Giving thanks for Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole

Today's installment in "Foods to be thankful for" is my mom's amazing sweet potato casserole.

But back to the humble sweet potato and the not-so- humble casserole by the same name. A plain baked sweet potato, with just a touch of butter, is enough to have me singing the veggie's praises.

These baked beauties stirred into Gayle's Sweet Potato Casserole is enough to make me belt out the "Hallelujah Chorus"! Seriously, folks, you haven't tasted perfection in casserole form until you've sampled this one. In the 40-plus years I've been eating this casserole, there has never been a soul who tasted it and didn't practically swoon.

Now before you faint at the calorie count, know that this is a no-calories-saved, old-fashioned Southern recipe. Paula Deen would be proud of the amount of butter and sugar in Mom's side dish.

Some members of my family even save it for dessert. It's that rich. Leftovers are wonderful. See the recipe notes for the do-ahead hints. Thanks go to my mom, Gayle Brady, for this holiday dish.

Makes 12 servings

Start to finish: 15 minutes prep, 45 minutes baking time

For the casserole:

4 cups baked sweet potatoes, peeled and mashed (see note)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup evaporated milk

2 large eggs

For the topping:

2 cups cornflakes, crushed (for 1 cup crumbs)

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a shallow 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking oil spray and set aside.

In the large mixing bowl, blend well all casserole ingredients. Spread in prepared dish. In medium bowl, mix all topping ingredients and sprinkle over the sweet potato mixture. Bake 45 minutes, or until golden on the edges and topping is crispy. (At 30 minutes, check to see whether the topping is getting too brown. If it is, cover dish with foil and continue to bake for the remaining 15 minutes, uncovering in the last few minutes to ensure a crisp topping.)

Notes: Four medium sweet potatoes (2 to 3 pounds) yield about 4 cups mashed potatoes.

To prepare potatoes, wash and dry them and prick several times with a sharp knife or fork. Bake sweet potatoes on a foil-lined tray 1 hour at 400 degrees. Cool to handling temperature to proceed with recipe, or refrigerate (peeled or unpeeled) up to 3 days before proceeding with casserole.

Baked and peeled sweet potatoes may be frozen up to a month. Thaw in the refrigerator before beginning casserole. Prebaked or prefrozen potatoes must be at room temperature before butter and egg will mix smoothly in the casserole.

The casserole (without the topping) can be assembled and held in the refrigerator up to 24 hours before baking. Allow the casserole to adjust somewhat (about 30 minutes) to room temperature before topping and baking.

To reheat large quantities of the casserole, warm slightly in the microwave and finish in a 325-degree oven for a crisper topping.

Approximate values per serving: 332 calories (50 percent from fat), 18.5g fat (10g saturated), 74mg cholesterol, 4g protein, 45g carbohydrates, 3g dietary fiber, 82mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send e-mail to tellus@kitchenscoop.com.