By Sarah Jackson
When you grow up eating Hamburger Helper like I did, it doesn’t seem strange at all to get your scalloped potatoes out of a box.
Betty Crocker and I, believe it or not, have done a fine job for years with packets of freeze-dried potatoes, a curiously orange cheese-sauce mix and milk.
Until this Week 11 of the Dark Days eat-local challenge, I had never ventured beyond Betty for scalloped spuds.
But I had German Butterball potatoes from the farmers market — a lovely variety not available at most grocery stores — getting sprouty in the pantry and wanted to give them their due.
So what did I do? I went out, yet again, and bought something — this time an OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer.
You didn’t honestly think I was going to peel and then also slice 4 pounds of potatoes?
No way, not with my rookie knife skills and busy schedule.
And, so on a week night, I whipped up an almost 100 percent local treat, using potatoes from Olsen Farms of Colville, whole milk from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy of Lynden, Beecher’s Flagship cheese from Seattle, Golden Glen Creamery butter from Bow and onions from Washington.
My new mandoline — I love that its name sounds like a musical instrument — was fast, making quick work out of the tubers, well worth the investment already. (Tell me: What else can I use this wonderful thing for besides cucumber slices?)
I served the potatoes with leftover Christmas ham (given to us as a parting gift) and peas (always on hand for our 1½-year-old son). Both were already in the freezer but not local.
(I admit I haven’t been as local as I would like to be for this challenge. But I would always rather use non-local food that needs eating, than buy something new just so it can be local. Waste not, want not.)
I took the advice of my editor, a scalloped potato pro, who said to cook the potatoes longer and with more sauce than the recipe suggested.
It worked like a charm.
Every bite of these potatoes tasted cheesy and rich, but not heavy. I was surprised to see that the golden flesh of the German Butterballs did not fade at all.
Though most recipes don’t include cayenne as a common seasoning, I like to use it sparingly in many dishes. I feel like it adds a subtle heat and keeps things from seeming bland.
This idea comes from my husband, whose late mother, an accomplished home cook, used to put cayenne in nearly everything, even milkshakes, for an extra note of flavor.
White pepper powder can also have the same effect, but it is a bit more pungent, I’ve found.
Do you do this, too?
Unlike some things I’ve made for this challenge, this dish could easily make its way into my permanent repertoire.
Next time I make it, however, I might go with 2 percent or skim milk to lighten things up a bit. Then again, the added fat from the whole milk is nice to have when you’re freezing the leftovers, which reheat wonderfully, by the way.
See urbanhennery.com for more eat-local ideas from other Dark Days participants
2medium onions, chopped
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
4large russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
8ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and cook onions in a skillet until golden brown. Set aside.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat in a saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a simmer while stirring. When sauce has thickened slightly, remove it from the heat. Season it with salt, pepper and cayenne.
Spread 1/3 of the white sauce in bottom of baking dish and top with 1/3 of the potatoes, 1/3 of the onions and 1/3 of the cheese. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Continue layering ingredients and seasonings, ending with the remaining cheese on top.
Bake for 45 minutes covered. Uncover and bake for another 45 minutes or more until golden and bubbly.
Broil for an additional five minutes to create a golden, cheesy crust, if necessary. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.