Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet potato salad with cranberries and pecans

sweet potato salad cranberries pecans

“What are you cooking this week?” asked my grandma. I told her I was making sweet potatoes. “They’re good for your eyes!” she said.

My grandma loves her sweet potatoes, as does most of my family. I, however, only eat them when they’re mashed or pureed as in soups or pies. Other preparations—such as sweet potatoes with marshmallows or sweet potato fries—are just a bit too much for me. I can’t explain it.

But at my cousin’s wedding in August I had a revelation. My cousin Lisa, like everyone in my family, loves to cook. And when her daughter Sarah announced her wedding, Lisa said, “I’m catering it.” It was a huge party and preparing a dinner for so many folks was a herculean task, but Lisa gathered up her friends and with their help she pulled it off with grace and elegance.

sweet potatoes

It was a fine feast made all the better because it was prepared with love. Everything was delicious, but there was one salad that stood out on a table overflowing with goodness. The salad was nutty, creamy, earthy yet sweet and was the sort of dish that made you pause because you weren’t quite sure what you’d eaten, but you quickly took another bite because you knew you wanted more. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, but I loved it anyway.

Then it hit me.

“Wait. Are these sweet potatoes?” I asked the people sitting at my table. My mom said that they were. “But it tastes so good and I don’t like sweet potatoes!” I said. She agreed that it was one incredible dish. In fact the whole table was chatting about this simple salad comprised of sweet potatoes, crunchy pecans and tart dried cranberries tossed in a curry-laced dressing. It was quite the surprise.

The next day, I insisted that Lisa give me the recipe. It turned out to be one of her friend’s recipes and she promised to send it to me. “This would be perfect for Thanksgiving!” I said.

Now, while this is a cold salad, sweet potatoes, pecans and cranberries are in season and this dish still says autumn to me. Even if you’re the kind of person that often finds sweet potatoes a bit cloying I know you’ll enjoy this.

sweet potato salad cranberries pecans

Plus, as my grandma says, sweet potatoes are good for your eyes!

Sweet potato salad with cranberries and pecans

4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 or 3 large), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coarse-ground mustard
2 green onions, sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup roughly chopped pecans, lightly toasted
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Place the cubed sweet potatoes on the sheet and bake until cooked but firm, about 35-40 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, curry powder and mustard. Stir in the green onions, cranberries, pecans and cooked sweet potatoes. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least three hours before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: My cousin adds 1 tablespoon of brown sugar when she makes this, but I find it’s plenty sweet with the sweet potatoes and cranberries. If you want it to be sweeter, you might try it that way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stuffed pumpkin with cheese, bacon and chipotle chiles

The day before I left for my Texas tour, I made an incredible dish. It was a baked pumpkin stuffed with bread, Gruyere, sharp white cheddar, bacon, chipotle chiles, cream and garlic. After spending some time in the oven, it emerged filled with a rich, savory and spicy filling that was perfect for spooning onto a plate as an autumnal side dish. I was smitten.

After taking photos and writing down my changes to the two recipes I adapted (one from Dorie Greenspan and another from Ian Knauer), I packed my suitcases and focused on signing books instead of blogging. My goal had been to share this with you from the road, but between events I was simply too busy to write. Any mention of it would have to wait.

In my mind, pumpkins are most associated with Halloween and when October ended, I thought I’d missed my opportunity. But when I told my mom about the stuffed pumpkin she said, “We should serve that at Thanksgiving!” And she’s right—it’s not too late and indeed we do!

Before we continue talking about this pumpkin, however, please allow me to say a few words about my time in Texas. I can’t tell you how incredible it was meeting so many of you! When you write for a living, you spend much of your time alone in front of a computer, so being able to go out and hear your stories and match faces to familiar names was extremely edifying. What a friendly, smart and generous bunch y’all are!

A big thank you to all who made it out to the events—seeing you definitely made my day! (If you weren’t able to attend and you’d like a signed copy of my book, head on over to my book page for information on how to order one.)

Now back to that pumpkin. They are still in season and if you’re looking for something dramatic to share at the table, then this cheese-stuffed pumpkin with bacon and chipotle chiles will definitely bring both smiles and sighs. Mom had suggested we serve it at Thanksgiving as an appetizer, which will work. But I think it could make for an unusual take on dressing, too.

If you’re a fan of nutty melted cheese, crisp bacon and smoky chipotle chiles, then there’s no need to wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy this pumpkin. Sure, it takes some time to bake, but the preparation is a snap. And with just a little planning you can have a festive dish that will bring light and warmth to the table as the days grow shorter and darker.

Stuffed pumpkin with cheese, bacon and chipotle chiles (adapted from recipes by Dorie Greenspan and Ian Knauer)

One 3-to-4 pound pumpkin
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 ounces French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 pound Gruyere, shredded (1 cup)
1/4 pound white cheddar, shredded (1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, diced (depending on how fiery you want it)
1/4 pound cooked bacon, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Small pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 casserole pan or baking pan with foil or parchment paper.

With a sharp knife, cut a circle around the pumpkin stem about 1 inch away from the stem. Remove the top and clean out the seeds and stringy bits from inside the pumpkin. (You can save the seeds for roasting, if you like.) Lightly salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin.

Toss together the bread cubes, shredded Gruyere, shredded cheddar, garlic, diced chipotle chiles and cooked bacon, and stuff into the pumpkin. Stir the cumin and nutmeg into the cream, adding a bit of salt and black pepper to taste. Pour cream mixture into pumpkin over bread and cheese.

Place the top back on the pumpkin, and place the pumpkin into the baking pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours or until filling is brown and bubbling. To serve, remove the top and spoon out portions of the filling along with bits of the cooked pumpkin. You can either leave it in the pan, or by using the foil or parchment paper, you can carefully lift it out of the pan and place it on a platter. Serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings