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Food memories

Potato Leek Gratin

December 23, 2020

If you were to pose that famous question to me, what would you choose for your last dinner, this would be on the menu for sure. The tender potatoes infused with the garlic and thyme and cream, the perfume of leeks that is the best compliment to potatoes there can be, and the crunchy, cheesy, butter topping give that oh so satisfying combination of gooey-cheesy-tender-crunchy that is the stuff of dreams.

This dish is just perfect.

We are having it with Bobby Flay’s Prime Rib and my mother-in-law’s famous Christmas sides which are delicious and easy – her Horseradish Carrots (so good it is the leftover you reach for first, and her Spinach Souffle. 

I think with this gratin we will have the trifecta of sides and I am not sure what I am more excited for, the presents or the dinner.

Like so much good food, this dish starts with the simplest of ingredients. I once had to host Christmas last minute and had all of these on hand.

If you have a mandolin it makes the job of slicing the potatoes so easy. I like the skins on to provide a bit of body to the dish and because I don’t have to peel them. I used the 1/8 inch setting and love it, it ensures that it bakes through and gets soft and tender and you aren’t left with hard potatoes.

Once you have these sliced, you cut up the leeks taking care to remove any dirt between the layers. Then you arrange a layer of the potatoes, sprinkle with about a 1/3 of the cut leeks, then repeat making 3 layers depending on your pan. It’s pretty unfussy and rustic (read: easy) so don’t worry too much.

When you have done this, you heat two cups of cream in a sauce pan over medium heat, and add the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. This heats quickly so watch it so it doesn’t scorch or boil over. Once the salt has dissolved, pour it evenly over the whole dish.

 At this point, it smells AH-mazing.

Then you wrap it in foil, cook it for 30 min. at 350. Then you add the toppings:

Sprinkle the grated cheese all over it. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and mix it with the panko and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle that over the top, and bake it uncovered for an additional 45 min.

The ingredients are so simple, but this dish couldn’t be more special, which is why it’s perfect for Christmas dinner.

I hope you all get to try it, you will be thanking me! And I hope you have a blessed, healthy, and joyfilled Christmas!

xoxo Katie

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 pounds Russet or yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, thinly sliced ( I used 1/8 inch on mandoline)
  • 1 thick or 2 slimmer leeks, halved, washed, cut into 1-inch segments
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs (panko or homemade are great here)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely grated gruyère, comte, or baby swiss cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8×12-inch or 3-quart baking dish. Cut garlic clove in have and rub all over the dish.Working in layers, arrange a layer of sliced potatoes on an angle, slightly fanned, in different directions filling the pan loosely. Sprinkle 1/3 of the leeks on top, then add another layer of sliced potatoes, repeating until you have 3 layers.  In a medium saucepan, bring cream, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper, garlic, and thyme to a simmer, stirring to ensure the salt dissolves. Pour hot cream mixture evenly over the pan, trying to evenly coat the potatoes and leeks. Cover pan tightly with foil, place on a baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 2 remaining tablespoons butter. Add breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper to taste and mix to evenly coat.

At 30 minutes, briefly remove pan from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle top evenly with cheese, then scatter with buttered breadcrumbs. Return to the oven without foil for 45 minutes, until potatoes are totally tender, the top is browned, and the edges are bubbly. [Insert a knife or skewer into potatoes to feel for crunch or resistance. Return to the oven if needed.]

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving hot.

Do ahead: Gratin can be assembled the day before and baked before a big meal. It can also be baked for 30 minutes (the foil-on portion) and cooled, finishing the baking time the next day. Gratin reheats well in a 350-degree oven. Leftovers keep in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.


Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

October 11, 2018

I realized on my meal plan that I’ve never blogged about a staple meal in our house, probably because it feels so ordinary and I like a little fancy in a recipe to be blog worthy. But sometimes the classics deserve a space too.

Whenever my family comes down with a cold, like countless other mothers, I try to make a batch of this chicken noodle soup. I love how every mom makes it just a little bit differently and puts there own spin on it, so feel free to play around and make this recipe your own. This is my basic recipe but I like to change up the pasta and the herbs each time.

Sure in a pinch a can of soup works, but I don’t love the flavor anymore – it tastes like tin to me and I notice my kids don’t eat it. When you are feeding lots of people its just as easy and way more flavorful and nutritious to take 20 minutes and put a pot of this together. I usually have a batch of homemade stock in the freezer, and it really adds to the homemade, put-marrow-in-your bones feel to this dish, but boxed works fine.

Side note: One of my rules of feeding a family is always feel good about homemade stock, but never feel bad about boxed. Maybe you already know about the peaceful and easy rhythm of using up your rotisserie chicken carcass and bottom of the veggie drawer contents, and how good it makes your house smell. If not, see how I make chicken stock in this (very old!) blog post. 

One of my favorite things about this soup is using really fine egg noodles. They are creamier than spaghetti noodles, but about the same diameter. You might already have a preference, like larger egg noddles, but its fun to play around with the pasta in this soup. Ditalini? Alphabet Shapes? Orzo? All so fun especially for younger kids. But I usually have a bag of this vermicelli egg noodles in my pantry for this soup. It also goes by thin egg noodles in some brands but it’s the same thing.

And as for herbs, play around with those too. In general, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley are all perfect here. I use either a tablespoon of freshly chopped or a teaspoon of dried. We like it herby.

I could go on about the health qualities of this soup but I’m not a nutritionist. Ok fine – herbs have potent healing properties and so does garlic, so feel free to double the amount if you like. My mom used to scrape raw garlic on Triscuits when were sick, which you could also do if your children will eat it.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (print recipe here):

  1. 2 T. olive oil
  2. 2 medium onions, diced
  3. 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  4. 5 medium celery stalks, sliced
  5. 5 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 8 cups chicken broth
  7. 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 Tablesoon fresh thyme, I was out)
  8. 1 Tablesoon chopped fresh Rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried Rosemary)
  9. 4 cups chicken, shredded or chopped – you can use raw or cooked, see recipe for when to add
  10. 6 oz. (about half a bag) thin Egg Noodles
  11. salt and pepper to taste
  12. Fresh parsley for garnish
  13. A splash of lemon juice, optional


  1. Melt oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 2 minutes more. Add carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes until onion begins to soften and brown a bit.
  2. If using raw cubed chicken add it after herbs and cook for 5 more minutes
  3. Add chicken broth.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add noodles.  Return heat to high.  Bring soup back to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium high. Boil for about 20 minutes until noodles are cooked through.
  5. If using cooked chicken add it here
  6. Taste soup and add additional herbs, salt, and pepper to your preference.
  7. Serve with chopped parsley for garnish

Weekly Meal Plan 4/30

May 2, 2018

As you may know if you follow me on Instagram, Monday April 30th was my son’s birthday, and the birthday boy requested spaghetti and meatballs, so that was our meal on Monday. Sorry to duplicate. But Tuesday’s dinner was so good, every loved it. Plus I cooked extra pasta and spaghetti squash on Monday so I just warmed it up. Pro Tip.

Monday: Slow Cooker Spaghetti and Meatballs

Tuesday: Paleo Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken and Sausage

This was a big hit with everyone! And I loved that it came together really easily in the crock pot. I think next time I will double up on the balsamic vinegar and add a bit more garlic, but otherwise it was really flavorful and had that comfort food factor. Also, cheese on top doesn’t hurt but if you’re aiming for health it’s a winner as is.

Wednesday: Roast Chicken with Creme Fraiche and Herbs

I love this recipe SO much – Mimi Thorisson does it with a whole chicken but I use thighs and it is quick and delicious and easy. Serve with couscous or mashed potatoes to soak up all that delicious liquid on the bottom of the pan with the melted creme fraiche and herbs.

Thursday: Bacon wrapped Pork Tenderloin – 

This is a super old post with old photos, but it sort of adds to the fact that this is a retro dinner, one that my mom used to make when I was growing up. It’s a long post but a SHORT recipe – pork tenderloin, onions, peppers, and tomatoes all sliced and stacked with semi-cooked bacon wrapped around it with a toothpick. Season with salt and pepper and roast. It’s one of those ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ kind of dish, where the combination of these ingredients is surprisingly flavorful and very satisfying. And that lemon butter zucchini side dish is strait out of my childhood and SO good. 

Friday: It’s pizza, but we are making our own and doing a Brussels Sprout + Pancetta version for the grown ups with a sauce that is just jarred alfredo sauce and probably store bought pizza dough (I love to make my own but with twins I concede to let the pizza dough makers do it). Here is a comparable recipe.

Saturday: I made three Baked Ziti so we could have some for busy sports days and this Saturday is pretty typical of our spring sports season. So glad it’s waiting there for us! The Pioneer Woman’s Baked Ziti is very close to how I make it (hope to blog my recipe soon!).

First, You Make A Roux

April 1, 2011

From listening to anyone who loves to cook, it is clear that we all hold a special place in our hearts for the people who helped us learn to love good food.  Who brought us to the trough and encouraged us to drink.  They lovingly repeated simple cooking principles over and over again until we find them emblazoned on our hearts, and we think of them each time we imitate their advice.  These mentors might have encapsulated a movement with the words Bon Appetit! or just told us how to get the eggs shells out of the bowl by scooping it out with the shell itself.  

My first mentor was my mom.  She is a great cook, which I didn’t know, of course, for years.  My first clue was in third grade, when I went to a friend’s house for dinner and they served a plain pork chop with green beans and white rice. I had never had plain white rice before.  Ever.  I had had rice pilaf, wild rice, or jasmine rice with egg foo young sauce poured over it.  And I had never had a plain pork chop.  It always had a cream of mushroom sauce or gravy or herb seasoning.  And I had also never had plain green beans.  Buttered, salted, and peppered green beans, yes.  Plain, no.  As I was eating it my little third grade brain was, well, surprised.  Didn’t they know they didn’t have to eat something so boring? So flavor-less?  It was a revelation for an otherwise well-fed but unaware palate. (I did remember my manners, of course, and wouldn’t have dreamed of saying this out loud). 

Other clues that our family ate differently were my brother’s friends who constantly ate over.  The comments at the checkout line about what was being purchased.  Also, my adoration of smoked oysters. As we all grew up and imbibed, bringing college friends home late night, our house would inevitably be the after-party.  Our friends recount their amazement that when they showed up, usually my mom’s comment was something like, “do you want some quiche or French onion soup?” 

Many years of good eating later, I am married with three children and a binder full of her recipes, feverishly written over the phone, with barbeque sauce and Worchester sauce and melted butter on their pages.  The binder started when I lived eight hours away, with a traveling husband and a Wegman’s in my backyard, literally. (God Bless Wegman’s. I miss you so.) I had time on my hands and access to great ingredients.  And I would literally crave my mom’s dishes, as in “I wonder how to make her baked zucchini with lemon sour cream?” or “Gosh I feel like my mom’s ribs right now.” The cravings were specific and immediate, and I started to realize the impact her cooking had on me.   I suppose my transition to becoming a cook was simply that, without her, I had to learn to cook in order to continue eating at the level I was accustomed. 

It wasn’t until I had children that I realized all of the dinners, night after night, with all those pots and pans were a lot of work. And that they were worth it.  I should mention that we had eight children in our family. (Like I said, a lot of work).  While other families had dinner at 6:00 every night, we ate a bit later sometimes.  But our carrots always had fresh chopped parsley and butter on them. And I thought every family slow roasted their sauerkraut and baked beans when they had a simple hot dog dinner.  The late dinners became a family joke as we grew up, and invariably my mom dismissed the ridicule by claiming sophistication.  “That is how they eat in Europe,” she would say matter-of-factly.  Sometimes she got specific: “That’s how they eat in Spain you know.  They eat late, like at 9 or 10.”   Now that I am a mother and I prefer to eat well, I realize that she just put good food ahead of, well, bedtime, on the priority list.  In the long run, is that such a bad thing? 

Looking back, I can see she was always teaching us to cook.  Every time she would start a cream sauce or a cream soup, she would declare, to anyone in earshot, “First, you make a roux” in a French accent, heavy on rolling the ‘r’ on roux.  My eyes would roll like all children’s do when their parents are extolling anything.  She would go on to lecture that anytime you wanted a delicious creamy anything, you started with equal parts flour and melted butter, and you whisked them together before adding warm milk.  She also hammered into me, “Read the recipe first. Always read the whole recipe first.” God Bless her.  I remember her remarking whenever I dipped my bread into salad dressing, “oh, that is so French, so simple and so delicious!” (What? I would think, I am just eating good stuff.).  Another favorite was, “It takes 5 generations to make a great cook,” and the certainty in her voice let us know that we were expected to take our place in line, even if we only knew generations 1 and 2.

Her Francophile ways were a combination of spending a year there as a student with her best friend (who is still her best friend and also a great cook) and, no doubt, the advent of Julia Child. Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Joy of Cooking were the only two cookbooks I remember her using.  And she used them all the time, not just for special occasions.  Julia’s Tomatoes Provencal might show up on any given Tuesday.  She must have watched the PBS program, for though I have no memory of my mother ever watching TV, I vividly recall my best friend and myself playing Julia Child in the sandbox with the white concrete garden bench as our stove.  Clearly, some seeds were sown.

Now when I am cooking, I smile whenever I am starting a cream soup or pot pie or creamed vegetables.  What a gift she gave, and what a repertoire!   And when people taste it and say, “Oh my gosh, you made this?” I think back to the plain rice dinner invitation.  Didn’t everyone grow up eating delicious food? I think to myself.  And the startling realization, like when you meet a family that grew up without running water or without a car, slowly grows over me.  No, they didn’t.  Apparently, they ate plain rice. We might have been waiting around for it, but we ate asparagus with hollandaise, and beef with cream sauce or sautéed mushrooms, and bacon wrapped pork tenderloin.  And thank God.  

I don’t know if my kids will know the gift I am giving them when I make them homemade chicken fingers or cream of broccoli soup from scratch. But I do know that they usually aren’t paying enough attention to me if I told them.  From time to time, I find myself, whisk in hand, saying, “first, you make a roux” to no one in particular.