COTTAGE FRIES

This ultimate comfort food is called by various names, depending on where you live. Home fries, cottage fries, etc. The recipe began as a way to use leftover potatoes, but it has become a staple of diner breakfasts all across America.

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You can use leftover potatoes if you happen to have some. You could also, in theory, use canned boiled potatoes but I think they taste kind of tinny. I cut up whatever potatoes I have in the house … there are always some potatoes in the bin.

Tonight, I used the remainder of a big bag of Idahos. They were too old to bake. I had to pick out the eyes which were barely this side of becoming a plant. There were a few bad spots to remove, too. Nonetheless, I had more than enough to make home fries that would generously serve four adults.

So here’s the recipe. It’s a seat-of-your-pants recipe, so you need to have kitchen courage in place. Be bold.

  • 4 – 5 large, washed unpeeled potatoes, cut into small pieces
  • 1 or 2 large onions, chopped
  • Optional: 1 – 2 banana peppers (mildly hot Hungarian peppers)
  • Salt
  • Paprika
  • Pepper
  • Garlic (chopped or powder)
  • Cumin or chili powder
  • Oil for frying.

I prefer corn oil because it’s pretty heavy-duty as a lubricant and doesn’t easily burn. It tastes okay and won’t kill you with cholesterol. Olive oil doesn’t taste right in this recipe and other oils burn too easily, at least in my opinion.

You can use potatoes that are past their prime. You don’t have to peel them. I don’t peel potatoes; it’s against my principles.

Wash the potatoes, remove eyes and bad spots. Cut them into pieces suitable for frying.

Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender. Don’t abandon them and wander off to the computer or television. If you over-cook them, they’ll be good for mashing, but not frying.  The hardest part of this is getting the potatoes soft enough to eat, but not mushy. After 10 minutes, start checking until you think you’ve got it.

my skillet

You’re going to need a deep-frying pan. I used to cook with cast iron, but it’s too heavy for me now. I have had to rethink it, so I’m trying heavy Calphalon. I miss cast iron, but I can’t manage it anymore.

While potatoes are boiling, fry the garlic, onions and peppers.  When the potatoes are ready, rinse them with cold water, drain very thoroughly (pat them dry with paper towels if necessary) and add them to the onion and pepper mix. Add spices. The paprika is for color. If you like things spicy (I do), you can use hot Hungarian paprika.

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It’s done when you think it is, when it tastes the way you want it to taste … and the rest of the meal is ready. As long as you add oil as needed and keep the heat moderate … and don’t walk away and leave it to scorch — this is a dish that will wait for you. Keep moving it around with a spatula.

It’s delicious. If you have leftovers, you can reheat them for another meal or freeze them for one of your “I don’t feel like cooking” days. Great with eggs or anything else.

One of my favorite comfort foods.

FOOD NETWORK ADDICTION – ELLIN CURLEY

I love Food Network. Not the informative, “how to” shows. I only watch cooking competitions, like Masterchef, Top Chef, Food Network Star, The Taste, Food Truck Race, Chopped, Worst Cook in America, Cupcake Wars, Cake Wars, etc. I think my obsession with cooking competitions comes from my basic approach to cooking.

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Most meals for me are along the lines of Chopped. Here’s what I have in my kitchen. What can I make in under an hour that my family will eat and maybe even like? It’s all about improvising on the fly. Inventing things, putting things together that don’t normally go and making it work.

For me, every night has the intellectual and technical challenges of a cooking competition. I’m always racing the clock with limited ingredients trying to please the tough and brutally honest critics and judges I call my family. I think that’s why I really get off watching other people, usually more knowledgeable and skilled than I am, doing the same thing.

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One of my favorite shows is Masterchef Jr. and I even got my husband hooked on this one. Here 8-14 year olds do everything the adults do but with better attitudes and sportsmanship, less arrogance and a cuteness quotient that is off the charts.

What I can’t wrap my head around is how a child that young has had enough hours in their short lives to learn how to make souffle, macaroons, beef Wellington and fancy fresh pasta dishes in one hour and without a recipe. Granted a kid’s brain is not clogged with all the esoteric information, to do lists, worries and song lyrics that fill adult brains. It means that the complex recipes don’t have to fight through a hoarder’s nightmare of irrelevant data to come to the surface.

Other than an hour or two of homework only part of the year, nothing is stopping these kids from spending 11 hours a day reading cookbooks, working in the kitchen and watching Food Network. To be fair to myself, this is not an option for me.

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When I watch these kids, I feel inadequate and embarrassed for me and my kids, who had no such superpowers when they were that age. But I also feel pride and hope. It’s wonderful to know that some kids today have discipline, drive and passion and can become experts in any field that interests them. That gives me hope for humanity’s future.

As for my cooking competition addiction; that serves no higher purpose than to give me something with some redeeming value to watch while my husband plays video games. I may get a few ideas for recipes or learn a new technique here and there. But basically I’m okay with just calling this “my guilty pleasure.”

MY FAMILY COOKBOOK – ELLIN CURLEY

I have a home-made family cookbook that spans three generations and two continents. It is as much a family album as it is a cookbook. It contains recipes from my teens through today. It contains recipes from many people, including my grandmother, mother, and others who played a big part in my life.

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The cookbook started when I was getting ready to leave home for the first time to go to law school. While I was growing up, my mother had many cooks, none of whom had the patience to teach an eager little girl. So at the age of 22, I could barely boil water.

But I loved food. I was dying to finally learn how to cook. My mother, though she rarely chopped or seared anything herself, was obsessed with food. She went to bed reading cookbooks and magazine recipes and when she died I found boxes of clipped out recipes that had never made it into her personal cookbooks. The recipes that had made it had been lovingly pasted into large three-ring binders, divided into categories like a regular cookbook.

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I realized that getting my apartment gave me the opportunity to learn how to cook while I was also learning how to be a lawyer. Before I left home, Mom and I went through all of her cookbooks and we picked out the recipes that were the best, simplest and hopefully the most fool-proof for me to take with me. I photocopied or typed these recipes at a time when the new, revolutionary feature on my electric typewriter was white-out! The advantage of the photocopied recipes (other than not having to type them) was that they have my mother’s handwritten notes all over them. “More garlic” and “more seasoning” were common comments. Suggestions to “try” this or that were also scattered throughout.

These days, when I look through MY giant cookbook, I see her handwriting and hear her words and share the recipes with her again and again.

I learned to be a decent cook during my 1970’s law school years, though many of my best desserts involved jello products. Since then I have collected recipes from various sources, including from loved ones.

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My kids’ other grandmother and their Aunt are well represented in my book, as are friends and restaurants whose dishes we loved so much we had to make them at home.

“Christine’s Beef with Horseradish Sauce” brings back memories of a family picnic with four young children in the idyllic English countryside. “Meryl’s Passover Cookies” evoke memories of shared holidays over the years.

Now I have a separate dessert cookbook, with no jello in it at all. Most of my newer recipes are printed out from the internet. Looking through my cookbook is not only a way to decide what to have for dinner. It’s also a way for me to reconnect with my past and with the people who made me the person — and cook — I am today.

WHAT’S COOKING

Multi-tasking is a great concept. I’m usually pretty good at it. I can listen to an audiobook while I edit photographs, or play a simple game ( but I can’t listen to a book while I write or read). I can also listen to an audiobook, edit pictures, and cook. Usually.

As look as I remember what’s cooking.

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A lot of the cooking devices I use these days turn themselves off. They’re on timers. Both my oven, the big one that’s part of the range, and the convection oven. The rice cooker, and my microwave have timers too.

Which is how come I forgot, yesterday, that I was steaming shrimp while rice cooked. And while I was listening and assembling a photo post.

Until the moment when I smelled that old familiar acrid smell drifting on the breeze. The scent of torched food.

I haven’t burned anything that badly in a long time, probably more than 20 years. But I did it thoroughly. So completely I had to throw the entire pound of shrimp and worse, I had to toss the pot. That’s a major loss. I hope I can replace it.

Lechmere advert

I’ve had it so long. I bought it at Lechmere, a great store which was put out of business for no good reason 20 some odd years ago. It sold all kinds of appliances and housewares … good stuff, not junk. None of the stores that rushed to fill the gap are half as good or carry the quality and variety you could find at Lechmere.

The moral of the story? When multi-tasking, remember what’s cooking.

DOUSING SANDY

A bunch of us gathered at Sandy’s house. She was an excellent cook. Aspiring to be a professional. When she invited us for a meal, it was a treat, always a good feeding and delicious. We were her test subjects, never knowing what great idea she’d come up with. Whatever, we were happy to eat it.

On this day, Sandy was dressed — as always — in a floaty Indian blouse and long skirt. The blouse had angel-wing sleeves. Very pretty, if a bit inconvenient in the kitchen. All of us had been smoking a little appetizer, building up hearty appetites.

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“Hey,” I said. “Sandy! You are on fire.” Sure enough, the wings of her blouse passed smoldering — I’d missed that — and were now in flames.

“Oh,” said Sandy, flustered.

All the friends stood there frozen, staring at the pretty fire. So, I put out the fire. Sandy thanked me profusely for something I’d have done for anyone. What was more interesting was how the rest of the gang just stood there with their mouths open. Not good in a crisis, I surmised.

“No one else tried to put out the fire,” said Sandy.

“Not a big deal,” I said, and it wasn’t. I still don’t understand why I was the only one who realized that “Sandy is on fire” should be followed by putting out the fire.

Sandy stopped wearing loose clothing in the kitchen and stopped inviting those friends for dinner. Shortly thereafter, she moved to San Francisco and opened a chain of take-out restaurants. I visited her there. She’s doing better than fine. All’s well that ends well.

NINETY DEGREES

Eleven months ago, I bought a Waring Pro Digital Convection Oven. Basically, it’s a high-end toaster oven with an added convection baking function. I picked it because it has the features I wanted, it got good reviews … and it would fit in the space I had available.

These days, I cook pretty much entirely for Garry and I. We rarely have company, much less dinner guests. I figured I could bring our electric consumption down considerably by not using the huge oven in my electric, glass-top range.

waring mini oven

Since I bought it last June, I’ve used my full-size oven only once. I love this little oven … except that the design of the rack can make it very difficult to get the baking sheet out.

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It gets stuck under the claws of the oven, which I believe it is designed to do. It has been the source of significant frustration for me, especially since I use it nearly every day for everything from baking chicken to frozen pizza.

Our electric bill dropped by 50% between last year and now, so I figured it was worth the hassle.

Today, I solved the puzzle. I figured out how to prevent the baking tray from getting stuck on the rack. What was the solution? I changed its orientation from east-west to north-south. In other words, I rotated it 90 degrees on the rack and the problem vanished.

waring mini oven trayFor eleven months, I struggled with the oven pan, trying to get it out of the oven without burning my hand. I have hundreds of little burns on my hands because the pan got caught every time I used it. Which, I remind you, has been almost every day.

In all these months, it never occurred to me I could turn it.

What point is there in having a high IQ if it takes 11 months of getting burned on an oven rack before you consider turning the pan in the other direction?

Garry said he was glad it was me, not him.

I guess I will never be too old to be really stupid.

IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER

It has been many years since food was all that important to me. I used to eat more than I do. I can’t eat so much — of anything — these days.

Chinese lily

I was a really good cook, back when cooking mattered more than it does now. These days, my goal is to turn out tasty meals that take under half an hour to prepare — half that to clean up. Other than Japanese food, we no long bother to go out to eat. The restaurants in this area are … I’m searching for a polite way to say this … uninspired. Bland. If I want something with a lot of flavor, I make it myself.

I learned to cook Chinese cuisine a long time ago. Way back when I was first married and we went out to eat Chinese several times a week, which on an adjunct professor’s salary (I was still in college), was burdensome.

I figured if millions of Chinese women could do it, I could too. I bought a cookbook. A wok and a cleaver. I found ingredients. It was 1966. There were no oriental grocery stores locally. Nor did I have a home computer or an Internet through which I could buy anything. I winged it.

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Last night I made a beef stir fry for dinner. These days, I have a rice cooker. It makes preparing rice a no-brainer. I had frozen Chinese veggies, hoisin sauce and four kinds of soy at hand. Fresh ginger, chopped garlic. Broth. I diced the steak earlier in the day.

Cooking was done in a flash. The labor-intensive part is in the slicing and dicing. Cooking is accomplished quickly, at high heat and of course, the rice in the cooker takes care of itself.

I remembered how I labored over those first Chinese meals. The cookbook open on the counter. Timing the rice. Measuring carefully each ingredient. Now I eyeball everything, throw it in the big iron skillet and I know by the way it smells I’ve got it right.

I guess that’s the payoff for forty plus years of cooking daily or nearly so. There ought to be some benefit, right?


Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)