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A friend of mine recently said, “I don’t know how to cook” and I told him that he reminds me of my 15-year-old students who often said, “I don’t know how to write; read; do this; do that.”  Cooking, I’ve learned, is made up of moments of discovery.  Anyone can follow a recipe, just as any student can follow a template, but an inspiring cook like an inspiring student creates by discovering and taking chances.  (Really, what’s the worse that can happen?)  Yes, certain dishes have classic recipes that I love to follow, but the most exciting moments in the kitchen happen when you buy the wrong ingredients and when you put the foods you like into a dish rather than sticking to the ingredient list.  And the result more often than not is deliciously surprising.

I decided that this week is going to be sweet potato week.  There is nothing to hate about sweet potatoes—they are yummy and known cancer-fighters—so to make them the “secret ingredient” of the week seemed logical and exciting.  Yesterday’s goal was to make a vegetarian sweet potato chili, but with a simple “you should make a potpie” from mom, my plans changed and I found myself making a new grocery list.  I rarely eat potpies, mostly because they are usually filled with meat and lactose, and I am pretty sure the “pie” part is more on the unhealthy side.  A lactose-free, low-fat sweet potato potpie brought me to the store.

Because I decided to make the potpie at 4pm, I had no time to make my own pastry top.  Instead, I grabbed what I thought was surprisingly healthy puff pastry dough from the store.  It contains less than 70 calories and is made with unbleached whole-wheat flour and other healthy ingredients.  Perfect!  Once I got home, I quickly realized that there is no puff to the pastry sheets I bought.  I now had two boxes of phyllo pastry sheets.  With a shrug and a giggle I made a somewhat silly looking “potpie” that was loaded with flavor, color, and healthy ingredients.  My mistake turned out to be a healthy substitute!

Ingredients I used to serve 4:

2-3 sweet potatoes, chopped in bite sizes

1 pineapple

½ sweet onion

2 garlic cloves

4 carrots

1 cup of yellow corn (I used Steamfresh frozen)

2 cups of lactose-free or soy milk

Few tablespoons of whole-wheat flour (or anything you want to use as a thickener)

2 tablespoons of cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

phyllo pastry sheets

What I did:

In a skillet, sauté your onion and garlic in a little olive oil.  Then add your sweet potatoes and carrots.  Once the potatoes are soft, add the corn and pineapples.

In a small bowl, mix the milk and cinnamon.  Add your thickening agent (flour for me) and mix well.

Pour the milk mixture into your skillet and mix well, keeping the heat on medium.

Once it thickens, line your ramekens with a pastry sheet.  Pour in your mixture, and scrunch a few pastry sheets on top.

Bake at 400 until brown (about 15 minutes).  I served with some homemade pizza!


Note: I’ve learned not to buy a whole pineapple unless you have the appropriate tools.  Too. Much. Work.