cracking open julia; or, dinner for the dreary

For those of you who’ve picked up that the blog has been less Iowa City discovery manual, more Don’t go outside! entreaties, in the form of either travel reports or hibernation fare, I confess. I have been slacking on the pioneer mission. But listen, you try going out in this weather. You try confronting zebra-striped highways and then we’ll talk. (Oh, you don’t know about zebra-striped highways? It’s what happens before the snow plows pass through, and only car tires have marked the roads. So you get foot-wide swaths of pavement / snow / pavement / snow / pavement / snow. Oh yes.)

Not to complain, but it’s gotten a lot colder in the two days, too. So I’m sticking with stick-to-your-ribs food. Recipes from the snowy frontier. It’s a good twenty to thirty degrees warmer up and down the East Coast — practically apricot weather — but we’re hunkering down here with potatoes and stew and, you know, butter.

And so last night I turned to Julia Child, who showed remarkable restraint with this recipe for classic potato gratin. Only a quarter cup of butter for two pounds of potatoes, and not a drop of cream in sight. I’d call that virtuous, despite the hibernation sticker, but who knows what all that cheese has done to it . . .

Julia Child’s Potato Gratin

(Adapted ever so reverently from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)


  • 2 lbs potatoes (Yukon Gold or another, similarly waxy type)
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated swiss cheese
  • 1 cup boiling milk


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and leave them in water until you’re ready to use them. When you are, dry them and slice to 1/8 inch thickness (a food processor works well here).

Butter a fireproof baking dish with one tablespoon of butter. Arrange about one third of the potatoes in one layer. Mash the garlic into the butter, and dot one tablespoon over the potatoes. Salt and pepper liberally, and sprinkle on 1/3 cup of cheese. Lay down another third of the potatoes, dot with butter, salt and pepper, and add cheese. Repeat this a third time.

Pour boiling milk over the potatoes. It should come up to the bottom of the top layer. Add a little more if this was not enough.

Place the dish over a medium flame. When the milk starts to simmer, put it in the oven. Cook 20-25 minutes.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Martha on January 27, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Looks delicious, Natalie!


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