New Location

You can find all the old content and new stuff too at

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Simple Potato Gratin

Potatoes are yummy. I love them in all their infinite preparations. Potato chips are one of the few dangerous foods in my life. This potato gratin is still quite delicious but not nearly as dangerous as potato chips. Since it uses no cream and little cheese, you can eat a bit of it without feeling guilty.

The potatoes can be sliced with a knife if your knife skills are good. A mandoline makes it a bit easier and you can slice the potatoes much thinner than if you use a knife (unless your knife skills are exceptional).

This is a simple technique but it is widely adaptable. I don't use cream in the base recipe, but if you want something richer, cream works just fine. Better than fine, actually, but I don't routinely cook with cream.

You slice the potatoes thinly and layer them with seasonings in a large gratin pan or a quiche pan. You add some liquid so the potatoes stay moist while they bake. At the end, you add a little cheese and brown up the top. Takes a bit of time to bake but it's very easy. And the results are quite delicious.

Simple Potato Gratin
(serves 6)

5-6 medium russet potatoes, sliced thinly (see notes)
1/2 tablespoon fresh herbs or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs (see notes)
butter or olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups stock or cream
1 ounce finely grated hard cheese such as parmesan or romano
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Liberally grease the gratin pan with olive oil or butter.
3. Put a single layer of potatoes in the pan, overlapping somewhat.
4. Sprinkle on herbs, salt and pepper. Drizzle on some olive oil or dot with butter.
5. Use the remaining potatoes to add another layer. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper.
6. Add liquid. It should not quite cover the potatoes.
7. Cover the gratin pan with foil and bake for 1 hour. The potatoes should be quite tender.
8. Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
9. Sprinkle the gratin with cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.
10. Remove from oven, recover with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes. It will be extremely hot so you want to let it cool and set up before serving.
11. Sprinkle on parsley, if using, and serve.

Notes: You want to use russet (aka Idaho potatoes) here because the starch binds the gratin together. Waxy potatoes, such as red or Yukon golds, don't contain enough starch.

You can use fresh or dried thyme, tarragon (particularly good if you are cooking the potatoes in cream) or parsley. If using rosemary, only use fresh. Dried rosemary is too tough.

Link to PDF of Simple Potato Gratin Recipe

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Phyllo Apple Pockets

A lot of folks are afraid of phyllo, that tissue-thin dough from Greece. It is true that phyllo can be tricky but once you know what you are doing, and get used to working quickly, it's not very hard. You need to follow some simple rules when dealing with phyllo.

Most phyllo is sold frozen. It needs to defrost slowly, in your refrigerator. Give it at least 24 hours. Don't unwrap it or unroll it until it is thoroughly thawed. It will just crack up into a million little shards. Even if you follow these instructions, it might stick together or crack. I have found that certain brands are more reliable than others. One market may treat it with more respect than another. These are, unfortunately, things you learn the hard way.

When you are ready to use your phyllo, unwrap it and unroll it. Lay it out flat and keep it covered with plastic wrap. This is extremely important. Phyllo dries out in a New York minute. I work with it in the semi-arid climate of Colorado. If I can keep it pliable here, you can do it anywhere. As you pull a sheet off the pile, cover it again. It shouldn't be uncovered for more than a few seconds.

Brush the phyllo immediately with melted butter. You can use olive oil (often used in savory preparations), even non-stick cooking spray instead. This will keep the phyllo pliable so you can fold it, roll it up, or squish it into a muffin cup (as is done in the recipe below). You don't have to drench it in fat. It will be crispier if you go light on the butter or oil.

Here's a tasty dessert that uses phyllo dough. It doesn't use much, which is nice because sometimes you have a quarter of a pound left over. It's quick and easy, once you get the hang of that phyllo dough. It's been Pamela-tested. She loves it.

Phyllo Apple Pockets
(makes 6)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray
6 large sheets phyllo dough
6 tablespoons natural applesauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add apples, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high heat until most of the lemon juice has evaporated. Remove from heat and add cinnamon and salt.
3. Lay a sheet of phyllo down on a cutting board. Brush it with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Fold the sheet over and then fold it over again. You want to end with a square that is approximately 6"x6". Since the size of phyllo sheets is variable, you are going to have to use your judgement on the best way to fold it.
4. Take the phyllo square and place it in a large muffin cup or a large ramekin.
5. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets.
6. Put 1 tablespoon of applesauce in each cup. Add about 1/3 cup apple mixture on top of applesauce.
7. Fold over edges of phyllo to cover apples. Brush with butter or spray with cooking spray.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until phyllo is golden brown. Serve warm or hot (though Pamela says they taste just fine cold).

Note: Leftover pockets can be refrigerated. Reheat for 10 minutes in a 350℉ oven before serving.

Link to PDF of Phyllo Apple Pockets Recipe

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grating Ginger and a Ginger-Spiced Cucumber Salad

If you cook a lot of Asian food, you grate or mince a lot of ginger. Ginger comes in big "hands" and it's rare to find young ginger. It can be rather stringy stuff. If you mince it with knife, it takes some work to mince it fine. A microplane works well, but the strings clog up the little holes of the microplane.

I had some ginger in the freezer - a tip I had gotten from Food Network. I needed to grate said ginger for a cucumber-ginger salad. I discovered that freezing the ginger helps in the grating quite a bit. It's convenient as well. You usually end up buying more than you need and it often sits in your fridge, shriveling up or getting moldy, until you have to throw it out.

If you buy a big chunk of ginger, peel it, pop it in a plastic bag and throw it in the freezer. When you need some, no need to thaw it. Take it out and grate it on your fine microplane. You'll end up with a pile of fluffy grated ginger and it will thaw almost instantly.

Most serious home cooks have a microplane by now. If you are a serious cook and you don't have one, you need one. You probably need a few of them. It's a small investment for the best kitchen tool to come around in a long time. The microplane is based on a woodworking rasp. It is unbelievably effective at grating anything - ginger, chocolate, parmesan cheese. It is the best tool for zesting citrus; nothing else even comes close to removing the zest while leaving the pith. Microplanes come in a number of sizes. I have a fine one that I use for zesting citrus or grating ginger. I have a medium microplane that I use for grating parmesan cheese. There are bigger holed microplanes that are good for shredding cheese. I haven't invested in one of these, but it will be my next microplane purchase.

Here's the ginger-cucumber recipe I made and it packs quite a ginger punch. It's adapted from one I pulled off a recipe site. With my adaptations, it reminds me of a Thai salad - it combines sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. It's very easy and quite refreshing. It is much, much better if it chills overnight. It mellows the ginger quite a bit and the cucumbers are more like pickles.

Ginger-Spiced Cucumbers
(serves 4)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon Japanese 7 spice (Shichimi Togarashi)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Combine vinegar, brown sugar, mirin, lime juice and ginger in a bowl.
2. Mix in cucumbers and onions. Toss to combine.
3. Cover and chill at least overnight before serving.
4. Drain before serving. 
5. Sprinkle with 7 spice and salt.

Note: Mirin is a Japanese rice wine. It can be found at Asian markets and natural food stores. Japanese 7 spice (Shichimi Togarashi) is a spicy blend used for seasoning and can be found at Asian markets. A pinch of cayenne can be substituted but it lacks the complexity.

Link to PDF of Ginger-Spiced Cucumber Recipe