Moving to the true South= Cookbook Club Membership

I think we have one blog view at this point, and that view might even be from one of us. Ha. Setting aside viewership, though we have just begun this blog, this is a fun little project for me. It gives me something to look forward to. What else motivates me to get up in the morning? Well, since moving to my new home state, where there are as many churches as people and where a good house needs a good porch almost as much as I need to be wearing a string of pearls when I walk my dog, I look forward to a monthly cookbook club I began attending last month. I had never attended one before, but in an attempt to meet people, particularly people who love food as much as I do, I ventured out after receiving an invitation from a friend. Last month we selected Rick Bayless recipes (LOVE that man and all of his food) and this month we selected Martha Stewart recipes because fall and comfort food season. There are so many Martha recipes, and nothing overwhelms me like not knowing where to begin, but I selected a sweet potato gratin recipe because CREAM AND POTATOES (found here: http://www.marthastewart.com/945630/sweet-potato-gratin). I’ve got some issues with Martha recipes though. In the past, I have found that her seasoning always seems to be off, and I often find myself adjusting her temps. But CREAM AND POTATOES.

The recipe calls for:

2 pounds sweet potatoes

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)

I won’t post her cooking instructions because I didn’t follow them. I started with some beautiful sweet potatoes from just up the road in the mountains of North Carolina.

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I peeled these beauties and then pulled out the most dangerous kitchen tool that I own– the mandolin (cue ominous music). At this point you just slice away. This took me longer than it takes most though because I fear the mandolin. I will say that I think it’s a healthy fear… I once took off part of a finger with this thing and that portion of my finger is still scarred and not the same color as the rest of said finger. So, you know, just be careful.

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I forgot to take pictures after this, but all I did was pour two cups of the velvety cream into a bowl (pretty sure heaven is full of cream and honey, not milk and honey), and then I whisked in the cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, and salt and pepper. At this point I deviated from Martha’s recipe. Two pounds of potatoes is a lot, and I really didn’t think that her proportions of spices were right. So, I doubled each of them. Keep reading for how this turned out.

She says that you should start the gratin on the stovetop and move to the oven, but this made me uneasy, particularly because I wanted to make sure it got done in time for cookbook club. Every gratin that I have ever made has been oven baked, so I went with my instinct on this one. I preheated the oven at 350 and piled in the potatoes, alternating with pouring in cream on top of potato layers into a 13 x 9 baking dish. I covered with aluminum foil and cooked for 25 minutes. At 25 minutes I knew that temperature was too low, so I cranked it up to 400, and I also poured in about 1/8 cup of milk because the top layer of potatoes were not submerged, and that made me nervous. Who wants a gratin with a top layer that is dried out? Definitely not me.

I spent the next while raking up leaves in the backyard with running into the kitchen and peeking into the oven about every 7 minutes from here on out because I didn’t want to bring a sub-par gratin to cookbook club because standards and shame. At some point between the peering and the anxiety over time, I turned the oven to 450, and that did the trick. The cream was bubbling beautifully and the potatoes turned a shade of gold that makes me want to eat nothing but fall recipes and baked goods forever. I pulled the gratin out of the oven at about 50 minutes of total bake time, and it looked like this.

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It smelled pretty heavenly, too. The mixture of the cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne blended perfectly with the sweetness of the cream and made my house smell like Thanksgiving.

I was off to cookbook club with my little casserole carrying case in hand. Last evening was beautiful so we sat outside at the restaurant we meet at. The owners close the restaurant on Mondays, and the group takes over. It makes for a really nice time. It was about 70 degrees, everyone’s dishes were spread out on the picnic tables, and string lights hung overhead. Someone had made pink lemonade with just enough tequila to be the perfect goodbye to summer that this time of year calls for. I had nothing but positive feedback about the gratin, though I felt like I should have seasoned it even more aggressively. All in all, it was a pretty perfect night.

Moving can be challenging. You leave the place you have made home, the friends you have made home, the restaurants you have made home, and you start over. Making things home is hard work. Meeting people who make you feel welcomed is hard work. But food makes everything better, and today I am grateful for the little cookbook club that I was invited to, the delicious plates we shared together last night, and the feeling that I can make this place home.

-J

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