This dish is legendary in my family. I am the youngest of 6 (sadly, now 5) and this was a crowd pleaser when we were growing up. My mom totally rolls her eyes at us when we (still) ask her to make it. From her perspective at 81 years old, it is too fussy and time consuming and she ain’t got no time for that. My mom would never be accused of being overly sentimental, but that is definitely a big part of her charm!
I first started making it for myself and my hungry, clueless-in-the-kitchen college roommates. And it WAS time consuming. At least how it was written in The Joy of Cooking, which was my only cookbook at the time and I had yet to learn to bend recipes to my will. There was peeling, soaking, layering and pre-cooking involved. But I did it anyway because it was a taste of home and a bit of comfort to all of us big kids living away from our parents for the first time.
Many years later, my dear (late) chef brother opened my eyes to a better way. He did that a lot! He was probably my biggest role model and inspiration in cooking without rigid recipes. He was a classically trained chef, but ironically, never followed a recipe and made it all look effortless, fluid and fun. Maybe the recipes were in his head, IDK. Anyway, he took all kinds of liberties and was something of a MacGyver in the kitchen (you’ll have to be as old as I am to get that reference). I remember one time I was hanging about while he catered a fancy meal for a bunch of fancy people at an estate deep in the wine country of St Helena, California. VERY far from any kind of market. He was making a skewered chicken app and forgot the skewers. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ripped some rosemary stalks from the yard and threaded the meat onto those. Genius! Looked and tasted fucking amazing. He would do shit like that all of the time. Miss him so.
So back to scalloped potatoes – my brother and I were together one Christmas far from home and decided to make the old family favorite. So I started to peel and chop and was about to start parboiling, layering and pre-heating the milk when he (thankfully) stopped me. “You know you can just mix that all up in a big bowl and toss it into the baking dish right?” Mind. Blown. Duh. So I’ve made them that way ever since and it is way more fast and fun and I never measure a bit. Just trust myself to make it look right, even if it is different every time. Which is part of the fun.