Saturday, September 22, 2007

Meal of the week from Quick Dishes: Beef patties with onions served with Saffron mashed potatoes

When I was growing up my family went camping together every summer. Mine and my brother's favourite camping treat was canned beef patties in brown sauce with instant mashed potatoes. My mother could do magic with these humble dishes, or so it seemed, because after I moved away from home I once bought the same brand of beef patties in brown sauce and heated them for dinner, but they didn't taste the same. Some questioning on my behalf revealed that she would add some spices and other ingredients to the sauce to make it better. I already knew she completely disregarded the instructions on the instant mashed potato package and did it her way, which included using milk or cream instead of water, and some other little touches that improved it immensely.

In memory of many evenings sitting outside a tent, eating beef patties with mashed potatoes, I decided to choose the two dishes below. While the patties, which Icelanders call hakkabuff, are made from scratch, the mashed potatoes are supposed to be instant.

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Just look at all those onions!

While I have included the serving suggestions from the book, I of course served the two together, with the addition of this fresh tomato and cucumber salad which my mother sometimes serves with fried fish and crumbed fried lamb cutlets:

1 medium tomato
1/4 cucumber
mayonnaise, to taste

Cut the tomato into thin slices, cut slices into strips and halve the strips. Do the same with the cucumber. Stir into the mayonnaise and chill for 20 minutes or so. Serve with fried meat or fish.

I have fleshed out the instructions a bit. As usual, any recipe alterations are shown below the recipes.

Beef patties with onions

Prep time: 30 minutes
1-2 servings

2 onions
225 g minced beef
1 egg
75 ml water or cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tbs butter

Slice the onions into rings and fry over low heat until they are soft and golden. Remove from pan.

Mix together the minced beef, egg, water or cream, salt and pepper. Form into 2 large, flat, oblong patties. Melt the butter and fry the patties for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm. Deglaze the pan with a little water and pour the gravy over the patties. Finally, warm up the onion rings in the pan and top the patties with them.

Serve with poached potatoes and corncobs or a fresh salad.

Saffron mashed potatoes

Prep time: 10 minutes
1-2 servings

2 portions dry mashed potato flakes
As needed, water or milk
As needed, butter or margarine
1/2 sachet saffron (0,25 g)

Make the mashed potatoes according to the instructions on the packaging and add saffron. Serve warm with cooked vegetables, e.g. broccoli or peas, fried meat, and fried or poached fish.

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Alterations to the recipes:
I made the beef patties pretty much according to the recipe, except I only used one onion and added a bit of garlic. I also fried the patties a bit longer than what the recipe calls for, to get them cooked all the way through. While I prefer my steak still pink in the middle, the only mince I will ever eat raw or pink is mince I have made myself, especially if eggs are also involved as in this case. Although there has not been a public case of food poisoning caused by either eggs or minced meat here for as long as can remember, I'm not taking any risks. Having once had serious food poisoning, I do not relish getting it again.

To make the mashed potatoes, I started by heating up some milk in a saucepan, took it off the heat and added a healthy pinch of saffron strands, which I let soak in the milk for about 10 minutes. Then I added the fragrant, bright yellow milk to the mashed potatoes.

As to those, I could not bring myself to use instant mashed potatoes when I had the fixings to make some from scratch, so I made mashed potatoes with fresh potatoes instead of flakes. At least that was the plan. Actually, what happened was that when I started mashing the potatoes it turned out they were too gummy to make good mash, meaning the mash would be dense and heavy and stick to the roof of my mouth. Therefore I used an old trick I have used before when I needed to stretch mashed potatoes and had no time to run to the supermarket for more: I took some dry potato flakes (a kitchen staple useful for other things beside making mash) and added them to the mash (sorry, no measurements are available, as only experience can tell you how much to use), along with some more milk, and whisked the two gently together, adding more milk as the flakes expanded and soaked it up. I ended up with mashed potatoes that were lighter than what I would have got had I used the potatoes alone, but which still had the flavour of the made-from-scratch product. The saffron turned the mashed potatoes a bright, lovely yellow and they smelled heavenly.

This was a good, very greasy and extremely oniony everyday sort of meal. In fact, my whole apartment smells like fried onions, and it's lucky I haven't got a date tonight, because I ate every morsel of that onion. The beef was juicy and I got the spices just right, and the saffron mashed potatoes were delicious, although another time I would use only half the saffron. In the original recipe the saffron strands are meant to be added straight to the mashed potatoes and would not have time to release as much flavour as they do when they are soaked first, so to save on saffron, use less and soak it first. You will also get stronger colour that way.

250 g. of beef is enough for two regular eaters or one big eater. I finished one patty and half the mashed potatoes. The rest I will have for dinner, along with half an onion I plan to fry up to eat with it.

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