I love the versatility of potatoes and doing something a bit different with them can really brighten up an otherwise ordinary weeknight meal. Not every part of meal has to be gussied up in finery – just change one thing to make everything else that bit more special. We had these potatoes last night, with (97% pork) sausages and steamed broccoli. It was fab.
Dauphinois potatoes are a traditional speciality of Dauphiné region of France – sliced potatoes, double cream, garlic and seasonings are baked for about an hour and a half to a rich, golden finish.
And there lies the downside of this delicious dish – the length of time it takes to cook. Be a bit heavy-handed with your potato slicing, and cooking time will start nudging two hours. Great if you’ve got an Aga and can set them cooking just after lunchtime – but that’s not very practical for most of us.
Also, the generous use of cream makes this dish extremely rich, which then relegates it to something one might have just occasionally, as a treat.
So here is my solution to both these problems. Dauphinois potatoes with all the creaminess and flavour of the original, but with a fraction of both the fat and cooking time. Ideal for busy people, as the preparation takes only 15-20 minutes, which means it can be thrown together before work. The dish can then rest during the day, to let all the delicious flavors mingle. After work, into the oven it goes, 20-30 minutes and bish-bash-bosh Vwa-as they say-La!
A few notes on ingredients:
- Potatoes – Must be the floury type. Varieties to look for include Desiree, King Edward, Maris Piper.
- Milk – Whole milk, unskimmed, ordinary. Some might call it ‘full fat milk’ but please, before anyone starts shrieking about unhealthiness here, let’s be realistic: Whole milk = 3.7% fat, double cream = 48% fat.
- Creme fraiche – Low fat. Just 15% fat, before you ask. The amount will depend on the shape of your baking dish.
- Nutmeg – freshly grated. It’s awesome.
- Cheese – No.
800g floury potatoes
400ml whole milk
salt & pepper
1/4 nutmeg- grated
30g unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
100-200ml Low fat crème fraîche
- Peel the potatoes and slice thinly. I use the thin slicing disc on my food processor. NB Do not rinse the slices. It’s the potato starch that will be giving the sauce its creaminess.
- Put the potato slices into a broad, heavy-bottomed pan with the rest of the ingredients except the crème fraîche.
- Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. NB Stir gently with a spatula to avoid breaking the potatoes or letting them stick to the pan. At the end of the cooking time the slices will be coated with a creamy sauce. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Spoon the potatoes into the baking dish and level the top. If your timetable allows the dish to rest, cover with plastic wrap until required. To bake immediately, continue as below – don’t wait to pre-heat the oven, just put the dish in and turn the oven on.
- To bake:
- Spread a thin layer of low fat crème fraîche over the top of the potatoes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Test for done-ness with the point of a sharp knife – if the potatoes are fully cooked, there should be no resistance.
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
In his octopus’s garden in the shade
Short and sweet for this post – I’ve been muttering about mentioning these for ages – and my daughter has eaten them twice today already – and it’s only 2.00pm!
Here’s a quick weeknight supper idea – and a bit of fun if you’ve got young children (or are a big kid yourself): Tinned frankfurter and pasta octopi. If you poach them gently in stock, the sausages keep their flavour while the pasta cooks.
I’ve tried a number of different pastas – angel hair is too thin – just ends up a tangled blob. Spaghetti is not too bad, but the best effect comes from using bucatini – which can be described either as hollow, thick spaghetti, or long, straight, thin macaroni. I found some in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket – 80p for 500g.
I like making them look like jellyfish/octopuses – but we’ve also tried making beetles, centipedes and caterpillars. My daughter likes her monsters tossed in a little red pesto with some grated cheese – but other children I’ve made it for prefer them plain. Your call.
Sausage Spaghetti Monsters – serves 2 big kids, or 4 small ones
1 jar/tin of frankfurters/hot dogs in brine (thick ones work well)
1 packet bucatini
Chicken or vegetable stock
Pesto and grated cheese (optional)
- Drain the sausages and cut each one into 3 or 4 pieces, as you like.
- Break some bucatini in half and push 5 or 6 pieces into one of the cut ends of the sausages.
- Bring some stock to the boil, turn it down to a simmer and gently drop the sausage shapes into the pan.
- Cover and let them poach gently until the pasta is cooked to your taste.
- Steam some green veggies (beans, savoy cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) while the pasta is cooking.
- Drain pasta monsters and toss in pesto, if using.
- Arrange veggie garden and populate with spaghetti monsters.
- Sprinkle with cheese and enjoy. 😀
Cost: Approx £1.65 (incl. pesto/cheese, hot dogs 2 tins for £1.00, September 2011)
If you’re going to bake your own bread, you could do worse than start with this one – it doesn’t require kneading, it only needs a very short, single rise, and you can have a batch of three loaves cooling on a rack in an hour and a half! The recipe has been around for almost 70 years – read on to find out more about it and its creator!
Heroines of Cooking: Doris Grant (1905-2003)
Tireless campaigner for healthy eating and the promotion of unadulterated foods, Doris Grant was a champion of fresh, natural ingredients and the minimal processing of food, and she maintained a running battle with major food companies in the UK for more than 60 years.
Almost crippled with arthritis in her youth, Doris found relief from her symptoms by following the food-combining diet of Dr. William Hay. With her health restored, Dr. Hay encouraged Doris to write her own book for the UK market, and thus began her publishing career. Alongside her many best-selling books, she is immortalised as the creator of The Grant Loaf.
Originally, The Grant Loaf was a mistake. While teaching herself to bake in the 1930s, it was several months before Doris realised she had not been kneading her bread dough. It didn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the loaves, and was a great deal easier and quicker than the traditional method, so she included her ‘mistake’ in her 1944 book Your Daily Bread. Here, with only a few adjustments, is that original recipe.
The dough ends up a lot wetter than traditional dough – so wet in fact, that kneading would be impossible if it weren’t already unnecessary. The bread itself is firm without being brick-like, and has a wonderfully nutty flavour as well as making great toast. I bake it in our house as our everyday bread, including sandwiches and packed lunches.
This recipe makes three loaves for two reasons:
1. It uses a whole bag of flour at once – no messy half-bags to clutter up your cupboards and spill over everything.
2. It makes sense, as well as efficient use of the oven, to cook more than one loaf at a time and the additional loaves can easily be frozen for use later.
The Grant Loaf
1.5 kg (1 bag) stone-ground wholemeal bread flour
2 sachets rapid-rise yeast
1 litre + 300ml warm water
25g muscovado sugar (or any brown sugar, or honey)
3 loaf tins (25cm x 10cm x 7.5cm)
- Put the flour into a large bowl and place in a gentle oven to warm. It doesn’t much matter if you don’t warm it, but it does speed up the rising.
- Put the sugar and salt into a large jug and add half the water. Stir to dissolve.
- Grease the bread tins using cooking spray or oil.
- Mix the yeast into the warmed flour and pour in the sugar/salt mixture, then add the rest of the water.
- Stir until the flour is fully mixed in. This is probably easiest to do using your hands, but using a utensil works well, also. Personally, I use a large two-pronged wooden fork from an otherwise unused set of salad servers, because the prongs move easily through the wet mix. I regularly manage to whip up a batch of this bread without touching the mix with my hands at all! Remember: you’re only mixing, not kneading – so as soon as all the flour is incorporated, stop. The dough will be much more moist than traditional bread dough – more like a fruit cake mix or thick, badly-made porridge.
- Spoon the dough into the bread tins, making sure it’s evenly divided – each tin should be approximately ¾ full. If you want to measure by weight, it’s approximately 950g per tin.
- Set the tins on a baking sheet somewhere warm to rise by about 1/3, until the dough is just above the top of the tins and nicely rounded. It should take no more than 30 minutes. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a double oven, then put the baking sheet onto the shelf in the top oven while the main oven heats up. NB Don’t put the tins onto the floor of the top oven – even if they’re on a baking sheet – it will get too hot. Otherwise, anywhere warm and draft-free will do.
- Preheat the oven to 200C, 180C Fan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the baking sheet 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
- Remove the tins from the oven and tip out the bread. Arrange the loaves on a wire rack.
- Put the loaves back into the oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust.
- Cool on the wire rack.
Variations: This method can also be used with brown bread flour, for a slightly lighter loaf.
Cost: £1.50 (July 2011) – 50p per loaf