Friday, December 3, 2010

A Minor Kitchen Disaster, a Wayward Cat and Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I had intended to post my recipe for pumpkin-cranberry scones today, but when I mixed up the dough, I forgot to add the baking powder. Since I didn't discover my mistake until the scones were in the oven, they were a complete loss. A picture of them as they whirled down the disposal might have been an entertaining addition to my post, but I didn't think of it at the time.

Last night, instead of mixing up the dry ingredients for my scones before I went to bed (as I frequently do—it saves quite a bit of time in the morning), I should have probably just gone on to bed. I was exhausted. Like most chefs, I am almost always tired from Thanksgiving through New Years. But in addition to the normal work-related fatigue, I was tired because I had been up for several hours the previous night worrying about my cat.

Born feral, his independent habits have caused me many sleepless nights. But recently his desire to be out gallivanting while the temperature is below freezing has diminished. Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that he would suddenly feel the need to spend the night out after several days in, but it was. I went to bed late, slept fitfully and woke up at hourly intervals to check to see if he had turned up. He finally did. He came inside a bit hesitantly and then woke me up an hour and a half later to be let back out.... His sleep the next day was deep. Unfortunately, my schedule wouldn't allow me to share in the luxury of taking an all day nap.


Since everyone is tired and rushed this time of year, I thought I would use this space today to share a simple roasted sweet potato side dish that can be incorporated easily into a busy schedule. It is tasty, nutritious, and so easy that it doesn't require a recipe (or a lengthy blog post). The reason it is worth writing about at all is that sweet potatoes can be a bit tricky to roast because of their high sugar and moisture content.

In the past, I have roasted sweet potatoes at relatively high temperatures (425° or so) in an effort to make them crisp.  It never seemed to work very well.  When roasted at the higher temperatures appropriate for roasting most root vegetables, sweet potatoes tend to darken quickly and the exterior tends to get tough rather than crispy.   It is only recently that I have discovered that they truly roast best around 375° (or even 350°).   At lower temperatures, they will take longer (45 minutes to an hour), but when they are cooked through, the exterior will be a light golden brown. They may or may not be crispy, but either way their interior will be soft and sweet.

Olive oil, salt and pepper alone would be sufficient seasoning, but I think the sweet potatoes are especially good with the addition of some spices. My favorite combination is paprika and cumin. Sweet potatoes are also good with ground dried chili, fennel and coriander. It isn't even necessary to measure the spices—when you toss them with the olive oil and salt & pepper, simply add spices of your choice in combinations and quantities that suit your whim.

To obtain uniformly sized pieces from a vegetable that tends to be varied in size, I cut the sweet potato first lengthwise into halves or quarters and then cut these pieces crosswise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices. This creates nice stout chunks that can be eaten with a fork or picked up with your fingers. We have been enjoying them as a sort of "oven fry" to accompany hamburgers. I'm sure they would be equally good with chicken or pork. However you choose to enjoy them, I hope that you will be pleasantly surprised at how something so very easy can be so good.



Ingredients and baking dish ready to go



Seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika & cumin



Spread in a snug single layer in a baking dish


The finished product--tender, golden & sweet


2 comments:

Chris Beam said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who makes baking omissions!
Love the photo of your cat, they could care less if we worry about them Paige....it's obvious he's not losing any sleep. Can't wait to make these sweet potatoes, I was going to make the pasta this weekend but now because of this post must do so menu change ups I think.

Katrina said...

Ahh, sleeplessness, gotta love it. sigh
Mine is always kid related since we don't have any pets, but we're still probably about to get a dog. Can I handle that?
Love your scones, can't wait for that post with puffed up ones. ;)
Sweet potatoes are probably my favorite veggie this time of year.