There just doesn’t seem to be any food more comforting than some kind of starch lovingly paired with cheese. And potatoes and cheese are no exception. Then when you throw in some caramelized onions and heavy cream infused with garlic and fresh thyme, you have a combination only an uncivilized barbarian wouldn’t appreciate.

And since I don’t happen to associate with any of the aforementioned, my friends tend to be as crazy about comfort food as I am. And this recipe is as perfect an example of comfort food as I can imagine. (I served it at our New Year’s Eve party this year to rave reviews. So of course I had to share it with all of you!)

Speaking of parties, I also served up what I now call the “career game” at our News Year’s Eve. Everyone seemed to enjoy the new “game” very much. Since no one else at the party (except for Mr. C. of course) knew everyone else who was invited, I threw out the professions of a few of the people in the room. It was then everyone’s mission to figure out who did what for a living or passion. I had intended it to kind of get people talking to each other. As it turned out, my group of friends needed no prompting in that regard, but never-the-less, it was fun to witness them further getting to know each other by ferreting out each others chosen profession or passion. And when the group is as eclectic, intelligent and amazing as our guests were that evening, it was really fun to watch the discovery process enfold. For example, and this is just a sample of the professions or passions of the people at the party: there were among our guests someone who worked for FEMA, a retired art teacher, 2 senior managers at Boeing, the head of marketing for BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union for those of you who aren’t locals), a ferry boat captain, a retired editor of the U of W Daily paper, 2 outstanding artists who happen to live in our vicinity, a person who was once a vaudevillian, and the person who edits the user manuals for Microsoft (think Excel, for example).

And of course, during the various interchanges, we learned about other fascinating aspects of each others’ lives, or like in my case, accomplishments over which I had no previous knowledge. (I learned that my friend Laurie had danced in the Nutcracker as a child! How cool is that?)

When I started this blog, I promised that I would share the secret to throwing a successful holiday party. And since I attended a fabulous party before Christmas that our friends John and Deanne hosted and then gave a New Years Eve party that seems to have been a success, I thought now was the time to honor my promise. So, here goes! (For those of you who already have the “throw a great party” down pat, disregard the following paragraph.) For those who want to know more, please read on.

Patti’s recipe for throwing a good party:

1 – Invite an interesting and eclectic group of people (the most important ingredient)

2 – Feed them well and often (exciting and interesting people love to eat)

3 – Provide alcoholic as well as non-alcoholic beverages (most people these days are responsible drinkers and interesting non-alcoholic beverages help them stay on track)

4 – Throw in a white elephant or bottle exchange or an ice-breaker diversion like the one I described above (breaks the monotony of eating wonderful food, drinking, and talking to friends, old or new)

5 – Relax and have fun yourself (the second most important ingredient)

That’s it!  And of course, if you are as lucky as I am, invite your musical guests to come and make music together. There is just nothing more fun than a room full of live music.

So dear readers, next time you plan a soiree think about following my recipe for making the event memorable. Just don’t forget to invite me. (Maybe I should have made that rule number 6!)

  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes
  • kosher salt
  • 5 sweet onions
  • 3 T. butter
  • olive oil
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 8-10 oz. grated Gruyère cheese
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • milk

Scrub the potatoes and cut in half lengthwise. Then slice each section into 1/8-inch thick half moons. Place in a pan with just enough cold water to cover the top layer of potatoes. Add about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat and simmer potatoes until almost tender. Do not overcook. Strain in a colander and cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, thinly slice onions. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 45–60 minutes or until they turn a lovely shade of brown and are almost mushy. (That’s a technical cooking term, by the way!) You will want to stir the onions frequently during the caramelization process. If the onions start to burn or get too dry, add a little olive oil and reduce the heat. This process takes time, but is well worth the effort.

While your potatoes are cooking and your onions are slowly taking on the color of brown sugar, pour the heavy cream into a small pan along with the peeled garlic cloves and thyme sprigs. Bring to a light simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When ready to assemble gratin, lightly butter a shallow casserole dish. Place a single layer of potato slices in the bottom of dish, slightly overlapping. Top with 1/3rd of the Gruyère, 1/3rd of the onions, 1/3rd of the herb and garlic infused cream and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Repeat with 2 more layers. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan. Now comes the hard part. Gently tip the pan. If you don’t see the heavy cream along the sides of the pan almost up to the level of the last layer of potatoes, add enough milk so that it is just visible around the edges. The last thing you want are dry potatoes.  And I would strongly advise against adding additional cream instead of milk. This dish is already crazy rich. The milk just ensures that the potatoes will be creamy, not dry.

Cover with aluminum foil or the casserole lid and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and bake another 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are super tender and the top is a lovely light brow. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. If you want to make the dish ahead of time, cover and place in the refrigerator until about an hour before you want the dish to go in the oven.