Getting through the Dark Days: Two Potato Gratins

Always grateful for our boxes of storage potatoes, onions, and garlic from Laughing Crow Farms, winter is naturally the time to indulge in those ingredients. Betsey’s potato varieties are all tasty and different. I like to use the Alby’s Gold for gratins, the German Butterball for mashing, and the Red Bliss for roasting. (Of course this is just a matter of personal preference – they’re all interchangeable per your taste.)  As with any dish, when you start with really high quality, fresh ingredients, assembling even the simplest of recipes scan result in something wonderful. If you’re used to buying the ubiquitous grocery store varieties, choosing a few new potatoes from your local farmer will elevate your meal, even if it’s just a baked potato! Do get out, brave the elements, and explore the potatoes at your winter market.

hasselback gratin

Isn’t this a beautiful gratin presentation? When it’s dark and winter, who doesn’t want a dish of baked potatoes for dinner? Here are a few variations for you to work through.

Turning the potato slices on their sides creates a whole new look for this standard dish. Find the recipe here. I adapted it only by reducing the amounts and baking it in a 1/2 quart gratin dish (pictured). We found that this was just the right amount for a family of 3.gratin

For a similar look without all of the cheese and cream, I’ve also had success with this version.

And lastly, I will never shrug off my favorite recipe for scalloped potatoes. Give it a try using the ‘sideways’ potato technique.

One skillet lentil and fennel stew

I’m usually someone who firmly believes in never lying to children. So what do you do when you get the jar of lentils out of the cupboard and the toddler, who has been very picky about what he eats of late, claps his hands and says, “Yay! Beans!?” You smile and say, “Yes, we’re having beans for dinner,” of course. (Then, if your husband looks at you ashamedly, you amend it to, “Yes, uhm…lentil beans.”)

This recipe, adapted from the Wildwood cookbook, will please even the pickiest of eaters. Who can resist fennel and bacon? No, not even the picky toddler.

Feeds 4 people as a main dish

1 cup dried green lentils

4-6 slice of bacon, diced
2 carrots, diced or sliced
1 bulb fennel
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. salt

2 cups stock (I used turkey.)
1 tsp. fresh thyme
pepper

  1. Put the lentils in a bowl and fill with warm water. Allow to soak for one hour.
  2. Dice your vegetables. To prepare the fennel, trim the bulb top, bottom, and any spots. Halve and slice thinly.
  3. In a large skillet over medium high heat, brown the bacon. (Watch out, it will probably spit at you.)
  4. Reserve the bacon drippings in the pan and remove the bacon with a slotted spoon.
  5. To the hot drippings (now over medium), add the carrots, fennel, onion and salt. Sauté for about ten minutes.
  6. Stir in your stock, thyme, and pepper. Add soaked and drained lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Taste your lentils to test for doneness.
  7. Add your bacon and enjoy.

I served this over some chopped, fresh spinach. Others ate it without anything green.

Other fennel recipes:

One Skillet Chicken and Dumplings

Here’s some comfort food for you.

chicken (about 2 breasts or any chicken parts that you like, hacked up)
4 tbls. butter
1 large onion, diced
1/3 c. AP flour
3 cups chicken stock (or any amount of water + stock that equals 3 cups.)
6 or so large carrots, split into quarters
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp salt and about 1/2 tsp. white pepper

  1. Cut your chicken into large (3 bite) pieces.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium.
  3. Brown chicken in the butter and then remove from skillet.
  4. Cook the onion in the skillet until tender, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over and stir around.   Cook for one minute, until it begins to brown.
  5. Whisk in liquid.
  6. Return skillet to the mixture.  Add carrots and herbs and seasonings.  Cover and cook over medium low for 20  minutes.

While the chicken and veggies are cooking, mix up the dumplings:

1 cup milk
3 tbls. butter
2 cups AP flour
1 tbls. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Heat milk and melt in butter. With a fork stir this into the dry ingredients.

7. Gently lay the dumplings on the surface of the liquid. Cover and cook for ten minutes.

Serious Hot Chocolate

It’s cold. Get serious about hot chocolate. Try this one, and you’ll find it hard to go back to powdered mixes. Tis the season to indulge.

In a heavy saucepan, bring 1 cup cream to a low boil. Remove from from heat and whisk in 8 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips. When thouroughly mixed, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a glass container. This ganache mixture can be refrigerated for about 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to relax, heat 8 ounces milk. Whisk in 2 ounces of the ganache mixture. Add a few drops of vanilla in the bottom of your mug. Stir your hot chocolate in your mug.

  • For extra spunk, add a sprinkling of cinnamon.
  • For rich ‘french style’ hot chocolate, mix 4 ounces of milk with 4 ounces of ganache (or any other amount in a one to one ratio.) Can you handle this decadence?? (Made in this way, your hot chocolate will taste like the good stuff at B&O.)

+1 for Crop Diversity

This year the Puget Sound area had a sustained period of unusual winter weather, including snowfallwinter csas of over a foot in areas that normally barely see an inch.  This weather clearly had an impact on farms in the region and the repercussions on over-wintered crops may be felt well into the spring.  However, for farms growing a wide variety of crops and different variants of those crops, the impact promises to be smaller.

As an example, our CSA reported the various greens they were growing in a greenhouse (pea shoots, arugula, chard, etc.) didn’t make it.  Many of the crops they were over-wintering look worse for the wear – even some of their storage items took poorly to unseasonably cold temperatures.  Fortunately they grow a wide variety of vegetables so not everything was impacted – beets, leeks, fingerling potatoes and some cabbages all survived.  We even get our last delivery from the winter CSA program earlier this week!

Imagine the impact of that weather on a farm that was growing a monoculture.

It’s Never Too Early to Plan for Winter

From juicy fresh berries to sad freezer blobs

It’s easier to eat locally during the summer, when the markets are overflowing with delicious choices. In the winter, things get a little bleaker and, if you’re not careful, you could get sentenced to five months of salad greens. Here’s what I learned from last year: plan ahead. We were lucky to have storage potatoes and carrots, but I hungered for the variety of summer. (Berries!) For me, it’s so painful to take beautiful, fresh produce and commit it to the freezer bag, but if you want to eat in January, you’ve got to find some way to preserve summer. So far this season, I’ve frozen strawberries and rhubarb, dehydrated cherries, and turned spring’s plentiful arugula into frozen cubes of pesto. I’ve come to rely on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website to help me figure out how to do it all. It’s a great resource for any question that you might have about preparing produce for the freezer, drying, or preserving in other ways.