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    Entries in cans are evil (8)

    Friday
    Nov222013

    Sweet Potato Crisp

    One last Thanksgiving side before the big day next week.  By now you probably have everything all planned out.  You might have even done your grocery shopping already.  If your Thanksgiving spread is going to include something that looks like this…

    You might want to call an audible.  You know, I grew up eating ‘yams’ just like that, and quite honestly, loved them.  Of course, I loved happy meals too, and I wouldn’t touch one of those with a ten foot pole these days.  Some traditions really are just for children.  And while we’re on the subject of traditions and ‘yams’, let me set the record straight, once and for all.  This is a yam. 

    The things you buy in the can or in the produce department are not yams.  Not the orange ones, and not the white ones.  They are all sweet potatoes.  Yam is a misnomer that just happened to catch on in America.  See if you can convince at least one person this holiday season to stop calling them yams.  It will make me feel just a little bit better.  Ok, so enough about my sweet potato pet peeve, let’s get this show on the road. 

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    For the sweet potatoes:

    4 medium sized sweet potatoes
    1 cup half and half
    2 eggs
    ¼ cup sugar
    Pinch of salt

    For the topping:

    ½ cup butter, softened
    ⅔ cups oats
    ⅔ cups whole wheat flour
    ⅓ cup brown sugar
    ⅓ cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon nutmeg
    ½ teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon baking powder

    Preheat your oven to 375°.  Wash your sweet potatoes very well and dry them.  I’ll be honest, the white sweet potatoes are better than the orange ones, but my store didn’t have any.  I know ‘better’ is in the taste buds of the feaster, as it were, but that is not the case this time.  White sweet potatoes are better.  Trust me.  Regardless of that, the orange ones are still very tasty and will work if your store has as limited selection as mine did.  Ok, back to cooking.  Place the sweet potatoes onto a foil lined sheet pan.  (This is a small sheet pan, not giant sweet potatoes.)

    Pop them into the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes.  With sweet potatoes, you can really smell when they’re done, because they begin to ooze and the liquid caramelizes.  This is why I line the pan with foil.

    To be sure, you can check for doneness by inserting a fork. 

    If, once through the skin, it goes in and out easily, it’s done.  Mine took 90 minutes, so don’t be surprised if they’re not ready yet.  Another method for checking is just to squeeze them.  They should give easily under your fingers.

    Make sure you use a hot pad, though.  They’re really hot.  Once they’ve finished cooking give them a while to cool.  They can happily sit on top of the stove for a few hours, but you can start peeling them whenever they’re cool enough to handle.  The skin will come off fairly easily with a knife. 

    When the peel is removed, just cut them into large chunks.  You can do it straight into the mixing bowl you’re going to use, but I decided this was a good stopping point, so I just covered this bowl and put them in the fridge overnight. 

    Then, I shared a few bites with Otto because he’d been smelling them for hours, and sweet potatoes are his most favoritest snack.

    When you’re ready, throw the sweet potato chunks into your mixing bowl along with 2 eggs, 1 cup of half and half, ¼ cup of sugar, and a pinch of salt. 

    Now, I really enjoy the flavor of sweet potatoes (especially the white ones) just the way they are, so I don’t want to do much to them.  If you want them sweeter, add more sugar.  Now just turn on the mixer.  You could also do this with just a potato masher, but I prefer my mixer to do the labor work in my kitchen.  The mixture won’t be completely smooth, but that’s fine.

    Pour the mixture into a buttered 8x8 pan and wash your bowl and beater so you can make the topping.  It really couldn’t be simpler.  Throw that whole list of ingredients into your mixing bowl. 

    Yes, I know I didn’t sift anything, I didn’t incorporate the baking soda with the flour, all the ingredients are in their own little piles, and I just threw the stick of butter in whole.  Trust me, the mixer will take care of everything.  Just turn it on, starting on low and slowly increase the speed to medium.  Allow it to run for a minute or so, until the mixture is looks moist and crumbly. 

    You can also accomplish this with a pastry blender, or even a fork, but well… see above.  Now pour the topping over the sweet potatoes. 

    I know, you’re thinking right about now that this is way too much topping.  Personally, I don’t think too much topping is possible when it comes to crisp.  Just pile it on and spread it around.  I promise no one will complain. 

    Just in case, you’ll probably want to put the pan on a sheet pan, then slide it into a preheated (oops, forgot to mention that part) 375° oven (Well, 1 for 2 isn't bad, right?).  Bake it for 45 minutes.  It should be nice and brown on top when it’s ready. 

    Now, this is difficult, but it is important to allow any kind of crisp to set for at least 20 minutes before digging in.  I know it’s like torture, but you’ll be glad you did.  Your Thanksgiving guests will love your new sweet potato dish.  Or, if you’re just having a craving for sweet potatoes, like I was, you can just scoop some into a bowl and call it lunch. 

    What?  I don’t see a problem with having sweet potatoes for lunch.  It’s a serving of vegetables, right? 

    What is your favorite thing to do with sweet potatoes?   

     

    Friday
    Jul262013

    Chicken Divine

    You’ve probably heard of a dish called chicken divan.  Unfortunately, like so many other casserole type dishes, it is almost inevitably made with canned, condensed, cream of crap soup.  Why?  Let me show you how easy it is to make a fabulous version, with no scary, jiggly, canned stuff. 

    Here’s what you’ll need: 

    • 2 chicken breasts
    • 1 head of broccoli
    • 4 oz. cream cheese
    • ¼ cup green onion
    • 1 teaspoons fresh thyme
    • 2 cups chicken stock
    • 2 Tablespoons flour
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper
    • 1 cup grated cheese
    • 2 Tablespoons butter
    • 15 crackers
    • 1 ½ teaspoons poppy seeds

    First up, you need to cut the broccoli into florets.  Although I’m not using the stem in this dish, if your broccoli has a long stem on it like mine did, don’t waste it.  Clean it up, peeling off any rough or fibrous bits from the outside, then cut it into chunks.  Drop them into a freezer bag, and freeze them to use later for soup.

    Then just cut the top of the broccoli into roughly bite size pieces. 

    Dice your chicken breasts.  Add 1 Tablespoon of oil to a pan over medium heat and add the chicken.  Sprinkle it with the salt and pepper. 

    Cook briefly on all sides. 

    Then put a lid on and allow it to continue to cook for 7 minutes, moving it about once or twice so it doesn't burn. 

    Remove the cooked chicken and pour in 1 ½ cups chicken stock. 

    Add the broccoli and cover it, allowing it to cook for 5 minutes. 

    While you’re waiting for things to cook, go ahead and chop your green onions. 

    I happen to have fresh thyme on hand, so that’s what I used.   If you only have dried, cut it back to ¼ teaspoon or so. 

    If you’re using fresh, give it a good rinse, then remove the leaves and chop them. 

    When the broccoli has cooked for 5 minutes, it should still be green but starting to soften.  Go ahead and remove it from the pan. 

    To the remaining ½ cup chicken stock add 2 Tablespoons flour. 

    Stir that together until there are no lumps, and pour it into the pan. 

    Stir over medium heat until the mixture becomes nice and thick.

    Turn off the heat, then cut the cream cheese into pieces and add them to the pan. 

    Stir until the cream cheese is mostly incorporated.  It’s ok if you still have some small lumps. 


    Add the green onion and thyme. 

    Stir that together and add the chicken and broccoli, along with any liquid from them, back to the pan.     

    Gently stir until everything is evenly coated. 

    Pour the whole thing into a buttered casserole dish. 

    Give the pan a quick wash (or get a clean one out… your choice).  Place your crackers into a plastic bag. 

    And crush them until you all of the pieces are fairly little.  I just used my hand. 

    Melt 2 Tablespoons butter over medium heat and sprinkle in the poppy seeds. 

    Add the cracker crumbs. 

    Stir until everything is combined. 

    Spread the cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar) over the top of the chicken mixture. 

    Then sprinkle on the cracker crumb mixture. 

    Bake at 350° for 35 minutes.  It should be nice and bubbly around the edges. 

    See?  Delicious, beautiful, and not difficult, even without the cans. 

    What recipe that usually calls for canned soup would you like to see upgraded?