We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Michelle's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

by Michelle

   This is one of my favorite sides to serve during the holidays. I recall one year I made a rather large double batch for a sizeable Halloween party. I had assembled the casserole at home and had prearranged to bake the potatoes on-site. When I arrived, the oven had not been preheated. No big deal, I thought, as I placed the heavy casserole into the oven. My friend's husband turned on the oven, or so I thought, and I blithely went off in search of the Pineapple Martinis (a.k.a. Happy Juice).
   Just over an hour later, I returned to check on the progress of the potatoes. I was shocked to find the oven stone cold. Dressed as Cruella de Vil, my response to the discovery was eerily similar to the character I was protraying when Cruella discovers that the 101 Dalmations puppies have escaped. The expletives that flew from my mouth left no lingering questions as to my mental state.

   My friend's husband sheepishly admitted that the gas feed had inadvertently not been turned on at the same time the temperature had been set to bake on the oven. My ire clearly rankled, good friends that were crowded in the kitchen did their best to diffuse the situation. With their gentle coaxing, I went forward with baking the potatoes even though dinner was about to be served. The cheesy potatoes took a little longer to bake than I had anticipated, and the sausage dinner was a distant memory by the time the potatoes were ready to be served. With dismay, I placed the fragrant and bubbly potatoes on the table, thinking to myself, what a waste of great food. Much to my amazement, by the time the party was over, all the potatoes were gone, every last bite gobbled down. Just little specs of crusted remains provided evidence that a boat load of potatoes had once been there. All's well that ends well.
   For gatherings in December, these potatoes are a sheer delight served with a beautiful holiday ham and cranberry sauce or tomato gratin. Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes also are a welcome replacement for mashed potatoes, which was my choice in October when we served Steak Diane for my mother's birthday party. However you choose to serve this dish, it is destined to be a crowd pleaser that will be requested again and again.

Michelle's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
   The casserole can be assembled early in the day and refrigerated. Just leave the dish to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to an hour, before baking.
   Leftover potatoes reheat nicely the next morning to accompany eggs and bacon or sausage.

1 loaf rosemary bread or french loaf, cubed
4 Tbsps melted butter
1 cup shredded parmesan
12-14 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp chili flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsps Italian seasoning mix
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
7-8 cups milk, 2% or whole
3-4 dashes Tabasco® sauce
6 cups (about 2 pounds) Tillamook cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbsps minced parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. To make bread crumbs: In a food processor, fitted with the steel bread, process the bread cubes in batches, until reduced to crumbs. Transfer to a bowl. Combine the crumbs with the melted butter to distribute evenly. Add parmesan and toss again. Set aside.

2. Lightly scrub potatoes to remove dirt from skins. Puncture each potato with the tines of a fork and transfer to a large soup pot; cover with water. Over high heat, bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and reduce heat to medium-low. Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork, but still slightly under cooked as you do not want the potatoes to fall apart. Some potatoes may cook faster than others, so test each potato individually. When done, transfer potatoes to a rack to cool.

3. Coat a casserole dish with spray oil or melted butter and set aside. My casserole dish is 10-1/2"H x 14-3/4"W x 2-1/2"D .
4. You can either remove the skins from the potatoes or leave on, depending upon your preference. I usually remove the skins. Slice potatoes in half and then into thin half moons, about 1/4-inch thick. Cover the bottom of the casserole with one layer of potatoes.
5. In a large pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add diced onion, chili flakes, basil, oregano or Italian seasoning and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until onion becomes soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. While continually stirring, sprinkle flour over mixture to make a roux; stir continuously for a few minutes to ensure flour is cooked. While continuing to stir, slowly add milk, a little at a time, stirring to dissolve lumps. When all the milk is added, continue stirring slowly and constantly over medium heat until the mixture reaches a boil. Add cheese, continue to stir until the cheese is melted. Add Tabasco, nutmeg and parsley. Taste sauce for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, as needed. The sauce should be pourable - if it is too thick, thin with a little milk. Remove sauce from heat.

6. Ladle some of the cheese sauce over the first layer of potatoes. Add a second layer of potatoes and cover with cheese sauce. You may have enough potatoes for a third layer. Finish with the cheese sauce to completely cover all the potatoes.
7. In a preheated oven, set to 350°F, bake the casserole, set on a baking tray and covered loosely with aluminum foil, for about 60 minutes until hot and just beginning to bubble around the edges. Remove casserole from oven, distribute bread crumbs evenly over the top, and return the casserole, uncovered, to the oven. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until bread crumbs are browned.

Time to tuck into Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes.

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