Sugar-filled chocolate Santas and holiday cookies, starchy stuffing and fat-filled mashed potatoes all can conspire to derail parents' best efforts and intentions.
"Eliminating sweets and starches from our holiday fare probably isn't practical for most of us," says Holly Clegg, cookbook author and spokesperson for the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission. "But it's easy to prepare healthful, festive holiday meals that will also please your child's sweet tooth. Turn to the sweet potato for inspiration."
Yams for the holidays are an American tradition. Native Americans were cultivating yams when Columbus arrived, and sweet potatoes were almost certainly on the menu for the very first Thanksgiving. But when Grandma set that dish of candied sweet potatoes on the holiday table when you were a child, she probably didn't realize the health benefits she was sharing with her family.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest considers sweet potatoes one of the most nutritional vegetables out there. Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene (which gives them their yellow or orange color), vitamins A, C, B6 and E, iron, potassium and fiber, and are naturally low in fat. What's more, says Clegg, yams are among the "good carbs" nutrition experts recommend.
Clegg and the yam experts at the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission offer these tips and recipes for sweetening your holidays:
♦ Fresh sweet potatoes store well at low temperatures and low humidity, making them available year-round. There's no need to refrigerate uncooked yams; simply store them at 55 to 65 F.
♦ Choose yams that are fresh, smooth, dry, plump and clean.
♦ Since canned yams are already cooked, add them at the end of the cooking process.
"Sweet potatoes are so versatile they can play a role in virtually every course of your holiday meals," Clegg says. "They're great as a side dish or dessert and can even be incorporated into soups and main dishes."
For more tips and recipes, visit www.sweetpotato.org.
Sweet Potato Crunchies appetizer
3 cups fresh sweet potatoes (yams) cooked and mashed, or two 15-ounce cans sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
1 tablespoon margarine
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
3 cups crushed corn flakes
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Add margarine, brown sugar, pecans, vanilla, flour and cinnamon. Mix well. Beat in the egg. Form the mixture into bite-size balls and roll in crushed corn flakes. Place the sweet potato balls on the baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray and bake for about 20 minutes. Serve with toothpicks. Makes up to four dozen.
Baked Sweet Potato with Topping side dish
1 fresh sweet potato (yam)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon raisins
2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat over to 400 F. Prick potato with fork. Bake on foil-lined baking sheet one hour or until very tender. Split sweet potato and top with maple syrup, raisins and sunflower seeds. Season to taste.
Microwave instructions: Pierce potatoes with fork and arrange on paper towels. Microwave on high eight minutes; turn potatoes over after four minutes.
Makes one serving.
Pork Chops and Sweet Potato Gravy
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds pork scaloppini (thin cuts of pork medallions) or boneless pork chops
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups thinly sliced onions
¼ cup pecans, chopped
2 cups water
1 pound sweet potatoes (yams), baked, peeled and mashed or one 15-ounce can sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
In a small bowl, combine paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of pork with seasoning. In large skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, over high heat, heat oil and brown pork on each side. Remove and set aside. Add flour, stirring constantly to brown the flour. Add onions and saute until almost tender, about five minutes. Stir in pecans. Add water and bring to a boil. Gradually add sweet potatoes and blend until smooth. Stir in syrup. Return pork to pan, reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pork is done, stirring occasionally. If gravy gets too thick, add water. Sprinkle with green onions and serve.
Sweet Potato Brownies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated raw sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients in order listed, stirring after each addition. Spread batter in a greased 9x13x2 pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. For glaze, mix powdered sugar, butter and enough milk to make a thin glaze. Spread over hot brownies. Cool before cutting. Makes 24 servings.