With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon and an invite from Mrs. Hackknife's parents to partake in holiday dinner at their place, I wanted to prepare a few dishes to help ease the effort on my mother-in-law. I decided on the traditional green bean casserole (so traditional, in fact, it barely rates mentioning in this post), plus a chocolate pecan chunk pie (which we've made here in the Commissary a few times before and will eventually describe in a posting) and some kind of dinner rolls. Then the infamous farm box arrived with (among other things) a large bag of fresh whole cranberries and 6 large sweet potatoes. Now, I'd already been warned not to bother with making either sweet potato casserole or cranberry sauce as my father-in-law prefers the canned kind of both, but without really any other options for this fine produce, I posited that the dinner guests could always use more cranberry sauce and possibly another pie, perhaps sweet potato (recognizing, of course, that Thanksgiving is nothing if not the holiday of culinary excess).
First up was the cranberry sauce, following a recipe found in Joy of Cooking (they call it "relish"). This was actually remarkably simple, not unlike making compote in the respect that you're basically heating up fruit in a pan on the stove with sugar and liquid. Here's the recipe:
Combine in a large skillet:
1 lb. cranberries, picked over (I took this to mean take out the crappy-looking ones)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange zest
Cook uncovered over medium heat until most of the cranberries pop open (yes, they do actually pop, perhaps not as violently as popcorn) and the mixture is somewhat thickened (sort of a subjective measure here), 7 to 10 minutes (I think I did closer to 15). If desired, add 1/2 cup of slivered blanched almonds (I did not desire). Let cool and serve or refrigerate for up to 1 day.
That's it, and it was a big hit with everyone at dinner (except my father-in-law, who poignantly declined to have any). Plus, we found that the sauce also works well as a sweet topping on toast, vanilla ice cream, etc., although if you're partial to acid reflux (which I am becoming increasing so as I plod along through middle age), you may want to enjoy in small doses since the berries are pretty acidic.
Next up was the sweet potato pie (allegedly a Southern delicacy). Again, the Joy of Cooking recipe is pretty straightforward, similar to pumpkin with pureed sweet potato in place of the pureed pumpkin:
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 400F. Make a pie crust (or wimp out like me and use a Keebler pre-fab crust). Take 2 lb. of sweet potatoes and peel deeply, removing both the skin and the pale, fibrous layer beneath it. Cut crosswise into 1-inch chunks and steam in a basket over boiling water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Puree in a food processor.
Whisk together thoroughly in a medium bowl:
4 large eggs
1/2 c. sugar.
Whisk in 1 1/2 c. of sweet potato puree, then whisk in:
1 c. light cream or evaporated milk, or 1/2 milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
4 tsp. strained lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Warm pie crust in the oven until hot to the touch (about 3 min.). Pour in the filling and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F and bake until the center of the filling seems set, but quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged, about 20 minutes more. Let cool completely on a rack, then refrigerate for up to 1 day. Serve at room temperature or warm w/whipped cream.
Again, the final product was a hit without a whole heck of a lot of effort. There was, however, one dish attempted that didn't do so well, that is, the dinner rolls. More on that in Part 2.....