Thursday, June 8, 2023

Sweet Potato Boulettes: Delicious and a Good Change in Potatoes

This recipe was printed next to a story called "Romantic Potatoes" about a sweet rich girl at a country club and the grocery delivery boy who loved her.

Philadelphia Inquirer Recipe Exchange, September 13 1935, p. 12

Sweet Potato Boulettes
"These are delicious and a good change in potatoes."

6 medium sweet potatoes
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
4 tbsp melted butter
3 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
Fresh parsley

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a baking sheet.
Cook the potatoes until tender. (I suggest microwaving them.) Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Peel the potatoes (you can just pick the skins off with your fingers) and mash well. Add salt, pepper, and about half the melted butter. Taste and check seasonings.
Form into round balls about 2 inches in diameter. Place on the pan.
Sprinkle with chopped bacon, gently pressing the bacon into place. Brush with the remaining melted butter. If the butter is unsalted, lightly shake a little bit of salt over all of them.
Brown in the oven for 12 minutes. (I ended up baking mine for 25 minutes.)
Garnish with parsley.

Note: Since I had no fresh parsley lying around, I added a few shakes of dried parsley to the potatoes. It was a very good.

Mrs. Agnes McGoldrick, 224 South Logan Ave, Audubon, New Jersey; Philadelphia Inquirer Recipe Exchange, September 13 1935, p. 12

Like nearly everyone on Earth, we cook a lot of spuds. But while potatoes are a delicious way to briefly ignore the ever-worsening prices of everything in the grocery store, my spud repertoire is a bit limited. And so, in looking for new ways to serve potatoes, we turn to the Philadelphia Inquirer Recipe Exchange.

a picture of a sweet potato
And so our recipe begins!

When we made the Gilt Edged Potatoes, we discussed the long history of recipes that creatively repurpose leftovers, and how all of that ended when every kitchen got a microwave. I now think that the gilt-edged potatoes are not an attempt to make leftovers exciting. I think they're an example of a genre of recipes I did not know existed: attempts to dress up mashed potatoes. Baking bread for dinner requires a lot of attention and time, but you can drop potatoes into a pot of boiling water and more or less ignore them for a while. But although mashed potatoes are easy to make, few people would get excited about them every night.

With that in mind, we are adding a new spin to our spuds with as little extra effort as possible. After all, this recipe is from the 1930s. The lady newsreader looking through the Inquirer Recipe Exchange still had to cook dinner and also do the rest of the housework in an era when the only people who could afford vacuum cleaners also had servants to operate them. 

But before we get to our potatoes, we need bacon. You may think I am unable to save any bacon whenever we cook it. After all, the last time I only needed a little bit for a recipe I was making, I ended up cooking the whole package by popular demand. But it turns out that while everyone in the house thinks they will eat a whole pound of bacon, they always end up prematurely bacon-ed out while the last of it gets cold on the greasy plate. I didn't discreetly hide any of the bacon for future boulettes because I knew I wouldn't have to. But I was amused at how much bacon I could force into this tiny container. It practically sprang out when I opened the lid.


With the saltpetered pig ready to go, we could move on to the spuds. I wasn't in the mood to wait for the sweet potato to boil, so I microwaved it. I won't lie and claim I fretted about retaining water-soluble vitamins, though that definitely is a nice advantage. Like so many people using the microwave, I was impatient and lazy. And speaking of lazy, I have to give Mrs. McGoldrick credit for completely eliminating the tedious task of peeling raw potatoes. Why spend all that time with a paring knife or vegetable peeler when you could just pick off the potato skins with your fingertips after cooking?

The potato shrank away from the skin as it cooked. Check out how much airspace we had inside the peel.

You may have noticed that in the past few years, sweet potatoes have been sold as the healthier version of potatoes. I was quite devastated to learn that while both types of potato have a decent assortment of vitamins and other things that are good for you, they're nutritionally nearly the same. When I found out, I regretted all the soggy sweet potato fries I have ever permitted onto my plate in the name of vitamins or something. I haven't felt so profoundly disillusioned by a food history podcast since I learned that dried cranberries are essentially nutrient-free candy.

I have actually never cooked a whole sweet potato before. I didn't know they're so fibrous on the inside. While I initially worried that microwaving the potato had irreparably toughened it, it yielded just as easily as any other spud that has met the household potato smasher.


Shaping a mashed potato into balls felt like making cookies. Heck, it even looks like a batch of cookies if one made very liberal use of artificial dye. You may note the presence of green flecks that are unaccounted for in the ingredient list. Well, Mrs. McGoldrick tells to "garnish with parsley." We had no fresh parsley, but I mixed in some dried flakes in case it made a flavor difference.

The ornamental bacon is a crucial component of this recipe. Before crowning the boulettes with bacon, the orange balls unassuming, and perhaps a bit dull.  But just look at how cute they are after! This was more than worth the bother of getting out a knife and cutting board after scissors failed to cut the bacon finely enough. 

Also, Mrs. McGoldrick was right on the money when it came to how many bacon slices were required to properly bedeck the boulettes. If you carefully pick the fallen bacon pieces off of the pan, you will find you have exactly enough for one batch of potato balls. Mrs. McGoldrick tells us to "brown in a moderate oven (375 degrees F.) for 12 minutes." These didn't brown at all (even after 25 minutes), though the bacon did get crispy and start sizzling again.

As for the taste: these were pretty good mashed sweet potatoes. But I forgot that when the Inquirer printed Mrs. McGoldrick's recipe in 1935, grocery stores didn't sell unsalted butter yet. I thought the bacon would bring enough salt to the tops of these, but I was incorrect. A light sprinkling of salt on top (just a little) really made these pop. Suddenly they were everything Mrs. McGoldrick promised when she called them "delicious and a good change in potatoes." Also, as aforementioned, they were so cute!

I have to wonder how many people Mrs. McGoldrick was cooking for. I quartered the recipe and got a dozen boulettes. What would one do with the four dozen sweet potato boulettes that you'd get if you followed her original recipe? Surely they would no longer be "delicious and a good change in potatoes" by the time you'd finally eaten the last of them. 

Quantity misgivings aside, this is a very easy to make smashed sweet spuds cute without adding scads of butter and sugar to them. And if you pop the sweet potatoes into the microwave instead of boiling them and also have leftover bacon at hand, this recipe is so quick to put together.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

One-Pan Roast Chicken and Crispy Bread, Mushroom, and Apricot Stuffing: or, Cooking our birds the modern Canadian way!

You know how at Thanksgiving, some people bake extra stuffing separate from the bird- but with slices of raw turkey laid on top before baking? Someone in Canada decided to turn that into designer recipe.

Food and Drink Autumn 2016, Liquor Control Board of Ontario

One-Pan Roast Porcini Chicken With Bread, Mushroom, and Apricot Stuffing
⅕ oz (6 g) dried porcini mushrooms*
¼ tsp (1mL) fennel seeds
3 chicken leg quarters
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped garlic
½ cup green onions, cut into ½-1 inch pieces
¾ cup (2 hectograms) dried apricots
1 cup sodium-free chicken stock
5 cups (12.6 deciliters) Italian or French bread, cut into 1½ inch (4cm) cubes
1½ tsp dried parsley
1½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 425°F or 220°C.

      To prepare the chicken:
Grind the dried mushrooms and fennel seeds in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Mix with salt and pepper, then rub it into the chicken pieces. Heat the oil and butter in a large, oven-safe skillet over high heat. Place the chicken skin-side down in the pan and cook until golden brown, 4-6 minutes, spooning the fat onto the exposed side of the chicken pieces as they cook. Set the chicken pieces on a plate, and cover them with an upside-down bowl. Set aside. Leave the juices in the pan for the stuffing.

      To prepare the stuffing:
Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Add green onions and garlic, reduce heat to medium, and cook 2 minutes or until softened. Add the chicken stock and apricots, bring to a boil, and simmer for 6 minutes or until apricots are plumped. Remove from heat.
Add bread, parsley, and thyme. Mix well.

      To assemble and bake:
Spread the stuffing out so that it is in an even layer in the skillet. Lay the chicken on top. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 165°F or 78°C. After removing from oven, cover tightly with foil and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

*Didn't have this, so I omitted it.
The original recipe used sliced leeks.
Or 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley/thyme if you want to strictly follow the original.

Adapted from Food and Drink Autumn 2016, Liquor Control Board of Ontario

Today, we are returning to that fascinating Canadian food magazine I found in the airport! When the pickier members of the household are away overnight, I tend to foist the more... shall we say, unconventional recipes on those who remain. With that in mind, we're going to put dried fruits into chicken.

You can tell the editors really thought this was one of the recipes that would sell magazine. They used it as the lead photograph for their article of one-pan dinners. (For whatever reason, they then stuffed the recipe in the back of the magazine instead of putting it on the next page.)

Food and Drink Autumn 2016, Liquor Control Board of Ontario

I would like to note at the beginning that we modified the recipe due to grocery prices. So instead of following the recipe as professionally developed in Canadian test kitchens, we're really testing the theory behind it. Well, the magazine article was called "Simplifying Supper" (emphasis mine), and you don't simplify supper by driving to every grocery store in town purchasing one ingredient at a time from whoever was selling it the cheapest. Also, since I'm not feeding a whole family, I halved the recipe and decided how much chicken to cook by laying the raw pieces in the pan to see how many would fit.

As we seasoned the chicken, we arrived at our first budget cut. We did not have any dried mushrooms. I know that dried mushrooms are very common in other parts of the world, and it would have been quite easy to drop a few into the spice grinder. But apparently none of the people who routinely cook with dried mushrooms get their groceries from the store near me.

To reduce mess and, dare I say, simplify supper, I rubbed the seasonings onto the skin side of chicken, then put it in the hot pan, and seasoned the exposed nonskin side last. That way none of the spices got left behind on the cutting board, and I had less mess to contend with later. The chicken turned a nice shade of golden brown, though it took a lot longer than the 4-6 minutes specified in the directions. That's probably not a recipe error so much as the result of using a heavy cast-iron pan which needed to heat up before the food in it could start cooking.

We've talked previously about how a lot of the recipes in this magazine seem like no one tested them in non-professional kitchens with non-professional equipment. Today I would like to add another delicate criticism to the writing and editorial staff: they omit a lot of crucial recipe steps. For example, after we've browned the chicken in the frying pan, we are told to set it aside. But they don't mention that we should cover it. Perhaps this magazine is aimed at experienced cooks who don't need every step in recipes spelled out in detail. Or maybe Canadian cooking magazines assume you know more about cooking than Americans do.

But now that the chicken is ready to set aside, it's time to move on to the stuffing. You can tell this is the big feature of the recipe. Without the stuffing, we're just making a pan of baked chicken pieces- which is fine but doesn't sell magazines. When we added the mushrooms, they absorbed all the dang oil like little fungus sponges! Look at how dry the pan was. Our mushrooms kept trying to stick to the pan and burn.

We are now directed to add the leeks, which brings us to our next budget cut: we used green onions instead. The leeks were unexpectedly expensive, and only sold in very large bunches. If we wanted to buy leeks, we had to make a commitment and swear to love them in dinner every night for the rest of the month.

Before we added the stock to the vegetables, the contents of the pan looked like something you'd see on someone's social media postings. It's so colorful, with so many different textures, and just so dang pretty.

I have noticed that this magazine uses a lot of dried fruits in savory recipes. Is this a trend now, or a Canadian idiosyncrasy? Maybe dried fruit in supper is today's equivalent to the chicken-and-grapes fad from the 1970s.

After we added the apricots and the stock, it looked like we made soup out of bong water.

In our next budget cut, we were not using "rustic Italian bread." We had hamburgers last week, and the surplus buns were still sitting on the countertop and looking lonely. I tried to convince myself that the sesame seeds would add extra flavor. The original recipe uses ten cups of cubed bread. That's over half a gallon of bread cubes. (For those in metric countries, we're talking 25ish deciliters.) While that seems overwhelming at first, it turns out that bread expands a lot when you cut it up. One hamburger bun yielded 2½ cups (that's 6ish deciliters) of bread pieces.

Truly the beginnings of the highest cuisine.

I dumped the bread in, and suddenly the contents of the frying pan looked just like the magazine photo-- aside from the presence of sesame seeds and other signs of ingredient fudgery. I don't always get my recipes to look like the professional photos, and it's very reassuring when they do. It suggests that someone tested the recipe at least once (even if they didn't imagine people making it at home without restaurant-grade pots and pans). 

At this point, it was time to add the half-cooked chicken. And so, after a surprisingly long prep time for a recipe that is supposed to "simplify supper," we were ready to insert the pan in the oven and come back when it was ready to eat. 

As it baked, we could see the fat dripping out of the chicken skin and onto the meat. I don't mean a few small trickles of fat and juices. This chicken bastes itself. For all the fat and juices that melted and dripped down the meat, I may as will have completely covered it with raw bacon. 

While the chicken baked, the stuffing beneath it began to soften and lose its crispness. I won't fault the recipe writers for that. They said to spread everything onto a big pan, and I didn't. After the pile of dirty dishes got unexpectedly high, I really wanted this to be a one-pan recipe. But whether it's my faulty pan selection or a recipe error, our meant-to-be-crispy bread was soon bubbling like a merry stew.

To my surprise, the bread shrank a lot in the oven. I expected to end up with chicken perched on a mountain of bread and dried fruit, but the bread compacted into a surprisingly thin layer beneath the bird.

As they say in some parts of Canada, c'est pret! Going back to what we said about omitting a lot of steps in the recipe, the directions do not mention letting the meat rest after cooking it. Did the writers have any non-professionals test the recipes before printing them? Were they meant to be "inspirational" (read: unrealistic) rather than cooking instructions you can actually follow at home?

After ten minutes of resting time, the chicken was absolutely amazing. Even the "I don't like bones in my chicken" people got over their complaints. The stuffing had a lot of complex interlocking flavors. You'd think I spent a lot of time fussing over correctly-balanced seasonings. For whatever reason, it also tasted like I dumped in a lot of wine even though I did not use any. 

I liked the stuffing, but others did not. However, I could have done without the dried apricots-- or at least reduced the amount. They made the stuffing almost syrupy. If you want dried fruit, I think figs or dates would be a better choice- or better yet, dried cranberries. One person said "That is some good chicken!" and hoped I didn't notice that the stuffing remained on the plate.

However, the chicken was so good that I didn't want to make this recipe one and then close the magazine pages forever. Furthermore, we had some stale French bread laying around the countertop because there just aren't enough people in the house to eat a whole loaf of it. And so, hoping that was close enough to the "rustic Italian bread" I could apparently just grab at any supermarket in Canada, we made the recipe again. 

But this time, we left out the dried apricots. I know the apricots are one of the title ingredients, but people aren't always thrilled about "unusual" recipes- even if they're developed by actual professionals and not by me. But to make up for the apricots' absence, we added chopped celery. I honestly don't like celery on its own, but I think it adds a wonderful flavor to so many things.

Well, aside from the lack of bright orange discs of dried fruit, this one looked almost like the cover photo!

While this was advertised as a simple one-pan dinner, I think that "simple" a bit of a reach. You will end up serving this out of a single pan, but this recipe leaves behind a tall pile of dirty dishes. Granted, if one has a dishwasher it's a simple matter of filing the dishes on the machine's racks and pushing the magic button, but the cleanup is always worth keeping in mind.

But I'm actually kind of impressed that they came up with a recipe for chicken and stuffing that doesn't involve waiting all day for it to cook. When we actually used the type of bread specified in the directions, it came out wonderfully crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. I've never had white bread stuffing before, and it was really good.

With that said, perhaps I just can't be bothered to stay up-do-date with the latest in semi-upscale foods, but I liked the stuffing better without the titular apricots in it. Without the apricots, the stuffing tasted like it came right off the Thanksgiving table (appropriate since this was the magazine's autumn issue). I liked the recipe as written, because a lot of times it's nice to make something a little different. But if you want something a bit more "normal," you can't go wrong with celery.