Friday, November 29, 2013

Three Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving

Yesterday was, of course, Thanksgiving Day.  My sister Sue was the hostess for the big dinner; she made the turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, and the rest of us brought the remainder of the meal.  I was in charge of the vegetables, which included the sweet potatoes.

Whenever this happens I end up frantically searching for a new sweet potato recipe.  I personally am a sweet potato purist; left to myself, I roast, grill, or microwave them and eat them with a lot of coarse black pepper and a little sea salt.  If I'm feeling really wild I add butter.  That's it.  For holidays, though, the rest of the family expects a more elaborate recipe - not marshmallows, thank goodness, but something sweeter than a straight yam.

Unfortunately, most of the yam/sweet potato recipes I've ever seen either contain things like cumin and chili powder, which might lead to rebellion when served with traditional turkey, or they're so sweet they make my teeth ache just reading them.  The sweet recipes also tend to run a gazillion calories per 1/2 cup serving.  A couple of years ago I saw a recipe that tried to cut the sugar by using orange juice rather than brown sugar or maple syrup as sweetener, but when I tried it, it came out soupy and rather tasteless.

This year I gave up and created my own recipe, and it went over extremely well with the crowd.  Roasting the vegetables and nuts brings out their natural sweetness and cuts down on the need for added sugar.  Mind you, it's still not exactly low calorie, but it uses no butter and a very modest amount of maple syrup, and the orange juice and pecans at least contain real nutrients.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans

Serves 10-12

Canola cooking oil spray
5 lbs sweet potatoes or yams (I used a mixture of red yams, purple sweet potatoes, and white sweet potatoes for the taste and color contrast)
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 c pecans
1 c fresh or good quality bottled orange juice (I used Simply Orange)
2 tsp orange zest
1 c reduced-sugar dried cranberries
6 Tbl pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil; spray the foil with cooking spray.

Peel the sweet potatoes/yams and cut them into 1" cubes.  Cut the onion into large chunks (they will separate during roasting).  Spread the vegetables on the foil-lined cookie sheets and spray with the canola oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Roast until fork-tender, about half an hour.  (Yams take less time to cook than sweet potatoes; if you use both, put the yams on one sheet and the potatoes on the other.)  Add the pecans to the side of one sheet during the last 5 minutes of roasting.

While the vegetables are in the oven, put the zest and dried cranberries into the orange juice to soak.  When the cranberries have plumped up, put the mixture into a small saucepan with the maple syrup and cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. When the pecans are roasted, break them into chunks and stir them into the sauce.

Pour the roasted vegetables into a large bowl and toss with the sauce.

Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with oil and arrange the vegetables in it.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 5 minutes.

"I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam." ~Popeye the Sailor

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Cookie Legacy

Back at the beginning of this blog I posted a number of my mother's Christmas recipes here.  Apparently I forgot to include some of her most popular cookies, because now that she no longer has her recipe box, I've been deluged with requests from family, friends, and church member who hope I've fallen heir to it.  Here's one cookie recipe that's consistently in demand, even by people who don't realize just how simple it is.

Apricot Balls

2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk
2 c. shredded coconut
1 1/2 c. ground dried apricots
powdered sugar

Thoroughly mix the first three ingredients in a medium bowl.  Using a spoon or small scoop, form into 1" balls.  Roll the balls in powdered sugar and set aside to dry.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Note: this is a very sticky "dough," but if it's too wet to handle, add a little powdered sugar to the three base ingredients.

“Eat coconuts while you have teeth” ~Singhalese proverb

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Return of the Prodigal Cat

As I mentioned in my last post, my cat Charlie went AWOL at the beginning of September.

He was out in the screened porch when a sudden thunderstorm blew in.  Either he was frightened by the loud thunder, or excited by something he saw outside.  In either case, instead of running back into the house (the sliding glass door was open), he pushed out one of the screens and headed for who knows where.  Since he is not an outside cat and we had a heavy rain that night, he apparently became disoriented and was unable to find his way back home.  Or maybe he just heard the call of the wild.  At any rate, he didn't return.

When I adopted Charlie I had him microchipped, and also subscribed to the "Home Again" service, which alerts other pet owners, vets, and animal shelters in the area to look for animals that go missing.  I reported Charlie's breakout and was able to download and distribute a "Missing Cat" poster with his name, photo, and description on it.

Over the last 2 1/2 months I received several phone calls about "Charlie sightings."  In one case I drove over to the block where he had been sighted and spent about half an hour wandering peoples' pitch-dark backyards with a flashlight, making the acquaintance of every rabbit in the neighborhood - without, however, locating my truant cat.  I had begun to fear that one of the local coyotes had eaten him for lunch.

Then one night about a week ago I received a phone call from a nearby vet's office.  Someone had found Charlie in a church parking lot and brought him in to the vet for a checkup.  The vet's staff scanned him for a microchip and contacted me immediately.

There's no place like home
Charlie didn't seem particularly excited to see me that night, but after I got him home he perked right up.  Oh, yeah, my dish - my box - my cat condo - my stuffed mouse - my MOM!!  Now he's back to following me around during the day and snuggling up at night.

Charlie definitely lost weight (and his collar and ID tag) during his adventure, but seems otherwise none the worse for wear.  I haven't let him back out on the porch yet, though.  I need to think of a good way to reinforce those screens before I can trust him out there without a chaperone.

"Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope." ~John Ciardi