Lovin’ My Ovin

Ahem. Oven, that is.

Although we’re having a rather warm week here, the change in the season is definitely taking hold in the PNW. During the past week I’ve finally started using the oven again after a month or so of focusing on the grill and range so the house didn’t suffer from too much radiated heat.

First up was a little number I’m calling “Fiesta Scalloped”; russets, bell peppers, onions, and ham in a white sauce (livened up with a little cheese powder). I followed the general rules from Cook’s Illustrated for ‘weeknight scalloped potatoes’, where you parboil the potatoes on the stove in the sauce before you bake everything in the oven. I really like this method because I think it infuses the veg flavors better into the potatoes plus helps to alleviate that nasty raw-potato middle that can so easily happen with scalloped potatoes.

Here’s everything assembled and bubbling in the pot:

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for a lot of heavy cream, and I didn’t have it and didn’t want to use that anyway. So instead I used a small amount of half and half, some 1% milk, and chicken broth. I also added the cheese power and some cornstarch. The flavor of this casserole was perfect. However, the sauce was thin. When it was done baking I let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving for dinner. In that time, the sauce was still very thin and didn’t stay with the potatoes, which was a big bummer. However, after fully cooling the sauce was perfect even upon reheating. I think the calorie trade-off was more than worth the runny hot-stage sauce, and I’ll make this again the same when I need a make-ahead meal or when I want to freeze some of this.

I also have a fridge full of partially filled jars of jelly and jam, a number that suddenly skyrocketed with the remainders from all my fruit canning of the past few months. We needed (I am wondering about that word choice now that I’ve typed it) some cookies for lunches &tc., and so I decided that some shortbread thumbprints would be just the thing.

Bottom is Compost Heap Jelly, middle is Strawberry Jam, top is Plum Jelly

I used this recipe, and hoping for a crisper cookie I added 1/3 cup of tapioca flour. I’ve used this substitution for pie crust in the past and have been happy with the results. Jury’s comments: Although they tasted good, this batch wasn’t great. Part of this is that I need to bake them for just a few minutes longer; they were done but didn’t taste toasty like I prefer my shortbread. Also, I think I need to use cornstarch not tapioca because the cookies were more cake-like than shortbread-like.

Will give this recipe another shot, and maybe sub some almond meal for a small amount of the flour, too.

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