Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday Tutor: Featuring Kitchen Riffs

Potatoes Au Gratin Closeup
Gratin Dauphinois


Every Tuesday I choose a different friend to be my tutor for a day: I select one of their original recipes, I make the recipe following my friend's instructions, I snap a multitude of pictures, I scarf down as much as my belt-line will permit - and then I share everything I love about my friend's recipe. Learn More



Today's Tuesday Tutor: Kitchen Riffs
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Recipe: Gratin Dauphinois

My tutor today is John from Kitchen Riffs, a blog I recently discovered during my Food Fetish Friday hunts for amazing food. John is passionate about food and has a wealth of knowledge to share from years of cooking - and his blog is devoted to bringing that passion into your kitchen. His recipe posts are packed with useful tips, helpful techniques, and fun facts about ingredients and the history behind recipes. Every time I stop to drool over one of his comforting creations, I find myself learning something new. So get to know John and his Kitchen Riffs - you'll be glad you did.

About the Author
  1. "I do most of the everyday cooking in our house. I’m good at it, and I like doing it. But usually not desserts – that’s my wife’s bailiwick. I often adapt recipes on the fly – riff – when I’m cooking. Baking requires more precision – there’s chemistry going on! Unless you’re a really experienced baker, you need to follow the directions to the letter – and following directions has never been something I’m good at. There are several desserts I make that my wife doesn’t – Chocolate Mousse, for example – but most of the desserts you see on the blog were made by her."
     
  2. "It was recently Julia Child’s 100th birthday, and there was lots of media noise about that. Well-deserved noise, I think. If it wasn’t for Julia – does anyone not call her by her first name? – I probably wouldn’t be cooking. I remember watching her original PBS shows in the 60s and was instantly smitten – here was someone who thought every meal should be a tasty feast, not just holiday or special occasion meals. Back in the 60s most American didn’t know much about food other we needed it to survive. Julia taught me that well-prepared food didn’t need to be fancy in order to be good and pleasurable. And that food should be pleasurable! And since I needed to eat several times every day, why not eat well? She’s the one that got me to set out on a life-long quest for flavor."
     
  3. "One of the hardest things for me to learn about cooking was how to season well, particularly how to use salt. So many people under salt their food! The trick, I’ve learned, is to build layers of seasoning as you cook. Need to brown some onions? Add salt to them as you brown them, so the salt can bring out more of their flavor. Don’t add a lot of salt – a pinch is usually enough. Keep adding pinches of salt as you add additional ingredients to a dish, so those ingredients become seasoned. The end result is a dish that’s well seasoned because each ingredient has been properly seasoned, and you’ll need to add little, if any, at the end when you “adjust seasoning.” If you don’t add salt as you cook and wait until the end to add it, you’ll always end up using way more than if you incorporate it in the dish as you prepare it – and it still won’t taste exactly right."
     
  4. "I have way too many cookbooks – close to 300! I’m one of those people who’ll read a cookbook in bed at night, just because. My favorite type of cookbook is one that’s long on technique and theory. Recipes? Of course I want those, too, but once you learn technique and understand what makes a dish work, recipes are kind of secondary. Which is the exact opposite of how I used to be – at first it was all about the recipe, and learning how to make specific dishes. I was always going to the grocery store with a list of what to buy so I could make dinner. I still do that, of course, but more often I’ll go to the store, see what looks good, then figure out what to make."
     
  5. "One of the most interesting things I’ve learned through blogging is how hard food photography is. Many foods are colorful, so you think it would be easy to take good photographs. It’s not – and if you look at the early pictures on my blog, you’ll see how miserable I was at it. I’m lucky in that I’ve been interested in photography for a long time and had a decent camera and knew how to use it – but I’ve had to learn entirely new things for food photography. The lighting is totally different – in most cases you want the light coming from behind the subject, for example. This helps shape the food and make it more 3-dimensional. Or if you want to show texture, having the light coming from the side is a good technique. I’ve gotten much better but I still have a long way to go. But the most important thing I’ve learned is it’s not about the camera. It’s all lighting, and without decent lighting you’re not going to take good pictures. Oh, and it doesn’t matter if the light is natural light or artificial – neither is inherently better. It’s learning how to work with what you have."



How to Make: Gratin Dauphinois
Original recipe courtesy of Kitchen Riffs
For a printable recipe with complete list of ingredients and steps, see the original recipe

CorningWare French White F-6-B
The first step in making these potatoes is selecting the right baking dish. You want a shallow
enough dish to allow for the formation of a crispy crust, but you want a deep enough dish that
the cream won't bubble over the sides during baking. I used my Corning Ware French White
F-6-B 8.5 in x 11 in baking dish, but I recommend a larger dish such as the F-4-B 9.5 in x 12.5
in baking dish. I'd rather have a thinner gratin than a mess to clean up later...

1 Tablespoon of Butter in Baking Dish
Whichever dish you select, butter the dish with a tablespoon of butter

Buttered Baking Dish
Your dish should be very generously buttered as shown.

1 Cup Heavy Cream in CorningWare Saucemaker
Next comes the half and half that will serve as the binder between the potatoes. Since I always
have heavy cream and whole milk on hand, I made my own half and half. But you could
always just buy half and half if you don't keep heavy cream in the house...

1 Cup Whole Milk Mixed with Heavy Cream in Saucemaker
To make the half and half, just add 1 cup of whole milk to 1 cup of heavy cream. I combined
the half and half in my Corning Ware pyroceram sauce maker which includes measurements
and can be used on the range or in the microwave. And it has handy pour spouts which are
useful later... If you don't have a sauce maker, you could always use a small pot...

Heating Half and Half in Saucemaker
Heat the half and have over medium low heat while you prepare the flavorings for the half
and half... You should also turn on the oven to preheat. If you're concerned about the gratin
bubbling over and making a mess of your oven, place a baking sheet on the middle wrack
to preheat as well (recommended).

Whole Nutmeg Clove
Nutmeg is optional, but I really like the flavor with potatoes, cream or cheese, so I recommend
adding some. Use fresh nutmeg if possible, but a dash of ground nutmeg will also work

Freshly Grated Nutmeg
To grate the nutmeg, just use a rasp or zester. I used about 1/2 teaspoon of packed freshly
grated nutmeg. If you're using ground nutmeg, you will only want to use about 1/4 teaspoon.

Clove of Garlic, Smashed
Next come 1 clove of garlic

Minced Garlic
Mince the garlic...

Frank's Red Hot Sauce
Next is the optional hot sauce - I use Frank's Red Hot sauce as I'm ok with the ingredient list...

Garlic, Nutmeg and Hot Sauce Combined with Half and Half
Add the nutmeg, garlic and hot sauce to the half and half and give it a stir. Let the half and half
continue to heat while you grate your cheese and prepare your potatoes.

Gruyere Cheese to be Grated
John recommended gruyere cheese so that's what I used. But you could really use your favorite
hard cheese that packs a flavorful punch. Like cheddar or swiss or fontina...

Grated Gruyere Cheese
You'll need about 8 oz of grated gruyere

Parmesan Cheese to be Grated
To help provide a crispy topping, you will want to use some parmesan cheese as well. I recommend
a parmesan from Italy.

Grated Parmesan Cheese
You will need about 2-3 oz of grated parmesan...

2 Very Large Russet Potatoes
Finally, the staple of this dish, the potatoes. John recommend starchy russet potatoes, so that's
what I used. I found these two really giant russets which together weighed in at just over 2
pounds, but if you're using smaller potatoes, you will probably need 4-5 potatoes...

Scrubbed Russet Potatoes
Scrub your potatoes. I left the skins on mine because a lot of the nutrition in a potatoes is in
the skin, but you could also peel these potatoes in you prefer.

Russet Potatoes, Halved
Since I was using extra large potatoes, I sliced mine in half before slicing them into very thin
slices. The flat base of the potato half also made it easy to thinly slice. If you're using smaller
potatoes, you won't need to cut them in half before slicing, but you will probably want to slice
off a thin piece of the potato so make a flat resting surface for the potato to keep it stable while
you're slicing.

1/2 Potatoe, Ready for Slicing
Next comes the most time-intensive part of this dish - slicing the potatoes. If you have a
mandolin slicer, you can slice the potatoes very quickly - just be careful not to slice off the tip
of a finger! I don't own a mandolin for that very reason, so I sliced my potatoes my hand.

Very Thinly Sliced 1/2 Potato
You want to keep your slices as thin as possible, no thicker than approx 3/16 of an inch. So
take your time and slice carefully with a very sharp knife. If your knife is dull, thin slices will
be near impossible... 

Sliced Potatoes for Gratin
You will arrive at a surprisingly big pile of potato slices. This pile took me about 15 minutes
to slice with a sharp knife.

First Layer of Potatoes Layered in Dish
Now comes the second most time-consuming part of the dish - layering the potatoes. I'm overly
particular about layering the potatoes, so the next few steps took me another 15 minutes to
complete. But if you're less particular (or if you've done this a few times), you could probably
finish the layers of potatoes in under 10 minutes.
First comes a layer of potatoes...

Potatoes Seasoned with Salt and Pepper
...then a seasoning with cracked black pepper and a generous seasoning of salt. I used about
1/8 teaspoon of pepper and about 1/4 teaspoon of salt for each layer of potatoes.

Gruyere Cheese Over First Layer of Potatoes
Next sprinkle a layer of grated gruyere over the potatoes...

Adding Half and Half Mixture to First Layer of Gratin
...followed by about 1/2 cup of the hot half and half. Repeat the layering process with more
potatoes, more salt and pepper, more cheese, and more half and half. Continue until all the
potatoes are layered in the dish - reserve some gruyere cheese for sprinkling over the final
layer of potatoes.

Final Layered Potato Gratin without Cheese Topping
You can see my layers of potatoes came right up to the edge of my baking dish. This is where
a larger baking dish would be helpful.

Remaining Gruyere Added to Gratin
Add the remaining grated gruyere cheese...

Potatoes Topped with Parmesan Cheese
...Then top with the grated reserved parmesan cheese... The dish is ready to bake.

Baked Potatoes Au Gratin
Bake the potatoes until potatoes are knife-tender and the cheese is browned and crisp. My
gratin needed about 1 hour and 10 minutes, but I recommend checking your gratin at 50 minutes.
I recommend letting the gratin rest for at least 5 minutes before attempting to serve. This will
allow some of the oil from the cheese to seep back into the potatoes - and it will give the
topping a chance to set slightly...

Serving of Potatoes au Gratin
This was my first serving of the potatoes - following by a second and third. I finally had to stop
because I started to feel a little guilty about the amount of cheese and cream I had imbibed.
And I figured I should save a little for Boyfriend Javelin to sample...


Thoughts while scarfing...
  • Layers of cheese and potatoes held together with thickened cream - what's not to love about this classic dish? But since it's such a rich dish, I recommend serving with a light entree like soup. Or grilled chicken. Or fortified greens salad. Because once you take a serving of these potatoes, you WILL want seconds.
     
  • Because of the crispy cheese topping, these potatoes are really best the same day you make them. Sure, you can reheat, but they're just not quite the same. I find the best way to reheat is to scoop into individual ramekins and place in a 350F oven for 5-10 minutes until heated through.
     
  • As you can see in a couple of the photos, the fat in the cheeses tends to separate out in an oily film during baking - you might be able to avoid some of this separation by not adding the final topping of cheese until the potatoes are cooked through. You could then top with the remaining cheese and place until the broiler to brown. However, this won't result in quite the same crispy crust...
     
  • Use a bigger dish - the CorningWare F-6-B is an 8.5 inch x 11 inch x 2 inch dish, but the cream and fat from the cheese bubbled over the sides and made quite a mess of the baking sheet. I recommend using a 9 x 13 baking dish or a deeper 8 x 11 dish.

19 comments:

  1. Hi Javelin Warrior, thanks so much for featuring my recipe for today's
    Tuesday Tutor. You did a terrific job with it! Great photo series.
    Your potato slices look perfect, and you did a really nice job layering
    them - very pretty! Glad you enjoyed the dish, and thanks again for
    featuring it.

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  2. Fabulous feature! This gratin looks ahaaaamzing. Cheesy deliciousness :) And very cool tips for seasoning!

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  3. Kayle (The Cooking Actress)September 4, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    Aaaaand now I'm hungry. That gratin looks DELISH!! Ohhh so hungry!

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  4. I'm so glad I had a chance to share these potatoes, John - they were delicious and it was a lot of fun to make. Thank you for the kind words and I'm so happy you enjoyed the post... Thanks for being my Tutor today!

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  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed the feature and I love Tuesdays because I always get to try such delicious creations...

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  6. lol That's quite a compliment, Kayle. So glad you enjoyed and I give all the credit to John for his tasty creation...

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  7. My mom used to make something similar and it was so delicious. I love how beautifully potatoes are layered. Your post made me very hungry now. That gratin looks so delicious!

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  8. I really enjoyed this gratin because it had been a LOOOONG time since I had potatoes like this - and they're so comforting and delicious. Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad the post could make you hungry ;)

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  9. Cool, I am starving now! And I have potatoes, cream, parmesan... not gruyere... maybe I can use another type?


    Ciao
    Alessandra
    http://alessandrazecchini.blogspot.co.nz

    ReplyDelete
  10. You could actually use any hard cheese you like such as cheddar, swiss, fontina, etc. I wouldn't recommend mozzarella as it really doesn't have a lot of flavor when it melts down...

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  11. I have Edam... but I can always buy gruyere. A French friend made me this once, in Paris, but no Parmesan... of course I am Italian so I can add Parmesan everywhere :-) hehehe!


    http://alessandrazecchini.blogspot.co.nz

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  12. I've never used Edam before, but based on the Wiki article about the cheese, I'd guess that if it's an aged Edam it might have a strong enough flavor to counter the bland potatoes. And it might be firm enough to grate if aged. However, it may not brown/crisp has well as Gruyere or Cheddar... But if you're using Parmesan, that should help with the browning/crisping :)

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  13. mjskit @ mjskitchen.comSeptember 5, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    What a great post! I love Kitchen Riffs! I can't believe John says the photography is hard because he makes it look so easy! I love his photography! As for the potato dish - no, there's no way I could stop eating this once I start. It looks too good, sounds too good and, based on your comments, IS too good!

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  14. John's photos are always so beautiful and I'd love to know how he manages to achieve the "black" backgrounds in his photos with the gorgeous textural quality to the food he's photographing... And it really is hard to stop eating these potatoes - I kept going back for sampling all afternoon the day I made them!

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  15. Congrats, your recipe is being featured on foodie friday today. Stop by and get your featured button and thank you so much for joining us.

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  16. Thanks so much for the feature, Diane! I'm popping over now to check it out!

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  17. Thank you so much for linking up last week at Recipe Sharing Monday. The new link party is now up and I'd love it if you joined us again. Have a great week!

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  18. Just brilliant JW! What an interesting read...and whats not to love about this fabulous dish! lad he left some for you.

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  19. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Deeba, and I enjoyed the process of making this dish. But then John's original recipe was also quite detailed with plenty of helpful tips...

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