The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Spud Sunday: In Handel’s Day

It’s fairly safe to say that, back in 1742, people didn’t spend too much time obsessing about saturated fat or trying to reduce their carb intake. If anything, they were far more concerned with ingesting whatever carbs they could lay their hands on, spuds included.

I mention 1742 because that was the year of the first public performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, which took place in Fishamble Street in Dublin, an event which will be commemorated on April 13th next in Temple Bar, with their Handel’s Day celebrations.

In Handel's Day

Handel had been invited to perform by the Charitable Musical Society, who wanted to raise funds following the Great Irish Famine of 1741 – an event perhaps lesser known, but equally as devastating as the later Potato Famine of 1845-47 – a combination of bad weather and poor harvests that froze potatoes in the ground and left a nation dying of hunger.

It is an indescribably long way from that famine to a world where, within the past few weeks, I have been sent notices about applications aimed at helping people to reduce their intake of saturated fat and carbs. Somebody has perhaps noticed the frequency with which spuds and butter are combined on this site and would like to do something about it, I fear.

The Sat Fat Challenge from the UK Food Standards Agency, for example, prompts the user to take different challenges which will reduce their saturated fat intake, some of which I can get behind and some of which – like the recommendation to use low fat milks and yoghurts – I can’t. That we have issues with over-eating and excesses of certain foods in our diet, I don’t deny, but I happen to be a big believer in sticking to full-fat-as-nature-intended when it comes to dairy products. And just because a yoghurt is labelled low-fat, doesn’t mean that it’s not laden with sugar.

That’s the thing, you see.

My real problem is with identifying one specific thing in isolation as the culprit of our dietary woes – yesterday salt, today saturated fats, tomorrow carbs and so on. Salt, fat, sugar – these are not the enemies per se, but highly processed foods – which can have excessive quantities of all of these – are. I’m not saying that we need to return to the privation of Handel’s day, but cutting down on highly processed foods, eating a goodly amount of whole foods and adopting an everything-in-moderation approach is more my style (Jamie Oliver’s style too it seems). Drip-feeding people with narrowly targeted applications (which themselves seem a little highly processed to me) seems like it manages to sidestep the broader question of what it takes to have a well-balanced and sane approach to eating and so, for me, falls some way short of the mark.

Musical Spuds (or Lyrical Duchesse Potatoes)

Musical Potatoes

Well, after that little rant, here’s a bit of sat-fat-and-carbs action for you – with due acknowledgement to Handel for inspiration in the musical shapes department. Musical shaping aside, these are basically duchesse potatoes, made when an egg-enriched mash is piped into shapes and baked.

The classic formula – as described in the likes of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire and Larousse Gastronomique – calls for butter, egg and egg yolks to be added to the mash, though you’ll see plenty of variants which add milk, cream and/or cheeses to the mix. Really, you can add whatever you like – I’ve used goat’s cheese and mint here – as long as you keep the mixture fairly stiff, which makes for firmer shapes that are that bit easier to pipe.

You’ll need:
  • 800g potatoes (about 4 medium-sized specimens), preferably a floury variety
  • 50g butter
  • 100g fresh goat’s cheese
  • 3 tblsp finely chopped fresh mint
  • salt to taste, plus more for boiling the potatoes
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs
You’ll also need:
  • A piping bag, star-shaped nozzle and a steady hand. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a clean plastic bag with a small opening snipped away from one corner.
  • A potato ricer is useful, though not essential, for mashing the potatoes.
  • You’ll need several large baking sheets on which to bake the shapes.
The Steps:
  • Peel your potatoes and cut into roughly even-sized slices, around 1-2cm thick. Rinse them under cold water.
  • Bring about 1.5l of water to the boil in a saucepan, add about 2 tsp salt and the potato slices.
  • Bring back to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, for around 12-15 minutes or until just fork-tender.
  • Meanwhile, you can preheat your oven to 180C and grease your baking sheets.
  • When the potatoes are done, drain well and return them to the saucepan. Then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
  • Place the butter in a small heavy saucepan over a medium heat and allow to melt.
  • Put the cooked and still warm potatoes through a potato ricer, if you have one, or mash with a potato masher or, if all else fails, a fork.
  • Pour in the melted butter and stir through the mash.
  • Crumble the goat’s cheese, add to the mash and stir well to combine.
  • Mix in the chopped mint and add salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the mash.
  • Now spoon enough of the mash into your piping bag to half-fill it, twist the top and, with a steady hand, squeeze the contents out onto your baking sheets and into whatever shapes take your fancy. You can just make shapes by hand if you prefer.
  • As soon as you have a baking sheet filled with shapes, bake for around 12-15 minutes or until the edges are golden, and get to work on piping the next lot. I probably baked 6 trays-worth with this amount, though treble clefs do take up a lot of real estate. Simpler shapes can probably be done more efficiently.
  • Serve as a side-dish – with the mint, I’m inclined to think this would be nice with lamb – or serve as party finger food.
The Variations:
  • You could certainly add some garlic here if you fancied – throw a couple of whole cloves in when boiling the potatoes – and you can replace the goat’s cheese and mint with different dairy and herb combinations, such as, say, sour cream and chives or gruyère and thyme.
The Results:
  • This amount probably feeds 4-6 as a side-dish, though the actual number of shapes you get will obviously depend on the size of your piping bag and the kind of shapes you’re after.

17 Comments

  1. Your words are so true: there is no single culprit in today’s obesity-related health issues and yet there is an insistence on vilifying one ingredient . . . until another one comes along. Prohibitions and limitations on what to eat are the ‘stick’ approaches to healthy eating; I much prefer the ‘carrots’ strategy of variety and moderation.

    That way, I can enjoy these duchesse potatoes, which are made with nary a hint of unnatural ingredients in them, and not feel a bit of guilt. [Cue Handel’s Messiah, Hallelujah Chorus!]

  2. Music and food. Two things I enjoy quite a bit. and to combine them both as one…makes me happy. hehehe…

    I agree moderation is key.

    Happy Easter!!

  3. Goat cheese and mint puts escoffier to shame! GREG

  4. Wow. I applaud you for creating such a masterpiece! A true work of art! It looks beautiful.

  5. ‘There’s no such thing as bad food.’I think I heard Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson say this. We just need to eat in moderation.
    Bring on the spuds and butter!

  6. Shall I sing the spud or eat the spud? ;p
    Both!

  7. Oh that’s so cute to look at. And surely like all spud. Yummy. :-)

  8. Agree with you 100%, Spud. I don’t follow any of this low-carb, non-fat nonsense, I’m a firm believer of everything being fine in moderation (although I have a tendency to overindulge in potato chips occasionally :))
    Love the whimsical music notes, I will definitely be trying that!
    ps. one of my verication words (to post this comment) is ‘wartiest’ LOL

  9. Wow! I’m so impressed by your “musical spuds”! I’m sure Handel would be impressed too!

  10. Daily Spud

    Monday, April 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Tangled Noodle: I prefer a carrots-type strategy too – being educated to think positively and responsibly about food and remembering that it is something to be enjoyed – that’s something I could sing hallelujah to :)

    jenn: I’m very fond of both music and food myself – nice to combine them for once! And a Happy Easter to you too of course.

    sippitysup: poor ol’ Escoffier, though – he’s not even here to defend himself :D

    Memoria: thank you, all applause gratefully received :)

    Lynda: hear, hear!

    tigerfish: thank you for dropping in to sing along :)

    kathy: glad you stopped by to say so!

    Phyllis: wartiest? is there something you’re trying to tell me :D And I’m not immune to overindulging myself, whether it’s potato chips/crisps or chocolate, but I try not to get too wound up about about it

    Amy: Thank you! Glad you stopped by to enjoy them. I’ve no doubt that if Handel were around today, he would be impressed by a great many things – it would be nice to think that my spuds would be one of them, lol

  11. Love your musical spuds! Totally with you on the moderation wagon and about the fact that there isn’t a sole bad culprit responsible for all our dietry woes.

    I would like to go on a bit more about the virtues of eating in moderation but I’ve just eaten like, that whole asparagus tart in small bites over the last 5 hours. So…I’ll come back to add my own 2 cents when I’ve had a bit more of a moderate day’s eating!

  12. You go, DS! I am so with you on all of that. Full fat dairy is a requirement at our house. Love your imagery w/”drip feeding.” It implies passivity, and that’s us (the US, anyway) in a nutshell. Seems we’re all about path-of-least-resistance eating. Bah!

    Love your musical spuds. Potatoes and fat rule:)

  13. I know what you mean, for years I was so tired of hearing health professionals say butter was bad, blah blah blah, and it does come down to overly processed foods, and portion control as well…

    Love the notes!

  14. yes I fully agree moderation…fake butter taste well fake…not yummy!! great post

    sweetlife

  15. Waw,…I am so impressed by your musical talents!! hahahahaha,..

    I love that you added goat’s cheese to the mash,…must very musical & so tasty too!

    Beautiful presentation too!!!

  16. I love your musical spuds, it’s been ages since I had piped spud baked in the oven.

  17. Daily Spud

    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 12:24 am

    aoife mc: I believe that all diets, moderate or otherwise, should include a goodly quota of asparagus tart – otherwise what’s the point?

    Jenni: potatoes and fat do rule – amen to that sister!

    Chef E: yep, *we* know that – it’s such a pity that’s not the message that’s commonly conveyed

    sweetlife: no fake butter here :)

    Sophie: ah yes, musically talented as well as everything else (I wish!), lol

    Sarah: been ages since I had spuds that way myself (and I certainly never had them in musical shapes!)

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