in Food

The Spontaneous Gourmet

Though I love cooking, I’ve never successfully created a dish of my own until now. I generally make things too complicated. For the past month, I’ve been conceiving an onion-potato dish that I believed might be both simple and delicious. I finally gave it a go last night, and I’m pleased with the results. It turned out exactly as I’d hoped.

J.D.’s Onion-Potato Hash

Dice two medium russet potatoes (about one pound) into quarter-inch cubes. Chop half of a medium yellow onion (about six ounces). Mince three or four garlic cloves. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet (cast-iron if you have it) over high heat. Add the vegetables and stir til coated. Season lightly with salt and pepper. After a few minutes, reduce the heat to medium and stir. Melt an additional two tablespoons of butter on top of the hash. Continue cooking — stirring occasionally — over medium heat until desired texture is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

I’m sure this is some standard dish that people have been preparing for centuries, but it’s nothing I’ve ever tried. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in creating your own recipe and having it turn out the way you’d planned. Most of the time when I try to create my own dishes, at best I end up with barely edible slop.

Whenever I try to get inventive in the kitchen, I’m reminded of this Roz Chast New Yorker cartoon, which has been a favorite in our house for over a decade.

Here’s what the cartoon says (other than the copyright watermark from the Cartoon Bank):


“Sometimes something happens…and sometimes it doesn’t.”

1. In a small pan, sauté 1/2 c. onion in 2 tbsp. oil or butter.
2. Heat a can of tomato soup to just below a boil.
3. Sift 3/4 c. flour.
4. Pound flat 6 chicken breasts.
5. Add 1/2 c. raisins to 1 egg and let sit overnight.
6. Measure 1/8 tsp. nutmeg.
7. Crumble 14 soda crackers.
8. Grate 2 c. cheddar cheese.
9. Remove the casing from 1 lb. Italian sausage.
10. Take 30 maraschino cherries.

Roz Chast is our favorite New Yorker cartoonist. She’s somehow managed to tap into our brains; she knows what Kris and I both find funny. You can see all 762 Roz Chast New Yorker cartoons at the Cartoon Bank.

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  1. The more I cook, the less often I use a recipe. Most of my day-to-day meals (like last night’s black bean/spanish rice burritos) are prepared without consulting a recipe. Combinations, techniques, cooking times–they all become more intuitive as you cook more. I do, however, use recipes to guide baking. I make substitutions often, but it is good to have tried and true ratios, temperatures, ingredient combinations, etc. for baking to ensure some success. It is a science I don’t feel qualified to tinker with too much at this point.

    Paul makes a mean potato dish like the one you describe, although his more closely resembles homefries. He fries thick slices of potatoes (usually yukon gold) in canola oil with salt, pepper, and cumin, and finishes them in the oven. I’m not sure what temperature he sets the oven at, maybe 350. They are good and crispy on the outside and buttery soft on the inside. He uses a cast iron skillet to get a really good crust on the potatoes.

    This is a perfect hangover cure. Not that I have hangovers very often, but when I do, I need potatoes to get back on my feet. Like I did the day after your birthday bash. Only, we were both feeling punky so we went to Helzers and I ordered their enormous potato hash–a platter of fried potatoes topped with bacon, cheese, scallions, sour cream, and two eggs (usually poached but I usually request scrambled). I feel woozy thinking about that much food, but god damn it was good.