Everyone has a food weakness; mine is potatoes. Potatoes make me weak in the knees, especially when they are fried in oil, and all the better if smothered in cheese and gravy. I first tasted authentic poutine when I visited Montreal for the first time at age 16. The tiny hole-in-the-wall franchise I visited, called “Frites Alors!” served dozens of varieties, from pink peppercorn to smoked meat. If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you know that everything tastes better there, especially bagels and smoked meat, and definitely poutine. Real poutine is made from hand-cut fries deep fried in oil, fresh cheese curds and homemade beef or duck gravy. I’ve had both good and bad poutine since. I was very excited when a couple of Quebeqois guys opened La Belle Patate here in Esquimalt (reviews here & here), where they serve authentic “Smoke Meat” sandwiches, great poutine and spruce beer. My boyfriend is from Quebec and he says their hamburgers remind him of the ones he enjoyed as a kid. Fortunately (or not) La Belle Patate is located opposite the pool, so I am usually confronted by temptation right after I’ve happily swam a dozen or more lengths and don’t want to set myself back. Poutine is so delicious, but I find it usually isn’t worth the fat and calorie hangover and it takes a lot for me to part with my hard-earned money (A writer on a budget you say?!).
I haven’t read Michael Pollan’s new book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” which offers 64 rules for eating well, but I really like what he has to say about junk food:
Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” That gets at a lot of our issues. I love French fries, and I also know if I ate French fries every day it would not be a good thing. One of our problems is that foods that are labor or money intensive have gotten very cheap and easy to procure. French fries are a great example. They are a tremendous pain to make. Wash the potatoes, fry potatoes, get rid of the oil, clean up the mess. If you made them yourself you’d have them about once a month, and that’s probably about right. The fact that labor has been removed from special occasion food has made us treat it as everyday food. One way to curb that and still enjoy those foods is to make them. Try to make your own Twinkie. I don’t even know if you can. I imagine it would be pretty difficult. How do you get the cream in there?
I already try to follow this rule. I crave French Fries nearly every day, but I probably crave them enough to make them about once a month. When I was a kid, my Dad used me to make me real fries from scratch on my birthday. He told me stories of how his mother would make homefries for he and his brother and sisters when they came home for lunch. For father’s day once year, out of the kindness of my self-centered eight year-old heart, I saved up and bought him one of those machines that cuts uniform fries in a couple of minutes. That kind of backfired on me because it meant I could now participate in the process, but that is how I learned the deep satisfaction of making my own favourite treats from scratch. I’ve deep-fried fries maybe half a dozen times as an adult, usually for kids. I bake them now, because it is a less messy and less expensive process and it’s healthier. (Ok, it is slightly less delicious)
I make poutine once every few months and it is so delicious that it is building up a bit of a reputation. We call it Mogtine. It is actually not that unhealthy, believe it or not, and I honestly enjoy it more than traditional poutine. It’s vegetarian, too. I was feeling weak on Saturday, so I went to the grocery store and bought a bag of B.C. Russet potatoes, came home and put together a couple of plates of Mogtine for myself and my partner-in-food-indulgence. I tweeted about it because, well, what is mundane about a pile of fries and gravy? I posted a recipe for my Mogtine in 140 characters on Twitter, but a few people have requested the full recipe, so here you go!
4-6 large Russet potatoes
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
Your favourite spices (I use cayenne, s&p and sometimes basil, thyme & oregeno)
Your favourite cheese (aged cheddar is great as is gouda or cheese curds)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I’ve used olive oil, just keep an eye on it because it burns at a lower temperature)
1.5 TB white flour
2 TB tamari
2 cups water
1 TB miso paste
a few pinches of cayenne
a few twists from the pepper grinder
3-4 mushrooms of your choice (white button are fine) and a bit more oil
To make gravy: In a small skillet, sautée mushroom in a bit of hot oil and set aside. Whisk your miso paste into your water and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and add the flour, whisking quickly into a roux. Add the tamari and whisk quickly, then add the prepared miso stock slowly, all the time whisking as it thickens to ensure a smooth gravy. Turn the burner down to low. Add the cayenne, pepper and sautéed mushrooms. Lid the pot, remove from heat and set aside until needed.
To make fries: Preheat oven to 375 F. Scrub your potatoes and cut up into fries or cubes. In a large metal bowl, toss potatoes in oil and spices. For absolute best results, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spread the fries out in a single layer. Bake fries for 25-30 minutes until slightly brown and crispy.
The grand finale: Now you can stack them! Top with grated cheese, sliced green onion, and smother with miso-mushroom gravy. Enjoy and feel absolutely no guilt or remorse.
Makes 2 Epicurean portions or 4 Puritanical portions.