Tag Archives: pecans

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

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85. Divinity (the candy, not the state of being)

9 Mar

Ever since I wrote about pralines, I can’t stop thinking about that candy’s brother by another mother, divinity.

This was one of the very first things I learned to make, but seeing as I haven’t attempted it in probably a quarter century, I’m likely a little rusty on the topic.

If I recall correctly (and my sister will surely let me know if I do not) making divinity was something we’d do to pass the time between church on Sunday morning and “training union” (AKA church) on Sunday night. Perhaps it turns out better if you make it on the Lord’s day. Also, when it’s not raining.

If you’re wondering how the candy came to be known as divinity, try a piece. If you still can’t tell, well, I just can’t help you.

How to describe divinity…It’s sort of a sweet meringue confection that just melts in your mouth. The ethereal quality is balanced by the pecan half on top. That ideal sweet/savory combination that Southerners invented. Ok, maybe we didn’t invent it, but we’re firm believers. Who else would put salt on watermelon or use soft serve ice cream as a dipping sauce for French fries? Tell me I’m not the only one.

You used to find divinity at Stuckey’s, but I don’t remember if it’s any good. Besides which, from what I hear Stuckey’s are disappearing more quickly than Charlie Sheen’s rational thoughts.

I haven’t encountered divinity or anything like it between here and Los Angeles. Does it even exist above the Mason-Dixon?

I’m sure you could find at least one or two recipes for divinity in any Southern community cookbook you happen to have lying around. But in case you don’t have one, I went to the trouble of googling for you and found Paula Deen’s recipe “Mama’s Divinity.” This will be the one I try next, except I will leave out the pecans in the candy and just put a pecan half on top. (P.S. Can y’all believe there’s a Paula Deen recipe that doesn’t start with a “sticka butter”?)

If you’re not the DIY type and aren’t in the vicinity of a divinity seller, you can always mail order from Savanna Candy. I haven’t tried their version, but it was the best divinity photo on all of the interwebs. Believe me, I looked.

Photo: Divinity by Savanna Candy.

76. Pralines (Don’t Even Think About Adding Walnuts)

22 Feb

That about sums it up...

First, let me specify: I am writing about PRAW-leens. I’ve never eaten anything called a PRAY-leen. Most especially, not a PEE-can PRAY-leen. In fact, I can’t believe I just wrote that. Now I have the word “PEE-can PRAY-leen” stuck in my brain in the manner of a Barry Manilow song. Oh, wait, now the phrase has been usurped by “Mandy.” ACK!

Recently one of my readers (who just so happens to have two first names) asked about a good recipe for pralines. I’ll be sharing one in this post, but first I’m going to sing the praises of one of the world’s greatest candies.

Pralines represent three of my favorite food groups: Butter, sugar, and nuts. Not necessarily in that order.

I dare anyone with a sweet tooth to walk by Aunt Sally’s Pralines in the French Quarter of New Orleans without stopping in to sample a warm praline. Caution: like heroin, pralines can be addictive after the very first taste. However, unlike heroin, you will not end up emaciated after prolonged use. Quite the opposite, actually.

Fortunately, Aunt Sally’s website features a 1-800 number “praline hotline.” Which I reckon is a lifesaver for those experiencing a praline-related emergency.

If you’re looking for an immediate fix and can’t find a nearby purveyor of pralines, you could stop by Baskin Robbins for a scoop of Pralines ‘n Cream ice cream. The downside: you won’t be able to appreciate a praline in its singular glory. The upside: hello! Ice cream!

One of the best parts of Christmas for me was the smorgasbord of candies my mom always used to make: toffee, coconut balls, white fudge, haystacks, and pralines. Even when she wasn’t able to stand for long, she’d pull the folding kitchen ladder up to the stove to sit and stir. And if she didn’t have the stamina to tackle everything, she’d insist on making pralines because they’re my brother Mike’s favorite.

It wasn’t until after my sister and I took over the candy-making role that I truly appreciated what a GIFT my mother had given us all those years. Candy making is a time-consuming, frustration-producing, often-disappointing pain in the ass. The only fuel that enables one to power through a marathon sweet-making session is love. (Of candy itself and/or the folks you’re making it for. In the South, it’s usually both.)

I have never attempted praline-making myself, but if you want to give it a shot, here’s my mom’s recipe:

Pralines

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 small can) evaporated milk
1/2 stick butter
small pinch soda
1 T Karo syrup
1 t vanilla
1 cup pecan halves

Cook sugars, Karo, milk and soda to soft ball stage or 235 degrees. Remove from heat and add butter. Return to heat until butter is melted. Take off stove and add vanilla. Beat until it begins to thicken. Add nuts and place in little patties on waxed paper.

Bonus: You’ll find the recipe for the scrumptious looking pralines pictured above at Dixie Caviar.

Note: If you’ve never attempted candy-making, these candy-making tips may help you avert disaster.

Photo credits: Southern Candymakers sign by Wally Gobetz, Flickr Creative Commons, Yummy plate ‘o pralines courtesy of Dixie Caviar.

What’s your favorite traditional Southern treat?

5. Pecans: Don’t Make Brownies Without Them

17 Sep

First off, let’s discuss pronunciation. The word is “puh-CON,” not “pee-CAN.” Yes, there are a few rogue Southerners (Paula Deen included), who insist on “pee-CAN,” but the rest of us say “puh-CON.” Conversely, nearly everybody above the Mason-Dixon says “pee-CAN,” and I, for one, cringe when I hear it said thusly. (Not quite as bad as hearing Biloxi pronounced “Bee-LOX-ee” but close. Also, for the record, it’s “PRAW-leen” not “PRAY-leen.” Ok, enough with my digression, I could go on all day.)

If a Southerner is baking, you can be sure there’s a heap of pecans somewhere nearby. Brownies? Add pecans. Chocolate chip cookies? Add pecans. Rum cake? Add pecans. (And some extra rum for our Baptist friends.)

How my sister and I both wound up with pecan-hating men, I will never know. (Neither of them is Southern, which might be a clue.) This makes baking an exercise in frustration. Everything has to be half nutty, half not. And when they fail to go through desserts as quickly as we do, we’re left with nutless brownies. I can’t think of anything sadder.

Anytime anybody commenced to baking anything, my beloved late mother would always say, “You have to toast the pecans first.” As if we’d forget. She believed that anyone who didn’t like pecans just hadn’t had them properly toasted. Man, how I wish that were the case.

What’s your favorite pecan-laden treat?

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