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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kitchen creativity

I named my blog "eat write create" because I wanted this blog to reflect my creative passion for cooking as well as more obvious art forms. I believe that it's possible to be just as creative in a kitchen as in an art studio. And my attention to "eat" here on this blog is overdue; it's time for a post reflecting on some of my recent kitchen creativity.

Like yesterday. The captain was at work so I was left to fend for myself for dinner. First, I wanted a treat. Specifically, chocolate. I wanted chocolate and I didn't want to just munch on a chocolate bar. So a chocolate cake was soon in the oven and a chocolate frosting was underway. The cake recipe is HERE, in my online cookbook, while the frosting is a basic formula I'm happy to share: 1/2/3/4. This is a very forgiving method that you can alter to your needs. Basically, you need one stick of soft butter, two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract, three cups of icing sugar, sifted, and four tablespoons of a liquid.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat it well with your mixer, then add about half of the icing sugar and the vanilla. Mix well. Add the liquid and, if you want chocolate frosting, as I did, 1/2 cup of dutch process cocoa (sift it first, cocoa is very lumpy). Beat well with the mixer and then add the rest of the icing sugar and now beat the heck out of it. If it's too thick, add a little more liquid and if it's too thin for your liking, add more sifted icing sugar. When I make chocolate frosting, I use two tablespoons of milk and two tablespoons of strong coffee for my liquid, but when making vanilla I just use milk. The most important thing to remember is just to make sure the icing sugar (and cocoa, if using) are sifted; nobody wants to eat icing with little lumps in it.

So dessert was taken care of, and I had a ribeye steak waiting for the grill pan (I'd rubbed that with some olive oil and seasoned it well with a smoky steak seasoning I bought at Penzeys). But what else to make? Since it was such a chilly day, I went with scalloped potatoes.

Scalloped potatoes and I go way back. Love to eat them, hate to make them. Well, I used to hate to make them. They were always a soggy mess, ugly to look at and weak in taste. But not anymore. I figured out the error of my ways and since the captain dislikes them -- a lot -- they are now a perfect dish for me to make for myself. The ingredients are items I just about always have on hand too: potatoes, onion, butter, salt, pepper, flour, milk and cheese. Easy peasy.

This recipe -- if you can even call it that, it's really just a method -- is very informal and I'm happy to share. I use a nine-inch square casserole dish (I have learned the hard way that it's important to use a shallow pan, not a deep one like a loaf pan) and I butter it to prevent sticking. I've used margarine to do this, butter, and even a cooking spray like Pam. They all work well.

Now for the details. Thinly slice three potatoes (peeled or not, your call); also, thinly slice half an onion. If you REALLY like onion in your scalloped potatoes, use the whole onion. Now you layer. In the bottom of the casserole dish, put one-third of the potato slices. Next, scatter one-third of the onion over the potato slices. Lightly salt and pepper the layer, then sprinkle one teaspoon of flour over the layer and then break up one teaspoon of butter into small bits and scatter these over the layer. Repeat, then repeat again. Heat up one cup of milk and then slowly pour this hot milk over the entire casserole. This was always my downfall when making scalloped potatoes: I always used to use too much milk, convinced the right amount wasn't enough. I've learned my lesson now. Trust me, one cup is enough. Now cover the dish with foil, place on a cookie sheet (in case it spills over; that doesn't happen to me now but I'd still rather be safe than sorry) and bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, discard the foil, and sprinkle over about one cup of shredded sharp cheddar. Less than one cup would be fine, more would be even better! Put back in the oven, uncovered now, and bake for another 45 minutes -- but check it after 30 minutes. If it's brown and bubbly and the potatoes are tender when you stick in a fork, you can take it out. Let sit for several minutes to settle before serving it. And if you have a large family or want to take this to a potluck, this doubles easily in a 13x9 pan.

So that was my dinner last night: steak, scalloped potatoes, chocolate cake. The captain took the leftover steak to work this evening, and I have a delightful dinner of leftovers for me too: salmon and scalloped potatoes. And cake, let's not forget the chocolate finale. No photo of the cake though. My apologies, but a photo just isn't going to happen. You see, I made a messy job of it, putting on the frosting, and it's a sad looking thing. Delicious though, thoroughly delicious.

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