There are friends you trust and those you don’t. There are co-workers you trust and those you don’t. There are probably even family members you trust and those you don’t. And for me, there are cookbook authors I trust and those I don’t. In case you are curious, I trust Deborah Madison, Jeanne Lemlin, Ina Garten, the people at Cook’s Illustrated, and I trust Martha Stewart.
Let me say this, I am not a Martha Stewart kind of gal. I am not neat, or crafty, and I have never been to jail. (Both my brothers have though. Another story for another time.) But I do love to cook and I very much appreciate a well-written cookbook with well-tested recipes.
There is the theory that, when cooking for guests, you should only make familiar recipes. Being a personal chef for three years (!) who very rarely repeats menus has forced me to make all kinds of things I have never made before. Every so often I make something and wonder – is this going to be any good? If it has come from one of my trusted books, it always is.
Two books I use on a regular basis are the two volumes of The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. Some of my favorites have come from these huge tomes. Everything I have made turns out well. The recipes are clear and concise and many of them are truly delicious.
I made this gratin last night for my clients and for my friend John who came to dinner. When I pulled it out of the oven, I wasn’t sure. It smelled good and I knew I liked all the ingredients in it, but I just didn’t know how it would come together. But, because it came from Martha – or from the people who write her cookbooks – I didn’t worry. And it was delicious – smoky and sweet, cheesy but not too rich, and just a bit of spice. I served this as a main course with red beans and rice and a citrus salad, but it would be lovely as a side dish as well.
A few words about the recipe. The next time I make it (and there will be a next time), I will make three layers instead of two. This will no doubt require a bit of squishing because the pan was quite full with just two layers, but it bakes down considerably and I would have loved another layer. Even if you do not like spicy food, do not skip adding the chipotle chile. Martha says it is optional but I say the smokiness that it lends to the dish is essential and it is not too spicy. If you like spice, add another one.
Southwestern Sweet Potato Gratin
Adapted from The New Classics
Serves 8-10 as a side, 4-6 as a main
4 large sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
1 1/2 cups grated Chihuahua or Monterey Jack cheese, 6 oz. (DT: I used Monterey Jack)
1 1/2 cups crumbled Cotija or French feta cheese, 6oz. (DT: I used Queso Fresco)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. finely chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo
1/3 cup vegetable stock, or water
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup crushed tortilla chips
Lime wedges, for garnish
Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange half of the potatoes in a 9 x 13 baking dish, overlapping the slices. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Top with onion.
2. Stir the chipotle into the stock or water; drizzle over the onion. Sprinkle with half the cilantro. Top with the remaining potatoes; sprinkle with the remaining cheeses and cilantro. Scatter the chips on top.
3. Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes. (DT: I sprayed my foil with non-stick spray so the cheese wouldn’t stick too much.) Remove the foil; bake until very tender and top is well browned, about 30 minutes more. Let cool slightly before serving. Serve with limes and crema, if desired.