Have you ever had a cookbook from which you only ever used one recipe? Well, I have a lot of those, so during a recent move, I decided to get rid of a few. Naturally, one of them would have come in handy this past weekend, but the recipe was so simple it turns out I remembered it well enough without the book.
This was the weekend of a friend’s holiday party. The ladies were asked to bring side dishes, and the gentlemen were asked to bring desserts. (I was kind of sad that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to bring the pumpkin pie I made over Thanksgiving — not only because that’s an awesome recipe, but also because I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to eat any of the desserts others would bring. Oh well, c’est la vie.)
For a few days, I struggled to think of the best side dish to bring. I considered my rice stuffing, but I wondered if that would be too weird or if someone else would bring stuffing — as turkey was being provided — and then no one would eat it. Then I remembered a recipe for sweet potato casserole that we used to make every Thanksgiving and Christmas for a number of years.
I got the recipe from the aforementioned cookbook, which I sold at a garage sale a few months ago. It was a “five ingredient” cookbook that I purchased through a fundraiser when I was in high school. Sometimes I really like five-ingredient-type meals because they use whole foods and are often pretty healthy. But this book had a lot of recipes that relied on things like “pick up some fried chicken on your way home from work.” So, yeah, that wasn’t my favorite cookbook of all time.
In the holiday section, however, there was a recipe for delicious corn casserole (which had eggs and creamed corn, so I can’t eat that anymore) and this recipe for sweet potato casserole (which I’m transcribing from memory):
- 4 large sweet potatoes (or a couple of cans of prepared sweet potatoes)
- 1 large can of crushed pineapple
- 1 7-ounce bag of shredded sweetened coconut
- brown sugar (not much — maybe 1/4 or 1/3 cup)
- a few pats of butter
- Bake and roughly mash peeled sweet potatoes. (They don’t have to be mashed silky-smooth like traditional mashed potatoes, but you want to work most of the chunks out and make it spreadable.) Spread sweet potatoes into the bottom of a prepared baking dish. (I’ve used glass and non-glass baking dishes for this, and 9×12 seems to be a good size.)
- Layer the can of pineapple over the sweet potato. Then sprinkle some brown sugar on top of of the pineapple (I can’t remember the amount of brown sugar but you can go pretty light), then place a few pats of butter around on top of the sugar. Finally, sprinkle the coconut on the top of the casserole.
- Cover with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350˚. Then remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes or so to toast the coconut.
- (Caveat: I can’t remember if the coconut goes on before the brown sugar and butter or after, as we usually made this dish without the brown sugar and butter — there’s enough sugar that you won’t miss it if you skip it. I did use some brown sugar and Olivio Coconut Spread this time around, but I put it on top of the coconut, which seemed to created a different texture from what I remember.)
This, I decided, would be a perfect dish to bring because it’s easy, it’s somewhat different from your traditional sweet-potato-and-marshmallow casserole, and I doubted that anyone else would bring the same thing! Also, as sweet potatoes were 79¢ a pound, I got four large ones for less than $4. The can of pineapple was 99¢, and the coconut was $1.07. I had brown sugar and “butter” on hand, so all together I made this for less than $6.
The only problem was how to keep it warm after a 45-minute drive to my friend’s house. So my mom suggested putting it in a slow cooker, baking it in the oven in the removable stoneware pot, then using the cooker’s heating base to keep it warm at the party. This was a great idea, and as the slow cooker was much deeper but a smaller footprint than a 9×12 baking dish, I ended up making two layers — sweet potato, pineapple, coconut, sweet potato, pineapple, coconut (then a little brown sugar and “butter”). I lightly toasted some of the coconut before layering it, so the middle layer of coconut could have a similar texture as the top. I also strained the liquid out of the pineapple so I could use it for mashing the sweet potatoes, which gave the sweet potato layers a fresh flavor.
Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only person using a slow cooker at the party. Whoever provided the turkey and ham brought them pre-shredded and pre-sliced (respectively) in slow cookers. Even if I wasn’t going to a potluck-style meal, I think this would be a great idea for serving meat at a gathering — you could get the messy carving and clean-up done right away and the main course would still be warm.
I had some of the turkey and the ham, some of my sweet potato casserole, some of my friend’s cranberry Jell-O salad, and some mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes probably had a little dairy or something that I shouldn’t eat — they were so tasty — but I figured this would be a safer place to cheat than the corn casserole, green bean casserole or other such dishes. I did end up skipping the desserts, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I keep finding that when you know you can’t have something for health reasons (i.e. you’re going to get a bad stomach ache), it’s a lot easier to avoid it than if you’re just trying to lose weight. (I did, however, have a couple handfuls of M&Ms that I probably shouldn’t have eaten!)
All in all, I found this casserole to be a great go-to recipe for holiday potluck.
What’s your favorite allergy-friendly recipe for such gatherings?