Kitchen Witch - What I cooked on my Christmas vacation

From mid-December until New Year's Day, I cooked A LOT. In two weeks, I shimmied from chocolate bark to chocolate terrine. Pork garnered double-billing — a Cuban-style pork shoulder on Christmas Eve, followed by Asian-style ribs on New Year's Eve. Potato latkes segued into fried plantains; black beans proceeded hoppin' John. Green beans received Szechuan treatment; spinach leaves were dolled up in a zesty Indian chickpea batter. You get the idea.

I was a dervish, moving at a feverish pace between oven and granite-top wheelie cart, over and again, until I woke up with an achy back in the wee hours of 2006. The lineup was magnificent, if not insane, but there are a few tweaks I'll make for the next holiday cooking extravaganza.

First, I'll limit the number of items I offer. Nobody ever leaves a holiday party complaining of scanty snacks; in fact, your guests are probably still full from the party they just came from.

Second, I'll create more of a balance of simple and complicated items in upcoming menus. I wish I had done more dishes like the sweet potato butter that graced my New Year's Eve table. It was so darn simple to prepare, yet no one had ever heard of sweet potato dip, so my guests were lapping it up. Plus, it's relatively low in calories and fat, with the antioxidant power from those sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Dip

Adapted from 12 Best Foods Cookbook by Dana Jacobi

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 medium or large onion

Olive oil for lathering up vegetables

At least 2 tablespoons tahini paste

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

• Preheat oven to 400. Slice onion in half, and remove papery outer layer. Rub with oil and lightly coat. Wrap in a large piece of aluminum foil. Slice sweet potatoes in half or quarters, depending on size. (Smaller pieces will cook faster.) Do not peel. Repeat oil/foil step with potatoes.

• Puree until mixture is creamy. Add tahini. Season with salt and pepper, and if you like, add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne. Taste for tahini; add more if flavor is not coming through.

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