That was then. This is now. Spice blends are low on the priority list, I blend my own or go without.
So when I spied the cookbook's lonely-only recipe for no-purchase-required ingredients, I paid attention. And hunted up real red-skinned yams, not their brown-skinned tuber-cousins the sweet potatoes. And peeled and chopped. And bathed for cooking in nothing more than water and sugar spiked with vanilla (!) and lemon juice (!!). And tasted. And savored. And praised the Cajun gods there were two pounds, not one, in that bowl of fresh candied yams.
Chef Paul, thank you for the reminder, that you can, indeed, cook from the pantry. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for introducing me to real and really wonderful, fresh candied yams. [2008 UPDATE Turns out, I fell for a supermarket label reading 'yams'. What I actually cooked with here were a variety of sweet potato, the red garnet. They are slightly different and much recommended. I have now, finally, figured out the difference between real yams and sweet potatoes.]
FRESH CANDIED YAMS
Time to table: about 60 minutes
Serves 8 for 'regular' servings, 16 at Thanksgiving
2 pounds red-skinned yams (or sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into large roughly same-size pieces
2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar (this is half what the recipe specified but plenty)
1/4 cup brown sugar (ditto)
2 tablespoons butter
Zest and juice of a lemon (don't skip this!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (don't skip this!)
2 tablespoons butter
OPTIONAL BUT MUCH-RECOMMENDED SAUCE
about 1 tablespoon cornstarch
about 1/2 cup half & half
Combine the yams, water, sugar, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, lemon and vanilla and bring to a boil. Cover and let cook for about 30 minutes -- no al dente toothsome yams here, the softer on the edges, the better. Uncover and keep cooking for about 10 minutes, hoping that the liquid doesn't cook away because otherwise there'll be no sauce. Add the butter and let melt, cooking another 10 minutes or so. If, praise the Cajun gods, there's liquid left, scoop out the yams into a serving dish (preferably warmed, if you want the yams to stay hot) and cover with foil. Keep warm!
Sprinkle the cornstarch over the cooking liquid and whisk til smooth. (Or if this worries you, or if you have a history of making lumpy gravy, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and add a drop or two of the liquid, stir to make a smooth slurry. Add a few more drops and stir. Repeat til the mixture is liquid enough to whisk into the big pot of cooking liquid without getting lumpy. Let cook a minute or two - taste to make sure the starchy flavor is gone. Don't taste it all, save it for the sauce! Stir in cream to taste; that means, when it tastes good, it's ready to pour on top of the yams. Gobble 'em up.
TWO or THREE HOURS BEFORE Peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Submerge in cold water to prevent browning. (I didn't do this but believe it works, right? -- Does anyone know for sure? For complete safety, peel just before ready to cook. I wouldn't cook in this water, it may have gotten starchy. Update: For my own family's Thanksgiving meal, I made these several hours in advance and did, yes, submerge in cold water. They didn't turn brown.)
Even after cooking uncovered for some time, the yams were done but lots of liquid remained in the pan. I scooped out the orange chunks with a slotted spoon and then thickened and creamed the liquid: wow, yam ambrosia. I recommend the sauce as much as the yams themselves. It's like white-on-white or tone-on-tone, two flavors so alike but not the same, one alone is boring, two together are mesmerizing.
~ Maple Ginger Sweet Potatoes ~
the featured 'sweet potato recipe' in 2006
more good choices for Thanksgiving
~ Sweet Potato Puff ~
~ Warm Sweet Potato Salad ~
~ more sweet potato recipes ~