Sunday, February 19, 2012

Signs a Sick Foodie is Feeling Better

I don't know about other foodies, but for me, as an illness starts to wane, there are sure signs that I'm feeling better.

First, I start craving comfort food from my childhood. Fridays when I was growing up were pizza and milkshake days. I made pepperoni mushroom pizza and strawberry milkshakes for the family.

Second, I start flipping through cookbooks, thinking about things I would make if I had the energy and inclination. Yesterday, I was making a list of things I want to make from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking cookbook. For the record, my to-bake list now includes coconut scones and oatmeal cinnamon swirl bread. Earlier today, I pulled a couple of slightly neglected cookbooks off the shelf and flipped through them for ideas, both for family meals and future entertaining.

Third, I start thinking of ways to make the meals I cook just a little more special. I wanted to have a nice meal tonight, so I had thawed some steaks. I didn't just want any old steaks, though. I was tempted to run to the store to get blue cheese, but opted instead to make a garlic-chive butter to slather over them. Along with that, I decided to make roasted Brussels sprouts, Caesar salad, and potatoes Anna.

Potatoes Anna are my new favourite thing. They have so few ingredients, and the final results are stunning. They do require a couple of special tools, though—it's helpful to have a mandoline or some kind of slicer that will slice the potatoes as thin as possible. You also need a good skillet that can go from stove-top to oven at 400F. Other than that, you just need butter, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel and slice thinly 5 or 6 medium potatoes. Butter a 9- or 10-inch oven-proof skillet and then layer the potatoes into the skillet, overlapping them in a decorative fashion. Salt and pepper each layer. When all the potatoes are layered, dot the top with a 1/2 cup of butter, and cover the pan with foil. Place over medium heat on the stove-top for 10 minutes, then transfer to the hot oven for 30 minutes. Slide a knife or spatula around the potatoes and carefully turn upside down and unmold onto a serving plate.

The top of the dish (the part that cooked against the bottom of the pan) will be golden and crisp; the rest of the potatoes will be tender and buttery. It's as if a French fry, cooked in butter, married some mashed potatoes, and had a family. Potatoes Anna would be their offspring.

My kids always love steak. Baby G focused on the meat, as usual. D, on the other hand, ate his half-wedge of potatoes and promptly asked for more. He ate almost a whole wedge, after that, and seemed quite delighted that it "looks like a pie!"

I know it isn't always a challenge to get kids to eat potatoes, and there's probably more butter in potatoes Anna than you normally need in a side dish. But it's still gratifying to watch my family enjoy a meal with such gusto.

Besides the flavour and texture of the potatoes, which I enjoy very much, I also enjoy how little attention I need to pay to them once the dish is assembled. Simple dishes like roasted or mashed potatoes require some care. You need to make sure the roasted potatoes aren't burning or sticking, and you need to stir them occasionally. Mashed potatoes require all the action right at the last minute, when everything else requires attention, too. Potatoes Anna, while slightly fussy to put together, can be completely ignored (indeed, they do better if you don't fuss over them) up until they are ready to be plated and served.

I roasted the Brussels sprouts alongside them, and had ample time to attend to the steaks on the grill, mix up my homemade Caesar dressing, and wash and prepare the lettuce. I have often found the salad not ready when everything else is, because I have too many other things (like mashing the potatoes) to do at the last minute. So I'm a fan of Pommes Anna. These pretty little potatoes will be trotted out for dinner parties in the near future.

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