pickled coleslaw

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Salads can be tricky, because if I’m eating a big bowl of vegetables, it better be healthy, you know? But there’s the whole salad dressing issue. Vinaigrette is the standard lighter option, but even it’s usually based on olive oil.

Coleslaw is no exception to the salad dressing problem. Many coleslaws are simply cabbage, mayonnaise and seasoning. Not only is this a little plain for my taste, but it turns coleslaw into a full-on indulgence. Even my favorite buttermilk coleslaw recipe includes a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream (which could probably be replaced by plain yogurt), although the base of the dressing is lowfat buttermilk.

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A lot of people don’t even like creamy coleslaws, preferring vinegar-based slaws instead. I like both types, and at first I thought these vinegar dressings were the no-fat answer for coleslaw, until I found out that most involve oil, like a typical vinaigrette does.

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The solution, it turns out, is pickled coleslaw. The cabbage here is mixed with nothing but vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Those ingredients have to be heated to dissolve the sugar, then cooled so they don’t wilt the cabbage. Then they’re mixed with the shredded cabbage and a few other vegetables (sadly, I didn’t have a cucumber around when I made this, so I had to skip it), and refrigerated overnight – or for longer, if need be.

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What a great way to eat a big bowl of vegetables. Since I’m not worried by a wee bit of sugar, there’s nothing for me to feel guilty about here. And it isn’t just about being healthy – it tastes great too. It’s tart without being too sour and has a wonderful crunch. Even Dave, pickle-hater that he is, enjoyed it. Gotta love a salad without compromise.

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One year ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

Pickled Coleslaw (from Deb Perelman for NPR)

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Brine:
1½ cups distilled white vinegar
1½ cups water
⅓ (2.33 ounces) cup sugar
2½ tablespoons kosher salt

Slaw:
1 small head green cabbage
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 kirby cucumber, thinly sliced

Bring brine ingredients to a boil in a 2-quart nonreactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. (Use a pan of stainless steel, glass and enameled cast iron; avoid pure aluminum and uncoated iron, which can impart an unpleasant taste to recipes with acidic ingredients) Transfer to a 3- to 4-quart nonreactive bowl and cool completely. To speed this process up, you can set the bowl over a second bowl of ice water, and stir, which will quickly chill the brine.

Halve, core and halve again the head of cabbage, then finely slice it with a knife, or run the quarters through a food processor fitted with a slicing blade.

Toss sliced cabbage, bell pepper, carrot and cucumber in bowl with brine. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate, tossing the ingredients once or twice in a 24-hour period. After one day in the brine, the coleslaw is ready to serve. It keeps for up to 1 week, chilled.

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mushroom salad

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I used to read cookbooks like novels. I don’t require pictures, and I don’t like to skip around – I’ll be annoyed making the chocolate cake from Chapter 10 if I’m still reading through Chapter 2′s salads. It feels like a spoiler; like when I was sad to see Gandalf die in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Dave tried to make me feel better by telling me that he comes back in the next book/movie. I hate spoilers.

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These days, though, I can’t seem get through an entire cookbook. I think I need a new method – like accepting that it’s okay not to read every step in every recipe. I’m only on Chapter 3 (Eggs, Dairy and Cheese, yum) in Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I got for Christmas. I’m still very happy with the cookbook – everything I’ve made from it has been great, and the recipes get me excited to cook. But right now, it’s just sitting on my shelf while I focus on other things. Since I haven’t read much more than the soups and salads chapters, that’s all I ever make from the book.

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These mushrooms, from the salad chapter, made a handy side dish for meatball sliders. They’re nice and easy – after sautéing the quartered mushrooms with some aromatics, you mix them with vinegar and olive oil. Then just set them aside to marinate.

The simple mixture was surprisingly good. I was worried that Dave wouldn’t like them, because he doesn’t like pickled anything, but they weren’t sour, just a little tangy. It makes the big green cookbook on my shelf that much more enticing.

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One year ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

Mushroom Salad, Italian-American Style (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

I didn’t actually measure anything, which is normal for me for a Bittman recipe. He presents his recipes more as ideas to get you started than rules to follow. I’m guessing I used less oil, and I just added vinegar to taste.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound butter or other mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon slivered garlic
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup chopped parsley leaves for garnish

1. Put 3 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally and sprinkling with salt and pepper, until they give up their liquid and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat a bit and add the onion, then cook until the onion softens, another 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cool, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat.

2. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and stir in the vinegar and remaining tablespoon of oil. Let cool to room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Garnish and serve or let sit at room temperature for another hour or two before serving.

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 baby artichokes

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Dave and I have gotten into the habit of choosing a nice bottle of wine to open on Saturday, and then I plan a meal around it. The last two times, I’ve scheduled ambitious main dishes and starches, and then planned to get whatever vegetable looked good at the store that would be easy to cook while I focused on the rest of the meal.

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And then I’ve come home with artichokes, which are certainly not known for being low-maintenance. But now that I’ve cooked artichokes a few times, I’m not nearly as intimidated by them. I especially love roasting these baby artichokes, which is the easiest and definitely the best way I’ve ever prepared artichokes.

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A lot of fuss is made about prepping artichokes, but now that I’m familiar with the process, it isn’t so bad. And the baby artichokes are quite a bit easier, because the fuzzy inedible choke inside the artichoke isn’t developed. There are basically three steps. 1) Pop off the leaves that are mostly green. 2) Cut off the top of the leaves and the bottom of the stem. 3) Trim off the dark green remnants of the leaves near the top of the stem. It really only takes maybe a minute per artichoke.

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And then it’s just like roasting any other vegetable. I quartered the artichokes, seasoned them and sprinkled a bit of olive oil over them, then roasted them until they were browned and tender.

What I love about this method, besides how easy it is, is that there’s really nothing to taste except for the artichoke. It’s the most artichokey way that I’ve eaten artichokes. And they do have a great flavor on their own, with no need for marinades or gussied-up mayonnaise or whatever else. It’s the fanciest plain vegetable I’ve ever served.

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One year ago: Cheesecake Pops (these were a huge mess) and Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

Roasted Baby Artichokes

I’ve seen recipes that require the artichokes to be boiled or steamed before roasting. This may be necessary with large ‘chokes, but I had no problem with the little guys getting tender just from roasting.

This is probably very anti-foodie of me, but I just squirted a bunch of bottled lemon juice into a bowl of water to make acidulated water. I didn’t have lemons.   I considered skipping the acidulated water entirely, but the artichokes pretty much immediately started turning an unappetizing shade of brown.

3-4 servings

juice of one lemon
12 baby artichokes
1½ tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
½ teaspoon lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Trim the artichokes: Put the lemon juice into a bowl with 2-3 quarts of water. Working with one artichoke at a time, pop off the outer leaves until you reach the inner yellowish leaves. Cut off the top ½-inch of the leaves and all but ½-inch of the stem. Trim away the darker green leaf remnants around the base of the stem. Quarter the artichoke and place in the bowl of water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes.

3. Put the oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Dry the artichokes, place them on the baking sheet with the oil and seasoning, and stir to coat with oil.

4. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and browned on the outside. (I usually just eat one to see if they’re done.) Remove the pan from the oven, drizzle the lemon juice over the artichokes, and serve.

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pan-roasted asparagus

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Asparagus was part of one of my worst eating experiences. I was spending a few weeks traveling, working with one of the top researchers in my field. She’s an intimidating woman, known for her arrogance and her temper. Fortunately, what little contact I had with her was generally pleasant. She even invited me to her house for dinner a couple times.

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The first time, she served chicken, asparagus and rustic bread she’d bought at a bakery. The asparagus was horrendous. It was grossly overcooked, plus too little of the woody barely chewable ends had been trimmed. It was all I could do to eat it without gagging, but I had to be polite, especially since I was sort of scared of my host.

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This is not that asparagus. This is lightly browned, tender but still crisp at the center. It’s also easy – just put the asparagus and some salt in a lightly oiled, hot, not nonstick pan, and cook it for a few minutes, giving the pan an occasional shake. Squeeze on some lemon juice, grind a bit of black pepper over the top, and try to erase all of your bad vegetable memories.

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One year ago: Sichuan Green Beans

Pan-Roasted Asparagus

Serves 2

Note: Choose thin (less than ½-inch in diameter) asparagus for this recipe, as the thicker stalks won’t cook through evenly. Trim the asparagus by bending each stalk until it snaps. To double the recipe, use a 12-inch skillet.

1 teaspoon olive oil
8 ounces asparagus, washed and trimmed (see Note)
generous pinch salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium not nonstick skillet over medium heat until it’s hot. (I judge based on the viscosity of the oil – the thinner, the hotter.) Add the asparagus in a single layer and stir or shake to coat with oil. Continue to cook the asparagus until it’s crisp-tender, 5-8 minutes.

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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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roasted brussels sprouts

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I know that diets don’t work – that it’s all about getting into a healthy routine and establishing healthy habits. But I find that sometimes the healthy routine could use a little kickstart. And I like to name the kickstart.  A few years ago, I undertook Pudge Eradication. I spent a few months counting calories and increasing my workouts, eradicated some pudge, and kept up the healthy eating routine for a few years. Until I moved and was unemployed for the better part of a year, and then my eating habits went downhill fast. Now that I’m working part-time, I find that I eat so much healthier on the days that I work than I do on the days at home. I’ve decided that it’s time for another healthy routine kickstart. I shall be calling it “Stop Being a Fatass, You Idiot.”

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And so I roasted my Brussels sprouts instead of braising them in cream. It really isn’t a big sacrifice – while they’re absolutely amazing braised in cream, they’re fantastic roasted as well.

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Since Ina’s recipe for roasted carrots was so simple and great, I figured I’d stick with her for roasted Brussels as well. The second time I made these, I had larger sprouts, so I cut them in half. I think I like them halved better – there’s a flat side that browns nicely because it lies right on the pan.

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And hey, just a little olive oil to make some delicious vegetables, served alongside Deb’s mustard roasted potatoes topped with an egg. It’s not super-duper crazy healthy, but the goal is easy – just don’t be a fatass. This qualifies.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts (adapted slightly from Ina Garten)

Serves 6

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, halved if large
3 tablespoons good olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut off the ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer them to a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp outside and tender inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the Brussels sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve hot.

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.

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.