Potato Chop

The first time one of my husband’s best high school friends came to visit from overseas, my husband said, “We have to go get some Potato Chop. They’re his favorite.”   It’s the perfect thing for me to make because I like to play with my food.  It’s also a favorite to eat because you can hold it in your hand.

A potato chop is basically a handheld shepherd’s pie.  It’s about the size of your average homemade oatmeal cookie.  There’s ground meat and spices on the inside and mashed potatoes on the outside, with a crispy crust.  They’re not difficult to make, but they can be time consuming, so make a big batch.  They freeze and reheat well.  Give me a plate of these and some HP sauce and I’m good to go.

Potato Chop

1 lb. ground beef or bison

1/2 cup white onion, finely diced

1 minced garlic clove or a pinch of garlic powder

3 T. chopped parsley or parsley flakes

2 T. your favorite spice mix  (I like Penzey’s Turkish Spice Blend)

3-4 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced

2-3 T. cornstarch

1 egg

flour or breadcrumbs

salt and pepper to taste

your favorite stock (chicken, beef, or veggie…dealer’s choice)


Put the diced potatoes in a pot and fill the pot with stock to cover.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are very tender. Drain, the potatoes, mash them with salt and pepper to taste, then thoroughly mix in the cornstarch.  Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, brown the onions in a few tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil.  Add and brown the ground beef, spice blend, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.  Let cool slightly before assembly.

To assemble the potato chop, oil your hands, then take a golf ball sized bit of mashed potatoes and place it in the center of your palm.  Cup your hand and spread out the potatoes until you have a disk that’s a little thinner in the middle than on the edges.

Add about a teaspoon to half tablespoon of meat to the center of the potato disk, then gently shape the edges around the meat to fully enclose it in the mashed potato mixture.  Flatten this slightly into a cookie shape and put on an oiled cookie sheet.  Once you’ve assembled a full sheet of these, refrigerate them for about 30 minutes so they cool and firm up before you fry them.

After they’ve rested for 30 minutes in the fridge, heat a pot of oil or get out your deep fryer and make a breading station with one bowl of egg wash (one egg mixed with a little water) and one bowl of either flour or breadcrumbs.  Dip the individual chops into the egg mixture, then into the flour/breadcrumbs; shake off the excess, and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on a rack or paper towel and eat as soon as they’re cool enough to handle with a side of HP sauce for dipping.

These freeze well so store the leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer.  If you want them to stay crispy, reheat them for about 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  If you don’t care about crispy and can’t wait, 60 seconds in the microwave ought to do it.

Variations: You can make these taste more like shepherd’s pie by adding some tomato paste and some peas to the meat mixture.  I’ve also tried adding a morsel of cheddar to make these more like inside out cheeseburgers.





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January Soup

As is true of many food lovers who don’t spend as much time in sneakers as in slippers, my New Year’s resolution usually involves a pledge to eat lighter, healthier fare than I have been indulging in since Thanksgiving.  The day after Christmas this year my sister-in-law made a lovely and flavorful soup that is quick, easy, satisfying and light enough to become a January staple.  I think it’s called sour turnip soup, and though I usually dislike turnips, I love this.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup minced white onion

2 small or one large turnip, peeled and diced into half inch chunks

2 T. tomato paste

one 8 oz. bag of fresh spinach, chopped up (or you can use frozen)

one 48 oz box of stock (I use chicken stock)

juice of one lemon

1 t. your favorite hot sauce (I use harissa)

salt and pepper to taste

Saute the minced onion in olive oil until it is translucent and slightly browned.  Stir in the chopped spinach, tomato paste and hot sauce and saute until the spinach starts wilting, then add salt, pepper and the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then simmer on the stove for 30 minutes to an hour.  Remember to occasionally skim any red bubbly scum that comes to the surface before you stir again.

When the soup is about done, add the juice of a lemon, correct the salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Variations:  My sister-in-law served this with kubba (beautiful balls of rice stuffed with meat and pine nuts. They are the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Italian arancini, but only about the size of golf balls).  When my husband and I are avoiding starches,  I saute some ground beef, turkey or lamb with my favorite middle eastern spices and add that to the pot near the end of cooking to round out the meal.  When I do this I leave out the hot sauce because the spices in the meat flavor the soup.   If you substitute vegetable stock it becomes vegetarian and also makes a good starter.

However you make it, it is perfect on a blustery, rainy day when you’re feeling a little too pudgy for your liking.





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Lovely lamb bites

A hobby is a marvelous thing.  Just as cooking is one of mine, raising lambs is a side gig for one of my colleagues.  She raises them lovingly, feeds them organically, and mostly sells them for wool and breeding, but a few end up going to local restaurants and foodies like me.  Consequently, I’ve been experimenting a lot with lamb recipes this past year or so.

This week I think I hit on a brainstorm that combines my love of bite size treats (meze, tapas, hors d’oeuvres, whatever) with a fridge-clearing exercise, which I find is often where the best recipe brainstorms are born.  Where I ended up is a cross between a Swedish meatball and tepsi.  So far it has made for a quick dinner and a lovely lunch this week, an excellent reward for about 20 minutes of actual cooking effort.

Lamb bites

1 lb. ground lamb

1/3 cup crumbled feta

2 teaspoons Moroccan Spice Mix (I get mine from the Spice House; Penzey’s Turkish Blend works well too)

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (because the feta is already salty)

Mix together all ingredients and form them into meatballs that are no larger than golf balls.  (I use the small ice cream scoop I use to make cookies for portion control)

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and, on medium high heat, brown the meatballs on all sides.  They won’t be done in the middle yet but will leave lots of crispy bits on the bottom of the pan that will add to the flavor of the sauce.

Once the meatballs have browned, spoon out half of the oil left in the pan and add:

1 cup chicken or beef broth

1/2 cup red wine

1 soup sized can of tomato sauce

Bring the mixture to a boil and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then turn down to simmer and let the meatballs bathe in this stove top hot tub until they are cooked through and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a good pasta sauce.  In my case that took about 15 minutes, long enough to enjoy a cup of tea and watch a recorded cooking show sans commercials.

Serve with or without your favorite starch (rice, pasta and polenta all work fine) as well as a dollop of greek yogurt.  If you don’t want starch but do want a side, roasted eggplant is the ideal partner.

If you’re making these as an hors d’oeuvre, make the meatballs a bit smaller (the size of a large marble) and stir a cup of greek yogurt into the sauce just before serving.  Tip them into a chafer as you would any warm bite size treat, and serve with a side of toothpicks.

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Hala dolly!

Just as many of my husband’s Middle Eastern cooking traditions have infiltrated my Midwestern family, some of my Midwestern baking traditions have circulated through my husband’s family. While I was visiting my sister-in-law recently, she asked me for a recipe I had taught my husband’s aunt a few years before. In my family we call these Santa Snacks. My bestie refers to them as “Hello Dollies”. They are eggless, as easy as possible to make, and are open to some variations. They also effortly serve as the missing link between cookie and candy bar.

Santa Snacks

What you’ll need to make them:

a 9×12 baking dish or jelly roll pan
a one cup measuring cup or; in a pinch, a standard size coffee mug

To start, melt 1 stick of butter in the pan/dish over low heat on top of the stove. (You can melt the butter in the microwave but I like the bit of browned butter taste it adds to the cookies to melt it in the pan.)

Add one cup/mug of shredded coconut and one cup/mug of graham cracker crumbs. If the holidays are stressing you out, feel free to buy whole graham crackers and beat them to a pulp with a rolling pin to get the crumbs. If you’re more mellow, the food processor works just fine.

Mix these together and spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan. This will end up being the bottom crust.

After you spread out the butter/crumb/coconut mixture, scatter over the top:

1 cup/mug semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup/mug of chopped pecans

Finally pop open one can of sweetened condensed milk and slowly drizzle it over the entire cookie mixture more or less evenly.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, just until the milky topping has turned golden. Let rest about 10 minutes, then cut into squares while still warm.


Walnuts work fine with this recipe. If you prefer almonds, use the slivered kind to get the right crunchy counterpoint to the oozy chocolate. I find white chocolate and milk chocolate a little cloying for this, but if you like things super sweet or want to mix a few kinds of chocolate together, knock yourself out.

Whole wheat digestive biscuits or vanilla wafers can be used in place of the graham cracker crumbs.

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Healthier Holiday Treats

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to spend the holidays in Dubai with my extended family. Although probably my favorite thing about that visit was being able to get a suntan at the pool on Christmas day, a close second was the delicious holiday sweet treats my husband’s Aunt Mae put out.

As someone with a little snow on my own rooftop these days, there are only so many holiday cookies I can eat and still fit into my special, once a year velvet holiday pants. These goodies tasted just as decadent as a great cookie, but were much healthier, because they were made simply from dried fruit and nuts, plus they were simply beautiful.

All you need to make them is an assortment of two-bite sized dried fruits like dates, apricots and prunes, and an assortment of slivered and thin sliced almonds and pistachios and halves of walnuts and pecans. I’ve taken liberties with some of the assortment since I first had these. What follows are some of the combos I like best:

Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of roasted pistachio nuts sprinkled with sea salt. The orange and green provide a festive pop of color as well as a satisfying mix of sweet, salty and crunchy.

Stuff a dried date, sliced in half like a hoagie roll, with thin slices of slivered almonds arranged so that the almond tips poke out from the seam higgledy-piggledy.

Stuff a half-sliced prune with a whole walnut or pecan half. If you feel like upping the swoon quotient, tuck in a thin slice of room temperature sharp white cheddar cheese. Alternately a half teaspoon of cream cheese ads a velvety note, especially combined with salted pretzel sticks that fan out like little spikes on a seashell.

Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of crystallized ginger and dried cranberries.

Arrange a platter of these assorted treats and you’ll have a fanciful feast of little edible jewels to adorn your holiday table.

Variation: If you’re a runner like my sister or have a much higher metabolism than I do, consider taking dates stuffed with goat or sharp cheddar cheese, wrapping them in half slices of prosciutto or bacon, and bake them in a 350 degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet until the meat is crispy and the fat drained away. They are to die for but you definitely won’t fit into you velvet holiday pants if you have more than one of them.

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Though my mother was an excellent cook, I never had a whole roast chicken until I was an adult. I started with the rotisserie variety, usually bought at my local grocery as a payday treat for Friday dinner and a soup base for Saturday lunch. Then my husband started roasting chickens for me, and I became hooked. I understand why Jeffrey Garten wants one for dinner every Friday. If you do it right it’s velvety and succulent with skin that’s a cross between bacon and a potato chip, the perfect balm after a long work week.

For the past several years my husband and I have been perfecting several variations on a roast chicken and I love all of them. Here are two favorites.

For both versions, set the oven to 400 degrees and put one whole average size chicken, rinsed and dried, into some kind of a roasting pan and roast it for 75 to 90 minutes. You will know it’s done if, when you poke a fork into the meatiest part of the thigh, the juices run out clear. If the juices are pinkish, give it at least 15 more minutes.

If you roast it upside down until the last 15 minutes, the breasts will stay tender bathed in their own juices and the skin on the thighs will crisp up nicely. Roasted on a bed of veggies, you have an instant side. If carbs are your thing, set it on a thick slab of crusty bread or some chopped up potatoes. If the crispy skin is your favorite part, roast it on a rack over a pan.

When the bird comes out of the oven, let it rest under foil for at least 20 minutes. It’ll be maddening to have to wait with the scent of roasted yardbird perfuming the air, but it’ll be worth it.

easy-peasy lemon squeezy

stuff the chicken cavity with:
1 whole lemon, quartered
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 head of garlic, cut in half across the cloves
5-10 parsley stems
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Drizzle the skin with olive oil, give the bird a massage and sprinkle it with salt and pepper before you pop it in the oven.

biryani style
slather the skin with a mixture of:

2 T. olive oil
3 T. biryani spice
liberally salt and pepper the interior OR
stuff the bird with some leftover biryani (see recipe for Iraqi-style hamburger helper)

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You say tikka; I say kabob

One of the best summer party meals I have ever enjoyed involved a grill, a cooler of iced drinks and a skewer station. The host included soaked bamboo skewers, various veggies and several versions of marinated meat so guests could create and grill their own tikka/kabobs and partake of the many side salads guests had added to the table. He was able to enjoy the party because all the prep was done the night before and guests had a chance to chat around the grill and eat exactly what they wanted. I’ve decided to have my own kabob party and to soak the proteins overnight using a few Mideast/west marinade recipes. Now all I need is a pal with a backyard or a beach and a grill. Here goes nothing.

Marinate one inch cubes of lamb leg in a large Ziploc bag filled with:
2/3 cup of lemon juice (2-3 lemons worth)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons of minced garlic
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper per pound of meat

Marinate one inch cubes of chicken leg/thigh/breast meat in a large Ziploc bag filled with:
1 cup middle eastern or greek plain yogurt (the sour, not the sweet kind)
1/2 cup of tandoori spice paste (from your local Indian or middle eastern grocer)
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper per pound of meat

Marinate one inch cubes of a meaty fish (salmon, halibut, swordfish, tuna) in a large Ziploc bag filled with:
2/3 cup of the spicy liquid from a jar of Ship brand torchi amba

We’re going to make a version of Kofta Kabob with the beef. Have your butcher coarsely grind 1 lb. of 80% lean beef chuck along with one medium chopped onion (about half a cup) and the leaves from half a bunch of parsley. Work in a teaspoon each of salt and pepper per pound. Roll into oblong meatballs about 2 inches long by 1 inch around. Toss in olive oil before grilling.

Include bowls of various veggies cut into one inch chunks. I would provide the following:
cherry tomatoes
round mini green onions
red pepper

Serve with your favorite naan or pita that is quickly warmed on the grill. Keep bowls of tzazik (see the recipe for sauces on an earlier blog post) torchi amba with tomatoes, fresh guacamole and a homemade aioli for slathering on your kabob sammies. Pop the top on your favorite iced beverage, crank up the tunes, and I think you have the makings of a fine party. Of course there should be s’mores for dessert. I am a Midwestern girl after all.

Variation: I keep around a block of Halloumi (salty grillable cheese) for the vegetarians and grill tempe for the vegans in my circle. All the recipes can be doubled or tripled in case your party ends up bigger than mine.

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