aligot (french mashed potatoes)

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When I saw this recipe is a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated, it was immediately registered as “for special occasions only.” Seriously, I consider regular mashed potatoes fairly decadent, much less the cheese-laden variety. But then I managed to create a special occasion: Dave and I found a cheap, good bottle of Pinot Noir! In Pennsylvania even! (Don’t get me started on PA’s inane liquor laws.  Drives me. Up the. Wall.)

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This is a great recipe for learning about the chemistry of potatoes. Have you ever heard that “mashing” boiled potatoes with a mixer will result in gluey mashed potatoes? This recipe goes one step further and processes them in the food processor. The resulting texture is fascinating – very stretchy, even before any cheese is added. Then the potatoes are mixed with garlic and milk, and shredded Gruyere (for flavor) and mozzarella (for texture) are vigorously stirred in.

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I love how little changes in technique can make such a big difference in the outcome. I’m not giving up on regular mashed potatoes, but I also enjoyed the smooth texture and rich flavor of these. It’s hard to go wrong with potatoes and garlic and cheese.

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One year ago: French Chocolate Brownies

Aligot (French Mashed Potatoes) (from Cooks Illustrated)

CI note: The finished potatoes should have a smooth and slightly elastic texture. White cheddar can be substituted for the Gruyere. For richer, stretchier aligot, double the mozzarella.

My potatoes did end up too salty, so that’s something to watch out for.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into ½-inch-thick slices, rinsed well, and drained
table salt
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1-1½ cups whole milk
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
Ground black pepper

1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, add water to cover by 1 inch and add 1 tablespoon salt. Partially cover the saucepan and bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender and just break apart when poked with a fork, 12 to 17 minutes. Drain the potatoes and dry the saucepan.

2. Transfer the potatoes to a food processor; add the butter, garlic, and 1½ teaspoon salt. Pulse until the butter is melted and incorporated into the potatoes, about ten 1-second pulses. Add 1 cup milk and continue to process until the potatoes are smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds, scraping down the sides halfway through.

3. Return the potato mixture to the saucepan and set it over medium heat. Stir in the cheeses, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Continue to cook the potatoes, stirring vigorously, until the cheese is fully melted and the mixture is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. If the mixture is difficult to stir and seems thick, stir in 2 tablespoons of milk at a time (up to ½ cup) until the potatoes are loose and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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potato galette

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You know the expression, “your eyes were bigger than your stomach?” Yeah, that never happens to me. I have quite the stomach. What I do instead of over-anticipating my appetite is over-anticipate my desire to cook. When it came time to actually make the meal that included these potatoes, I was just not in the mood. The meal itself – strip steak topped with shallot butter and Brussels sprouts braised in cream were the other dishes – sounded delicious, but the path there just seemed like a pain.

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At least the steak and vegetables were easy. This potato dish was significantly more involved. The ingredient prep alone is an investment in time, with potatoes sliced as thin as you can get them, and five ounces of cheese that the original recipe instructs should be finely grated. After grating about half an ounce, I gave up and shredded all of it on the medium-sized holes of a box grater.

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The recipe recommends layering and baking the uncooked potatoes, but Jen says the potatoes never cook through all the way for her when she follows this method. She parboils the potatoes before baking. I remembered a Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for pan-fried sliced potatoes that calls for microwaving the sliced potatoes with a bit of butter first, and that sounded easier.

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Once the ingredients were prepared, and the shallots were softened, and the potatoes were cooked a little, I could finally start layering the ingredients. Then the tart is baked until it’s a beautiful red-gold, with crispy edges and a creamy center. In the end, this dish was exactly the flavor and texture I wanted from it, and I will certainly make it again. Just hopefully only when I’m in the mood to expend the effort.

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One year ago: Traditional Madeleines. I need to remake these now that I have a madeleine pan.

Potato Galette (adapted from Fine Cooking #53 via Use Real Butter)

Looking at the recipe again, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add the shallots and the rest of the butter to the potatoes and microwave the whole mixture together.

3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
16 ounces Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, lightly chopped
kosher salt
½ cup (1 ounce) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 cup (4 ounces) Gruyère cheese, shredded

1. Heat oven to 400F. Grease bottom and inside edge of 7½-inch tart pan (who in the world has a 7½-inch tart pan?) with removable bottom. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the shallots are softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, no more than 1/16 inch thick. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Add the potatoes and a pinch of salt to the bowl and toss to coat the potatoes with butter. Microwave, uncovered, for 4 minutes, stirring every minute. The potatoes should bend, but they don’t need to be cooked all the way through. Remove the potatoes from the microwave and add the shallot mixture, thyme, and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. Layer the bottom of the pan with potato slices, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle ¼ of each cheese type on the potatoes, then repeat the layering three more times, ending with cheese.  (You’ll probably need to scrape some of the shallots and other goodies over the potatoes as you form the layers.  The don’t cling to the potatoes much.)

5. Bake until the top of the galette is golden brown and the potatoes are tender, 30-40 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the tart ring from the galette. Use a thin spatula to transfer the galette to a cutting board, cut into wedges, and serve.

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roasted kale

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I would not have predicted a couple years ago that kale would become one of my favorite vegetables. Or that one of my favorite ways to eat it would be topped with an egg.

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I recognize that the dark olive green color of cooked kale may appear unappetizing. Furthermore, it’s a leafy green vegetable, which we’re trained from childhood to distrust. To be honest, I still don’t even like cooked spinach – too mushy, if not in reality, then certainly in my mind.

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Kale, though, retains a nice crunch after it’s cooked, because it’s much heartier than spinach. It has an earthy flavor, which I know makes it sound like it tastes like dirt, but to me, it’s more of an umami-type meaty flavor.

The problem is that the only way I had prepared kale before this was by braising it, which, although delicious, takes at least half an hour. This roasted method takes, I kid you not, only ten minutes in the oven, and the kale is just as tasty.

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The texture of roasted kale is a little different from braised. Some of the leaves, those on the edges of the baking pan I suppose, were a little crispy, while some of the kale was more moist. Both textures were fine by me.

With a lovely poached egg on top, and some mustardy roasted potatoes, kale makes a delicious, hearty, easy, and healthy meal.

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One year ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

Roasted Kale (slightly reworded from Tuesday Recipe)

Serves 2, generously

1 bunch kale (about ½ pound)
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Cut the stems off the kale and discard; rinse and shake the leaves dry. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide. Put the kale in a big bowl and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well (about 2 tablespoons). Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, then gently toss the leaves. Spread the kale on a large rimmed baking sheet and pop it in the oven. Set the bowl aside without washing it.

2. Roast the kale until some of the leaves are tinged with brown, about 7 minutes. Remove baking sheet and stir the kale around, then put it back in the oven for another 3 minutes or so until all the leaves are starting to crisp. Immediately put the leaves back in the bowl you first tossed them in, then drizzle with another tablespoon of oil and a few splashes of vinegar. Toss kale with the tongs, taste, and add more oil, vinegar, or salt as needed. Toss again and serve right away.

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twice-baked potatoes with broccoli, cheddar, and scallions

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I think every food blogger recognizes that there are copyright issues with what we do. Very few of us have only original recipes on our blogs, which means the recipes we publish are from other sources – sources who would prefer that people pay money for their recipes instead of stumbling upon them in a blog.

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Most of us dutifully provide the source of the recipe and then hope for the best. It’s also fairly common knowledge among bloggers that one loophole is to write out the recipe directions in our own words, because ingredient lists can’t be copyrighted. Not that this is foolproof – it’s the creative idea that is copyrighted, not the wording of the directions.

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It’s not unlike birth control – the only method to guarantee that you won’t get into trouble is to abstain from blogging. If you’re not willing to do that, you take whatever precautions you’re willing to and then hope for the best.

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The idea for this particular recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated. I used to make it once a month or so, since it’s easy, balanced, and fairly healthy. I hadn’t made it in over a year, but I decided not to look up the recipe. I still remembered the gist of it, and this way I could make it my own, thus avoiding the whole copyright issue. Besides, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to combine these ingredients and get anything that wasn’t good.

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These are simply lightened-up twice-baked potatoes. I cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, steamed them, and seasoned them with lemon juice and a bit of salt. Then I mashed up the baked potato innards with just enough butter to moisten them, and stirred in enough buttermilk to get the texture I was looking for – moist but not wet. Buttermilk is great with potatoes because it tastes like sour cream but isn’t nearly as fattening. I tried to be judicious with the cheese, and then scallions provided the perfect overtone of onion flavor. I stuffed the shells with the filling and put the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to reheat it and melt the cheese. (The final step, of course, is to drop it on the counter while transferring it from the baking sheet to a plate.)

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The result is the ideal healthy-ish one-dish-meal baked potato. The shells are crispy, the broccoli is cooked just right, the potato filling is creamy, and the flavors meld perfectly. Cooks Illustrated couldn’t have done it any better.

One year ago: Country Crust Bread – my favorite sandwich bread

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions

Serves 2

This is admittedly heavy on the broccoli. You can use less if you prefer, but we like broccoli and it’s so healthy.

2 medium to large baking (russet) potatoes
2 small (or 1 large) broccoli crowns, cut into 1-inch florets with stems no longer than 1 inch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk
1 scallion, sliced then
1 ounce (¼ cup) cheddar, plus ½ ounce (2 tablespoons)
salt
black pepper

1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and stab them several times with a fork. Place them on the oven rack and bake until a fork inserted into the potato meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes.

2. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set them aside until they’re cool enough to handle. Heat the broiler. Meanwhile, bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Place the broccoli florets in a steamer basket and put the steamer basket in the saucepan, making sure that the water does not come into contact with the broccoli. Cover the pot and steam for 4 minutes, until the broccoli is just crisp-tender. (You want it more on the crisp side, since they’ll continue to cook as they cool, plus they’ll spend some time under the broiler.) Remove the steamer basket with the broccoli from the saucepan and discard the water in the pot. Dump the broccoli into the pot and season with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice.

3. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving a thin coating on the potato skin. In a medium bowl, use a potato masher to mash the potato flesh with the butter. Stir in ¼ teaspoon salt, a pinch of ground black pepper, the broccoli, plus the remaining ingredients, except ½ ounce cheddar.

4. Spoon the filling into the potato shells and top with the remaining cheddar. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is spotty brown and the tops are crisp. Serve immediately.

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sausage apple hash

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I’m not the most creative cook ever. You may have noticed that most recipes on my blog are from some other source – very few are my own creations, and even those are pretty much just heavily adapted versions of ideas I got somewhere else. So when I am actually creative, I’m very proud of myself.

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I saw this sausage apple hash on Mark’s blog last summer, and put off making it until apple season. I decided to add potatoes to Mark’s recipe – that would make this a complete meal, and potatoes just seemed to make good sense here. I was pleased with my mild creativity.

Oh, except when I read the recipe closer, I saw that it originally included potatoes, and Mark just left them out for convenience. Phooey. So much for it being my own idea.

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Oh well, at least I was right that potatoes were a good fit for this. The sausage and onion are sautéed together until browned (or until the onions are black if you’re me and Mark), then the potatoes and apples are sautéed until browned and cooked through. Then everything is mixed and a simple sauce of ketchup, mustard, and thyme is stirred in. I raised my eyebrows at the ketchup and mustard, but they gave the hash nice tang and spice.

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The whole thing was very good, and pretty easy. I think there’s a lot of room for adaptations too, if you do happen to be the creative type. I was thinking that squash would be a nice addition, or maybe a poached egg served on top.  Or bacon instead of sausage.  Things to think about for next time.

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One year ago: Lemon Squares

Sausage and Apple Hash (from Mark’s No Special Effects)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
1½ pounds russet potatoes, cubed
1 large apple, such as Rome or Braeburn, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage, until the sausage is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Park the sausage and onions into a separate dish.

Add the remaining oil in the skillet, then add the apples and potatoes. Cook until the apples are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. (I covered the pan for a bit in the beginning because I was worried about the potatoes cooking through.) Meanwhile, mix the ketchup, mustard, thyme, parsley, and water in a small bowl. Return the sausage and onions to the skillet and stir in the ketchup mixture. Cook until the hash has browned nicely, about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper before serving.

mashed potatoes

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I have a pet peeve about mashed potatoes. I hate when they’re boiled after they’re peeled. It drives me crazy when people peel them, slice them really thin, and then boil them. I think they absorb so much water and then, after being mashed, they just can’t get their flavor back.

Clearly, based on how many of their recipes are my favorites, I’m a big fan of Cooks Illustrated, and their recipe for mashed potatoes was the start of that. My friend had checked The New Best Recipe out of the library, and I was at her place flipping through it when I saw the recipe for mashed potatoes, which called for the potatoes to be boiled in their skins. I loved the idea – how it maximizes the flavor of the potatoes. But, I hated peeling hot just-boiled potatoes.

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This new recipe improves upon that idea by steaming the potatoes – so it’s just the tiniest bit more effort (because the potatoes need to be rinsed halfway through steaming) as a normal mashed potato recipe, but it makes such a difference! Seriously, I tasted these potatoes, before butter or salt or any of that goodness was added, and the flavor was – it was pure potato! Exactly what you want!

Adding melted butter first, before the liquid, coats the starch with fat so it can’t absorb the liquid, and liquid absorption is what leads to gluey mashed potatoes. Heating the milk before adding it to the potatoes just makes good sense – it keeps the potatoes from getting cold.

I know most people don’t use a recipe when they make mashed potatoes. But they should! Don’t you want amazing mashed potatoes every single time you make them? And all you have to do to get there is steam the potatoes instead of boiling them, and add melted butter before adding liquid. There’s no excuses!

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Fluffy Mashed Potatoes (from Cooks Illustrated)

CI note: This recipe works best with either a metal colander that sits easily in a Dutch oven or a large pasta pot with a steamer insert. To prevent excess evaporation, it is important for the lid to fit as snugly as possible over the colander or steamer. A steamer basket will work, but you will have to transfer the hot potatoes out of the basket to rinse them off halfway through cooking. For the lightest, fluffiest texture, use a ricer. A food mill is the next best alternative. Russets and white potatoes will work in this recipe, but avoid red-skinned potatoes.

Bridget note: I don’t have a metal colander or a pasta pot, but a cheapo steamer seems to work just fine. I also don’t have a ricer or a food mill, but I actually like the texture that a potato masher provides. Really, the key is the steaming.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, rinsed well, and drained
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
table salt
⅔ cup whole milk, warm
ground black pepper

1. Place metal colander or steamer insert in large pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water for it to barely reach bottom of colander. Turn heat to high and bring water to boil. Add potatoes, cover, and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook potatoes 10 minutes. Transfer colander to sink and rinse potatoes under cold water until no longer hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Return colander and potatoes to pot, cover, and continue to cook until potatoes are soft and tip of paring knife inserted into potato meets no resistance, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Pour off water from Dutch oven.

2. Set ricer or food mill over now-empty pot. Working in batches, transfer potatoes to hopper of ricer or food mill and process, removing any potatoes stuck to bottom. Using rubber spatula, stir in melted butter and ½ teaspoon salt until incorporated. Stir in warm milk until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

gallitos (costa rican breakfast tacos)

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Dave lived in New Jersey for half a year while I was finishing up graduate school three hours away in upstate New York. We took turns visiting each other on the weekends, but the weekends in NJ were undoubtedly more fun, because we always took the train into Manhattan. I love Manhattan.

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Just about every meal I’ve eaten in Manhattan has been exceptional, but one of my favorites was at Calle Ocho. We went for brunch and ordered the gallitos. I love tacos any time of the day. Dave and I don’t live as close to Manhattan anymore, so I can’t just go order gallitos whenever I want. But it took me two years to realize that there was nothing stopping me from making them myself.

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I don’t remember the meal exactly, but the menu description helps – “Platter of Traditional Costa Rican Tacos, Scrambled Eggs, Chorizo, Calle Ocho Fries.” I could have sworn there was squash too, and pico de gallo just makes sense.

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I will admit that this recipe is a bit of a project, and not much of it can be prepared in advance. I think it would be great for guests arriving late morning for brunch. Everyone can build their own tacos, which would be fun, and I imagine it’s not something many people have had before. Of course you should serve it with mimosas, as is fitting for any brunch, and which also accompanied my gallitos at Calle Ocho.  You can never go wrong serving champagne with breakfast.

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The only problem I’ve had with the recipe is figuring out what to do with the tortillas. I feel like corn tortillas is more appropriate than flour, and they’re also a little lighter. However, they tend to crack instead of bend, even after being warmed and wrapped in foil. I’m not willing to fry them individually for breakfast. Unless someone has a better recommendation, I’m thinking I’ll start using flour tortillas instead. I did recently see a brand of corn tortillas that looked more flexible, so I’ll try those as well.

The gallitos are pretty great. There’s so many flavors working together – the sweet squash, salty potatoes, spicy chorizo, and fresh pico de gallo are wonderful. For me, this is definitely worth the effort involved.

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Gallitos

Serves 4 to 6

To save time, you can cook the potatoes and squash together.

2½ tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
12 ounces (about 2 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, diced into ¼-inch cubes
salt
16 small flour or corn tortillas
16 ounces (1 medium) butternut squash, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes
½ teaspoon sugar
12 ounces chorizo, diced into ½-inch cubes
4 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Pico de gallo (recipe follows)

1. Heat oven to 200F. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in warm oven.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and ¾ teaspoon salt and stir until the potatoes are coated with oil. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are browned and tender, about 20 minutes. (If potatoes aren’t beginning to brown after 12 minutes, remove lid.) Pour potatoes into heatproof serving bowl and place in warm oven.

3. Meanwhile, in small nonstick skillet, cook chorizo over medium heat until evenly browned. Place chorizo in heatproof serving bowl and place in warm oven. Wipe pan with paper towels.

4. In now empty large nonstick pan (no need to clean or wipe), heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add squash, ½ teaspoon salt, and sugar and sauté, uncovered, until browned and tender, about 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, heat remaining ½ tablespoon oil in small nonstick pan over medium heat. Crack eggs into a medium bowl. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, pinch black pepper, and milk. Whisk until evenly combined. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Gently lift and stir the eggs until they form large, mostly dry curds. Pour eggs into serving bowl.

6. Serve tortillas, potatoes, squash, chorizo, eggs and pico de gallo separately, allowing each person to build their tacos as they please.

Pico de gallo: (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)
4 roma tomatoes, diced fine
1 small red onion, diced fine
1-2 jalapenos, minced
½ cup cilantro, chopped fine
juice of half a lime
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients.

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gratin dauphinois (potatoes au gratin)

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One advantage of screwing up a recipe is that at least you know when you don’t screw it up. The first time I made this recipe, I thought I might have overcooked it. The second time, I knew I overcooked it.

I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Steingarten, the food writer for Vogue. I have two of his books and I’ve enjoyed them both. He claims to have made a gratin once a week for the past ten years and calls this one “so fantastically good that [he has] made it every day for the past few weeks.” I’m not capable of resisting that recommendation, regardless of the half stick of butter and 1½ cups of cream. (Yikes.)

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Steingarten developed his recipe to maximize the crispy parts, so the potatoes are placed in the baking pan in a single layer. Steingarten considers cheese in this type of gratin “a gross and pitiful imposture”, because the cream should reduce to a cheese-like flavor, so adding cheese is unnecessary. I have to do one more quote, because there’s no way I’ll be able to describe this as accurately and enticingly as Steingarten (which is why he is a professional and I am a blogger). “[The liquid] will coat the vegetable with an intensely flavorful concentrate…and the surface…is beautifully browned and crusty and delicious.”

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Steingarten also says “if your gratin is truly brilliant, the bottom will become golden and crisp as well.” My gratin was not, and has never been with this recipe, truly brilliant. I’m not sure why; my only theory is that I’m using Pyrex when cast iron would be a better choice. The only cast iron cook/bakeware I have is my Dutch oven, but maybe I’ll try baking this is an All-Clan stainless steel skillet next time to see if I can get the bottom crust to form.

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The recipe isn’t particularly difficult; it looks long due to Steingarten’s very detailed instructions. I typed out the recipe in Steingarten’s exact words because they have so much of his writing style in them, which I thought was worth keeping. However, there are aspects of the recipe that I change. A minor one is replacing the white pepper with black pepper, not only because I keep the black pepper on the counter and the white pepper requires some digging in the pantry, but because I think the flavor is better with the potatoes. Also, Steingarten calls for a pound and a half of potatoes, and says that “you will undoubtedly have some slices leftover.” With the pan size he calls for, I tend to have at least a third of the slices leftover. I’ve found that I should either increase the pan size or decrease the potatoes I slice.

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Steingarten is also careful to instruct that the potatoes should be removed from the oven before “the cream has broken down into clear, foamy butterfat”. Oops. Good advice. Otherwise you end up with a disgusting greasy mess that makes it all too obvious that there’s a dismaying amount of fat in the recipe.

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But, if you do it right, you have deliciously tender, creamy, crisp potatoes that don’t need cheese to taste cheesey or bread crumbs to be crispy. On the top. If you try the recipe and get a crispy bottom too, let me know!

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Gratin Dauphinois (from Jeffrey Steingarten’s It Must’ve Been Something I Ate)

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
1 (scant) cup milk
1 large garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, about a dozen gratings
1½ pounds baking potatoes
1½ cups heavy cream

Special equipment: A large, low baking dish made of enameled iron, glass, or earthernware. The quantities in this recipe work out perfectly when baked in a dish measuring about 120 square inches on the inside bottom, where the slices of potato will lie. This translates into a rectangle 9-by-13 inches, or 10-by-12 inches; an 11-inch square; a 12-inch circle; or an oval 10-by-15 inches. An enameled iron baking dish is preferred – mine is made by Le Creuset – because it produces a delectable crust underneath the potatoes. A hand-sliced device, such as a traditional French stainless-steel mandoline or a much less expensive but excellent plastic Japanese-made device manufactures by Benriner.

Let the butter soften at room temperature for an hour or so. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F.

Place the milk, garlic clove, pepper, salt, and nutmeg in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, liberally butter the bottom of the baking dish using about half the butter. Peel the potatoes, rinse them, and pat them dry. Then, slice them 1/8-inch thick, discarding the smallest slices. (This is easier with a slicing machine, inexpensive or elaborate. The quantities and cooking times given here work out best when the slices are even and close to 1/8 inch. Just keep adjusting your slicing machine until a little pile of eight slices measures an inch high.) Under no circumstances should you wash the potatoes after they have been sliced – the surface starch is absolutely indispensable.

Evenly arrange the potatoes in the buttered dish in one layer of overlapping slices. (Begin by laying out a row of slices along one narrow end of the baking dish, overlapping each one about a third of the way over the slice that came before. Repeat with a second row. Continue until the baking dish is neatly paved.) You will undoubtedly have some slices left over. Please do not try to cram them in.

Bring the milk to the boil again and pour it over the potatoes, removing the garlic. Cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, until most of the milk has been absorbed. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil, and remove from the heat. When the potatoes are ready, remove and discard the aluminum foil. Bring the cream back to the boil and pour it over the potatoes, dotting the surface with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes have turned a golden brown, spotted with darker, crisp area. (Rotate the baking dish halfway through if the gratin is browning unevenly.) The underside of the gratin will also be brown and crispy in spots. But do not wait until most of the cream has broken down into clear, foamy butterfat. The potatoes should be dotted with thickened, clotted cream, especially between the slices.

Let the gratin settle for 10 minutes. (This will allow the excess butterfat to drain to the bottom of the dish.) Then eat immediately – taste and texture suffer with each passing minute. Cut into 6 or 8 rectangles with a blunt knife and serve each one with a thin, wide metal slotted spatula.

sausage and red pepper hash

Hey, look at that, more eggs on stuff. I made this because I wanted hash, but something different from corned beef hash. I just love the idea of egg yolk dripping into browned crispy potatoes and salty breakfast meat and flavorful sautéed vegetables. Sausage and peppers sounded like a great base to go with potatoes and eggs.

Looking now at the recipe I think I was using, I apparently simplified it quite a bit. That’s the thing about making an Emeril recipe in the morning – chances are it’s going to get simplified. First I replaced chicken and apple sausage with standard breakfast sausage, and then I eliminated all of the spices and herbs that Emeril calls for, assuming that there would be enough seasoning in the sausage.

What I ended up doing was following my standard hash method of browning the meat, then cooking the vegetables in the rendered fat, then adding parboiled potatoes and cooking until they brown. Then I break eggs over the mixture and cover the pan, cooking until the whites are set and, if all goes well, the yolks are warm and viscous but not solid.

You really can’t go wrong with these ingredients combined in that method. The onions are a little caramelized, the peppers are soft, the potatoes are crispy, the sausage is peppery – everything is at its best, and then it’s taken one step further with a perfectly cooked egg on top.

Sausage and Red Pepper Hash (substantially adapted from Emeril and from Cooks Illustrated)

The potatoes can be parboiled the night before and refrigerated.

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ -inch dice
Salt
1 medium onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 pound breakfast sausage
4 large eggs
Ground black pepper

1. Bring the potatoes, 5 cups water, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the water boils, cook for 4 minutes, drain, and set aside.

2. Place the sausage in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook until the fat is partially rendered, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and browned, about the edges, abut 8 minutes. Mix in the potatoes and lightly pack the mixture into the pan with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes, then, with a spatula, invert the hash, a portion at a time, and fold the browned bits back into the hash. Lightly pack the hash into the pan. Repeat the process every minute or two, until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, about 8 minutes longer.

3. Make 4 indentations (each measuring about 2 inches across) equally spaced on the surface of the hash. Crack 1 egg into each indentation and season the egg with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook until the eggs are just set, about 6 minutes. Cut the hash into 4 wedges, making sure each has an egg, and serve immediately.


mashed potatoes with kale

This dish reminds me of one of the great things about my husband. As we sat down to eat roast chicken served with kale and mashed potatoes, never once did he ask “um…what’s the green stuff in the potatoes?” or even look sideways at it. And not because he’s being polite, but because he’s so extremely unpicky. And maybe he trusts me to serve him good food? (Or at least warn him with prolific whining if I don’t think the food will be good.)

And why should he worry? Kale has a great savory flavor that it goes perfectly with mashed potatoes, almost like gravy does. Plus there’s a pool of butter on top. You can’t go wrong with a pool of butter.

The recipe comes together relatively easily. The potatoes are peeled, diced and boiled just liked normal mashed potatoes. (Oh, except I’m anal about mashed potatoes, so I actually steam the potatoes instead of boil them. You should try it – they taste amazing, just like potatoes should, even without salt, because they don’t absorb water.) The kale is cooked separately, slowly braised with onion, which is a common cooking method for kale. After mashing, the two are combined, along with some milk that’s been steeped with carrot and bay.

I have to admit, I didn’t taste any evidence of the carrot or bay. Also, while it seems that pooling the butter in the potatoes is traditional for this dish, I think I would prefer it mixed in. For one thing, otherwise it’s like “whoa, that’s a pool of butter”, but also, I like how butter in mashed potatoes keeps them nice and moist. Come to think of it, if you go the pooling method, you should probably use salted butter, or add a pinch of salt to the butter while it’s melting. Then your butter will at least have some flavor, which mine really didn’t.

Still, though, this was great. Dave and I have decided that we both really like kale. I don’t think the original recipe is quite as kale-y as it looks here, because I wasn’t measuring closely, but either way, it tastes great. And what a healthy addition to standard mashed potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes with Kale (Bon Appetit May 1996, but really epicurious.com)

1 cup milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 small carrot, peeled, diced
1 large bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bunch kale, rinsed, coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

1. Combine milk, 2 tablespoons butter, carrot and bay leaf in medium saucepan; bring to simmer. Remove from heat; let steep while preparing kale and potatoes.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until light brown, about 8 minutes. Add kale; cover and cook until tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well. Return to same pot; mash with hand masher.

4. Add kale mixture to potatoes. Strain in enough milk to produce moist, fluffy potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. Mound potatoes in large bowl. Using spoon, make well in top of potatoes. Pour butter into well. Serve hot.