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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Chicken Calzones with Smoky Tomato Sauce

These calzones will not betray you!

 Please tell me you understood that reference...

Calzones are not anything fancy - I'm so sorry to spill the big secret, but it's just a pizza, folded in half, and baked. You can stuff them with anything you stuff a pizza with, be it alfredo or pesto sauce. I'm so happy that summer is here and tomato season is along here with it. Nothing is better than freshly made tomato sauce - so let's get right to it! 

Chicken Calzones with Smoky Tomato Sauce
yield 2 large calzones or 4 smaller ones

  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour + 1/4 c high gluten flour OR 1 1/2 c pizza/bread flour
  • 1/2 c warm water, about 110 degrees
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large garden tomatoes, quartered 
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • **1 small chili pepper
    • I like my marinara just a little spicy, so feel free to omit this if you've got some more timid friends in your home that will enjoy this
  • A glug of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c water or vegetable stock
  • Fresh Italian herbs
    • Thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, etc. 
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Boneless skinless chicken breast in 6 oz filets
  • Mozzarelle cheese, shredded, as needed
    • You can use vegan mozz-style cheese, too, if you like! That's what I did
Note: of course you can buy pizza dough for yourself, but it's so easy to make your own pizza dough that I think it's well worth it. 

Combine the sugar and the water in the bowl of a standing mixer and stir. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and let it sit for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy and smells a bit like beer. Add in your flours of choice and stir, with a dough hook, until just combined and there are not spare bits of flour mucking about. Let this all sit for about 15 minutes to rest. Add the olive oil and the salt and mix on low for about 10 minutes, or until a very elastic consistency. Roll this all into a ball and brush with more olive oil; let sit in the bowl, covered, in a warm spot for at least an hour, or until doubled in size. It's summer where I am right now so I just let my bowl sit outside in the sun while it rose. 

As always, I can thank my CSA at KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for helping supplement my veggies!

Meanwhile, heat up a thick-bottomed saute pan or saucepan on medium high. Add your tomatoes to char them - yes, without any fat. Cover this and let cook for 2 minutes. You're going to want to char the skins of the tomatoes before anything else, so be sure to get some good color! Remove the cover and add in a little glug of olive oil. Swirl your tomatoes around and smash them into the oil. Add in your garlic, onion, herbs, optional hot chili, and stir well. 

Lower the heat to medium-low and allow to soften. Add in your balsamic vinegar and your stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook this for at least 10 minutes before tasting for seasoning, herbs, etc. You may also want to add a pinch of sugar, depending on how sweet your own garden variety of tomatoes are. 


When you're happy enough with your seasoning, add all of this to the pitcher of a blender and blend until relatively smooth. I personally like a little bit of texture so I wouldn't worry at this stage if there's a chunky bit or two. As long as your sauce is pureed, it's good to go! Return this puree to the pan and continue to cook until it's thick. Finish with a little bit of butter or olive oil, maybe add a few more fresh herbs to make it taste just right. This is your calzone, so make it what you want it to be! Once your sauce is done and is seasoned to your liking, remove it from the heat, set it aside, and heat your oven to 400 degrees F. 


When your dough has doubled in size, turn out onto a clean marble surface (or just any plain counter, if you have no marble) and spank down your dough. I had two 6 oz chicken breasts so I just cut my dough in half. Pat down well and evenly and sprinkle the inside of the dough with either a bit of flour or a bit of semolina. You can also use cornmeal! This is to prevent a soggy bottom, which is never what we want. 

Spoon some of your marinara onto half of the dough - a little less than a quarter cup - and spread about to make a bed for your chicken breast. Add your chicken, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over a sufficient amount of cheese and top with more sauce. Fold the dough over to make your classic calzone shape and pinch and fold over to seal. Of course, you can divide the dough into however many pieces of chicken you have - I only have two people in my house so I only had two chicken breasts on hand. I'm sure you can understand why I made two! If you have any sauce left over, simply put it in a small bowl for dipping sauce once your calzone is all done cooking. 

Okay so I messed up the folding - sue me.

Sprinkle the bottom of your sheet tray with plenty of cornmeal, semolina, or flour, and lay your calzones atop. Make a few slashes on top of the calzones and drizzle with some olive oil to ensure gorgeous browning. Bake at 400 on the rack sitting on the lower half of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating your tray halfway through. If you like, you can sprinkle cheese on top of the calzone in the last 5 minutes to give a little extra zhuzh! 

Remove from the oven and immediately place on a cutting board. Slice with a cleaver to serve and enjoy! This is a very easy and fun way to cook chicken and ensure that it'll be incredibly moist. If you want to make this vegetarian, feel free to substitute it with big slices of mozzarella instead. You can also use pepperoni or sausage, add peppers and mushrooms...really, the sky is the limit when it comes to a calzone. 

I hope I've inspired you to make your own calzones instead of ordering out one more time. This is inexpensive, delicious, and so healthy. Why is it healthy? Because you made it and not a store. Furthermore, your chicken is steamed in the flavors of the marinara sauce instead of pan-fried with any excess oil. You're going to cook in a much healthier way than any store will in this particular instance. My philosophy: eat whatever you want, so long as you make it yourself. Heck, eat a whole peach pie by yourself as long as you make it! 

Thank you so much for spending a little piece of your day with me. Happy cooking and happy eating!





Thursday, July 15, 2021

Summer Storm Soup


This is not chicken soup as your average American would see it. When you buy chicken soup in the can in any grocery store in America you will get a soup in a chicken broth with noodles, chicken, carrots, and celery. Naturally, there will be some variance by brand, but you get the idea. 

I personally think that chicken soup can be whatever you make it, so long as the chicken is the star. Culinary school gave me a ton of awesome techniques that I am able to utilize when I know what I want but don't know where to buy it. Can you imagine that this is quite useful knowledge for a pregnant person to have? Today, a rainy summer day, I wanted a soup that was clean-tasting yet also comforting, but at the same time gentle on the stomach. This is what I came up with.

Summer Storm Soup

  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 c water 
  • 1 c vegetable stock
  • 1/4 c mirin
  • 1 knob of fresh ginger, smashed - a knob is generally agreed to be about the size of a walnut
  • 1 pc garlic greens
  • 1 sm bulb fennel, thinly sliced - about a cup
  • 1 small jalapeno, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 14 oz can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 1 c kale, chiffonade
  • 1 c oyster mushrooms, torn
    • I prefer this hand-torn from the bottom of the stems to preserve the beautiful natural shape of the oyster mushroom, but please chop them if you prefer
  • 8 oz chicken breast, diced

I wanted this to be a pretty, generally "clean" soup instead of a stew, so instead of cooking my aromatics on the bottom of the pot with some fat, I opted for a poaching technique I learned from a Japanese chef I once worked for instead. This is a wonderful technique to use with lots of herbs!

Take the water and vegetable stock and pop it in the large pot of your choice. Peel the garlic cloves and reserve the skins; peel off the first couple of layers of the fennel bulb. Add these to the water-stock along with the rosemary, garlic greens, and a little bit of salt. Bring this to a rolling boil and reduce to a simmer, allowing it all to cook and infuse for about 5 minutes. While this is cooking, finish dicing all of your vegetables - such as the potatoes and zucchini - and thinly slice the remaining fennel bulb as well as thinly slicing the garlic. Remove your aromatics from the water using a slotted spoon and add the mirin. 

Remember to have your vegetables chopped and ready to go before you get too far in the recipe!

Add your fennel, garlic, jalapeno, and coconut milk to the pot and bring back up to a rolling boil. Add in everything except for the chicken and allow to come up to a boil again. Reduce to a simmer and adjust for seasoning. Give everything a good stir before adding in your chicken. Of course, you can substitute this for seitan or tofu to your liking, so long as it is about the same amount as you would add the chicken. Give your soup a good stir, reduce to your lowest heat setting, and cover. Allow the soup to cook for at least 20 minutes before tasting for seasoning. Let's have a quick chat while we wait!

I sometimes call this soup "gentle rain" soup because I think it's the perfect thing to have on a rainy summer day. It's "gentle" because of the ingredients. Coconut milk instead of heavy cream makes a much lighter soup and is easier on the churning stomach. It also makes the soup clear yet "cloudy," like a stormy sky! Kale is high in vitamins and oddly high in protein. Ginger is a natural remedy for any sort of nausea. Jalapenos, and many other spicy peppers, wake up the immune system as well as your metabolism. Since I got pregnant, my mom has been harping on me to make ginger chicken soup for my nausea, but she makes hers in such a heavy way and it breaks my hear to say that I just can't do it.  The reason most East Asian mothers love giving their children ginger-chicken soup because both of those ingredients have what we call "warming" qualities. Traditional Chinese medicine spells out these principles quite clearly of warming and cooling foods, used to balance the body and spirit. This is good for healing, as it is generally thought that when we are too "cold" and "damp" we get sick. Apparently.

Once the soup is cooked and your chicken is poached gently through, give the broth a stir and a taste. Is it salty enough? Would you like to add a few grinds of pepper? Would it benefit from a drop more of mirin or maybe even a splash of vinegar? Sometimes, in August, I like to add a few allspice berries or a stick for 10 minutes just to get that extra bit of aromatic warmth. Either way, this is your soup to eat, and eat it you shall!

I love this soup because it's the perfect thing to make when it's gross and rainy but also 85 degrees outside. It's light enough to not make me feel sluggish but filling enough to let it be a dinner entree. You can garnish with fresh herbs or sliced scallions to serve. Sometimes, I'll even add shredded cheese to the bottom of my soup bowl and crush tortilla chips on top before eating,  because it reminds me of tortilla soup back in the American Southwest, where I'm from. No matter what, I hope this soup makes you as happy as it makes me on hot days. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!



Friday, July 9, 2021

In Search of the Salad Nicoise

 


This is what the kids in the classical French school of culinary arts would call a classic composed salad. This means it is not a salad that is tossed, which is how we would normally have a salad here in the United States on our dinner tables. Composed salads take some more thought and a little more effort, but are absolutely worth it.  The actual definition I have from my days in culinary school are as follows:

Salad Nicoise

·         From Nice, France

·         Garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black Nicoise olives, capers, and lemon juice

o   Potatoes and green beans are VERY much debated on

o   MAY see this on lettuce


I have no clue what I meant by most of my notes, but it's good to know what the classics actually mean. I assume that when I wrote "MAY see this on lettuce" means that the actual lettuce part of a salad is optional. In this case, I'm sure it's not uncommon for this to just be served as an antipasti platter. This comes from Nice, which is in the south of France, which means Italy is right on the border. If I remember correctly, we also usually serve this with tuna, but that's one of the foods I cannot have during my pregnancy...so today we're going to be having this with anchovies packed in olive oil instead!

I'm also going to note that I'm going to omit the capers and olives. Capers, which are pickled and brined peppercorns, are wonderful but I don't really keep them in my pantry as they don't necessarily coincide with how I normally cook. I'm not putting in olives because I personally hate olives. I think they ruin everything they touch. Please, though, don't let me stop you from adding olives to this salad! Nicoise olives are, after all, a key ingredient if you speak to most purists out there!

When it comes to a fancy salad your words to remember are mise en place. This is French for "things in place." If you're an avid reader of my blog, you know I've spoken about this concept before. It just means to prep everything ahead of time so you can quickly assemble. Because this is a salad made for just little ole me, I'll just be showing you how I make it the way I like it. I am eating for two, however, so I assure you that the amounts will serve two. My husband even ended up eating some of it, and we still had some left over. 

Here's how I made my own Midwest version of this classic of Southern France! 

Salad Nicoise a la Kansas City
Serves 2

  • Kale and butter lettuce washed and chopped
  • 2 small potatoes, fresh from the garden
  • A handful of young, tender garden green beans
    • About a dozen, I think!
  • 2 eggs
  • Anchovy filets, as many as you like
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon
  • 2 slices of bacon, sliced
  • Red onion, sliced ultra-thin!
  • A few cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Oyster mushrooms, sliced, about half an ounce
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, as needed
  • 1/2 c good extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp fresh chives, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
First thing's first: let's work on our cooked items! 

Grab yourself a small sauce pot with about a 4 cup capacity, fill with cold water, and add a good fat pinch of kosher salt. Add your eggs and washed potatoes, cover, and bring to a boil. When your water is at a rolling boil, put on a timer for 5 minutes. In the meantime, prepare your green beans by snapping off the stem ends but leaving the pretty cute long ends in tact. Give them a quick rinse in cold water. Prepare an ice bath in a medium bowl. You're going to be blanching these babies!



When your timer goes off, evacuate your eggs and plunge them immediately into the ice bath. Add your green beans to the boiling water and cook until they turn a gorgeous bright green. This shouldn't take more than 30 seconds to 1 minute! Remove those beans from the boiling water and add to your ice bath, along with the eggs. Let your potatoes cook until they're tender, which usually takes a total of 15 minutes. You can chop the green beans if you like, but I don't think it's necessary. When your potatoes are cool, you can cube them in small pieces and set aside. Make sure you peel your eggs when they're cold!

To prepare the bacon, cut into batons, or slice crosswise in 1/4" pieces and fry until fat has rendered and until they're crisp. This doesn't take more than 5 minutes. Drain all of the bacon fat except for 1 tsp  and fry the mushrooms. You can slice these, but honestly I think I prefer to tear oyster mushrooms by hand because I prefer the look of it. Fry these until browned and set aside. 

To make the vinaigrette, combine the mustard, white wine vinegar, herbs, garlic, lemon juice and zest, and a generous pinch of both salt and pepper to a mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle in your olive oil while whisking constantly until it thickens. Taste for seasoning. You likely won't use all of it, so make sure to save what you don't as either the continued life of salad dressing or as a tasty marinade for chicken. 

Plating could not be easier! Simply tear pieces of kale and butter lettuce into bite sized pieces and pile into a bowl. Arrange all of your beautiful items atop and across the bed of lettuce in any design you like. I personally like the look of stripes, so I chose that for my presentation. I used quite a bit of anchovies all piled up because I love them and feel they replace the saltiness that the olives would have given, but you can change this up for your preference. Of course, you can do what you like!

Keep in mind, though, you're going to be messing it up when you grab some for yourself, so don't stress too much. This is meant to be fun! Play with colors and textures next to each other for maximum effect. See how beautiful that egg yolk is cooked after a 5-minute boil? See the bright green of the green beans next to the bacon? When making a composed salad, don't be afraid to be adventurous.



Salade Nicoise is such a wonderful summer dish to serve for a summer barbecue or a summer night. Do you see how I've said "summer" thrice in that sentence? This is because I want to drive home to you the importance of seasonality in your cooking. I got most of this from either my CSA box from KC Farm School at Gibbs Road or my own garden. When you grow your own food, you are allowing yourself to have a little taste of what it is to have a hand in creation. When you go back to the basics, like I just did in returning to my roots in culinary school, you're reminded of how far you've come in life. 

Maybe this is what the Salad Nicoise is? A little bit of il dolce far niente which is Italian (sorry, not French, but Nice is close to Italy) for "the sweetness of doing nothing" will take you a long way on the path of mental health. Learning to be in the moment has been one of my hardest struggles as an adult American woman, who has constantly been working against the grind and working with the hustle. Now that I'm in a better place in my life that I've been given the opportunity to stop and rest, I've found what's truly important. 

Maybe, while you're having some of this, you can think of what's important to you too? Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Red White & Blue Salad

 

I don't know if this is actually a salad.

I have lived in the midwest for over 12 years and one of my favorite pastimes is to make fun of the "salads" I see that are made in church potlucks, family events, etc.. Popcorn Salad, Snickers Salad, Lemon Lime Jello Salad? They're all over TikTok and I am so here for it. Vintage recipes that heavily involve Jell-O and cottage cheese sound so disgusting but I am absolutely here for it because I think it's a great and hilarious example of post-war feminist rage. 


Thank you, Vintage Recipe Cards.com for the picture!

Honestly, nothing says "I used to have a career and make my own money and have interesting friends and finally knew what it was to work and have independence. Now you're back. Eat this perfection salad, you sack of shit" like things like these. Frankly? I'm here for it. But I digress....

One of these "salads" caught my eye when I was looking up 4th of July recipes to make at home while my husband and I hunkered down and tried to keep our geriatric German Shepherd from having a heart attack from all the fireworks in the neighborhood. It goes by the name of "Strawberry Pretzel Salad" and it's - apparently - a midwestern staple. This salad consists of a pretzel crust, cream cheese body, and strawberry Jello topper with frozen strawberries on the inside. Frankly, it sounded too interesting to pass up.

It's summer, which means that strawberry season is over, so in an attempt to live and adapt seasonally, I've decided to turn this into a layered red-white-and-blue dessert that will pretty much be just for me and baby, considering my husband cannot stand Jello at all. I'll make him some chocolate chip cookies to make up for it, though, so don't worry. Now, this is not going to be your classic strawberry pretzel salad. If you wanted the classic, head here to see Better Homes & Gardens' version. Because this is only a play on it, I feel weird calling it "strawberry pretzel salad" even though it was clearly the inspiration. Instead, I'll just call it a Red, White, & Blue Salad and you can celebrate the 4th of July with it. Here's how I made it!

Red White & Blue Salad

Crust

  • 75 g graham crackers, crushed
  • 75 g pretzels, crushed
  • 35 g granulated sugar
  • 75 g butter, melted
    • I used Miyoko's vegan butter substitute because we're lactose-intolerant over here
  • **2 Tbsp pulverized freeze-dried strawberries
    • It actually was about 1/4 c freeze-dried strawberries but it pounded down to approximately 2 Tbsp when I crushed it
Filling
  • 227 g (or 1 8-oz package) of cream cheese
    • I used the Trader Joe's brand of the vegan cream cheese
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried lemon peel or 2 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 14-oz can of full fat coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp white food coloring
Jello
  • 1 3-oz package of strawberry Jello
  • 1 c boiling water + 1/2 c ice + 2 Tbsp cold water
  • Fresh blueberries and blackberries as needed
  • **Edible glitter 
    • I couldn't resist
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pulverize the pretzels and graham crackers for your crust with a rolling pin, food processor, or a mortar and pestle. If you're going to use the freeze-dried strawberries, go ahead and mix those in now. Stir in the sugar until combined. Add these ingredients to a bowl and mix well with a spatula. Add your melted butter and stir well until you get a sandy mixture of stuff. Pour into an 8" square pan lined with either parchment paper or aluminum foil and press down with your spatula until everything is evenly distributed and packed well. Don't neglect the corners!



Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and immediately evacuate. Turn your oven down to 300 degrees and begin on your filling recipe. Full disclosure: this is not a cheesecake, just a cheesecake-like filling that I happen to like. Cheesecake is a rather big ordeal so let's just not. Honestly, I just don't like raw cream cheese on anything other than a bagel, and I really want this to be slice-able.

In the bowl of a standing mixer add your sugar and cream cheese together. Mix well with a whisk attachment until completely homogenous and the sugar has dissolved. Add in the salt, the lemon peel, and stir. While the mixer is going on low speed, add in your egg yolks, one at a time, until everything is combined and totally lump-free. Add in your coconut milk and stir to combine. Add the white food coloring and mix until everything is totally combined, making sure to scrape down the sides. The mixture is going to be liquid-esque, so just be aware. 

Pour your custard mixture into your pan, over your baked crust, and bake at 300 for 30-45 minutes, or until set and jiggly. If the top doesn't look too pretty, don't worry about that, because you're going to be covering it with Jello! It's quite important to let this cool, so go ahead and pop it in the fridge until it's at least room temperature before you begin the next step. This will take about an hour.

Bring 1 c of water to a boil while you add the ice water to the strawberry Jello in a 4 c measuring cup. Add the boiling water and stir vigorously to make sure every molecule of the Jello has dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding the ice. I like to do this step in a plastic graduated measuring cup because I can see where the ice hits on the 1/2 marker!

When the Jello is about the consistency of egg whites (it'll get there faster than you think) then it's time to pour half of the mixture over the surface of the cheesecake layer. Set in the fridge and chill for about 10 minutes and wash and prep your berries. 



I placed my blackberries in a fun, scattered pattern while I tossed the blueberries in the other half of the jello mixture to coat. I also added a little shimmer dust and edible glitter on the inside of this for fun! Pour the remainder of the Jello over and spread evenly. You can use a blowtorch to pop any bubbles and ensure that everything is evenly done and will set nicely with a shiny, glossy top. Let set for 3 hours or overnight. Unmold from your pan and set on a serving platter. Garnish with more fresh berries and some whipped cream and serve with pride! Make sure you put your name on the platter so you get it back after the potluck. 

This Cheesecake-like strawberry Jello "salad" is a really fun take on a vintage classic. I still do not believe that this is in any way a salad except for the legal technical definition which was taught to me in culinary school: "stuff, bound by a dressing of some kind." Yes, I'm paraphrasing but you get the point. 

I love it because it's not too sweet, it tastes a little tropical from the coconut milk, and it's quite lovely to look at. Even better, you get to use fresh fruit. This is so refreshing on a hot day, and because of the fresh fruit you can feel okay about eating a slice of it for breakfast on a hot summer day. 



Please don't forget to practice firework safety and courtesy. Don't point mortars at your face or at family members. Be responsible with matches. Don't hold a firework that's about to go off. Don't set off fireworks until WELL after 5 pm to be courteous to pet owners that are trying to get their dogs to go out and do their peeps and poops before the sky explodes. And please be courteous and conscientious to your neighborhood veterans that may be suffering from PTSD from being in active war zones. Please just go out in the country or make a friend that has a property and go blow stuff up there instead of in your neighborhood where your neighbor is trying to get her newborn baby to sleep. 

Thank you! Happy cooking and happy eating!



Thursday, July 1, 2021

Vegan Yellow and Purple Scalloped Potatoes

 


Like so many Americans children of a certain age, my first exposure to potatoes au gratin was the freeze-dried kind that you bought in a red box. I have many a vivid memory of the electric-yellow cheese powder that would come to life when poured out of that little white bag. It seemed like magic when it would to into the oven a weird-looking mess and come out as the height of sophistication in your 7-year-old mind. Fast forwarding to culinary school I hoped that they'd cover how to make it...but they never did. Oh, sure, there was the recipe in our big textbook, and sure they would say that you can "gratin" anything so long as it's sliced thin and baked in a sauce, usually finished under a broiler...but I digress. 

Potatoes au Gratin is just one of those dishes that ilicits a certain 'ooh!' because it is both familiar and fancy, accessible yet elevated....and this recipe you don't have to make from a box? This method is quite simple and you can replicate it with any root vegetable. Of course, if you want to make it with dairy products, who am I to tell you that you can't? Simply use dairy cheeses such as grated swiss cheese with a little bit of asiago and some full-fat milk instead of the coconut milk. However, if dairy makes your tummy hurt, keep reading.

Vegan Yellow & Purple Scalloped Potatoes
serves 4-6

  • 10-12 small to medium yellow and purple potatoes, washed, sliced thin 
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced thin
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 1/2 c vegetable stock
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter plus more for the dish
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Fresh herbs, such as parsley, chervil, etc
  • 1/2 c vegan parmesan shreds 
    • I like "Follow Your Heart" brand for parmesan
  • 1/4 c vegan chive soft cheese or cream cheese with lots of herbs
    • Miyoko's brand makes an excellent product!
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt and a few grinds of white pepper
  • Spices

Slice the potatoes and onions with your mandolin, and be sure to use your handguard with it!  Yes, even if you've been a chef for years. I was a chef for 12 years before I switched careers, and a huge portion of my worst kitchen injuries are not from the fire or the knife, but from the mothertrucking mandolin. It's a seriously incredible tool but you should absolutely practice safety with it. 

I'm going to quickly note that I did use the thicker setting on my mandolin because I like to have a little bit more texture than the average bear does with their scalloped potatoes, but this does mean I do need to cook it a little longer. Of course, this should be done to your preference. I do advise you to not have them sliced too thin because you do want them to be hearty enough to have a proper slice of your gratin. I believe my slices are about a quarter of an inch thick right now, so if you want to go for 1/8 of an inch, have at it! Again, use the hand guard and be careful. Mandolins can and will send you to the ER. 



Butter your chosen casserole dish generously and line the bottom with a small portion of your sliced onions. Arrange your potatoes in an attractive way, if you choose, but you can honestly just have them standing up so the sauce can run right between them when you pour it. Between the potatoes, make sure you sprinkle in your onions! For me, it took two layers of potatoes and onions to fill up my round casserole dish. I'm not exactly sure the quantity of this dish; it's one of the dishes my brilliant husband made for me. I think it's about 2-quart capacity!



You're now going to make a classic sauce mornay, or cheese sauce, which I learned how to make in culinary school! Melt the butter on a low flame in a saucepot and sprinkle in the flour. Cook gently, stirring constantly with a whisk for 5 minutes, until the roux is lightly browned and the flour is fully cooked. Add in your stock in a thin stream and whisk together until quite thick and hot. Shake your coconut milk and add to your sauce. Whisk constantly until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You've now made a bechamel!

Next, you're going to add your spices. In the classical French school, you'd grate in a little bit of nutmeg. I used a couple of spiceberries (a special indigenous American berry that's been dried) and a teaspoon of onion chive seeds, along with a few grates of Chinese Long Peppercorn. All of this was ground in my mortar and pestle and added to my sauce. I then folded in my cheese, a little at a time, on low heat until it was all melted together. Taste for seasoning and adjust to where it's just a little saltier than you might want it. No, really! Your potatoes will soak up all that salt like crazy so you might as well be generous now. 

Add in your minced garlic and any fresh herbs you'd like to fold in. Turn off the heat and turn on your oven to 350. Pour your sauce over the potatoes, a little bit at a time, spreading and moving any potatoes as needed to allow the sauce to get between the crevices. When you've filled up your casserole dish, you may or may not have a little sauce left over. That's okay! This sauce is great with roasted vegetables, so don't throw away what you have! Just pop it in a container; it'll keep for a week. 



When your casserole is ready, cover tight with aluminum foil and let sit until your oven preheats. I usually do this because my oven takes about 15 minutes to get hot and that 15 minutes helps you create just a little bit of thermo-help for your potatoes. Set your casserole in the middle of your oven and bake for 45 minutes. When that timer's up, remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely tender and you have a pretty brown color on top of your gratin. Garnish with herbs and serve immediately. 

I don't want to talk too much about potatoes this week, since I covered so much of it last week, but I do want to note that if you are a gardener, now is the time to plant potatoes for autumn harvest. You can plant potatoes in a variety of ways; I covered them briefly in my Victory Garden Guide. My only real tip is to really get all of them, otherwise they'll keep on growing and growing forever. They seem to grow best in well-aerated soil with lots of compost. I've got heavier clay so I don't always have the best luck. With all that being said, it shouldn't stop you from growing them during the summer. I love growing potatoes because the nightshade flowers that bloom from them are delicate and beautiful, as well as aromatic. Please don't eat them, though - the potato greens are poisonous. 

Before you ask: no, purple potatoes do not taste any different from yellow potatoes. These pretty potatoes taste just like the yellow kind only have that wonderful natural color to go with them. It's a general rule that blue foods are good for lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, and may even inhibit tumor formation. It is even said that blue foods naturally balance your Throat Chakra, which deals with your voice and your ability to either internalize or effectively communicate your emotions with others; some even say that the throat chakra is one of the most-common trauma areas out there, but I digress.

Do you want to have a varied diet? Eat the rainbow. Oh, and don't forget to shop at a local farmer's market. I know that the convenience of grocery stores are awesome for one-stop-shopping, but your body and your community will thank you in spades for supporting farmers directly.  As always, this post is sponsored by my dear friends at KC Farm School at Gibbs Road. KC Farm School at Gibbs Road is the ultimate teaching farm and epicenter of community growth from ages 9 to 90. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!