WHO: Don Sanders, 67, of Riverview. Career Air Force, with a second career as a medical technologist and a string of "fun part-time jobs." He retired three years ago and now cooks every day, often trying to duplicate dishes he's tried in restaurants.
Inspirations: Paula Deen, Julia Child, cooks.com.
WHAT: Curried sweet potatoes.
ABOUT THE RECIPE: One Thanksgiving, tired of the same old sweet potatoes and marshmallows, Sanders thought about using Asian spices. This recipe is the result: "This is my baby!"
TIPS FOR OTHERS: Microwaving the potatoes on high for about 3 minutes makes them easy to peel (and a lot less messy than trying to peel cooked sweet potatoes). You can use your favorite brand of curry powder, but Sanders is a stickler for the Badia brand. (Badia spices are available in some supermarkets; look in the Hispanic foods section if you don't find them in the herb and spice aisle.) The rich sauce takes on the color of the curry powder. "Sometimes it's runny, sometimes it's thick," for no apparent reason, Sanders says. Either way, it's delicious. The recipe "is pretty hard to mess up."
CAN'T COOK WITHOUT: One of his well-seasoned cast iron skillets. "You can cook just about anything in an iron skillet. You can't make decent corn bread without it. Anything you want browned and crispy, you need an iron skillet."
THE COOK SAYS: "When baking, I like to go by the smell and the look of it. You can't always go by the time and temperature in the cookbook. Every oven's different; a different oven shelf will make it different. Don't open the oven door, just look through the window to see if it's getting nice and bubbly the way you want. Then open the door and smell it. This has saved a lot of dishes for me. You may have to cook longer or less than the recipe says to get perfect results."
This advice is intended for things such as casseroles and pies, Sanders notes. When it comes to delicate baked goods such as cake and bread, "my mother always said: Follow the recipe and pray."
Judy Stark, special to the Times
Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please e-mail the information to firstname.lastname@example.org with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.