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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, May 27

Gapers Block

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Inspiration for food shows up in the most unlikely places, and sometimes it literally ends up in my inbox. There have been several columns I've written this year that have been influenced by people who have sent me emails asking me how to recreate something, make it healthier, or even asking if I know what to do with an ingredient. Other times I've heard a friend say "I'm never eating blah again, it tasted like hot, stinky ass!" And of course hearing that inspires me to research and find a way to make blah taste much better than hot, stinky ass.

Only occasionally has someone sent me an entire recipe, or a link to a recipe, and asked me to make it for them. This happened earlier this week, when Laura sent me a link to a recipe for making something that seemed similar to a Swedish dish called Hasselback potatoes. They look fancy and difficult and therefore impressive when served, but they're actually very, very easy.

Hasselback potatoes, according to my internet research, are just baked potatoes that are sliced very thin, but not all the way through. This permits the outside of the potato to get crispy and the inside of the potato to stay soft. Waxy potatoes are preferable to starchy potatoes, but any size or variety of waxy potato will work. They're often coated with a cheese and breadcrumb mixture to encourage the crunchy outside, and they're also often drowned in brushed with butter.

Since I knew this dish was going to include both butter and cheese, I wanted to make the chicken in some way that would make it low fat. But I wanted something very flavorful. I knew that fruit often goes well with both brie and blue cheese, so I decided that my lone pear would somehow be used to create a marinade for the chicken.

My artichokes were looking a little worse for wear. They were rather small and the tips of the outer leaves had gone brown and had pulled away from the body of the choke. They were past their prime, but I love artichokes so much I couldn't bear to part with them. I decided that steaming them for a long time in water with some white wine added to it would result in a soft and not bitter artichoke.

This dinner serves two, but could easily be increased to serve four or more. Total chopping and cooking time took me an hour and a half.

Laura's Hassled Potatoes
1/2 pound of waxy baby or new potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of bleu cheese, brie or camembert
pepper and salt

Preheat your oven to 425° F. Place two skewers on your cutting board about a potato's width apart. With the flattest side of the potato down, place it between the skewers on your board. Being careful not to slice all the way through the potato, make cuts about 1/8" apart. (The skewers will help make this easier by keeping the knife from sinking all the way to the cutting board, but be careful where the potato curves away from the board.) Repeat with all the potatoes.

Line the bottom of a small baking pan or oven-proof skillet with parchment paper. Place the potatoes in the pan so they don't touch each other. Melt the butter and add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper to the butter. Stir with a brush and apply the butter to the potatoes. Try to separate the layers of potato slightly so the butter drizzles between the layers and doesn't just pool at the bottom of your skillet. Place the potatoes in the center of your oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. Once it goes off, use the brush to scoop the butter off the bottom of the pan and baste the potatoes. Return it to the oven for another 20 minutes. Create slices of cheese about the same length as the potato and about the same thickness as your finger. Once the timer goes off for the second time, check to see if the potatoes are crispy on the top. If they aren't, switch the broiler in your oven on and set the pan under the flame. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the potatoes are just slightly browned. Remove from the skillet, add to your plate, and place a slice of soft cheese on top of the potato. After a few minutes, it should melt and slowly ooze into the potato.
Serves two.

Baked Ginger Chicken
2 chicken breasts cut into 1-2" wide strips, or chicken tenderloins
1 pear
1 piece of ginger as thick as your thumb and about an inch long
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of a hot sauce
1 teaspoon of olive oil
a pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 425° F. Rinse your chicken under cool water and pat dry. Peel the pear and cut it into quarters lengthwise so you can cut out the core. Chop it into chunks and add it to a blender or food processor. Peel the ginger and add it to the pears. Combine the rest of the ingredients, put the lid on your food processor and puree until you get an applesauce-like consistency about the color of peanut butter. Pour it over the chicken and set it aside in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours, or on your counter for 30 minutes. After it has marinated, lightly grease a skillet and pour the chicken and sauce into your skillet. Place it in the middle of your oven and let it cook for 20 minutes, or until the thickest piece of chicken is cooked through to the center. (You can add it to your oven after you baste your potatoes for the first time.) Remove the chicken to a plate.
Serves two.

Simple Steamed Artichokes
(I love steamed artichokes. Eating them was a huge treat growing up. And while I love them in almost any dish, simple steamed artichokes are my favorite.)
1 artichoke per person (2 if they're very small)
1 cup of white wine, or juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
a sprinkle of salt

Fill the bottom of your steamer with water, add the top of your steamer and place over high heat. Trim the stem off the artichokes. (You can peel the stem and cook them as well.) Peel off the outermost ring of leaves and trim off the tips of the leaves to remove the spines. If necessary, trim the tops even shorter so the steamer lid will close. Place the trimmed artichokes in the top portion of the steamer and pour the wine or lemon juice on top. The liquid will drain into the bottom of the steamer and coating the chokes with the acid from the wine or lemon juice will help prevent them from turning brown. Cover and let the chokes steam for 30-45 minutes, depending on their size. It is best to oversteam them slightly than it is to understeam them. You know they're done when a fork can be inserted easily into the bottom of the choke. Combine the mayonnaise, vinegar and salt in a small bowl and set aside. When the rest of dinner is plated, add this to the plate and eat.

All in all, this dinner came together well. Better than I expected. I worried that the ginger in the chicken would overpower the subtle taste of the brie on the potatoes and that the artichokes would just seem like the afterthought that they were. But while the flavors didn't quite match, they balanced well. The ginger in the chicken wasn't overpowering, but if you don't like a lot of ginger, you can reduce the amount you use, or eliminate it and replace it with more hot sauce. The brie on the potatoes was great texture-wise and melted beautifully, but it wasn't as flavorful as I'd hoped. The blue cheese wasn't overpowering either, even though it seemed like there was a lot of it. I think this was because the potatoes themselves were so simply seasoned. And the mildly tart dipping sauce for the subtle and meaty artichokes was a perfect complement between the other two dishes. While I would consider this an accidental success, I would definitely make these dishes again. And next time, I'd drink a glass of Riesling with it.

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anon / November 14, 2007 12:58 PM

You should totally check out the 848 recipe contest! You, of all people, can win this one! Come up with a recipe that includes Grey Poupon, A1 steak sauce, and Toblerone. See details at

Cinnamon / November 14, 2007 11:56 PM

Hmm. That is an interesting challenge. Two of those is easy, but all three requires a bit more thought. Thanks, anon.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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