Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole and our Thanksgiving Menu



I love to hear what everyone's holiday traditions are, what special dishes their families make, what memories people have.

I write a lot on this blog about my memories from childhood and from living overseas, and I think it's just that food touches so many of our senses - first, our eyes are delighted by what we see on the plate and how it's presented, then we inhale its aroma, and finally, taste.

All of these senses being touched by something as simple as sliced apples simmered in butter and cinnamon bring back the memories associated with those feelings.  I like that.





My family is pretty traditional with what we cook for Thanksgiving, although instead of the usual green bean casserole, we make a vegetable casserole with green beans, corn, peppers, onions and mushrooms, cooked in a creamy, cheesy sauce, and topped with crumbled cheese crackers.  And instead of marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, we top ours with a brown sugar and pecan streusel topping.

I don't usually eat much of the turkey at dinner - I'm more into what you can do with the leftover turkey...  sandwiches, soup...  But I do love baked ham, and the really salty, rich gravy it yields to pour over creamy mashed potatoes.




Cranberry sauce is another of my favorites.  And we always put a bowl of black olives on the table, too - as a kid, I'd try to steal as many olives as I could get away with before dinner.

And pie.  LOTS of pie.  Double crusted, deep dish apple pie with crumble toppingGooey pecan pieChocolate cream pie with mounds of whipped cream.  And pumpkin, although only because other people like it - as much as I love baking with pumpkin, pumpkin pie is always the last one I'll choose to eat.

So here's our menu lineup for Thursday...
Mom:
  • Turkey or Ham (not sure which she's making, or maybe both?)
  • Gravy
  • Potatoes
  • Rolls or Biscuits
  • Chocolate Pecan Pie
Me:
  • Vegetable Casserole
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Cranberry Orange Compote
  • Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecans
  • Caramel Apple Custard Pie
  • Holiday Drink

After talking with my mom about our Thanksgiving menu this year, I started compiling my ideas, jotting down thoughts and gathering recipes for the dishes I'll be making.  I wish that I could share more of them with you all before Thursday, but since I've only been writing this blog since May, I don't have any photos from dishes in previous years, so I've decided to just share one or two dishes.

Yesterday, I shared my recipe for Cranberry Orange Compote, and today I'll share the recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole that my family has been making for as long as I can remember.





Friday night, Jamie and I cooked a couple steaks with sauteed mushrooms for dinner, and I had planned on making some simple mashed sweet potatoes to eat with that.  And then I just couldn't help making a small version of the sweet potato casserole instead, because who says you have to wait until Thanksgiving for sweet potato casserole?

Usually I mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or a pastry cutter to leave them a little chunky, but pureeing the sweet potato filling in the food processor made it so smooth and creamy that it's almost like a pudding.  This dish really could be eaten for dessert also.  Instead of using a large baking dish, it would also be beautiful spooned into individual ramekins and baked, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

But calling it a side dish instead of dessert means you still get to eat pie, too...





Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato filling:
·         4 large sweet potatoes (or substitute 4 cups canned sweet potatoes, mashed)
·         4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
·         2 eggs, lightly beaten
·         ¼ cup cream or buttermilk
·         ½ cup brown sugar
·         Cinnamon

Topping:
·         1 cup brown sugar
·         ½ cup self-rising flour
·         1/3 cup (2/3 of a stick) unsalted butter, cold
·         1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat the oven to 400.  Split the sweet potatoes lengthwise and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Dot the potatoes with the butter.  Roast until tender, about 1 hour.  Set aside to cool until they are cool enough to handle.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream or buttermilk and brown sugar for the filling.  Set aside.

In another bowl, use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the brown sugar and flour for the topping.  Stir in the pecans.  Set aside.

Use a spoon to scoop the sweet potato flesh from the skins; discard the skins.  Place the sweet potato flesh in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Add the beaten eggs, cream or buttermilk and brown sugar and puree until smooth and blended.

Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick baking spray.  Spread the sweet potato filling evenly in the pan.  Sprinkle the filling generously with cinnamon.  Sprinkle the streusel topping on the filling.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until hot through and the topping is browned.

This casserole can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated, unbaked, until ready to bake.