The classic, humble gratin with its thick, crispy bubbling crust, has been defined and redefined over the years. Whether its base is potatoes or eggplant, fish or shellfish, pasta or meat, whether it is a main course or a dessert, the gratin seems to find its way to our dinner tables.
The difference between au gratin and gratin is that potatoes au gratin are a side dish made with thinly-sliced layers of cheesy potatoes. ‘Gratin’ is the culinary technique of baking or broiling an ingredient topped with grated cheese and breadcrumbs to create a crispy crust.
The word gratin derives from the French word grater, meaning ‘to grate‘. You would think that gratin refers to grated cheese, but this is not what the word originally referred to. Instead, it meant something more like ‘scrapings’. This referred to the browned, crusty material that forms on the bottoms and perhaps to the act of scraping loose these crusty bits and stirring them back into the dish during cooking. It now tends to refer to the browned crust that forms on the top of a baked dish, whether this crust forms by itself or is speeded up by placing the dish under a broiler.
Since Brion & I are both mushroom lovers, portobello & potato gratin certainly works for us.
Portobello & Potato Gratin
Cook potatoes & mash, adding enough milk just to make creamy. In an oblong casserole dish, spread some potatoes on the bottom & up the sides.
Clean & slice Portobello mushrooms into about 3 slices each. Toss cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, salt & pepper. In the center of the casserole dish, layer the Portobello rounds & cheese mixture making 3 layers.
Drizzle the mushrooms with 3 Tbsp water, cover with foil & bake 35 minutes. Uncover & bake 8 minutes more. Remove from oven & sprinkle with sliced green onions. Serve.
Having frozen rhubarb to bake into a spiced rhubarb & orange cake in the middle of winter is a treat! Rhubarb is treasured by many simply for its sophisticated flavor. Those who love rhubarb, value its tart pungency, which more often than not is mellowed with sugar and made aromatic with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or orange rind.
Sweets are the staple at the end of a meal; the luring incentive for the kids to eat their vegetables, the weakness for many dieters, and the go-to fix for those with sugar addictions.
Hot or cold, a simple mini dessert can turn an average meal into a memorable event. Rhubarb and orange is a much-loved flavor combination, making this recipe a perfect winter dessert.
Spiced Rhubarb & Orange Pudding
Place orange in a deep saucepan, cover with water. Place saucepan over high heat & bring to a boil. Place a lid on it & reduce heat to low. Simmer until the orange is very tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, quarter & set aside to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter six-1 cup ovenproof baking dishes.
Place rhubarb, brown sugar, spices, vanilla & water in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer & cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes until rhubarb thickens. Remove from heat & set aside.
Place cooled orange quarters with the skin on into a food processor & puree until smooth. Add flour, butter, buttermilk, sugar & eggs & process until smooth.
Divide batter among prepared baking dishes. Place on a baking tray & bake for 40 minutes or until tops are golden.
Serve warm topped with spiced rhubarb & whip cream.
Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes and is noted for its regional diversity and abundance of difference in taste.
Tortiera di Patate Carciofi e Salsiccia or ‘potato pie with artichokes and sausage’, is classic, simple comfort food at its finest. A seasonal dish that can serve as a hearty vegetable side dish (omitting the sausage) to a meat or fish meal, but which can also be the main course by adding the sausage meat as I did here.
Being a vegetable lover, I think vegetables are all good, but put together they make for fantastic preparations.
This is a very easy preparation, which does not require special techniques or even special skills. Potatoes go very well with artichokes and sausage, making it a dish with a harmonious and truly savory taste.
Potatoes Layered w/Artichokes & Breadcrumbs
In a small saucepan, add milk. Slowly whisk in flour until blended then add salt, pepper & smoked paprika. Bring to a boil over medium heat while whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low & simmer, stirring for about 5 minutes. remove from heat & stir in parmesan.
Veggies & Sausage
Cook potatoes in microwave until soft but not overcooked. Peel (if you wish) & slice into 1/4-inch slices; set aside.
Clean artichokes, remove the harder outer leaves, cut them into fairly thin slices & brown in a pan with oil, season with salt. Add water & cook only until soft. Drain any excess water & set aside.
Scramble fry sausage meat, remove from heat & drain on paper towels. Grate cheese. Prepare some breadcrumbs for topping.
Line a 8-inch round baking dish with foil & brush with oil. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of pan then top with a layer of artichokes. Sprinkle half of the sausage meat on top then half of the grated cheese. Spread half of the béchamel sauce over all. Repeat the same procedure to form a second layer.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until bubbling & hot. Remove from oven & allow to cool about 10 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate. Carefully remove foil & sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Serve.
Beef barley soup is a classic old-world dish, and it’s been simmering away in pots for centuries, probably as long as people have been making soup. It just makes sense ~ the little white pearls of barley add lovely texture, as well as extra nutrition and satisfying bulk, all important things when you’re trying to make dinner out of a pot of soup. For an added bonus, barley’s natural starch thickens the soup as it cooks.
Beef Barley Soup is classic comfort food that you can make on the stove or in the crock pot. The soup has roots in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Mushrooms were popular in these cold-weather countries because they could be harvested, dried, and stored for later use.
Barley was also plentiful and easy to grow in the Eastern European climate, making it a common addition to hearty winter dishes like soup. Barley’s history goes back even further; in fact, it is arguably the world’s first and most ancient, cultivated grain.
As far as the meatballs, texture can be an issue. If the meatball is too wet, it will disintegrate when cooking in soups. If it is too dry, it will lose its flavor and potentially break up into pieces. Using the right amount of liquid or eggs for the mix to keep them moist, but equally so, enough breadcrumbs or flour to bind them adequately. Remember, you can never get enough seasoning, so don’t be gentle with it, and use spices and herbs liberally.
One of Brion’s favorite soups has always been mushroom beef barley, so now seems a good time to make some.
Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs
In a large saucepan, combine the broth, water, barley & thyme. Season with salt & pepper; bring to a boil. Cover & cook over low heat until the barley is nearly tender, about 18 minutes.
In a large skillet, heat oil. Add the mushrooms & shallot, season with salt & pepper; cook over high heat until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of salt & 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Knead the mixture until blended, then roll it into sixteen 1-inch balls.
Add the meatballs & mushrooms to the soup. Simmer over moderate heat until the meatballs are cooked through & the barley is tender, about 8 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir the parsley into the soup & serve in bowls with sour cream.
Pork tenderloin, also known as pork fillet, is the leanest, most tender part of the pork loin. It is often cut into medallions, which are oval shaped steaks, made even more tender by trimming away excess fat. Pork tenderloin medallions are a versatile cut of meat, suitable for a range of different occasions. Their tender texture makes them perfect for a special dinner, but because they require short cooking times, they are quick and easy to prepare, making them an excellent choice for weeknight dinners, too.
For these honey orange medallions I’m using an ingredient called hoisin sauce. This is a Cantonese sauce that is often used both as an ingredient in dishes and as a table condiment.
Hoisin is the English version of the sauce’s Chinese name: haixian, which means seafood or sea delicious. The word hoi translates to sea and the word sin translates to fresh or delicious. The name is somewhat misleading since hoisin sauce contains no seafood and is not typically used in or on seafood dishes though there is some evidence that the earliest versions actually did contain fermented fish. When Hoisin sauce still contained seafood, it was considered a luxury food because of this fact.
Hoisin sauce ingredients typically include soybeans, garlic, and sugar along with sesame oil and chilies. The number of ingredients and the ingredients themselves can vary from brand to brand; however, the flavor profile is generally the same. It has a similar appearance to American barbecue sauce but is much denser.
This is such a nice meal served over steamed rice or Chinese noodles.
Honey Orange Pork Medallions
In a small pot, heat oil & garlic over medium low heat for just a minute or so until the garlic has softened but not browned. Add all of the remaining ingredients for the sauce & simmer until the sauce reduces to the consistency of a glaze. Keep warm on minimum heat while the pork gets fried.
Sift together the flour, salt, pepper, ginger & five spice powder.
Beat together the eggs and water to make an egg wash.
Heat 1/2 inch oil over medium heat in a large heavy skillet.
Season the pork medallions lightly with salt & pepper. Coat the pieces in the flour mixture before dipping them in the egg wash & then back into the flour mixture again. Drop into the hot oil and cook for about 3-4 minutes, turning once, until golden brown & crispy.
Toss the cooked pork medallions in the sauce, along with the vegetables of your choice. Serve over steamed rice or Chinese noodles.
Don’t think for a moment that cabbage doesn’t belong on pizza — it definitely does. When the days grow shorter, we start to crave heartier meals. Cabbage is good … meatballs are good … cabbage/meatball pizza is double good! Here’s a new spin on the classic pizza – topping a pizza crust base with meatballs, cabbage, spices & cheese.
People have been piling ‘stuff’ on dough, and then heating it up, for thousands of years. That includes the Chinese, who some believe gave Marco Polo scallion pancakes, leading to the theory that he introduced pizza to Italy.
Others point to the ancient Greeks, who covered their flatbreads with herbs, oil, and cheese. But no matter who is responsible for pizza, there is no denying that it has serious global appeal.
Cabbage is an unsung kitchen hero. It’s actually one of the most versatile veggies in your arsenal. If you’re just reserving it for slaws and salads, it’s time to broaden your horizons and discover some of the amazingly delicious things a simple head of cabbage can do.
While the dough is pretty critical, the toppings are just as important to get right. Specific toppings will come down to personal preference.
The duo of sautéed cabbage & meatballs makes for a hearty, satisfying topping perfectly suited for crisp autumn weather.
Pizza w/ Cabbage & Meatballs
Cook potato, peel & mash. In a bowl, combine yeast with lukewarm water. Allow to stand for about 3 minutes until foamy; add butter, salt, sour cream & potato & mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
In a large pot, place thinly sliced cabbage, water, sugar & salt. Cover & simmer for a few minutes until cabbage is soft & has reduced in volume. Place cabbage in a dish. Melt butter & oil in pot then add flour & cumin to make a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring so that there are no lumps as it thickens. Add cabbage to roux & cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from stove & stir in fresh dill & chives; set aside.
In a bowl, combine all meatball ingredients & mix well. Form into 28 balls & place on foil lined baking sheet that has been lightly greased. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until JUST cooked. do not OVERBAKE as they will bake some more when they are on the pizza.
Line a 9 x 11-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Press out pizza dough over the bottom & up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle a bit of the smoked cheese on the crust, then place a layer of half the cabbage mixture & lightly drizzle with a small amount of tomato soup (sauce). Repeat again with cheese, cabbage & sauce. Roll cooked meatballs in remaining tomato sauce. Place meatballs, in rows on top, then sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes or until crust is golden. Garnish with fresh dill, slice & serve.
Autumn is upon us and love it or hate it, pumpkin spice season is well underway. It all started with the introduction of the famous Starbucks ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ in 2003. Strangely enough, as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about pumpkin at all. But that was then, now I’m one of those who loves everything pumpkin.
The leaves are changing, the weather is cooling and the air is filled with the ‘flavors of fall’. With both apples & pumpkins in season right now its hard not to enjoy making use of them.
As usual, this recipe started out with a simple little no-cook pudding but got an upgrade with some spiced, caramelized apples. Yum!
Pumpkin Spice Custard w/ Caramelized Apples
Caramelized Apples & Cranberries
Caramelized Apples & Cranberries
In a medium pot, melt butter then add water & sugar. When the caramel is golden brown, add the cranberries, swirling them into the caramel. When the cranberries begin to burst, add the apple & orange zest, then sprinkle with the spices. Lower the heat & simmer 5-10 minutes to thicken. Do not over cook the compote as it will thicken when cooled.
Transfer to a heat resistant glass bowl & cool to room temperature, then cover & chill.
In a large bowl, beat pudding mix, pumpkin puree, milk, brown sugar & spices until smooth & creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Chill for an hour before assembling with fruit.
In serving glasses of choice, layer the pudding with caramelized fruit compote. Top with a dollop of whipped cream & a sprinkle of gingersnap crumbs if you wish.
The rustic and humble russet potato is a wonderful ingredient just waiting to be transformed in some mouthwatering and unique way. Many of my favorite recipes are those that make use of simple ingredients to create a full-blown meal filled with an abundance of coziness and comfort.
Salmon stuffed potatoes are a healthy dish that potato lovers will enjoy either for lunch or dinner. Broadening our horizons and experimenting with ‘stuffing’ that give you a whole meal in one big baked potato is well worth it. Think about it: you have veggies, protein and carbs packed into one easy-to-eat and delicious package, ideal for dining solo or serving numerous people.
Lemon-Dill Salmon Stuffed Potato
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; place a wire rack over the baking sheet.
Place the potatoes in a bowl & drizzle a bit of oil over them; sprinkle with salt & pepper. Rub oil/seasoning into their skins. Place the potatoes on the wire rack & bake for about 70 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven & allow to cool just until they can be handled. Roast salmon fillet at the same time until it flakes easily.
While potatoes bake, place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour about 1-2 Tbsp. veg oil in it & add the sliced onions plus a pinch or two of salt & pepper to caramelize to a deep golden brown, for about 20-25 minutes on a medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
Once the onions are caramelized, remove to a dish & set aside. Add mushrooms to saucepan & sauté until moisture evaporates.
Steam broccoli florets in microwave for about 3 minutes, just so they are tender-crisp. Grate cheese. Flake baked salmon.
To prepare sauce, melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat, stir in water & sauce mix. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat & simmer 3 minutes.
Assembly & Baking
Make a row of deep cuts in each potato from end to end, they should be just under 1/4-inch apart. Take care not to cut the potatoes all the way through. Place the potatoes in a casserole dish & sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste.
Divide the salmon, onions, mushrooms, broccoli & cheese between the 2 potatoes. Pour the sauce evenly on top & sprinkle with smoked cheese.
Lower oven heat to 350 F. Bake potatoes for about 30 minutes to combine flavors. Remove from oven. Garnish with fresh dill if you wish.
- The secret to making hasselback potatoes is to use a large wooden spoon. Place the potato onto the spoon & cut thin slices across the potato. The edges of the wooden spoon will stop the knife from cutting all the way through the potato.
Scarpaccia is a savory zucchini tart originating from the northern coast of Tuscany. There are two versions: savory from the town of Camaiore, and sweet from Viareggio. It’s name roughly translates to ‘old shoe’, the reason being twofold; first it bakes up as thin as the sole of a shoe and second, much like a bad shoe that has been worn by many, this tart can be made with a variety of ingredients. Scarpaccia was typically considered a spring time specialty that sailors made with their garden vegetables which included zucchinis and their blossoms. The dish was served warm or at room temperature and enjoyed at the end of a meal (because of its slight sweetness), or a snack food paired with white wine or prosecco. The dish was made by folding zucchini into a simple batter of flour, eggs, olive oil and sugar or honey, then spreading the mixture into a baking sheet and cooking until golden and crisp.
The recipe has evolved to incorporate seasonal vegetables and herbs along with variations on the type of flour used allowing for its enjoyment year-round. It can be eaten for dessert, as a great brunch dish or the main course when paired with a salad.
Every region in Italy has its own specialties, some shared by other regions but with different names. Scarpaccia can be made sweet or savory, thin or thick, crisp or soft – as long as the common ingredients of zucchini and flour are used. Zucchini … what a treasure!
Preheat oven to 375 F. Prepare a 12 x 16 inch baking sheet pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
Slice zucchini into very thin slices & place in a large bowl. Slice red onion into very thin slices; add to zucchini along with corn.
Drain oil from sundried tomatoes into a cup measure and set oil aside. Cut tomatoes into quarters & add to bowl with the other vegetables.
Add pepita seeds, basil, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, salt & pepper to the large bowl with vegetables; toss all ingredients together.
In a separate smaller bowl mix flour, corn meal and baking powder. Add this to the large bowl and toss again to mix the ingredients.
In that same smaller bowl, beat eggs & add to the large bowl, mixing into ingredients.
Take the reserved cup measure with the oil drained from the tomatoes and add enough olive oil to fill one cup. Add to the large bowl, mixing to combine. Slowly mix the water into the large bowl, only using enough to make a thin batter. You may not need all of the water. Pour batter into the prepared sheet pan, drizzle the top with olive oil.
When it comes out of the oven, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese all over the top and drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle the remaining thyme over the top.
Cut into squares and serve.
Ever thought of grating your shortbread dough? Perhaps frilly doesn’t quite capture these bars. Airy doesn’t quite fit either, but compared to other shortbread I’ve made, that’s exactly what they are. You see, instead of the dense texture associated with many recipes for shortbread bars, these are light (but no less buttery) because you shred the frozen dough on the coarse holes of a grater before baking. The final product is almost chewy, with an open-crumb texture, something that you wouldn’t get if you just rolled the dough. By avoiding the use of pressure, the dough bakes with all the air pockets between the grated pieces, melding into an almost fluffy result which crumbles and melts in your mouth. The glue for the two layers is the saskatoon berry filling.
Here on the Canadian prairies we have a native berry called a ‘Saskatoon’. These berries are very special …. the kind of special that only comes once a year. Saskatoon berries look much like blueberries, but in fact are part of the rose family which includes apples, cherries, plums and of course roses. Trying to explain their flavor to anyone who has never tasted them is difficult and elusive. They’re sweet, dense, rich, seedy, slightly blueberryish, more almondish, a bit apple-y, dusky and deep. Like I said …. difficult to explain!
At this time of the year when these little gems are available, I always like to make numerous things with them as they work well in either sweet or savory applications. They certainly make a nice filling for these shortbread bars.
Grated Shortbread Bars w/ Saskatoon Berry filling
In a saucepan, combine berries & water & simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. In a separate bowl, mix sugar & cornstarch; add to berries & combine. Stir in lemon juice & vanilla; simmer until mixture slightly thickens. Set aside to cool.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom & salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter & lemon zest. Mix ONLY until combined, divide in half & wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Place in freezer until slightly frozen.
Remove one ball of dough from the freezer. Using the large hole side of a 4 sided grater, grate dough into a 4 1/2" x 14" baking pan. Pat the dough but don't press it, so it gets evenly spread in the pan.
Carefully place the saskatoon filling evenly over the crust. Grate remaining ball of dough & carefully spread on top.
Bake for 40 minutes or until shortbread is golden. Cool to room temperature on rack. Cut into 14 bars. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
- I found that if I placed the pan of bars in the freezer for about an hour, I was able to cut cleaner slices.