Spiced Sweet Potato Gratin

OK, so we needed a little break from Thanksgiving fare…from squash, pumpkin, turkey leftovers, and the like. So we went on to cheeseburgers and tamales. But there are still some wonderful, easy to prepare holiday dishes to be shared. Like this one…

Sweet potatoes (not yams) about 5 large, peeled and sliced thin. If you have a mandoline, that is the perfect tool. If not, you can use the slicer on your food processor. No special equipment? Slice thin with a knife, that would work just fine.

Butter a baking dish, or use non-stick spray. Form a layer of overlapping sweet potato medallions. Sprinkle the top of each layer with the following:
  • Coarse salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Brown sugar
  • Pumpkin pie spice

Repeat for a total of three layers. If it sounds odd to add salt and pepper to a sweet dish, do not let that stop you. This combination works so don’t be shy. I am a fan of fresh grated nutmeg, so I add that in addition to the pumpkin pie spice.
Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of:
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Lemon peel
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Cardamom

Pour cream over the sweet potatoes until about half way up the side of the baking dish. This 9 X 13 dish will serve over 20 people.

Baked covered with aluminum foil at 350 until the potatoes are al dente, about 1 1/2 hours. You might want to put the baking dish on an underliner, as it tends to bubble over. Remove foil and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft and the top is browned.
Holiday Tip: I make this a day ahead, cooking covered until al dente. Then I let it cool and refrigerate over night. Take out of the refrigerator about an hour before reheating. Cook uncovered until hot and bubbly. The best part: You can reheat this in the oven while your turkey is out of the oven and resting.

It is also a great dish to bring to someone else’s party. Once cooked, it transports well. Wrap it in aluminum foil and just heat it up when you get there. All the different spices make for an interesting dish, you’ll be a hero.

Speaking of being a hero, Aunt GeeGee (that would be me) is one too, with a new basketball court for my nephews! Here is Stone on the day before Thanksgiving. Nice shot! We took a break from cooking to shoot some hoops. By the way I don’t just shoot photographs, I’ve been known to shoot a three-pointer every once in a while too!

The Gift of Tamales

Handmade with love: Three generations of women with one more generation on the way (congrats to Emily, due in April) worked from 7 PM to 1 AM last week making 100 tamales in the style of their Central American roots. And I was one of the lucky recipients of that labor of love. Thank you, ladies!

A banana leaf is laid flat then topped with masa prepared with lard and seasonings. Pork ribs were sliced into bite-sized pieces by their butcher, then cooked with onions and spices. The masa is topped with the cooked pork, peas, garbanzo beans, unpitted little green olives, capers, and some had achiote paste.
Wrapped up in a neat little bundle with aluminum foil to hold it all together and steamed for an hour. (To reheat, simply remove the foil and warm up in the microwave). The filling was a surprise in that there were bones and pits to watch out for. Marlene tells me this is the way they have always made it, I suspect the bones enhanced the already delicious depth of flavor and I love the authenticity.

Served with a salad of sliced tomato, white onion, avocado, a drizzle of oil and squeeze of lime. The tamale was dressed with Crema Salvadoreña (Salvadorean style sour cream) and salsa roja. Muy sabroso. And the beauty of giving tamales as a gift, they are already wrapped! Muchas gracias a la familia del Figueroa.

Cheeseburgers and Crosstown Rivalry

It’s Friday before THE game, get yourself a Double-Double cheeseburger from the In-N-Out Burger truck in the parking lot on your way into the faculty lunchroom. Before you sit down to enjoy your lunch, you have a decision to make. On which side of the table will you sit?

Saturday is the big football game between longtime crosstown rivals USC and UCLA 1:30 PT at the Rose Bowl Stadium. Not surprisingly, at the K-8 school where I work here in Southern California, there are voracious fans on both sides, all good-natured and spirited! Many of the faculty and staff are graduates of one of these two universities, and those that are not get into the fun by sporting a sweatshirt from their own alma mater.

The lunch table is equitably and fabulously decorated by Judy (a USC fan herself) half the table with USC memorabilia, the other half representing UCLA. There have been 77 match-ups between UCLA and USC with USC winning 42 times, UCLA 28 times, and 7 tie games. Last year’s score: USC 24, UCLA 7.

Where are you sitting? Me, I’m neutral, I’ll sit in any open seat, except when it comes to the Fighting Illini. Then I sit with the Orange and Blue!
UPDATE:
Final Score 2008 Match-Up: USC 28, UCLA 7

Lunch at La Mar

La Mar Cebichería Peruana has as its main mission “attaining that all who visit discover, enjoy and forever make their own the marvelous invention that is Peruvian cuisine, created throughout the past 5,000 years” with locations in Lima, Peru and San Francisco, California…and soon to open in Mexico City and Santiago, Chile.

La Mar San Francisco is located at Pier 1 1/2 on The Embarcadero in an amazing space with soaring ceilings, full of light, and views of the San Francisco Bay.

Have you tried a pisco sour, the quintessence of a Peruvian cocktail?
  • 2 oz pisco brandy
  • 1 oz key lime or lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1/2 egg white
  • 1 dash Angostura® bitters
Shake ingredients vigorously with ice, strain, and garnish with bitters. Pisco is made by distilling 100% fermented grape juice in copper pot stills. It is a method developed by Spanish settlers in Peru over 400 years ago.

You can sample pisco flights at the bar. How does one describe pisco? Unique, rich, clean, lush, fruity, tangy, crisp, smooth, nutty, spicy, grappa-y… I would love to hear how you interpret the taste of pisco brandies.

Cebiche Criollo: Baja California yellowtail, mussels, calamari, scallops in a spicy aji rocoto leche de tigre with habenero, cancha, red onion, Peruvian corn and yam. Very spicy (that’s a habanero ring as garnish) and very flavorful!

Tamalito Verde: Fresh Peruvian corn cilantro tamale with red onion and lime juice.

Causa: Whipped purple potato with avocado puree and aji amarillo sauce.

Cordero: Braised lamb shank, mashed rice and bean tacu tacu.

Some other dishes we enjoyed included…
Chorillana: Roasted red snapper, mashed yucca, tamarind, red onion and tomato sauce.
Lomo Saltado: Traditional stir-fry of sautéed beef tenderloin, onions. tomatoes, cilantro, soy sauce, garlic, aji amarillo with fried potatoes.
Arroz: Peruvian style vegetable risotto.

The desserts were excellent too. I love the china in which they serve their sunken crème brûlée over purple corn compote.

And these little orange glazed chocolate beignets were a hit as well…If you are in San Francisco, we highly recommend La Mar for its interesting and fresh Peruvian menu, both classic and modern dishes, its breathtaking colorful space, and engaging knowledgeable staff.
When we dine out, we love to share. With so many interesting dishes and new flavors, we had to put all the dishes in the middle of the table. In fact, we started out at a table for four, but had to move to a bigger table so we had room for all the plates. How about you, do you prefer to savor your own dish or would you rather try them all?