Gratin Dauphinois

22 11 2008

I’m an elementary school secretary.  I started my school working career in the cafeteria though.  So, I often find myself in the middle of anything concerning food.  It works for me.  It helps me get to know all the moms and dads and which children belong with which adults.  And, it can be fun.  This week was no exception.  Our Leadership Society was planning their annual “feast” and first etiquette lesson: Dining out.

A little about the Leadership Society… Our district is low income, many with single parent families, or split families.  Our Leadership Society offers students an opportunity to raise the bar…to get to know a few more manners, ways of behaving that will help them get farther and be more successful in life in general.  The students are required to maintain certain grade and behavior standards.  They are required to perform certain elements of service both to the school and the community.  Daily duties include assisting younger students to and from lunch and the school bus.  They’re a great bunch of kids, but many have been troubled in the past.  They have a uniform that sets them apart, and there are special privileges as well. The “dinner” is the first step toward an end of year, culmination dinner…at a 3-4 star restaurant.  There will be several “lessons” along the way to prepare them for what to expect and how to behave.

This year the dinner menu was Caesar salad, roast chicken, potatoes, vegetables and cheesecake for dessert.  When I heard “potatoes” I immediately asked how they’d be done.  The plan was mashed, because how else would they be served other than baked…too much food going on there.  Ahhh…but Whisk Wednesday was serving potatoes au gratin this week!  So, I made the potatoes for their dinner.  They came out perfectly browned…

We had them with ham, the kids had their with the previously detailed menu.  The recipe went smoothly for me up to the point of layering them into the dish.  How do you know how they’ll taste if you season in the pan?  Mine needed more salt all the way around.  I wasn’t about to toss out all that milk, so I scooped my potatoes out with a straining spoon, and drained them before I layered them into the pan.

The next morning, I checked on the “banquet” room at school…
Each year a little more is added to the Society’s stash of materials.  Last year they purchased the dinnerware and utensils, this year, tablecloths were added, next year more linens, and perhaps covers for the chair backs.  There are 20 students in the group, we fed 19 of them on this occasion.

Step 1, get them in and seated…get them something to drink, and start taking their orders.  That’s our principal in the back, she’s acting as the manager.
These are 5th graders, and those are NOT clip on ties.   This time it’s easy…there aren’t really choices, but they get a look at what real dinner house menus look like.  The Leadership Society advisers are their servers.  It gives the kids an opportunity to learn as they go.  They’re comfortable with their advisers, so there’s no problem learning how to ask for something, the proper way.
Over in the prep area, a nearby classroom, 19 Caesar salads are prepped with salad and croutons; Parmesan and pepper were available from the servers at the table.  The salads were easy.  The entrees took a little more work!  We had chicken…next year it needs a sauce, gratin dauphinois,
And yes, I got 20 servings out of that pan!  We had a very colorful mixed vegetable…green beans, carrots, red bell peppers, and seasoned with rosemary.  Rolls and butter were on the tables for them.  Dessert was a purchased pumpkin cheesecake (a challenge to turn out 20 servings of) with orange glaze…it was so yummy!  The kids did great!  They at least tasted everything, and most cleaned their plates.

Then it was clean up, and on home to figure out what to have for dinner at our house.  Ah….Remember that leftover milk from the potatoes?  One of our recent soups was Julienne D’Arblay…playing off of that, we had soup…creamy potato and leek soup with julienned prosciutto as a garnish…
I reheated the milk, added a bit more so there would be enough, sliced potatoes as for the gratin and simmered them in the milk until they were tender (again, achieving a browned crust at the bottom of my saucepan, that lifted away in one piece (YAY!).  I sauteed thinly sliced leeks, added a bit of chicken stock and a bay leaf for additional flavor, then pureed the whole lot with an immersion blender.  I also added a bit of blond roux and cream to thicken it slightly more than it came out.  We’ve learned so much, it’s easy to fix little things now.

And now…off to eggs in spinach nests with mornay sauce…or Oeufs Mollets Florentine
Happy Whisking!

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4 responses

5 12 2008
Michelle

This is the best meal I’ve seen coming out of a school kitchen. Well done!

26 11 2008
Natashya

Wow! You are one industrious lady!
I think I am a hero when I just get my own family fed – here you are feeding a whole class! Great job, they must have loved it.
I have read that in France they teach about good food, restaurants, etc. in public school. It makes good sense to start young.

26 11 2008
Michelle

The Leadership Society is a great idea and I bet the kids just love it. And reusing the milk to make a soup…wow! Wish I’d have thought of doing that too. Your potatoes and soup look wonderful!!!

23 11 2008
Shari

Those kids are lucky to have such a great activity and great potatoes!! Looks like a great learning activity and one that boost their self-esteem to be served by their teachers. How wonderful. And how smart of you to use the leftover milk! Great job!

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