On New Years Eve just gone, me and Ben were house-sitting for some friends of his Dad. As tempting as it was to go out, pay £20 to get into our local (normally free) pub, drink weak-but-overpriced cocktails all night, experience the anti-climax of midnight with people throwing up on the pavement next to us and then have to walk home because we couldn’t afford to pay £80 for a taxi, we chose to stay in.
We decided to spend the evening in their cosy house, cooking a lavish dinner and drinking copious amounts of vodka. As we both still live with our parents (my dream of a polka dot kitchen all of my own is still very much a dream…) it’s really nice when we get asked to house-sit and can cook in the kitchen, especially this particular house as it has a gorgeous, 1950’s style kitchen with cream appliances and duck egg blue accessories and I just love it.
We were originally going to cook a dish from Hugh FW’s Veg Every Day book that I bought Benj for Christmas but I impulsively decided I wanted to make potato dauphinoise, one of my very favourite dishes. I wanted to make something ‘meaty’ to go alongside it to counteract the creamy/heavy/carbyness, but we find this is quite difficult to do with vegetarian dishes. A lot of recipes involve cheese, lots are one-pot dishes that wouldn’t need a potato-based side and the rest are Asian/Oriental inspired.
It seems to be hard to replicate the British “meat, potato and veg” dish in vegetarian food, purely because veggie food is so often more successful when the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts (Quorn chicken fillets!) Quorn do a “steak” which is quite nice but I wanted something a lot more special for NYE. I think it’s the lack of ready formed fake meat that makes it tricky when wanting a ‘British plate’ as most of it is in minced or chunk format which needs to have more done to it than just slapped on the plate next to the side dish. Stuffed peppers would work, as would stuffed mushrooms, but I really am not the biggest fan of mushrooms unless they are very very finely chopped. Although, as you’ll see in this post, the times they are a’changing!
We did consider buying tempeh and I even considered making it for a few ambitious seconds but in the end I decided a tart would suffice. Still more unnecessary carbs but we were getting desperate at this point! My Dad made Ben an awesome mushroom tart for our annual Boxing day bubble and squeak and meat fest and we wanted to recreate it.
To cut a long story short, we made both the dauphinoise and the mini mushroom tarts and they were delicious. But, I overcooked the dauphinoise and it really annoyed me. REALLY annoyed me. Obviously, we ate all of it but ever since then I’ve been researching recipes and trying to figure out how and why I went wrong. I needed to make it again!
Dauphinoise take 2 occurred last Sunday. I bought all the ingredients again and launched into a second attempt at the dauphinoise. I knew that the first time, my mistake was putting the oven on too high so that the cream split immediately, causing a kind of unattractive spongy mass to form over the sliced potatoes, worlds away from the creamy, silky sauce I was aiming for. So, this time I was prepared to just take it slow, put the oven on nice and low and let it cook quietly away for a couple of hours.
The end result? Good…but still not perfect! The cream STILL curdled even though I only put it on about 150. It was salvageable though as I pressed down so the potatoes absorbed some of the water that was produced when the cream curdled. In the end it all sort of came together quite nicely, albeit still lacking in the sauce department. Again, we managed to force down the entire trayful as we do not discriminate when it comes to potato-based foods…but I was still a little broken-hearted.
Since my second attempt I have continued to Google extensively and came across a recipe that sounds to be pretty perfect, written by that founder of calm and collected cooking, Nigel Slater. He suggests mandolining the potatoes which is incidentally what I did the first time we made potato dauphinoise a couple of years ago and strangely opted out of these past two times. Although I like the idea of a satisfying bite of thick potato in each mouthful, it seems the very thinly sliced works better in this dish.
The tart this time was delicious with a much richer flavour than our first try. However, it was our first experience with ready-to-roll puff pastry and we unfortunately forgot to par bake it first so the bottom was slightly soggy. The filling was a lot nicer than our NYE attempt though; a simple mixture of chopped and caramelised red onions, very finely chopped button mushrooms (how brave of me!) and soya mince with lots of sage and rosemary. We also spread some caramelised onion chutney on the bottom of the tart which provided an intense hit of flavour.
Next time we make these (and there will be a next time!) I think we will revert back to the original smaller size for a more photogenic finish and make the filling a bit more generous in each.
A final shot of the dauphinoise looking almost acceptable…I’m sure you’ll be seeing this again very soon as I just can’t stop thinking about it!