Log Cabin Chronicles
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greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand

Dutch treat
Dutch trick

GREG DUNCAN

I have at least a dozen friends who are fantastic cooks. We share an affinity for the process of chopping, steaming, broiling, and all manner of food preparation. I take great pleasure in the banter that is often exchanged on weekends where we consult on what everyone is making.

Cold winter weekend afternoons are often spent in the kitchen over a hot stove or a warm oven. Steamy windows are a sign that all is right on a dark February day.

One of my friends, known for her culinary aptitude, is of Dutch descent. When she cooks, she goes all out. A recent invite to her house to celebrate her husband's birthday had me salivating in anticipation of what was to come. Imagine my pleasure, then, when a large casserole of absolutely delicious looking scalloped potatoes was placed on the table before me.

It had been a long time since I'd had this homey favorite of mine and commented that scalloped potatoes were the perfect accompaniment to the roast pork and asparagus that she served.

I also said that homemade scalloped potatoes were so much better than those awful things that you can buy in a box.

The cook's husband announced that she even had been so industrious as to have sliced the potatoes paper-thin with a razor blade

They were delicious indeed and as I dug into a mouthful, she burst my zealous bubble.

"They are straight out of the box," she proclaimed and my jaw dropped as I realized I had been cruelly taken in by a creamy oniony sauce that surrounded each potato slice like so much béchamel.

Her pleasure was obvious as was her husband's, as they witnessed this food writer's total embarrassment that could only be assuaged by a large mouthful of red wine. How could I have not noticed even the slightest flavor of Betty Crocker cardboard? Had my palate turned toward a bland future?

In fact, these potatoes were downright good and I forgave her for indulging in a little time-saving, which most of us do when necessary.

Embarrassment is often accompanied by indigestion and I was soon initiated into the Dutch world of digestive remedy. A small airplane bottle of a tonic that will leave you burning and then suddenly relieved was placed in front of me.

Underberg is a natural herb bitters that has legendary properties. If the 44 percent alcohol content doesn't leave you reeling, then the combination of herbs and sugar in this condensed digestive will. Underberg's taste alone will have you scrambling for another bite of boxed potatoes in order to cleanse your palate. Don't be surprised if you suddenly feel like locking arms with the person next to you at the table and singing Dutch drinking songs. This tonic is that powerful and may be served at my dining table soon.

All this to say that friends, food, and good tonic make for a great life and I will forgive anyone who, under the time constraints of a stressful, busy schedule, cheats a little by using pre-prepared foods from time to time. Especially if they provideUnderberg.

The fact remains, however, that real scalloped potatoes can't be beat. They are the perfect side dish to almost every winter offering. You may want to serve a pork roast, as my host did, as the main dish. Pork roasts are always a good deal and potatoes are dirt cheap. Just make sure you slice them super-thin as those found in a box, and all will be well.

Scalloped Potatoes with Cream

    1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter
    1 3/4 lbs. russett potatoes, peeled and sliced as thin as you can
    1/3 cup + 3 tbs. whipping cream
    1/3 cup chicken broth (canned is fine)
Salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 375. Rub 1/2 tbs. butter over a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange 1/3 of potatoes in dish, season with salt and pepper. Repeat layering and seasoning in two batches.

Mix whipping cream and broth in a small bowl, pour over potatoes. Dot with 1 tbs. butter. Bake until golden.

Drizzle 3 tbs. cream over potatoes and return to oven and bake until tender and golden, about 15 minutes more.

Cool five minutes and serve. Serves four.


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Copyright © 1999 Greg Duncan/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.99