Plenty of butter and sugar plus a big skillet to prevent overcrowding allow these fried sweet potatoes to develop a golden brown glaze.
Common belief seems to be that winter vegetables are those that grow in the cool days of late fall into winter or that begin their growth spurt in the still cold days of winter and come to harvest in early spring. Many of the vegetables in the cabbage family often show up on lists of winter vegetables, as do lettuce, spinach, kale and a number of leafy greens. I have expanded the concept to include root vegetables that are harvested late in the growing season but then keep quite well over the winter. When freezers and canning technology and the nation’s current trucking system were not players in the food provision picture, many families looked to the root cellar for their vegetable intake all winter.
All of the recipes that follow can be used individually or in combination to create the ultimate winter feast. Recently, I combined several, and the result was a veritable feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Typically, fried sweet potatoes and roasted root vegetables would be used alternatively rather than together at the same meal. Yet, I centered the feast with a slow-cooked, succulent beef rump roast.
Menu for a Winter Feast
Red cabbage slaw
Beef rump roast
Mashed potatoes with caramelized onions
Roasted root vegetables or Fried sweet potatoes
Broccoli Casserole Pumpkin walnut gingerbread with whipped cream
Buttery cracker crumbs top the cheesy broccoli casserole.
My aunt made this casserole for us when we visited her nearly 30 years ago in Corbin, Kent. Since then, it has been a favorite of my children and their friends, and it shows up on the table at nearly every family gathering. Because I now cook for two most of the time, my amounts are established for a very small casserole. For more, just increase the amounts proportionately. The dish is excellent with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cabbage slaw.
2 cups broccoli florets in very small pieces
2 ounces Velveeta cheese cut in 1-inch chunks
10 saltine crackers, crushed
2 Tablespoons butter, sliced paper-thin
1. Trim and rinse broccoli. You may peel and slice sections of the stem if desired or you may use only the florets. The water that sticks to the florets is the only liquid necessary.
2. Put half of the florets in an ovenproof casserole dish and dot with the cheese.
3. Cover cheese with remaining florets.
4. Crush crackers coarsely and cover casserole with them. Try not to let any broccoli show through, as it will overcook.
5. Using cold butter and a sharp knife, slice the butter paper thin and lay the slices on top of the crackers, trying to cover as much as possible.
6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown and the cheese bubbling slightly at the edges.
Two winter vegetable staples star in this rich onion and potato dish that complements succulent roast beef.
Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions
These recipe uses two of the most important root vegetables any kitchen keeps on hand – onions and potatoes. If I don’t have onions or potatoes, I think I can’t cook. Two recipes are included here, as both can be served separately.
3 small-medium onions cut in half vertically then sliced very thin
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add onion slices and stir frequently until the onions begin to brown. This may take 10-15 minutes. Regulate heat carefully so that the onions do not burn but do begin to develop a nice, deep amber color at the edges of most slices. There will still be a good bit of onion that is not brown at this point.
3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and allow the onions to continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The goal is to achieve a uniform deep caramel color and almost jam-like quality to the onions. What actually happens during this process is that the natural sugars in the onions brown, creating the caramel color. Sufficient heat at the beginning is necessary to start the browning, which then evens out at lower temperatures.
When the onions have reached the desired shade of brown, they can be used immediately or either refrigerated or frozen for use later. Not only are they good with mashed potatoes, but also they make a lovely addition to burgers or steak sandwiches or can be used as a plate garnish.
The same technique can be used to caramelize pearl onions, but these will be whited at the end of the process. Caramelized pearl onions are excellent served as a side dish with beef of any type, and when I use them this way, I add freshly cracked pepper to the dish just before serving.
Amounts in this recipe are for general guidance only and reflect the way my family expects mashed potatoes to be prepared. The type of potato used has a major effect on how much cream is needed, and individual taste dictates how creamy versus stiff the potatoes should be. I do not use milk or margarine in my mashed potatoes, but I do sometimes substitute sour cream for whipping cream if I happen to be low on the latter.
6 medium-large potatoes
1 stick butter 1/4-1/5 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1. Peel and chop potatoes in about 1 inch chunks. Heat 2-3 quarts water in large kettle until boiling. I usually put about 1 teaspoon salt in the water. When the water comes to a boil, add the potato chunks and cook until fork-tender. Drain off water and add butter.
2. Beat with an electric mixer until all lumps are smooth, then begin adding cream until the potatoes reach the desired consistency.
Add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. I like salty potatoes, so I use more than many people, and some folks are on salt-restricted diets and don’t use any, so follow your own needs/tastes in this regard.
3. Swirl the caramelized onions through the top of the potatoes and grate some fresh Parmesan cheese on top. Serve immediately if folks are at the table acting hungry.
Make-ahead Alternative: If you are a cook-ahead kind of cook, mashed potatoes hold very well in either the refrigerator or freezer. To prepare specifically for a future meal, I often put half of the mashed potatoes in a baking dish, cover with grated cheese such as white cheddar or Havarti, then cover with the remaining potatoes. Pile the caramelized onions on top, then use a knife to pull them through the top potato layer in a zigzag pattern. Grate fresh Parmesan on top, cover with plastic wrap and either refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to a month. When ready to use, put in oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit until top browns and bubbles.
Done to a golden turn, these rich fried sweet potatoes will grace any winter table.
Fried Sweet Potatoes
This recipe is straight from my mother’s repertoire, and I have eaten it only at her table and mine, although I am sure country kitchens everywhere have made this or a very similar dish. Given the choice of fried sweet potatoes or a casserole of same, I will go with this every time. My favorite way to eat them is with fresh garden tomatoes, and the first of the sweet potato harvest conveniently overlaps the waning days of the tomato harvest. As a child, I remember seeing the last green tomatoes pulled before a threatening frost and left upstairs on newspapers to continue ripening. At the time, I thought that was so we wouldn’t have to eat fried sweet potatoes without fresh tomatoes.
6 small sweet potatoes
2/3 stick butter
1/3 cup sugar (I used turbinado sugar in mine, but have never used brown)
Salt to taste
1. Pare and slice sweet potatoes in 1-inch slices.
2. Heat butter in heavy skillet until melted.
3. Add sweet potato slices and sprinkle them with sugar and about a teaspoon salt.
4. Fry over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until slices begin to show browning around the edges. This stage is critical, as is having a large enough skillet so that the potatoes can brown evenly without first cooking up too much and being mushy. The goal is to have each slice of sweet potato retain its individual identity and be enveloped in a rich buttery, sugary sauce. If your skillet is too crowded or if the heat is too low, this won’t happen.
Reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook for 10-15 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender and there is still a bubbly juice in the pan. Check frequently, using a spatula to turn the potatoes rather than a spoon to stir them.
If you don’t have fresh garden tomatoes to go with this, roast the root vegetables instead.
Ready for the table, these roasted root vegetables are delectable to view and to eat.
Roasted Root Vegetables
This is a very basic recipe that can be modified infinitely, based on what root vegetables your family likes and what you have in the pantry, garden or root cellar. My preference is to prep each vegetable separately and layer them in strips in the casserole dish, so that each maintains its unique identity. This makes a very pretty presentation and also lets people bypass any of the offerings they don’t really like. When I prepared this for photographing, I forgot I had turnips. Otherwise, they would have been in the recipe as well. Beets add a lovely, rich and jewel-like color to the plate, especially when the casserole juices of beets mingle with carrots. I like to vary the cut of each vegetable purely for aesthetic reasons, so you can cut them any way you like without changing the taste, just the look.
1 medium rutabaga cut in 1/4-by-2-inch strips
2 cups carrots cut in 3/8 inch diagonal slices
2 medium yellow onions quartered then sliced in 1/4 inch slices
4 small or 3 medium beets, sliced then wedged into 6 pieces per slice
4 tablespoons olive oil approximately
1/3-1/5 cup beef stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Several sprigs fresh rosemary
Pare and cut each vegetable individually and toss each with approximately 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, a light grinding of fresh black pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Turn into a 9-by-13 baking dish, keeping each vegetable separate in a stripe-like formation. Tuck sprigs of fresh rosemary into vegetables.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, then sprinkle top of vegetables with stock or water and cover with foil. I especially like to use the juice from a pot roast that I have already cooking in the oven for the liquid, but if you don’t have that pot roast handy, you can use beef stock or even water. You don’t want a lot of liquid, but just enough to steam the vegetables and leave a tiny bit of juice in the bottom of the baking dish when they are done.
Cook about another 30 minutes, until all of the vegetables are fork tender. The rutabagas take the longest, so when they are done, the rest will be done as well. Turnips don’t take long at all, so if you use turnips, add them after the other vegetables have already been cooking 15-20 minutes.
Red cabbage and feta cheese create a new take on an old winter staple, cole slaw.
Red Cabbage Slaw with Feta Cheese
This is not your ordinary cole slaw, but a tangy, surprising combination of red cabbage and onions with salty feta cheese and a balsamic vinegar dressing. It is an excellent side dish for roasted beef, pork or even turkey and pairs well with potatoes fixed nearly any way. My sister provided this recipe and the dish for our feast.
1 small head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, quartered, then thinly sliced
1 Teaspoon salt
Few grinds fresh pepper
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Toss first five ingredients together until well mixed, then toss again with olive oil until well coated. Add vinegar and toss again until vinegar is well distributed. Serve chilled.
Pumpkin, toasted walnuts, spicy ginger and cool whipped cream make a memorable finish to this winter meal.
Pumpkin Walnut Gingerbread
Nothing says fall and winter better than spicy pumpkin desserts. Pumpkin pie is always good, but for a new twist on gingerbread and some extra vitamins and fiber in your dessert, try this mix of ginger and pumpkin. The fresh ginger is not necessary but adds a nice kick to the flavors.
1/4 stick soft butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg at room temperature
2/3 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup mashed pumpkin
1 Teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon soda
2 1/2 Teaspoons dry ginger
1/3 cup broken, toasted walnuts
1. Beat together butter and sugar until well blended.
2. Beat in egg and molasses.
3. Stir in pumpkin and grated ginger root.
4. Sift together dry ingredients.
5. Stir nuts into dry ingredients, then turn flour and nut mixture into pumpkin mixture.
6. Stir just until blended, then turn into buttered and floured 10” round or square baking pan.
7. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, or until a cake tester plunged into center comes out clean.
Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream.
From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2007. Photos by Anita Stamper.