My mom is the reason I love to read and the reason I make sure my family sits down for dinner together nearly every day. So in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing one of my mom’s recipes.
Both my parents are avid readers and I grew up surrounded by books, magazines, and newspapers. As a kid, reading was my favorite pastime, but my mom was strict about "no books at the dinner table" when we gathered every night for a family meal.
My mom would never call herself a foodie. It's true she's not the sort of foodie who seeks out trendy restaurants or elaborate recipes. But she is a literary foodie, someone who enjoys reading and learning about food as much as cooking. If I mention one of the foodie books I've read recently, I know my mom won’t have to feign interest; she's probably already read the book.
One of my strongest food memories from childhood is my Mom's Potatoes Au Gratin. I think of them as my mom's signature dish. Essentially cheesy potatoes, but the French name gave them an air of sophistication. Potatoes Au Gratin capture a combination of practical and cultured, just like my mom.
My mom made Potatoes Au Gratin often, using a different method depending on the occasion. For everyday dinners, she used a streamlined approach, layering the ingredients right into the baking dish and then pouring in the milk. For fancier dinner parties, she used a more refined method, first making a white sauce, and then stirring in the cheese till smooth before pouring it on the potatoes.
As a kid, I'm not sure I could tell the difference, but it was "the easy method" that made the biggest impression. I distinctly remember my mom layering sliced potatoes, grating cheese directly on the potatoes, adding dabs of butter, sprinkling in the flour, building up the layers in a large round Pyrex bowl.
I've done my best to capture my mom's easy Potatoes Au Gratin, with a few tweaks of my own. More importantly, I've done my best to pass along my mom’s lessons about the value of books and the importance of family meals -- just as long as there's no reading (or texting!) at the dinner table!
Happy Mother’s Day! I’d love to hear about your mom’s signature recipe or any family traditions she inspired!
My Mom's Easy Potatoes Au Gratin
My mom didn't really follow a set recipe. She adjusted the ingredients depending on the number of people she was serving. I've adapted the recipe to fit in my 9-inch square Fiesta baker (2 inches deep and about 1 1/2 quart capacity). This makes enough to feed a family of four along with some leftovers. My favorite cheese for this recipe is Gruyere, but it can be expensive; I also like a sharp Cheddar or Monterey Jack (any good melting cheese that you like should be fine). My mom always served Potatoes Au Gratin with ham and to this day no ham dinner seems complete without them. I also love these Au Gratins with a pork or beef roast.
- 2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 6 medium)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 cup shredded Gruyere (or other) cheese, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Use a bit of the butter to grease the baking dish. Cut the remaining butter into 1/4 inch cubes.
Peel the potatoes. Slice carefully into 1/8-inch rounds. (My mandolin makes this quick and easy, but I ALWAYS use the safety guard after slicing my thumb once.) Transfer the sliced potatoes into a large bowl of cold water to keep them from discoloring.
Combine the cream, milk, flour, onion powder, and dry mustard in bowl or measuring cup. Whisk until the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined with the milk and cream.
Remove the potatoes from the water and pat dry. Layer half the potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle half the salt (1/2 teaspoon) and half the cheese (1/2 cup) evenly over the potatoes. Scatter half the butter cubes over the potatoes. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste.
Layer the remaining potatoes in the baking dish over the first layer. Sprinkle the remaining salt (1/2 teaspoon) and cheese (1/2 cup) over the top layer of potatoes. Sprinkle the top with black pepper to taste. Scatter the remaining butter cubes on top.
Pour in the milk and flour mixture. Sprinkle paprika evenly over the top. Place in oven and bake uncovered for about 60 minutes or until the top is nicely browned, the milk is absorbed, the cheese sauce is bubbling, and the potatoes are tender. During the final 30 minutes or so, check on the potatoes -- if the top is browning too much before the potatoes are done, cover loosely with a piece of foil.
Remove potatoes from the oven and cool somewhat before serving.
Makes about 6 servings (about 2/3 cup each).