Monday, February 1, 2010

Calorie Extravagance

There are some foods out there that are so decadent, so flavorful, I want to swim in them. Just to taste them is not enough, I want to be surrounded by them. I know that sounds strange, but that is the only way I know how to describe this feeling. You know, something that is warm and gooey, creamy and smooth, so mouthwatering....What luscious dish am I writing of? Potatoes au gratin. Because for me, nothing is better than potatoes and melted cheese. Oh, and beer! I love beer. I would trade sweets for the rest of my life if only I could drink beer sans the beer belly.

Moving on: potatoes au gratin. Everyone has his own recipes and dos and don'ts. Aren't Chefs bossy? I will share this recipe and hope that you find it as sinful as I do. One recipe will serve 4-6 people, but I think after one whiff of this baking, you won't want to share! And while I would love to take credit for it, I cannot, for what follows is a variation of a recipe written by Patricia Wells in her book, Bistro Cooking.

Please do not substitute any other kind of Swiss cheese, it needs to be Gruyere. Also the recipe calls for creme fraiche, but you can use heavy whipping cream instead. Because this is a very rich dish I like to serve it with grilled or roasted asparagus, because it's strong flavor can stand up to the intense cheese. Or if you are a fan of broccoli rabe, saute it in olive oil with garlic red pepper flakes and sweet peas. (The peas help balance the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.) And a steak, perhaps a filet or New York strip, would be the greatest pairing- lamb may be too rich and the delicate flavor of chicken may get lost. But what the hell? I don't know your palate. Do what you want to do, eat what ever you wish, just make sure to enjoy every bite.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take one garlic clove and smoosh it with your thumb along every surface of a gratin pan. As you rub, the clove will break up and I like to scatter them evenly around the pan. Grate 1/2 a pound (about 3 cups) Gruyere cheese and put aside. Spoon creme fraiche in a mixing bowl and stir in enough heavy cream to make the creme fraiche just pourable. Wash and peel 2 pounds of russet potatoes and plop in a bowl of cold water. Using a mandolin slicer (other recipes say you can cut them by hand, yeah, no. You most likely don't have a knife sharp enough and using a mandolin makes slicing the potatoes super fast and efficient. I recommend investing in one) slice each potato into 1/8 inch thick slices. Now you could put them back into your bowl of water, OR you could work quickly and utilize the natural potato starches to thicken your gratin, and place them overlapping in the gratin dish. Sprinkle with a 1/3 of the cheese, pour in 1/3 of the creme fraiche mix and freshly ground pepper. Layer this two more times and pop in the oven. Notice after only a few minutes the aroma filling the air? Cook, uncovered, until a toothpick or cake taster slides in smoothly, about 50-60 minutes. The cheese will be crusty brown on top, and the sides will have cheese grease bubbling up. I know, the first thing you want to do is taste it! But that would be bad because you would burn the roof of your mouth and most of your taste buds. Then you wouldn't be able to enjoy the wickedness of your potatoes au gratin. Let the dish sit for a few minutes for the flavors to intertwine, let the cheese cool and set. When you do finally put that first spoonful in your mouth it will be..... hmmm, I think I will let you finish that sentence.

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