Do you ever have baking experiments that aren’t really meant to be experimental, and somehow end up (
a disaster) an experiment anyway? I think I used the word “experiment” too many times in that sentence for it to make sense, but honestly; I set out to make something tasty sometimes, from a reliable recipe that makes sense, and suddenly I have cupcake batter everywhere. I suppose all this is to say that, even after making cupcakes twenty, fifty, a hundred times, we’re all still messing around with things that aren’t always in our control (more on this later – ie, after I’ve cleaned up all of the batter and figured out what the heck went so wrong. Again).
So, what’s been keeping me from this lovely spot of the internet? Well, a number of things, one of which includes sheer laziness. I also started a new job(!), which I am very pleased with. I’ve also ventured into the realm of new craftiness; I am an avid knitter, but up until recently, was absolutely terrified of sewing, sewing machines, sewing needles, thread, etc. In the face of wanting a duvet cover very much, however, and refusing to pay an arm and a leg (well, you have to do that a little bit to get your sewing machine set up, but after that!), I decided I was going to make my own duvet cover.
All of this is because…I am going to grad school in the fall! I’m not sure I talked much about how stressful and anxiety-ridden I’ve been about my future, but suffice to say that, after graduating last May (almost a year, ago, wow), I had very few future plans. As in, I had a job in Australia, and after that, who knew? As a fairly serious control freak, this was not a comfortable feeling. Knowing that I wanted to pursue higher education in cultural anthropology, I began applying to various schools. I had a lot of emotional attachments to one over another, but it’s all boiled down to the best school for me. I am somewhat anxious about moving to Phoenix in the fall, starting somewhere completely new, with completely new people, but I definitely feel confident in my choice, and can’t wait to get started!
In other exciting news (I’m very full of it!), I’m getting a puppy! I haven’t talked much about my current baking assistant, but it’s my cat, Cygna. She’s a love, but unfortunately, she doesn’t make a good running companion. At all. So, because I’m going to be all alone in a new city, I decided that this was a good a time as any (hahaha, ask me again in several months) to get a dog. I had a dog growing up, and as much as she often made me completely crazy, I’ve definitely missed her presence since she died. I’m bringing home this wriggling, licking, barking bundle of joy in three to four weeks, and while that also causes me a lot of anxiety, I’m also ecstatic! Expect lots of silly and cute pictures.
Now that I’ve waxed prolifically about the developments in my life, let’s talk food (because it’s been too long). I made this dish for the first time last spring, while hosting my close friends for dinner. Our group included one vegan, one vegetarian, and four lovely people willing to go along with our flow. I am also increasingly inclined to limit the dairy in my life; I love eggs, milk, and butter, but I don’t feel like I need it as a source of protein, or to feel full. I love some organic, free-range milk in my morning cereal (and after coming home from a riding lesson? I can only assume I must need the protein), but outside of baking, I use very little dairy these days. This recipe appealed to me not only because it look adventurous and delicious, but also because it did seem so healthy, and to fit the various needs of my friends. It’s a very easy recipe to put together, and would make a fantastic late winter or early spring meal (it’s been snowing so much in Colorado that we’re still under the impression that it is early spring, rather than late spring). It also provides ample leftovers, so if you’re in the middle of a busy week, this is easy to snag from the refrigerator, re-heat, and enjoy all over again.
Sweet Potato Gratin (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated lime peel (from app. one lime)
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme, or 2 tsp fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
20 oz coconut milk*
4 cups peeled and sliced sweet potatoes
1 cup cooked rice
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp dried thyme, or 2 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
In a small mixing bowl or measuring cup, combine garlic, lime peel, lime juice, herbs, and coconut milk. Stir together. Pour 1/3 of mixture into a greased 9×13″ baking pan. Place half of the sliced sweet potatoes into the bottom of the pan. Layer half of the rice on top of the sweet potatoes, and add half of the spinach. Pour another 1/3 of the coconut milk mixture over the top of the first casserole layer. Repeat the layers of sweet potatoes, rice, and spinach, and pour the final third of the coconut milk mixture over the top.
In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal, oil, thyme, cumin, and salt. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
Bake the casserole at 350F for 60 minutes. Rotate halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove when potatoes are tender and the top is crisp. Allow to sit for several minutes before serving. Can be stored, refrigerated, up to five days.
*I’m using light coconut milk at the moment, in part because sometimes that’s all I can find. Use whatever works best for you!