Monday, December 24, 2018

A Sweet Potato Predicament

It's finally Christmastime! Which means lots and lots and lots of food; so many dishes and calories and only so much time to consume it all. Like plenty of families, my family does a potluck Christmas dinner where everyone brings a dish or two. Unlike some families though, my entire extended family congregates for Christmas potluck. Where Christmas meal prep is typically reserved for 4-6 people, my family preps for around 20 people every year.

In the past, my familial potluck responsibility has always been to bring some form of alcohol. Many people assume that I have a refined palate for wine and am a budding connoisseur; sadly that's not the case. Rather, my culinary skills have always been so dismal that no one trusts anything I concoct in the kitchen and instead leaves me with the one beverage I could never ruin. But as of this year, things have drastically changed: I began the new year taking cooking classes once a month and as soon as people started tasting my food, I've received nothing but rave reviews and everyone wants to try the latest Arnold recipe.

My usual dishes trend towards only a handful of cuisines: Latin, Indian, French, and the occasional catch of the day. Being a newly budding chef inspired me to finally offer my family something at Christmas that I've never offered before: actually bringing a potluck dish that experienced some type of heat transfer. I'm usually quite an easy going person and gain so much personal satisfaction from making others happy, so I offered to bring any dish that was still needed for the usual gigantic Arnold potluck. I assumed that a vegetable would most likely be assigned, as meat is usually served by the host and everyone loves to bring their favorite dessert. I pondered over which vegetable would be asked of me: maybe maple bacon sautéed Brussel sprouts,  possibly my favorite grilled asparagus with a homemade balsamic reduction, or even my brand new and perfected sautéed radishes tossed with rosé and thyme. Never did I imagine that I would be assigned the one holiday dish I've never touched in my life: the sweet potato.

It's not that I've ever been personally offended by a sweet potato or have any sort of (sweet) trauma in my past: I've just never understood how a root vegetable could be acceptable with both brown sugar and marshmallows. Brown sugar and marshmallows are dessert ingredients: acceptable for cookies, hot chocolate, and anything that inspires a cavity.  I've never put sugar on a carrot or melted marshmallows on top of baked green beans; how the hell was it acceptable to put both these things on top of the most orange potato I'd ever set eyes on? Needless to say, my distrust for sweet potatoes didn't necessarily arise from the potatoes themselves but really from their very odd, unusual presentation.

So here I am with an unusual predicament: I have to fix mashed sweet potatoes for at least 12 people (not everyone likes the orange root) and not only have I never made mashed potatoes before, but I've never even eaten a sweet potato. Sure, I've had sweet potato fries before and they're incredible when they're a tad overdone doused in ketchup, but a mashed sweet potato? I didn't even start eating regular mashed potatoes until I was out of college!

Thank goodness for southern family who have perfected the apparent art of the sweet potato and are willing to provide direction and suggestions for how to take a weird, orange root vegetable and convert to smooth, whipped goodness. I've always associated my culinary skills more to science than art, with my cookbook being more closely associated with a lab book rather than a sketchpad. Only time and many dirty dishes later (plus a possible panic attack) will I know if I've got a mashed sweet potato to be proud of to feed to my family. I might even do the unthinkable and actually taste it. It's Christmas; anything can happen.

Happy Holidays!!