Baked Sweet Potatoes — a Hassle Free Thanksgiving Side Dish

I love cooking a full-course Thanksgiving dinner, even though it’s a lot of work. So much food to prepare in so little time. I have, however, figured out one quick little shortcut that helps save time, and confusion, in the kitchen.

I first discovered baked sweet potatoes at a buffet restaurant. The friend I was dining with pointed them out to me and raved about how delicious they were. While not a huge sweet potato fan myself, I noticed what an easy side dish it would be to prepare. Simply take a sweet potato, or a yam, quarter it, wrap it in foil, and bake it like a regular potato.

I tried it myself a couple of Thanksgivings ago, and it was a big hit. Much less prep time and less hassle than candied yams, with no added sugars or preservatives, no casserole dish to wash, and fewer calories to boot. Best of all, my guests loved them.


Pot Roast – Good Old-Fashioned Comfort Food

Pot roast was a family favorite when I was growing up, and I think just about every kid’s mom made pot roast. It’s simply one of those good old-fashioned American comfort foods. It requires very little prep time, and just about anyone, regardless of their cooking skill, can whip up a pot roast. Modern cooks have a few more options, such as using a crock pot instead of a roasting pan, and there are a few other variations you can use as well.

My mother never wrote down her pot roast recipe. Some dishes are so basic they really don’t require one. This is how I make a pot roast. No doubt it’s similar to the way the rest of you make your pot roast too.

I start by putting my roast in the roasting pan, and then adding chopped onions, carrots, and potatoes. (Red potatoes work very well). Then, depending on your preferences, you can add celery, shallots, corn, squash, or lima beans, whatever vegetable you like. One time I even tried adding broccoli. It tasted okay, but broccoli doesn’t always smell so nice when it’s cooking, and it left a strong odor in my kitchen. Season the mixture with season salt and pepper. You can also use celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder and parsley, whatever your favorite seasonings happen to be.

I prefer having my pot roast well done, so if I’m baking it in the oven I set the thermostat to 350 and roast it for about 15 minutes per pound.  However, I usually make my pot roast in the crock pot, so I’ll start it in the morning and cook it on low all day. Whichever method you choose, be sure to add about a half cup of water to your mixture before you begin roasting.  That way the roast will stay moist and not get too dry.

Here’s another tip: the leftover roast can be used to make tacos. Place it in an iron skillet, add a little water and some taco seasoning blend, and break up the meat with a spoon as it’s heating.



When in Doubt Throw It Out

Most of our mothers taught us to check the food before we prepare it. A slimy texture, an off color, or a bad odor is an indicator that the food has either spoiled, or has begun to spoil.

Food spoilage is caused by bacteria. As we learned in our grade school science classes, bacteria are single-celled organisms that find many of our favorite foods just as yummy as we do. In fact, they like our food so much that they decide to take up residence. They reproduce, form colonies, and as they eat, grow and eliminate body waste, they begin to break the foods down, or decompose them. This is what causes the sliminess, the mushiness, and the bad smell.

There seems to be some debate among the experts as to whether or not eating spoiled food will make you sick. While the bacterias that cause the food spoilage itself may not make us sick, it’s a safe bet that if those bacteria are present then the pathogens that do cause food-borne illnesses are probably in the mix as well. And since most of us don’t have microscopes in our kitchens, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

While we may not be able to prevent all spoilage, we can take steps to slow it down. One of the easiest is to pay attention to the “sell by” dates on the package of meat or fish, and be sure to either cook or freeze these items by that sell by date. Whenever I buy meat on the sell by date I don’t bother freezing it. I make it a point of cooking it the same day.

As soon as I remove uncooked meat or fish from the package I take a good whiff. If I detect any kind of a foul odor I immediately throw it out.  Washing or cooking the meat simply may not destroy the pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses. Yes, it’s a bummer when you have to waste an expensive piece of meat or fish, but which is more costly? The price of the meat, or cost of the emergency room bill?

It’s simple, really. Keep cold foods cold. Take fresh foods, especially meat and fish, straight home from the grocery store and freeze or refrigerate them promptly. That means when you’re out running errands, you leave your food shopping for last. Sure, we all want to conserve time and gasoline, but if you’re meeting a friend for lunch, have a doctor’s appointment, or need to pick up your kids from soccer practice, be sure to get it all done before you stop at the grocery store.

I also have a three-day rule. After three days in the refrigerator I either cook it or freeze it. Same with leftovers. I either freeze them or toss them out after three days. I know this may seem wasteful to some, but it simply isn’t worth taking the chance of contracting food poisoning.

Food safety is something I just don’t compromise on. It’s like Mother said, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

My tip for the day.