A gratin of leeks, potatoes, ham and cheese cooked in the French style

Here is a satisfying recipe and review submitted exclusively for La Petite by a  guest blogger, (and sweetie), none other than Jessica Mericle of “Thread and Bones”.

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“The other week I was on a plane and decided to re-watch the movie Julie and Julia, which, if you haven’t seen it, is an excellent though fatally flawed film starring the amazing Meryl Streep as Julia Child, who’s life is fascinating and delightful, written by the lovable Nora Ephron, and heavily featuring Food, in all it’s glory.

The film also stars the beautiful and talented Amy Adams, my personal girl-crush, yet despite all these powers combined, her plot line as one of the early food bloggers (the titular Julie) is soul-crushingly, miserably dull. Every time I start this film I think it’s going to be different — I see Amy Adams, her lovely face all squinty and pouty as she tries so hard to portray someone chronically dissatisfied with life, and I say ‘Oh Amy, you’re so beautiful and talented, I’m going to try really hard to care about your plot line this time. We can do this!’ And yet every time it’s mind-numbingly boring and irritating. If you are not watching this on a plane and have control over skipping scenes, I suggest you skip all of the Julie scenes and just watch Julia. It’s more than enough movie just on its own, although I would in no way be opposed to an ongoing tv series with Meryl Streep acting as Julia Child and just cooking or eating or grocery shopping or doing whatever she wants in each episode. That would be the greatest thing ever.

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Anyway, it encouraged me to crack open my Julia Child cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and as I was skimming through it I noticed something called ‘Gratinéed Dishes’ coming right after the Quiche section, and I was intrigued. Julia says:

Any of the quiche mixtures in the preceding section may be baked in a shallow fireproof dish or pyrex pie plate rather than a pastry she’ll. They then officially become gratins. Most of the following, although they look more grand in a shell, are so substantial that they are perhaps better in a dish. 

Serve it with a salad, she suggests, hot French bread, and a cold white wine; follow it with fruit, and you have a perfect lunch or supper menu.

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Right on Julia. As I investigate further, I realize her gratins are actually just another word for frittata — but doesn’t it sound better to say “I’m whipping up a ham and leek gratin in the French style” than “I’m just making a frittata for dinner”? Blending two of her recipes, I made my own ham, leek, potato and cheese gratin in the French style (i.e. with lots of butter), and I ate it for lunch with avocado and hot sauce, because I live in California.

The recipe, which serves 4:

  • 4 leeks
  • 1 medium sized potato
  • 1/2 diced onions
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbls milk
  • 5 pieces of thick sliced bacon
  • 1 cup of grated Swiss cheese
  • Butter

For seasoning I used salt and pepper, Taragon, Oregano, Corriander, and a tiny smidgen of cinnamon (my secret ingredient in these winter months). Use however much of each you feel, or make up your own combo.

Set oven to 375.

Slice the white part of the leeks into 1/4 thick pieces, and add these with water to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then bring down to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile sauté the onions in butter until just beginning to brown.

Beat 4 eggs in a bowl, and add milk and grated cheese.

Grate the potato, and squeeze them a handful at a time in a paper towel to remove moisture. Add to egg mixture.

When the onions are sautéed add them into the bowl with the egg mixture. Add bacon into the sauté pan and cook until it has browned but isn’t too crispy. Remove and pat dry to get all the grease off. I wanted this dish to be buttery but not bacon-greasy. Add bacon to egg mixture with seasonings. Once the leeks have finished simmering drain and add to egg mixture. Mix everything together.

Grease a 11 to 12 inch baking dish with butter, and then pour the mixture in. Dot the top with some little chunks of butter here and there.

Pop into the oven, and then make yourself another rasher or three of bacon to snack on while you wait the 30-40 minutes for the top to become brown.

Enjoy!

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything with humble swiss cheese. We live in a multi-cultural food world with so many new and exciting and unique options; I feel like swiss cheese and simple, old-school French classic ingredients like leeks and ham have been left in the dust. Despite my love of ginger, turmeric, curry, chili, Moroccan or Ethiopian seasonings and fusion cooking, it was a nice change to cook something simple and classic, and the combo of sweet leeks and onions with smoky bacon and tart swiss cheese hit all the cravings. This was so delicious I am going to eat it again for dinner with an arugula and blood orange salad and a white wine called “Butter” in honor of Julia.

Thank you, Jess, for sharing your love of fine food, all things french and the love of Julia!

Gingerbread Cake

(Here is an old favorite I made again last night. Its been 7 years since the original post, so I thought I would dust it off and bring it out for a run around the internet world before retiring again.)

So, what was your first cookbook? The one you got for your wedding, or Christmas, maybe when you first moved out? Mine was a Christmas gift from my dear mother. The “Betty Crocker Cookbook”  which is now missing it’s spine, is yellowed and stained with the ripply pages of a book that has had flour and egg wiped off with a wet towel. I still refer to it on occasion. Its the “new and revised” edition from 1978. (gosh, before lots of you were born!) Continue reading “Gingerbread Cake”

Spaghetti Sauce…Also, Gluten Free Meatballs

There you go, plain and simple.

Spaghetti sauce.

Conjures up a plate of steaming pasta, a deep red sauce, some cheese-snow sprinkled on top, perhaps a meatball or three.

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I think we know someone with their own wonderful special sauce, some takes all day, some are handed down from your mother-in-laws cousins grandma in Sicily. Continue reading “Spaghetti Sauce…Also, Gluten Free Meatballs”

Butternut and Bacon Bisque

My aunt and I were on a road trip together last fall (which is its own whole story) and one of the most memorable meals we had been a delightful lunch at a cafe on lake Winnipesaukee. We had just gone wild at the Keepsake Quilting store in Connecticut and were looking for a lunch of champions. We almost missed it, a little stand alone house converted to a cafe that just looked appealing. In fact I think we turned around to go back to it.  I would tell you the name of it if I could remember. (see photo below)

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I DO remember we split a lobster roll, the best I’d ever had, and each had a bowl of butternut bisque, wherein we both licked the bowl clean, looking over at the others bowls to see if maybe she missed a bit. Continue reading “Butternut and Bacon Bisque”

Crumb Buns or Best Streusel Coffeecake Ever!

I just had to share this with you (and the future me, in case I forget).20170127_164803163_ios

It is only just the best coffeecake I can recall ever eating! It’s a yeasted dough, soft,  moist with incredible crumbles of streusel on top.

I just bought, on a whim, a copy of the newest “Cooks Country” magazine. We were browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble on my dear hubby’s birthday, before going out to dinner. Bookstore exploring is a long standing tradition, going back to our dating years, in the age of the dinosaur (or the age of the used bookstores on every corner).

Warning, if you just want this fabulous recipe, either go out and get the Cooks
Country magazine for Feb/March 2017 or see below. If you are not in a hurry, then…

If I might digress a minute, hubby tells longingly of the days in his youth when he would hop on a bus going to downtown San Diego with nothing but a few coins in his worn jeans pockets, wearing a tired flannel shirt, old sneakers and his long hippy length hair. No water bottles, no cell phones, no food. Just an escape from an unhappy home to go on safari into the dark recesses of Wahrenbrocks, Fifth St books or Joe Herwig booksellers. We still have some of the rare or special finds he had squirreled away back then, hiding them behind other books until he could scrape up a couple of dollars to go back and buy them. He’d spend just about every weekend there.

I remember when he and I were in high school together, I took my first public bus ride to downtown San Diego with him so he could share those wonderful Aladdin’s caves with me. I remember a bit of the bookstores, but have more memories of the old Horton Plaza, where the buses stopped and which scared the bejesus out of me! A big fountain was in the center and so, so many people!  I had never actually seen an X-rated theater in real life. Here I was surrounded by them. Sailors and hookers and students and just folks, mingling, catching buses, sharing booze and joints and laughter. This cringing wallflower hung on tight to the back of his shirt so he wouldn’t lose me, or I him. I might never find my way home! I might have to stay there forever, earning my keep in a dark cavernous bookstore.

Meh, I can think of worse ways to end up.

(At this point I was going to add a YouTube link to an old bluegrass type song about Horton Plaza, but they never heard of it! So, sorry ’bout that. “Horton Plaza has a toe-hold on my heart…I grow sad-get mad-go bad when we’re apart…hobos guzzlin’ their Red Mountain, pigeons nuzzlin’ by the fountain, something-something beyond countin’ in my lovely little park”. oh well.)

Where was I? Oh yes, fabulous coffeecake.

Take it from a streusel queen, this cake is fabulous! I always thought yeasted dough for a cake would be too tough. But I was so wrong.

Now mind, the recipe says you need cake flour for the streusel. Cake flour ladies and gents! You can use all purpose for the cake itself, but the streusel needs cake flour to give it that crumbly soft texture. I went to the store to get some and found them out. I was so disappointed. Then I went home and found some in a large glass jar in my pantry. I should have known. I must have 8-10 different kinds of flour around the pantry and freezer. Sheesh.

Katie Leaird of Cooks Country calls them “New Jersey Crumb Buns”, but I’ll call them plain crumb buns, because I’m lazy.

And thank you to Ms. Leaird and all the staff at Cooks Country!

So here you go:

INGREDIENTS:

Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (11 1/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pkg yeast or 2 1/4 tsp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp butter, soft and cut into 6 pieces.
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream-TOTALLY MY OWN IDEA, so its optional. If you use it, and I did to add moistness, you will have to add some flour to compensate for the extra liquid. More on that later.

Topping

  • 18 Tbsp (2 1/4 sticks, which is 2 cubes plus the rest of the cube used above) melted
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (5 1/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (5 1/4 oz)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups cake flour (yes, it’s a lot)
  • powdered sugar to decorate

for the cake:

  1. grease a 9 x 13 cake pan. Preheat the oven now (or soon) to 350 degrees. Oddly enough, although this dough is yeasted, it does not raise twice, like you would for bread. Just once in the pan. So this is kind of quick, relatively speaking.
  2. In a standing mixer or with your big bulging arms, (although a mixer is recommended) mix together the flour, milk, sugar, egg, yeast, salt and, if using, sour cream. Mix well, kneading with a dough hook for about 2 minutes until it comes together. If using sour cream, add about 1/4-1/3 cup more flour
  3. Now, with the mixer running, add in the softened butter, 1 piece at a time until its incorporated before adding the next. Increase the speed of the mixer (or your arms?) now and continue to knead for about 5-6 minutes. it will not leave sides of bowl, or shouldn’t. The dough will form “stretchy, web like strands”. This dough is soft and sticky. A little more than tacky, but not pourable.
  4. Using a greased spatula, or I used a dough scraper, transfer the dough to the prepared dish. Pat it evenly into the dish with your floured hands. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour. I actually let it rise almost 1 1/2 hours. It will just puff a bit, not really double in size. In fact, I ended up watching tv with the silly thing in my lap, (after the streusel part) figuring it was so cold in the house, my body heat might help warm up. Of course by then, the oven was preheating anyway.

Now the topping:

  1. Melt the butter, if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Mix together the brown and white sugars, salt, cinnamon and finally, the butter. Mix and Mix. With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, which ever you like. It will not want to absorb the butter all that fast, but it will happen. Now add the cake flour and continue to mix until it is a thick, cohesive dough.
  3. Give it 10 minutes for the liquids to absorb the flour. Feel it with your fingers. I thought it was still a bit too wet, so I added a bit more flour. Just a spoonful. (A Loving Spoonful). That seemed to do the trick.
  4. After the dough has been given time to puff, start adding bits of crumbled topping, breaking it into little blobs of about 1/2″ or so. Cover all the dough, then take the leftover topping and continue to cover the dough some more. It seems like too much, but it’s not. Use it all up.
  5. Once it’s all covered in steusel topping and the cake has had time to puff, at least 1 hour, then its time to put into the preheated oven.
  6. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the cake is about 215 degrees with your instant read thermometer. I was thrilled when she actually gave me a temperature for a cake! That’s one of my biggest cake issues, when-is-it-done? Anyway, this will take 30-35 minutes. Take out and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powered sugar, cut and enjoy.
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I had to send most of it away with my son to work. I just did not trust myself.

I tell you, I have made many cakes and sometimes I will press on it gently, it will seem done, then it will sink when it cools off. Especially pound cakes, my nemesis! I will test with a cake tester, press gently, give it an extra 5 minutes and still-pfffttt! It sinks as it cools. With pound cakes, I’d say 50% of the time. Its pathetic.

Then there is the other extreme, what if you leave it in too long and it gets dry? I love that we don’t have to worry about this one-215 degrees.

Let’s face it, coffeecakes are the easy workhorses of the cake world. Quick to come together (usually, although this one is a little longer), delicious and feeds a crowd. Perfect for teas and get togthers and pot lucks.

Ok, go for it! Have fun and enjoy it with some tea in a pretty china cup!

Oatmeal Raisin & Walnut Muffins

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Craigy, nutty, only slightly sweet, wonderful muffins

It was Dec. 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception. And I made it a point, with the new upcoming year, to start making more of our feast days. After all, whats not to like about feasts? Why let them slide by with no feasting? So this day needed something special for breakfast. Mini feasty. And I didn’t have all day, it had to be quick and easy.

Muffins.

Muffins are wonderful. Continue reading “Oatmeal Raisin & Walnut Muffins”

Strawberry Yogurt Pie

That title is kind of loosie-goosie. Its more like cream cheese Cool Whip pie with a bit of strawberry.

It’s like the one I remember grandma making way back in the day, only last time I tried to remake it, I didn’t use any strawberries. I found an old recipe of hers that was just cream cheese pie, with Cool Whip and sour cream.

So I did some research and found recipes using strawberry jello. But I just ended up making my own version. Its’ easy enough and a great cool dessert for hot days in the desert.

Its kind of like what I put in the strawberry cream trifle of excellence.

Only instead of cream cheese pudding mix, I used a brick of cream cheese.

And no pound cake. Mores the pity.

Here ya go…

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Yes, that is a store bought graham cracker crust. I was doing this the grandma way.

Continue reading “Strawberry Yogurt Pie”

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Did you like them as a child?

Did they make your heart go wild?
Would you eat them in a box?

Would you eat them with a fox?

No thanks.

I didn’t like eating bell peppers in any way shape or form.

Buuuuttttt, I did like eating out the middle. My sympathetic mom would leave out bell pepper from the stuffing part and that part I would eat. With gusto.

Not much has changed. I still prefer the flavor imparted by bell peppers than eating bell pepepers themselves.

Funnily enough, just when I went searching for stuffed bell pepper recipes (because my one and only bell pepper plant in the garden has given me at least a dozen bells!), I looked on the Pioneer Womans site, which is always a good starting place. Low and behold, what did I find first thing-front page? Stuffed Bell Peppers!

Ree always has your back.

So this is largely thanks to Ree at Pioneer Woman with a little tinkering from me.

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Ready to be popped into a 350 oven. In spite of it being summer…Its just cool enough tonight to get away with it. especially if we eat outside.

Continue reading “Stuffed Bell Peppers”

Saucy Sweet Potatoes with Apples

I kind of like the idea of being called ‘saucy and sweet’. Better than ‘cranky and bitter’.

Well these potatoes are neither cranky n or bitter.

It is a fabulous dish to have even if its summer and too hot to bake. Hubby picked out the apple bits at the end because he said it tasted like apple pie and, being gluten free, that was something he really didn’t have any more.

It’s so easy, you don’t really need a recipe per say.

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All I used were a few  sweet potatoes that I peeled, sliced and simmered in some water until tender. Drain, dice into chunks and set aside. Continue reading “Saucy Sweet Potatoes with Apples”

Spinach and Chicken Waldorf

You know how it is; a friend of your aunt Sally’s has a sister who won a blue ribbon with this awesome pie recipe.

Or the airline attendants brothers wife’s sister knows someone who works at the French Laundry and can get you this awesome recipe for…

Well, here is one from Hillstone’s restaurant who gave it to Bon Appetit who put it on there website, which landed as a post in my inbox because of the subscription to their magazine from my daughter…

It’s truly awesome!

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I poured a little extra dressing on top. I just couldn’t get that ‘piled high’ look to it though.

After reading their article here about the Hillstone restaurant group, look online to see if they have one near you. Continue reading “Spinach and Chicken Waldorf”