Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Salad assembled but before dressing. Don’t dress it until you are ready to serve. Such pretty colors!

It’s been rather warm here in Colorado. No snow in Boulder at all. Temps in the 60’s and 70’s. One good thing: my lettuce is still chugging along. Usually, we’d have had a hard freeze by now that freezes the leaves solid.

Chicken wire essential to deter my dog, who loves lettuce!

But, it’s still fall after all. That means that thoughts (and produce sales) are featuring veggies like sweet potatoes. Who doesn’t dream of sweet potatoes this time of year? And turkey! Sorry, I love Thanksgiving food.

This salad combines some classic fall flavors: sweet potatoes, cranberries, and orange. Compared to so many Thanksgiving sweet potato dishes, this is light and refreshing. Now, I’m not saying I won’t make rich and sweet sweet potatoes this year. But, in a year where summer is hanging on until past Election Day, this is spot on.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
(serves 6-8)

2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
leaves from 3 6″ sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
leaves 3 6″ sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup cranberries, rinsed and dried (see Note)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 orange, zest and juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 medium shallot, minced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 cups lettuce or arugula (or a mix), washed and dried

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into large dice. Toss with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, generous sprinkle of salt, light sprinkle of black pepper, and chopped herbs. Put on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until potatoes are browning at the edges and tender.

While the potatoes are roasting, place the cranberries in a small baking pan and drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes. When you take them out of the oven, sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon sugar. Set aside.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oven and set aside to let them cool while you make the dressing.

Place the sherry vinegar, zest and juice of the orange, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper into a blender jar. Blend for a few seconds to mix. With the blender running, slowly add the remaining 5 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the shallot and parsley and mix with a spoon. (If you blend it, the parsley will turn the dressing green. Which isn’t the end of the world but it’s prettier if it’s orange.)

To assemble, place the lettuce in the bottom of a large bowl. Pour on the sweet potatoes and distribute over lettuce. Do the same for the cranberries. When you are ready to eat, pour over the dressing and toss it all together.

Note: You can use fresh or frozen cranberries. If using frozen, thaw them before roasting.

Adapted from a recipe in Sweet Potatoes by April McGreger, The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.



The turkey carcass

Is that turkey carcass still hanging out in the fridge? What are you waiting for? That’s a great pot of soup just waiting to happen. All great soups start with great stock.

Anyone can make great stock. Stock is always made with bones. Since most people pick the carcass clean, that’s exactly what you are left with after Thanksgiving. I often throw in the neck too but this year I used them to make a quick stock Thanksgiving day for the gravy.

The method is simple and the same for any white stock where the bones are not roasted. Put the bones in a large soup pot. Cut the main carcass into pieces so it fits nicely. Peel an onion and cut into eighths. Peel a couple of carrots and cut into chunks. Clean two stalks of celery and cut into chunks. They all go in the pot. If you have drippings from the turkey pan, these can go in too. A cleaned leek is also nice if you have one. The typical aromatics are a smashed clove of garlic, 6 whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley and a sprig of fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried). If you are neat, you can wrap all of these in cheesecloth for a nice bouquet garni. I usually toss all of them in the pot since they will get strained out after cooking.

Cover everything in the pot with cold water. Set on the stove on medium. As the water comes up to a simmer, you want to spoon off the foam that floats to the surface. This will assure a clearer stock. Another tip for getting a clearer stock is don’t ever let it get hotter than a simmer. After the water gets to a simmer, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. You can let it go 6 hours if you want.

Take 2 pieces of cheesecloth big enough to cover a large strainer. Wet them, wring them out and place in the strainer. Put the strainer over another large pot or bowl and pour in your finished stock. If you are going to make soup right away, you are ready to go.

If you aren’t going to use the stock right away, it’s important that you cool it quickly. Put it in the fridge, or your garage if it is cooler than 40 degrees F. I have a couple of small energy drink bottles that I fill with water and freeze. I put them in the stock to cool it down even faster.

You can freeze turkey stock for at least 3 months. It’s always nice to have a cache of turkey stock from Thanksgiving hiding in the freezer for a lovely pot of turkey soup in February.

Thanksgiving Turkey – Cooking

Thursday morning rolls around. The bird must get cooked before the horde of hungry guests arrive. I’m going to assume you followed my advice and allowed ample time for thawing if your turkey is frozen. Please check your bird the night before, not just before it has to go in the oven (been there, done that). Do not panic if it is still slightly frozen. You can put it in the sink with ice water. Replace the water every hour. It will thaw surprisingly fast. Don’t leave it in the sink overnight, even in cold water. It will not stay cold enough.

Since I have two birds every year, one bird goes in the oven and the other goes on the rotisserie on the grill. The rotisserie turkey is always the most beautiful. The skin is crispier and it is an incredible mahogany brown. I throw cuttings from my grapevine onto the grill to add a little sweet smoke.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to season the birds first. When it’s time to roast the turkey, pull it out of the brine and dry it off. My oven-roasted turkey gets the same treatment every year, which is the way my grandmother made it. I rub it with butter or vegetable oil. I sprinkle it inside and out with paprika (helps the color), garlic powder, salt (go light for a brined turkey), and black pepper. Cut a lemon in half and stuff the halves in the cavity. Do the same with a peeled onion. Take some sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and stuff those in the cavity too. Oh yeah, I don’t stuff my birds. Since stuffing has to get to 165 degrees F, it makes it more difficult to cook the turkey properly. In order to get the stuffing hot enough, you need to overcook the bird. Stuffing tastes just fine cooked outside the bird and I don’t like my turkey overcooked.

The second turkey gets a southwestern twist. Instead of paprika, I use ground ancho chiles – pure ancho not chile powder. It’s a lot like paprika but it has more oomph. Then garlic powder, a little salt, and black pepper. You can use any dry rub you have as long as it is not heavy on the salt. Like the oven turkey, I stuff a halved lemon and onion in there. Sometimes, I put in a halved orange too, if I have one. For herbs, I use thyme only.

I need to truss the turkey for the rotisserie but I don’t truss the oven-roasted bird. Take the last wing joints and bend them under the body. Or cut them off and use them for stock.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place your turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Baste and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Add more water if it has all cooked away. Baste every 30 minutes and check the water. For a 10-12 lb bird, total roasting time is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. I start checking its internal temperature at 2 hours because I have a convection oven and my turkey is about 10 lbs. The temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh must reach 170 degrees F. USDA, Butterball and many other sites says 180 degrees but if you cook it that long, you get cotton, not turkey. 170 degrees F is sufficient to kill nasty bugs like salmonella provided you haven’t stuffed your bird. Remember to wash your thermometer before sticking it in the turkey again.

Some recipes, like Cooks Illustrated, call for starting the bird on its breast and then flipping it over. I don’t bother. It’s a real pain in the arse to flip it and I don’t know that it makes a big difference, especially in a brined bird. I roast it breast side up the whole time. I usually cover the breast with foil about half way through cooking to keep it from over-browning.

When the bird has reached 170 degrees F, remove it from the oven and cover it with foil. You should wait at least 10 minutes before craving and we often wait longer. Make sure to put your turkey on a heated platter so it doesn’t cool off before you have a chance to serve it. Heat your dinner plates too.

I hope your bird is delicious and you have a very happy Thanksgiving!