Fancy French Hash Browns

Well it happened again-- I watched another episode of Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home from my Tivo queue and had to try one of the recipes. I forget what this one is called, of course it's another one of Jacques' recipes, so it's labeled in French. It's basically hash browns, but it tastes very different than the typical American version. I find it very convenient to have the cookbook, since I don't have to memorize the recipes from the TV show-- I just look it up in the cookbook when I'm ready to make the dish that looked most delicious from each episode:

But for this dish, you don't even need a recipe, per se. Here's what to do:

First, bake some potatoes. I used small red potatoes, although the official recipe calls for baking potatoes. I doubt that it matters very much.

Next, peel the skins and roughly chop the potatoes. Jacques used a technique where he used a tin can cut open on both ends, the cookbook says you can use a 3" cookie cutter if you don't have an open-ended tin can handy. I just broke up the potatoes with the side of a fork. Whatever, the important part is that they should not be totally mashed, just broken up to 1/2"-3/4" bits.

Heat vegetable oil & butter in a non-stick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat while the oven preheats to 425F (or if you just baked the potatoes like I did, leave the oven hot while you prepare them to go back in the oven). Put the potatoes in the skillet & toss to coat. Also season them with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. The nutmeg is important, it's what gives the dish it's special French flavor. I didn't measure any of them, I just seasoned to taste. Continue tossing the potatoes to make sure all are evenly seasoned. Once they taste to your liking, turn the heat down to medium-low, and press the potatoes into an even layer in the skillet, and let them brown on the bottom. About 5-7 minutes (I suppose it depends on how long you spent tossing and seasoning them).

Then put the skillet into the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is browned. When that is done, flip the pan over onto a platter so the potato cake (gateau) comes out, bottom-side down-- that side is brownest by now. This step is tricky since the skillet handle is very hot from being in the oven. It's easier if you have a something light you can hold right on top of the skillet and so flip them over together. On the TV show, Julia had some special tool she got in France specifically for that purpose. I've never seen one in stores here. My platter was too heavy to put over the hot skillet and flip both together (although I would have tried if the pan weren't so darn hot) so I just quickly flipped the potatoes out of the pan and hoped for the best.

They broke a little, and so I didn't have a perfect presentation, but most of the potato cake was intact (and once I smushed the broken bit together it wasn't that noticeable a break).

You could serve them as-is at this point, but to be fancy, cover the top of the potato cake with a layer of sour cream, and then a layer of shredded swiss cheese (of course Jacques used gruyere on the show, but Swiss is easier for me to find in our rural grocery store). Then stick the platter under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is melted. I think Jacques kept it under the broiler until the cheese actually started to brown a bit, but I had a hungry husband to feed so I didn't wait that long.

Cut into wedges to serve. And that's that. It was really delicious, and didn't use that many ingredients, and I didn't have to measure anything. My kind of recipe! In the future, I'll probably bake extra potatoes anytime I'm baking them, so I'll have some leftover so I can make this for lunch the next day. Serve some vegetables or a salad on the side, and it's enough for a light entree.

Lamb Rib Chops

The last set of rib chops I chose to broil, but they ended up a little bit overcooked. This time, I had recently watched a cooking show where the chef demonstrated how to pan-sear a beef rib-eye steak then finish it in the oven. He served his with hollandaise, but I made a sauce with mushrooms and onions.

I really stuffed the pan as you can see from the photo above, but it didn't seem to affect the process. I did get the pan very hot before I put the meat in, and used a generous amount of olive oil so it would brown quickly. When it was browned on both sides, I drained the extra fat from the pan before putting it in the oven.

The oven had been preheating at 375F. Per the cooking-show example, I topped the meat with fresh herbs, pats of butter, and garlic cloves before sticking it in the oven. I totally guessed at the amount of time needed, and figured 10 minutes ought to do it-- I was right, the meat was cooked perfectly.

Here's the finished meal. It was delicious. I will use the pan-sear & oven-finish method for future rib chops-- it wound up being far easier for me to perfect than the broiling.


I got a free issue of Cook's Illustrated last week, and decided to try a recipe from there. I couldn't find an issue number or date or anything on it, I think it may be a strictly promotional issue that they send to people they are trying to get to subscribe and not available regularly.

I made the pissaladiere since the way they described making the dough completely in the food processor in less than a minute intrigued me-- for the pizza dough I usually make I mix it by hand and knead it. So I was curious how this would turn out.

I think the recipe was good, I'm pretty sure mine turned out as it was meant to. But I think I prefer my own pizza dough to the pissaladiere dough (it is not supposed to be exactly like pizza dough, so it's just a matter of personal preference which one any person prefers). It doesn't taste like pizza at all, since there is neither cheese nor tomato sauce, but rather olives, anchovies, and lots of caramelized onions. Terry and I really liked the combination of flavors (we put anchovies and olives on pizza all the time), and the caramelized onions really were a change of pace from what I usually cook when I don't use a recipe.

Of course the reason I don't use caramelized onions much is that they take nearly 30 minutes to cook, standing at the stove stirring most of the time, and I don't have great patience for that. But I'll probably go back to this recipe from time-to-time, even if it's not going to become one of my go-to recipes.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for pissaladiere:

Pissaladiere or Pissaladina (pissaladiera Occitan pronunciation: [pisalaˈdjerɔ] in Provençal, "piscialandrea" in Ligurian) is a pizza-like dish made in southern France, around the Nice, Marseilles, Toulon and the Var District, and in the Italian region of Liguria, especially in the Imperia district. Believed to have been introduced to the area by Roman cooks during the time of the Avignon Papacy, it can be considered a type of white pizza, as no tomatoes are used. The dough is usually a bread dough thicker than that of the classic Italian pizza (although a pâte brisée is sometimes used instead), and the traditional topping consist of sauteed (almost pureed) onions, olives, garlic and anchovies (either whole or in the form of pissalat, a type of anchovy paste). No cheese is used in France; however in the nearby Italian town of San Remo, mozzarella is added. Now served as an appetizer, it was traditionally cooked and sold early each morning.

America's Test Kitchen Strawberry Shortcake

I've had a bit of a sweet tooth lately, and have been working my way through the desserts in my new cookbook from America's Test Kitchen (there are several chapters with dessert recipes!). The latest I've tried is the strawberry shortcake, pictured above.

This is actually a very simple recipe-- the only thing the least bit fussy is the biscuit, and even then it didn't take long to make. Plus, you can prepare both the strawberries and the unbaked biscuits up to two hours in advance (although I made them five hours in advance and they still turned out well). The biscuits take only 14 minutes in the oven (which should be preheated, so I guess that adds a little time), then 10 minutes to cool. While they are cooling is a great time to make the whipped cream.

It turned out exactly like the photo in the cookbook, and was delicious. Although from a personal taste perspective, I may prefer the more common strawberries-on-cake to the more traditional strawberries-on-biscuit.

But the technique I've learned from this recipe, even if I revert to strawberries-on-cake in the future is to mash 3/8 of the strawberries and slice 5/8 of the strawberries to make the perfect filling. I used to just slice them all, but it really does make it juicier and better with a portion of them mashed up.

Seafood Bread

This was pretty easy to make, yet I think makes for an impressive presentation. Best of all, it can be prepared in advanced and refrigerated, then baked later, making it an excellent choice for a dinner party. I used the recipe in my "Julia & Jacques" cookbook as a guide (here's a link to the book-- I highly recommend it!):

But you really don't need a recipe, per se, here's the concept. First bake a boule (whatever size is appropriate for the number of servings you'd like to make). This time I made a full-size loaf. In the future, I may make mini-loaves, then stuff and freeze them and try heating them from frozen and see if that works out.

Next, cut the top off the loaf and scoop out the inside of the bread. Process it into crumbs.

Make herb butter (easiest in the food processor). For a loaf this size, I used about 1.5 sticks of butter, a small bunch of parsley, 4 garlic cloves, a handful of sliced almonds, and 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp salt, and 3T pinot grigio. I had a little butter left over, which will get used up on the top of the loaf of bread (not used for the recipe) when we eat that as a snack.

Use a spatula to spread herb butter all around the inside of the loaf. Add a layer of fish (I used the fake crab fish, figuring if it tastes fine with that, it'll be even better with real fish. Besides, I had a bunch in the fridge to use up, and was tired of cold salad). Add a layer of chopped mushrooms over the fish. Add another layer of fish.

Use the spatula to spread another layer of herb butter to cover the fish. Lastly, completely cover the butter with the breadcrumbs taken from the middle of the loaf. Then moisten the breadcrumbs with 1/4 cup pinot grigio (or whatever wine you used to make the herb butter).

Bake for at least 1 hour in an oven which has been preheated to 400F. Cut into wedges, and serve.

Next time, I will probably use salmon, and flavor the butter with dill. I think this concept would also work pretty well with chicken. Maybe season the butter with tarragon for that. In the cookbook, Jacques uses a combination of different fish and squid. I'm sure it's delicious, but I usually can't be bothered fussing with a lot of ingredients, so I'll probably mostly stick to simpler combinations of fillings.

I might also try this as a vegetarian entree for summer, when we have a lot of garden vegetables, maybe throw some beans in there for protein, maybe a little cheese right under the breadcrumbs. The combinations are endless, really.

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