Friday, October 22, 2010

A Deep Breath and a Potato Gratin Variation


A deep, cleansing sigh of relief. Now that Seared to Perfection has been out for a couple of weeks, I can tell you—I haven't exhaled since 2006, when I first came up with the idea. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I ever believed it would really happen until I finally held the finished book in my hands.

Dreaming up one hundred recipe ideas and then developing and testing them, writing the manuscript—that was the easy part. Finding an agent to represent me and then selling the book was tough. But the really hard part was turning everything over to the publisher and waiting. And waiting and waiting. And feeling like I had given up control. Of course I knew in my head that I was handing my work over to talented professionals who had my best interests at heart and who were obviously working very hard to make the book the best it could be, but still…

I was a nervous wreck when I received the initial revisions—I had to give myself at least twenty-four hours before opening email attachments, lest I take the changes personally. It didn't help that I never got to meet the editors in person and put faces with their names, or shake their hands. They're only three time zones away, but they seemed so distant they might as well have been on the moon. Email correspondence with only an occasional phone call can do that. I must admit that to this day, I'm still confused by all the different people with "Editor" after their name.

It was a rollercoaster ride. The deadline was reeled in, meaning I had to deliver the manuscript a few months early. A decision was made to include photographs. The book was to be released in the fall of 2009. The release was pushed back a year, the idea of photographs was scrapped. I told myself that an affordable book released after the economy recovered would be a good thing.

Then after a long hiatus another editor made contact, and the rounds of proofs began. I would lock myself in my office, red pen in hand, with only my computer to keep me company. Frenzied proofreading followed by periods of more waiting. I would get word of editors flip-flopping, changing "Give it a rest" to "Why does food need to rest?" and then back again (for the record, I still relish the win on that one). I would be consulted on recipe order or cover photos or book design and wonder if I was driving everyone crazy with my suggestions, requests, and nitpicking. "The bottom of the title page looked like a cayenne red in the PDF and it looks more like a maroon on the hard copy," I would complain.

By this time I was generally convinced that I was working with good people who could be reasoned with. They always respected my opinion, and the design surpassed my expectations. But a new fear gripped me—soon this thing I had labored over for the last four years of my life would be out there, for all the world to see and to criticize. My first look at the finished book was accompanied by excitement and also a bout of nausea.

Why did I get myself into this?

As it turns out, there was no need to panic. The first reader reviews on Amazon are exceedingly positive, and my searing cooking class at Clark College sold out. Helpful friends have taken it upon themselves to rearrange bookstore shelves to bring Seared to Perfection to eye level. And the book is even getting a bit of attention in the media! featured the recipe for Chicken Breasts with Mushroom, Paprika, and Sour Cream Gravy, and here's the interview with yours truly in The Oregonian's FoodDay. My appearance on The Faith Middleton Show was a total love-fest and catapulted the book up to number six on Amazon's list of Bestsellers in Culinary Arts & Techniques. (For a while it even reached number ninety-four on Bestsellers in Cooking, Food & Wine and 1,324 in all books—I'm such a proud momma!) I'll be on KOIN Studio 6 between 4PM and 5PM on Friday, December 17th demonstrating a recipe from the book.

Would I do it all over again? Hell yes. Without a doubt. I'd jump at the chance. In fact, I have an idea for the perfect follow-up to Seared to Perfection. Let's hope my publisher goes for it.

Now that I've gotten all that off my chest, I really need some comfort food. So here's a seasonal variation of the Potato Gratin recipe in the book.

Butternut Squash & Potato Gratin
Printable Recipe

Unsalted butter, for greasing the baking dish
4 large (about 2 pounds) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 1 ½-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch nutmeg
1 clove garlic, grated
1 ¾ cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded Gruyère

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Generously butter a 12-inch oval baking dish. Season the potato and butternut squash slices to taste with salt and pepper. Layer them into the dish, arranging them in neat, overlapping circles and alternating layers of potato and squash. Stir the nutmeg and garlic into the cream and slowly pour over the potatoes and squash. Sprinkle evenly with the Gruyère. Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until the top is golden brown and the potatoes and squash are tender. Cover with foil to keep warm and allow to rest 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Serves 6. Make this gratin in the fall, when butternut squash is abundant and rich food is welcome. Yukon gold potatoes will become creamy but retain their texture after cooking. A mandoline makes easy work of slicing potatoes, but I prefer to slice the squash with a chef’s knife. Season the gratin carefully before it goes into the oven because it’s hard to add salt and pepper once it is cooked. I toss the potato and squash slices with salt and pepper in a large bowls and taste a bit of each raw to check the amount of salt—they should taste slightly salty at this point for a perfect finished gratin—and spit it out. Minced fresh thyme or sage can be added along with the salt and pepper. Letting the gratin rest before serving makes it possible to cut neat portions.


Vegolicious said...

Mmmm this gratin looks fantastic.

I’d love for you to submit one of your beautiful photos, and a link to your post, to my new vegetarian food photo gallery showcasing beautiful and flavorful vegetarian food.

Roxy Te said...

This looks divine! I love butternut squash and of course cheese! Can't wait to explore more of your recipes :)

Taylor said...

I made this tonight for four people and we ate the whole thing! It was SO tasty!!

The Cooking Photographer said...

What a wonderful experience you're going through! I couldn't be happier for you!


megan @ whatmegansmaking said...

This looks so good - definitely comfort food. I loved hearing the behind the scenes stories of writing a cookbook. It sounds like a crazy and anxious time! Glad the response has been so positive! :)

Anonymous said...

I know this is comfort food, but would lowfat half and half work as a substitution for the cream? I would love to make this, but cannot stand the fat and calories... I do not cook that much with cream, so I do not know if this kind of substitution would ruin the recipe. Thanks

Lucy Vaserfirer said...

I don't know if low-fat half-and-half will work. I don't even know what low-fat half-and-half is. I prefer to eat real food in moderation.

Anonymous said...

That is such an accomplishment! The cooking itself and the publishing process...I have wanted to write a book but the whole agent/publisher/editor circle is daunting.

I look forward to getting several copies of your book and trying this recipe out on thanksgiving!


AlexVas said...

Lucy, I have had a beautiful present for my B-day - a sign copy of Your book. Thank you! What a collection of perfect recipes! It will keep me busy cooking and my friends enjoying food.
"At the table with good friends and family you do not become old."
Alex, Tamara V.

Michelle said...

I loved reading your story! :) So inspiring!

BrownSok said...

Okay, so this was the BEST veggie side dish ever! My toddler had two servings and my husband said he wants it as part of his "last meal". ha! I only had 18% cream on hand and it worked beautifully-I cannot imagine how much better 35% cream would be (but that's what I'll try next time!)

avaserfi said...

Inspired by your post, I made my own variation. I used turnips, turnip greens and potatoes. First, I braised the greens then drained them. I arranged the first layer of turnips and potatoes, then the greens, then a second layer of turnips and potatoes on top.

It was delicious! I would only do one thing differently next time. I would squeeze the greens dry rather than just draining them.

Claudia said...

I made this or a gathering this evening and it disappeared so quickly. I did share that it was a chef's recipe so word spread quickly. I would have loved to have a little leftover but then it is nice to see how much it was enjoyed.

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