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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Butter Pecan Sweet Potatoes


I adapted this recipe from the Martha Stewart website.  It may just be my favorite sweet potatoes recipe EVER!  First of all, they are gorgeous and festive; but BEST of all, they are unbelievably good! The inside is all soft and buttery, the outside just crispy enough from the roasting and the caramelization of the sugar... with the nuttiness and crunch of the pecans, and just a hint of a bite of heat from the cayenne pepper!  Oh my!  We kind of felt like neglecting everything else on the plate.

I will include approximate measurements on the spices, but actually, I just went by "feel" on the amounts. I added lots of brown sugar, etc because I wanted a really nice candied exterior on my potatoes.  So... my personal recommendation is to use the ingredients, but as far as measuring, just do what feels right!

Here is a video tutorial:

Click for Printable Recipe 



Ingredients:
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, or one medium per person 
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • 3 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup or so (a whole handful) of light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (a whole handful) of pecan pieces
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne* pepper (approximate)
    • see Food Nerd Notes below.









Step-by-Step:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel potatoes and halve lengthwise; slice crosswise 1/2 inch thick. On a baking sheet, toss potatoes with olive oil (just use your hands, people!); then season with salt.
Peel and cut the potatoes.
Add olive oil, then mix with your hands until evenly coated.
Sprinkle with coarse salt.
2. If doing a lot of potatoes, it may be necessary to transfer half the potatoes to a second baking sheet; cook both sheets until potatoes are tender, tossing occasionally, 25-30 minutes.  You want to have some space between each of the potatoes, or else you won't get the proper roasting, etc.
Roast for 30 minutes.
3. Sprinkle with butter, brown sugar, pecan pieces and cayenne pepper, dividing evenly. Bake until sugar is caramelized and hard, about 15 minutes. Toss gently; serve immediately. Two large potatoes is probably enough for 4 people as a side dish.  For medium sized potatoes, allow one per person.
Add little cubes of butter.
Add brown sugar liberally.
Lay it on thick!
Sprinkle with cayenne pepper.  Know your dinner guests' palates! This adds the sparkle to this dish, but it will bite back!
Add chopped nuts.
Ready for the oven.
For a dinner party, etc., you could roast them ahead of time, cool and refrigerate, then do the final step about 20 minutes before serving time.
So here's sort of a pop quiz.... you DO remember that I told you that sweet potatoes ranked #1 among all vegetables in total nutrition, right?! (My students know that I continually haunt them with information that I've taught them in the past.) Well I'm about to throw another one at you...

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe!
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Written Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel potatoes and halve lengthwise; slice crosswise 1/2 inch thick. On a baking sheet, toss potatoes with olive oil (just use your hands, people!); then season with salt.  If doing a lot of potatoes, it may be necessary to transfer half the potatoes to a second baking sheet; cook both sheets until potatoes are tender, tossing occasionally, 25-30 minutes.  You want to have some space between each of the potatoes, or else you won't get the proper roasting, etc.

Sprinkle with butter, brown sugar, pecan pieces and cayenne pepper, dividing evenly. Bake until sugar is caramelized and hard, about 15 minutes. Toss gently; serve immediately. Two large potatoes is probably enough for 4 people as a side dish.  For medium sized potatoes, allow one per person.

For a dinner party, etc., you could roast them ahead of time, cool and refrigerate, then do the final step about 20 minutes before serving time.

  
Food Nerd Notes:
Cayenne Pepper - maybe the King of medicinal herbs!  Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) - is also known as the Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, aleva, bird pepper.  The Capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanceae), and has many acclaimed health benefits. Many cultures around the world recount amazing results from using cayenne pepper for both simple healing as well for battling challenging health problems.

Cayenne pepper powder comes from red hot chili peppers. These are not only good to eat but also incredibly healthy.  The peppers are especially potent when taken in powdered form. To make the powder, the fruit or body of the peppers are dried then ground down, pulped and baked into cakes, then sifted to make the spice known as cayenne pepper.

In addition to being a popular spice in food (primarily ethnic cuisine), cayenne pepper has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb as well. Cayenne is said to have originated within the city of Cayenne in French Guiana although now produced in many parts of the world.  It was quite extensively by the Aztecs and Mayans, with historians asserting that it was a staple of the Aztec diet. Cayenne is also revered in the alternative health community and chiefly by medicinal herbalists for its remarkable array of health benefits.

So what are these health benefits? According to various sources,  cayenne pepper, through the instrumentality of its secondary metabolite capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-sin), may have been proven to kill prostate cancer cells, among other fantastic health benefits.  Other naturopathic practitioners have used it for years to prevent heart attacks, remove arterial plaque, rebuild flesh destroyed or harmed by frostbite, heal hemorrhoids, re-build stomach tissue, heal stomach ulcers (that's counter-intuitive, huh?), and fortify overall health. Other health benefits include: improving circulation, rebuilding blood cells, lowering cholesterol, emulsifying triglycerides, removing toxins from the bloodstream... and it's even a great insect repellent.  It immediately equalizes blood pressure in your system, shrinks hemorrhoids, and heals the gall bladder too. It can be used as a diuretic as well helping in elimination both with urine and with built-up fecal matter in the intestines. It even has proven anti-fungal properties as well.

As far as heat, cayenne pepper is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.  As an herbal supplement, it was mentioned as far back as the 17th century book Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper.  Cayenne pepper is high in vitamin A, and also contains vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, and manganese.  Cayenne pepper has been hailed as an aphrodisiac because the capsaicin increases blood flow to all parts of the body. It is known in many cultures to be a potent libido enhancing aid that increases euphoric endorphins in the blood stream.
So there! 

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