Sunday, June 28, 2009

First Official Food-Related Post (a.k.a.: Herbed Potato Souffle)

I love love LOVE souffles. They are perfect on so many levels. Egg-y cheese-y goodness in a light, airy format. Plus, they are baked, thus I am capable of making them, but they count as a meal. And you will impress people when you whip a beautifully golden puffed souffle out of the oven. Heck, you'll even impress yourself!

I think many people are intimidated by souffles. I say this based on the fact that when I talk about them with my peers, most have never attempted to make one, and are impressed by the fact that I can do it. I don't claim to be a souffle genius, but any souffle proficiency that I do possess I attribute entirely to my mother. She went through a souffle phase at some point (infinitely better than the beet phase and also decidedly better than the roast chicken phase, which lasted long enough to even wear out my love for all things chicken). I must have been in the 8th grade or so when we started having souffle every Sunday night for a number of months, which (appropriately) was dubbed "Sunday Night Souffle." We had a very spartan kitchen whose lone non-essential appliance was a sometimes-functioning Cuisinart. Which is to say, no electric mixer. Which meant that with this incessant souffle mixing, my mother needed someone who was willing to beat egg whites with a sticky old manual egg beater for 15 minutes or so, which is where I came in. (Now that I think about it, I also got stuck grating the cheese, if we didn't have pre-grated in the fridge. And sometimes whisking the roux while she consulted the recipe again and again). So, at age 13 or so I was fully introduced into the world of souffles, although I didn't make a souffle on my own until I was about 22. (Being away at school for 8 years wasn't exactly conducive to souffle making.)

In the fall of 2006 I had been itching to make a souffle, and it just so happened that there was a fancy kitchen supply store that was going out of business on Nantucket. It was liquidating its inventory at 70% off, and as a result I bought a souffle dish in just about every size they offered. (I have a habit of doing this. I now have 5 individual-size ramekins, 2 medium dishes and 1 large one. Oops.) I also bought a hand mixer for $2 at the thrift shop, which has make the whole egg white beating process much much easier! After finally procuring the necessary tools, I have made several successful basic cheese souffles, which remain my favorite, and about which I will post at a later date. Tonight I will write about Herbed Potato Souffle, a variation that I ripped out of Food and Wine at some point, which was tonight's dinner. The starch from the potatoes gives a denser and sturdier texture than a regular souffle, so it's a foolproof starting point. When the recipe was published in the magazine it was suggested as a side dish for a Braised Lamb Shoulder, but to be honest, the thought of eating this along side something as heavy as braised lamb makes me feel a little sick. I would suggest serving this along side a generous portion of a lightly dressed green salad and enjoy it as a vegetarian dinner. The original recipe, found here, is for 6, I adjusted the amounts of things somewhat for a recipe that could serve 3-4 depending on your appetites. (Erik and I split it, which I wouldn't recommend, since I still feel grossly full 3 hours later).

Herbed Potato Souffle (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, October 2006)

* 1 1/4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, plus another small pat for greasing the pan
* 1 pound of baking potatoes (2 small-medium potatoes)
* 1/2 cup milk or half & half
* About 1 1/4 cups Cantal or Gruyere cheese, shredded (I actually used Havarti with dill, but it was a little bit wimpy; when I make this again I will use one of the suggested cheeses)
* 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
* 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
* 1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley (just realized I forgot this--oops.)
* Salt and pepper to taste
* 3 large eggs, separated
* 2 additional egg whites
* Pinch of cream of tarter (optional--sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't)
* Grated Parmesan cheese--Kraft brand is find, or a few pinches of flour for coating souffle dish

1. Decide if you want to boil or bake your potatoes. I've tried both, but since each instance was so far apart, I don't really know which is better. If you are baking, scrub and prick your potato(es), and bake for about an hour at 400 degrees F. If boiling, peel and quarter your potatoes, cover with cold water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Preheat or reduce-heat(?) your oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and either cheese (my preference!) or flour a 2-quart souffle dish.

3. Back to the potatoes: If you baked your potatoes, slice them open and scoop out the meat into a medium bowl. Eat the potato skins--they are full of good nutrients & stuff. If you boiled your potatoes, drain and return to the saucepan, and dry them out for a minute over high heat, then kill the heat. Add the butter and mash the potatoes. Stir in the milk or half & half. Stir in the grated cheese and herbs, and season with salt & pepper to taste. Stir in the egg yolks and set aside.

4. In a very clean large bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. If you have cream of tarter, add a pinch at this point. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

5. Fold one third of the egg whites into the potato mixture gently. For souffle neophytes, folding in egg whites means, taking a clean rubber spatula and cutting down the middle of the bowl and gently scooping along the bottom of the bowl and folding the potato mixture that you lift up onto the blob of egg whites on top. Keep repeating this motion while rotating the bowl a little each time so that you incorporate all the potato and egg white together and no streaks remain. Gentle is the key word here. You want to maintain as much air in the egg whites as possible for maximum lift. Once you've mixed in a little, add the potato mixture back into the egg white bowl and gently fold everything together until no streaks remain.

5. Gently scrape the mixture into your prepared souffle pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is puffy and browned. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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