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Vegetarians, hooray! No gelatin in Marshmallow Fluff! November 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you grew up with peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches, and marshmallow cream on your hot fudge sundaes—or, say, marshmallow cream on the revered Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole—and became vegetarian at some point, you were probably horrified to learn that marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, contain gelatin.

Gelatin is made from calves’ feet, which means that Jell-O, marshmallows, and such unlikely products as Goo-Goo Clusters and Altoids are off-limits to vegetarians. Rats!

Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I grew up with Thanksgiving sweet potatoes roasted and served with butter, salt, and black pepper, so we never had to contend with the iconic marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole. But those peanut butter sandwiches and sundaes were favorite treats, even if we don’t really eat them now. So I was thrilled to read in today’s Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) that Marshmallow Fluff doesn’t contain gelatin. Vegetarians, rejoice! Nobody’s going to say the stuff is good for you. But at least you can enjoy it on Thanksgiving or when you’re craving a peanut butter sandwich or sundae, and not have to worry about gelatin.

             ‘Til next time,



Sweet potatoes: the perfect food?! March 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. While our friend Ben and I were vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina, our friend Kathy mentioned that she’d read that sweet potatoes were the perfect food. Sweet potatoes?!

OFB and I love sweet potatoes in (almost) all their forms: baked with butter and salt, sliced and roasted with olive oil and herbs, as sweet potato fries, in sweet potato souffle, as sweet potato chips. (We can’t abide the nasty, marshmallow-covered casserole, however; for us, the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes is plenty sweet enough without sugar added and glop on top. This is a vegetable, not dessert, folks.) But the perfect food?! I’d have thought it would be eggs.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I headed to my good friend Google. I already knew that, besides being naturally low-cal, sweet potatoes contain significant amounts of fiber and vitamins A (as beta carotene) and C. But plenty of veggies are low-cal and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. And while we love sweet potatoes’ luscious flavor and naturally rich, creamy texture (the secret is cooking them long enough to bring the texture out), plenty of other veggies can claim “delicious” as part of their job description.

I found plenty of good press for sweet potatoes. They were listed as high in antioxidants and rate the lowest of the root veggies on the glycemic index, making them an excellent “anti-diabetic” vegetable and putting them on the “good carbs” list on carb-restricted diets like South Beach, Atkins, and Sugar Busters. In addition to being high in vitamins A and C, they contain significant amounts of vitamin B6 and the minerals manganese, copper, iron, potassium, and calcium. They’re recommended to protect smokers from emphysema and those at risk from heart failure and stroke from the onset of symptoms, thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich properties.

I’m still not convinced about the “perfect food” business, but we love sweet potatoes and try to incorporate them in our meals at least once or twice a week. We don’t eat the skins when we bake sweet potatoes—our black German shepherd, Shiloh, Amazon parrot, Plutarch, and chickens are all lined up for their share—but we do eat the skins when we roast thick slices of sweet potatoes, and find them tender and delicious (not to mention an excellent source of added fiber).

Okay, great. Sweet potatoes have wonderful flavor, are high-fiber, low-cal, and packed with vitamins and minerals. But what about protein? A super-vegetable, sure. But as for the “perfect food,” what about dried beans, soy and soy derivatives like tofu, brown rice, whole grains—those staples that have supported human life since the dawn of the agricultural age—not to mention yogurt, cheese, and those eggs?

I’d have said sweet potatoes, like dark, leafy greens, tomatoes, and the like, are excellent eat-withs in terms of promoting optimal health and well-being. So I was relieved to finally find that the whole “perfect food” business originated with a 1992 Center for Science in the Public Interest report that ranked sweet potatoes as highest in nutritional value compared to other vegetables. That I’m very happy to believe! (Note that the #2 vegetable was the much-maligned true potato, but it came in a distant second to the unrelated sweet potato.)

To enjoy sweet potatoes as much as we do, it pays to follow a few simple tips:

* Buy deep orange sweet potatoes, which have the highest nutrient value. Choose long, relatively thin sweet potatoes that have smooth, blemish-free skins. Avoid thick, lumpy sweet potatoes or those with sunken, dark spots. Long, thin sweet potatoes cook fastest and most evenly, so you’re sure to end up with delicious, melt-in-the-mouth sweet potatoes rather than hard, underdone, unappetizing specimens.

* Sort out the sweet potato/yam confusion. Yams are basically long, whitish Polynesian roots, not the orange, red, or whitish tubers (specialized swollen underground stems) that characterize sweet potatoes, an entirely different species. You’ll often see the words used interchangeably, especially in the South and on cans (“candied yams” and etc.), but these are almost always sweet potatoes. True yams are all but unobtainable in the U.S., and their starchy, flavorless, unappealing nature (think poi) makes them undesirable in any case, except for those who’ve been raised on them and thus love them.

* Bake washed whole sweet potatoes at 350 degrees F. for about an hour and a half. Your goal is to bake them until the flesh literally separates from the skin and begins to caramelize, bringing out their inherent sweetness. To keep sweet potatoes from exploding in the oven, you need to punch holes at 1-inch intervals in the top with a fork so the steam can escape. When you see thick brown fluid oozing from the holes, it’s a good indication that the sweet potatoes are ready to serve. Another way to make sure you’re not serving them before they reach their peak of creamy goodness is to remove one from the aluminum-foil-lined cooking sheet, wearing an oven mitt, of course,  and squeeze it to see if it’s really, really soft. If so, it’s good to go!

* Roasted sweet potato slices are easier to time; put them in the oven at 350, topped with olive oil, salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocamare, lemon pepper or fresh-ground black pepper, and a mix of herbs, including dried oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. Yum! Start checking for doneness after 1/2 hour; when a fork easily penetrates the flesh, the slices are done.

* Store raw sweet potatoes in a cool dry place, not in the fridge. They prefer temps of 55-65 degrees F. Our mudroom’s the perfect place for sweet potato (and potato, squash, cabbage, apple, and citrus) storage. The veggie crisper in your fridge will make them miserable and cause them to rot.

* In our experience, sweet potatoes don’t keep nearly as well as true potatoes. It’s not long before those dark, sunken spots start to appear, even if you’ve bought beautiful tubers and stored them properly. So I suggest that you decide how many sweet potatoes you’re likely to cook each week, and buy exactly that many. Sound sweet potatoes will keep perfectly for at least a week, as long as you don’t put them in the fridge.

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, let’s move on to a truly gourmet form of sweet potatoes: sweet potato souffle. We first encountered this luscious, decadent dish at our favorite high-end restaurant, the Landis Store Hotel. Given our financial circumstances, we rarely find ourselves at Landis Store these days, but if we do happen to go there, we can never resist their sweet potato souffle and corn cakes. Yum!!! Landis Store is also the only place where I’ll actually order dessert: Their fresh blueberry tart, loaded with whipped cream, is more than I can resist. But I can’t manage it and a meal, so I order it to go and indulge in the most decadent breakfast imaginable the following day.

But I digress. Fortunately for all of us who enjoy sweet potatoes, Landis Store has posted its sweet potato souffle recipe on its website, along with its delicious corn cakes (fritters). Check out the recipes for yourself by Googling Landis Store Hotel. You won’t be sorry!

              ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Those sweet potatoes. November 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. One of the more bizarre Thanksgiving traditions in my view is the sweet potato casserole. Like so many of the foods served at Thanksgiving—turkey, pumpkins, green beans, cranberries, and corn leap to mind—sweet potatoes are a New World food (they’re native to South America), so putting them on the table is completely appropriate. Besides, our friend Ben and I love sweet potatoes. So what’s my problem?

We’re getting to that. First, a little history: In my family (and in OFB’s), you baked sweet potatoes until they were so well done that the flesh literally separated from the skin with no help from you once you split them open. You added liberal amounts of butter, salt, and (if you liked it) black or white pepper, plunged in your fork, and sent your tastebuds soaring to sweet potato heaven.

If you’ve never had a good baked sweet potato, here’s the foolproof method: Choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that are long and comparatively thin versus short and stout. Wash but don’t dry the sweet potatoes, place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet to prevent drippings from ruining your oven, and puncture the top of each sweet potato with a fork every inch or so to let the steam escape so the sweet potatoes won’t explode while they’re cooking. (A very bad idea.) Bake at 375 degrees F for an hour or at 350 for an hour and a half, or until you can see dark brown caramelized goo oozing out of the puncture holes and the potatoes are completely soft to the touch. (If you’ve ever eaten—or tried to eat—an underdone sweet potato, you’ll understand the importance of letting them cook as long as it takes. Trust me on this.) Remove the well-done sweet potatoes from the oven, split them with a knife, and you’re good to go. Note: Dogs, parrots, and chickens love the cooled skins, escpecially if there are traces of sweet potato, butter, and salt left on them.

Sweet potatoes cooked like this are so incredibly delicious that it’s hard to imagine improving on them. OFB and I love them with rice, broccoli, and a huge tossed salad, or with creamy pasta, green beans (or mixed green and yellow wax beans in season), and salad. They’re a natural with chicken, or, of course, turkey, and they go oh so well with cranberry sauce. But there is one sweet potato dish that we love as much, and maybe more. It’s a specialty of a local country inn, the Landis Store Hotel, and they were generous enough to post the recipe on their website so fans like us could enjoy it even when it’s not on the menu. Check this out:

      Landis Store’s Sweet Potato Souffle

2 lbs. sweet potatoes

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 sticks butter

1/2 cup cream

1 egg

Peel and boil sweet potatoes until they’re soft. Drain sweet potatoes and put in a food processor, adding salt, butter, cream, and egg. Add salt and pepper to taste and bake in six individual buttered ramekins or souffle dishes at 350 degrees F until the tops are light brown. Serve piping hot. [Note: Because Landis Store is a restaurant, they always make their sweet potato souffle in individual serving dishes. If I were making it, I’d put it all into one big souffle dish instead.—Silence]

Let’s get back to why I have a problem with sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. If someone served up well baked and buttered sweet potatoes, or sweet potato souffle, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem. In fact, I’d be the first in line. It’s the idea of turning sweet potatoes (often from a can) into a substrate for marshmallows that floors me. Eeeeewww!!!! Who ever thought of this?! How could anyone eat it, and why would they want to? Aren’t sweet potatoes sweet enough without globbing a bunch of marshmallows on top?!!

Some people have accused this casserole of being a white trash concoction. So while I was researching it, I headed straight for the source of all things trailer-park trashy, the totally hilarious Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Holiday Cookbook by one of our heroes, the immortal Ruby Ann Boxcar. Now, you know when a book’s back cover begins with “Decorate the panelin’ and pile on the hair spray… It’s time to celebrate the holidays—trailer park style!” that we’re not talking about your ordinary cookbook. (“Don’t let Elvis’s birthday blow past you like a Baptist in a Revival bus.”) And sure enough, Ruby Ann didn’t let me down when it came to Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. If you have to have ’em sweet, leave the marshmallows on the store shelf and try this casserole from Ruby Ann’s mama-in-law, Momma Ballzak:

        Momma Ballzak’s Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup margarine

2 cups Kahlua liqueur

1 cup chopped pecans

Combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and 1/2 cup margarine. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Put into a greased shallow casserole. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, 1/3 cup margarine, 1 cup of the Kahlua, and pecans. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole, and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes.Pour the remainin’ Kahlua over the casserole and cook for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.

As Ruby Ann notes, “I dare you to have two servin’s of this and then walk a straight line.” I’m quite intrigued by this recipe, I’ll admit, but if I ever decide to try it I’d substitute salted butter for that margarine, and might add a half-teaspoon of additional salt to offset the sweetness.

There are other sweet potato treats that I contemplate for the Thanksgiving season, including sweet potato cornbread and sweet potato biscuits. Try them, they’re yummy! (I’ll give you the recipes in Friday’s Frugal Living Tip, which will be about great frugal uses for Thanksgiving leftovers.) But one thing you’ll never see me making or tasting is that marshmallow-topped gunk.

One more thing while we’re on the subject of potatoes: My family always served mashed Irish potatoes rather than sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I love mashed potatoes, so I can never resist making some for the occasion. I like to boil Yukon Gold potatoes until they’re thoroughly cooked, then drain them, return the pot to the fire, turn the heat to low, and mash them skins and all, adding lots of butter, light cream or half-and-half, salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, and white or fresh-ground black pepper. I have a very heavy potato masher I inherited from my grandmother and it’s a real treasure.

Believe it or not, one of Ruby Ann’s friends at the High Chaparral Trailer Park apparently goes for mashed Yukon Golds at Thanksgiving, too. He adds butter, heavy cream, chives, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, and cream cheese to his. Hmmm. That actually sounds really good…

             ‘Til next time,