-M.F.K. Fisher, food writer
Hmmm…… Now I know that I am not alone among food bloggers when I tell you that M.F.K. Fisher is one of my favorite authors, whose talent for discussing "the art of eating" redefined food writing. That being said, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with Ms. Fisher's statement above. While a plain baked potato may indeed be "enough," it would need some sort of topping in order for me to find it "soothing," and there are several other potato dishes that rank higher on my delicious-ness scale.
That's the thing about potatoes. Options for their preparation and presentation are so numerous that people rarely agree about which version represents the superior spud. At any given mahogany paneled, power lunch steakhouse across America, diners are inevitably presented with a double-column list of "meant to be shared" potato dishes, which complicates the ordering process. No two people ever want the same thing. One diner prefers Lyonnaise, the second can't live without steak fries, the third wants to splurge on the signature truffled mashed……
A similar situation occurs during Thanksgiving, usually when one is a guest at someone else's house. Those who can't imagine a plate of turkey without a side of marshmallow-topped pureed sweet potatoes are served cider-glazed candied yams. Garlic-roasted red bliss potatoes might take the place of traditional creamy mashed Yukon Golds, so perfect for drizzling with gravy. Some, like my dad and brother, never touch the sweet potatoes (more for me!), while I take only the tiniest taste of the mashed, just to make sure they turned out nicely.
While it would be nice to please everyone with their favorite potato recipe, that's probably not the best use of your time or ingredients. Besides, they can serve it when they invite you as a guest next year. This is your show, and Thanksgiving is about being a gracious, thankful guest anyhow, right? I like to look at Thanksgiving as an opportunity to try out some new dishes, perhaps discovering a new favorite as a result. Here are three different variations of potato side dishes: A mashed potato recipe incorporates tangy soft goat cheese and fresh sage in with the creamy Yukon Gold potatoes. Pureed sweet potatoes are topped with half roasted salted cashew streusel and half toasted marshmallows, so guests will have options. The sweet and savory version I'll admit is more of a gamble, combining the two, but I was surprised by how well they paired together. Here are my extra tips for this tasty trio of Thanksgiving sides:
- Both types of mashed potatoes can be prepared up to 3 hours in advance. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Rewarm the potatoes over low heat, adding extra milk if necessary.
- The sweet potato portion of the two-toned potatoes can be prepared up to 6 hours in advance and then refrigerated until ready to bake. The cashew topping can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered.
- If you don't want to use goat cheese in the mashed potatoes, feel free to substitute another variety. Grated Parmesan, white cheddar, or Gruyere would all be good alternatives.
- Instead of topping the "two toned" potatoes with a cashew topping, you can substitute hazelnuts or pecans. If the nuts are not salted, then add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the topping mixture.
- Save any leftover cashew topping to sprinkle over baked sweet potatoes or oatmeal for breakfast.
- You can prepare individual portions of the two-toned sweet potatoes (as I did in the photo) by using 8-10 ounce ramekins. These only need to bake for 15-20 minutes.
Creamy Goat Cheese and Sage Mashed Potatoes
6 ounces soft goat cheese
1/3 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the potatoes until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and then return them to the pot. Add the goat cheese, milk, and butter. Mash the potatoes until all ingredients are incorporated and they reach your desired consistency. Mix in the sage and season with salt and pepper. Serve, garnishing with extra sage leaves, if desired.
Two-Toned Sweet Potato Casserole
(adapted from a recipe in Saveur magazine)
4 pounds sweet potatoes
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs
3/4 cup lightly toasted salted cashews
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups mini marshmallows
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Pierce the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet; bake until soft, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let the potatoes rest until they are cool enough to handle.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Peel the potatoes and then pass them through a food mill or a ricer into a large bowl. Whisk in the evaporated milk, sugar, 3 tablespoons of the butter, orange zest, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and the eggs. Transfer the mixture to a 2-quart baking dish.
In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse together the cashews, brown sugar, flour, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until coarsely ground. Crumble the cashew mixture over half of the casserole and top the other half with the marshmallows. Bake until the marshmallows are golden brown, 25-30 minutes.
Sweet and Savory Mashed Potatoes
1 bay leaf
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons orange zest
Bring 6 cups of salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the Yukon Gold potatoes and the bay leaf. Simmer the potatoes, covered, until the potatoes are fork tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain, discard the bay leaf, and return the potatoes to the pan.
Meanwhile, bring 6 cups salted water to a boil in another large saucepan. Add the sweet potatoes. Simmer, covered, until the potatoes are fork tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the cream, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan. Mash the Yukon Gold potatoes with a hand masher, adding the garlic and half of the cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mash the sweet potatoes, stirring in the bananas, remaining cream mixture, maple syrup, cinnamon, and orange zest. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, gently fold both batches of potatoes together to combine.