Yesterday, whilst playing refrigerator ‘Tetris’ with a few leftovers, I noticed that magnum-size bottle of Prosecco I won during our annual office Christmas raffle. I shoved it in there in anticipation of our New Year’s toast. At the time, I hadn’t even given our New Year’s Eve dinner the slightest thought, but I figured that at least we’d be all set with a chilled glass of bubbly come toasting time. Priorities, people!
This morning, however, I came to the realization that I better start thinking about what to cook for tonight’s dinner if we don’t want to end up with canned tuna on toast. I almost bought a frozen turkey during an impromptu grocery run late yesterday afternoon, thinking I had plenty of time left and all, but then – for some bizarre unknown reason – decided against it… and thank god! Personally, I’d like to interpret this divine intervention as a celestial sign that we were meant to have a beef roast instead, but maybe it’s just my cultural heritage talking.
Roast beef is a classic New Year’s Eve dinner in Belgium, typically carved tableside and served ‘au jus’ with English peas and ‘kroketjes’, the latter being scrumptious deep-fried cylinders of crispy mashed potato heaven. I vaguely remember my mom even having a special machine that formed kroketjes from homemade creamy mashed potatoes, but most of time she’d buy the packaged frozen kind
because she was a lady of convenience. The challenge as a child was to always make sure to boldly claim your kroketjes before anyone else had a chance, because once that plate of crispy golden fried deliciousness hovered 2 inches above the table came within fork’s reach, those suckers went fast and you’d risk ending up with just a measly 1 or 2. It was the 1980’s version of ‘The Hunger Games’, really, and it required strategical insight and precise fork-placement. Later in life, mom would ask us how many we think we’d eat and then halved that number whilst giving us a lecture on gluttony and reminding us that there were children in Africa who didn’t have kroketjes. In an attempt to be smart, I once sassily replied that maybe we should ship some to Africa, a lesson I was forced to contemplate from my bedroom for the remainder of the evening… And since my bedroom didn’t come with a Playstation, a teevee or a computer, my no-nonsense mother made sure I wouldn’t be wasting my time of inner-reflection by staring at my ‘Up With People’ posters and dreaming of dance superstardom, and she handed me a volume of our ‘Encyclopedia Brittanica’ with the instruction to look up recent data on world hunger and write a brief essay with my thoughts as to why I was sent to my bedroom. Would it shock you if I said my mother was a hardcore teacher?
At the Farklepants’ household, we don’t own a deep fryer by design. It would be our death, really. I could accomplish ‘kroketjes’ in a contraption of a Dutch oven, hot oil and a candy thermometer but I’m the daughter of said lady above and therefore, genetically predisposed to anything that even remotely inconveniences me. This leaves me with the dilemma of ‘ease vs. New year’s Eve glamour’, and it’s for precisely this occasion the French came up with ‘Pommes Duchesse’. These pillowy miniature mounds of oven-crisped mashed potato not only look festive, they are a happy median between the crispness of deep-fried kroketjes and the creaminess of mashed potato. They look elegant enough and they’re super easy to make.
POMMES DUCHESSE WITH CHEDDAR & ROSEMARY
(Adapted from a classic French recipe)
– 2.5 lbs of russet potatoes, for approx. 25 puffs
– 6 egg yolks
– 1/2 cup of half & half
– 1/3 cup of chopped rosemary
– 1 cup of grated white cheddar
– 3 cloves of garlic, grated or finely minced
– salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400F.
Peel, rinse and chop potatoes in mandarin-size chunks. Place them in a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and cook until potatoes are fork tender, usually +/- 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and place pot back over low heat for a few more minutes, so excess water can evaporate.
With a potato ricer or in a food mill, mash the potatoes very fine. Season with salt & pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Add in half & half and egg yolks one-by-one until you get an even, thick consistency. The potato mixture should be able to hold its form when you squirt it from a pastry bag. Add in the cheddar, minced garlic & chopped rosemary, and stir to combine well. Allow to cool until room temperature to the touch.
Fill pastry bag with large star tip, and squeeze little heaps onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for approx. 10-15 min in the hot oven, until ridges are browned and potato appears crispy. Serve immediately.
Consequently, you can also pre-make these potato piles and refrigerate them until you are ready to bake them.