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Ordinarily I only share recipes that I’ve kitchen-tested, but with Thanksgiving a few days away, you might be in desperate need of a side dish, and I’m not cooking this year’s holiday meal. (More on that in a separate post.) But if I were laying out my usual spread, believe me, I’d make room on my menu for this casserole—oven unseen—courtesy of the Casserole Queens.

(Actually, if you ask any of my previous guests over the years, they’ll tell you that many’s the time I’ve experimented with new recipes when having them over for dinner. I’m just a gal with a Santoku knife and a sense of adventure.)

John and I met Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock a few weeks ago, when they came to Richmond for an author signing at Fountain Bookstore. Even if you didn’t know they hail from Austin, Texas, where they run a food-delivery service, you’d guess it right off: their down-home, friendly hospitality gives it away. You want to bask in the light of their warmth. You want them to invite you to dinner.

Crystal Cook, left, and Sandy Pollock: The Casserole Queens

Crystal and Sandy came to culinary prominence with their recipe for Chicken Pot Pie, which caught the eye of Bobby Flay. He featured them, and their recipe, in an episode of the Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. The Casserole Queens Cookbook, published this year by Clarkson Potter, made the New York Times’ best-seller list. Their book tour included a stop in New York City, where they cooked with Al Roker on the Today Show.

Casseroles represent the ultimate in comfort food, especially for us baby-boomers, who cut our teeth on macaroni and cheese and tuna noodle casserole. A patron at the bookstore called this type of cooking “emotionally significant,” and the phrase is perfect. Mid-lifers, I’m talking to you now. Weren’t casseroles some of your favorite meals from childhood? Don’t you feel a flush of warm memories just thinking about them? Now imagine those meals crafted with a 21st-century point-of-view. Sandy trained at the French Culinary Institute; together with Crystal she has given these time-honored recipes a sophisticated twist. The staff at Fountain Books had prepared Chicken Pot Pie, Mandarin Meatloaf, and Lemon Bars for us to sample. Delicious. Toothsome. May I please wrap some up in a napkin to take home with me? And yes, emotionally significant. As soon as I get my writing deadlines under control, I intend to cook my way through their entire book.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here is a recipe for sweet potatoes that puts a spin on that old chestnut. If you make it, by all means—please leave a note in the comment section and tell us how it was! When I get back into the kitchen, I’ll report on my own attempt at Chicken Pot Pie.

My thanks to Crystal and Sandy for giving me permission to share this recipe with you!

Sweet Potato Casserole

—Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 large sweet potatoes
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup pecans, toasted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the casserole dish
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Wash the sweet potatoes, dry well, and put on a baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour or until soft. Remove the potatoes from the oven.

3. Reduce the oven temperature to 375-degrees.

4. Put the brown sugar, pecans, flour, and 5 tablespoons butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until crumbly. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.

5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add the cream, maple syrup, egg, vanilla, and salt. Peel the baked sweet potatoes, and add the flesh to the bowl. Beat the sweet potato mixture on medium-high speed until smooth.

6. Grease a 9 x 13-casserole dish with some butter. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the pecan topping evenly over the dish. Bake for 40 minutes or until heated through and the top has browned.

Copyright © 2011 by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock. All rights reserved. Used with permission.