French Fridays with Dorie
Would you just look at these beautiful (but shunned) potatoes? Sometimes potatoes don’t get any respect. If you can believe it, these fantastic potatoes were actually dis-invited from my family’s Thanksgiving celebration! Just like that. How rude! I mean really! To invite potatoes to a dinner (a holiday dinner no less!) and then at the last minute rescind the invitation is almost unforgivable I should think. I’m sure Miss Manners would make short work of the offending hostess. Thankfully, there was just enough time for these potatoes to make other plans. And by other plans, I mean come to my house for dinner last night. ‘Cause, like when you are this good, you will be in high demand, evidently.
My family likes to take turns hosting Thanksgiving. Correction, we actually don‘t like to take turns. Truthfully, most of us really wish that someone else would just do it every year — but since this is not an option — we take turns. Its not that we don’t like to cook. Most of us do. Its just that planning out such a feast takes a lot of time and money and well… most of work and for some reason each year they decide to have Thanksgiving on a Thursday. Tres inconvenient! We all still live somewhat close to each other so it is usually no chore to at least contribute to the celebratory meal. This year it was Mom’s turn to host. She has an amazing kitchen that is fun to cook in so I was quite excited to show up, slice up some potatoes and render this dish au pif. (My new favorite French word!) During the pre dinner run-up discussions I knew that these potatoes were on the docket for the October’s French Friday’s with Dorie. Sooooo…. I offered to bring these to Thanksgiving and kill two birds with one stone. Were it not for this family meal I would have probably skipped this assignment as I’m not sure how I would have otherwise divested myself of 8 servings of calorie abundant potatoes. (Work is always a great place for me to pawn off the baking and sweets but how strange would it be to show up with a dish of potatoes to share in the office lunchroom at 8 in the morning?)
When Thanksgiving was at my house just two years ago I served Ina’s version of this dish. She makes it with fennel and it got rave reviews. Right then and there I decided that fennel was “secret factor” and I would forever after make it that way. Once they took a bite everyone seemed to forget the last 45 years of Mashed Potatoes supporting role at the meal! Surely Dorie’s version would be as good too so I convinced myself to put forth the dish for consideration by the judges. So Mom heard my side dish pitch and she accepted. Potato Gratin was granted an invitation to the ball. Mom also extended an invitation to Cranberry Tart who had been begging to attend — knowing how much I dislike Pumpkin Pie. Then, last night, Mom called to ‘touch base’.
“So I’ve decided that you shouldn’t bring the potatoes after all. We are having stuffing and, well… that is enough carbs. People don’t really want carbs.”
Really? Evidently Ina’s recipe was so good Mom really did forget the 45 years of mashed potatoes and gravy we have had every year since I can remember. “People don’t want carbs”? Seriously? On Thanksgiving? Given that I’m somewhat of a carb watcher every other day of the year I kinda like to think that carbs are what this day is all about. You know, showing our appreciation for them and all that. Showing atonement for not really eating all the carbs we could have during the year, we make up for it on this carb sacred day. I have to admit I was a bit upset but not because she was exercising her fair rights to decide what to serve at her dinner table but because I had already (gasp) invited The Potatoes. How was I going to un-invite them now with only one day left to make new plans? What was I going to tell them? They were so cute sitting at my house sitting pretty, minding their own business, waiting in the baking dish I had selected for the occasion. (And the photograph!)
8 servings of Potatoes can’t be relocated on a whim and my day after Thanksgiving plans were already set in stone. Before The Potatoes could realize the slight I set out to make them for that night’s meal. They really only take minutes to make. As you can tell from the pics below, I decided to split up the dish into two dishes since there were just the two of us and I had no time to invite the usual suspects. (They know who they are.)
Look what Mom missed out on:
This time at the FFwD kitchen I felt liberated. Now that I no longer had to coordinate with the ‘don’t change the menu at Thanksgiving’ sensibilities of anyone, I decided to mix it up a bit with the recipe. Up until now I had been trying to stick fairly close to the recipe as printed without any tweaks. I just tend to like to give a recipe a fair shake before I get all “Top Chef” on it. (I mean, if you have never even tasted a Semolina Cake how the heck are you going to know that just about any tweak you make will make it taste more interesting?) Just about everyone I know has had Potato Gratin one form or another. Many Doristas made it earlier in the month and several of them said it needed some punching up. Some said the final product wasn’t cheesy enough. Now that The Potatoes were liberated from the pressure of being Thanksgiving fodder and also because I had just a little “well we’ll show YOU” attitude I decided to ‘turn up the volume’. I love Gruyere cheese but it can be a bit flat all by itself and it can practically disappear sometimes. So did a couple things I knew from past experience with mac and cheese that would up the cheese factor. First, I added about a 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of dried mustard powder to the cream. Secondly, I sprinkled in about 2 tablespoons of crumbled Gorgonzola (left over from the pumpkin flans) into the mushroom layer. (See photo below.) Just enough Gorg to spike the flavor of the Gruyere that I also put in between layers. (Dorie only calls for this on the top for some reason. ) Liberty!
So where did the other oven-ready dish of potatoes go? Into the freezer to see another day. So after the leftovers are long gone, and after the indignity of being turned away from the tabe is gone, these spuds will will resurrect…and have the last laugh.
(As a footnote to this tale (which was written just before Thanksgiving, I would like to say that potatoes, no matter how grand, are not the stars of the table but are instead supporting players. And as good as these were, they would not have stolen the show which Mom filled with wonderful food as she is no slouch in the kitchen either. The absence of any one dish will have little effect for a feast as abundant as ours is. Turns out Mom did serve potatoes, just not mine. She invited Mashed Potatoes behind my back and, well, if I had brought The Potatoes it would have been just awkward!)