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Simple Gratin Potatoes
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Simple Gratin Potatoes

I don’t know what my deal is recently but I have been craving eggs like it’s no one’s business.  I’m fine with curbing the non-stop thoughts with a couple of fried egg whites on some buttered-toasted rye but what really (and I mean really) makes me happy is poached eggs.  What got me back in the mood for runny eggs on top of foods other than toast was the brunch I had in Richmond last February.  Annie, Josie and I all ordered the same thing: two poached eggs with hollandaise on top of shrimp and cheesy pimento grits.  I fell hard.

Simple Gratin Potatoes

So it I considered it the natural choice to top some leftover gratin potatoes with a poached egg and some spinach and kale.  I made these potatoes for our Christmas brunch which also consisted of a to-die-for beef tenderloin, baked spinach, hot fruit compote, pierogis, sausage-egg casserole, and cinnamon buns, and while the tenderloin completely stole the show, these potatoes were a pretty close second.  Sliced super thin, layered with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, soaked in cream, then baked to tender and crispy perfection…I was smitten.

Simple Gratin Potatoes

And even though I had this odd preconceived notion that gratin potatoes were a pain in the arse to make, I was purely wrong.  It’s a 3-step process that I made a day in advance to save time (the potatoes did get discolored in the fridge but the taste wasn’t altered) but I certainly could have squeezed in 15 minutes to prep them shortly before our meal.  Either way, these gratin potatoes are now my go-to potato dish and whether I top them with a poached egg or add some herbs or use a different cheese (blue cheese would be amazing!) – or all of the above – they will make me a happy, happy girl.

Baked Oven Fries
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Baked Oven Fries

I’m all for easy weeknight meals and most nights when I get home from work, I’m pretty organized in the meal department.  Every week, I plan out a menu and keep it on the side of the fridge so that in the mornings, I’ll know what I need defrost and in the evenings, I’ve got a game plan for the meal at hand.  I’ve shared plenty of my weeknight meals with you here but it isn’t often that I share a side dish and that may be why I’m so excited to share these baked oven fries with you.

Simply cut the potatoes into wedges and after a short soak in some hot water, the wedges head into the oven on a baking sheet that you’ll have coated with vegetable/canola/peanut oil.  And believe it or not, it isn’t the olive oil that makes these fries so flipping amazing – it’s the soak!  The water pulls out some of the starch from the potatoes which allows them to bake up perfectly tender.  The oil on the baking sheet is what you’ll need to crisp up the outsides of the potatoes so don’t think you can skip this step to cut back on calories – the editors of Cook’s Illustrated always think of everything.  I’ve made these fries a few times and I feel like you can allow the potatoes to soak for between 10 and 20 minutes – 10 is the recommended time by CI and over 20 minutes results in a hollow oven fry…and nobody likes a hollow fry!

To further ease up my weeknight, I’ve been pairing these fries with bbq chicken burgers.  I make double-batches of burgers, shape the burgers, and freeze them in 2-pack portions so they are ready to pull from the freezer when we’re craving them.  I’ve also always got a batch of bbq sauce (included with the burger recipe) in the fridge to slather on the burgers…and perhaps to dip the oven fries in as well.  We adore these baked oven fries and we’re moving further and further away from buying frozen, store-bought fries and tator tots.  I think the natural next step is to grow our own potatoes – and you may see that happening in the next couple of years!

Irish Bangers and Colcannon
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::: Before I dive into this post, let me first thank everyone who voted to help me move into Round 2 of Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog. I was so humbled by the awesome comments left in my Round 1 post that I actually teared up at some of them. It was a nerve-wracking week while voting was going on but I made it safe and sound.  That said, I truly hope you enjoy my Round 2 post: The Classics. :::

Many have heard of Bangers and Mash but few have heard of colcannon.  While Bangers and Mash is traditional English pub food served with fried onions or onion gravy (or for Americans, sausages and mashed potatoes), Bangers and Colcannon put simply, is classic Irish pub food of sausages and mashed potatoes with cabbage. Or kale. And some versions have scallions.  Some call for ham or bacon while others do not.  On the surface, sausages and mashed potatoes with cabbage sounded straightforward but with all the variables for colcannon, I could see that this dish wouldn’t be easy.  Though, it shouldn’t be easy if the Foodbuzz Challenge Details say to go outside your comfort zone with a classic ethnic dish.

And go outside my comfort zone I did.  Here are the top 3 reasons why I was crazy for choosing this classic Irish dish:

1. First and foremost, I’ve never eaten it. Kyle has ordered it on the two occasions we’ve eaten at this great Irish pub in Portland, ME, called Bull Feeney’s. He raved and raved about Bangers and Colcannon for over a year until we made it back up to Portland this summer. So his love for this dish was my motivation for this challenge.

2. The thought of an Irish dish involving cabbage makes me shudder since I’ve never liked cabbage in almost any form.

3. And to wrap up this growing list of reasons: I didn’t have a recipe. Sure, Googling “colcannon” brings up a bunch of recipes but none of them passed Kyle’s test.  Apparently, they didn’t sound enough like the description on the menu at Bull Feeney’s.

So I was faced with making a dish at his request begging that I’ve never eaten involving an ingredient that I detest and without a recipe.  Great.

My first step in recreating this classic Irish dish was to go to the source.  Yeah sure, a trip to Ireland would have been nice but not practical of course.  I called Bull Feeney’s and asked for some pointers on making the dish.  The woman explained that it was traditional bangers with a brown sugar gravy served with colcannon.  I inquired further about the colcannon, probing about how to work the bacon into the dish, as we had seen on the menu, and she explained that the cabbage was sautéed in bacon and drippings with some added butter. I thanked her profusely for her help and hung up the phone.  Kyle was surprised to hear about the brown sugar gravy and asked how to make it. ::Crickets:: I never asked the woman about the gravy. He literally did a forehead slap.  I couldn’t well enough call her back so I told him I’d wing it.  Seriously though, I was winging this whole meal so what was another piece of it?

Yesterday, I got to work…picked up the ingredients, including authentic Irish bangers from Whole Foods (my regular grocery store doesn’t carry them), and got started in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon so that I didn’t miss the early waning natural light of late September. (So what if dinner would be at 5 instead of 6? I needed photos!) With all of the ingredients prepped in advance and with three pans working simultaneously on the stove, I methodically moved through how I envisioned the dish in my brain.  Boil potatoes. Sauté bacon. Brown bangers. Add cabbage and butter to bacon.  Add beer to bangers. Make gravy. Mash potatoes and add cabbage. And then…all of a sudden…the dish was finished!

The end result of this classic Irish dish is something I am truly proud of.  Recreating Bangers and Colcannon from the ground – up without a recipe was one thing.  It was another to make it great enough to pass Kyle’s test (which, by far, it did).  And it’s entirely another thing to fully and wholeheartedly say that I love this dish. I couldn’t get enough of it for dinner last night and will ashamedly admit, as only a food blogger could to an audience of people I don’t really know, that I overstuffed myself.  The colcannon was awesome, though how could it not be with bacon in it?  The dreaded cabbage was unassuming, ever so slightly crisp, and its contrast in texture with the mashed potatoes was perfect.  I never dreamed that a beer reduction cooked with brown sugar could be so amazing and it was the brown sugar gravy that completely put the whole dish over the edge.

I hope that you’ll try this classic dish in your own home and let me know how it turns out for you!