sweet stuff

Too many sweet potatoes. That’s where I found myself after Trader Joe’s opened up in our neighborhood. My girls and I refer to TJ’s as our “happy place” and while the prices are most definitely right, I always manage to drop large amounts of cash if only because I buy so much. Hence the sweet potatoes.

My plan was to serve them solo baked, mashed, and roasted and also cook them up for chili, shepherd’s pie, biscuits, and the like. Best of intentions. What really happened? I baked a batch one night, and while my husband and I devoured ours, the girls were unimpressed. Same thing happened a few days later when I served sweet potatoes mashed. Apparently naturally sweetened foods do not work for my children.

Their lack of enthusiasm dulled mine, and the potatoes sat. Not wanting to throw them out, I finally roasted and mashed what was left of the five-pound bag and committed to making something fun with sweet potato puree.

First up was sweet potato spoonbread, from Down Home Wholesome, 300 Low-Fat Recipes from a New Soul Kitchen. Quintessentially Southern, spoonbread had never graced my Midwestern table. But this custardy, pudding-like “bread” seemed a good way to pass dessert off as part of the main course. Because the cookbook focused on low-fat fare, this version had only one teaspoon butter and one egg. Cornmeal and sweet potatoes made up the bulk and two whites were folded into the final “batter” for extra lightness.



It baked up lovely and glorious–especially served with (fat-free) half-and-half. I’m calling it a side dish, dessert, AND breakfast. Score one for the sweet potato.

sweet potato spoonbread

sweet potato spoonbread

glory be!

glory be!

A recipe for squash rolls also came to mind; I remembered making them for Thanksgiving years back and that they were a hit. Sweet potatoes were a natural sub for the squash, so I collected ingredients and made me some dough. It rose nicely and in the interest of variety, I divided the dough in half, shaping 12 dinner rolls from one and rolling out cinnamon rolls with the other.wpid-mntsdcardPhoto-Editor2014-02-12-16.36.08.jpg.jpgContaining only whole-wheat flour, the dinner rolls could have been heavy, but weren’t. Honey and oil kept them soft and tender and the 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes added plenty of moisture.

now with butter

now with butter

The cinnamon rolls got a heavy pour of honey-sweetened cream cheese and offered a legit breakfast, dessert, or snack. They weren’t as light as the bakery-style mile-high rolls, but their graininess and sweet, earthy flavor put them in a league of their own.

before frosting

before frosting

after the frost

after the frost

after plating

after plating

Though my girls were nonplussed with the spoonbread (more for texture and unfamiliarity than objecting to flavor), the rolls–dinner and cinnamon–got a big thumbs-up from all. Mission accomplished.

With that, I’m closing my sweet potato chapter for at least a short while. Just the same, I sense another trip to Trader Joe’s, for yet to be discovered bargains, in the near future.

Sweet Potato Spoonbread

  • 3 cups 1% milk (I used soymilk)
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

Butter 2-quart casserole. Heat oven to 375°F.

In heavy 2-quart saucepan, whisk together 2 cups milk, the cornmeal and salt. Heat over medium-low heat 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and butter.

Whisk egg into remaining 1 cup milk; stir into saucepan. Remove from heat. Stir in baking powder and baking soda. Fold in egg whites until no white streaks remain. Transfer batter to casserole. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until just set, though custard will still be jiggly.

Sweet Potato Rolls

Instead of making 24 rolls, I rolled half of the dough into a 15×12-inch rectangle, brushed the dough with melted butter and sprinkled generously with cinnamon-sugar. The dough was rolled tightly, seams sealed, and cut into 1-inch slices. Rolls were then placed in a 9-inch pie pan to rise, covered, 20 minutes. They baked at 375°F for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and baked through.

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115°F)
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups whole wheat flour

In large bowl, combine yeast and water. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients except flour. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring until dough forms. Turn onto floured surface; knead vigorously 8 minutes or until soft and elastic. Place dough in clean greased bowl, turning dough so all sides are greased. Cover; let rise in warm place until nearly doubled. Shape into 24 rolls; place on greased baking sheet. Let rise 20 minutes or until puffed.

Bake at 375°F until browned and baked through. Transfer rolls to wire rack to cool.

nourish the teachers

I expected to write up a blog post last Friday, just like I have every Friday before for nearly a year. Except that I couldn’t. News of a school shooting made the rum cake I wanted to feature seem unimportant. And I still struggle–along with countless others, I know–with finding significance in anything other than family and children and those we hold dear. I always professed this blog–foodforfun–to be only about fun food and drink. But today I have to step out a bit further and connect food to feelings that are decidedly not fun.

When I dropped my girls off at school this morning, I found myself lingering. Maybe I was picking up on something that wasn’t, but there seemed a sense of urgency in the halls. Smiles were everywhere, but I imagine teachers and parents had their own private thoughts–ones that could not and would not be communicated to the kids heading into their classrooms for the day.

I’ve always thought teachers to be underpaid and (mostly) under-appreciated. This is the workforce that educates our future. They’re not in it for the money; most teachers teach because they believe in what they do. And now this.

My feelings are shared by many and it may be that now we’ll do more to show our appreciation. I was wowed by the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates: She, her husband, and both of her children arrived at school this morning carrying a large pot of coffee and an oversized cookie tray. The gifts of food and drink were their way of showing teachers they were appreciated.

Wanting to show my gratitude, I had conversations with a few of my daughters’ teachers, thanking them for doing what they do. But I wanted to do more. I went home to bake bread. Today’s loaves count nine and I’ll deliver them tomorrow to teachers at my daughters’ school. While baking this bread is meant as a gift of thankfulness, it helped me in ways I hadn’t expected. Stirring together a triple batch of dough, then wrestling it into submission, helped me work out some of the aggression and sadness that I feel.

I’d love to find a metaphor for this bread and the peace we’d like to see in our communities and in the world. But instead I’ll settle for knowing that these loaves are nourishment and teachers everywhere need to be nourished now more than ever. I ask you to let a teacher know he or she is making a positive difference. Buy a cup of coffee, offer a smile and a kind word, say thanks. And if you’re a bread baker, give this (peaceful) loaf a whirl.

various shapes (and sizes) ready for wrapping and delivery

various shapes (and sizes) ready for wrapping and delivery

Whole Wheat and Oatmeal Bread

Adapted from Brother Rick Curry, S.J.’s, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons (1/3 cup) butter
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 to 5 cups bread flour

In large bowl, combine whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt.

In saucepan, heat butter, milk, water, molasses, and honey until warm and butter is partially melted. Pour into whole wheat mixture; stir well. Stir in oats and eggs. Beat 10 minutes, gradually adding bread flour until dough begins to pull away from side of bowl.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead 8 to 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed to prevent stickiness.

Place dough in lightly oiled large bowl; turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm, draft-free place 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 3 (9×5-inch) loaf pans. Punch dough down. Divide into thirds; shape into loaves. Place in pans. Cover with tea towel; let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

grinding the grain

Mother’s Day approaches and we’ll join my parents and brother’s family for a backyard barbecue. Our assignment is to bring burgers and buns. We have great beef that comes from a farmer friend of my husband, so hubby will make the patties. I’m happy to make the burger buns as I very much enjoy baking breads. (You’ve figured this out by now if you’ve read me before.)

The recipe search is always the first step. I found one for Soft Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls from a past issue of Eating Well magazine. “Soft” in the title (first word!) was good as that’s a must for home-baked bread. “Whole wheat” scored another point as I find the texture and flavor of whole-grain breads more interesting than white.

My next step was grinding wheat berries for the whole wheat flour. This may sound a bit Little House on the Prairie-ish, but it’s really not all that crazy. Wheat berries are readily available in bulk at co-ops and natural food stores. They’re also sold packaged in many mainstream grocery stores. And grinding wheat berries means I get to play with another kitchen toy.

I enjoyed my electric grain mill for a number of years, though one day it just stopped working. My next piece of equipment is the one I use today–an attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

It may or may not save money in the end, but I like transforming wheat berries to flour in my own kitchen. It’ll grind any grain into flour and I’ve also used it to make nut flours. (Not as easy as grinding grains as the nuts have more fat and tend to gum up the auger in larger batches.) When I grind flour, I make more than I need and freeze the extra, leaving me with a stash for times when I’m rushed.

The rolls, which I made larger than recommended so they can hold burgers, turned out nicely and will make first-rate partners for our Mother’s Day burgers. Even better, I had fun making these rolls. They allowed me to play in the kitchen, which is always a pleasure.

wheat berries


into flour!

hamburger buns

split and waiting for a burger

Recipe Note: Per usual, I did not follow the recipe to the letter. No cake flour in the house, so used the standard substitution: 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons for each cup of cake flour, plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch to add lightness and make up the lost bulk.