Thursday, December 5, 2013

Guest Post: Thanksgiving (and Anytime) Potatoes

Hello hello!  I am so pleased to be oh-so-graciously loaned this space by my husband, Brian, for a guest post.  :)

So… I’ll kick off this post with just a little bit about me.  I love to create, and I love working with my hands.  That would mean I’m a natural at cooking, right?  Ehh… not so much.  That is to say, I’m pretty decent at it when I actually do it (which is not often – if you couldn’t tell by now, Brian does the vast majority of the cooking in our house, for which I am eternally grateful), but I can’t say that it comes naturally to me.  It’s a skill that I have improved over time, but I still don’t have the instincts that the best cooks seem to have, and perhaps I never will.  But I do try.

I was raised in a very Italian-food-centric household.  We literally ate some version of pasta nearly every single day.  My mom made big batches of sauce from scratch every week, and everything she cooked seemed to materialize gracefully and effortlessly, without any use of recipes. 

My lovely mom with her newborn grandson
So that has been a huge influence on how I cook – at least, the Italian stuff – I can whip up a delicious pasta sauce from scratch, and I could make meatballs, or a lasagna in my sleep.  My biggest trouble with cooking, though, is that my innate creativity grinds to a screeching halt when I try to think of what to make.  That’s a real weakness of mine – so those rare times that I take an opportunity to cook, I browse various recipes to help cobble together an idea of what I want to make, and I love dishes that aren’t “typical” – my favorites feature some sort of special ingredient or preparation that’s uncommon or unexpected.  So, in general, that’s my approach.

And this certainly doesn't hurt.
So, as Brian mentioned, we just hosted our first-ever Thanksgiving.  I am a HUGE fan of sweet potatoes, and I love that they’re so pivotal to the “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner.  But I wanted to try to give that dish a twist, to make it unique, make it my own.  Beyond that, I wasn’t too sure.

We had visited our local Whole Foods the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, and I gravitated toward their many different potato varieties.  It was quite the selection.  I decided on buying a couple of standard red sweet potatoes, as well as purple sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes (which I didn’t end up using in this dish) and I couldn’t resist picking up a few Yukon Gold potatoes (I’m a sucker for that beautiful color).

From left to right: Japanese sweet, red sweet, purple sweet
Now, being that I had a combination of savory and sweet potatoes, I wrestled with whether to keep them all in the same dish, or separate out the gold to mash on their own.  The problem with that, as Brian kindly pointed out, is that I only had two, which wouldn’t produce much mashed potato volume for 5 adults and 1 hungry baby.  So, I decided to bite the cooking bullet and keep them all in the same dish. 

How I put together the dish truly fits this blog – impulsive.  I literally decided that morning as I was assembling it, that I would cut all the potatoes into thin (approx. 1/8”) slices, and then layer them by type into a baking dish.  

gorgeous golds

Red sweet potatoes - no, not a yam.
I first coated the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil, then laid down the Yukon Gold slices.  I thinly sliced pats of butter and placed them various spots on top.  Next, I chopped some fresh herbs – sage, rosemary and thyme – and sprinkled them evenly over the surface.

LOVE fresh herbs.

the gold layer
After that, I followed a similar process with the red and purple sweet potatoes, but sprinkles of brown sugar replaced the herbs. 

the red layer
The very top layer I partially covered with mini marshmallows, but I would not repeat that step as they effectively dissolved into nothingness during the baking.  Also, I would have changed not coating the surface of those upper layer slices with some oil & melted butter – they dried out during the baking.   We were able to salvage them by mixing all the layers together after they were cooked – the butter from the other layers moistened them – but yeah, that was a first-time mistake from which I have learned.

the finished product
The result?  The potatoes were delicious!  The herbs on the gold layer tasted wonderful even on the sweet potatoes, and the butter helped sort of unify it all.  I got rave reviews from everyone.  The rich, beautiful colors of the potatoes made for a lovely presentation, and next time the dish will look even better without that post-cooking stir.

Overall, I LOVED the way this dish turned out, and I would definitely make it again (with the aforementioned edits).  Great success!

You call them mistakes - I call them opportunities for improvement.  :)

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