Guests. The older I get, the more I realise how little it matters what food I serve them. Don’t get me wrong, serving at least some kind of food is a good idea when you invite someone over, but no more do I have concerns about a simple meal being ‘worthy’ of guests (sorry to everyone who, after reading that, no longer wishes to take us up on dinner invites!). In this regard, I’ve come around to two things: firstly, proper social catch ups over a meal at home are so rare and I’d rather spend that time (at my house or someone else’s) actually catching up than thinking too much about the food. Secondly, if we like the food we (ok, I) make every day of the week, no matter how simple, then surely most of our friends and family will enjoy it too. Yes?
So though there was a period when I would have spent a couple of days planning, shopping at five different stores and cooking elaborate dinner party dishes – and in fact such a time may hopefully come again – for this chapter in our life, and that of many of our friends, it’s not a reality most days. Gone for now are the times of quintuplet-bird-roasts and six side dishes (and oh, do I have a story about failing at a quintuplet-bird-roast, but that will have to be saved for another day), to be replaced with meals marked by myriad small chairs and their accompanying small people; by plastic plates and tiny cutlery hastily thrown onto the table as everyone attempts to sit down at once (so rare).
It’s in this spirit that today I’m sharing something I think we should all have in our steam oven recipes repertoire (try saying that three times fast): combi steamed sweet potatoes. Whether your mealtimes are crazy like ours, or maybe you just don’t want to debone and stuff a quail for dinner tonight, this might be just the thing. Less a recipe than a list of guidelines, it’s something which can be doctored with an inordinate number of toppings to suit young and old, is relatively healthy (depending on said toppings) and apart from putting the potatoes in the oven a little earlier, requires you to be in the kitchen for all of ten minutes before serving (most of which will just be plating the toppings for people to help themselves at the table). Cooking whole sweet potatoes using combi steam means the skins blister and bubble, and the insides steam to a creamy mash consistency which is so welcome with all sorts of pantry and freezer staples cast over the top. It’s the kind of meal we should all have up our sleeves.
Happy weekend all, and happy (almost) 4th of July to those of you in the USA. I hope you’ll be cooking delicious (and simple!) things in your steam oven to celebrate.
Combi steamed loaded sweet potatoes
Again, ideas more than recipe here – this is what I did this time but there are a lot of different ways you can take it. Possible variations are listed below.
Ingredients for 4 serves
4 medium orange sweet potatoes
A splash of olive oil
3-4 rashers bacon, chopped
2 large ears of fresh sweetcorn, kernels sliced off (about a cup of frozen corn would work ok if fresh isn’t in season wherever you are)
About half a 400g (14oz) can black beans, drained
3-4 spring onions/scallions, finely sliced
A few tablespoons of sour cream
Set your oven to 200⁰C (combination steam). If your oven has variable steam settings, use around 60%.
Scrub the sweet potatoes under running water and give each one a couple of pricks with a fork. Put them on a baking tray lined with silicone paper and cook for about 45 minutes, or until a small knife can be pushed into the centre without any resistance. If you don’t want to use the paper, fine, but beware, the sugary liquid which bubbles out of the sweet potatoes and cooks onto the tray can be really hard to clean off!
While the potatoes are cooking, put the bacon and oil in another baking tray. Mix it around to distribute the oil and spread it out in a single layer. Add it to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the bacon is crispy, then tip in the corn and black beans, give it a quick mix and put back in for another 5-6 minutes until everything is hot. Note: if you are using frozen corn, cook it straight from frozen but maybe give it a minute or two longer.
Pop the bacon/corn/beans mix into a bowl, and the spring onions and sour cream into another couple of bowls. When the potatoes are cooked, cut a slice vertically down the middle of each one, push the sides to squeeze open and create a ‘V’ for the toppings, and serve everything at the table for people to help themselves.
A few ideas for variations:
· Add grated cheese. We would have done but didn’t have any!
· Use leftover Bolognese sauce, chicken cacciatore, slow roasted/shredded pork or beef, taco fillings or chopped roast chicken.
· Make them completely vegetarian by swapping out the bacon for feta cheese, and maybe adding a dollop of pesto.
· Add freshly chopped chillies or a squirt of sriracha sauce for heat.
· Add roasted cashews, almonds, pine nuts or even crispy fried onions for crunch.