Sunday, December 26, 2010

A quiet Christmas Eve ... and my sweet potato mash

Back when I was little, my family celebrated Christmas on the night of Christmas Eve.  Celebrating in the evening certainly makes sense in a country that is generally sweltering in the summer weather come Christmas-time, and especially when so many of us still cook up a big roast dinner, which turns the kitchen into a sauna.  These days, my family celebrates over lunch on Christmas Day, but I still miss those magic nights with the Christmas tree lights twinkling and the expectation that Santa would be making his rounds that night.  So it was lovely to have the opportunity to celebrate a smaller Christmas Eve this year at our place with my partner's Mum and sister.

My duck is watching on from the shelf behind

In their honour, we lit up the Christmas tree, bought a pasture-raised, happy chook and chilled some French champagne.  The centrepiece of the main course was the lemon-roasted chicken (so succulent and crispy-skinned) served with steamed baby broccoli and a fresh side-salad.  But for me the focus was on the sweet potato mash, which is heaven in a bowl and no mistake.  I have raved about this dish before and so I thought it was time to share the recipe love this Christmas.

The original recipe for sweet potato mash has been altered very little since I first learned how to make the dish at a local restaurant cooking class (the wonderful guy who taught us is still running classes too, check out   It's simple as can be, and always receives rave reviews for its sweet spiciness and satiny texture.  Please note that nothing about this recipe is terribly exact and even with quite a bit of variation in the quantity of each ingredient you will produce a never-fail result.

-  3-4 orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
-  6 peeled garlic cloves
-  300ml thickened cream
-  pinch of nutmeg
-  salt and pepper to taste
-  1 tablespoon maple syrup

First, heat your oven up to 220 degrees celsius.  Then peel about three large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (or four medium-sized ones) and slice into pieces about 1 inch thick.  I will often cut the bigger slices in half to minimize cooking time, but it's really not a problem if you throw them all in the baking tray with a minimum of fuss.

Now that the chopped sweet potato is in the baking dish, throw in the peeled garlic cloves.  You don't need to chop them, crush them or mess about with them.  Just throw them in.  Then glug (because, in my opinion, thickened cream doesn't pour, it glugs) over the top just enough thickened cream to pretty much cover the sweet potato and garlic.  I used about 300ml this time around, but it's not an exact science, which is why the next photo ia intended to be illustrative of roughly the right amount of cream to use.  Note: this is not a dish for dieters, which is why it's perfect for Christmas.  After all, in for a penny, in for a pound (or two, or three).

Now, pop it into the oven.  Relax.  Pour yourself a glass of champagne, or egg nog if you are so inclined.  My boy unpacked one of these lovely ladies I had bought him from our local boutique beer shop, Plonk.

Wait about 15-20 minutes.  If the cream is golden and bubbly, it's time to check whether the sweet potato is ready.  Poke a knife in the sweet potato and, if it's soft, you can take it out.  If either the cream isn't yet golden and bubbly, or the sweet potato isn't cooked, just return it back to the oven for another five minutes, then test again.  It should look something like this...

So, your cream has formed a golden crust and your sweet potato is ready to go.  Let it cool a little bit (but not too much) while you put on an apron - believe me if you don't put one on, you'll end up speckled in tiny golden flecks of mash from head to toe.  Then go and grab your blender stick.  Some people call them Bamix, some people stick blenders - potato, potaado.  Dump all that delicious goo from your baking dish into a large high-sided bowl (again, due to the splash-factor) and wizz it all up with your stick whizzing thingamajig.

Mmmm, sweet potato mash.  It's almost as addictive as a scheduled substance.  Mmm.  But I digress - add in a goodly portion of salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Whizz it up again and make sure you taste to make sure it's spiced up the way you like it.  In honour of Christmas, I added in a tablespoon of maple syrup this time and it really added to the darkly sticky taste of the dish.

Finally, I emptied it into an appropriately decorative dish and served it.  And ate it.  And ate seconds.  And completely forgot to take any photos.  Luckily, there was a teeny-tiny amount of leftovers, which I served up for a post-Christmas snack today, thus allowing me to show you how truly delicious this side dish (I scoff - it deserves to be the centre piece!) really is.  Bon appetit and a very merry Christmas to you.

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