Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kitchen Encounters: Pillow Pockets for the Win!

It occurred to me this weekend that I talk about food a lot on social media. Sustainable farming and food waste are things I am frequently learning more about. My characters often cook for each other and/or are involved in the restaurant world in some way. And even in my author bio, I state that I like to cook and experiment. Except I never share those experiments with you guys!

So I'm sharing one.

I love watching competitive cooking shows like "Chopped," "Cutthroat Kitchen" and "Top Chef," because they are high-stakes situations where the chefs often have to think on the fly. You have to know how to combine ingredients and flavors,and after many years of viewing, a bunch of stuff has rubbed off on me. 

One of my favorite episodes of "Chopped" are when the secret ingredients include leftovers. Because let's face it, leftovers are boring. The only time anyone ever seems to focus on leftovers is around Thanksgiving, when you frequently have turkey, stuffing, and other remnants of the meal haunting your fridge, and all you can think to do is reheat it. Or make sandwiches. Or soup.

As a single person who lives alone, I'm solely responsible for making sure I eat. And unless I'm doing a single steak and baked potato, generally I have leftovers. I also have a pantry full of random ingredients, because grocery stores are a weird weakness of mine. I could not buy groceries for two months, living solely out of the pantry and freezer, and I'd be fine. I'd be scrambling for what to make by the final week, but I'd eat.

The topic of food waste is an important one, because as a nation, we throw away a horrific amount of usable food. I wrote about it in a fictional way in Maybe This Time, with Donner and Brendan's Street Feed mission. And it's something that will always be topical, especially when so many millions of Americans go to bed hungry.

It makes me think about food differently than I used to, and it makes me want to use everything I buy in some way. Transform it, add it, just don't freaking waste it. Find a way to incorporate it into my meal before it rots and has to be tossed.

Today, I was faced with leftover mashed potatoes, and I didn't just want to, you know, reheat them. You see, yesterday I got it in my head that I wanted to see what it would taste like to mix mashed potatoes in with Tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt-based condiment with dill and cucumber, great on gyros). I made way too many potatoes than necessary, so I portioned some to mix with the sauce. It had a pretty interesting flavor, but it's not something I'd eat every day. And I was glad I'd only made a heaping portion.

Which left me with about two and a half cups worth of mashed potatoes as leftovers. What to do?

My first thought was potato pancakes, which my dad used to do when I was a kid. But the last time I did that, they fell apart and didn't work, so my mind started to wander and wonder about something besides a pancake.

Potato mini-muffins, anyone?

I had no idea how or if these would turn out, but they did! They cooked up nicely, held together, and had a nice gooey pocket of cheese inside!

Here's what I did:

Preheated the oven to 400 degrees F.

Portioned out 1.5 cups of mashed potatoes and warmed them slightly in the microwave. I mixed in 1 beaten egg and 1 TB of flour (gluten-free for me, but use whatever). Then I added 2 TB of ranch dressing (I will probably up it to 3 TB next time for a stronger Ranch flavor). Mix it all together with a fork until combined, but the potatoes are still a little lumpy.

Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray (I use PAM Coconut Oil). Scoop the mixture into the muffin cups until mostly full, roughly a tablespoon. I ended up filling 21 of the 24 cups before I ran out.

Take your favorite block cheese. I had Vermont white sharp cheddar on hand, but I bet Pepper Jack would add a nice kick to this. Cube the cheese into pieces roughly the size of your pinkie fingernail. Press one piece into the middle of each cup of potato mixture, and then use your finger to cover the top of the cheese. 

I baked them at 400 for about 17 minutes, until they were firm and starting to brown on the edges. Let them cool for about a minute in the pan, then put on a rack to cool more.

(I have no idea why this picture is sideways)

And there you have it! 

Lovely little pillowy pockets of molten cheese deliciousness!

The cheese is a little hard to see because it's a white cheddar, but it's there. I ate a few plain, and then started slathering them with sour cream, because I love sour cream. Dip them in ketchup or ranch, or whatever you like on your potatoes.

There's also room to play with the basic potato mixture by adding ingredients like bacon bits, green onions, chili flakes, diced broccoli, etc...


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