Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey and bean gratin: a recipe and a revelation

Turkey, bean and potato gratin with kale, un-Photoshopped
Maybe it was the flurry of Thanksgiving food creation -- planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and eating -- last week, but this week I've been feeling menu- and motivation-challenged.

Honestly, I sat with all the December foodie mags for hours and couldn't come up with a single thing I wanted to make this week.

It nearly gave me a panic attack.

Once I calmed down, I decided to wing it with some leftovers and wound up creating this hearty and yummy turkey, bean and potato gratin with kale. Quick, easy and very satisfying, and I even managed to get a couple of photos of it before we ate it.

But my near-panic attack made me stop and take a breath. Am I wound that tightly, I thought? Crap, I hope not. I mean, this isn't even a paying gig!

In fact, I've recently been feeling a bit depressed by the whole blogging adventure, which you may know I took on not only to give myself a creative outlet but also to get back to my writing roots with a goal of taking on some freelance projects. (As I said to someone recently, it's only "freelance" if someone pays you, otherwise, it's just free.) And it has been fun, no doubt. But the more I get involved in the food blogging community, the more inadequate it can sometimes make me feel.

Let me explain.

None of the bloggers I follow are professionals, so I assumed others probably follow the same kinds of guidelines I set up for myself:
  1. I have a life, so only a small portion of my day (and not every day) can be devoted to this blog
  2. I try to publish something new three days per week, to keep the blog from getting stale, so I plan my weekly menu to include a few blog-worthy dishes
  3. Related to #2, what I blog about is what we eat, not stuff I create on an ad hoc basis
  4. If I forget to photograph something because we ate it, well ... oops, guess I won't be writing about that one
  5. I don't store up posts in advance, so if something comes up during the week, I may not always fulfill my personal goal of #2
With that thinking in mind, I made the mistake of comparing my product with those of fellow bloggers. Wow, so-and-so posts something new every day. Wow, so-and-so's photos are incredibly gorgeous and full of natural light, even at dinnertime in the winter. Wow... and so on.

And that made me feel a little depressed.

But then I read three posts that changed it all for me.

First, in a piece about the importance of author attribution, one blogger whose photos I really admire revealed that she spends hours or often days Photoshopping her food photos to get them perfect.


I started this blog with a point-and-shoot camera set to full auto mode because I had no idea how to use it. I took a class and learned how to use the custom modes and I think my photography has improved quite a bit. In fact, I only got a "real" DSLR camera about 3 weeks ago. And the only thing I've ever retouched on my photos is the white balance because I often get stuck photographing dinner in real time under halogen kitchen lights, so things end up looking a little greenish.

So my photos will never look like hers because I can't devote that kind of time to perfecting them ... and I'm OK with that.

Second, another blogger posted a photo of his kitchen. It included giant lights mounted on tripods -- you know, the kind you see in professional photography studios. And they were a permanent part of his kitchen.


I love my kitchen and most days I feel like I live in it. But that's kind of the point. I live in it and it's part of my home. It's not a photography studio, nor would I want it to be.

So my photos will never look like his because I want my house to remain primarily my home ... and I'm OK with that.

Third, another blogger addressed head-on the questions he often gets about "where do you find the time to cook and blog as much as you do?" In a nutshell, he spends every waking hour that he's not involved with his WFH day job and many hours into the night working on the blog, often getting no more than a couple hours of sleep each night.


Color me decadent, but I consider spending time with my husband and sleeping to be pretty important parts of my day. And I'm not willing to give up either, especially for my current level of pay (read: $0).

So my blog will never be as fresh and current as his because I like to sleep ... and I'm OK with that.

In short, I realized that maybe I'm not committed or driven enough right now to enjoy the same level of success as the folks whose blogs I admire.

But I guess I'm OK with that.

The moral of this story? Have fun, take it light and enjoy the gratin.

Turkey and Bean Gratin with Kale
You could easily substitute spinach for the kale or leave it out altogether. Similarly, cooked ham, chicken, sausage or bacon could stand in for the turkey.

Olive oil
1 large baking potato
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 can white beans
1/3 cup milk or low-fat half-and-half
3 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 cup (or so) cooked turkey or chicken, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped kale
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cook the potato in the microwave (or oven, if you prefer) until tender -- it usually takes about 8 minutes in my little microwave. Cool and peel, set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with a little olive oil and set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and saute for about a minute. Add the kale and saute for about another 2 minutes, then add the potato, beans, milk and cheese.

Mash it all up until it reaches a consistency you like, then add the turkey. Heat though and season with salt and pepper.

Put the mash into a casserole dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly on the top. Bake for about 10 minutes or until bubbly and browned.


  1. Oh thoughts exactly. Hoping to get back to the joy of posting just for the sake of doing what I enjoy.

    The early darkness that has come over us as of late has really squashed my photography...all the natural light happens when I am at work, so I have not photographed any project lately because my pictures aren't blogworthy (is that really a word?)

    I just love your "i'm ok with that" attitude" an I'm hoping to take a little of that on myself!

  2. I love your blog exactly the way it is! I love that you are witty and make me laugh. I love that you post great recipes that I make for my family and friends.

    And now I'll work on adding a bit more "I'm ok with that" to my days.

  3. Dear Jules your blog is an awesome one that I enjoy reading. I see and read your love of cooking, writing and especially your spunk and humor which reminds me of someone we all know. His smiles are shining through! Your words at the end of this post says it all....."moral of this story is fun"! This is your blog.....proceed with your own speed and have fun. ;-)

  4. OMG, you actually think you should get to sleep? Crazy. That's really eye opening about those other blogs; I read a lot of blogs that are really slick and I don't think I ever realized just how much time people spend on them. But on the other hand, some of my favorite blogs are also very laid-back and the bloggers post pictures they took with their phones. I don't need slick, or daily updates, I just like entertaining. Which you certainly are!

    I love your blog that way it is--it's relaxed and funny, I get new ideas for food that my family may or may not eat, and I really like your pictures. Everything always looks really pretty and yummy, even the beige food.

    I doubt any of us care if you don't post every day. And as long as we're not talking months between posts, it's nearly more fun to wait and see if you've posted something new.

    I have a crud-load of turkey in my frig getting ready to bit the dust; looks like i need to stop by the grocery store on my way home and pick up some blue cheese. Yum!!

  5. BTW, I made the bean/turkey gratin, although I left out anything green and substitued cheddar cheese for the blue for the sake of Mr. "I Refuse To Eat Mold" was still very good! I'd love to try it the real way sometime.

  6. I went through that "I'm not worthy and I'll never be good phase too" then I stopped and decided to just be me, sometimes my photos are good sometimes they're not, sometimes I cheat and just post a picture of something and call it interesting, sometimes I go a whole week without a single foodie post, whatever. It doesn't matter, it's just for fun!

  7. Achmed -- whatever works! I'm glad you liked it.

  8. Thanks to everyone for the supportive comments! As long as I'm still having fun with it, it's all good. (And Pam, your photos are ALWAYS good!!!)