It is with great pride that Scout brings you the story of his very first vegan cooking adventure. Perhaps you recall Scout’s recent interview with Johnny and Victoria from “Cooking the Books”? They wrote a recipe for Scout: Sweet Potato Sage Cakes with Lemon Harissa Yogurt. Scout cooked this scrumptious sweet potato recipe for his first American-Thanksgiving-in-Canada in his new house with his new kitchen appliances. It only took him two tries to master the ancient culinary art of “not burning everything”. There was swirling smoke. There was melting metal. There was dire destruction. But in the end, there were the most savory sweet potato cakes Scout’s ever eaten.
Of course, Scout never could’ve accomplished this on his own. He followed (sometimes after-the-fact) each tip Johnny and Victoria shared with him during their interview. It made all the difference because, every once in a while, following directions pays off.
(Once again, this story is brought to you by yours truly, Anna. As you well know, Scout’s the opinionated adventurer and I’m his selfless Scribe.)
First, Scout needed to shop for fresh ingredients. Since he recently moved, he’s not familiar with the grocery stores in the area. However, he was pleasantly surprised when he found nearly every item on his shopping list. Of course, I say “nearly every item” since one indispensable ingredient eluded him: harissa.
If you aren’t familiar with harissa, it’s a gorgeous spice originally from Tunisia. It frequently appears in Tunisian, Moroccan, Israeli, Libyan, and Algerian recipes. To describe the flavor as “spicy” is a disservice when its savory sweetness is beautifully nuanced. But it is, for the sake of simplicity, quite spicy. We searched Bon Appétit for more information on harissa and they had this to say on the matter: “The applications are as limitless as our love for that beautiful, peppery flavor.” So, at the end of the day, it’s pretty much limitless, flaming gold.
Scout knew that Johnny and Victoria said substitutions were acceptable. He knew that he could, in theory, just forget about this spice and move on with his life. But is there ever any substitution for limitless, flaming gold?
To describe the flavor as “spicy” is a disservice when its savory sweetness is beautifully nuanced. But it is, for the sake of simplicity, quite spicy.
Of course, Anna’s mom has an entire jar of harissa from Israel sitting in her cupboard. And, of course, Scout just stayed with family in Colorado as he passed through on his journey to Canada. But did he think to bring some of that flaming gold with him to Canada? Negative.
Scout’s suspenseful search
Then again, Scout thought, “How difficult could it be to find an irreplaceable spice akin to gold?” The answer is “oh-so-very difficult”. There was only one solution: Scout would drive Toronto in traffic, rain, and snow in search of that beloved spice.
It may have cost him 5+ hours and countless close-calls, but Scout finally found that powdered flaming gold at Whole Foods Market in downtown Toronto. His heart sang! Actually, he sang and those Whole Foods people stared at him. But it didn’t matter. He’d captured fire, so to speak. Was the day-long journey worth it? Oh readers, how could it not have been worth it.
Preparing to cook
When Scout interviewed Johnny and Victoria from “Cooking the Books”, he requested cooking tips since he’s a little intrepid about cooking. Johnny and Victoria gave him four tips and Scout vowed to follow each one when he cooked the Sweet Potato Sage Cake recipe. I’m pleased to say that he only disregarded three of those four tips before he decided to follow directions. But he’s not going to apologize for this because that was Tip #1: Don’t apologize when you mess up food. You’re the only one who knows. And up until five seconds ago, this was true. Still, he’s not apologizing. Instead, he’ll tell you all about the way he followed Tip #2: No matter what you’re cooking, get your mise en place.
Mise en place
“Mise en place” is loosely translated “everything in its place”. Johnny and Victoria told Scout that he should prep his ingredients before beginning. He listened and the preparations looked a little something like this:
We washed and sorted our herbs. Then we staged them for this photo. Scout wanted something fierce and compelling so please note the glimmering knife.
Then we realized that we had a slight shopping oversight and sorted a dozen bags of trail mix in search of raw pecans. You read that correctly: a dozen bags. Trail mix and Trader Joes hold a special place in our hearts.
Then we surprised ourselves with our knife skills. Again, we took a dramatic photo because we absolutely live for dramatic cooking photos.
At last, it was time to peel the sweet potatoes. This proved to be a magical experience.
After approximately 30 minutes of washing, chopping, and talking to that Sweet Potato, Scout and I were finally ready to cook! We cleared the counter, grabbed our recipe, and reviewed Tip #3: Read the recipe from start to finish before you begin. It was at this moment that we realized we hadn’t exactly followed this tip before we began washing and chopping. We also began to wonder why we hadn’t previously listed this as Tip #1. But there’s no room for regret in the kitchen! Scout shrugged, I nodded, and we
skimmed carefully read the recipe from start to finish.
Making the sweet potato sage cakes
Armed with the knowledge of a recipe we actually read from start to finish, we boiled our sweet potatoes with confidence. We hate to break it to you, but this part was terribly uneventful. It was also pretty terrible saying goodbye to that Sorting Hat Sweet Potato, but we’ll spare you the details. All we’ll say is that there were knives and scattered pieces, but no dramatic photos. (Out of respect.)
Since Scout and I were still a little upset about the whole Sorting Hat Sweet Potato thing, we needed to get our sadness out. Unfortunately, we took it out on the sweet potatoes. Again.
Once those potatoes were nice and smooshed, we scattered the herbs and spices. It was dramatic and we took a photo.
Once all of the ingredients were mixed, it was time to cut the parchment paper squares and form our cakes. Cutting those parchment squares was worryingly difficult. And then we had to form consistent circles. We’re not going to lie: it took us longer than it should have and Scout decided he might actually prefer the knife phase of this whole sweet potato operation.
With a smile, Scout declared, “I did it!” I reminded him that we did it, but he ignored me. He’d already moved on to the sauce portion of this sweet potato recipe.
Lemon harissa yogurt
At this point, Scout and I did a kitchen reset. Part one was finished and it was time to get organized. We gathered our ingredients and prepared to make the lemon harissa yogurt. This is when Daniel of Team Frymire walked into the kitchen and offered to help. Of course, we accepted and proceeded to call out orders as Daniel prepared the lemon harissa yogurt. Now I understand why Scout loves having a scribe/servant at his beck and call.
Of course, Daniel also used Johnny and Victoria’s cooking tips. For the sauce, he committed to Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to deviate [from the recipe]. If you know what you like, it will taste good. He added an extra pinch of smoked hot paprika and a few extra pinches of harissa. In the end, we had a tart, spicy sauce that seriously packed a punch. But we love spice and this was our sauce so we couldn’t have been happier with the result.
Scout’s crowning culinary glory
After so much preparation, Scout and I knew that this last part was critical. It was time to heat the oil in the cast iron skillet and sear those sweet potato cakes to perfection. We turned the dial, slowly heated the oil, and carefully placed the cakes in the skillet. Then, we walked away. (Scout tip: avoid leaving unattended food on hot surfaces.)
After a few minutes, we smelt the distinct aroma of burning dreams. Scout ran to the kitchen and discovered his well-done sweet potato cakes. For a moment, I thought he was going to hop right out the back door and demand a new family. Instead, he sniffed, tilted his helicopter ears, and grabbed the butter. He just started dumping butter by the spoonful into that blazing hot cast iron skillet. Smoke billowed as Daniel ran to open the doors and windows. I should’ve been upset by Scout’s burning butter breakdown, but I love butter so I didn’t dare stop him.
After a few minutes, we smelt the distinct aroma of burning dreams.
Suddenly, Scout stopped. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “sweet potatoes are better charred”. And that’s when I knew that Scout had become a fearless cook. He may have disregarded a few important tips and left flammable items unattended in the kitchen, but he remembered Tip #1: Don’t apologize when you mess up food. You’re the only one who knows. I guess it’s good that we made that tip the first tip because we just aren’t going to apologize. Those tastefully charred sweet potato cakes were delicious. We drenched them in the lemon harissa yogurt and savored every nuance.
And that’s the story of Scout’s very first vegan cooking adventure for his very first American-Thanksgiving-in-Canada. It was all very much Scout Approved.
Thinking of making this sweet potato recipe for Christmas? You can find the full sweet potato sage cakes recipe here and cooking tips here. Scout would love to see and feature your cooking adventures. Follow him on Instagram, subscribe to his blog, or both. Cheers!