Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yukons and Yams

Yesterday turned out to be a no-cooking day. As I was getting ready to scrub the Yukon gold potatoes and the yams the garbage disposal fell off the sink. While running, and it kept running, giving the kitchen, the floor and the under sink cabinet contents a good rinsing, or flooding. Which means instead of slow roasting yams and boiling potato pieces the day went to mopping up, cleaning out under the sink, calling handy friends for help. Hopefully later this afternoon a good friend will have the disposal reattached, or replaced, and holiday cooking can move forward. Trying to be thankful it didn't happen Thanksgiving morning...and that not all my handy buddies are hunters off on a mountain somewhere.

Now we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming:

Yukons and Yams

You know how some leftovers taste better than they did during the meal? More flavorful, rich and enticing? That is one of the key reasons I like to prepare most of the side dishes and desserts a couple days before a feast. It gives the flavors time to meld, deepening the tastes, becoming leftover rich for the big meal.

Yukon gold potatoes are my favorite with their thin skins that don't require peeling and a buttery taste. While hosting a function at a hotel the chef made me yukons mashed with kosher salt and olive oil. They smelled divine, so golden yellow I was certain they'd been soaked with butter. I was blissfully wrong, slowly eating each bite and sorely tempted to lick the plate clean. That chef gave me back mashed potatoes. Even now I hesitate to put gravy on them, it distracts from their buttery simplicity.

Buy 6-8 oz of potatoes per person you're serving. If your crew consists of big eaters or carb fiends, bump that up to 12 oz. It will mean having a few leftovers, maybe.

The beauty of preparing potatoes, either kind, is there are no measurements after weighing them for purchase. Everything is by taste, by desired consistency, and fluctuates every time based on the potatoes.

Scrub the potatoes then cut them into even sized chunks. Place them in a pot large enough all the potatoes only half fill it. Add enough water to barely cover them. Sprinkle with Kosher sea salt. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Cook until the potatoes are soft and the liquid is almost gone.

I mash mine in the pot with extra-virgin olive oil, and a bit more sea salt. When I want smoother whipped potatoes the Kitchenaid immersion blender is the tool of choice; chunkier potatoes call for the old fashioned hand-masher. If it seems like they aren't salty enough add a bit of granulated garlic. It will enhance the salt and flavor without over powering the rest of the flavors. White pepper will avoid little black flecks, but really if your guests are whining about flecks in their potatoes they need to be a someone else's table.

At this point the potatoes go into a storage container to cool. The day I serve them about an hour before dinner I'll put them back in a pot with a bit of coconut milk creamer to keep them from drying out. If they aren't seasoned to the point you want to keep eating them out of the pot, keep adding salt, garlic, or creamer, until you do. Then they're ready.

Preparing the yams/sweet potatoes isn't much different, buy them in the same quantities as the other potatoes, scrub them well. Roasting the yams in-skin starts caramelizing the sugars, reducing the amount of sweetener needed later. If there aren't any other dishes needing to be baked, preheat the oven to 400 and bake the potatoes for an hour, or more, until they are tender to the touch. No need to wrap them in foil or even put them in a pan, right on the rack works best.

If you're baking other things, no worries, any temp under 400 works, the yams will just take a bit longer to cook. If you're lucky enough to be feeding a big crew having an oven full of yams roasting makes for a warm, autumn and caramel redolent house.

Once they're done, use mitts or silicon pads to remove from the oven. When they are still warm/hot but cool enough to handle without burning yourself, slit them open and scrap out the 'meat' into a mixing bowl. Mine end up in the Kitchenaid mixer with the paddle attachment. No mixer? That old fashioned potato masher works great too, just more effort on your part, or step where kids can easily help.

Add a splash of orange juice, a bit of light brown sugar, and a splash of Grand Marnier liqueur. If the yams seem a bit dry I'll add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil. Agave syrup also works in place of the brown sugar.

Just like the potatoes, store in a container and reheat in a pot with a bit more OJ and Grand Marnier.

These will be sweet, fragrant, yet nothing like the canned candied yams covered in sugar and marshmallows. If there are any leftovers a sweet potato pudding makes a wonderful hot breakfast or snack.

More later about cranberry relishes, right now it is time to reassemble the kitchen sink with a working disposal.

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