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Dietetics Students Combine Unusual Flavors for the Thanksgiving Table

November 01, 2017

Pie made with root vegetables. Potatoes made with coffee creamer. Cookies from mashed potatoes. Even chocolate soufflé starring yams. 

If these combinations don’t sound like your typical Thanksgiving fare, that’s the point: They are recipes created by students in the University of Idaho’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics.

Each fall, students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences are challenged to create a new recipe along a theme chosen by U of I first lady Mary Beth Staben. This year, Staben challenged the teams to create recipes around a “unity” theme of combining uncommon ingredients.

The results showcased the creativity and ingenuity of students, said Katie Miner, a senior instructor in CALS. The recipes are judged and the winner is featured on a holiday card sent to university donors by the Office of Donor Relations and Stewardship. This year’s winner, Vandal Sweet Potato Mash, combined cultures as well as ingredients. 

The recipe was authored by Katie Akin, 21, of Colville, Washington, and Satoko Haji, 29, of Fukuoka, Japan. It combines sweet potatoes, honeycrisp apples and pecans with a tart balsamic brown sugar sauce.

Both apples and sweet potatoes are common at the Thanksgiving table, of course, but the combination isn’t usually American. Haji said they are commonly eaten together in Japan, however.

“I didn’t expect to like the flavor combination of sweet potatoes, apples and balsamic vinegar, but I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted Katie and Satoko’s recipe” Miner said. “They met the challenge of creating a dish with Vandal unity through a unique blending of flavors as well as cultures. All of the students did a great job of developing a recipe that paired uncommon ingredients. It was fun to see the students excited to share the dish they had created.”

For Andrew Coyle of Rathdrum and Colin Whitaker of Anaheim, California, their recipe was inspired by desperation: One day while making mashed sweet potatoes, Whitaker found he was out of cream, and only had liquid vanilla creamer in the house. He tried it, and the result was a pleasantly sweet side dish that pairs well with a savory meat. The two paired their Vanilla Cream Sweet Potato Mousse with pork tenderloin rubbed with a cocoa and chili powder mix.

Other students focused on including unusual ingredients in their desserts.

For the Vandal Gold and Black Rooibos Chai Jicama Pie, Samantha Buratto of Sandpoint and Tara Jenkins of Las Vegas, Nevada, used boiled and baked jicama instead of the traditional apples, paired with the spices found in Chai tea. The neutral root vegetable becomes a nice stand-in for apples, giving the pie a slightly firm texture.

Libby Reynolds of Kuna and Kody Duclos of Ferdinand used yams to create a chocolate soufflé, with a yam-based caramel sauce over top. 

“Our inspiration was how both of our grandmas made the traditional yams, with marshmallows and brown sugar,” Reynolds said. “I love yams — and that’s not a good way to treat a yam.”

The yam in the soufflé is subtle, depending on your sensitivity to the flavors. “It’s a fusion of the unexpected flavors of dark chocolate and yam,” Duclos said.

Morgan Pearson of Buhl and Dana Kujala of Anchorage, Alaska, turned leftover mashed potatoes into a dessert by incorporating them into a chocolate lava cookie. It took the pair more than 20 hours of baking to create their Vandal Spirited Lava Cookies because neither had ever made a cookie before. The recipe rules dictate that the students cannot use reference recipes: They have to start from scratch.

“It was a lot of experimenting,” Kujala said. “We changed the original recipe a lot.”

The 2017 contest recipes, as well as those created by previous classes, are available at

Media Contact: 
Savannah Tranchell
University Communications & Marketing

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, a research and Extension center in Twin Falls, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to more than 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more: