May we suggest poutine?

Before I write another word, for the sake of your circulatory system and my conscience, I need to be completely honest with you, Gentle Reader.

Poutine (pronounced poo-teen), is to health food what Rolls Royces are to economy cars.  Classic Canadian poutine is French fries, drenched in gravy, and covered with cheese curds.

I love poutine, but because of its sinister health connotations, I indulge infrequently.  I had it twice in Vermont at a restaurant called The Skinny Pancake; a crepe joint.  It was love at first bite, but honestly, I was already half in love just from the description of the dish.But depressingly, even poutine can be ruined.  One morning I had breakfast at the Pancake.

…and their glorious poutine

But depressingly, even poutine can be ruined.  One morning I had breakfast at the Pancake.

Because it was the AM, they offered a breakfast version.  It was covered in mild sausage gravy and topped with poached eggs.  The gravy was like sage-flavored wallpaper paste, and the eggs were so overcooked they might have been hard-boiled.

I was so disappointed I almost cried.I succumbed to poutine at lunch yesterday.  And it was really good.  But again, so very calorific and rich that The Kid and I shared an order, and last night for dinner I was fine with just some fruit.

The moral is, they can be transcendent—or dismal.  But, despite my experience with the ghastly jacked-up poutine, I am constitutionally unable to not tinker.

So The Kid and I collaborated and invented a couple of new twists.  But first, a quick tutorial on the technique for making an easy, quick gravy—‘cause it ain’t poutine if there ain’t gravy.

There are only four steps:Fry-In a large heavy pot, sauté the base.  Get some type of fat hot.  It can be butter, oil, or render some bacon.  Then toss in some kind of base; onions, mushrooms, or meat (like that delicious, delicious bacon).

Roux- Remove the meat or veg once it’s caramelized.  Then sprinkle in flour and whisk and cooked for a few minutes until it starts to get a little color.  Rule of thumb is ¼ cup light-colored roux will thicken 2 cups of liquid.Deglaze- Add cold liquid to the hot pot.  This will immediately lower the temp and allow you to scrape up brown bits.  If using alcohol, allow it to almost cook out, then pour in enough stock to make an unctuous sauce.  Add back veg, but hold bacon for garnish.

Thicken:  Whisk constantly until it comes to a boil.  Aside from tasting and re-seasoning if needed, this is the final step.  Once it comes to a boil, it’s done.  If it’s too thick, add more liquid.  If it’s too thin, cook at simmer until it tightens up a bit.

This procedure can be used to make almost every type of gravy.

The first twist on poutine is really simple.Instead of fries, use tater tots.  Cover with lashings of mushroom/onion gravy in which you deglazed with sherry, then added beef stock. Sprinkle on a big handful of coarsely grated hoop cheese on top.How about some sweet potato poutine?  Make sweet potato fries, either homemade or store-bought.  This time use goat cheese, and red-eye gravy.  For the gravy, cook bacon until it’s brown and crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and stir in flour.  Then add a couple cups of coffee and whisk until thick.  Top with crumbled, crispy bacon.

I hope you try some version of poutine.  But think about it as a day at the fair.  There’s a good reason it only rolls around once a year.Thanks for your time.

Column, the first

Good morning Henderson.

My name is Debbie Matthews, and I am delighted to have been asked to write a weekly column about food, cooking, and all the whimsy that pops into my head on a regular basis.

First, I’d like to tell you a bit about me.

Although a military kid, I’ve spent the majority of my life in NC.  I’m married to Petey, and have been since the invention of movable type.  We have one child, The Kid, who was educated at the New England Culinary Institute, and is my usual gastronomic partner in crime.

My favorite foods are potato salad and birthday cake.  I know all the lyrics to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (and most of the lyrics to American Pie).  I can bend my thumbs backwards at a 90% angle.  I love dogs, and have a 200 pound Anatolian shepherd named Riker.  My favorite movie is The Big Chill.  I’m a fan of Doctor Who and pretty shoes.

A few of my favorite things-look at those awesome shoes.

A few of my favorite things-look at those awesome shoes.

Not many things make me happier than putting on some good music (mostly 70’s and 80’s rock, with a dash of ragtime), and cavorting around my kitchen, coming up with new dishes and putting twists on old.

Although Petey is one of the least fussy eaters ever, I can tell by his extremely low-key reaction how well a new dish has gone over.  He is the best Guinea pig for whom a girl could ask.

Recently I had in the freezer both a bit of pastry dough, and some short ribs I’d gotten on sale.  I made short rib hand pies.

Sometimes called a pasty, but a pie by any name…

Petey liked.

Short rib hand pies

For ribs:

2 3-4 inch pieces boneless short ribs

¾ teaspoon either seasoning salt or salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250.  Heavily season short ribs and double wrap with foil, leaving a little space around ribs for juices.  Cook for 2-2 ½ hours or until falling-apart tender. 

For gravy and pie:

8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

½ yellow onion, chopped

¾ teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup Sherry

2 cups beef stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons horseradish

Salt and pepper to taste

2-6 inch rounds pie crust, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick (either store-bought or homemade)

Roux:

½ cup butter and ½ cup flour cooked together until peanut butter colored.

In a skillet, sauté mushrooms, onions, and herbs in olive oil.  Season.  When veggies start to caramelize, add garlic and cook ‘til fragrant.  Add tomato paste and cook until color’s deepened to burgundy.  Deglaze pan with Sherry, and cook out.

Stir in stock, Worcestershire, horseradish, and bring to boil.  Whisk in roux until it’s the thickness of cake frosting.  Mix in shredded meat and any juices. 

Place about ¾ cup of cooled short rib mixture into each crust. Fold over and seal with egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon water).  Brush egg wash over pie, and cut 3 slits to vent.  Sprinkle top with salt and pepper.

Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown.  Serves 2.

You’ll have filling left.  I froze mine, and another night will thin it and spoon it over grits.  Just make sure to label your bag.

Though I am very definitely neither Julia Child nor Erma Bombeck, I hope you’ll enjoy my earnest scribblings.  But if even you don’t, there is something that this column will do magnificently—line bird cages.

Yuck.

Thanks for your time.