Monday, December 19, 2011

Hunger, boredom, wanting to be the world's fattest man

A few weeks ago, right around the last time I wrote a blog entry here, I twisted the dickens out of my right ankle. No, I didn't do it jumping off a skee-ball lane in 3-inch heels like the inimitable Linda from Salty Seattle. Rather, I was out for a quick run on a Saturday morning to work off a few of those 42,000 calories from Thanksgiving and I hit a patch of uneven sidewalk coming down from Diamond Heights. "OH JESUS F-F-F-F-F!", I shrieked among the rows of single-family homes, hitting the ground like a Dutch soccer player in the World Cup finals. Don't worry, this story has a happier ending: within a few minutes, I was able to flag down a very friendly passing driver for a ride back to my apartment, and when I got there Jeff had just finished making a batch of eggs in purgatory, one of my favorite things in the world. Yum-ouch!

Jeff spent the rest of the afternoon replenishing the ice in my plastic baggie and openly laughing at my attempts at walking. By the next morning, he had gotten so tired of hearing me complain about my twisted ankle that he decided to go drink bottomless mimosas for four hours with our friend Greg, leaving me at home alone with an ACE bandage and a pound of leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge. I was pretty mad, so, to spite him, I decided to make fried mashed potato balls and eat them all before he got home.

I'd been wanting to try my hand at pommes dauphine for a while now, and revenge seemed as good a reason as any. To make them, all you have to do is whip up a quick pâte à choux--the same pastry dough you use to make cream puffs--then beat it into some leftover mashed potatoes before dropping the whole gemisch spoonful-by-spoonful into hot oil. Hey, if I can do it with a twisted ankle on a Sunday morning before making coffee, anyone can do it. At this point, I think I'm contractually obligated to tell you that if you just drop the dough into the oil sans potatoes, the resulting little fried bits are called pets de nonne, OR, nun's farts.

So perhaps pommes dauphine should actually be called pets de dauphin or pets de pomme. Whatever you call them, cooking them is really one of the most fascinating bits of kitchen alchemy you'll ever try. I'm still amazed by how you can start with a single, shaggy ball of dough and, following a quick dip in some oil, end up with both a crisp, lacy crust and a barely-set custard enclosed therein. The raw dough is so unattractive on its own that it's truly miraculous to transmute it so easily into not just one, but two culinary treasures. Maybe we should start telling kids this story instead of The Ugly Duckling.

All that said, I couldn't eat magical fried potato balls alone for breakfast; I needed a side dish. Looking at the first batch of pommes that I fried up, I decided that they were more or less just fancy pierogies--a crisp, fried shell with mashed potatoes inside. And, still hobbling around the kitchen with my swollen ankle, desperately in need of comfort, I decided to adapt an old standby dinner from my childhood: franks 'n' beans with pierogies.

I'm pretty sure Sam's Mom invented franks 'n' beans 'n' pierogies as a dinner concept, so you probably can't relate to just how comfortably a deep-fried pierogi nestles alongside a broiled hotdog in a bed of baked beans. Fried, creamy, sweet, tangy, smoky, porky, onions--it covers just about every flavor and texture you could want in a meal. I was in no condition to crawl out and buy hot dogs that morning, but I did have a bowl full of leftover bacon-laden beans in the fridge, which made an acceptable substitute. This is the point in the blog entry where I usually say something kind of hyperbolic, like: this brunch was so good it could have brought eyesight to the blind. In this case it didn't even bring feeling back to my toe. But it was a good brunch.

And this story too has a happy ending: I filled up so much on my first serving of franks 'n' beans 'n' pommes dauphine that I was able to keep a second batch of fried mashed potato balls warm in the oven for Jeff to try when he got home. Hey, after four hours of mimosas, he probably needed them more than I did. I didn't end up enacting my revenge after all. Well, like they say, it's a dish best served cold.


Recipe roundup...

Mashed potatoes from my thesis-length recipe

Pâte à choux adapted from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, then mixed 2:1 with the mashed potatoes and fried. I tried the suggested 1:1 ratio but the dumplings sort of dissolved into flakes as I was frying them. I think I needed the extra dough because my mashed potatoes were prodigiously creamy.


  1. This looks AMAZING!!! There's nothing better than spite-cooking ;)

  2. It might take second place to post-engagement cooking. Congrats!