Sweet Potatoes with Gorgonzola Cream and Toasted Walnuts

Sweet Potatoes with Gorgonzola Cream and Toasted Walnuts #Thanksgiving

I know that there are large factions of people in America who think a sweet potato isn’t worth eating if it doesn’t have marshmallows on top. I’ve tried to see that point of view. I like marshmallows. I have nothing against sweet things. Last year I even bought those canned sweet potatoes in syrup and baked them up, topped with marshmallows. My reaction was decidedly meh. No texture, no flavor – its like someone is trying to get kids to eat their vegetables.

For me, sweet potatoes sing when they are paired with something savory. Not maple syrup, butter. Not brown sugar, smoked paprika. Instead of the ubiquitous marshmallows, a salty sharp Gorgonzola. My signature sweet potato dish is the gratin with smoked paprika and cayenne I posted 2 years ago (an aside: where does time go?), but this one might just give it a run for its money.
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Essential Potato Salad

Potato Salad

Labor Day weekend is bittersweet, like the end of an affair. Three days of sunshine, of flip-flops, of beaches and barbecue. But Tuesday lurks around the corner, like a raincloud with the smell of ozone to the air. There’s almost a sense of desperation — just one more cookout! — before fall settles in, with its dark evenings, the smell of cinnamon and freshly-sharpened pencils, and its long march to winter.

I’ve been busy collecting summer, whether it’s making just one more fresh fruit pie, canning a batch of tomato jam, downing bottles of rose, or just sneaking outside to enjoy the sunset. I keep getting ideas and checking them off the list: Hollywood Bowl tickets, picnics, Lemonade! And one of my favorite summer foods is potato salad. I wanted to get in one more potato salad before roast potatoes become de rigueur.

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Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin — a different sort of Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato Gratin 7

Despite having a decent reputation for cooking, a killer turkey recipe and not one but TWO autumnal table runners, I haven’t hosted Thanksgiving since 2004, and I’m thrilled about that. One of the reasons we moved to Los Angeles back in the day was to give our (then unconceived) children the experience of growing up with family holidays, and for Thanksgiving we always have a place at the table at the house of my parents, my grandmother, or one of my aunts. And since family meals in my family are always pot luck, I get the fun of cooking what I want for Thanksgiving without the stress of worrying that I don’t have enough wine glasses, or bringing in extra chairs from the garage.

Sweet Potato Gratin 2

And while my contribution to the family Thanksgiving varies, I always always make these sweet potatoes. They are not gooey with brown sugar, or covered in marshmallows. What they are is creamy and spicy and sweet and smoky. They’re also easy and practically foolproof and, depending on how liberally you apply the cayenne, almost universally popular.

Sweet Potato Gratin 3

I never understood why so many sweet potato recipes added additional sweetness, in the form of brown sugar, or orange juice, or marshmallows. Sweet potatoes are already sweet — what I want is to balance the sweetness with saltiness. I like plain baked sweet potatoes with butter and salt, but this dish, with the layers of flavor from the spices, and the richness of the butter and cream and the mellow background of sweet potato, just sings.

Sweet Potato Gratin 1

Fortunately, making them is a snap. I like to use my Benriner Japanese Mandoline Slicer, which makes the slicing quick and the slices uniform, but PLEASE use the finger guard or you will do what I did LAST Thanksgiving and slice the tip off your finger. True story. Once the potatoes are sliced, you just layer them in a buttered gratin dish, dab each layer with a little more butter (holiday food, not health food), sprinkle with cayenne, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, then pour cream over the whole thing and bake.

Sweet Potato Gratin 5

A few years ago my grandmother, who is a very, um, traditional cook, hosted Thanksgiving. I told her I was bringing these sweet potatoes and she balked. “My friend Jeannie is coming, ” she said. “And Jean is midwestern. Why don’t you make them with some nice orange juice?” Well, Jeannie is midwestern like Annie Oakley is midwestern, and she had second helpings of sweet potatoes. And even my grandmother enjoyed them.

Sweet Potato Gratin 6

Smoky Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 3-4 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • ½-1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons sweet Spanish smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes, and using a mandoline, a food processor or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice them thinly into even rounds. Set some of the prettiest and most perfect rounds aside for the top layer.
  3. Butter a 14 inch gratin dish. Layer the sweet potatoes in concentric overlapping circles (or ovals) over the bottom of the gratin dish. Dot with a few dabs of butter, sprinkle with cayenne (more is obviously spicier), smoked paprika, a pinch of salt (go lightly on the salt -- the smokiness of the paprika adds a salty impression) and a few grinds of black pepper. Repeat with the next layer, and the spices and the butter, until you reach the top, where you'll use your reserved sweet potatoes.
  4. Pour the cream over the dish, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the cover, bake an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm. (I happen to love this cold, but it doesn't reheat well because the cream tends to separate. You can make it entirely in advance except for the baking part, and pop it in the oven an hour before dinner is served).


A Successful Experiment — Mashed Potatoes with Broccoli

Broccoli 2

Well Harrumph.

Today is World Nutella Day and I was fully planning to participate. I had at least two projects in mind and I even attempted them, but someone stole my cooking mojo and both my experiments were abject failures. If you’d like some Nutella goodness I offer up these Nutella Nanaimo Bars from last week and I hope you enjoy them. You can also check out this Nutella Cheesecake from Eat, Live, Travel, Write, this Chocolate Hazelnut Spread from David Lebovitz or this dangerous looking nutella molten lava cake from Paula at Bell’alimento. So strike one for topicality.

Also, Sunday is the Super Bowl, which is a big holiday in food terms. I was going to post a new experimental guacamole recipe, but my avocados were not photo worthy. Feel free to check out Jalapeno Popper Dip, this Easy Crockpot Chili, Hot Clam Dip, Black Eyed Pea Salsa or Pimento Cheese if you’re looking for grub for the big game. Strike two for topicality. (The guacamole recipe will come later).

So I’m going to present you today with a recipe that isn’t at all topical, but is good, nonetheless. It came from a desire for old fahioned, comforting, mashed potatoes (because WHO doesn’t like mashed potatoes?) combined with my New Year’s goal to eat more vegetables. We always have broccoli in the house (the Nuni loves it raw), and I’ve made mashed cauliflower before — an idea was born.
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