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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Oh so rich Potato Gratin

I made this recipe for our Christmas dinner. It was a huge hit. Well, of course, it was! It's so darn rich you'd have to be crazy not to love it. I pulled this recipe from the New York Times Temporary Vegetarian column. My recipe below is adapted from the NY Times recipe since I found the cooking times in the original total fantasy. Sometimes I wonder if the recipes are tested. This recipe came from a restaurant chef, so I have to assume he did make it. But, I'm thinking something got lost in the translation to a recipe for home cooks.

As with my "slim" potato gratin recipe (see here), a mandoline makes the process of slicing the potatoes much easier. You can slice the potatoes by hand. They will probably come out a bit thicker and less even, but it will still work out ok.

Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin
(serves 10 - 12)

Adapted from DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Manhattan, via the New York Times

1 pound Swiss Chard Leaves And Slender Stems, stems cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes
2 ½ cups Heavy Cream
1 Garlic Clove, smashed
1 small Shallot, sliced
2 Thyme Sprigs
1 Bay Leaf
¼ teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3 pounds (6 to 8 medium) Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled
1 Tablespoon Butter, at room temperature
Salt And Black Pepper
6 ounces Grated Gruyère

1. Heat the oven to 350°F, and place rack in the center. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; set a bowl of ice water on the side. Boil the chard leaves until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Squeeze them dry and chop roughly. Boil the diced stems until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and add to chopped chard leaves.

2. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream, garlic, shallot, thyme and bay leaf to a simmer over medium-low. Watch carefully because cream can boil over quickly. Reduce heat to low and simmer to reduce somewhat, about 30 minutes. Strain out the solids and add the nutmeg.

3. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into ⅛-inch-thick rounds with a mandoline or sharp knife. Butter a 12- to 14-inch gratin dish or dutch oven. Make sure that it is at least 4" high. Start with a layer of one-third of the potatoes, overlapping the slices. Sprinkle potatoes with salt and pepper. Add half the Swiss chard,  and one-third of the Gruyère cheese. Dribble on one-third of the cream mixture. Layer on another third of the potatoes, salt and pepper, the other half of Swiss chard, and another third of the cream and Gruyère. Finish up with the rest of the potatoes, salt and pepper, the remaining cream, and the rest of the cheese.

4. Bake until the top is browned and the potatoes are fork-tender, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eating my way through New Orleans

Mid-Afternoon Beignet at Cafe du Monde

Frankly, we didn't get very far, eating our way through New Orleans. First off, we only had 4 days there and second, there is way, way too much great food to get through, even if you had months.

Full disclosure: I absolutely loved New Orleans. We had never been there before and I had heard many things about it, good and bad. Forget the bad. It's good. No, it's great. If you haven't been there, go. If you were there before Katrina, go back. I don't know if it's as good as before (certainly for many of the residents, it isn't, since some neighborhoods still haven't come back) but for tourists it's a blast. There is food, there is art, there is culture. And there are the people, who are just wonderful. Obviously, they are resilient. The owners of the B&B we stayed in moved back to the city about 5 weeks after Katrina. They had unreliable electricity for months. They had no potable tap water for 5 months! But, back they came and rebuilt their beautiful B&B in an historic neighborhood, the Faubourg Marigny, downriver from the French Quarter. (It's the Royal Street Courtyard. It's charming, lovely and a bargain.) New Orleans needs tourists. Help them continue to rebuild by going to visit them. You won't regret it.

On to the food. Because, one of the best reasons to go to New Orleans is the food. It's unique - lots of Creole (a combination of Spanish, African, French and American influences), as well as German, Cajun, French, American, well, most anything. New Orleans has always been a city of immigrants and it shows in its dining scene. We saw very few fast food chains in the city. These folks know good food and they have enough local fast food (can you say "po' boy?") that they don't want lousy hamburgers. Good for them! Here in no particular order are my favorite dishes.

Mussels in white wine at Adolpho's on Frenchman Street. Some of the meatiest, sweetest mussels I've ever had. Tons of garlic. Absolutely delicious. Adolpho's is Creole-Italian. Italian figures big in the Creole cuisine, but it's not really Italian. It's thoroughly New Orleans.

One of the best snacks in the world

Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. If you don't go to Cafe du Monde for this, you have missed one of the grand New Orleans traditions. Yes, tons of tourists there but who cares? The beignets are perfectly fresh, generously dusted with powdered sugar. Well, dusted isn't quite the right word. Buried, actually. The cafe au lait is excellent too. You have no excuse to miss Cafe du Monde; it's open 24 hours a day.

Praline bacon (with grits), callas, boudin balls

Praline bacon, callas, and boudin balls at Elizabeth's in the Bywater. The Bywater is the next residential neighborhood downriver from the Faubourg Marigny. Not a place you happen upon unless you went looking for it. But, you should look for it. Praline bacon is their signature dish - thick cut meaty bacon with a crust of brown sugar and pecans. The perfect combination of salty sweet piggy goodness. Callas are an old New Orleans recipe. They are sweet rice fritters and you rarely see them on menus anymore. They are spiked with a good dose of lemon juice, I believe, giving them a unique tang. Unusual and delicious. Boudin balls are deep fried sausage balls, served with a creole mustard sauce. Again, delicious! Just skip the biscuits.

Corn and sweet pepper fritters at Mat & Naddie's in Uptown. Actually, a lot of what we had at Mat & Naddie's was fantastic. We had a 4 course Reveillon dinner here. Reveillon is a December New Orleans tradition. Originally, it was the big feast after fasting at Christmas. Now, it's a bunch of New Orleans restaurants offering multi-course dinners for very reasonable prices during the month of December. So, December is a good month to visit New Orleans if you are a foodie. The corn fritters were light and crispy, like little crunchy clouds filled with sweet corn. These people know their fried foods! We also had incredible shrimp risotto, smoked quail on manchego waffles and eggnog creme brulee. They have an excellent wine list filled with unusual selections too.

Aren't they pretty!

Chocolates at Sucre on Magazine St. Not only are they stunningly beautiful, they are delicious. I bought a collection of them for my dear chocolate-loving friend Ronnie and she assures me that they were all wonderful. I bought some for myself and I agree! Sucre is a lovely sweet shop, on a funky section of Magazine St. Magazine is the prime shopping district, full of galleries, restaurants and shops.

There was so much we didn't get to try, like muffeletas, raw oysters, bbq shrimp and po' boys. So, we need to go back. There is always more good stuff to discover and eat in New Orleans.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Impressive Raspberry Trifle

Here's an impressive holiday dessert, a Raspberry-White Chocolate-Almond Trifle. I pulled this recipe off of a few years back and I've made it twice to rave reviews. It's not often I make a recipe more than once. It has to be knock-out good. And this recipe qualifies.

This is not a difficult recipe but it does have a number of steps and components. Don't be intimidated! Give yourself enough time to get all the pieces done, put it together and let it chill until you need to serve. Everyone will be impressed.

Crisp ladyfingers are found in some supermarkets in the cookie section or in Italian groceries. They are the same ladyfingers used in tiramisu. Typically, they come in 7 oz packages with 24 cookies in each.

A tip on washing and drying raspberries -  put them in a colander and spray them with cold water. Then shake them gently. Finally, place berries on a clean kitchen towel, hollow side down so any water inside the berries drains out. Fresh raspberries are delicate little things and this is the best way to clean them without banging them up. And since these berries are garnish, you want them to look pretty.

The order of assembly is important here. If you put the hot melted jam on top of the whipped cream, it will deflate the cream, so follow the order in the recipe to keep the cream light and fluffy.

Full disclosure on this recipe: the second time I made this recipe, I grabbed the vanilla extract instead of the almond extract. Still tasted great! So, if you only have vanilla and don't want to spring for a bottle of almond, go for it. It will be just fine.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Almond Trifle
(serves 16-20)
Adapted from

Requires 5 hours of chilling after assembly and can be made up to 24 hours before serving

3 ½ cups Chilled Heavy Whipping Cream, divided
12 ounces High-Quality White Chocolate (Such As Lindt Or Perugina), chopped
1 ¼ teaspoon Almond Extract, divided
½ cup Sugar
½ cup Water
7 ounces Boudoirs Or Champagne Biscuits (Crisp Ladyfinger Cookies)
1 cup Raspberry Jam, melted
2 12-ounce Packages Frozen Unsweetened Raspberries, partially thawed
2 6-ounce Containers Fresh Raspberries, washed and dried
¾ cup Sliced Almonds, toasted

Bring 1 cup cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add white chocolate; whisk until smooth, which will take a couple of minutes. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 10 minutes. You don't want to add hot chocolate to the cream because it will deflate the whipped cream.

Beat 2 1/2 cups cream and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a large bowl to soft peaks. Fold in white chocolate mixture.

Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts. Mix in 3/4 teaspoon almond extract; remove syrup from heat. Quickly submerge 1 biscuit in syrup; shake excess back into pan (I found that the ladyfingers acted like a sponge so there wasn't anything to shake off). Place dipped biscuit in bottom of 14-cup trifle dish. Repeat with enough biscuits to cover bottom of dish (should be 8 ladyfingers).

Spread 1/3 of melted jam over biscuits in dish. Top with 1/3 of partially thawed berries with juices. Spread 1/3 of whipped chocolate cream over berries. Repeat layering with dipped biscuits, melted jam, partially thawed berries, and whipped chocolate cream 2 more times. Mound fresh berries in center of trifle. Sprinkle almonds around edge.

Cover and refrigerate at least 5 hours.

Link to PDF of Raspberry, White Chocolate and Almond Trifle