Morbiflette (French Mountain Potato Gratin)

A couple of years ago, on a trip to France, we ended up poking around a Christmas market in Dijon. It was lunchtime and we were staring at a giant skillet (a poêle, linguistically related to paella) with potatoes and onions and bacon and cheese, all being stirred by strapping French country men. It was love at first sight. Chunks of Morbier cheese with its signature dark vein running through the center were on display, being tossed in as the cooks saw fit. We got a portion and split it. That was dumb; should’ve each gotten our own. After cross referencing multiple recipes, we FINALLY hit on a good reproduction.

The method is based on that of tartiflette, a potato dish developed in the 80s to promote Reblochon cheese. Reblochon is a much softer, brie-like cheese, as opposed Morbier, which you can slice. The firmer texture of Morbier is why I’ve upped the crème fraîche; runnier Reblochon made for a creamier finished product.

A note: you guys, it is SO EASY to mess up a gratin. Believe it or not, a pile of cheese and starch will be sad and bland if you don’t do the detail work. Think “eh, I don’t need to boil the potatoes, they’re going in the oven,” or “ew, I don’t want to cook the onions in bacon grease! I’ll use olive oil instead,” and you will ruin all your hard work. The potatoes need to be boiled in salted water or they’ll be gummy and bland. The onions need the bacon grease because of the smoky saltiness it imparts. The salt levels need to be checked and adjusted throughout the process to keep the flavors balanced. If you’re worried about this not being healthy, make something else. Cutting corners on this dish will render it inedible. A salad with a tart vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.

1 k or 2.2 lbs large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into halves or thirds
2/3 t salt
200 g or 1/2 lb bacon
2 large onions, sliced into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
100 mL or 1/2 c white wine (we forgot this, so we drank it with)
1/2 t dried thyme
75 g or 1/3 c crème fraîche
3 T heavy cream (forgot this too, but the texture would benefit)
300 g or 2/3 lb Morbier cheese, rind trimmed and sliced thickly (1/2 cm or 1/4 in)

In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, stir and lower heat to a steady simmer. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Do not rinse potatoes!

Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set on paper-towel lined plate to cool. Turn heat down to medium and add onions to the skillet to cook in the bacon drippings (if there are a lot of drippings, remove all but 2 T and set aside to add in case pan starts to look dry). Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed (onions shouldn’t taste salty, just very oniony) and chopped garlic for last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Remove onions to deep bowl.

Preheat oven to 220° C or 425° F. Lightly but thoroughly butter a medium to medium-large baking dish (several individual deep crocks would also be great for a crowd). Chop cooled bacon into bits and add to onions. Add thyme, crème fraîche and cream to onion mixture and stir until well distributed. Slice cooled potatoes into generous 1/2 cm or 1/4 in pieces.

Layer half of potatoes on bottom of buttered dish, using broken bits to fill in gaps. Top with half of onion mixture, spread evenly. Top onions with half of Morbier slices (try to leave small margin around sides of pan). Repeat sequence until all ingredients used up.

Put pan in oven and lower heat to 200° C or 400° F. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Pumpkin Purée

Time for the yearly pumpkin explosion! We finally depleted our stock of the orange stuff that had been lingering in the freezer for the past two years. While processing the new batch, I realized that I’d linked to a thing that I kind of no longer use. See, I’ve processed enough pumpkins now that I have my own way of doing it. Give it a shot! If it works for you, great; if not, fire up the Google. There are a plethora of other methods that might be better for the kind of cook you are.

You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan), at least one small, firm pie pumpkin or hokkaido pumpkin (try to get one that is smaller than your knife), a food processor with a feed tube and 1 cup of cold water and maybe a pair of rubber gloves (pumpkin leaves a grody film on your hands, sometimes even after washing). Preheat your oven to 350° F/175° C.

  1. Cut up your pumpkin. Start by slicing off the stem end so that you have a nice, flat plane. Set the pumpkin on the cut side so that it is stable, then slice down, halving it longitudinally. Next, halve the halves longitudinally again, then halve the quarters latitudinally. You should have 8 triangular wedges. Gently scrape out the seeds, strings and spongy tissue with a large spoon and set aside. You can clean, season and roast the seeds if that’s your jam.

  2. Arrange the pumpkin wedges skin side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45-90 minutes. Depending on how thick the flesh is, you might need the whole time. The cut edges might brown or blacken a little – this is totally fine. After 45 minutes, check doneness by inserting a thin knife into the flesh – if it slides in easily, it’s done. If you get any resistance, let them go longer and test in 10-15 minute increments. When they’re done, remove from oven and allow to cool completely, at least 1-2 hours.

  3. Fit your food processor with the blade attachment. With a large spoon, scrape the pumpkin flesh into the bowl of the processor and discard the skin. You may need to do this in batches – a good guideline regardless of size is to fill your bowl to a little over half (maximum) with flesh. Attach the lid and turn the processor on to medium-low. If there’s enough moisture in the pumpkin, it should slowly purée into a uniform texture, moving around the bowl with no help. If it’s too dry and seizes up, add water a tablespoon at a time to loosen the pumpkin and (only while turned off!) reposition the chunks with your spatula to get it move into the blade. Once with a particularly dry pumpkin, I had to add a full cup of water to get it to smooth out. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure it’s uniform, then portion into airtight containers. Purée will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (it molds quickly) and in the freezer indefinitely (the smart thing to say is 6 months, but we ate two-year old pumpkin last month and it was perfect).

Bok Choy Lime Stir Fry

For New Year’s Eve, we got together with some friends and had Raclette and homemade Feuerzangenbowle. This was delicious, but my digestion was still mad at me due to the 12-hour flight home from Singapore I’d subjected it to the day before. We needed something a little less indulgent, but it still needed to taste good. Cliff was craving bok choy, but neither of us wanted meat, so this was our vegan version of our other bok choy adventure. It was exquisite and didn’t even taste virtuous.

2 T sesame oil
2 bunches green onions, white and light greens sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 in/5 cm ginger, minced
6 heads baby bok choy, cleaned and chopped
pinch salt
1/2 t ground white pepper
1 T hoisin sauce
1/4 c Shao Xing wine
1 T dark soy sauce
2 T light soy sauce
juice of two limes
steamed brown rice

Heat 1 T oil in wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger and stir frequently until starting to get tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add rest of oil and bok choy, stirring to coat with oil (bok choy will shrink down quickly). Add salt & pepper. Whisk hoisin, wine, soy sauces and lime juice together and add to wok, stirring frequently. Keep stirring until liquids are distributed and about half-reduced and bok choy is tender-crisp. Serve immediately over brown rice.

Dijon Braised Brussels Sprouts

I think our oven is on its last legs. Things just aren’t baking or roasting right. This is especially unfortunate, as we’re moving into prime roasty/bakey season. So, our go-to plan for brussels sprouts (olive oil, salt, pepper, roast) is no longer a no-brainer. But steaming is a little…blah.

Enter braising. I’ve never really done this (to my knowledge), so I appreciated the clear instructions in this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I made a couple of small alterations, and that’s what I’m posting here.

1 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 lb/500 g brussels sprouts, trimmed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 T heavy cream
1 T smooth dijon mustard (or more to taste)
2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add butter and when butter melts, add sprouts and arrange in a single layer, cut-side down (if they don’t all fit, brown in batches, then add all for next steps). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and allow them to cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add shallots and garlic, stir and cook until they soften slightly. Add wine and broth and bring to a simmer, lower heat to medium-low, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until sprouts are easily pierced with a knife.

When sprouts are cooked, remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid behind. Add cream and simmer for 3 minutes, then whisk in mustard. Adjust seasoning as necessary, add sprouts back to skillet to heat through and coat with sauce.

Esquites – Mexican Corn Salad

I’m kind of agnostic on fresh corn. It’s good and I’ll eat and like it if someone serves it to me, but I’m rarely moved to do anything with it myself. Plus, I get sick of flossing after a cob. So when I found this recipe on the food blog Serious Eats, I wasn’t hugely hopeful. I just thought it might make a good side with grilled meats. Then I made a test batch and we decimated the bowl.

When you make this, you might be tempted to up the spicy elements. Try to resist the first time – you don’t want the spiciness to overshadow the fresh and sweet flavors at play. And be very sparing with the salt – you get a nice punch from the cheese.

2 T vegetable oil
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)
pinch salt
2 T mayonnaise
2 oz (50 g) feta or cotija cheese, crumbled
1/2 c finely sliced green onions
1/2 c fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
juice of 1 fresh lime
pinch chili powder

In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels (careful – they’ll probably pop and splatter) and stir until well distributed, then allow to cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes. When you stir, the bottoms of the kernels should appear browned and caramelized. Add salt and cook another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and browning corn on all sides without burning. Remove corn from heat and allow to cool completely.

After cooling, add remaining ingredients, stir well and enjoy!

Kire ka Raita

It’s kinda redonkulous how easy this recipe is. We first made it at our cooking course a few months ago.

500 g yogurt
half a cucumber
ground cumin

Grate the cucumber. Drain out most/all the liquid. Mix in with the other ingredients. Serve cold.

See what I mean? That’s it. Dead easy. Here are my ingredient modifications:

250 g Greek-style yogurt
a big cucumber
ground cumin
pinch (freshly) ground cardamom
pinch of some kind of ground hot red pepper (cayenne, paprika, whatever)

I like it heavier on the cuke flavor and with a bit more zing to it, so I go big on the cumin and the pepper. Be careful with that cardamom — it can take over very easily (and if that’s what you want, rock on). I shredded the cuke with our KitchenAid and then let the shreds drain in a colander for twenty or thirty minutes, squeezing them occasionally.

We usually count on the raita at indian restaurants to cool off a mouth on fire, when we can convince the waiter that we’re not German and can handle a proper vindaloo — which is not every time.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I was wondering what vegetarians bring to Thanksgiving dinner potlucks. My favorite vegetarian over at said “roasted sprouts.” I was intrigued — at first I was thinking alfalfa or mung bean sprouts or something. When she clarified that she meant Brussels, I was inspired, having previously only had them steamed. Maybe that’s because I’ve only been eating them since I turned 32 or so … perhaps I was bound to discover the roasted method sooner or later.

I googled around and found the Barefoot Contessa’s version. Some other versions I found called for chiffonading or discarding (!) the outer layer of leafy sprouty goodness.

In the end, I opted for B.C.’s ingredients, but with an 8″ square glass baking dish to prevent any escapees from rolling off her recommended sheet pan during the shaking episodes.

1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).

Cut off the sproutbutts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Cut each sprout in half; we’re going for maximum surface area here. Don’t discard any nice green leaves which loosen up and fall off in the process — you will thank me later. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them into a glass baking dish and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shaking the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly was too risky for me, so I stirred them a few times over the course of the roast time. The loose leaves brown up and look a little weird, but they have a lovely crispiness to them. (You’re welcome!)

They were mighty tasty, hot and fresh out of the oven, but I thought they needed just a little something extra. I threw a little Herbes de Provence in garlic butter leftover from a previous variation on a garlic bread theme on there. Then they were perfect.