Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings - A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Food" - Potato Gratin

Date I made this recipe: December 5, 2008

Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings – A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Foods by Barbara Scott-Goodman with Mary Goodbody
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0811810380 © 1995
Recipe: Potato Gratin – p. 46-47

Well you would know it. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been part of a Ladies Who Lunch Bunch comprised of women I used to work with starting back in 1985. We got together for breakfast once a month or so after I left the company in 1994 and although we originally had six people we’re now down to three: me, Arlene and Vicki (a/k/a Beeker).

So Beeker decided that since we hadn’t seen her house since she got divorced and moved down the road a bit that we should have breakfast at her house. And so for the first time ever, instead of eating out at a restaurant (always on a Saturday, always at noon and almost always for a place serving breakfast), invited us over and told us to bring a dish.

And so I chose this gratin and here’s what I have to say about that: Bad choice.

I don’t know what it is with potato gratins but they never turn out like I anticipate. Maybe my expectations are too high and I envision a cheese goopiness that was never anticipated by the author or maybe I just have bad luck selecting gratin recipes but regardless, this was a clunker.

Here’s what went wrong: unless you have a professional potato-slicer (and I don’t—although we have a mandolin – the kitchen mandolin, not the instrument - but I’m afraid to use it for fear of sacrificing a finger tip to the great good) I think it’s tough to be consistent on thickness and this is what causes some potatoes to get done faster than others. I get annoyed biting into a semi-cooked potato and that’s what happened here.

Next, the cheese, in my humble opinion, was rather on the stingy side. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of cheese to 3 pounds of potatoes. What the heck? That’s barely a ground cover and it’s something that should have dawned on me but didn’t. Similarly, the parmesan cheese allotment could have been greater but wasn’t and so what I got was dry potatoes, some cooked through, some not, with a slight layer of cheese. Yech.

And wouldn’t you know that Beeker, who hates to cook, made a very tasty quiche? And Arlenie, bless her heart, made her mother’s fruit salad that was oh-so-yummy, and there I was, author of this COOKING blog who made the stinker of the day. Oh well, I guess every day can’t be a successful one in the kitchen.

Before I get to the recipe, let me just say a word about the Ladies Who Lunch. Beeker, who was operations manager at the company I worked at, is an October baby like me and is able to quote, as am I, Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie script almost word for word. You don’t find many friends like that. (“I’m not dead yet.” “No, but you will be.”)

Arlenie was the executive secretary for the company’s CEO and ran a very tight ship. Arlene was in charge of the supply cabinet and the joke was that you had to show your pencil stub before receiving a new one. She always denies that that was true but I’m here to tell you it wasn’t that far off.

Arlene always dispensed one item at a time (she should have been a corporate CFO, so good was she at cost-containment) and would always walk very slowly and regally (well, she was Queen of the front desk) back to the cabinet, then would take our her key, slowly unlock the door, crack open the door just a tich, retrieve said item, hand it to you and then walk slowly and regally back to her office. I love to imitate her doing that (that and the way she answered the phone is second to none).

One day however, Arlene was distracted and gave me the key to the cabinet. People, I thought I died and went to heaven. When news got out, a group of coworkers formed a circle behind me. I opened the door wide this time and (no, a glow didn’t emit, but close!) heard this gasp rise up behind me. “Oh my god, just LOOK at those supplies!,” I heard someone say.

You would think that we found the gold supply at Fort Knox. We all drew back just a bit to take in the full impact of the supply cabinet and then I started dispensing the goodies, one item at a time but only if you demonstrated a need for it. Pillaging the cabinet was not an option, tempting as it was and besides, I wanted Arlene to trust me with the key again. She did not disappoint.

And speaking of disappointing, I have often been saddened to lose touch with people I used to work with but our little lunch group has held together through thick and thin, through stupid jobs, new careers, my law school graduation, weddings, divorces, grandchildren, birthdays—you name it, we’ve seen it. And we continue to have a great time despite the fact that my food flopped. Knowing them, they didn’t hold it against me (but just in case, we’re going to go back to eating at a restaurant and leave the driving to the trained professionals).

Potato Gratin – Serves 6
6 to 8 baking potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage
1 cup (about 4 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 400. Butter a 14-by-9-inch gratin or baking dish.

Arrange a third of the potato slices in an overlapping pattern in the dish. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with one third of the sage. Sprinkle with one third of the cheeses. Repeat twice more to make three layers each of potatoes, seasonings and cheese, ending with cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk the wine into the half-and-half. Pour over the potatoes, tilting the dish slightly to distribute the liquid evenly without disturbing the potatoes. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and are golden brown.

NOTE: If I were you, I’d add more cheese, possibly more half-and-half and would definitely bake for longer then 50 minutes.

No comments: