Summer at the Beach and a new Technique

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Summer at the Beach and a new Technique

Try as I might, I did not manage to write a post last week. We had our annual family beach week and though I took my laptop, not much work transpired. But I did cook and bake–cherry pie, soba noodles with a cilantro and ginger dressing, pancakes with raspberry syrup . . . and these fabulous scalloped potatoes!

Scalloped potatoes are kind of an old-school dish I think. My grandmother made them all the time (she topped hers with a layer of little pork, breakfast sausages:) and I grew up making them-sans sausages-with my mother. In fact they were one of the first dishes I made for my family for dinner all by myself when I was about 10. I remember it distinctly because I was in a bit of a black pepper phase. I ground so much pepper on each layer of potatoes that it verged on inedible. My family was gracious about it but that pepper phase lasted a couple of years.

So, I’ve always layered potatoes with whatever herbs, cheese, veggies, or spices I was using at the time. However this last week at the beach, wanting to spend more time  reading in the hammock, I scrapped the layering and just tossed everything in a big bowl, put the mixture in the baking dish, added milk half way up the potatoes and baked it. Voila! Don’t know why this just occurred to me! It was just as delicious as always and much faster–actually better I think because the flavors were more evenly blended. Now I’m going to use this technique for other gratins, using summer squash and I don’t know yet what else, but I’m excited to experiment.

A friend recently lent me Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. It’s a wonderful book of quick meals and what I like most is that his recipes are written in a paragraph or two with no long lists of ingredients and detailed instructions. The subject of recipe writing and how much detail to give warrants a whole post but in short, I would like to think that with some dishes, describing the process with approximate quantities give the cook more freedom and license to use whatever he/she has on hand and to taste and experiment along the way.  Cooking can be very fun this way and in my quest to get people cooking more often, it’s an important part of demystifying the process and getting people to think about what they really like and how they might turn that into dinner every night. It really can be simple, fast, delicious and fun.

Scalloped Potatoes

Scrub and thinly slice (by hand, slicer on a box grater, or food processor) about 2 1/2 – 3  lbs of waxy potatoes (not Russets, all other kinds work well) and put in a large bowl. In a small bowl mix about 1/4 cup of flour, 2 + teaspoons of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and whatever other seasonings you like. I used 2 1/2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Grate some sharp cheddar, gruyere or other cheese of your choice. Finely dice a small onion.

Mix the flour spice mixture with the potato slices and toss well with your hands. Add the grated cheese and onions, toss again. Spread mixture in a 9 x 13 baking dish, pat down a bit with a spatula. Pour milk (or broth/stock of some kind) about half way up the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with a bit more grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork about 45 minutes. Finish under the broiler for a minute or two if the top isn’t well-browned.

Variations include lots of chopped herbs like parsley, marjoram, chives or oregano, diced bacon or slices of sausage, minced garlic, finely chopped greens or peppers, etc.

And on a completely different note, I have to include this photo of the blissful, beach week! Happy cooking and eating and reading everyone!

8 Responses to “Summer at the Beach and a new Technique”

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  1. Laura says:

    Hey Katherine! I came across a quote from Virginia Woolf that I thought you would like –
    ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’ – from A Room of One’s Own
    Looking forward to trying the scalloped potatoes.

  2. Jill says:

    Adorable photo! We missed you guys last week, but I know you were having a wonderful time. I love making scalloped potatoes, thanks for reminding me, and this is a much quicker way than I’ve done it before. I think I can pull that off this week, especially with it being kind of chilly.

  3. Mommy says:

    Very nice, once again. I love reading every one and reading the comments from others, especially Laura, so far away and yet so close.

    Good night,
    M

  4. Carol Boutard says:

    Now, I know what to do with the last of our Spring potatoes. But, tell us more about the soba noodles which sound like a perfect summer dish.

    • I will write something about the sobas. I made it up on the spot and this was the gist of it: whole bunch of cilantro chopped, two cloves of new garlic minced, juice of 1 lime and half a lemon (because that’s what i had), about 2 tsps of minced ginger, a bunch of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch or two of chili flakes. I threw a couple of handfuls of chopped snap peas in with the sobas right before they were done, then drained all, rinsed with cold water and added dressing. i think that was it! Would be good with other veggies/greens/scallions added, I’m sure too.

  5. Mary Lane Stevens says:

    A joy to see Mish Mash bowls and pans and porch in your photos! Tom just dug some of his potatoes, so thanks for tonight’s menu.

  6. Mary says:

    It took me a while, but I finally made the scalloped potatoes, mostly to placate my 15 year old who eats little but starch and cheese anyway. I didn’t have the pimenton, so cooked with what I had 🙂 and used regular paprika. So easy to assemble, and I even got to set the timer on the oven, leave for an appointment, and my daughter did the rest. When I returned home, she had eaten a substantial amount, and said “It’s awesome!” I tasted it and loved it too, especially the cumin and chile flavor. Much better than regular scalloped potatoes, and kid friendly too. Thanks, Katherine!

    • Thanks for the report Mary. And I love that it was received well by
      a teenager–high praise. I’m in NYC for two days and have had some wonderful meals and am coming back with new inspiration.

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