pans, which measure 12 x 18 inches, are common in commercial kitchens, but bigger than most home cooks' pans.  I realized that half of a "half sheet" is essentially a lasagna pan (9 x 13 inches), so I halved the recipe and baked it in a Pyrex lasagna pan, which worked perfectly.  Below you will find the half recipe, which is probably all the brownie you need, anyway!  If you are cooking an enormous batch of brownies though, here's the full recipe, so you don't even have to do the math all on your own ;)

And if you're wondering what my dad thought of these?  He left me a voicemail and simply said "save the recipe."

Ina's OUTRAGEOUS Brownies (Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
Makes about 24 2x2-inch brownies

I'm not normally a walnuts in brownies fan, so I omitted them, but I actually think these would have been better with nuts to break up the outrageous chocolatey-ness of these squares.  As most of the chocolate flavor comes from the chocolate chips that you use, it is worth using a quality brand that you really like.  You can also use bar chocolate for the 8 ounces of chocolate that you melt with with the butter.

* ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
* 8 ounces (1 1/3 cups) + 6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips, divided
* 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
* 3 extra-large eggs (I used 4 large eggs, which is probably a little more than needed, but I think it worked fine)
* 1 ½ Tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder
* 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
* ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
* 1½ teaspoons baking powder
* ½ teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 ½ cups diced walnut pieces (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan (aka, a standard lasagna pan).  (If your pan is a dark colored metal pan, only preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.)

2.  Melt together the butter, the 8 ounces of chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of a double boiler (a mixing bowl on top of, but not touching, a pan of barely simmering water). Cool slightly. Stir (don't beat) together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir this mixture into the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature
3. Sift together the ½ cup flour, baking powder and salt, and then gently stir into the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and chocolate chips with flour to coat. (If you are omitting walnuts, use only 1 tablespoon of flour to toss the chocolate chips.)  Fold chocolate chips and nuts into the brownie batter, then pour batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tester just comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, rap the pan against the oven shelf to allow air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Do not overbake! Cool thoroughly, refrigerate for several hours or overnight before cutting into squares.  I was nervous about these brownies not coming out of the pan, but I discovered that running a knife around the edges of the pan, then inserting a flexible metal spatula down and under the brownies made the whole pan pop out nicely.  Use a nice sharp chefs knife to cut these dense, fudgey brownies into nice, clean squares. 

ENJOY!!! (And be sure to have a big glass of milk on hand--these babies need it!)