Tag Archives: sweet potato


Carol and her family were in San Diego this weekend, so there was no Sunday family dinner. They had gone to watch the Notre Dame/Navy game. (ND won by a substantial score to remain undefeated.) Carol’s husband is a Notre Dame alum as are his father – and his brothers – and his sister. And they are all devoted sports fans. Carol’s husband goes to South Bend for football whenever he can, and the whole family often comes to LA when Notre Dame is playing nearby, usually against USC. The pilgrimage left us by ourselves, and so I thought Sunday would be a good time to clean out the refrigerator. There was a sweet potato that needed to be used. (It had tiny leaves appearing.) There was a potato that also needed to be used, along with a package of ground beef that I had bought the day before without a clear idea for it. The days have gotten cooler, so something like cottage pie sounded good. Why not top it with sweet potato mash instead of/along with the usual mashed potatoes? Done.

The other thing to while away my time was a new toy. I had bought a Xenvo lens set from Amazon. The lenses clip onto your cell phone to augment the built-in lens. The wide-angle lens does not really do much as my iPhone lens is already wide angle with a large depth of field. The macro, on the other hand, is great. It has only a single focus point, so it is not as versatile as the macro lens on my DSLR, but it is still fun to see what really-close-up images you can make. I am afraid that this post will wind up being a series of macro images of ingredients. Even at that, I hope you enjoy them.


Harvest Cottage Pie


  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter* (You will need 8 tablespoons – one stick – in all)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt  and pepper to taste
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter*
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup beef stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 medium cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler (alternatively grate)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for topping*


  1. In a small stockpot, cover the sweet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Add the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly.
  2. In a small stockpot, cover the cubed russet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Then stir in the milk and egg until they are completely incorporated. Add  salt and cayenne pepper to taste. You can substitute black pepper but it will leave black specks in the mash. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir until they are completely wilted but not browned. Add the ground beef and stir occasionally until the meat is completely browned. Stir in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the stock and stir until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the thyme and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Assemble the cottage pie by transferring the meat mixture to a well-greased oven-proof dish large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Layer the mushrooms and carrots on the top of the meat. Then alternate large spoonsful of sweet potato and potato mash on the top. Using a pastry brush, baste the top with melted butter. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for one hour.
  5. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Cook’s note: The carrot slices, although attractive, turned out to be a little hard to eat. Coarsely grated carrot may be better. Actually it may be even better to leave out the carrot as it has sweetness and  flavor that compete with the sweet potato.





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We have been eating all of the produce we brought back from our Louisiana trip, and everything is nearly gone except for the sweet potatoes we bought in Texas. What luck! Sara Moulton, the current doyenne of American television cooks and noted cook book author, has a syndicated column in our local paper. This week her recipe was for sweet potato salad with a vinegar-based dressing instead of the usual white potato/mayonnaise mix that is so popular around the Fourth of July. I have made a few tweaks to her published recipe. She called for only a half of a chipotle, but my Southwestern background determined that I needed more pep, either with more chipotle or with hot sauce. The original was also a little monochromatic, so I added pimentos for color.  Either her way or my way, I think you will find this a refreshing salad for hot summer days and evenings.


Sweet Potato, Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Spicy Cilantro Dressing

Sweet potato, grilled corn and black bean salad

Sweet potato, grilled corn and black bean salad


  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 chipotle in adobo
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1½ pounds sweet potatoes (about 5 small), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 3 ears fresh corn, husked and silk removed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 scallions, whites and green tops, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces diced pimentos
  • (optional Chalula or other hot sauce to taste)


  1. In a blender, combine the garlic, shallot, chipotle, cilantro, and rice vinegar. Puree until smooth.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a covered jar and set aside.
  2. In a large covered pot with a steamer basket, bring about 2 inches of water to the boil. Add the sweet potatoes, and steam, covered, until fork tender, about 8 minutes
  3. Transfer the steamed sweet potatoes to a large bowl. Pour half of the pureed dressing over the potatoes and mix well, being careful not to break up the potatoes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Brush the ears of corn lightly with the melted butter and then place on a hot grill. You can use your Santa Fe chile roasting grill for this operation. Roast the corn, turning frequently, until it is lightly charred on all sides. Transfer to a plate and cool until it can be handled easily.
  5. Hold each ear on its thick end on a cutting board, and using a sharp knife, cut the roasted corn kernels off the cobs. There will be 3 cups or more of corn kernels.
  6. When the sweet potatoes and corn have cooled, combine the dressed potatoes, corn, black beans, and pimentos. Add the remaining dressing and mix gently until everything is well combined. Adjust seasoning with additional salt, pepper and optional hot sauce.
  7. Serve warm or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and ready to serve.



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When I was growing up, my mother would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and put it in a brown paper sack along with some carrot sticks, an apple or orange, and some home-made cookies. When we moved to the suburbs the school had a lunch program. For twenty-five cents children could get a hot meal served in a war surplus Army metal divided tray. For a quarter you got a main dish like spaghetti, a salad, hot bread, fruit, dessert, and a little glass bottle of milk. All the kids loved lunch and lunchtime because the food was good, and it was a break from the classroom. Nobody threw anything away. The reason it was so cheap was that the meal was mostly made from “commodities” which the government had purchased from the farm subsidy program. Cheese, meat, chickens, eggs, butter, and produce were all part of the program, so it was possible to make a tasty meal from high quality ingredients. The other reason the lunches were so popular was that they were made by the “lunch ladies” who usually were mothers of some of the school children. Their kids were often your friends, and the cooks knew everyone’s name. In those days, nobody would dream of wasting food, especially in front of a mother who might tell your mother. Besides, the ladies would often make special treats like home-made potato chips to go with juicy hamburgers and all the trimmings.

My mom became one of those lunch ladies, and for many years she cooked meals which the children loved. Her fresh, hot rolls were famous as were her pumpkin pie and chocolate sheet cake. She loved “her children” and they loved her.

Then something happened. The commodity program shrunk dramatically. School boards across the country decided that they needed to cut payrolls and that they could provide lunches cheaper by contracting with big restaurant firms. The home-made lunches disappeared, and in their place came frozen TV-dinner-like meals that got heated up in the microwave. It was about the same time that a garbage barrel got placed at the end of cafeteria line where kids could dump their uneaten tray and head for the vending machines filled with soft drinks, corn snacks, and candy bars. It was about that time, too, when the decision was made to count ketchup as a vegetable to make sure of the “nutritional value” of the meal, and when childhood obesity began to inch up.

Now some schools have contracted with caterers who have the child choose from a menu of items that are popular with kids. The food is apparently better, but it is still not the solution to having the kids eat a healthy lunch.

In frustration, my daughter Carol decided to do something about it. Peanut butter sandwiches are often no longer allowed. Although she is not really concerned about some of the other food restrictions which have multiplied seemingly geometrically in the last few years –  mercury content of tunafish, dairy products in drinks, estrogens in soy products, gluten in bread – and on and on – she wanted to make a lunch her kids would eat, and so she turned to bento boxes.

Sarah's authentic bento box from the Kyoto train station

She picked up a copy of “The Just Bento Cookbook” by Makiko Itoh (one of this year’s top ten cookbooks on the Amazon list) and bought some bento boxes. Then she prepared this menu from the book: chicken kijiyaki, pan-steamed sweet potato, cucumber and turnip salad with lime, rice, and apple bunnies.

Carol's bento box in the morning

Being the good cook that she is, Carol made a point of seasoning the food to kid tastes and arranging it beautifully in the boxes.

Cameron's bento box in the afternoon

Ciara's bento box in the afternoon

Alas, with all that effort, she felt let down when her kids returned from school with their bento boxes in tow. Now, it’s on to another ploy to get her kids to eat a healthy lunch at school.

RECIPES (adapted from “The Just Bento Cookbook” by Makiko Itoh, published by Kodansha International, 2010)

Chicken Kijiyaki

1 chicken thigh, boned with skin on

1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

  1. Pierce the skin of the chicken with a sharp fork and place it skin-side down on a hot non-stick skillet. Saute until the skin is crisp, turn over and saute the other side until done.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pan, clean the skillet with a paper towel and return the skillet to the heat. Add the mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, stirring until the sugar is melted and the sauce is hot. Return the chicken, turning it to coat it with the sauce. Remove the chicken from the pan, let it cool, slice it, and arrange it in the bento box.

Pan-steamed Sweet Potato

1 small sweet potato, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon honey

  1. Arrange the sweet potato slices in a single layer in a sauce pan. Add enough water to half cover the slices. Sprinkle with salt.
  2. Bring to the boil. Then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the sweet potato slices are tender. Turn once about half way through the cooking.
  3. Drain the water from the sauce pan, drizzle honey over the slices. Then let them cool completely before packing them in the bento box.

Cucumber and Turnip Salad with Lime

1 small cucumber

1/2 turnip, peeled

1 teaspoon salt

zest of 1 lime

1/2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

  1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and slice very thin half-moons.
  2. Slice the turnip into small, thin slices and combine with the cucumber slices
  3. Rub the vegetables all over with the salt. Let stand for 10 minutes until they are limp. Then squeeze out any excess water
  4. Add the lime zest and lime juice. Place in a covered container, and refrigerate overnight

Apple Bunnies

1 ripe, red apple

juice of 1 lime

1 Cup water

  1. Cut the apple into wedges and remove the core
  2. With a sharp paring knife, score the skin of an apple with the shape of a triangle, its base at the top of the wedge
  3. Again with the sharp knife cut through the apple just below the skin on either side of the triangle
  4. Gently remove the skin from the triangle
  5. Place the carved apple in the lime juice added to the water to prevent discoloration of the cut apple and so that the “ears” curl and

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