Monday, May 5, 2008

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad, Food Network, and the Ultimate Test of Frugality

Growing up, my family had cable TV for a single year. I don’t remember which one exactly, but I do recall Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” parked at #6 on MTV’s Top Ten countdown for the duration. After that, Ma and Pa jettisoned the package, concerned about the impression Music Television (and Debbie’s awesome fedora) would make on our fresh young minds. In retrospect, it was probably a good decision, since we fortuitously missed out on the Hair Band era.

The ‘rents didn’t have cable again until 2000, when reception abruptly blotzed on in the middle of a lightning storm. All of a sudden, Pa had more fishing shows than he could handle and Ma could see St. John’s lose basketball games ANY TIME SHE WANTED. They ordered it permanently soon after, and I got my first gander at Food Network. I became a constant viewer, and beyond The Office and American Idol, it’s really the only TV I watch anymore. FN is my background noise, my recipe center, and my source for making informed fun of Sandra Lee. And even though The Boyfriend, our roommates and I chucked cable last year in an attempt to save on bills, FN miraculously remained (bizarrely, along with three Spanish-language channels and QVC). It’s like it KNEW I would wither and die without Alton and Ina.

Then it happened.

This weekend, like my first boyfriend out of college, Food Network got homesick and moved back to Ohio. (Translation: it checked out.)

So, uh … AUGH! WHAT DO I DO? A food blogger without Food Network is like a sports blogger without ESPN or Pa without 47,000 fishing shows. What if something crazy, like movement, happens on Ace of Cakes? What if Giada makes the claw hand and I miss it? What if Tony Bourdain writes another devastating critique of the channel and I don’t know what the crap he’s talking about?

It’s a conundrum. The four of us can definitely afford cable, but truly, we were fine without it. And is it worth the expenditure for a single channel? Yarg. It is my greatest test in frugality yet.

Because, seriously? Without Food Network, where will I find recipes like Emeril’s Grilled Sweet Potato Salad? I love it so hard, and though it’s a little pricier than what I’m accustomed to with a side dish, it will be much more reasonable in two months when the prices of red bell peppers and mangos come down. It’s way cheaper than what you’d get at a restaurant anyway, and there are other advantages besides: the salad is both a starch and vegetable (so you won’t need another side), it’s packed with Vitamins A and C (fiber, too), and it’s a neat changeup to throw at a barbecue (especially for your mayo-hatin’ relatives).

Arg. This is an issue. Readers, I need your opinions. To FN or not to FN? That is the question.

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad
Serves 3
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 sweet onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 mango, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, stem, rib, and seeds removed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/8 cup olive oil
1 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne

1) Start your grill.

2) Mix all ingredients in a large bowl (adding spices last) until vegetables are evenly coated.

3) Tear off 2 huge sheets of heavy aluminum foil. Layer them one on top of the other. Pour the veggie mixture in the middle and make a pouch. (Make sure it is very well-sealed.) Pop it on to the pre-heated grill and heat about half and hour, until veggies are tender enough to eat. (Or, roast in the middle of a 450°F oven for 45-50 minutes covered, then 15-20 minutes uncovered.)

4) Take pouch off grill and let it sit a few minutes to cool down. Unwrap and dump in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. (NOTE: Emeril calls for cilantro and peanut garnishes, as well. I leave them out because they drive the price up and really don’t add much.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
291 calories, 9.5 g fat, $1.43

1 pound sweet potatoes: 409 calories, 0.7 g fat, $1.03
1 sweet onions: 70 calories, 0.1 g fat, $1.04
1 mango: 135 calories, 0.6 g fat, $1.00
1/2 red bell pepper: 15 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.84
1/8 cup olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.20
1 teaspoons fresh lime juice: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.13
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
Pinch cayenne: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 873 calories, 28.6 g fat, $4.29
PER SERVING: 291 calories, 9.5 g fat, $1.43


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