Thursday, February 18, 2010

V-Day - Learning About Why Sweet Potatoes like Whiskey

So here we are on recipe #3 - Glazed Sweet Potatoes

His final menu was

The links go to the recipes already written about in case you missed them and the tale of The Boy cooking a Valentine's day dinner for His Girl

So here's the thing about Sweet Potatoes. I love them.

And until recently I was the only one. You'd think they would be an easy sell when kids are little but no. I couldn't convince the children that they were delicious, even though the same children devoured things with pumpkin and were at least neutral about things with squash. The Perfectly Normal Husband comes with a few quirks as well and one of them is a distaste for sweet potatoes. After various failed attempts to lure them in culinarily, I took to buying single small sweet potatoes and baking them when I was making baked potatoes as a side dish. And making them for company, and for any large gathering where I was asked to bring a side dish.

But at home I was all alone. Until this summer.

I don't know what went on in that camp kitchen overall, but either the other choices were so egregious that The Boy decided sweet potatoes were worth trying, or the camp chef was magic and convinced The Boy that resistance was futile.

Either way he came back voluntarily looking for sweet potatoes. But I was still surprised when he put them on his menu.

And you may have noticed a pattern of which Poppets like to help in the kitchen.

You may remember that you last saw the Pumpkin Spice Poppets with another recipe - my Tzimmes, which Brings All The Boys To The Yard. It seems that whenever I cook with sweet potatoes they show up to assist. I kind of expect them now.

It's because they care.

At least about the sweet potatoes. I think they like us too, but I'm kind of happy they don't want to make sure we are cooked properly, with appropriate flavor.

The original plan had him making the glazed sweet potatoes on Saturday night so it was one less thing to do on V-Day, but after Shabbat ( that holiday thing where you're not supposed to do work that happens every Fri/Sat) the grown ups in his life decided that they were going to get together and eat chocolate and drink port instead. Because we had all been snowed into our respective residences for about four days and some of us were starved for adult conversation.

So for humanitarian reasons, he decided that he could just start early on Sunday instead of late on Saturday.


4-5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) margarine
1 cup of dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of whiskey or bourbon, such as Jack Daniels

When we read the ingredients during the planning session we discussed the whiskey issue. I've cooked a few dessert recipes that called for Jack Daniels in my life and they're pretty good but I don't keep it in The House. We have a kind of "one sip" teaching exposure rule to alcoholic drinks, so if a grown up is drinking a wine or a cordial or something and the child in question would like to sample it they get a sip which usually ends up with wrinkled nose and disinterest.

Wine is in the house weekly for Sabbath, beer is usually for guests or sausage dishes. Most of the liquor in the house, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, Vermouth, vodka, chambord - those are all cooking ingredients. I never had much alcohol in my house until I got a subscription to Bon Appetite. Then all of a sudden I was getting close to a fully stocked bar.

I also cook with a lot of rum. Especially bread pudding. And mocha butter rum frosting. And chocolate rum Mexican wedding balls. I've also got a great recipe for a rum punch that I make in the summer for parties. Like Jack Sparrow, I find myself always wondering why the rum is always gone.

So my kids have grown up with alcohol demystified, people who are drunk defined as "targets" instead of "people having fun they can't remember" and first hand exposure to alcohol as a kind of ingredient that can also be enjoyed on it's own - like chocolate.

But still, this recipe required that I go out and buy some whiskey for my 15 year old for Valentine's Day. And because of the 1 sip standard and the fact that whiskey and scotch are used for very specific blessings in religious observances over the year The Boy knew for a fact that he hated whiskey.

But he knew enough about both cooking and chemistry to stick with his choice. So pre-blizzard whiskey shopping went I.

I hate whiskey too. So I was looking for the smallest possible bottle, but then I also realized I have friends who don't hate whiskey. I was going to have whiskey left over, so I would serve it to friends as an after dinner drink at some point and I didn't want it to be poor quality. Of course I had no idea what good quality was and I wasn't willing to spend a lot of money on it.

I got some help. While I was staring helplessly at the state store, a friendly connoisseur discussed the finer points of cooking vs. drinking and then confided he like whiskey a bunch after recommending the Jim Bean over the JD for cooking with. I asked him if he would be happy to be served the Jim Bean at a dinner party and he told me that he'd be quite happy because it was like drinking a decent 11$ bottle of wine with a good dinner even though you also drink really ridiculously expensive wines. Price doesn't equal quality in context. Context is very important.


So Jim Bean was going into the glaze, and if you visit and drink whiskey, it's what will be offered to you. Probably for the next year. This was the smallest bottle I could find that wasn't a sample size.

The arrival of the Jim Bean drew the attention of a Poppet who doesn't usually assist in the cooking adventures.

Directions for Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.

Now just to set the record straight. The Boy can cook. He can fry, saute, bake, follow a recipe, make a reduction sauce and plan a meal. However he does the practical thing and except for main courses, tends to use semi-processed foods or frozen vegetables for side dishes. Most of his "from scratch" stuff is baking.

So it was with some awareness I asked, "Have you ever peeled potatoes?"


"Well, you're going to now."

I confessed to him immediately that he should not accept my teaching as the definitive word on it. I am a terrible potato peeler. I've got a lot of decent kitchen skills but frankly, I suck at this. I'm slow, potatoes slip out of my hands. I understand that a stint in the armed forces or being a Boy Scout leader would rectify this deficiency, however I am willing to do neither of those things. I usually delegate it to the Perfectly Normal Husband who is a peeler par excellence, and has been my sous chef on many a food based performance project when he was just my Perfectly Normal Accountant.

I showed him how to hold the potato, the peeler, initial safety tips and told him to take his time. Like the eggs I did the first one and let him do the rest. I told him not to stress about it and go slow and maybe someday someone would teach him the secret that I lack to getting it done quickly, but properly.

After the experience of peeling with the peeler (Good Grips - great for peeling klutzes like me) he took a look at our knives and immediately took out a paring knife wondering if you could use that to peek the suckers. Well yes, yes you can. And that's exactly the knife you'd use, but if you think I'm bad peeling with a peeler well I'm just an impending ER visit waiting to happen with a paring knife. Maybe Grandpa will teach him next visit.

He peeled all 4 lbs.

Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.

Yeah, about that. Uncooked sweet potatoes have the consistency of balsa wood. I have very good knives but I usually cook the potatoes to soften them first and then slice them for presentation but the recipe was really clear. This was the only task I took over for The Boy, for the sake of my knives and my nerves. Also, having taken The Girl to the ER for her shoulder the week before I wasn't interested in doing that when all the downed trees and shoveling based heart attacks were going to fill up the ER.

Steam the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes or until soft but not mushy.

So The Boy learned what a vegetable steamer was.

He laid the sweet potato disks around the edges and center to open up the steamers "petals" as wide as they would go, there was about an inch and a half of water at the bottom to produce the steam.

He managed to get them all to fit without compromising the steamer. Covered it and started timing the steam from the water boiling - to get them "soft" took about 15 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from steamer and set aside.

We just moved them off the heat and set them aside on the counter still covered.

Now it was time to make the glaze; certain Poppets were very happy about this.

In a small saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and salt stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the whiskey or bourbon ( which the gentleman at the store told me is the same thing) and cook for 5-10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stirring occasionally.

The Boy likes, and is pretty good at chemistry. He made sure that the margarine was melted and thoroughly stirred before adding the sugar and did that again with the sugar before adding the whiskey.

10 minutes is a long time and he felt stirring frequently was better than occasionally so he pulled up a chair and tended the glaze for the 10 minutes.

This is what it looks like when it is the right consistency.

While the glaze is cooking you should spray a large 9x11 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place sweet potatoes in the pan

and drizzle the sauce over the top when it's done.

Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Baste with the sauce every 10 minutes to keep the potatoes from drying out. He used the turkey baster after trying the basting brush. The turkey baster worked much better.

When they were done we re-plated the potatoes into a baking/serving dish for the dinner for the two of them and sampled the finished product.

The whisky made it fuller, the glaze was sweetened but not sweet. The outer portion of the disk had a soft crispness and the inside was soft. It was definitely savory. If the whiskey weren't in the recipe it would at best be bland and at worst be cloying.

The whiskey was definitely the thing that knocked this recipe up to a higher level. Sweet Potatoes and Whiskey - perfect together - as long as they've been cooked for an hour or so.

And as the boy would say, "Tasty".

We were already looking forward to when we were going to eat the leftovers.

But it was getting close to noon. His Girl was due at 5.

The Skeleton Poppet Who Wants a Flower Shop showed up with a bunch of vases, three different types of flowers and fill and some florist shears.

Bustling around and checking color, cut and health he insisted that The Boy use his time between bastings to learn how to arrange the flowers for the table himself.


Dead Serious.

We are really going to have to break the Skeleton of his penchant for bad puns.

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