Friday, October 21, 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving

     Did I tell you that I traveled? That I went all the way to Canada? Well, not last weekend but the weekend before that's where I was! For my fall break. And it was lovely. I went up there to see my friend CV at McGill. Do you remember him? He is the one I sent a care package to last year, and I will end up doing it again this year because he just has so much work! Stressed out people need cakes and cookies. Tis a fact. Look at how intimidating the McGill physics building is...

     It was also Canadian Thanksgiving. Which was amazing because two sets of CV's friends held lovely potlucks that I got to attend, so I stuffed my face with roast chicken, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie (pumpkin pie! with fresh whipped cream!), and the most amazing roast vegetables in the world prepared by CV and myself. If you repeatedly glaze parsnips, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, cinnamon, garlic, and a multitude of spices what but the best roasted vegetables in the world could you get after all? And I got to try poutine! Which I wish I had taken a picture of because it is a specialty of Montreal: french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, and it is delicious.

     But, most importantly, to the first of those potlucks CV and I brought a Potato Gratin. And this was no ordinary gratin. This was the most scrumptiously deliciously cheesy creamy crispy bacony potato gratin ever to exist. I almost have no words to describe it. It almost achieved Epic Meal Time status. Do you watch Epic Meal Time? Picture a group of guys making curried bacon and or giant gingerbread houses made of meat and then eating these foods that can count up past 10,000 calories is Epic.

     Well, thankfully our gratin wasn't 10,000 calories. But it was delicious. With a bechamel including tons of mozzarella cheese and pumpkin bits that were immersion-blended into it (this was when I got to use the immersion blender!!!! CV has one!!!), and the potato slices some crispy and some soft (because....we ran out of time and there was no time to bake them in the gratin, so we fried some of the potatoes in the pan and baked some of them on a baking tray and then layered everything in the gratin pan with the bechamel and bacon bits and baked it for a bit....Sigh. Still, with all the frantic-ness of multiple potato pans going at once, it did yield inspiring results), and then the Bacon Bits on top giving crunch and smell the epic-ness don't you? And then we ate it along with all this other food. And, as you can probably already tell, we were all very thankfully and contentedly full.

Thanksgiving Potato Gratin

8 medium Russet Potatoes, Peeled and thinly Sliced (a mandolin might help here if you have one)
2 tbsp Butter + A few pats of butter for the potatoes
2 tbsp Flour 
1 1/2 cup Milk (plus extra if necessary)
3/4 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 Medium-Sized Pumpkin, Diced Finely
1 1/2 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Herbes de Provence*
1/4 cup Bacon Bits (or to taste, or leave out if vegetarian dish required)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8 in- baking dish and set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan at medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Continue stirring till the mixture is a golden brown. Then, slowly add in the milk, whisking continuously until it is fully incorporated. Do not add too much milk at once, because you do not want lumps. Keep over the heat, whisking and allowing it to come to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and stir in the cheese until it is incorporated. Then, add the pumpkin pieces (which should be small) and use an immersion blender to create a smooth sauce. (If you do not have an immersion blender, you could probably transfer the sauce to a regular blender and blend the pumpkin in that way.) Stir the spices into the bechamel. If at this point, it is too thick - add a little more milk (about a tablespoon). If it is too thin, allow it to continue to cook over the low heat (or maybe raise the heat a little), or add a little more flour, or some more cheese (depending on how much you like cheese!).

Once your bechamel is to your liking, turn the heat off. In your baking dish, arrange your potatoes in concentric circles or as close to numerous flat layers as possible. Layer a few pats of butter on the top layer of potatoes. Then, carefully pour your bechamel sauce onto the potatoes: pour along the sides of the dish as well so you can see it seeping into the bottom, and wherever there are cracks so it goes into all the layers. Place in the oven to cook for 45 minutes, after which you can take it out, top with bacon bits, and put back into the oven for another 10 minutes, at which point it should be done. The gratin is cooked when all the potatoes are soft and cooked through, so you can stick a fork through at the 40, 50, even 60 minute mark because different people's ovens cook differently so the cooking time may vary. Serve warm!

* Note: We used these spices because we had them on hand. I could also see 1/4 tsp of Nutmeg tasting delicious, or a little Red Chili Powder for extra spice. Play with the spices, add the ones you like and the amount you want to taste.

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