Thursday, October 15, 2009

names have been changed to protect the innocent

There were not a lot of kids on the street where I grew up. Most of our neighbors were older couples, their children already grown and out of the house. Other than my sister Mojie and me, there was Lynn, whose parents left her most of the time in the care of a timid, elderly woman who Lynn said was a maid but I think might have been her grandmother; Kerrie and Mousie Hoff (Mousie claimed to be half girl, half boy, half mouse), smart, homely, nerdy girls who have probably since won Nobel prizes; and a houseful of boys who did NOT play with girls. So for a couple of summers before Lynn was sent to reform school, Lynn, Kerrie, Mousie, Mojie, and I spent most of summer vacation in each other's company.

Lynn was pure evil, so she was the ringleader, obviously, and she basically turned each summer into a season of Survivor by starting a "club" as soon as school let out and then having the rest of us do "initiation rites" for the next three months. Like Survivor, there were shifting alliances, challenges, and tribal councils in the form of "club meetings" held under a bush in Lynn's backyard. Lynn would exclude at least one person from each club meeting, frequently changed passwords and secret handshakes so no one knew who was in and who was out, and got the rest of us to do her bidding all summer, which usually involved doing ring-and-runs to the neighbors and terrorizing the elderly woman who may or may not have been Lynn's grandmother. There was also the occasional game of kickball.

Ever since then I've been a little wary of clubs (and, frankly, girls), but when I read about the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club, I wanted to join. Here's how it works: A bunch of bakers from all over the country make a recipe once a month from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook and then bl*g about it and post photos on Flickr. It's a winning combination: Martha Stewart, cupcakes, food bl*gs. If not for the fact that I don't bake, I would bribe, claw, or backstab my way into that club. Instead, I'm starting my own, which is what I should have done back in the summer of 1982.

My club is called the Mark Bittman Minimalist Club. I am the club president, treasurer, and sole member. The club rules are very strict: Every Wednesday there's a new Mark Bittman column, recipe, and video on the New York Times website. That's the strict part. Mark Bittman has to post a recipe EVERY Wednesday or I will NEVER show him the secret club handshake.

The less strict part is the part where I make the recipe he posts. I do this most weeks anyway, because his recipes are usually simple and quite delicious. I do not make his recipes when they involve mushrooms (blech) or chicken (nasty). I also do not make his recipes when I'm tired, working a lot, or too busy watching TV. And I won't necessarily post my attempt at his recipe the same week the recipe appeared, because that's asking a lot of someone who barely survived Lynn's summer club, was kicked out of Girl Scouts, dropped out of high school, and can't work a 9-5 job.

This recipe, from September 25, is a southwestern, autumn version of the classic summer potato salad. I have one word for you, people: yum (that both describes this dish and may or may not be the secret club password: YOU WILL NEVER KNOW). The potatoes are sweet and creamy, the dressing tangy and spicy, and, unlike regular potato salad, this is hearty and complex enough to serve as a main dish.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
From Mark Bittman's Minimalist column in the New York Times.

3 or 4 sweet potatoes (about 1½–2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Or not cut into 1-inch chunks.
1 large red onion, chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1–2 tablespoons minced fresh hot chili, like jalapeƱo
1 clove garlic, peeled
juice of 2 limes
2 cups canned black beans, drained

1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1+ cup chopped fresh cilantro.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat, and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put chilies in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.

I immersion blendered mine in the immersion blender container.

3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing [this at first seemed like a lot of dressing to me, so I didn't add it all, but the potatoes absorb it, so add it all or you will not be invited to the next club meeting] and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields 4 servings if you are feeding sweet-potato-eating mastadons: I have enough of this to eat until I'm 40.


  1. WOW! I don't usually go for sweet potatoes (yuck!), but you may just make a believer out of me! I honestly think that it was your pictures of the dish that made me try this recipe. You are an artist! Does this mean I can play in your club for this week?
    By the way... how is your little peanut doing?

  2. reading food and especially baking blogs is pretty much what i do all day anyway, so possibly trying out a recipe but not really having a due date for it is right up my alley. i'll post pics if i ever make that sweet potato salad. (i'm in the msc cupcake club too, but i've yet to make the 10/15 deadline...)

  3. well, this is month, in the martha stewart cupcake group, we are baking sweet potatoe cupcakes. now i know what to do with the left over sweet potatoe i'm sure i'll have...the salad sounds yummy!

  4. B. Nana, I'm not a huge sweet potato fan, either, but this recipe won me over, I think because the sweetness of the potatoes is not overwhelming, and the dish is also savory and a little spicy.

    And the peanut is doing quite well, napping at my feet as I type...