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Side by Side: Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday the white potatoes, today the lovely beta-carotene-filled orange ones…

This is one of those “Thanksgiving is not complete without” recipes for me–which is why I have, the night before Thanksgiving, sent my husband out to buy me a bottle of bourbon when I discovered he’d drank the rest of our one small bottle sometime in the past 12 months.  (Remind me to post his hot toddy recipe sometime…)

Almost as easy as the garlic smashed potatoes, it just requires a little extra bake.

*****

Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients: sweet potatoes, brown sugar, spices, bourbon, orange juice, chopped pecans (optional but awesome), currants (optional)

Cook as many sweet potatoes as desired. (Sunday I posted a crockpot-appropriate method, or you can just cut them into inch-thick chunks and boil them 15-20 minutes till soft.) You can leave the skin on if you wish, but I generally peel these–after they are cooked and cooled, the skin slips off very easily, so it’s a painless process. Unless you try it when they are still too hot–that is a pain-ful process. Which I’ve had reason to learn.

Line a baking dish (9×9 or 9×13, whatever fits your ‘taters best) with a single layer of cooked sweet potatoes.

Sprinkle with dark brown sugar (which, by the way, it’s really easy to make yourself out of white sugar and molasses)–I never measure, just take a small handful and sprinkle till it “looks right.” maybe 1/4 cup not-packed?

Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and a little clove–the cinnamon is pretty necessary; everything else can be left out if you want, or done in some combination.

Drizzle 1/4 to 1/2 cup bourbon (hic!) over potatoes, sugar, and spices.

Drizzle 1/4 cup orange juice over potatoes, sugar, and spices

Sprinkle with a handful of chopped pecans (or other nut of choice) that you kept back when you made the pecan pie. You could also (or instead) sprinkle a handful of dried currants on at this point.

Cover with foil and bake about 45 minutes at 325-ish–basically, put it in the oven about an hour before the turkey comes out.  Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes or so to crisp the pecans.

*****

A variation I discovered unintentionally one year (the year I was drinking too much wine with the Australians) when I overcooked the potatoes till they were too squishy to slice properly–smash/mash them with the bourbon, orange juice, and spices, sprinkle the brown sugar and nuts on top, and bake it that way. Easily as good.

I’m told you can do this same recipe with some other spirit–rum or brandy, or Jack, for example–and it’s still delicious.  But the bourbon adds a really great complementary flavor to the sweet potatoes…

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Side by Side: Potatoes on hand (white or sweet potatoes)

One of my priorities in giving Thanksgiving recipes here is to make things as simple for the cook on the Day Of as possible.  The challenge for Thanksgiving every year is that most of us only have one stove and one oven, and managing turkey plus pies plus sides plus gravy plus all this stuff at once is the main headache, because all of a sudden everything is done at once and you’re not sure how to navigate it all…the slow cooker can take a lot of pressure off on that front. And this, by the way, is not just a holiday idea–try this year-round, it makes life much simpler at dinnertime!

Today I’m talking about potatoes, and prepping for both sweet and mashed: you have to cook the potatoes first before doing anything else with them, which can be either done on the stovetop in two big pots (basically, cut ’em up, boil them for twenty minutes or so or just until fork tender, and drain ’em in cold water to stop cooking) or in the crockpot overnight the night before.  Stephanie over at “A Year of Slow Cooking” has crockpot baked potato instructions that will work perfectly well for this–essentially, wash and dry your potatoes (sweet or white), poke ’em with a fork a few times, wrap each one individually in foil, and cook them on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or so or until soft all the way through.  Then you can take them out, let them cool, and deal with them as you wish.  Note: you are not really baking the potatoes in here, you are steaming them. Which is better for most Thanksgiving applications anyway.

Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: the eternal debate, happens every year. Is there a difference? Yes.  Will it have any effect at all on your cooking them for Thanksgiving? Not a damn thing. According to this site, the confusion comes from mis-naming sweet potatoes as yams for a long time, alongside with the other confusion that there are tons of different sweet potato varieties–bottom line is that normally we are eating sweet potatoes even when we think they are yams, because sweet potatoes are the ones indigenous to most of our climates, and 95% of genuine yams are grown in Africa and are indigenous to Africa and Asia.

Types of Potatoes to Mash: This is really up to you. But you should know that the whiter, starchier potatoes (the ones we usually bake) like russets and Idahos (Idahos are usually Russets, actually), have more starch in them and don’t stand up to boiling as well, and the smaller waxier ones  have more moisture and tend to turn to glue if you smooth them too much. I like “smashed potatoes” better than the smooth creamy ones we all usually think of as “mashed” (really more “whipped” potatoes)–most sites I look at suggest that “Yukon Gold” is a good sort of middle-of-the-road potato…

I’m giving this potato-pre-prep thing its own post, because really this is something you can do any time–toss a few potatoes into the crockpot in foil before you go to work in the morning, and by the time you get home you can turn them into all kinds of things in a matter of minutes.  Mash ’em, smash ’em, add a little salt and butter to the white ones or brown sugar and cinnamon to sweet ones, you can do all kinds of things. And put some in the fridge for tomorrow or the next day too.

Crockpot Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Yesterday was the quintessential Really Cruddy Day*. Serious Mondayness. However, dinner was a bright spot.

I had a few pounds of chicken in the fridge approaching their sell-by date…and I needed inspiration.  So of course I consulted with Stephanie the Fabulous Crockpot Lady…

What I finally did was sort of a hybrid of two of her recipes: her Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken recipe, and her Pesto Chicken and Sweet Potatoes Layered Dinner.   Here’s what I did:

Lemon Rosemary Chicken and Roasted Sweet Potatoes:

  • Slice 1 onion and separate into rings; place in bottom of crockpot
  • Place chicken on top of onion. (I used 4 large boneless breasts.)
  • Sprinkle chicken with a little salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle chicken with several tbs fresh chopped rosemary or 1 tbs dried
  • Slice 2 or 3 organic lemons, lay on top of chicken
  • Place a sheet of foil lightly over the chicken and lemons
  • Wash several sweet potatoes (I did about 5, but they are the skinny kind) and prick skins with fork. Lay over top of foil.
  • Cook on low 7-8 hours.

VERDICT:

It actually seemed “done” in about 4 hours.  I happened to be home, so I turned it to “warm” at that point.

The sweet potatoes were incredible–the lemon essence sort of flowed up and infused them, and they were lovely.  And this seems like a method one could use over almost any crockpot meal, assuming of course it’s not too soupy…lay foil over whatever’s being cooked and then lay sweet potatoes (or white ordinary ones, I guess!) on top.

The chicken–nice, but it didn’t bowl me over.  Next time I make it I would change a couple of things: For one thing, I probably would cook it longer, until the chicken really went to the fall-apart stage; it was a little dry.  On the other hand, my daughter liked the chicken and my son liked both the chicken and the sweet potatoes.  So the idea of a dinner I can cook for the family that the family will eat is a fairly appealing concept.

So future edits: Either cooking longer or I would probably want to combine thighs with breasts to get a little more moisture (and unfortunately fat) into the whole thing.  And three lemons was too many; two small or even one large would be lovely, but 3 overpowered.  This would probably be lovely with any variety of fresh herbs too–fresh tarragon in springtime would be nice with the lemons.  I also may try it with oranges instead someday…or maybe limes, with some cumin and a cilantro garnish.  Lots of possibilities here!

(Ooh! Same recipe, but use the “throw 20 garlic cloves into the pot” method, with little yellow potatoes…that would be DELISH!)

So–a success!

*Oh, the Monday misery–long story short, the bolts that hold in the driver side window gave way, the window fell down inside the door, and on its way it apparently took out the motor.  Today I’m really wishing for a basic ordinary crank window, which I don’t think most auto companies even make any more…and it’s going to be horribly expensive, which will hurt much more since it’s not a transmission or the steering system or something obviously crucial to the car’s operation…but on the other hand, it’s not something I can get away with not fixing, since I live in Chicago and it’s November.  After checking with several places, all of who said it would take the whole week to even get the part, I’m having to suck it up and go to the dealer, who can do it quickly and who will give me a loaner car for the duration.  This is where, on the green front, I want to start complaining about living in such a non-walkable area–I’m a mom, I’m employed, and I can’t get everyone (including myself) where I need to go without transportation, and there’s no public transit that can get me where I need to go…and the dealer will charge an arm and a leg, I know it.

However, I did stop at The Farm, our local farmstand that’s closing tomorrow for the winter, while walking home from the first place I took the car, and bought a couple more pie pumpkins at 40 cents a pound…so I can make more of my Crockpot Baked Stuffed Pumpkin with Apples

UPDATE:  Next night for dinner we had chicken quesadillas, with shredded leftover chicken, some of the onions from the bottom of the crockpot, and pepper jack cheese, with a little salsa. (Would have added other veggies, but there wasn’t time to chop a thing.)  Very good!