Friday, October 21, 2005

Pork & Potatoes

I have used a mandoline for the first time. And now I can understand why Margy calls it a "guillotine." I certainly expected it to chop off my hand, if not my head.

But really that's my own dumb fault. I used the damn thing to slice fingerling potatoes, those oddly shaped little guys (I swear, one was the spitting image of the profile of Jay Leno). They'd been in the refrigerator for a while and needed to be eaten, plus I'd picked up some good-looking leeks at the farmers market last Sunday, and I just couldn't shake weeklong visions of a potato-leek gratin. In the end, the slicing worked. Sorta. It was scary -- I was unable to handle the guard/holder properly, and my spud-victims kept slipping around as my fingers slid perilously close to the unforgiving V-shaped blade. I think I need to go back and practice with an onion or a zucchini. Fingerlings are simply inappropriate for a mandoline maiden voyage.

(Later on, Margy -- by now a mandoline virtuoso, thanks to all those late-summer beets -- showed me the incredibly easy way to work the guard/holder.)

Luckily, the gratin was wonderful, thanks to the sage guidance of my mother and sister. I simmered some light cream with a couple of smashed garlic cloves and a few sprigs of thyme, and enlivened the mixture with a pinch of cayenne. Then after about 10 minutes I took out the garlic and herbs, lined a buttered baking dish with the thinly sliced, well-salted potatoes and leeks, poured the cream over it all, grated some Parmesan on top along with a scattering of breadcrumbs, and put the gratin in a 450-degree oven. I find it can stay in there a while -- I cover it with tinfoil for the first half of the cooking time, and then remove the foil to let the top get some color. 40 minutes or so usually does the trick, but for me there's no such thing as too much browning. Next time I'll start earlier. (I say that every time.)

Anyway, by now Margy was already home, famished and munching on Smart Puffs and peanuts, so I had to make my move. I threw two primo pork chops on the grill and sautéed some thinly sliced brussels sprouts (these little f**kers I did by hand) in butter and olive oil until they began to crisp up. It's so easy, and something magical happens to the sprouts -- the carmelization makes them supersavory. Wanna try it yourself? The recipe follows.

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