August 12, 2007

Sunday Dinner

I recently uploaded quite a few pictures from my camera and, to my surprise, I have been doing some cooking these past few weeks! Such a wonderful realization. Cooking has definitely taken a backseat lately, but the last few weekends, we've really done it well.

I officially started a new job that I really like. I point this out because I think the only reason I'm able to cook at all after a long day is because it's become much more of a joint effort - Paul either cooks most of the time, or definitely is in the kitchen with me when I'm tackling it. Doing it together really helps make it fun. The question, "what should we have for dinner?" is much less daunting with his help. (I'll spare you the part about my guilt over not being able to "do it all." If I'm honest, it was fleeting anyway. Letting go of it has made me much happier and if I can make something new, interesting or just satisfying a few times a week, that's good enough for me. It's not so much a lowering of my standards as a lowering of the frequency of my output.)

Anyway, on Sundays, we've been making a big dinner. A few weekends ago we made a meal inspired by Nigella Lawson. I've owned Feast for a long time, but this was the first attempt to use her recipes. We made an outstanding roast chicken and her smashed potato gratin. I can't squeal enough with delight over these potatoes. Good Lawd, they're good!

The gratin is a cross between Gratin Dauphinois and mashed potatoes. If I'm honest, it's a recipe that I might have overlooked, especially since I have an extremely biased opinion that Gratin Dauphinois cannot possibly be improved upon. I'm so glad we tried these, though, because these potatoes are delicious, slightly healthier (although no less rich) and even easier to make than a traditional gratin made of thinly sliced potatoes baked in heavy cream. Don't skip the onions or celery in here - they add a deep vegetal flavor that is hard to describe but extremely delicious.

Smashed Potato Gratin

(recipe adapted from Feast, by Nigella Lawson)

2 lbs potatoes, peeled

3 cups milk

2 tsp coarse salt

1/2 stick of celery, whole

4 green onions, trimmed

black or white pepper

about 1 stick butter

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

*One important note to remember is that this has many similarities to making mashed potatoes. You don't necessary measure the milk, but instead use as much as you feel you need once you start mashing the potatoes. This recipe is different in that you cook the potatoes in the seasoned milk. Just keep in mind that you should remove the cooked potatoes from the milk, start mashing and add as much milk as you need.

This is about the consistency you're going for...

1. Butter your gratin dishes or one large baking dish.

2. Peel and chop the potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Place them in a saucepan with the milk, whole green onions, celery, salt, pepper and 3/4 of the stick of butter. Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer about 20-25 minutes.
3. Removed the celery and green onion pieces from the milk. Removed the potatoes to a medium bowl, start smashing them with a fork or potato masher, but do not completely mash, you want some chunks. This mixture should be more liquidy than normal mashed potatoes because the liquid will cook off in the oven.

4. Pour into your gratin dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes. The top should be nice and brown and the contents bubbling. Serves 4 of us, maybe 6 less gluttonous people.

The finished gratin with most of the liquid absorbed.

I had to include this picture because it makes me laugh.

If you're still reading, the roasted chicken we made was also inspired by Nigella. We stuffed it full of celery, onions and herbs, and slathered it with a mixture from her St. Tropez Chicken. This included olive oil, honey, Herbes de Provence, garlic and lemon juice. Roasted at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, it turned out to be really damn good. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence on chicken and you can't really go wrong!
Here's to Sunday dinners!