On moving apartments and melting cheese.

We have a new apartment. We have the Internet, at last. The landlord has promised that I’ll soon have a new stove. And now that we’ve had our first dinner party in our new apartment, the place feels like home and I can breathe. Nick painted the place before we moved in and it’s very blue, so for the first time ever we’re living together in a place that we can describe the colour of using adjectives that don’t also describe bodily fluids. The cat still blends in with all the furniture, but Nick looks better because the walls match his eyes.

We have more windows and better light, and we’ll have lots of time to enjoy these things as the rent on the place will prohibit us from spending much on anything else. Cat has not settled down since we finished moving in last week because there are so many new rooms and cupboards and hallways to explore, and I hear her little voice from all the corners of the apartment reminding me she’s still here. She checks in once in awhile, but she still has a lot to do. There’s an upstairs to this place, and she has to rub her face on every inch of every step and that takes more energy than a five-pound furball can muster all at once.

My kitchen in this new place is the same size as the old one. The advantage is that here I have a window above the sink, and the drawback is that my fridge is half the size. I am twice the size now, having rounded the corner on my thirty-third week with a belly that’s measuring closer to 35 or 36 weeks, so I have yet to start feeling comfortable in my space. It’s hard to relax when you’ve got a habit of knocking crap off the counters or searing-hot pans off the stove at every turn. All of my shirts have stains on them.

I wanted to have friends over for dinner, because a feast in a new apartment is like a bottle broken on the hull of a boat; it’s how you make things official. The first dinner shared with people in a new apartment (not eaten out of boxes on the floor, but at an actual table) is the thing that makes the place a real home. Ordinarily my effort would reflect the importance of this, but I am irritable and my back hurts and the more things I have to do, the more complaints I am able to muster. Fortunately, we have a raclette.

A raclette is a wonderful thing. It’s like a fondue pot, except instead of dipping things into melted cheese, you pour melted cheese over things. We learned about raclette a few years ago in the home of my friend Chelsea and her then-boyfriend, an accented Swiss-German named Marco who was a Physics professor by day and a drummer in a Celtic punk band by night. Raclette is both the name of the apparatus and the type of cheese, though we used good white cheddar and it was delicious.

Your guests will cook their meat and veggies to taste on top of the raclette grill while melting cheese under its broiler. They will eat their cooked morsels with potatoes and drizzle the melted cheese over top. They will do this more times than they can count, and at the end of the meal they will be very sleepy.

To make a proper raclette meal, you boil more quartered red or white potatoes than you think you’ll need, and slice quite a lot of cheese. I boiled a pound of potatoes per person. There were five of us, so I sliced two pounds of cheese. We had asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, and grape tomatoes for our veggies, and cubed steak, chopped bacon, shrimp, and rounds of Farmer’s Sausage for our protein. Start with the bacon to lube up the grill a bit before cooking the other things. If you’re a vegetarian, wipe the top down with a bit of olive oil before starting.

Because a meal based on the holy trinity of meat, cheese, and potatoes can be, uh … rich, set the table with little bowls of acidic, pickly things, like olives and beet pickles and peppadews and gherkins and cocktail onions – whatever you have in your pantry will do, but if you have to make a special trip, make use of a store’s olive bar, where you can buy just a few of everything for not very many dollars.

Little ramekins with good salt, freshly ground pepper, and Dijon mustard round the dinner out. The whole thing ends up being an inexpensive, rather European feast, and it is made better with wine or good cold beer. It is a warming treat in the wintertime. You will want to have Beirut playing in the background, and perhaps you and your guests will wear sweaters and it will be snowing.

I have bought raclettes as wedding gifts, and know that you can get a pretty good one for $50, less if there’s a sale. Department stores sell them in their small appliance sections, and better cookware stores sell more expensive versions (up to $250), with heavier-duty grills. We have a fancy one, because my parents bought Nick a raclette for Christmas the year he discovered his obsession with it. Ours serves eight people, but Nick would happily melt cheese every night on his own if cheese in Canada was cheaper and if he didn’t have to clean the raclette every time.

There is little more enjoyable than sitting around a table full of food with people who are genuinely enjoying themselves, though keep in mind that you should take the meal slowly, and if you are planning some after-dinner diversion to start the meal a bit earlier. If dinner ends at 10:00, the night ends at 10:00. Meat and potatoes and cheese are good inspiration for long naps, but not one of your husband’s nerdy board games even if that was the plan at the start

What about you? It’s been awhile. How are you warming up to fall? Are you embracing the idea of sweaters and meals of cheese, or putting it off as long as you can? How are you doing?

Fried potatoes. Mostly.

Pan-frying is the second best thing you can do to potatoes, so it’s frustrating to get all worked up and excited about them only to discover that the cook has done it all wrong – and it happens more than you’d think.

Frying potatoes is so easy, but like anything worth fussing over, there are steps one must take to do it properly. There’s this place near where I lived when I first moved to the city that does a $2.95 breakfast that will cure any ill you’ve managed to bring on yourself, but nostalgia has me remembering it better than it was. You get fried potatoes with the breakfast, and I remember dousing them in ketchup and being so happy to shovel them into my mouth with a breakfast beer and a pair of runny eggs.

But you see, there’s the first problem. Good fried potatoes don’t need ketchup. Ketchup is the saving grace of sub-par food; if something’s really good, it doesn’t need it.

To properly fry potatoes, you have to take the French fry approach and cook them twice. In the morning, chop your potatoes to a uniform size. I like to be able to eat mine in two bites, for reasons that are complicated but which I cannot tell you about without coming across unstable in the worst case, or anal-retentive in the least.

The little yellow new potatoes are best, but little red ones will work too. If all you’ve got are russets you can still make fried potatoes, but they aren’t going to be as lovely. A slightly waxy potato will hold together more nicely in the pot and in the pan.

Boil your potatoes in salted water until fork-tender. Drain, do not rinse, and then lay them out on a plate or baking sheet. Leave them on the counter or kitchen table for a few hours, preferably all day. You want them to dry out a bit. The second problem with a lot of fried potatoes is that they’re plopped into a hot pan still wet. Moisture is the enemy of frying. I like to boil my potatoes in the morning, go about my day, and then come back around dinner time; the edges get rough and dry, which is perfect for a hot pan – you won’t find yourself splattered with smoldering grease.

And you’ll need duck fat. Or bacon fat. Butter or olive oil or whatever oil you have will work fine too, but if you have duck fat, this is its best application. Use a fat you like the flavour of. And use a lot of it – a tablespoon of fat per person should do it, but use your best judgment. For four servings of potatoes, I used three tablespoons. I might have used more if I wasn’t being stingy with my duck fat reserves.

You’ll also need time. Heat the fat until melted and hot over medium heat in a large pan. Add your potatoes, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Cooking these over medium heat for a long time will mean that your potatoes will crisp up and turn golden and lovely. Don’t rush this. Add salt and pepper, and if you’re feeling fancy, lemon zest or fresh herbs are also nice.

If you’re attempting to seduce someone with roast chicken, these potatoes will seal the deal. And they’re infinitely variable, so long as you pre-cook, dry, and cook low and slow.

There’s room for creativity. Dress them with vinaigrette and scallions for a warm potato salad, or cut into wedges before boiling to make jojo fries. If you’re all by yourself, make just a few and squish a bit of fresh lemon juice over top and eat them in front of the TV with a dollop of mayonnaise for dipping. But no ketchup. You won’t need ketchup for these.

Unrelated to potatoes, my friend Tracy has been actively campaigning on my behalf, as this blog was nominated in a couple of categories in the Canadian Food Blog Awards. I find the attention both extremely flattering and slightly embarrassing, as to be honest I am more comfortable being in trouble than being recognized – at least when I’m in trouble I know for certain I’ve done something to deserve it. One of the conditions of Tracy doing my dirty work is that I am supposed to be more active and shameless with my self-promotion. I’ve mentioned that you can vote for Well fed, flat broke in the People’s Choice category a few times in recent posts, but never so blatantly as this.

http://www.beerandbuttertarts.com/cfba/nominations/voting-form/I realized after a whole bunch of people on Facebook made profile pictures of this that I look like the hungry version of Simon’s Cat. Also, I think the tiny URL is dead. Please don’t let any of that stop you from voting. Also, when you’re done, go look at the list of other blogs nominated in a range of edible, drinkable categories – they’re all Canadian and really very good. At this point if we were chatting in person, I’d lower my head and try to scurry out of the conversation or make an awkwardly “hilarious” joke to distract us both so we could move on. Imagine that happening right about here.

Potato and kale “Dutch” quesadillas.

At work, stress is a good thing and I do well (I hope) because there are deadlines and because they’re paying me to do stuff and I genuinely feel pleased with myself when I do a good job. It is the exact same feeling I had in the third grade when I aced a spelling test, even though no one ever gives me stickers now and when I am bad I don’t get sent out to the hall to read and think about how I could be nicer to the kids who didn’t get all their words right. Actually, when I am bad now I don’t get any attention at all, which might be the worst punishment there is.

I know I am supposed to do whatever it is I do all day, and sometimes there’s pressure, but on the whole I feel competent and satisfied for completing tasks successfully. Unfortunately, these warm fuzzy feelings do not translate to the rest of my life, and when faced with optional deadlines, things I impose on myself, like an application to grad school, I am a tornado of self-doubt and despair. All of a sudden those short stories and articles and chunks of longer prose that I’ve convinced myself could be a real novel someday are worthless. They are well-edited, but they are crap, I’m sure of it.

These thoughts are short-lived and easily suppressed by food and wine, but being in the middle of them is awful, and after meeting Friday’s deadline, I spent the weekend in recovery, eating and napping and drinking bourbon and wearing stretch fabrics and not doing the dishes.

But we got an extra hour of sleep this weekend, and I’m feeling like a lot like myself again. And it was Meatless Monday, which has become a routine now, so we ate an easy meal and watched three episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and now I’m listening to The Beatles and Lil Wayne, and in just a little while I’ll be in the tub with AJ Liebling and Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris.

I call the meal Dutch Quesadillas, because it’s a weird combination of boerenkool (mashed potatoes and kale) and Gouda and tortillas, all things Nick loves. It’s easy and comes together in about 40 minutes. Great for lunch – you can make them ahead and heat them anytime – or for dinner when you’re a frantic shell of your former self and need an evening of potatoes and cheese to get back on track.

Potato-kale quesadillas

(Serves six.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large or 4 medium Russet potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups kale, packed, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 cups grated Gouda (smoked if possible, or cheddar)
  • 6 large flour tortillas

Over medium-high heat, sauté onion in two tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until deeply browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil potatoes until fork tender. Stir in chopped kale (I cheated and whizzed mine in the food processor for about 20 seconds) and let cook in the boiling potato water for about three minutes, and drain the whole thing. Mash potatoes with remaining olive oil, garlic, yogurt, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt.

Spread the six tortillas out and divide potatoes evenly. Sprinkle with the cheese, then with the onion, and then fry over medium heat until each side is golden and cheese has melted. Serve with sour cream or yogurt and avocado.

Meatless Monday: Shepherd’s Pie, sans shepherd.

I think the thing I like best about Meatless Monday is that it comes at just the right time. Monday evening is when some of us need a hearty helping of veggies to undo some of the weekend’s damage; indeed, I spent the bulk of mine throwing back rich dishes and cocktails in between naps.

Today’s Meatless Monday dish is meaty in spite of itself. It’s filled with garlicky mushrooms, rosemary, leeks, and just enough red wine. It’s topped with potatoes whipped with eggs, cream, and olive oil. And then it’s baked until the potatoes are golden and the mushroom sauce has bubbled up around the sides. Use a variety of mushrooms, if possible; I used regular white mushrooms, a couple of fat portabellas, and a few oyster mushrooms, but feel free to use whatever’s available to you. Be sure to scrape the gills from the portabellas before cooking (if using), and chop these into cubes.

It’s rich and satisfying, fragrant and delicious; it’s the sort of thing you could serve to a ravenous meat-eater and he wouldn’t know there wasn’t a spot of beef in it. Even the cat was interested, and she won’t give a sniff to anything that isn’t 95% protein.

Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 lbs. Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. heavy cream, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, minced (about 2 tbsp.)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped leek (white and light-green part only, about two medium leeks)
  • 2 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, assorted varieties if possible
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste, if needed

Boil potatoes in a large pot of water until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and mash until almost no chunky bits remain, then whip in parmesan cheese, two tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup of cream, and two eggs. Taste and add salt as needed; I chose not to add salt, as the parmesan lent sufficient seasoning. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil and the butter over medium-high heat until butter begins to bubble and foam. Stir in shallots and garlic, sautéeing for two minutes until translucent. Add leeks, and saute until shallots have melted down and no longer hold their round shape, about three minutes.

Meanwhile, again, chop mushrooms. It is not necessary that the mushrooms be of uniform size; different sizes will allow the mushrooms to achieve varying textures, which is ideal. Add mushrooms and rosemary to pan, stirring to coat in fat. Allow to sweat, but do not salt the mushrooms. It will take about five minutes, with occasional stirring, but the mushrooms will release their liquid and it will be awesome.

Once mushrooms have sweat and wilted, about five minutes, sprinkle flour over top of the mushrooms and mix until flour disappears. Add wine, soy sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and allow to thicken slightly, two to three more minutes. Stir in parsley and cream, and taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Remove mushrooms from heat and pour into a 1 1/2- to 2-quart casserole dish. Top with mashed potato mixture, spreading to cover completely.

Place in oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until potatoes are golden on top and mushroom sauce is bubbling out from around the sides.

Serve hot from the oven. If you have leftovers, this dish is even better the second day, when the flavours, especially the rosemary, garlic, and pepper steep and meld together. Nick can’t wait for lunch tomorrow, and I am looking forward to the smell of this scenting my office. Yum!

PS – check out my recipe for Huevos Rancheros on the Meatless Monday website!

Creamy, springy trout chowder.

I know. You’re probably looking at that photo thinking, “wow, she’s pretty lucky,” or “he’s probably the best she could do.” Some days, I’m not sure which is right. Or maybe you’re new here and this is your introduction, and you’re thinking that you’ve made a horrible mistake in clicking whatever link brought you here.

Fortunately, today’s recipe is pretty sound. And it was fished for by the above-implicated weekend fisherman, which means it was local and sustainable and all those keywords that people and I love to toss around. So today, I have for you a recipe for trout chowder, and it is all the things you want from a chowder. Fresh. Moderately healthy, if fattening. Local. Contains bacon. Good stuff.

Trout chowder

(Serves six.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and cooled, and then cut into bite-size chunks
  • 3 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 lb. trout, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large (three or four quart) pot over medium-high heat, crisp up bacon. When bacon is glistening and crispy, add potatoes, stirring to coat, and fry for about three minutes, or until lightly golden. Add celery, garlic, and lemon zest. Sprinkle flour over top of ingredients in pot, and stir once again to coat.

Pour milk into the pot, and reduce to medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, and once thickened, add pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in trout and frozen peas, and cook for five to seven minutes, until trout is cooked through and mixture has returned to a boil.

Stir in lemon juice, followed by the cream. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve hot, with bread (or corn bread!), and cold, delicious beer. This is the kind of meal that will remind your spouse, special someone, roommate, or friend that you are so much better than the best they could do, and they will appreciate you profusely. If that person has had their tongue in a fish’s mouth recently, you do not have to appreciate him back.

Casseroles: Not totally gross?!

I like the idea of casseroles. A whole meal in a single pan that will produce leftovers I can enjoy for lunch the next day? Yes please I want that. I think somehow, somewhere, the casserole went awry. I am not really sure who to blame for this – Kraft? Campbells? In any event, the casserole seems to have somehow fallen out of favour. But not around here. Here, it’s just coming back into style.

Kielbasa casserole

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. potatoes, boiled, cooled, and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 lb. kielbasa sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 lb. kale, stems removed and blanched
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2  cups grated cheese (I used Cheddar, but you could use Swiss, or Havarti – anything you like or have in the fridge)
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Thoroughly butter a 9″x13″ casserole dish.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter, and add onion. Sauté until translucent, then add potatoes, and cook until lightly browned. Add kielbasa, and reduce to medium heat.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt remaining butter, and stir in flour until the mixture forms a paste. Whisk in milk and reduce to medium, stirring frequently until thickened, about two minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of cheese, mustard, garlic, pepper, thyme, nutmeg, and salt. Taste before salting too heavily – keep in mind, your sausage will be plenty salty as well.

Add blanched kale to the potato mixture, then pour sauce over, tossing to coat. Pour mixture into casserole. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and remaining cheese over top, then slide into the oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.

You could substitute bratwurst for the kielbasa if you wanted, sub in whatever kind of cheese you have or prefer, add mushrooms if you wanted, or use spinach instead of kale depending on the season. This was a nice, hearty, easy meal, and Nick has asked that it be made again. Because it’s so saucy, you might try over egg noodles or braised cabbage, or with a side of crusty bread to wipe your plate clean.

It’s homey, and sort of rustic, and I want to call this a casserole because it reminds me of something you’d serve on a weeknight, to your family or an apartment full of hungry friends, and not just for it’s delightfully cheap and easy attributes. And for all that cream sauce? It’s surprisingly not heavy or unpleasant once it’s in.

So, anyway. I think it’s time we made casseroles cool again. You in?

Eating chicken pot pie is like stuffing a blanket in the crack of a draughty door.

I don’t normally like pot pies, because they remind me a bit of those Swanson’s things that are filled with goop and stringy bits and, oh, let’s say “vegetables,” only you can’t tell which ones because vegetables aren’t shaped like that in real life, and what the hell, Swanson’s? I don’t like them, normally, but Nick does, and so I’ve had to devise a clever plan that will allow us all to enjoy the meal. That clever plan? Curry powder and biscuit dough, and large, hearty chunks to bite into. Nothing like those crappy little things you sometimes get talked into buying when your version of Nick comes shopping.

VegetablesAlso, I’m lazy and hate doing dishes and our sink is still kind of broken, so this whole thing takes place in a single pot, save for the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix the biscuit topping. One pot, hearty dish, kind of like a hug you eat. And when you’re chopping your vegetables, make sure you cut them so that they look like what they are.

Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes, chopped into half-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped uncooked chicken (I prefer thighs, but chicken breast is okay too)
  • 2 carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, including leaves
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or lima beans!)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder (the regular yellow stuff)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk

Crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, also cold

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a pot that can be used on the stove and in the oven, melt the butter and brown the chicken with the onion and garlic over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, and sauté for a minute or two before adding the carrot and leek. Sauté for another minute or two, until the veggies are brightly coloured and have begun to sweat. Add the celery, and then sprinkle the spices and flour over top. Mix well, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

Aromatic!Add the chicken stock and milk to deglaze, reduce to medium, and allow to simmer while you make the biscuit dough. You want the veggies to simmer and the liquid to reduce slightly and thicken, about five minutes, or until the potatoes can be just pierced with a fork. Stir in the peas. This is the thing I forgot, and I was annoyed, because the peas add a lovely punch of colour to the end result, and also I super love peas.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Blend well, and then cut the butter into the mix. You want to work the butter in with a knife at first, and then with your hands, pinching the butter and the flour in your fingers and squishing flakes back into the bowl. You want this to look a bit like the early stages of pie dough, with chunks of butter, in varying sizes. Gradually stir in the milk, and knead to make a dough.

Flatten and roll out to the approximate diameter of your pot. Mine looks to be ten or so inches in diameter, and the dough ended up being about an inch thick. It doesn’t have to be perfect – go for rustic, it’s much nicer. Nothing like Swanson’s. Press the dough into the pot gently. It doesn’t matter if there are little gaps – holes are a good thing. Keeps the juice from bubbling out all over your oven.

A little leakage? That's okay.Stab a slit into the centre, and place in the middle of your oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Toasty/wonderful.Serve with a green salad, and a cold beer. Everything about this dish is warming, from the actual heat of the thing fresh out of the oven to the hint of curry and thyme, to the steaming biscuit topping that tastes like something your grandma would have served with soup. It’s rich and aromatic, and perfect for a crisp fall evening when you don’t want to do anything but finish a very good book, all huddled up in a blanket.

Like a hug, but you eat it. Would've been better with peas.

Grilled (and then chilled) potato salad, or, “How to Accessorize a Meatfest.”

It’s been oppressive-hot around here, and I have not felt like writing these past few days. We continue to eat, but the act of balancing hot computer on lap has been less than appealing. But then Nick started playing video games for hours on end, so a retreat to the bedroom (to Nick’s non-laptop computer) was in order.

Yesterday was one of those half-naked, stand-by-your-fan kind of days, and though I promised Grace a meatfest, I wasn’t able to deliver it in my apartment. Slow-cooking heats 600 square feet remarkably quickly, and as Canadian Tire was out of big fans, we’re currently operating with just the one. So I made the food, and transported it to Grace’s, who’s apartment was much more temperate.

But one should not make a meal of meat alone. No. I made the ribs that I wrote about before, except that I used pork side ribs this time, and the result was even better. (Also, I noticed that I screwed up typing the recipe for the barbecue sauce, so I’ve now fixed it. Oops. Sorry.) Last week I went to Costco, and confronted by two sets of meat, back ribs and side ribs, side by side, I couldn’t decide what was better. The side ribs worked out well – very meaty. Was pleased. I couldn’t make the full amount, because when I finally got most of these defrosted, the bottom rack was still frozen. Good thing: I don’t have an oven big enough to cook that much meat.

SDC10498Anyway, I decided that we really ought to have a summer salad as well, and maybe something with potatoes – I found some lovely new and purple potatoes at the market that morning. Of course, it was intolerable inside and I certainly did not want to hang out over a pot on the stove, so I decided to grill the potatoes. Every recipe I found for grilled potato salad sounded very good, but it was all for warm potato salad, which was really not appealing. Here is my alternative:

Grilled Potato Salad with Tarragon Aoili

  • 4 cups grilled chopped potatoes
  • 1 cup grilled asparagus, chopped
  • 1 cup grilled green beans, chopped
  • 2 cups whole grape tomatoes
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped

As mentioned, you’ll want your vegetables to be grilled and then chopped. Except for the tomatoes. Keep them fresh and raw for a delightful pop. Once your vegetables come off the grill, allow them to cool for awhile, until you can handle them comfortably. Make sure to parboil your potatoes before grilling: Give them six to eight minutes in boiling water, or until they’re almost done. Fry the bacon. But don’t stand over the stove-top too long.

cooling veggies

Aoili:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil (use good stuff. Or use grapeseed oil. Hell, you could even use canola – it doesn’t matter. Use what you like.)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon

Blend the egg, garlic, mustard, zest, salt, and pepper in a food processor until the garlic has broken down and is in tiny little pieces that you can’t quite see. Slowly pour in the oil (while the blade is in motion). This will produce mayonnaise, which is awesome. Dribble in the lemon juice, and add the tarragon, continuing to process until the herb has been destroyed and thoroughly integrated.

This will make more aioli than is necessary for the salad, but that’s good news. You can use the rest on vegetables, or spread it on sandwiches. Either way, don’t use it all, and don’t throw it out either.

Toss the veggies and bacon with the dressing, as much or as little as you like, and return it to the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Let those flavours sink in!

Serve cold, with meat.

potato saladAnd then we went to Grace’s. And Grace took lovely pictures of the food. She has photography skills.

A plate of ribs in flattering yellow light.
A plate of ribs in flattering yellow light.
Another shot of food in flattering yellow light. Grace has good lighting. I look much better there.
Another shot of food in flattering yellow light. Grace has good lighting. I look much better there.
And now, the eating process in three slides.
And now, the eating process in three slides.
SPEED!
SPEED!
I like how you can see me in the side of this shot, nerding out and taking my own photos of the food. Fail?
I like how you can see me in the side of this shot, nerding out and taking my own photos of the food. Fail?

The result was a delicious feast that I was pleased to have endured a day of heat to make, all things said and done. Grace made margaritas, and we drank wines. And then Grace produced a rhubarb shortcake with whipped cream that was all sorts of revelatory, and I learned that rosemary and rhubarb are a magical pairing that I would like more of. Possibly every day. Holy crap. I wish there was a photo. And with that, I now must figure out how to feed myself while wearing almost nothing and not turning on the stove, as despite the cloud cover, it’s still very warm. Goodbye, for now.

Another meat fest, now featuring potatoes au gratin!

Yesterday, Nick bought a barbecue, which I think means that “we” got a barbecue, so I may be out of luck for a birthday present. I think this decision, which has been long in the works, was largely influenced by a burger on a cooking show we saw on Friday that involved two hamburger patties smooshed together, but not before being stuffed with a handful of cheddar cheese and some chopped bacon. Apparently, an improved version of this will be on the menu tonight, with Nick “doing the cooking,” which mostly means that I’ll assemble and prepare all the food, but Nick will man the fire and flip things and bask in all the praise. I’m hoping that Nick isn’t planning on “doing the cooking” for my birthday next weekend …

Being something of an attention whore, and not content to let Nick take all the glory for the feast, I’m planning some sumptuous sides, in particular Jeffrey Steingarten’s potatoes au gratin dauphinoise, the recipe he detailed in It Must Have Been Something I Ate (required reading). Steingarten attests that a true gratin contains no cheese; these should take on a cheesy taste through the cooking process. And my, they do! I add bacon to mine, because anytime I see a recipe containing half a cup of butter and a cup and a half of cream, I figure it’s probably going to be a contributing factor in my inevitable coronary, so what the hell, right?

I’ve made these in both a glass pan and an enameled cast iron pan, and I liked the cast iron better, which is what Jeffrey Steingarten advises – it makes for a crispier bottom. Butter the pan thoroughly, on all sides.

Potatoes au Gratin Dauphinoise á la Jeffrey Steingarten

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 lbs thinly-sliced potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 slices bacon, chopped (optional)

Using a good dollop of the butter, grease the inside of your pan on all sides. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a pan on your stove, bring the milk, salt, pepper, garlic clove, and nutmeg to a boil. Remove from heat and turn off the element.

Line your pan with potatoes and bacon (if you choose … but I don’t know why you wouldn’t).

Put your pot of milk and spices back on the stove – bring it to a boil once more. When it’s come to a boil, pull the clove of garlic out, and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes.

Bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat, and turn off element.

When the potatoes come out of the oven, bring the cream to a boil once again. Pour the boiled cream over the potatoes, and dot the whole thing on the top with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The last time I made these, they were perfectly crispy on the top and bottom, and delectably creamy on the inside. I figure that eating them caused me to gain eight pounds. Since we’re having these again tonight, with burgers stuffed with cheese and meat, I bet I’ll be adorably chubby by bedtime. Also, am wondering where to buy those pants with the adjustable waistband.