Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casseroleDuring the holidays, people get a hankering for sweet potato casserole.  You know, that dish made up of sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and brown sugar?  My problem with this traditional side is it’s often made from canned sweet potatoes (full of corn syrup) and ends up being cloyingly sweet.  But since it’s one of my husband’s favorite parts of holiday meals–and I admit my eyes light up when I see it too–I was determined to make a healthier version.

I baked my own sweet potatoes, which isn’t much harder than opening cans…just takes time and a little planning.  And fresh is so much tastier and healthier than canned!  To save time on the day of, bake sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh the day before.  I found some natural-ish marshmallows at Whole Foods.  Obviously, marshmallows are not found in nature–and due to their odd consistency there is no way to have a completely natural version–but this brand seemed least wacky.  I used Grade B maple syrup as sweetener, which lends a richer flavor (with vitamins and minerals!) than ordinary sugar.  I added some (again, natural-ish) crushed graham crackers on top for a fun twist.

Don’t forget to check out my recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce, the perfect condiment for Thanksgiving turkey!

Baked sweet potatoes

Best ingredients I’ve seen for marshmallows

First layer of casserole

Sweet potato casserole ready to go into oven

Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole

  • sweet potatoes, scrubbed and rubbed with olive oil
  • 1 package marshmallows – I used Elyon brand
  • Grade B maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • graham crackers, crushed/crumbled – I used Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Scrub sweet potatoes, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.  Place on baking sheet and bake until can pierce deeply with ease, about 1 hour.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out flesh into large bowl.  Mash thoroughly.  Spread an inch or two of sweet potato into baking dish.  Dot with marshmallows, sprinkle with cinnamon, and drizzle maple syrup lightly.  Add rest of sweet potato mash and marshmallows.  Reminder: Marshmallows will expand so no need to pack tightly.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle maple syrup.  Bake at 350°F until marshmallows puff up and melt, about 10 minutes.  Add graham cracker crumbs on top and lightly press into marshmallows.

Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce

When I was a kid, I thought all cranberry sauce came out of a can in one big can-shaped jelly mold.  I thought it tasted OK, but something about it was weird and unnatural.  Then many years later I discovered that cranberry sauce could look like, well, sauce.  And it tasted so…delicious.  After that day, I just couldn’t bear to buy the jelly-roll-thing-in-a-can again.

While homemade cranberry sauce does take longer to make than opening a can, I think it’s totally worth it.  And my taste buds agree.  If you’re in a real pinch, or simply will faint if you have to make one thing more thing for the holidays, you could add the spices to a store-bought can of whole cranberry sauce (please stay away from the jelly!).  I promise not to say anything, as long as you pledge to try this recipe later.  OK, now that we’ve done the pinkie swear thing…..

This would be a great sauce to accompany any white meat, which you probably already guessed.  But I encourage you to try it with other foods too, such as swirled into oatmeal or yogurt, dolloped onto vanilla ice cream, or stuffed into baking apples.  I bet you could come up with some fun ways to use it for holiday hors d’oeuvres too.

Recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce

makes about 1½ cups of sauce

  • 1½ cups filtered water
  • ¾ cup sucanat (dehydrated, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with a natural molasses flavor)
  • 1 (12-oz) bag fresh cranberries – Equals 3 cups
  • ½-1 teaspoon (packed in) freshly grated orange peel – I really enjoyed the stronger taste of orange, but if you only want a hint, try ½ tsp
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional) – It’s great without, but cardamom is such a warm, holiday-ish spice, it’s perfect for this time of year
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour water and sugar into medium pot and heat to a boil, stirring.  Add cranberries and bring to boil again.  Simmer, covered, until cranberries pop and mixture thickens a little (about 15-20 minutes).  Turn off heat.  Stir in rest of ingredients.  Let sit until cools.  Transfer sauce to glass container and chill in fridge until thickens (don’t worry, it will firm up!).

Have a tasty holiday season!

Strawberry-Lime Sorbet

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When the temperatures get dangerously close to the triple digits, all I want are things that will cool me down.  Like this strawberry-lime sorbet.  I found the recipe in my Vita-Mix cookbook and decided it was the perfect time to try it out.  I made a few modifications, of course, to up the health quotient.  I added more lime, eliminated the sugar, and froze it because I couldn’t get it to the right consistency in the blender (Mr. Vita-Mix and I are still getting acquainted in the sorbet department).  A food processor would work here, although you might have to eliminate the ice.  If you have an ice cream maker, pour in the mixture after blending all the ingredients and continue according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

I think I’ll be blending up some wicked strawberry-lime margaritas next!

Recipe for Strawberry-Lime Sorbet

1 cup filtered water

¼ cup natural sweetener (optional, especially if the strawberries are really sweet)

1 large lime (or 2 small limes), peeled

1 pound frozen strawberries – I hulled fresh ones and froze them

1 cup ice

Add all ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Pour mixture into a freezer safe container and freeze.  I used 3 smaller containers so they could firm up more quickly. When sorbet is firm (about an hour), use an ice cream scoop to scoop out sorbet into serving dishes.  At this time, you can transfer sorbet back into the containers and store in the freezer.  The sorbet will be pretty frozen, so let it sit out until it softens.

If anybody turns this into a daiquiri or margarita, let me know how it turns out!

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Banana Nut Maple Syrup

My apologies.  I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for a while, but when rumbling stomachs and photo shoots (with adequate natural lighting) are involved, it can be hard to find the right time.  However, I was determined to make this again today so I could finally share it with all of you.  As I consulted my notes, I couldn’t quite remember why I made this recipe so large.  It didn’t take long before I thought,  Ah, yes, now I remember…

Reason #1: It’s super easy to make.  Takes less than 5 minutes to prep and is done cooking by the time your pancakes hit your plate.    Reason #2: Banana Nut Maple Syrup is fancier than plain ol’ syrup.  Don’t you want your pancakes (and taste buds) to feel special?  Reason #3: Leftovers.  This recipe is not limited to its ability to liven up fluffy flapjacks.  Spread the love and flavor!  Use as a topping on french toast and crepes, or swirl into oatmeal or yogurt.  And don’t forget desserts…this would be awesome on vanilla ice cream.  But if you still think the yield is too much, you can easily adjust it.

Banana Nut Maple Syrup

makes about 3 cups

2 tablespoons organic butter

4 bananas, sliced ¼ inch thick

¾ cups Grade B maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Melt butter in small saucepan on low heat.  Add maple syrup, bananas, and spices.  Heat mixture over low heat until just starts to boil.  Turn off heat, add nuts, and stir gently.

Valentine’s Day Nourishment

My idea of a romantic meal is one in which we aren’t disturbed.  For Valentine’s Day last year, that meant a simple but tantalizing feast at home that wasn’t interrupted by trips to the kitchen.  With no baking or cooking to coordinate and no pots and pans to clean, I was able to focus all my attention on what really mattered, connecting with my husband!

I wanted to share these pictures with you to spark your creativity and imagination.  While this is not the only way to make Valentine’s Day special, it’s a great way to spend time with your significant other without subjecting yourselves to crowded restaurants and jacked-up prices.  Keep the following message in mind not only on V-Day, but every day: 

Food will nourish us for hours.  Love will nourish us forever.

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