Stuff It!

Better late than never, right?

A roasted garlic surprise inside a tasty croquette ... Mmm!This week, I thought I would pay a bit of homage to one of the great traditions of cooking, putting things into other things. Hell, we all love a nice surprise, so how can you not love biting into something tasty, only to find something even more tasty hidden inside?

Sometimes, you don't just want to mix something in as just another ingredient. You want a new, fresh flavor to shine all on its own. Or maybe you've got an ingredient which is usually just chopped up but want to give it its own platform to be the star of the dish. Perhaps you just have some leftovers which really need some dressing up, so want to do a bit more than just reheating.

Those are some of the situations I found myself in this week and found my foodgasmic way by using the age-old method of stuffing.

First, I had a Girly Night party. There was a cupcake type theme to the goodies so, when I offered to bring a little tasty something, wanted it to go along with the other treats on the table, at least visually. Being firmly in the cook-not-bake camp and knowing there would be plenty of sweet cake treats, muffins immediately came to mind. But muffins are fucking dull. Even if you make savory, yummy ones, they're still just a muffin.

Well, not if you stash interesting and sexy treats inside!

So, I set out to create a muffin which would stand as something of a little entrée right in a cute bundle in your hand. Deciding on potatoes as the base, because who doesn't love potatoes, several filling options were considered but, when push came to shove, I could think of nothing which sounded tastier than Hungarian bacon and sharp cheddar in one and goat cheese with roasted garlic as a vegetarian option. There were quite a lot of possible recipes for potato muffins but, honestly, most looked pretty sucky and others were all over the ballpark. Instead, I used what seemed relatively logical ratios. You can tell me if you make them yourself whether the product of my brain pan passes your taste-bud test.  

One quick note about the recipe. The filling amounts are somewhat flexible, depending upon how filled you like your muffins (I like a nice bit of filling) and how big you want the finished pieces to be (I went for middle-ground, just filling the muffin tins' cups). Like most food experiments, your mileage may indeed vary.

Stuffed Potato Muffins

Stuffed Potato Muffins (in bad lighting)makes about 12 average-sized muffins

1 cup mashed potatoes (see PRE below)
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup yoghurt (use Middle-eastern if available or drain regular of excess fluids)
2 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper - grind to taste
1/4 fresh parsley - finely chopped
1/2 scallions - finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese**
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
butter + flour (for greasing muffin tins)

**If making the vegetarian version, mash in goat cheese until well-blended instead.

1/2 - 3/4 lb sharp cheddar cheese - shredded
1/2 - 3/4 lb Hungarian bacon*** (or quality slab bacon which is neither salty nor over-smoked)
1/2 - 1 red onion - finely diced (I liked a bit more, but you might not.)

***If you're here in LA, you can get Hungarian bacon at Jon's in the fridges with dried sausages and other smoked pork gifts from the food gods. If you're near Burbank, or really want the good stuff even if it's a little more, you can find really incredible Hungarian bacon at Otto's - as well as some badass paprika, kolbasz, gyulai, hurka and other yummy Hunkie treats.

goat cheese (about a rounded tsp per muffin)
roasted garlic (1 - 2 cloves for muffin)

PRE: Preheat oven to 400º
PRE: Make basic mashed potatoes. Peel and dice potatoes and drop into boiling water until soft and raw graininess is gone (about 15 minutes for medium dice). Drain into a strainer or colander. Add to pot 1 TBSP butter for each medium potato (2 for larger ones) plus some salt and pepper to taste and drop hot potatoes on top. Using a masher, mash and stir potatoes until smooth and butter is incorporated, then pour in a small splash of milk and mash a bit more until light and creamy (if you like REALLY smooth potatoes, grab a whisk or hand mixer to finish).
PRE: Prep fillings. Slice bacon and fry at low temperature to render out bacon fat and remove when browned well on both sides and stiff. Using bacon fat in frying pan, cook onions until lightly caramelized. Cut cooled bacon into small diced bits. Mix bacon and onions in a bowl and reserve.
1 - In a large bowl, mix all muffin ingredients except baking powder and flour. Mash well with a fork to smooth out potatoes into the blend and get even distribution of greens. Then mix in dry ingredients and blend well.
2 - Lightly grease muffin tins with a light coat of butter and shake of flour. Then spoon in a bit of muffin mix (about 1/3 way up the cup) and use the tip of the spoon (pointing outward) to dig a small hollow in the batter for filling.
3 - (bacon/cheddar) Pick up a bit of bacon mix held with a pinching motion to keep them condensed together, then place them carefully in the center of the muffin and push down lightly. Repeat for all muffins. Then using the same method, place shredded cheddar on top of the bacon, making sure to keep all fillings from spilling out to the edges.
(goat cheese/roasted garlic) Spoon goat cheese into the hollowed out muffin batter and push down lightly. Then place lightly squashed garlic clove(s) on top. As with the other filling, make sure to keep it within the center of the muffin batter.
4 - Spoon more muffin mix on top of the filling, using your finger to push down the batter a bit on the sides to insure the batter meets and completely encases the fillings.
4 b - (go FURTHER!) Add a nice bit more cheese to the tops for even sexier muffins!
5 - Pop in the oven for about 30 minutes (or until tops are done and a toothpick comes out clean). When done allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool on a rack (tops up) until they can be handled. Then they're ready to eat!

Want more stuffed NOMmy goodness?

Stuffed Pasilla Chiles topped with flame-thrower salsa + cotijaWe felt just the same, so I decided to riff on the idea of chile rellenos. Now, as we all know, chile rellenos are a big, cheese-tastic gut bomb, as usually made. So, what I was looking for was a way to have the same satisfying sexy savory deliciousness without burning the whole of a daily limit of fat on one piece. What came out of the pondering was a reasonably more healthy alternative with a bit of carbs, a bit of cheesy goodness, a hint of spicy heat, and a nice smattering of healthy veggies. Food experiment WIN!

FYI, I'm not listing the salsa/chutney-like topping shown in the food porn pics here. In having the finished dish, it feels like a light, cool mix of mashed avocados with a touch of yoghurt and maybe a bit of roasted tomatillo would be a better foil.

Stuffed Chiles
1 ear corn
8 large Pasilla or Poblano chiles
1/4 lb pork chorizo
1/2 onion (I used red because they're lovely) - finely diced
1 red pepper - finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro - finely chopped
1/4 cup scallions
3/4 cup rice
1 1/2 cup light stock (or a 14.5 oz can of chicken broth)
1 - 2 cups cotija - grated (Your mileage may vary ... start low and add to taste. We used leftover cheese to top on the plate.)
1 1/2  - 2 cup flour
4 eggs - separated
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup beer

PRE: Roll corn ear with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, granulated garlic, and a bit of chili powder (use one without salt or ground dried chili peppers), then roast in a 400º oven until brown and beginning to caramelize on the edges, about 1 hour or more. Then cut the corn kernels away from the cob carefully and reserve
PRE: Roast the chiles either fire-roasted method on stovetop or in oven (425º for about 35 minutes - flipping to char all sides). Put into a covered bowl to allow the steam to loosen the skin for about 15 minutes or so, then peel away and clean. Make a thin cut down the length of the pepper and use it to CAREFULLY remove seeds and gutty stuff. KEEP THE STEMS INTACT IF YOU CAN.
1 - Cook the chorizo in a pot on lowish heat (to allow fat to remain). Then add the onion and pepper and raise heat to medium, stirring until onions are clear and both are soft and cooked through. Then add the corn, cilantro, and scallions and mix well.
2 - Add the rice and allow to warm, stirring until the grains get a bit clear (should be fairly fast). Then add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, lower to SIMMER, and cook according to directions (should probably be about 20 minutes). When done, allow to stand, covered, for 5 minutes before stirring well and setting aside to cool slightly.
3 - Mix cotija into veggie/rice mix and very carefully stuff the peppers. Make sure you put in enough to fill the pepper, but not so much that you cannot bring the two cut edges back together before battering.
4 - Beat batter egg whites to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, mix together other batter ingredients, then gently fold in the egg whites.
5 - Heat a skillet to MEDIUM with a nice layer of oil (about 1/3 - 1/4 " deep). Then dip the stuffed peppers into the batter and lay into the skillet (making sure not to crowd the pan), frying for about 4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper before serving.
EXTRA - (For toppings) If you want a nice creamy, cool topper beside plain old salsa, grab a few avocados, maybe 3 large or 4 medium/small. Scoop out the meat into your food processor and pulse until mostly smooth. Then add a splash of lemon juice, a few TBSP of yoghurt or sour cream, a light sprinkle of salt, and a bit of chili powder, processing until as smooth as you'd like. If you want to get all kinds of tricky with it, roast a few tomatillos in foil when you do your corn and add them to the mix for some extra zing.

If, like me, you are not quite done stuffing things in other things, there's more ... oh, yes, there's more.

When you tend to cook via experiment (vs recipe), there is an unavoidable consequence. There are few things as frustrating in the kitchen as running out of a critical ingredient just when an experiment in food alchemy is starting to come together. Often, you are left with extra ingredients you weren't sure how much would be needed, so erred to the side of caution and over-stocked or over-produced. In this case, I vastly over-produced mashed potatoes for the muffins. Mind you, I will be experimenting with an attempt at retaining the lovely, staying-together, muffin-like qualities of the original, but would like to see if they can still pull it off with a more, for lack of a better term, potato-iness. Still, that was not going to be within the safe fridge life of this batch of potatoes.

So, what does one do with a whole fuckton of extra mashed potatoes? There will, most likely be a shepherd's pie of some sort in the works this weekend, but there was no time for that sort of production number during the week. BUT there was some kick-ass veal which was cooked in white wine, roasted garlic, and mushrooms left over. That just, at least to me, screamed potato croquettes. If you have a few simple ingredients and gentle enough hands to mold and bread lumps of potatoes, croquettes are a wonderfully impressive and tasty alternative to plain old mash. And, as an extra added plus, you can stuff lovely surprises in the center! Leftover WIN!

There really isn't a set recipe for croquettes, not one I have carved in stone yet, anyway. And most I've seen cluttering up the internet are dull-ass fried potato balls with no jazz. So, perhaps just a few suggestions to kick off a groovy food experiment?

Stuffed Potato Croquettes
Stuffed Potato CroquettesTo make croquettes is not difficult, just a bit delicate in the balance of creating fluffiness yet keeping a consistency just stiff enough to handle through the molding and breading process. You want to add an interesting flavor note. For that, I mashed in about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of goat cheese to 3 cups of mash and a healthy sprinkle of granulated garlic with a light one of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. (Just about any spice or herb is groovy here. Ideally, you just use flavors consistent with the main dish.) You also want to add some creaminess to really fluff the 'taters, which I do by adding about 1/2 cup yoghurt (use thicker Middle-eastern or Greek if possible or drain regular of excess fluid) before whipping the fuck out of them with a fork.

The next bit goes REALLY fast, so best to get a mise en place all set up before even contemplating starting the next step. Set up a breading station, with the bowl of potatoes at the far left, then three plates or wide/shallow bowls. They will have, from left to right, flour, an egg beaten with a small splash of milk, then bread crumbs. You can use anything from plain breadcrumbs, to seasoned, to panko, to ones you make with stale sourdough in the food processor, depending on the flavor and texture you want in the end. Then, have a plate with wax paper or foil at the end to hold the finished croquettes.

Take a little bit of the potato in a cupped palm and make a small divot in the center. Then, pop in a few cloves of roasted garlic or whatever sounds nice to have along with your main course. Roasted pepper bits, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, cheese, you name it, are great in there, since potatoes partner well with just about anything. Next, add a bit of potato on top and pat into a slightly flattened ball. From here, you probably want to use one hand for dry stuff, one for wet. Roll the ball in the flour to coat, then dip into the egg and cover completely with bread crumbs, set aside and repeat until the potatoes are gone. Start some oil in a skillet on MED LOW (You may want to reduce to LOW during the cooking process if you're getting too much or uneven browning.) and carefully place a few balls in, leaving adequate room between them. Once they start to brown, press gently with your spatula to flatten slightly more. Once browned, flip and let the other side brown and serve as quickly as possible. If you have a lot of smaller croquettes, you may want to let them warm in a 200º oven until they're all finished. You can also deep-fry them, in which case, you would want to form them as a smaller, rounded ball.

When you bite into the wonderful crunchy, yet creamy croquettes, I'm pretty sure you'll find the little bit of extra work was well worth it.  

Well, that's the lot of food experimentation for now. I'll be back next Thursday with some awesome no-cook and low-cook dishes to survive the summer heat without sacrificing good eats if you, like us, live in an *ahem* antique building with no air conditioning! Until then, have a great week and, if you are at Comic-Con, please feel free to feel my burning envy!