Tuesday, November 12, 2013

OhFeelYa's Easy...Dinners--Smashed Potatoes with Bacon and Pickled Veg

This may be my laziest meal yet. But it's been a busy weekend, and my hubby is pretty easy to please. Like I've said before, he loves pork and potatoes like the proverbial fat kid loves cake (I'm the fat kid in this scenario; he's super thin). So I took eight medium-sized red potatoes and microwaved them at two-minute intervals until they were easy to slide a fork into. Lazy, I tell you. Can't even be bothered to bake the potatoes. Set aside.

I cooked a package of thick-cut bacon in the laziest way possible: under the broiler. See that cookie sheet pictured below? You can lay bacon out on it, put it under a 350 degree broiler, and it will cook evenly in twenty minutes or so without crapping up your stove top and popping you in the eye every time you lean over it (am I the only one that happens to?). When the bacon is done, transfer it to a plate with a paper towel to drain. Since bacon grease is like cash money around here, I got out my nearly empty mason jar, put a strainer over it, and tipped the run-off into my stash. Because God forbid we run out of bacon grease up in here. If you do hang on to the grease, and you ought to, make sure you let it cool to room temp before you put it back in the fridge to prevent bacteria growth. Chop the bacon into whatever size makes you happy.

On the still greasy cookie sheet, space your potatoes evenly apart. Using whatever smashing mechanism you fancy, just press the potatoes until they flatten a bit without totally disintegrating. I put a tiny bit of butter on each potato, layered them with bacon, and cracked a generous amount of black pepper over them. Put them back under the broiler to warm it all and crisp up the edges.
I totally get that this is not a heart-healthy meal. I don't personally eat like this because I battle weight and high blood pressure, but my very tall, very thin spouse eats this kind of thing consistently without any cholesterol or weight problems. We should all be so lucky. However, this recipe would work equally well with a shredded rotisserie chicken, some leftover brisket or roast, or pulled pork.

Now for the part that cuts through all the grease and makes this plate of food shine like one of my students before they get their first paper back. Quick-pickled vegetables are bright, cut through rich, fatty foods, and are super easy to make. In a desperate attempt to get some veg into my husband, I went with carrots, onion, and a little garlic. You can also use cucumber, fennel, radish, etc.... Cut three carrots, half an onion, and two cloves of garlic pretty thin. If you have a mandolin collecting dust somewhere, bust it out.
In a non-reactive saucepan (look at the bottom--if it's stainless steel, you're good to go), mix 1 1/2 cups filtered water, 1 cup mirin rice wine vinegar (you can get this on the Asian isle at the grocery store), and a splash of apple cider vinegar. For seasoning, I threw in three juniper berries, two whole star anise, a tablespoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon red paper flakes, about five turns of the sea salt grinder, and a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. Remember, if you are lucky enough to have a Central Market or Whole Foods nearby, you can buy a pinch of these seasonings for pennies (and without having to buy an entire bottle). Use more red pepper if you want it spicy. Bring your snazzy brine to a boil. 
Layer your soon-to-be pickles into a jar and pour the hot brine over them. Pickles come in glass jars for a reason--they don't react well with plastic or reactive metal.  
Again, let them cool completely before you refrigerate. If you want them super crunchy, let the brine cool before you pour it on the vegetables. I like mine mostly crunchy, and I pour the hot brine over them after it's not boiling any more. (If you do cucumbers, which are more fragile than carrots, then I would let the brine cool a bit to at least warm but not hot before adding for crunchy cucumbers.) If you want the veggies a cooked consistency, put them in the boiling brine and let them cook, but not all the way. It's up to you! Remember they'll continue to soften in the brine after they're refrigerated.The longer these sit, the better they taste, so make them first!
Holy crow, these are good. They take this very basic meal and make it a lot more special. Plus, making your own pickles will impress the crap out of your family! 
Yum. I had one forkful and then turned the plate over to my husband, who promptly doubled the amount of food on the plate. Yesterday, we had a Veteran's Day celebration at school. Our little cantina catered in sandwiches, brownies, etc...and I took the larger jar of pickled carrots to spice up the rather bland sandwiches. They were a big hit with the vets!

Smashed Potatoes with Pickled Veg
  • 6-8 medium sized red or white potatoes, unpeeled and washed
  • 1 package of your favorite bacon (remember, you can certainly use shredded turkey, one of those rotisserie chickens, pulled pork, roast, etc...If you use one of these other proteins, just make sure you spray or grease the cookie sheet before putting the potatoes on it)
  • cracked pepper (you will want to season with salt if you use another protein, but bacon is plenty salty without adding more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter per potato
Microwave potatoes with a cup of water (to steam them) at two-minute intervals until you can easily pierce them with a fork. On a cookie sheet (one with sides so the grease won't all drip off), layer the bacon and put under a 350 degree broiler for about 20 minutes, checking frequently so it doesn't burn.

When the bacon is cooked, pour the grease through a strainer into a glass or plastic receptacle and save for future recipes. Let it cool before refrigerating.  Chop bacon into bite-sized pieces.

On your still greasy cookie sheet, space the potatoes evenly, and smash them until they're flat but not destroyed. Put 1/2 tsp butter on each potato, season with cracked pepper, and sprinkle a layer of bacon over each one. Return to oven under the broiler for a few minutes until the edges of your potato are crispy.

Pickled Veg
  • Veg of your choice (cucumber, onion, garlic, carrots, leeks, almost anything can be pickled), thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 cup Mirin rice vinegar
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 2 star anise (whole)
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more if you want it spicy)
  • pinch cayenne (more if you want it spicy)
  • 5 turns of the salt grinder (you don't want to use iodized table salt, however) 
Add all ingredients to a non-reactive pot (stainless steel is the most common good pot to use--avoid aluminum) and bring to a boil.

Layer your sliced veg into a glass jar. Depending on how crunchy you want your pickles, you can either add your veggies to the boiling brine for a minute or two (for soft veggies), let the brine stop boiling and pour it over your veggies while it's still pretty warm (this will soften veggies enough to keep them from being totally raw--avoid this with cucumber however, as they can get mushy quickly), or let it cool completely before adding it to the veggie jar (for totally crisp, raw veggies). Let these sit for as long as possible before serving. If you can, make them the day before or the morning of the meal so the flavors can meld and absorb into the veggies fully. However, even making them an hour before dinner is served will still give you good flavor.