Only Tuesday – again

I found a stick of butter I didn’t know I had hiding in the very back of the freezer, and as I held its frozen self in my hand I realized that everything was going to be ok. It wasn’t the end of the world after all – it was only Tuesday. I laughed a little to myself, then burst into tears and when I was done crying I couldn’t remember what I needed the butter for in the first place.

Welcome to cooking with a woman entering her 30th hormonal week of pregnancy. I am growing and slowing and laughing and crying all at the same time. It is taking me longer to get up our stairs and I am completely winded when I finally reach the top. My appetite is enormous and while the rest of the world seems to be enjoying their spring greens, I am plotting how to inconspicuously add potatoes to the menu.

Comfort food – that’s what I want. I imagine it must sound insane to those of you not in the throws of prenatal life, but I just want pasta for dinner. Pasta and sausage – preferably with a side of potatoes and bread and butter, please. I would drink heavy cream if I thought for one minute that I could get away with it and pour gravy on my oatmeal. Maybe it’s because I spent the first few months not being able to stomach anything but grapefruit slices and sour candy. Who knows!  The problem to be solved is how to cook hearty, but healthy. How to mix Spring green with my cravings for Winter heaviness, in short – how to eat potatoes more often and yet not gain several hundred pounds in the process.

I think I may have found at least one solution, one of my family’s favorite meals that we lovingly called “Poverty Dinner”. There really is nothing ‘poor’ about it other than being inexpensive and easy to make. It’s a tasty, filling sort of one dish meal that worked perfectly with the first greens that braved the uncertain glory of Spring.

 

Poverty Dinner

4 potatoes, washed and cubed

1/2 lb lean ground beef

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

several good handfuls of washed greens; spinach, baby kale, swiss chard, etc.

2-3 Tablespoons of oil or butter for cooking

salt and pepper

 

Potatoes and ground beef, comfort food at its finest, mixed with vitamin-packed greens fresh from the garden or market, making a simple meal that can be cooked up after a day in an office or in the field.

I like to use my big cast iron skillet for this. Heat the frying pan over medium heat and then add the oil and the potatoes then cover. Let the potatoes cook for a little while before adding the garlic and onions so that they don’t get too overdone by the time the potatoes are tender. Once the potatoes are feeling a little giving, break up the ground beef into the pan and stir well. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the ground beef gets cooked thoroughly. Another way to do this, although it changes the ‘one-dish’ nature of the meal, is to let the potatoes cook all the way and then remove them to cook the beef. Either way, you may need to add a little bit of water to the pan to keep the beef moist while it’s frying. If you’ve kept everything together, return the cover and let the potatoes finish cooking. Otherwise, return everything to the pan and reheat.

Now – here’s the super healthy part you’ve been so patiently waiting for. Once your potatoes, onions and beef are completely cooked, heap the greens on top. There will be a little bit of water clinging to them from washing which will help steam them. Cover and reduce the heat to low. In a few minutes the greens will have wilted and steamed and completed your meal. Season with salt and pepper as you desire and you’re ready to go!

Enjoy!

The Easiest thing I’ve ever made

Crockpot Cookery.

That’s it in two words.

Imagine yourself at the peak of some forsaken mountain in a faraway country, seeking the answer to every reasonable American woman’s cry of, “Where will I find the TIME?!” Now imagine me, sitting there in a cave (with my knitting and some crackers and a few good reruns of Doctor Who on a solar-powered portable TV/DVD player) all wrapped up in cool-looking robes, just waiting for you to come. Because I knew you would.

So there we are. I pause my show, put down my knitting and ask,

Why have you bothered me just as The Doctor was explaining his Time Theory?”

Then you say, “But that’s just it- Time Theories! We don’t have enough time! What’s the answer?”

I lean forward, pull the hood on my super cool robe tighter around my old, weary face (because it’s taken you a really, really long time to find me) and utter these two words,

“Crockpot Cookery.”

From out of the very sky itself, bells of victory ring out over the forgotten valley as the sun breaks through the thick cloud cover and bathes us in warm light. You face is illuminated with joy and awe and satisfaction for a moment, but then a dark shadow races across your features as you suddenly realize something…

“I had to come all this way to hear that? You couldn’t have just stayed home and written a blog post about it? It would have saved so much time!”

End of Story.

I have no idea who invented this marvelous contraption, but I bless them – a thousand times – each time I pull mine out to use, which is fairly frequent these days. I have no cool history (imagined or otherwise) to share with you about it’s origins, but I can tell you this – it has saved me time and made my life inexpressibly easier, and I think that’s just wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to cook ‘at the moment’, I truly do, but I work 3 afternoons a week which means I’m getting home almost an hour after our regular dinner time. Alex has to get up at o-dark-thirty every morning for his job and therefore tries to be in bed around 7 pm. This leaves a very, very narrow margin of time for dinner in the evening. A very narrow margin into which a crockpot can slip with ease. If I come home from work and there is a meal hot and ready in the crock, I can throw together a side of rice or pasta and a salad right quick and we can be eating in 15 minutes. Yes.

This is what we had the other night – by far the easiest, best tasting pot roast I have *ever* made, and it didn’t even need another side to go with it since I cooked the potatoes in the crock. Oh, so clever.

 

Pepper and Herb Pot Roast in a Crock

1-2 lbs of roasting meat  (the piece I used was probably 2 lbs and we were able to have this meal twice)

1 onion, sliced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup of water

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

A sprinkling of salt

3-4 lavender sprigs (I just happen to have lavender on the window sill, you could easily use  1/2 teaspoon of rosemary or thyme or a mix of both – whatever floats your boat.)

3 medium sized potatoes, quartered

2 large carrots, cut into three or four pieces (or a handful of baby ones)

 

In the morning, I sliced up the onions, mushrooms and garlic and put them in the bottom of the crock pot, placed the meat on top and added the water, herbs, salt and pepper.  I put the top on and turned the crock pot to High. Then, I quartered the potatoes and carrots and put them in a bowl of water in the fridge. They don’t need to cook as long, so they had to wait to go in. I had laundry and other things to do before going to work that got done during the first half of the day. Before I went to work (about four hours later), I drained off the potatoes and carrots and then dumped them into the crock pot. I tried to get as many of them as I could into the broth that had surrounded the roast, covered it back up and left it on High.

I worked four hours, and when I came home – the veggies had cooked to perfection. The roast was tender and moist and flavorful – it was truly delicious. It surely didn’t taste as if it had cooked itself, even though it actually had!

So there you have it – my secret time-fighting weapon.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t go hide in a cave and make you find me to hear it?

 

 

Make-Ahead Oven Homefries

Because really, who has time to stand over a hot skillet and *fry* the silly things!

Some days I miss living out on the prairie, with my man busting sod all day while I busy myself with bread baking and soap making and chicken feeding. It was a good life, but not exactly the one we enjoy today – and honestly, that’s alright. Our days have gotten so much easier with the invention of electricity and indoor plumbing – I particularly enjoy toilet paper and dishwashing liquid. And who can say that things were better *before* the advent of penicillin and Tylenol?

I’m here to say that there are good things about this modern age, even if it is a bit hedged in by insane busyness, and one of those good things is my oven.

The other night we had our weekly Breakfast for Dinner and I made oven homefries, a mash-up of sorts of oven fries and the hashbrowns you get at the local diner. One of the best kitchen tips I picked up while waitressing is to boil the potatoes before frying them, they cook faster and get crispier that way. Also – I never seasoned them enough. You’ve got to season homefries like you mean it – like you intend to Taste those herbs and spices when everything is said and done.

Oven Homefries

4 potatoes (this number can be easily adjusted to fit a smaller or larger crowd)

Spices

A big pot ‘o’ water

A flat, oven-worthy cooking vessel

Olive oil, or Butter, or preferably Both

Alrighty then.

First thing to do is chop your potatoes into bite-sized, homefry pieces. While you’re doing this, you should have your pot of water on the stove, heating to a boil. It’s up to you whether or not you want to peel your potatoes first,  I like mine a little on the rustic side so I let them keep their skins.

When the water is boiling like mad, add a little salt and then toss in your potato chunks (toss them carefully so as not to bathe thyself in boiling water). You don’t want to cook them all the way – this is important. They’re still going in the oven to bake  *at some point*. This is the lovely part about this process, you can parboil the potatoes any time you wish. I knew that we were going to have a rather frantic evening, so I boiled my potatoes in the morning and let them sit in the fridge all day, ready to be popped into the oven fifteen minutes before dinner. SO easy.

But I digress. The potatoes are boiling for 5-10 minutes, depending on how big your pieces are. You want them to be slightly fork-tender, but not mushy *At All*.

Remove them from the stove and strain them. After they’ve cooled a bit (and most of the wetness on them has evaporated from the heat), you can either put them in the fridge, or if you are going to cook them immediately,  dump them into or onto your oven-worthy cooking vessel.

Turn on your oven to 375 degrees.

Now for the fun part – the seasoning.

I like every sort of season – all at once, but some times just plain old salt and pepper do the trick, it’s up to you. First, however, you have to give the taste something to stick to. This is where the olive oil and/or butter come in. Pour a couple of Tablespoons of oil over the potatoes and stir them around in it, coating them as evenly as you can and allowing some extra for the bottom of the pan so that there is No Sticking. Then, sprinkle on some seasonings. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, sage, thyme, oregano, curry powder, basil, rosemary – – the options are endless. My favorite seasoning mix is sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder and poultry seasoning (of all things), which is a recipe with its origins lodged in an old folk song, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…”

The whole shibang is going to head into the oven for 15-20 minutes, and half-way through they should be stirred up a bit so they get crispy on all sides.

Yum.

They are definitely house-on-the-prairie-slaved-over-a-cast-iron-skillet-all-day good, without the actual slaving-over-a-cast-iron-skillet part – which is even better.

company’s comin’ Potato Salad

Our short little table was adorned with a patchwork of vintage linens and a clearance April Cornell table cloth. Spare chairs were summoned from the far corners of our fair home and the entire dining/living room had been rearranged in a an attempt to make room for company.

Our guest list had only two names on it, but that is reason enough for a little bit of grandeur here on Park Street, and I worried about the table legs which always seem to be in the way of ours. We did our best to cool the place down for the evening and I sweated away in our room-sized oven of a kitchen, cooking away.

I love entertaining – I always stress and fuss way too much and practically drive myself and the surrounding husband crazy in my effort to have everything ‘just so’. Under it all, however, is this deliciously deep satisfaction at having people come to our home and enjoy themselves.  It isn’t grand, it isn’t showy and the table legs definitely get in the way, but it’s ours and we love it, and I love to welcome people into it and give them good food.

The menu was braised chicken breast sandwiches with tomato, mayo and garden-fresh lettuce, a huge fruit salad (served in a carved-out watermelon because we *ARE* that stinking cute) and a potato salad, with ice cream for dessert.

This potato salad is one that I loosely translated from my husband’s dear grandma’s salad. While we were in Maine visiting YiaYia and Papoo, she served us a potato salad that I ate an embarrassingly large amount of. It was incredible and when I asked her how she made it, she shrugged and said, “A little of this and a little of that!” She did go into the details that I was craving and I tried my best to remember it. Ever since then I have been itching at the chance to make one and try my hand at it.

They say never to make something for the first time for company, but really, what do ‘they’ know?  Never having been one for listening to the random voices of the universe, I dived in and made my first potato salad as a married woman, YiaYia’s spoken recipe in the back of my head leading me onward – – –


Potato Salad

4 red potatoes, boiled

5 green onions, diced

1/2 sweet red pepper, diced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 cup mayo

salt and pepper to taste

The simplicity of this salad is its perfection. As I said before, this is not her exact recipe, but I’d never heard of using mint in a potato salad and it was awesome.  Also, she used red potatoes, which keep their shape well and have an excellent texture. I liked the waxiness of them. The bit of vinegar (her suggestion) cuts the mayo and brightens the salad.

YUM.

The potatoes got chopped into small bite-sized pieces and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. I made it ahead of time to let the flavors meld together and I think next time I will make it even further ahead, like over night.

My-oh-my was it good!

We had a delightful evening with our guests, everything went swimmingly – everyone enjoyed their meal and didn’t knock their knees too badly. I’d say it was a success!

this is my confession

Here we go, I’m coming clean.

Squeaky clean.

Are you ready?

I had potato chips for dinner.

My husband was at work, I was in the middle of wrapping up fifteen long-neglected knitting projects and knee-deep into the first season of Glee (ack- I’m a hopeless addict now- don’t judge me – the damage has already been done). Potato chips really *were* the only option.

I have a super hard time trying to cook for myself. Does anyone else have that problem? Sometimes I will think of something I really want that maybe Alex doesn’t like, so I’ll make it for myself for dinner while he’s at work – and it’s almost as if I have to force myself to do it and that’s no fun. This is why, Wednesdays through Sundays, I eat like one of those college students you hear tell about, except that even boiling pasta seems like a waste of time when it’s Just Me.

I tried to avoid it. I trounced down the stairs and asked the lady who runs Caraway’s if she wanted dinner- I’d be willing to make her something. It worked yesterday, but today she was headed home to have dinner with her mom. Fail.

But wait – it gets worse.

The day *before* yesterday, I actually factually walked down the street and bought fried rice from the new Chinese restaurant that opened last week and had that for dinner.

Really? That ain’t gonna fly long!

So I ate potato chips tonight…. and a chunk of chocolate for dessert, wrapped up in my fuzzy robe (because it is June in Vermont, as you know, winter isn’t *quite* through with us yet), letting Glee destroy my intellect and self-respect while I eeked out another  four inches on my hat. Come 9:30 I will perk up and start making dinner for when Alex comes home. Inspiration floods in and I feel Alive and Real and Needed.

It leads one to wonder – if it weren’t for my husband – what kind of human being would I be, anyway?

A little terrifying, isn’t it?

Thank God for Alex.

😉

 

they say it funny out here; Chicken Meal #2

They do.

They say it like this, “Chowdah.”  It makes me giggle.

I say it like this, “CHOWDER.” My face gets very grave and serious when I say it – like a command.

It leaves one wondering, is chowder a serious thing, or something that should make you giggle?

 

As we all know, I moved to the Wild, Wild East over three years ago from my relatively tame corner of the world just on the edge of the Midwest. Aside from the obvious language barriers that had to be overcome, it has been one, long, very interesting adventure which has ended in a happily ever after, after all.

The fact is, ladies and gents, I ended up married to one of these wild Yanks who, when in the least bit provoked or absent-minded, drops his r’s and says things like, “My, you’re a wicked-good kissah!”

🙂

The second meal prepared from our lone bird was a mix of east and midwest, wild and tame, unique and classic – “Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder”

Say it five times fast, I dare ya.


Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder

Serves 8

Calories per serving: 150

Price Per Serving: astonishingly cheap (sorry, still no receipts.)

Preparation Time: about 45 minutes. I got distracted doing something else so it took me a little longer…

Ingredients:

4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes, chunked

1 quart of chicken stock

1 Tbsp chicken boullion plus 1 quart of water

(I had to use the boullion and water because I didn’t have enough stock. If YOU have enough stock, please use that, or if you don’t have stock, use 2 Tbsp boullion and 2 quarts of water. Make sense?)

3-4 fresh ears of corn


Alright. Here’s what’s to be done.

You’re gonna need a big pot – a four-quarter or bigger if you can manage. Pour the olive oil in the bottom of the pot, (which, I should mention, has been moved to a burner and is heating up) and then add the onions and garlic. Once they’ve had some time in the heat, add the chicken – stirring frequently. Frying the chicken first in the same pot, in my humble opinion, adds a little depth to the finished soup. *That’s why you do it like that* Once the chicken is nigh unto done, add the broth (or whatever combination of broth and boullion and water you have decided upon) and potatoes and bring it ALL to a boil.

I love how quickly sweet potatoes cook – have I ever said that? They soften up so nicely, they’re just a joy to be around in the kitchen. Once the sweet potatoes have become fork-tender (after about 15-20 minutes of boiling) you are going to proceed with what I perceive to be the Midwestern portion of today’s meal – the corn. Being from corn country, I know a thing or two about the veggie (at least, I put on airs as though I do…). I feel as though the fact that I have picked corn for farmer’s market at 3  A.M. gives me some sort of authority to be picky and odd about corn while at the same time enjoying a good ear much more than any person should. We picked our corn at 4:30 P.M from a large bin sitting just inside the door at Price Chopper – the corn snob in me promptly fell over and died. Ah well.

At any rate, whether near or far, Eastern or Western, you should really try to make this chowder with fresh corn – as fresh as you can manage. I shaved the kernels from our ears just before we were ready to eat and dumped them in, letting the soup boil for just a mere five minutes more before taking it off the heat and serving it up.

The result? Sweet, soft potatoes mingling in a salty, fragrant broth with crisp sweet corn and plump chunks of chicken.

I don’t care *how* you say it – that there’s good food!

this meal by any other name would taste the same

Hey folksies!

The sun is making its way behind the brick building next door, Alex is sleeping after a ‘late morning’ at work and I can smell dinner percolating in the crockpot.

I started out to make chili, but slowly migrated to the Caribbean and decided to make, as my father called it, “Rice and Beans”. My dad was not a terrific cook, but he was unfailingly charming and confident at the stove, making this soupy red dish for us over and over again, each time calling it by a different name.

“Rice and Beans”

“Beans and Rice”

“Rice and Red Meat”

“Beans and Red Sauce”

“Red Sauce with Potatoes and Beans”

“Red Beans with Meat and Sauce over Sticky Rice”

“White Rice, Red Beans and Meat Sauce”

And so on. You get the idea.

I haven’t had this meal in many years and although I was tempted to run simply on my  native Puerto Rican instinct and ‘wing it’, I decided to do an internet search instead. Smart lady.

It’s a little complicated, and I found myself scribbling notes on my legal pad as if my life depended on it, you really need to prepare quite a bit before you can actually get your pots dirty with the actual meal. I needed to make Sofrito – a sauteed seasoning made from vegetables and herbs, and  Sason – another seasoning blend made from herbs. I remember big batches of these being made in the kitchen, then packaged up and frozen in portions for future use. Ah so.


Sofrito –

2 green peppers

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 sweet red pepper

2 tomatoes (or some tomato sauce)

cilantro and parsley

All of this gets minced to death in the food processor before being sauteed in olive oil over medium heat – for a long time. No one really said exactly *how* long it should take, but I just cooked it until it seemed Done. Native Instinct – invaluable kitchen appliance that is severely underrated.


Sason-

Garlic

Onion

Bay Leaf

Oregano

Coriander

salt

I admit, I was pretty tired of reading and ready to get cooking, so my notes simply have a barely intelligible list of ingredients and scratched out directions to the local recycling center (I got a little sidetracked…) I decided to add the herbs to the big pot when I was ready…


But now for the Meal. Into the crock pot went two cans of tomato sauce and one of water, four potatoes chunked into bite-sized pieces, three half cans of beans (a half of a can of pinto, a half a can of black eyed beans and a half a can of kidney) which had been carefully and thoroughly rinsed (always rinse your beans. Always.), one whole cup of the sofrito, a smattering of oregano and coriander (about a 1/2 tsp each), three bay leaves, a kiss, and then I covered it and left it to work.

Green Olives are a traditional addition, but my husband is opposed to them, so tradition was thrown to the wind and we had olive-less sauce. Meat is also optional, and if this is your option, chunks of stew beef would be usable. Brown them before adding to the sauce. Because everything should be just a little bit fried… just a little.

The Meat-less Red Sauce with Beans has been cooking for hours, and will continue to cook a while longer, until everything is soft and lovely. Then it will be served over sticky, greasy white rice. When I was much, much younger, my dad would form the ‘sticky’ rice into small balls and feed them to us like that. We loved it. My parents raised a bunch of rice fiends – to this day I consider it a staple, a necessity of Life itself.

There you have it. No matter which name you call it, it is a filling and delicious meal you will be sopping up off your plate with small balls of rice…

weekday dinner

Tonight we had an interesting variation of the American standby dinner of “Burgers and Fries”, with a homemade Caesar Salad – no anchovies.

I made these delectable sweet potato fries, followed this recipe for Caesar dressing (which I wasn’t all-together delighted with, maybe I coddled the egg the wrong way???)  and made my own *super-duper* meatloaf burgers. De-Lish!


Meatloaf Burgers

2 pieces very stale bread, crumbled (or 1/2 cup ready made bread crumbs)

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

90% lean ground beef

1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper

1/4 garlic powder

1/4 Italian seasoning

All of this gets mixed well in a bowl – I always use my hands, it’s the way my mom did it, and probably the way her mother fixed the meatloaf. When it’s thoroughly blended together, shape burger patties. I got four out of my bowl, rather on the thin side, but that was my goal.

Alex is lactose-intolerant, so I am trying to avoid all milk products in his food (of course). For the liquid in the meatloaf recipe, I used almond milk, a very reasonable substitute, and I read in a ‘milk free’ cookbook about using olive oil and water to fry things in that would usually use butter or copious amounts of some other fat. I was curious to see how this would work, and so to fry the burgers, I thinly coated the bottom of the hot skillet with olive oil, probably using a teaspoon of oil at the most, placed the burgers in and then added about a 1/4-1/2 cup water and cooked them over medium/high heat. It worked beautifully. The water boiled out, allowing the burgers to brown a bit, and then I flipped them over, added another 1/4 cup water and let that boil out. I probably could have skipped the olive oil altogether. The burgers were browned, moist and tasted like ‘food’, not frying fat. Amazing.

The salad dressing was made in less than five minutes and then tossed with chopped romaine lettuce- perfect. It was a lovely meal that I began at 4:15 pm and was serving right at 5. Can’t really ask for more than that, now can we?

Dinner is Served…

edible, inedible leeks

Alex and I went to our first ‘couple’s thing’ last week. It was a little surreal, all day I kept having flashes of, “Wow- I am really married!” Seems strange that after almost three months I would be saying that, that it would be hitting me just as hard as when I woke up that third morning in my new home, next to a new husband, thinking – “Oh my word- we really did it. We got married. We’re married. I’m married.” While the realization has often come with gravity and sobriety, it has never come with pain or angst or upset, I always feel it when I simply can’t believe I am really *this* blessed, really *this* happy, really *this* married to *that* man. It’s amazing. Are you tired of hearing about it? I hope not, because it really is a most wonderful thing.

Anyway- couples’ dinner. I needed to bring either a soup, salad, bread or dessert, and I chose soup- Potato Leek soup to be exact, and then rushed off to the kitchen to concoct something.

Boy Howdy I’m Married Potato Leek Soup

2 leeks, the edible part sliced into coins about a 1/4 inch thick

2 shallots, sliced

1 clove of garlic, minced

5 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1 Tbsp parsley

pepper

2 Tbsp chicken bullion

1/8 cup white wine

2-3 potatoes, cubed

olive oil

a little bit of butter (sneak it in there, folks, you’ll thank me later)

There is a foggy part in my brain which doesn’t quite know *where* the edible part of leeks starts and stops. Is there a definitive *place* where edible meets the green part you feel guilty about throwing away? I don’t want to stop too soon and waste valuable leek, but I don’t want to plague the consumer of the soup with tough, inedible slices of leek that should have been discarded. I want to be seen as ‘thrifty’, not ‘cheap’. Oh my. You must decide on your own where you draw the edible line on your leeks.

The leeks, shallots and garlic get sauteed in a large frying pan in olive oil until they are soft, then they are put into a big soup pot (with a four or more quart capacity, if you please). Next, the mushrooms are going to go into the frying pan with a little more olive oil and that little bit of butter you haven’t told Alex you are using. I have fallen in love with baby bella mushrooms, a very infantile version of portabella mushrooms. They are lovely, sparrow-colored things that hold their shape well even after being stewed and unlike regular button mushrooms, they actually impart a flavor which is earthy and subtle and perfect. Once the mushrooms have been weakened by the cooking, give them the wine to regain themselves. This should sizzle and wake them up nicely, then they too go into the waiting soup pot. Next comes the bullion, parsley, pepper, 2 quarts of water, and the cubed potatoes. Everything gets boiled until the potatoes are soft and edible (this should be an easier job to do than discerning the edible parts of a leek).

Viola. Serve to the one you love and rejoice- it’s for real.

what meal is it?

I have taken to tying my hair up with ribbon at night. And, I just painted my fingernails a restful shade of lavender. I don’t have nice hands (I know, oh my… some people do, some don’t- I don’t) and I don’t have long nails (what a pain) but what I do have now are *purple* stubs of nails that look strangely adolescent.

Tonight we had Breakfast Burgers, a corrupted interpretation of a delicious experience I had in a Denny’s restaurant somewhere in northern New York this past October. I was with a literal busload of Amish people and we stopped to get lunch, I picked the most calorie-dense food I could find – a quarter pound burger covered with hash browns, cheese and bacon, then crowned with a golden, runny-yolked egg. Yum. “What meal *is* this?” I thought, “It has the best of All Three!” It almost needs a new meal category; not breakfast, not lunch, not quite dinner- What meal is it?

I thought my heart was going to clog up and stop, but I didn’t care much, it was easily one of the best things I have ever eaten. Ever. I was missing my boyfriend, lost in New York and the only one with lime green toenails in the bunch- it was one of those times when a heart-stopping meal was very appropriate. I promised myself that one day I would attempt to recreate this fabulously decadent meal.

Well, one day came today. I began plotting last week. Alex is taking me on a short vacation this weekend (woot woot) and we are trying to eat up all the fresh food this week before we leave, so everything has been weighed out and carefully planned. I had the beef, the eggs, the potatoes, the cheese, the bacon (which we don’t use, but I like the thought of it tucked away in the back of the freezer for a rainy day. It’s rather like the baby tooth you keep hoarded in an old box as the symbol of childhood past.) and the time to put it all together, PLUS it would use up some of the food that needed to be eaten. I warned my husband that this would probably be the most impressively bad meal he had ever eaten, but if he breathed easy and appreciated the fact that there was no bacon, he would Enjoy It. I made some alterations to the recipe as I remembered it to try to add depth and take away cholesterol, and this is what I came up with….

Breakfast Burgers – Ann Style

1 lbs lean ground beef (don’t skimp, get the good stuff, 85% fat-free or higher)

1 medium onion, shredded or sliced thinly

2 potatoes, shredded

4 eggs

4 slices of cheese (I used Vermont’s own Cabot Cheddar)

4 slices of bread (used to make toast, this is optional however)

4 slices of bacon (also optional)

1 tsp garlic

1 tsp apple pie spice (just wait, it works)

salt and pepper to taste

This makes four servings.

This meal is best approached in steps. Trust me now, I thought this out long and hard for days (because I am dense like that), steps works best. It’s like a list, and Lists Are Awesome. BUT, if you can think short and easy and come up with something better than what I have discovered, please, please, please- share your wisdom.

Step One: The potatoes. Wash them, peel them if you want and then shred them. I did this early on in the day and kept them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge. The onion is going to be peeled and shredded as well and added to the potatoes. These two foundations of cookery hung out in the cooler all day while I got my errands done.

Step Two: The burger. The beef should be mixed with the garlic, spices and a little bit of salt and pepper. I am not sure where I got the idea to add the sweet spices to the beef except that I was thinking of French Toast at the time, and how well those spices seem to go with breakfast. I mean, think of sausage- it’s got a ton of sweet spices in it, and we always eat it with maple syrup and eggs- don’t we? I heard that’s what people in Vermont do anyway… This step was also completed in the morning (or, my morning, which was more like two in the afternoon) then the meat was formed into four thin patties of Equal Size and left in the fridge to visit with the potatoes and onions.

Step Three: The Construction. This is an impressive meal to put together, but it comes off like a charm and looks really cool when you’re done. Firstly, the potatoes and onions need a while to cook. If they’ve been swimming in the fridge all day, they must be drained and then patted dry. You could conceivably cook them all at once in a big skillet, but I have a slight obsession with crispy spuds, so I fried mine in four small ‘batches’ so that they made flat potato ‘cakes’. Yum. It would be awesome if you had a Fry Daddy and could deep fry them. Double Yum. During this time, you are going to want to cook and drain the bacon too, if you want bacon. This step could probably be done earlier in the day and the bacon reheated when needed.

When I had half the potatoes done and waiting on the side, I started to cook the burgers. Since I used very lean meat, and didn’t want to use a bunch of fat to fry the burgers in, I just put a little bit of water in the bottom of another frying pan and waited for it to boil and then cooked the burgers in that. Now, you’re not Boiling the Burgers, heaven help us, the water in the pan is only to keep them from sticking until the burgers themselves can produce a little fat and moisture, and then they can be drained and you lose a good deal of the fat from the meat. Hmmmm. That’s a little tip I got from my mama.

So, the burgers are almost done, the last batch of potatoes is being removed from their happy pan, the cheese has been sliced, the eggs have been gathered from the chicken coop (not really, I got mine from the fridge where, thank God, there are no chickens) and you’re about ready to put this show together! How exciting… At this point my husband was lured in to the kitchen by the incredible scents, I ranted and raved and got slightly emotional about something I can’t quite remember, and we had a short dance. If you want toast, this would have been the perfect time to be doing that. If you opt out of toast, go ahead and dance. The bacon is now going on to the burgers and you’re going to let the cheese faint right over the whole thing, the eggs are broken into the now empty potato pan (I love it when I can multi-purpose cooking equipment) and are frying away. Ideally, the eggs should have runny yolks, but if that doesn’t float your boat, feel free to poach them, scramble or fry them over-hard.

Last Step: The finale. Put on dramatic music, or anything that is going to add to the momentousness of the occasion. Here’s how it goes: Toast. Burger with bacon and cheese. A portion, or cake, of hash browns. An egg. Viola. Ours didn’t have toast or bacon, so I layered the burgers on the hash browns, then the cheese, then the egg.

It’s a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Forever, because it will take you that long to exercise all that off.

It’s so worth it, though. That first bite should be the best, make sure to get a little bit of everything drenched in yolk. Oh. My. Word. It’s incredible.

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