Creole Potatoes Au Gratin

In 2001, two weeks before Michael and I were about to get married, there was a tornado that ripped through College park. It barely missed the church we had booked for the event. It also happened to be two weeks after 9/11.  My husband lost a family friend, but we were fortunate to have other family members come home safe.

At the reception, the wedding DJ played, “I’m Proud to be an American” for the last song of the night. Organically, the crowd came tightly together arm and arm and sang along. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

I bring up the life altering event because we chose to push our fears aside and get on a plane for our honeymoon. The Bells were going to New Orleans.

There was such an array of emotions once we got on the plane. Michael and I could have had our own row of seats if we wanted. The plane was empty.

At this point in my life I had only been on two plane flights, the first one I jumped out of, successfully. The other one was to Puerto Rico. That particular flight was a little concerning to me because there was a screaming 2 year old behind me for three hours and everyone clapped when we landed. In case you weren’t already aware, clapping is not always comforting.

If you are wondering why I breezed over the first plane flight I ever took was the flight I chose to jump out of, you are just going to have to wait until I work that into another post. We have to get to New Orleans.

Setting aside our emotions from the last couple weeks, Michael and I had an adventure of food, people, architecture, wildlife, art, and culture. We loved New Orleans so much so we talked about buying real estate.

One night, we were on Bourbon Street heading back to our bed and breakfast when we came across a team of people setting up the scene for a movie. With all the lights and cranes and the watered down streets, it felt like a movie set as opposed to the streets of the French Quarter. Later we found out they were filming the movie Crossroads. You remember the one with Brittany Spears and a girl’s road trip? I would have wrestled an alligator to meet Brittany, Bitch!

I think Michael and I ate 6 times a day. We were only there for 5 days and the food was out of this world. We didn’t encounter one bad meal, but I was craving fruits and veggies when I got home. Lots of cream sauces and fried food in Nawlins.

I fell hard for New Orleans cuisine. If I can make any dish into a Creole dish, then I am a happy girl. This is where I bring you, the Creole Potatoes Au Gratin.

CREOLE POTATOES AU GRATIN:

Active Time: 20 minutes

Inactive Time: 1 hour

Serves: 8-10

5 tablespoons of unsalted butter

4 celery stalks, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

5 tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons of Emeril’s Essence Creole seasoning*

2 1/2 cups of whole milk

1/2 cup of extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup of Monteray jack cheese, shredded

8-10 Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned and sliced thin

*I have tried a myriad of Creole seasonings and my favorite is one from Emeril Lagasse. I am a big fan of his shrimp etoufee recipe and that is where I learned his secret blend of spices. It’s the perfect combination of flavor and heat. I also have everything I need in my spice rack to make it.  Emeril’s Essence, recipe will follow.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. You will need a 9 x 13 inch baking dish for this recipe.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion and green peppers and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes.

Dump in the flour and stir the mixture for about a minute.

Whisk in the milk and cook for another minute or until the milk has thickened.

Lower the heat on the stove top and sprinkle on the cheese and Creole seasoning. Once the cheese has melted, turn off the heat.

PREPARATION TIP: Whenever possible, grate your own cheese. I normally beg my husband to do it because I just don’t like grating cheese. However, even with the hostility I hold towards cheese grating the prepackaged grated cheese is not the same. Believe it or not, freshly grated cheese melts better, tastes better and the prepackaged stuff may contain “other” ingredients.

Spread a few spoonfuls of cheese sauce on the bottom of the 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Alternate the layering of potatoes with the cheese sauce. Ensure you have enough cheese sauce for the top layer of the potatoes.

Cover with foil and bake for an hour or until the potatoes are fork tender. Take the foil off the dish during the last 15 minutes of baking.

Let the potatoes cool for 10 minutes before serving.

PREPARATION TIP: The cheese sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance. You can also assemble this dish 1 day in advance. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. You will have to adjust your cooking time to compensate for the chilled filling. These potatoes also reheat nicely in the microwave for a lunch that will have your co-workers ask, “What are you having for lunch?”

EMERIL’S ESSENCE: 

Mix all ingredients together and sprinkle that sh*t on everything!