You remember my post about making Alicia Bien's recipe for chicken and rice? I tried to follow the directions, except that I didn't have quite all the ingredients. When it comes to cooking, if in doubt, I punt. For Alicia's recipe, I punted and it still turned out well.
Of course, I was emboldened by the fact that only Dale and I would have to try to eat the results of my off-the-cuff cooking.
Which leads us to Thanksgiving. Our family shares the holiday with our friends, the Derbys. We take turns hosting, and on the years they host, I supply two items: pumpkin pie and sweet potato casserole.
The pumpkin pie is easy. I get a can of Libby's pumpkin, a box of Pillsbury Pie Crusts, and follow the directions on the can. It's always a sure hit.
Sweet potatoes are another thing altogether. I'm never happy with the casserole. I've tried various recipes over the years and I just don't like them. At one point, Dale said he liked the sweet potatoes whole, not mashed, so I spent a lot of time with recipes that kept them in chunks, but the melted butter-orange juice-cinnamon seasonings made the whole thing too soupy, in my opinion. There weren't enough marshmallows to cover that sin.
This year, I decided to try a recipe from The Pioneer Woman. I mean, Ree Drummond's recipes look pretty easy and are usually a matter of "take a pound of butter, then add a glop of sugar, then whole milk, then more butter, and perhaps some bacon fat..." In other words, not always good for you, which is the trademark of a good Thanksgiving side dish.
I was also determined to follow the recipe exactly. None of this substituting one spice for another. I was serving this to friends. Yes, they would forgive me for a misstep, but you like to put your best dish forward for other people. Ree would not steer me wrong.
The first wrong turn occurred in the grocery store. The recipe called for sweet potatoes. Going to the big bin o'root veggies, there were regular potatoes of several varieties, including sweet potatoes, and yams. Yams are oddly shaped and a burnt orange color. Sweet potatoes are a tad less oddly-shaped and more of a golden color.
Ree said sweet potatoes, so that's what I bought.
On Thursday morning, I happily popped them in the oven for baking (none of this micro-nuking for me - I'm Mini-Pioneer Woman). While they baked, I chopped pecans for the topping. Here's my nut chopper:
It used to be my grandmother's, and I feel very rustic and somehow connected to her when I use it.
The potatoes did not all cook through at the same time, so I reached in with the oven mitt to take out one of the baked ones and the skin peeled off, revealing a rather beige meat. Not as white as a regular potato, more of an ecru, but definitely not the traditional orange of a traditional sweet potato.
I should have gotten yams.
After I spent about thirty seconds in a panic, I considered my options. I could go to the store and get yams. I could continue down this road with the non-orange sweet potatoes. I had a can of sweet potatoes in the pantry I could use instead. I briefly considered using food coloring, to dye the baked sweet potatoes an appropriate color.
In the end, I went ahead with Ree's recipe and also prepared the canned sweet potatoes. Call it hedging my bet.
The more I forged ahead, the weirder things got. The directions called for two eggs and a cup of milk - when added, it made beige sweet potato soup. Then I added the vanilla, which gave it kind of an ice cream smell. I turned to making the topping, which called for flour, brown sugar, chopped pecans, and butter, 3/4 of a stick. At first I read it as 3/4 cup, then re-read it two or three times. No, three-fourths of a stick.
It's not a bad mistake to make, not as bad as, say, reading it to say the butter should be at room temperature.
I'm not sure how I added the word "softened" to the directions, but I did. When I began to combine the mixture with the pastry cutter, I realized my mistake. Not one to be discouraged by reality, I went on, boldly chopping through the dry ingredients with my gloppy butter, stopping to clean the mush from the blades every once in a while. Sooner or later I ended up with a topping that, while not crumbly, was serviceable.
I assembled everything, popped it in the oven, and hoped for the best. Kind of sounds like my life, but we won't go there. In the meantime, I mashed up the canned sweet potatoes with spice and butter and orange juice and topped them with marshmallows. Just in case.
Marcus and Dale looked at the results and advised me to take both to the feast. What were the results?
The non-orange, previously soupy casserole had firmed into a sweet treat with a crunchy topping, and was the clear winner.
Thank you, Pioneer Woman! I shouldn't have doubted you. (But next year, I'm buying the yams.)