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October 2014

September 2014

Potato Gratin a la Spike Jonze


A little while ago, Santa Maria and I sat down and did something rare—watched a movie from start to finish. The film was “Her,” Spike Jonze’s 2013 drama about a guy who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. I have to say, it wasn’t my first choice of film to watch, but it’s really compelling. Joaquin Phoenix is an amazing actor, the story has a surprise twist, and when Santa Maria mentioned that the operating system’s was voiced by Scarlett Johansson, my interest in the film was piqued. I recommend it for anyone with even the slightest curiosity about relationships.

During the movie, the relationship between the lead, Theodore (played by Phoenix), and the operating system, Samantha (voiced by Johansson), evolves, and at one point she tells him that she needs to have thousands of conversational partners, at the same time. He’s a bit perplexed, obviously, and I was relieved: Santa Maria is a human, and the only demands that she puts on me are culinary.

Such as earlier that evening, when I was about to make her a special dinner. She had requested steak, and I planned on making a mushroom risotto to go with it. Just before I headed to the store that afternoon, a few hours before the meal, to buy the meat, though, she casually mentioned that she wanted a potato au gratin, or scalloped potatoes, or some such. Scratch that mushroom risotto, I thought, as I started paging through cookbooks and scrolling web pages to find a recipe. 

I couldn’t really find anything worthwhile, and after a while, I decided, enough was enough. If I could wing it successfully in my marriage, I could wing it successfully in the potato au gratin department. At the store, I bought some gruyere and a few potatoes and I came home and got to work. Besides, I knew that I had something going for me in the fridge: duck fat, which is reportedly as good for potatoes as a week’s vacation is for a marriage. It’s serious stuff.

I knew I needed the potatoes to be thin, so I sliced them lengthwise and laid them flat, before cutting them in slim half-moon shapes.

 I knew I needed onions, so I cut them in half-moon slices, just for silly consistency—it keeps a marriage strong.


I sautéed the onions.


I browned the potatoes.


I layered them in a small baking dish; first potatoes, then onions, then grated gruyere cheese, topped with a bit of dried thyme and some fresh parsley.


After about three layers, I was out of potatoes and onions, so I added a about a quarter cup of chicken stock and a quarter cup of white wine, before baking, covered with foil, in a pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes.


It was delicious, the intensity of the gruyere was completely balanced by the smoothness of the potatoes, just like a good relationship.

Potatoes au Gratin a la Spike Jonze

  • 2 potatoes, cut in half and then sliced thinly
  • 4 oz gruyere, grated
  • .25 cup chicken stock
  • .25 cup white wine
  • One large or two small onion, sliced into half moons
  • A bit of thyme
  • A bit of parsley
  • Duck fat for sauteing 

Saute the onions first, until completely soft and nearly brown.

Then do the same to the potatoes, working in batches as necessary, until they are also browned a bit.

Layer the potato, onion, cheese, a bit of thyme, and some parsley; repeat.

Pour the wine and stock over the layers of potato, cheese, and onion.

Baked covered for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serves 4

Note: It's fine if this sits for a while before eating. I left it for about twenty minutes after taking out of the oven. Also, if it's not exactly a potato gratin it is still extremely delicious. 

A.1 Crispy Tofu Super Flatbreads


School-bus lines have replaced tan lines, and fall is underway. Change is in the air, and not only around the Stay at Stove Dad household. I wasn’t aware, but A.1 steak sauce is now A.1 Original Sauce. It’s just a labeling change, though. They haven’t touched the recipe. I was told this by the fine folks at Kraft, for whom I’m working as a Tastemaker this year. They asked me to come up with a new recipe for the sauce. I’m always looking dinner ideas (one can only eat so much pasta, chicken breast, or pork), and I was excited by the challenge.

People like A.1 for its savory flavor, and wanted a way to deliver that classic taste without involving steak. Some folks can’t eat steak for financial and health reasons, but they should still be able to enjoy A.1, if that’s their sort of thing. And the good news about A.1 is that it will keep in the fridge, so even if there’s some leftover after making this recipe, the sauce will still be there, ready to go for it’s traditional use on a burger or piece of meat.

I wanted something quick and easy, too, so I started to play around with flavored crackers. Made with just water and flour and seasonings, crackers are incredibly easy to make at home, though a wise-guy friend of mine remarked, “You know, they sell crackers in stores,” when I told her what I was doing. Don’t listen to her—homemade crackers are a snap.

Using flour, semolina, salt, and olive oil, I made such big and wide crackers that they came out more like flatbreads. I enlivened them with a dollop of A.1, and then set out to make a meal out of them. I marinated tofu in A.1, and fried it up, and topped it with sautéd mushrooms, caramelized onions, and a bit of thyme, butter, and the like. Finished with fresh parsley, it was everything I wanted from an A.1 sauce recipe: tasty, quick, and satisfying. The recipe is here.

Eggplant Experiments

I once saw a poster that said something like “success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” I won’t argue with that, and I have developed a related equation: inspiration is 100% the product of failure. In other words, you can’t succeed unless you fail first. With that in mind, here’s one of my latest kitchen adventures. Perhaps it will inspire you.

I was in the store the other day and the eggplant caught my eye. I decided to make eggplant parmesan that night. I took the vegetable home, but before I left the store I picked up some ricotta and some fancy jar sauce. Also a bit of prosciutto, as I was in the mood to experiment.

At home, I decided to make some sort of eggplant parmesan/lasagna/napoleon. I wanted some extra flavor, and I didn’t have time to salt and drain the eggplant, so I decided to roast it under the broiler. I sliced it lengthwise, rubbed it with a bit of oil, and salted it lightly, before placing under the broiler until it looked like this:


After I roasted the eggplant, I layered stacks of eggplant, cheese, ham, basil, and sauce. Like this:


Until topped with a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, it looked like this:


And then I baked it in the oven for about thirty minutes at 350 degrees, until it looked like this:


My mistake, as I learned later when I ate dinner, is that I didn’t roast the eggplant long enough. It didn’t taste right. None-the-less, the meal was tasty enough for me to try again. Next time, I will roast the eggplant longer. How might you improve this recipe?