Out Of The Archives:
Butternut Squash And Potato Gratin

Butternut and Potato Gratin from my kitchen.

Butternut Squash et Pomme de Terre Gratin from my kitchen.

Creamy, cheesy, saucy, gratin. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of vegetables you put into it, it comes out of the oven tasting like a heavy dream.

Gratin is pronounced grah-tanh, although that’s not quite the right way to write the pronunciation, as you don’t really pronounce the letter n.

A gratin is a kind of casserole made from sliced vegetables, usually root vegetables like potatoes and onions, or sqaush. But gratins can be made from any vegetables that go well with an Emmentaler or Gruyere cream sauce.

Butternut Squash et Pomme de Terre Gratin

The size of your gratin will be dictated by the amount of vegetables you have on hand. The gratin in the photo above was only two small servings, made in a small Pyrex bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Butternut squash
Equal amount of potatoes – Yukon Golds will work well for this because they are sturdy and won’t fall apart

Emmentaler and/or Gruyere cheese, shredded, enough to cover the casserole dish + 1/4 cup for the sauce.
1 cup or 1-1/2 cups of milk
1 – 2 tablesppons of flour
2 tablespoons of butter
ground pepper
dried basil
dried thyme

To prepare the squash in advance:
Bake the butternut squash in the oven at 350 degrees, just until a fork will go through it and the skin will peel off. You can do this up to a day ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Putting the gratin together:
Peel the butternut squash.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into uniform slices about 1/8 of an inch thick.
Peel the potatoes.
Slice the potatoes evenly, about an 1/8 of an inch thick, so they are the same width/size as the squash slices.
Have a buttered oven-proof casserole dish at the ready.
Layer one layer of squash, then one layer of potatoes, then repeat until all the vegetables are layered in the dish.

Making Sauce:
You need a whisk to make this sauce.
Have the milk in a measuring cup or pitcher, sitting ready next to the stove.

In a sauce pan or saucier, on a very low flame, make a roux out of the butter and flour by first melting a couple of tablespoons of butter with ground pepper, a pinch of dried basil and a pinch of thyme.
Add the 1 – 2 tablespoons of flour to the melted butter.
With the whisk, thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and let it cook until almost turning golden.
Be careful to keep an eye on it so as not to burn the pan.
Continue whisking and slowly pour a little of the milk slowly into the pan while whisking.
The flour will absorb the milk immediately, but keep whisking and keep slowly pouring in the milk.
Eventually the sauce will be thinned out.
Slowly simmer the sauce, while whisking continually.
Add a little – about a 1/4 cup – shredded Emmentaler and/or Gruyere to the sauce.
Whisk some more until the cheese melts.
The sauce will start to thicken.
Take the sauce off of the flame.

Back to the Casserole:
Cover the top of the squash and potatoes with shredded Emmentaler or Gruyere cheese.
Pour the sauce over the potatoes and squash.

Put in the oven uncovered for about 1/2 an hour or 45 minutes.
Gratin is done when the sauce is bubbling and the top is a golden brown.

Et voila!

Bon Appetit!

Out Of The Archives:
Sauté d’Oignon


One of the travel tips that experienced travelers to France will always tell to anyone who will listen is that you gotta try the food – whatever food is put in front of you.

Prior to my first trip to France, I would not have thought of a plate of fried onions as an enlightened side dish to a meal. In American culture, onions get chopped up and go into things. They taste horrid on their own, at least I used to think so, and create awful heartburn when eaten raw (OK, that might be just me) but they are lovely in stews and soups and as a diced-up garnish on a hot dog. The first time I was served fried onions on a plate, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Should I leave them like I leave the orange slices on my breakfast plate? But I looked around and the folks with whom I happened to be eating this meal were eating them up with gusto, so I got up my nerve and put a small forkful of them into my mouth.

What a divine revelation!

Such a simple thing, to saute onions in a pan with a little butter, or olive oil, and a pinch of sugar. It was a door opening … and I ended up eating them with gusto that day too!

The onions pictured above were made this way:

I didn’t quite carmelize the onions in the above photo, I did leave them just on the edge between crunchy and fully cooked.

Slice a yellow onion in half and then slice the halves into thin slices, so that they end up being cut into long strips.

Heat a saute pan or skillet with a little butter, or olive oil, whatever you have on hand.

Add some dried basil, dried thyme, and ground black pepper to the oil.

The saute usually happens over a hot stove, but it really depends on the pan you use as to how high the flame should be. You do want to have a very hot pan.

When the oil is hot, add the onions.

Stir the onions so that they are coated with the oil and the herbs.

Stir the onions every so often so they don’t burn. But don’t stir them constantly or they won’t cook.

When the onions are starting to clear, add a little bit of balsamico, balsamic vinegar.

Continue to saute until the onions are clear and starting to brown.

Serve up on a plate with a hunk of baguette smeared with butter!

Bon Apetite!

Out Of The Archives:
Quiche aux Epinards avec Champignons et Oignons

Spinach Mushroom Quiche with a little Mixed Greens.
Spinach Mushroom Onion Quiche, with a little Mixed Greens with Vinaigrette.

Nothing defines classic French food like quiche. Originating from the Lorraine region of France, the quiche of today includes much more than ham and can be eaten at any time of the day as a meal or as a snack.

Quiche can be made from almost anything that pairs well with eggs and cheese and while there may be many parts to the process of making a quiche, it is relatively easy to throw one together. Making quiche a part of my culinary repertoire has also taught me that the process of French cooking and baking is much more forgiving than the French would have me believe.

Quiche aux Epinards avec Champignons et Oignons

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bunch of spinach, de-stemmed. I used about 1/2 a bunch in the quiche in the above photo.
Handful of mushrooms
1/4 +- of a large onion
Ementhaler cheese, shredded
4+ eggs
milk or cream
ground black pepper
dried basil
dried thyme
freshly ground nutmeg

Make a Pie Crust:
1 cup of pastry flour
A pinch of salt
1/2 a stick of soft butter
A squirt of lemon – if you have it
About 1/4 cup of chilled filtered water.

Directions for making pie crust:
In a large bowl put the flour and salt.
Add the 1/2 stick of butter.
Take two butter knives, one in each hand, using them like scissors, cut the butter into the flour.
Or use a pastry cutter.
Cut the butter down to peas size bits.
Add a squirt of lemon.
Cut the pastry some more.
Add chilled filtered water by the tablespoonful – usually ends up being about 3 or 4 tablespoons.
Keep cutting the flour until the water is absorbed.
Start mixing with your hands.
Squish the butter and mix the pastry until all of the flour is absorbed and you can form a ball.

Take the ball of pastry and either roll it out to fit into the pie pan, or flatten the ball with your hands and press the pastry into the pie pan, starting at the center and working in a concentric circle outwards.

Chill in the refrigerator until the rest of the ingredients are ready.

Make the filling:
This quiche has spinach, mushroom, and onion.
Chop all three vegetables into small bits.
In a saute pan or skillet dribble some olive oil.
Add some fresh ground pepper, dried basil, and dried thyme.
When the oil is hot, add the onions.
Saute the onions until almost clear.
Add the chopped mushrooms and spinach.
Saute until the vegetables sweat and the sweat is cooked off.
Remove from flame.

Make the egg mixture:
Number of eggs used depends on the size of the pie pan, the one used in the photo above was 8-inch.
In a bowl crack 4 eggs.
Add some milk or cream.
Whip with a whisk or an egg beater.
Add some ground black pepper.
Add some freshly ground nutmeg.
Whisk until thoroughly scrambled.

Putting it all together:
Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator.
Layer some shredded Ementhaler on the bottom of the pie crust.
On top of that add the spinach/mushroom/onion mixture.
Pour the egg mixture over the spinach.
Add some more shredded Ementhaler to not quite cover the top of the quiche.

Put into a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes longer.
Keep an eye on it.
If it’s baking too fast and starting to brown too fast on top, turn the oven down to 325.
The quiche is done when you stick it in the middle with a knife and it comes out clean.

Spinach QUiche from my kitchen.
Spinach QUiche from my kitchen.

Let cool a little bit before eating. You can eat this dish hot, warm or cold, at any time of day!

Et Voila!

Bon Appetit!

Out Of The Archives:
Classic Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream from my kitchen.
A classic warm Tarte Tatin made in my kitchen and served with Vanilla Ice Cream.

I haven’t made a Tarte Tatin in ages. Even though making a Tarte Tatin was the whole reason why I bought the 8-inch All-Clad Master Chef Fry Pan on sale, which, by the way, is the perfect size and shape for this tres riche dessert.

This decadent dessert was actually created out of a mistake. The story goes, that Stéphanie Tatin – one of two sisters who owned and operated the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron south of Paris – left a pan of apples simmering in butter and sugar too long on the stove while she was busy multitasking in the kitchen. In an attempt to save her dessert, she threw the pie crust onto the top of the apples and put the whole pan into the oven to cook the crust. And that was how a Tarte Tatin was born.

The name of this dish always confused me for some reason. Tarte is French for pie. Tatin is the name of the person who first made it. Tartine is an open faced sandwich, which doesn’t have anything to do with this dish, but is part of my lingual confusion.

It’s not until I first made this dish that I realized how overloaded with fat and sugar it is. Making one really puts the calories into perspective and I no longer eat large pieces of this dessert!

Tarte Tatin

Apples cooking for a Tarte Tatin.
Apples simmering in butter and sugar on the stove.

You will need to simmer the apples in an oven proof pan, like a cast iron skillet, or a chef’s pan, one in which the handle can go in the oven.

4 crisp apples, like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji. You don’t want apples like Macintosh that will cook down to sauce. The apples you use for this dish have to be able to stand the heat.
1/2 of a stick of butter
1/2 of a cup of sugar.

Pie Crust:
1 cup of pastry flour
1/2 stick of butter
pinch of salt
dash of lemon juice
4+ tablespoons of ice water

To begin:
Peel and quarter the apples.
Melt the butter over a medium heat on the stove.
Mix the butter and the sugar together.
If it thickens, spread evenly over the bottom of the pan.
Arrange the apple quarters into a circle around the pan, fill the middle of the circle with apple too.
Turn the heat up. Your pan will dictate how high the flame should be, my pan is medium high, a cast iron pan would probably be high.
Let the apples simmer in the butter and sugar until the mixture carmelizes – starts turning brown.
When the butter and sugar have carmelized, you will remove the pan from the burner/flame but before that happens, you should have enough time to make the pie crust below.

Making the crust:
While the apples are simmering – or before you start the apple process – make a pie crust by mixing the above pie crust ingredients together.
Make this in a place where you can keep an eye on the apples simmering.
At first, cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or by cutting the flour with two butter knives, one in each hand, striking back and forth.
Once the butter has been cut down to pea size then add the liquids (water and lemon juice) and spread those through the flour.
Then get in there with your hands and mix up the pastry dough.
You want to be careful to make sure that all the flour is absorbed, but not wet, and that you don’t overwork the dough.
If the dough is too wet, add more flour to it.
If you’ve made the crust ahead of time, just set it aside for when you are ready to do the following:

Form the dough into a flat disc at least 8 inches wide – as wide as your pan – or a little larger.
You can do this either by rolling, or just pressing the crust with your hands into a large disc shape.
I happen to like the rustic look of an uneven, hand-formed, crust.
If the crust is larger than the pan, the edges can, and should be, be tucked into the sides, so don’t worry about having too much pie crust dough.

Just as the Tarte Tatin came out of the oven.
Just as the Tarte Tatin came out of the oven.

Putting It Together And Baking:
When the butter and sugar have carmelized, remove the pan from the burner/flame, if you haven’t already.
Carefully place the crust over the top of the pan, being careful to either tuck the extra crust into the sides of the pan without burning yourself, or folding it back over itself so that it just meets the edge of the pan.
Put the whole pan into a 350 degree oven for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the crust has turned golden.
Remove from the oven.
Let sit until the tarte has cooled a bit.
Take a plate – one that the tarte will generously fit on – and place it over the crust.
Being VERY CAREFUL because it’s hot, flip the plate and the pan together, so that the tarte ends up on the plate, crust side down, apples up.

Serve warm with crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream, or vanilla frozen yogurt.

Note: When I flipped the tarte that I had made in the photographs above, I had a Julia Child moment where the apples slid off of the crust. No matter. I slid them back on as best I could. The tarte itself wasn’t as pretty as it could have been, but it tasted divine.

Et voila!

Bon Appetit!

Out Of The Archives:
Potage Parmentier


Why Parmentier?
A few potato dishes in France are named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 – 1813) who is known as the promoter of using potatoes for something more than feeding the barnyard animals. Parmentier was a prisoner in Prussia during the Seven Years War and upon his return home to France in 1763 he could see that the French people were starving. In the 16th century it was a law in France that potatoes would not be used for human consumption as it was believed, mistakenly, that they caused leprosy and other diseases. But in the Prussian prison where Parmentier lived, they survived on potatoes, so on his return he set out to change the mindset, and the law, of the French people into accepting this tuber as the survival food that it is.

Potato and Leek Soup is a French staple and forms the base for a number of other recipes. It can be made hearty and thick, or thinned with cream or chicken stock. Serve it up with a warm crusty baguette smeared with butter for a filling meal in and of itself.

4-5 medium sized Russet Potatoes
1 Leek
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Salt to taste
Dried Basil
Dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Clove Garlic
Butter, or, Butter and Olive Oil
Filtered Water
Milk – The kind of milk is up to you.

Optional Ingredients:
Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh Chives

Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes.
Chop the clove of garlic.

Get out your soup pot. A 3-quart pot would be big enough for this recipe.
Set the fire to low.
Add the butter.
As the butter melts, add the salt, black pepper, basil, and dried thyme.
Once the butter is melted, add the chopped potatoes.
Stir to cover the potatoes with the melted butter and herbs.
Saute for a few minutes.
Add the chopped garlic.
Add the bay leaf.
If the potatoes start to stick to the pan, add a little water and stir.
Then cover the potatoes with filtered water and simmer.

Simmer the potatoes for about 45 minutes.

Take the leek and slice down the middle, then turn it halfway and slice it down the middle again. Then slice the leek into thin slices.
Put it in a colander or a strainer and rinse well to get out the dirt.
Get out a saucepan.
Set another fire on the stove to low.
Add some butter.
Saute the leeks until they are tender.
Add spoonfuls of broth from the soup when needed to keep the leeks from burning.

When the leeks are limp, add them to the potatoes.
Simmer for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Add some milk/cream.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree half the soup.

Ladle this hearty and thick soup up into bowls, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and some chopped chives.

Bon Appetit!

Note About Potatoes:
There is a reason why a soup would call for a Russet potato rather than just any potato. Russets are starchy and will fall apart when they are cooked – especially when they are over cooked in a soup. This does two things – it spreads the potato flavor through out the soup, and it also serves as a natural thickener. By using Russet potato and cream in this soup, you can bypass making a roux.

Find more information on Antoine-Augustin Parmentier on Wikipedia.