Posts Tagged 'The Office'

potato amnesia

It happens every January. But still, it always catches me off guard and leaves me feeling bleak. The dreaded January thaw. One night of rain and our gorgeous snow base is diminished by half. One night of freezing temperatures turns our world into an awkward skating rink. A funk envelopes the house. My husband Mark mopes around and resolves to go biking with studded tires instead skiing on the trails. I stare out at the garden through the fog, searching for solace. It’s only a tease though. I know better.


The only member of the household who finds meaning in this gray bout of mucky of weather is our dog, Earl. He gets a reprieve from suiting up in full winter regalia before heading outdoors. And like magic he can smell the earth again. His walks take on new significance. He lingers over scents unknown to me, no longer anxious to sprint back to the warmth of the house. His nose goes into overdrive when he catches something in the wind. I try and let his delight trickle down to me.

I’ve been through this before, I tell myself. I know what to do. I queue up a few classic episodes of The Office – like the one where Dwight forms an alliance with Jim and stages a secret operation from a cardboard box, or when Ryan (the temp) starts a fire in the break room with his cheesy pita, or maybe for one final belly laugh, the episode where Andy Bernard does the splits in his dance routine and lands on his car keys. I’m smiling already.

Then I head to the kitchen, open a bottle of Sangiovese, and start rummaging. Potatoes, leeks, mushrooms, shallots, a little wedge of Gruyère, and a splash of cream. That’s right. It’s time for a gratin.


I’m pretty sure that January was made for gratins. When else can you get away with a layer of browned cream and nutty cheese atop your vegetables? Or rather, when can you get away with AND feel good about it even? During a January thaw. That’s when.

I put the gratin in to bake and call Mark to my home office to escape into a much more amusing office. And later, when our spoons break through that golden brown crust to the goodness below, we sigh and revel in momentary potato induced amnesia. What weather?

My plan is working. Maybe even too well. By the time I repurpose the leftovers with a fried egg on top a few mornings later, the thermometer has plummeted back into single digits. It’s still disastrously icy, but I feel a little bit better about the whole thing. Earl, on the other hand, is ready for spring.


Leek and Potato Gratiné
Inspired from Russ Parson’s How to Pick a Peach

1 tablespoon butter
4 medium leeks, tops removed, and thinly sliced
4 ounces mushrooms, chopped (a mix is nice like cremini and shiitake)
3 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound potatoes
2 ounces Gruyére, grated
1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt, white pepper, nutmeg

Saute the leeks in 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and shallots and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about another 5 minutes until the mushrooms begin to give off their moisture. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Slice the potatoes very thin – a mandolin makes quick work of this. I prefer my potatoes unpeeled, as long as the skin is relatively tender. Layer half of the potatoes in the bottom of a well buttered 8 1/2 x 11-inch casserole dish. Spread the leek and mushroom mixture over the potatoes, followed by half of the cheese. Give a sprinkle of salt over this if you’d like. Then layer on the remaining potatoes. Scatter the rest of the cheese over the top.

Gently heat the broth and carefully pour this over the potatoes so that the majority of the liquid rests under the potatoes and cheese. Drizzle the cream over the top and finnish with a grating of nutmeg and white pepper. Bake in a 400º F oven for 50-60 minutes until the top is thoroughly browned and the gratin looks compact. Serves about 6 as a side.


living proof

I’m busy. Have I mentioned that? I have temporarily bitten off way more than I can chew. I’m not complaining – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s dim, but if I squint, it’s there.

My primary source of entertainment for the last 2 months has come in random 28 minute snippets when I sneak off to stream old Office episodes. I’m pretty sure I’ve subconsciously started channeling Dwight Shrute. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I am considering painting my office walls black to intimidate my subordinates. Wait. I don’t have any subordinates. Damn. Maybe I’ll just put a bouncy castle outside my office instead.
The other night I put on a pot of brown rice, sauteed up some garlic and kale, fried a few eggs, piled it all together and topped the whole shebang with a mound of spicy kimchi. I was so pleased with my accomplishment, I thought I was worthy of a James Beard award. That’s how much cooking I’ve been doing lately. The kimchi was homemade though. It was my last kitchen fun before all hell broke loose. I often find myself going to the fridge mid-day for a forkful, dreamily recalling the days when the produce was plentiful and I had time to spend in the kitchen.
Last night I bundled up at dusk to harvest the last of the kale, chard, and brussel sprouts. I’ve kept them covered with tattered bed sheets, but the jig is finally up. The temperature has been hovering at 26º F for the last few days and the skies have been grey and laden with snow flurries. I’m pretty sure I audibly sighed as I put the last of our bounty into the crisper drawer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate winter and everything it brings, it’s just so hard to say good-bye to the garden. On the most basic level it’s like my own little convenience mart, ready to serve me 24/7. But on a deeper level, it’s my place to go. My reprieve.
But still, I guess I have the crock pickles, the kraut, and the kimchi. Actual living proof of the garden. Sure, there’s squash, potatoes, and beets too. But somehow those seem less dramatic. Less zingy. My foray into fermentation as a preservation method is relatively new one, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. First off, it’s easy. Way less fuss than canning. But more importantly, the food tastes different. It tastes, well, alive. Because it is. And it fills that deep craving I have for fresh, home-grown food.
This wasn’t always the case, mind you. For the first half of my life, I wouldn’t go near sauerkraut. And kimch? Never heard of it. When I eventually did, I didn’t really want to know anymore. At some point I got radical and granted them “condiment status” on my plate. And luckily, somewhere in there, I was treated to tasting real, home-made versions. They were like completely different foods. And now – now I generously pile them onto sandwiches, stir them into rice, mash ’em into potatoes, top off meat dishes, and stand at the the open fridge door for a quick forkful.
My go to fermentation book is Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before, but one of the things I appreciate is his simplistic, small scale approach. I can crank out a quart of kraut or kimchi in less than a half hour of real work, and even then, my Cuisnart does most of it. There is some checking and periodic tasting involved, but if you forget about it for a few days, it doesn’t matter. For the most part, it just sits inconspicuously in the corner while the fermentation does all of the real work.

Spicy Cabbage Kimchi 
(adapted from Wild Fermentation)

1 pound napa cabbage
a handful of red radishes
2 carrots
sea salt and water

Grate or chop the vegetables. I think kimchi is traditionally pretty coarse, but I prefer a finer version (a Cuisnart does a marvelous job at this – especially if you happen to be busy!) Mix up a brine by combining about 4 cups cold water and 4 tablespoons salt water. Make sure all the salt dissolves and then taste it. It should taste like the sea. Put your vegetables in a large ceramic bowl and pour the brine over them. Use a plate with a weight on it to completely submerse the vegetable. Cover with a clean dish towel and let soak over night.

Next you need a spice mix. Definitely tailor this to your taste buds. This is my latest favorite combination.

1 small onion plus a handful of shallots, chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped
4 hot chilies (in my last batch I used Chillipeños, but use whatever you have, fresh, or dried, seeded or not)
2-3 tablespoons fresh gingeroot, grated
a splash of fish sauce

You want everything in the spice mix all pretty finally minced and mixed together into a paste. Again, the Cuisnart is invaluable for this.

Drain the brine from the veggies, reserving it. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. You want them to be decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If the seem way too salty, give them a rinse under cold water. If they don’t seem quite salty enough, sprinkle a few teaspoons of sea alt on them.

Mix the spice paste in to the veggies and work it in so everything is combined. pack the mixture tightly into a quart jar, pressing down on it as you go so that the brine begins to rise above the vegetables. And that’s it, your work is basically done. Now the jar sits in a quiet, out of the way place in your kitchen for 1 to 3 weeks. The only ting you have to be sure of is that the vegetables stay below the brine. You can do this by just plunging them down back into the brine every day with your hands, or use a weight – like a smaller jar or ziplock filled with some of the reserved brine. Cover the jar with a clean towel and check it every few days to see how it is progressing. Over the corse of a week or more (depending on temperature) the kimchi will start to ripen and get that nice little zing. When it gets to tasting how you like it, cap the jar with a lid and store it in the fridge.


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