February is sweet-potato month. As I child I hated sweet potatoes—mostly because I saw them only at Thanksgiving goopily encased in maple syrup and other sweet substances. Once I realized they could be eaten in other ways I became a big fan. My favorite way to consume them is baked simply in the oven, split open, and smeared with a little butter. I’m always on the lookout for something new to do with them, however.
Last week my nephew Michael requested that I come up with a recipe that relates to hockey. At eight Michael is enthralled with this sport. He drills and plays every weekend with his fellow Northern Virginia Ice Dogs. I’m impressed with the amount of time these kids spend on the ice—and with the lessons they learn, which are as much about teamwork and sportsmanship as about winning.
Michael and his parents have season tickets to the Washington Capitals’ games. They started watching the Caps last year when Michael was in second grade and took up hockey. They were delighted to see the team get better and better as the school year went on.
Sports watchers credit much of the team’s newfound success to coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau fascinates me. His face at most games is impassive. He is famous for dressing down his players, however. Thomas Boswell recently quoted him in the Washington Post as saying of his team, “They’re good kids. But sometimes kids don’t do their homework. Coaching is a lot like parenting.” (Michael loved reading this.)
I have a feeling Michael thinks the Caps’ improved scoring is less due to their coach than to their new eight-year-old fan. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly, the team and its management are going out of their way to encourage family attendance. Michael seldom comes home from a game without a treasured freebie; recently he showed off a Capitals lunchbox of which I am very jealous. And he and his junior team are proud to have been invited to don Capitals uniforms and play as “Mites on Ice” during the intermission at one of the games.
Here for Michael and all young hockey fans are recipes for sweet potato hockey pucks (rolls) and sticks (roasted sweets). Maybe one of these days these treats will be available at one of the Capitals’ games…….
Sweet Potato Pucks
This recipe can be made two different ways, to produce a sweet or a savory roll. I personally prefer the savory version, but it never hurts to have a choice!
enough sweet potatoes to make 1 cup mashed (about 1 medium to large sweet potato)
1 packet yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter, melted
1 tablespoon salt
4 to 5 cups flour (part may be whole wheat)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 generous teaspoons cinnamon plus 2 tablespoons sugar–OR 2 generous teaspoons Creole seasoning plus 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Measure out 1/2 cup of the sweet-potato water; you may discard the rest. As soon as the water cools to lukewarm (this will not take long), place the yeast and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl, and pour the lukewarm vegetable water over them.
While the yeast is proofing, put the milk in a saucepan over low heat. In a mixing bowl, beat together the mashed sweet potatoes and butter. When the milk is steaming but not boiling, remove it from the heat. Stir the yeast mixture into the sweet-potato mixture, followed by the hot milk, the salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Let this wet mixture rise in its bowl, covered, until it doubles in bulk (this took me about 1-1/2 hours).
When the batter has risen, stir in 1-1/2 cups more flour. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it until it is smooth, adding more flour as needed. As you knead, you have a choice. If you like sweeter rolls, try kneading in the cinnamon and sugar. If you like tart rolls, knead in the Creole seasoning and cheddar. Your final product will be a little sticky but not too sticky.
Using your hands shape the dough into little balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place the balls an inch or two apart on greased (or parchment-covered) baking sheets. You should have about 24. Allow the balls to rise on the baking sheets until they double in bulk again, at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375, and bake the risen rolls from 15 to 25 minutes, until their tops are golden. These pucks are best served hot from the oven with lots of butter. Makes about 24 rolls.
Sweet Potato Sticks
1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more oil as needed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
Wash and trim the sweet potatoes, and cut them into fingers about 1/2 inch thick. If you want to do this step early in the day, let them soak in salt water until you are ready to use them; then drain and blot them. Do not peel them.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a wide bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Throw in the sweet-potato pieces, and toss them well to coat them with the flavorings.
When the oven has preheated, place the coated sweet potatoes on a jelly-roll pan (that is, a cookie sheet with low sides). Bake them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are brown but not black. Turn them at least twice to keep them from burning and sticking to the pan—and be sure to add a little more oil if it is needed to prevent sticking.